More Mailbag (cont.)
I enjoy Arkansas getting humiliated as much as anyone, but it annoys me that Bobby Petrino is somehow benefiting from the team's struggles in his absence. Isn't it more accurate to say that he did a terrible job recruiting defensive players and that his presence wouldn't have done much, if anything, to prevent those awful defensive performances?
-- J.D. Bolick, Denver, N.C.
In the rush to vilify John L. Smith, there does seem to be some revisionist history regarding Arkansas' defense. It was never particularly great under Petrino. It peaked by ranking fifth in the SEC during the Razorbacks' Sugar Bowl season in 2010 before regressing to ninth last year, and its two key veterans from those teams, defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Jerry Franklin, have departed. Also, though it's perceived that Petrino's staff remained intact, that's not entirely accurate. Four-year defensive coordinator Willy Robinson resigned after last season and was replaced by former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, who subsequently coached Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Linebackers coach Taver Johnson and defensive line coach Kevin Peoples are also brand new.
So it's entirely possible Arkansas' defense would have regressed this season even if Petrino were still at the helm. But I doubt it would be anywhere near this bad (108th in total defense, 116th in scoring defense). One major reason is the Razorbacks would be getting more help from the offense. A Petrino-led Arkansas would score more than 10 points against Texas A&M. Tyler Wilson is not performing at the same level he did last season (he has a 54.5 completion percentage, down from 63.2), which is no surprise since Petrino was one of the absolute best coaches at putting his quarterbacks in position to succeed, dating back to his days with Brian Brohm and Stefan LeFors at Louisville. While I'm sure it bothers people to see retroactive appreciation for such a universally despised figure, few could dispute that Petrino was a good football coach, and, John L. or not, this team would have been hard-pressed to maintain its recent level of success without him. That still doesn't explain such a drastic nosedive.
Stewart, Here's what I don't get about the proposed playoff system and how it will interact with the bowls, especially the Rose Bowl and the new Champions Bowl. If the playoff is played between the top four teams in the country, with a preference for conference champions, then doesn't it figure that at least three of the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten conference champs stand a very good chance at being in the playoffs? If that's the case, aren't the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl games really just conference tie-ins? Shouldn't we go back to the original bowl system with the top four teams skimmed off the top instead of BCS 2.0?
-- Scott Hottenstein, Lithia, Fla.
If by going back to the original bowl system you mean a return to the days when bowl directors made backroom deals with athletic directors as early as late October -- thanks, I'll pass. In a sense, though, this system has returned closer to the old days in that the free market trumps all. Yes, the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl aren't likely to pit both leagues' champions very often, but that's not all that different than the BCS. The SEC champion hasn't played in the Sugar Bowl since 2005. The Rose Bowl lost either the Big Ten or Pac-10 champ five times in a six-year span from 2002-07. In nearly every case, those bowls then got to take another team from those conferences, just as they'll be able to do now. The biggest difference is there's no longer a limit to how many teams each conference can place in the system.
But it will be interesting to see how these games are marketed, and, in turn, how the public will consume them. Right now, there's an entrenched brand, the BCS, that delineates the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls from, say, the Capital One Bowl and the Outback Bowl. Therefore, reaching any BCS bowl is considered prestigious. But beginning in two years, the obvious No. 1 goal for every team will be to reach the playoff; beyond that, we have no idea what perception of each game will be like. Will we assign equal prestige to the other four or five bowls not hosting the semifinal that year? Or do they just become individual bowls that happen to be tied to the playoff system? In other words, if you're an SEC fan whose team does not make the playoff, do you still consider it an achievement to reach a "BCS bowl" (or whatever it will be called now), or will you consider going to the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl or the Capital One Bowl all approximately the same? Do we no longer talk about conferences' BCS bowl records, because there will be no such thing? We won't know 'til we try.
Please explain this to readers: UCLA is 4-1 and Nebraska is 4-1. UCLA lost to undefeated Oregon State and Nebraska lost to UCLA. In the latest AP Poll: No. 21 Nebraska, No. 25 UCLA. Polls are made of crazy tears.
-- Zamoro, Monterey, Calif.
You know what? I'm done with these types of questions. Maybe it's because I know the current system is down to its last days, but really, we get the point. He's right, polls are made of crazy tears. Carry on.
I know it's two separate conferences, but does the Sun Belt's string of recent upsets against SEC and ACC teams help Louisiana Tech's hopes of reaching a BCS bowl? Kind of showing the bowl power brokers and pollsters that Boise State isn't the only good non-AQ team? If it goes undefeated, Louisiana Tech will have beaten teams from the mighty SEC (Texas A&M), ACC (Virginia) and Big Ten (Illinois), as well as the Conference USA favorite (Houston). I believe a 12-0 record with that résumé deserves a better fate than a spot in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Don't you?
-- Mario Z., Denton, Texas
I don't understand the Sun Belt connection, since Louisiana Tech is still in the WAC. But yes, absolutely. If the Bulldogs go undefeated against that schedule, they should go to the BCS. Frankly, it's ridiculous Boise State is still ranked in the Coaches' Poll but Louisiana Tech is not. It shows how little the pollsters actually pay attention to the mid-majors. All the Broncos have done so far is lose to a Michigan State team that -- as it turns out -- can barely complete a forward pass, fail to score an offensive touchdown against BYU, and, last week, nearly blow a 25-point lead against New Mexico. (New Mexico!) Meanwhile, Sonny Dykes' team is averaging 52 points a game with consecutive road wins over Illinois (52-24) and Virginia (44-38), and it still received fewer votes in the AP Poll this week than 2-2 Michigan (best win: Air Force).
The issue will be resolved soon enough. On Oct. 13 the Bulldogs face Texas A&M in Shreveport, the game that was originally scheduled to open the season. I was fully prepared to pick Louisiana Tech in the upset that week. Now, with the way Johnny Manziel and the Aggies are clicking, I'm not so sure. Louisiana Tech suffered a big loss two weeks ago when freshman running back Tevin King, who was averaging 8.0 yards per carry, tore his ACL. Fellow freshman Kenneth Dixon (80.5 yards per game) will have to pick up the slack. Even if the Bulldogs beat A&M, they won't be out of the woods just yet; Utah State and San Jose State both present legitimate in-conference threats. But if Louisiana Tech manages to escape all that unscathed, they would certainly be more accomplished than that 2007 Hawaii BCS team, among others.
Alabama beat Ole Miss by scoring 33 points and gaining 305 yards against the same team that lost to Texas in a game it surrendered 66 points and 676 yards. Alabama's win over Arkansas no longer looks that impressive, as Texas A&M (a team with a freshman QB and new coaching staff) scored 58 points. Looks like Alabama is overrated.
-- Victor, Panama, Fla.
According to my readers, pretty much every team in the Top 25 is overrated. Very few, however, bother to suggest who should take their place.
Maybe they should just leave the AP Poll blank.