Lots of title game speculation and poll position questions in this week's mailbag:
From R.T. in Omaha: With the BCS standings just coming out and USC sitting so high in them do you think that a one-loss team from the Big 12, SEC or any other conference that has a Championship Game, should jump a one-loss Pac-10 or Big Ten school? Don't you think that any BCS conference that doesn't have a championship game should not be rated higher or get a chance to play in the title game over a same-number-of-losses team that's won its conference championship?
Feldman: I hear you and think this is a fair point because it means your schedule is potentially, although not necessarily always, going to be more challenging since you're playing one more game and it happens to be against another heavyweight school. The part of that I think is tricky right now is that the ACC also has a conference title game and I really doubt you'd find too many people outside of say Boston or Atlanta who would buy that a one-loss Boston College or Georgia Tech team would be ranked above a one-loss USC team or even a one-loss Ohio State team should the Buckeyes beat No. 3 Penn State.
Also, the timing of all this isn't ideal for USC or the Big Ten since those leagues are down this year, especially the Pac-10, which might not have even two top 25 caliber programs this year. But that topic leads nicely into our next question . . .
From Derek in NJ: I realize that Alabama has the SEC championship game, but their schedule doesn't seem any more difficult than Penn State's. Am I wrong? If so, why?
Feldman: There are two basic ways you can evaluate the worth of a schedule: by where the opponents are ranked when you play them or by where they end up after the season. I tend to lean towards the latter because in many cases pre-season evaluations are near guesses and often times you tend to get inflated rankings. That said, injuries can really shift the perception of a team at a given point of the season. For example: Oregon with Dennis Dixon last year was a top-5 quality team. After he went down, the Ducks weren't anywhere near as tough.
So having said that, let's examine Bama and Penn State through both prisms. In the first model, the Tide has two eye-catching wins over top 10 opponents on the road (No. 9 Clemson and No. 3 Georgia), whereas Penn State' only game against a ranked team was a 38-24 win over No. 22 Illinois in Happy Valley. (It's unfortunate for PSU that the Lions didn't get the Big Ten's big disappointment, Wisconsin earlier in the year when they hovered near the top 10.) Off that, Alabama has a sizeable edge, but I think using the second model, we can see that Clemson was really, really overrated.
It hurts Penn State that some traditionally -- or at least recently strong teams are really having down years (Michigan is 2-5; Wisconsin is 3-4 and Purdue is 2-5). Then again, right now Bama only has two wins over teams with winning records: at UGA and over 5-2 Kentucky. I give the edge to Alabama still because winning at Georgia trumps anything PSU has; I suspect games at Ohio State and at LSU are comparable and then you do have to factor in an SEC title game.
From Taylor in Chicago: As we approach a somewhat lackluster UW v ND game, what are your thoughts on the Ty Willingham situation? Just about everyone in Washington is asking for his firing, but it seems that UW is gun-shy after the PR disaster that followed Ty's early dismissal from ND. What does Washington have to gain by keeping Ty around until the end of the season?
Feldman: Perhaps the better question is how much do they have to gain by firing him now? If that means the school can make moves to reel in its top choice for his successor than I expect they'd make that decision and cut Willingham loose. The buzz out of Seattle is that the new U-Dub brass, which has roots at LSU, really are intrigued by Texas D-coordinator Will Muschamp, who right now is very busy with the top-ranked Longhorns. One point that I think people need to keep in mind is canning a head coach mid-season isn't always a great move. You're talking about completely pulling the plug on the leadership of your program. Even if you have a solid interim candidate, it's not a stretch to think certain aspects of your program will lag until a new head coach is named. Watch how much the academics can slide if there is some disarray for a month or so.
From Vince in NYC: If the Irish crush Washington on the road, do you think ND will be back in the top 25, and if not what more do the pollsters need to see?
Feldman: I don't think crushing a team that is 0-6 and has been beat by more than 30 points in half their games is going to prove too much to pollsters. The Irish just need to keep winning and I suspect if they beat Pitt in South Bend, they might crack the top 25. And if not then, then if they beat BC the following week. Right now, the respect factor isn't high because you're talking about a team that was 3-9 last year. Even after this weekend, they still won't have beaten anyone with a winning record, and the teams they've beaten would have a combined record of 9-27.
From J.J. in NYC: What is your take on that ref last weekend in the LSU-South Carolina game that leveled Stephen Garcia? I have never seen a more blatant example of unprofessional behavior from an official. I don't know how anyone can NOT think he was making every effort to get in his way and take him down, and I don't understand why this isn't receiving more press. I had absolutely zero vested interest in this game being an ND fan, but I don't think I've ever been more outraged at a ref in my life. He should never officiate another game in college football again.
