April 20, 2007

Mailbag: Looking for preseason respect

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He will be on the road throughout the spring bringing you scoop from campuses across the nation.
You want respect?

You have to earn it.

For example, wouldn't a team that has posted two unbeaten seasons in 14 years have earned respect?

Wouldn't you respect a team that has posted no fewer than eight victories in six of the last seven seasons and posted double-digit victory totals twice in that span?

Would you respect a team which has won four division championships, a conference championship and has played in bowl games in seven consecutive seasons (with a 4-3 record)?

What if the same team accomplished all that was listed above? Wouldn't you respect that team?

I would, even if a fan of that team doubts that I do.

One program that has earned national respect is Ohio State. I will be at the Buckeyes' spring game this weekend, and Rivals.com national writers will also be at Notre Dame, Alabama and Rutgers. Be sure to check out our coverage this weekend and early next week.

Olin's Mailbag
Looking for love

Once again it looks like Auburn will be overlooked going into the season. I don't think most people realize they are 21-3 in their past 24 SEC games. That is an amazing stat. When will the country start to look at Auburn like they do Florida or LSU and Tennessee?

-- Stephen in Auburn
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Uh, Stephen Auburn was favored to win the SEC last season.

Repeat after me: No one is against you.

I feel Auburn is viewed nationally as an upper-echelon program on par with the best programs in the country. Remember, the Tigers were ranked second in the nation before losing to Arkansas last season.

If you insist that Auburn isn't held in the same esteem as Florida, LSU or Tennessee, maybe it's because the Gators, Tigers and Volunteers have all won national championships within the last 10 years.

Yeah, I know that opens up the old wounds from 2004. Going undefeated and getting denied a chance to play for the national championship really stinks. I guess I understand the paranoia to some extent.

But please don't complain about being overlooked. Auburn's program is looked upon as one of the nation's best.

Mark it down

Who do you think will win the national championship this year? What do you think about the Oklahoma Sooners?

-- Anthony in Okmulgee, Okla.
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Former Auburn coach Pat Dye once gave me advice about looking for a possible national champion. He said to look for a team that returns a strong defense and an experienced quarterback. Based on the criteria, Southern California has to be the preseason favorite to win the crystal ball.

The Trojans return 10 starters from a unit which ranked 11th in scoring defense and 20th in total defense last season despite facing six teams that were among the top 40 in total offense.

Also, John David Booty is back at quarterback after passing for 3,347 yards and 29 touchdowns. Some doubt he'll be as effective without receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, and that's reasonable.

But Patrick Turner (6 feet 5, 230 pounds) is bigger than Jarrett, and he stepped in admirably when Jarrett was injured last year. Turner caught 17 passes in two games against Washington and Washington State.

With the tremendous athletes that Pete Carroll hauls in every year you can bet someone Vidal Hazelton, most likely will emerge to ease the loss of Smith.

USC has three starters back in the offensive line, and third- and fourth-string running backs that could start for 90 percent of the nation's teams.

The schedule won't be easy with road trips to Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, California and Arizona State, but all should be underdogs to the Trojans.

As far as your beloved Sooners, they don't have a proven defense (though Gerald McCoy will be a beast) and the quarterback situation is unsettled.

Bob Stoops always fields a strong team, and he'll find a way to do so again. The Sooners and Texas will again be the teams to beat in Big 12 South, although Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are all capable of mounting serious challenges.

A stocked stable

Who do you see emerging as the starting tailback at USC? Who will win out in the two receiver spots. What's the update with Mitch Mustain?

-- Troy in Los Angeles
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A USC fan named Troy. Coincidence? Doubt it.

As far as the receivers, the feeling here is those that are listed in the previous response Turner and Hazelton will be the front-runners. Sophomore Travon Patterson and redshirt freshman David Ausberry will likely mount a challenge.

C.J. Gable, who rushed for 434 yards last season and started the last four games of last season, probably remains the starter. However, the Trojans have a stable of backs ready in case he falters.

USC's spring roster has six running backs who were rated four- or five-star recruits by Rivals.com. The Trojans have three more coming in from the 2007 recruiting class.

I'd anticipate one or two will eventually change positions or transfer.

Some of them may eventually be taking handoffs from Mustain, who is reportedly transferring to USC from Arkansas and will be eligible for the 2008 season.

Beating the "system"

I recently read about "system quarterbacks" whose gaudy stats aren't taken totally seriously by the NFL because they play in foreign systems to the pro-set of the NFL. Calling the Spread (and its QBs) not worth regarding is very obscure to me. It has now helped the last two national champions and has won countless games. You need leadership and confidence to make the offense successful because all the weight is on (the QB). If these sound like things that don't suggest a good QB, then tell me what are.

