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Badgering Dayne

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Posted: Wednesday December 01, 1999 02:42 PM

  Ivan Maisel

Click here to send your college football questions to SI's Ivan Maisel.

The e-postal workers who put this together asked me to give you my top five Heisman candidates this week. I'm going to wait until next week's 'Bag to show you my ballot, not out of any sense of drama but simply because my ballot isn't due until Dec. 10 and I want to keep thinking about how I want to vote. I'll admit I'm having trouble. This Heisman race has been as unattractive as the People's Choice Awards. It's like watching the technical awards at the Oscars. There's no romance, no excitement, no juice. Here are my thoughts to this point:

I don't buy the argument that Ron Dayne should win the award because every runner who set the rushing record has won it. It's a career record. I think Virginia's Thomas Jones ran as well as Dayne against equal competition. I don't want to hear that Big Ten argument. Look at the strength of schedule for the two teams. In Dayne's favor is the significant amount of time he sat out early in the season instead of padding his numbers. Dayne's best argument is that his team won the Big Ten and he played a big role in it. Then again, Wisconsin didn't click until Brooks Bollinger took over at quarterback. In that sense, the Badgers resemble the Alabama offense: When Andrew Zow didn't throw well, defenses had an easier time with Shaun Alexander.

The most exciting (and most valuable) player I saw this season was Joe Hamilton of Georgia Tech. Think of how much he accomplished at a severe disadvantage compared to the rest of the ACC -- he didn't get to play against his own defense. I also like the season Tim Rattay of Louisiana Tech put together. To be honest, if Tennessee's Tee Martin had stayed healthy for the entire season, I would have had a hard time not voting for him.

Wisconsin must have really creamed that tough opponent called "regular season finished" in order to jump from seventh to third in your AP ballot! Ron Dayne is a legitimate Heisman Trophy winner, but there is no way on God's green earth that Wisconsin is the No. 3 team in the country. No way.

I think the SEC Championship Game will be much more physical and lower-scoring than the first meeting between Alabama and Florida. Earnest Graham is back at tailback and Alabama has re-discovered defense. Neither team seems capable of generating the same offensive output as they did in the October game. What do you think? Or, should I not even ask you that question, given that you moved Wisconsin up to third after its ferocious victory over "regular season finished"?
—David Luckie, Mobile, Ala.

David, if you've been watching my AP ballot over the last three weeks, you know that after Virginia Tech and Florida State, I don't have any idea what to do. None. Zip. Zilch. Wisconsin ran the table over the second half of the season, which is more than we can say about anyone else. I think Tennessee would beat Wisconsin. I think Alabama and Florida would beat Wisconsin. But I know that Tennessee lost to Arkansas. Understand? The facts keep getting in the way. I'll put a lot of stock in what happens in San Antonio and Atlanta this weekend in order to straighten out my top eight.

That said, I agree with you that we won't see another 33-33 regulation-time score in Atlanta. I expect that Florida will be a lot more aggressive on defense. I suspect that Florida isn't as good on offense as it was in October and that Alabama is better on defense. Given the way the Gators played over the last month of the season, I like Alabama.

Who do you think will be the next head coach of the N.C. State Wolfpack? Chuck Amato, Florida State assistant head coach and N.C. State alum? Jim Donnan, Georgia coach and N.C. State alum? Skip Holtz, South Carolina offensive coordinator and son of former N.C. State coach Lou Holtz? Glen Mason, Minnesota coach? How attractive is this job?
—Pat, Raleigh, N.C.

Pat, I don't think you'll see Skip Holtz leave his parents. That's why he gave up a head coaching job at UConn; he wanted his family to be with his mom and dad. I think N.C. State is a lateral move for Mason. He's a midwestern guy. Raleigh makes no sense for him. Is Donnan's pull toward coming home greater than his competitive fire? He hasn't gotten the job done yet at Georgia. I'd be surprised if he left it unfinished. Amato is one of the best defensive coaches in the country. He's a personable guy. He's a good fit for the Wolfpack. But isn't it funny that so few assistants have left Bobby Bowden's staff to strike out on their own? Other than Brad Scott, who failed at South Carolina, no one in recent memory has done so. My point is there is no track record with Bowden's assistants the way there was with Bear Bryant or Bill McCartney, both of whom spawned many successful coaches.

Sometimes people display glaring evidence that they are bumbling fools. You, for the most part, are not one of these people. However, you neglected to recognize Boston College in this week's Top 25. A team that finished 8-3 (a respectable record, considering its schedule), displayed admirable qualities (a great front line, solid position players) and put up a fight against the might-be national champs last week certainly deserves to be recognized. Many of their wins were by a precious few points, but they competed with almost all of the teams they played this year. Which brings me to my question: Why did you drop a top-20 team from your Top 25 completely?
—A.G., Lewiston, Maine

Well, fool or not, I do have a reason. The Eagles beat one team with a winning record, Syracuse, by one point. Yes, they played Miami close. Yes, they won at Notre Dame. But go back and look at their strength of schedule. It's non-existent. B.C. needed to show me something against Virginia Tech.

In a letter posted to your Nov. 17 Mailbag, James Swisher of Bowling Green, Va., asked your opinion on whether strength of schedule is overdone in the BCS rankings. You didn't answer his question, but instead discussed Marshall's SOS. How do you feel about SOS in the BCS?
—Kenneth M. Taylor, Huntington, W.Va.

Sorry. I go off on a tangent sometimes. That reminds me of a story ...

Just kidding. Strength of schedule is a redeeming feature of the BCS. I just get nervous when the computer rankings threaten to undo what a team that has played as well as Virginia Tech has accomplished. As a group, I don't think the people who put together the computer rankings are any more knowledgeable about football than a random sampling of fans. That's not acceptable with this much at stake.

