The biggest spring experiment leads this week's mailbag:
From Lynn in Tampa: I read about the 6-10 offensive tackle (Ali Villanueva) Army is using at receiver. I love the idea. Why do you think more teams don't trying stuff like this?
Feldman: Well, you just don't find many 6-10 players in college football. Villanueva was the tallest guy in FBS last season, and he is a unique athlete. I actually spoke with him and new Army coach Rich Ellerson for an ESPN The Magazine story. It's an interesting dynamic there.
Ellerson just came from Cal Poly, where he had an outstanding team and a dangerous offense keyed by 6-6 wideout Ramses Barden. The coach admitted he was intrigued by Villanueva's potential as a target, pointing out that the 6-10, 297-pounder is very athletic, having been a former high school basketball star. But Ellerson has no expectations that his new project will blossom into a receiver like Barden. He says Barden ran better and had so much more of a head start getting reps, running routes and catching passes.
The other trick in this is getting the player to buy in and really get comfortable. Remember, Villanueva, a recruit who attended high school in Belgium while his father worked for the Department of Defense, started 12 games at LT and was a guy who former Army coach Stan Brock (a longtime NFL O-lineman) thought had the tools to become an All-American. Villanueva told me Wednesday night that he wanted to stay at tackle, but says he's all about doing whatever the team needs him to and doing what the coaches want. "It's all about the team," he said.
Think about this: Most players these days might raise a fuss if they're asked to move to a position they wouldn't want to play. Heck, some might even "try" it and then sabotage it by purposely dropping passes in practice to prove it's not the right move. At an academy like Army, you certainly wouldn't expect such an attitude, and Villanueva laughed a little about that but then pointed out how impressed he has been with the knowledge of the new staff and said he is really eager for his senior season.
Incidentally, Villanueva says that even though Minnesota and Boston College pursued him to play both football and basketball, neither was his best sport growing up. Instead, he excelled more in swimming and soccer. He said he won youth swimming championships while growing up in New England (at one point his family lived in Rhode Island) and in Europe. And Villanueva cautions against reading too much into his grabbing two TDs in a recent Army scrimmage. "I just need to catch more balls and get used to the running."
From Nate in Provo, Utah: I'm a life long BYU fan, and I've noticed that BYU always has a handicap on recruiting because of its strict conduct code. I'm wondering if you agree that that's what's holding them back from being a regular top 15/top 10 team or if there are other factors. I'm also wondering if you think Bronco Mendenhall has what it takes to get BYU a legitimate spot in the top 10 or so.
Feldman: I do think that's part of it. There are just some kids, probably half of what most schools might have on their recruiting board, who wouldn't feel comfortable with the code and in that environment. That doesn't mean BYU can't still make a run at the top 10 every year. And it's important to note that for many top prospects who are LDS, BYU also has an appeal that other programs simply can't compete with. I think Mendenhall has what it takes to keep BYU in the top 10. He is an intense guy and has built his program around toughness and playing smart, and those teams rarely beat themselves. And his staff has done a nice job recruiting.
From Reed in New Albany, Ohio: Ohio State signed the largest multimedia rights contract this week, joining a list of other colleges who have done the same in the past. The agreement calls for a large LED ad board to be installed in Ohio Stadium along with other ad tools on-site in OSU's other facilities. Is college tradition and history dying due to the bottom lines of athletic departments?
Feldman: I read this and thought, a person from Ohio should be the last person to wonder this. You can't get anywhere near Columbus in the fall without hearing an "O-H- " Regardless of ad campaigns or signage, I doubt tradition will ever really be watered down. It's too engrained into the culture there. I mean you may see more swooshes in the background of team pictures and things like that, but I don't see any team turning its uniforms into something that resembles a NASCAR speedster.
From Scott in Oahu, Hawaii: How could you possibly think that Big East and the Pac 10 is better than the MWC. The MWC went 6-2 against the Pac 10 last year, and the BIG EAST is horribly overrated.
Feldman: Those were actually projections on which conferences I thought would be best in 2009. I think the MWC had a great year in '08, although I still believe the Pac-10 and Big East, top to bottom, will be better than the Mountain West. Then again, with the Big East losing a few marquee players (Pat White at WVU and LeSean McCoy at Pitt), I don't have high expectations for that conference this season.
From Jason in Arlington, Va.: I see that you got a lot of comments from Cal fans. What's up with that? They weren't even on your list, nor should they be what have they ever done? No BCS bowls and some very mediocre seasons mixed in the Jeff Tedford regime. I can understand fans arguing Beamer and Richt's success as future indicators, but not Jeff Tedford.
Feldman: Cal fans definitely are vocal, feeling that their team gets downplayed. I suspect that's because they believe a lot of the country doesn't take seriously any team from the Pac-10 besides USC. I know I've drawn some of their ire over the years because a few of their fans feel that I've snubbed them. Obviously, I agree with your final point about a distinction between Va. Tech and UGA on one hand and Cal on the other.
• Three years ago Woodny Turenne was hailed as the nation's top JC recruit by Rivals.com, JCGridiron and JCFootball.com. Those sites raved about his potential based a lot, I suspect, on his speed and his supposed great frame. (His bio at Louisville lists that he was "2006 National Champion in the 100-meter run, the 4x100 relay and was also second in the 200-meter run.") I recall that early on Turenne was high on the Ole Miss recruiting board, and he was one of the prospects I considered focusing some of the book on, but then one of the Rebels' assistants, Ryan Nielsen, went to watch him again for College of the Sequoias and came back with a less-than-glowing report after studying the CB play. The Rebels took him off their board, and I'd heard a few other teams soured on him as well. Turenne signed with Louisville and started some for the Cardinals over the past two seasons.
I was intrigued to see how he would perform at his Pro Day this week, wondering if he'd light it up for scouts because of his track background. According to an account on NFL.com, it doesn't sound like that happened:
CB Woodny Turenne (5-11 3/8, 183 pounds) did the 40 in times of 4.49 and 4.54 seconds with a 32½-inch vertical and a 10-foot broad jump. He had a 4.39 short shuttle and a 6.93 three-cone drill, with 12 reps on the bench.
Not only did Turenne measure more than an inch and a half shorter than the 6-1 he was listed at Louisville or the 6-2 the recruiting sites once had him at, but his 40 times and vertical were hardly what you'd expect from someone who had been touted as such a speed guy.
Thing is, Turenne actually had fast track times from his high school days, according to Dyestat, which is about as legit as we're going to get at that level. Then again, 100-meter times don't always translate to 40-yard-dash speed, and they certainly don't always reflect "football speed" and the traits needed for a cornerback. It reminded me of something Pete Carroll once said about how he thought corners were the toughest guys to evaluate because you rarely get an opportunity to see them much on game film.• Jason Hannan, considered the top center prospect in the country coming out of high school in 2007, will leave Oklahoma and transfer to another school, reports Jake Trotter.
My three cents: This doesn't surprise me. In fact, I'm more surprised that there was some speculation that Hannan might win the vacant center job. During media day before the BCS title game in January, I was talking to some Oklahoma players and assistants about how they'll replace all of the upperclassmen on their O-line, and everyone talked about redshirt freshman center Ben Habern. In fact, they talked about him so much, I ended up going into the stands to find Habern to talk to him more about taking over for the very underrated Jon Cooper.To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.