Feldman: I think it started to get a lot of play Tuesday once the video got around, and on the talking head shows on ESPN, I know it was discussed quite a bit. The only thing I can get is that the referee, Wilbur Hackett Jr., was a former college linebacker at Kentucky and his instincts kicked in and he braced himself. I couldn't imagine a ref with a bias doing anything in that fashion if they were trying to "get" a team. I would think a borderline holding or interference call would be much more viable and less suspicious.
From John in Tulsa: Best Little Men...correction! How does 5-8, 190, and the 5th leading rusher sound to you? You missed Kendall Hunter at Oklahoma State in your rankings of the best wee folk.
Feldman: He is a terrific back, but as I said before, at 5-8, he's the same height as Emmitt Smith and Javon Ringer. Now if he was 5-8, 175, I'd put him on there, but there are a handful of backs around his size.
From Patrick in Opelousas, LA: I just finished Meat Market and really enjoyed it. It was interesting to see recruiting from that point of view. As an LSU fan I liked the battles between Ole Miss and LSU. As a fan of Louisiana football in general it was interesting to read about all the players from Louisiana that I followed that recruiting season. But as a Saints fan, the book got me a little worried. How much do you think Coach O wants to get back into the college game? Do you think he will be in New Orleans for very much longer?
Feldman: Thanks. I know he loves being back in New Orleans and thinks the world of Sean Peyton. There are also elements of being a pro coach that evoke some of the same aspects of the college recruiting game that he was so wired to: scouting the league's other free-agent linemen; working out potential draftees, etc. Still, I'd be surprised if he wasn't back as a college coach in the next few years.
•One of the best matchups of the weekend that few people are talking about is a potential head-to-head showdown between two guys very high on the NFL's radar. It'll be in the Virginia-Ga. Tech game, where Cavaliers offensive tackle Eugene Monroe trying to fend off Jackets defensive end Michael Johnson. Both Monroe and Johnson are touted as first-round picks in the 2009 NFL draft. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper ranks Monroe No. 1 and Johnson No. 2 among senior draft prospects, writes Ken Sugiura:
Including the Falcons, nine NFL teams have requested credentials to scout the game, which actually is a fairly typical number. But Kiper called it the best individual matchup of the weekend for scouts. "That's going to be a hell of a battle," said Tony Softli, the St. Louis Rams vice president for player personnel. "Two athletes going at each other. It's going to be fun for us to see as scouts." Tech defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said that Monroe, 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, "is probably the best lineman we've played this year." He describes Monroe as agile for his size and excellent at both pass and run blocking.
Another intriguing dual could be if Tennessee sticks stud DB Eric Berry on Alabama's outstanding freshman wideout Julio Jones.
•Speaking of Berry, there is a really cool story by Drew Edwards about the connection between the Vols star and the widow of a former Ole Miss player.
•Despite what his AD says, you have to believe San Diego State's Chuck Long is in real trouble as the temperature on the hot seat keeps rising. According to Friday's Union-Tribune, season-ticket sales have dropped to their lowest level since at least 2001 (10,200). This week, after Saturday's 70-7 loss at New Mexico, major donors to SDSU athletics have expressed serious concern about the program's future.
"I hate to say this, but we need a new coach, and we need a new athletic director," said Art Flaming, a former SDSU Alumni Association president who recently gave $500,000 for the new SDSU Alumni Center.
My hunch is Long will get some kind of settlement and be forced out by season's end. One of the names I think you'll hear as a successor is UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. Look for State to pursue someone with a lot of energy and strong recruiting ties in Southern California this time around.
•Quote of the Day: "The team goals are friggin' out the window," said Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel. "It's do-or-die time."
My three cents: I think it was do-or-die time last week in Austin.
Georgia offensive lineman Chris Little, who switched from Notre Dame to the Bulldogs on signing day in 2007, is on the move again, reports Michael Carvell:
"He just felt like it was time to move on," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said of the 330-pounder who is now free to go anywhere. "It wasn't working out as well as he thought it would, and he wanted to move in a different direction."
Coming out of high school, Little was the nation's 15th rated offensive tackle by ESPN.
•Houston Nutt is really going to hear it from the Arkansas crowd, writes Scott Cacciola.
My colleague Seth Wickersham had an outstanding story 18 months ago about the climate around Nutt that is worth revisiting this week. The story, titled Fanning the Fire, actually was cited in the latest version of the Best American Sports Writing anthology.
•Quarterback John Ryan, brother of former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, has committed to play for Brown, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. "I looked at Harvard and Yale, too. Football-wise, I felt Brown was the best place for me."
Ryan's senior season ended in Week 3 after he sustained a broken collarbone.