Thank you for giving Alabama the credit it deserves by placing the Tide at No. 6 in your Top 25. I don't think the pollsters give them the credit they deserve. The BCS has them listed with the toughest schedule, but other teams are ranked ahead of them with the same number of losses. Is too much emphasis placed on margin of victory? We see teams like Nebraska load its schedule every year and blow opponents out, but the pollsters don't seem to mind that. What gives?
—David Carroll, Huntsville, Ala.

Keep in mind, David, that Alabama lost to Louisiana Tech before anyone realized how good the Bulldogs would be. That loss gave the Tide a lot of ground to make up. Another win over Florida will complete the job. Yes, margin of victory is important. In one sense, it's a credit to Alabama that its seven SEC victories came by no more than 12 points. It means Alabama knows how to win close games. On the other hand, letting LSU go down to the last play? That's not good.

I am long-time Penn State fan and, accordingly, a Joe Paterno fan also. But it seems to me that in the last three games JoePa was outcoached and his players were unprepared. I realize this is taboo in Happy Valley, but is there any behind-closed-doors whispering about Joe calling it quits? Do you think the game has passed him by, or are some of us jumping the gun?
—Ryan Felker, State College, Pa.

First of all, Joe can coach at Penn State until five years after his death as far as the university is concerned. Me, too. More to the point, the offense never found a rhythm in the second half of the season. I can't remember when a Penn State team had so much trouble running the ball. That's an indictment of the offensive line. I don't think that part of football has changed to the point that a Paterno team doesn't know how to run. The Nittany Lions just didn't get the job done.

Can anybody honestly say that Peter Warrick isn't the best player in the nation? I'd even say he's one of the top quarterbacks in the nation! How many player have had an ankle or two broken by his sickening cuts?
—Andrew Louis, Port Charlotte, Fla.

Andrew, when Warrick is on, he is the best college player in the nation. He should have won the Heisman. But I'm not going to vote for him. It has nothing to do with his shopping habits. He missed two games and took another three games to get back into the offensive rhythm. That's half the season. Frankly, I thought Shaun Alexander was the best running back I saw this season. But he missed one game and wasn't healthy for three Alabama games down the stretch. I'm not going to give him the Heisman, either.

When are defensive coordinators going to give up on the prevent defense? I'm just 40, and I personally have seen exactly 843 games lost because the defense decides to lay back and let the other team march down the field on the last possession of the game, 10 yards at a time. (Including my alma mater, Ole Miss, against Mississippi State, if you're wondering.) Quite apart from Romaro Miller's throwing an interception instead of taking a knee and going to overtime -- which I would enjoy hearing your take on -- don't you think the prevent scheme really killed the Rebels? (And if you give me any Cinderella stuff about State, I'm going to yak. I was even less impressed than I thought I'd be. At least Ole Miss lost the other three games to quality opponents.)
—Patrick, Monteagle, Tenn.

Patrick, I wasn't impressed with Mississippi State all that much, either. But facts are facts. The Bulldogs found a way to win late in the game week after week. They beat Ole Miss and Auburn the same way, by taking advantage of teams that banked on the clock as their ally. I'd be curious how often the prevent defense bites its team on the backside. We only focus on the occasions when the prevent fails. We never focus on when it works. Until I see a number on that, I'm not going to petition to kill it off.

I was surprised by Miller's pass, mainly because coach David Cutcliffe tried it on the road. At home, when the crowd and its emotion are on your side, I'd be more willing to listen to a case being made for the late pass. Even then, I would be skeptical. But Cutcliffe admitted he goofed, which closes the case for me. When coaches try to defend something like that, they just dig the hole deeper.

I would like to know why people won't give Marshall the respect it deserves. Florida State beat Clemson by three points and so did Marshall. I'm not saying that MU is as good as FSU but the Herd is a top-five team. O.K., Marshall plays in one of the weakest conferences in America, but it is undefeated and the administration has tried to schedule teams such as West Virginia, Michigan, Penn State, Florida State, Miami and other big-name programs, but none of them will play Marshall.
—Jason Trador, Huntington, W.Va.

If Marshall wants national respect, it's got to do what Southern Mississippi has done. Schedule the big dogs on the road, swallow ego and go play. That's the only way its strength of schedule will come up.

How in the world can Kansas State be passed over for an at-large bid considering its high ranking in the BCS? I thought that the BCS rankings were designed to introduce fairness to the whole process. As it looks now, K-State won't even be playing on Jan. 1. Where's the justice?
—Jared Adams, Arlington, Va.

The last thing anyone in Manhattan wants to hear is "strength of schedule". But there's no question that the way that K-State set its schedule up resulted in an inordinate amount of focus on the Nebraska game. When the Huskers routed the Wildcats, that seemed to quash all talk in the big games. Part of it is also the TV market. The Orange Bowl gets a big one with Michigan.

I just saw that Minnesota's Tyrone Carter, Tennessee's Deon Grant and New Mexico's Brian Urlacher are the nominees for the top defensive back (Thorpe Award). I know he's only a sophomore, but how can Jamar Fletcher be left out? He's been the most dominating CB in the country this year.
—Ross Hubbard, Oconomowoc, Wis.

Fletcher had a great year. So did Carter, Grant and Urlacher. I can't find blame with this decision. Sorry.

Do you really think Virginia Tech could beat either Florida State or Nebraska?
—Randy Price, Kansas City, Mo.

Hey, Randy, I'm not voting Virginia Tech No. 1 in order to be controversial; I think the Hokies can win. I'm not confident that they can win, but I think as of this point that the Hokies are the better team.

Send a question to Ivan Maisel, and check back each week during the season to read more of his answers.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Ivan Maisel covers college football and appears regularly on CNN/Sports Illustrated.

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