-- WW in Dallas
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Some quarterbacks are better in certain systems, but that doesn't mean they're bad QBs. It doesn't make them pro prospects, either.

Eric Crouch won the Heisman at Nebraska, but his game obviously wasn't conducive to the NFL. Texas Tech QBs have often led the nation in passing under Mike Leach, but none have become NFL starters. Andre Ware? Remember him? He won a Heisman operating the Run 'N Shoot when it was still a new offense, but failed in the NFL.

Some QBs coming out of the Spread may be doubted, too. But I think you have a good point it's more important to look at the qualities of the QB than the system in which he plays.

You think anybody doubts Vince Young now? Does anyone now doubt Drew Brees, who was supposed to be a "product of the system" at Purdue.

Personally, I think the system benefits from the QB as much as the QB benefits from the system. After all, we've seen quarterbacks who played well in pro style offenses in college but failed in the NFL.

More than a recruiter

I guess Bill Callahan is a good recruiter, but not a great coach. If he can't produce a national contender this year then Husker nation should be worried. I don't think Husker nation is happy every year with a 9-4 record. Don't you think Callahan should be worried about his job if he can't get in one of the major BCS games?

--Harry in Nebraska
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Callahan certainly isn't perfect, but if the majority of Husker Nation is proposing a 'BCS or go' ultimatum, I think that is misguided.

The Huskers have made steady improvement since Callahan came in to overhaul the program in 2004. Nebraska figures to be a strong contender for the Big 12 championship.

But even if they faltered a little I doubt he would be in danger of losing his job.

I'm always incredulous when a coach is criticized for "just" being a recruiter. Bobby Bowden had the rap before he won two national championships. Mack Brown had that rap, too.

Callahan can obviously recruit. He can coach, too. The Raiders did go to the Super Bowl under his watch. Detractors can debate the level of his influence, but the bottom line is he was the coach of a Super Bowl team.

A tight race

What does the (Florida State) quarterback race look like now? Who looks like they're going to win (the starting job). Will Florida State do better under Jimbo Fisher and contend for the ACC?

-- M.D. in Rolling Fork, Miss.
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The QB race in Tallahassee looks remarkably like it did before spring football practices started. Neither Drew Weatherford nor Xavier Lee took the lead.

The spring game was a perfect example of how close this competition is, and figures to remain.

Weatherford completed 13 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.

Lee completed 13 of 26 for 163 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

I couldn't project who will emerge as the starter. There must have been some reason Weatherford was ahead of Lee the last two seasons, but Lee is more athletic and could make more "off schedule" plays.

Only Fisher knows who has the advantage, and maybe he doesn't. If he does, he's not saying.

No matter which quarterback surfaces as the starter, Fisher's track record at LSU makes it reasonable to expect the Florida State offense to be improved in 2007.

As far as the ACC race: I definitely think the Seminoles will be a factor. After all, they won their bowl game last season (over a UCLA team which beat USC). Just two years ago they won the ACC, so it's not like the program has fallen apart.

But the schedule isn't favorable. The Seminoles must go on the road to face Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest their three chief rivals in the Atlantic Division.

Diamond in the MAC?

The Mid-American Conference is known for producing NFL quarterbacks. Are there any potential QBs right now that you see that can keep that tradition alive, such as Dan LeFevour from Central Michigan University?

--Jonathan in Detroit
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Projecting NFL Draft choices isn't really my field of expertise. Personally, I don't see any reason to dismiss LeFevour now. He has nice size at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and certainly had a productive freshman season with 3,031 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. Watching him progress should be fun, except for Chippewas' opponents, of course.

I enlisted the opinion of Rivals.com NFL Draft partner Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com and asked him about candidates that might be available in the Draft later this month. Coyle says Akron's Luke Getsy has a good shot to be drafted in the later rounds, but clearly there isn't a prospect like Chad Pennington, Ben Roethlisberger or Byron Leftwich.

The new-look Gophers

Tim Brewster has got me and the rest of the state of Minnesota pumped for the new era of Minnesota Gopher football. What can we expect this season from the newly-installed spread offense and a new-look defense?

-- Blake in Minneapolis
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What happens with the Gophers offense will be dependent on the development of the quarterbacks and how quickly incoming freshmen receivers can contribute.

Neither Tony Mortensen nor Adam Weber staked a claim on the starting quarterback job this spring, although Minnesota insiders seem to think Weber is more athletic and a better fit for the Spread.

The returning receivers have good size but average speed, so some faster newcomers will likely have to make significant contributions right away for the offense to be effective.

Defensively, look for coordinator Everett Withers to try to force the issue and attack with blitzes from everywhere. He'll also use more press coverage.

The Gophers need to get faster. Brewster, as you probably know, is a high-energy personality and a recruiting machine. Expect the Gophers' talent level to improve, but it might take a year or two.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.




 

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