Dawgs under the microscope at No. 1
I'll start this week's mailbag with some SEC talk:
From Ben in Atlanta: What's with all the hating on my Dawgs? Besides the schedule, what possibly does UGA have going against them? UF has had more injuries, has more holes to fill on defense and not to mention we beat them last season. I understand losing (Trinton) Sturdivant was big, but we have plenty of guys to step in, we played with three freshmen on the OL last season. I really don't understand the media's fascination with picking apart this UGA team.
Feldman: A lot of the skepticism around Georgia comes from the Dawgs being ranked No. 1. Everyone looks at them much harder because of that, and also I think there's an added pressure around the program that comes with being No.1. Plus, everyone is gunning for you, although it's not like the rest of the teams on their schedule were going to take UGA lightly. The other factor here is, as you point out, Georgia did lose its starting backside tackle. Also, FB Brannan Southerland is also expected to be out for the first half of the season. Those two guys are going to be very hard to replace.
On the bright side, some SEC coaches I spoke to believe that UGA assistant Stacey Searles is the best O-line coach in the conference and that he will get the new front ready to play. It certainly doesn't hurt that Georgia was a very big screen team last season, which also reduces the pressure on the line to pass protect.
From Dennis in Baltimore: As a displaced Badgers fan, do you think P.J. Hill can win the Heisman this year and lead Wisconsin to the Big Ten title?
Feldman: The Badgers are going to be a very physical team again and they have a lot of experience now. I like Hill, but I don't think he's one of the top five backs in college football. He really is a great barometer for the team's success. Of the Badgers' four losses in 2007, the only game in which Hill rushed for more than 100 yards was against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl (132 yards). He must be able to carry this offense when they're in big games. Fortunately for him he does play on an offense with Travis Beckum, arguably the top tight end in college football, and a guy who will keep defenses honest. I'm picking Ohio State to win the Big Ten this year.
From Laura in Daytona Beach, Fla.: I heard you say on TV that Miami will win the ACC in 2009. What percentage chance do you give the Canes to win the league in '08?
Feldman: I'll say 25 percent. The big key is how quickly the passing game develops. UM's backs are good and I think the O-line will be very solid, but the young QBs need to be consistent and avoid big mistakes and some of these receivers need to step up. On the other side of things, I don't see the ACC being very strong this fall, so if UM's defense stays healthy the Hurricanes still have a decent shot.
From Rex in NYC: I know losing Ray Rice hurts, but can Rutgers run the ball enough to get back into the top 25?
Feldman: I have my doubts. When I was out at practice the other day, I was impressed with how hard Mason Robinson ran the ball. I knew about his great speed, but I'd heard concerns about his toughness. But then this week, he took a big shot and was held out of practice. Whether Robinson and Kordell Young can hold up is a big question. The answer, though, could be Jourdan Brooks, the big 245-pound back with speed. He was great in the spring, but has been a little nicked up. Greg Schiano is very excited about him. I'd asked if Brooks reminded him of Najeh Davenport (who was at UM when Schiano was an assistant there). Schiano said Brooks is better because he's more of a natural runner. He could provide that dimension RU is lacking.
• Conference USA opponents should be on alert. Marshall DE Albert McClellan is back. The 6-0, 260-pound, big-play man who missed all of last season with a knee injury has turned the corner in his recovery. I talked to Marshall coach Mark Snyder on Wednesday and he said McClellan was back to flying all over the field that morning. Prior to then, it seems, McClellan wasn't quite ready mentally to cut it loose.
In case you haven't seen McClellan, you should try to check him out this fall. Snyder, who used to be Ohio State's defensive coordinator, says McClellan could play for the Buckeyes. Trouble is, he didn't have the height many schools want from a defensive end. The continued success of shorter players the likes of Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil are changing that, however. Ironically enough, McClellan's position coach, Jerry Azzinaro, just so happened to be Freeney's coach at Syracuse.
• Joe McKnight had a nasty hand accident, reports Gary Klein.
McKnight practiced Thursday with his right middle and ring fingers taped, completing about half the workout. Afterward, the fingers bloodied as he approached the locker room, he said he had a slight fracture in the tip of one, but "it's not going to slow me down," from practicing or playing in the Trojans' Aug. 30 opener at Virginia.
• Both FAU and FIU are coming on as recruiting presences, writes Larry Blustein.
• This story about Arkansas LB Jerry Franklin obviously made me smile. It also made me wonder which actor could possibly be cast as Coach O? Maybe Gary Busey if he dyed his hair is the best I could come up with.