NCF Nation: Mailbag 092812

Opening the mailbag: LSU owns Pac-12

September, 28, 2012
Welcome to the mailbag.

I would encourage you to follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Otherwise you will miss my tweets, and that could damage that space-time continuum.

To the notes!

Brady from Portland writes: Does Washington beating Stanford help or hurt the national perspective of the strength of the Pac 12?

Paul from Portland writes: Ted, it's games like tonight's (Wash/Stan) that give the Pac-12 a bad name. We have a team like Washington that gets crushed 41-3 by LSU, then beats Stanford, which is ranked #8. Why does this always happen in the Pac? Is it parity or just lack of consistency?

Ted Miller: Yes, in the beauty contest that college football is, where perception is the primary measuring stick as opposed to head-to-head games, the Huskies defeat of Stanford hurt the national perception of the Pac-12, particularly in comparison to the SEC.

Here's how this works.

After LSU beat Washington 41-3, it established a challenging benchmark for the Huskies vs. the rest of the Pac-12 vs. LSU. If a Pac-12 team wanted to compare itself to LSU, the theory goes, it must win in a similar fashion when it plays Washington. Perhaps not by 38 points, but at least by two TDs or more. And a loss to the Huskies! Wow, that would confirm inferiority without question!

Welcome to the transitive property of college football: If A (LSU) is greater than B (Washington) and B (Washington) is greater than C (Stanford) then A (LSU) is greater than C (Stanford).

And, of course, as Stanford already has beaten USC, that also makes LSU greater than the Trojans.

Now, most of us know this logic isn't sound -- even theoretically. Every season it fails to hold true in numerous cases, such as Stanford beats USC, Oregon beats Stanford, USC beats Oregon.

Heck, Alabama lost to LSU in the regular season and then battered the Tigers in the national title game. Every game is different. Home and road matter. Injuries matter. A single dropped pass in the first quarter can send transformative ripples throughout a game.

Still, we all use the transitive property of college football, typically when it props up our own conception of things. Last night on Twitter, it wasn't just SEC fans who were using the transitive property with LSU and Stanford. It was national writers.

And, as one piece of analysis, it's not completely invalid. In fact, common opponents are really the only way we can compare teams that don't play, such as trying to compare LSU with Stanford, USC and, after next weekend's Huskies visit to Eugene, Oregon.

In terms of real influence, let's put it this way: Would you pick Stanford to beat LSU on a neutral field, based on what we've seen thus far this season? Me neither.

Still, the transitive property of college football best functions as a device for trash-talking. It was used against the Pac-12 last night, but you know you've used it before against fans from another conference. I certainly have. It's even possible the Pac-12 blog will employ it if Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Wisconsin post big wins this season.

As for Paul's question for why it happens, yes. It's parity. It's inconsistency. It's new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes having a bad game in his first-ever road start. It's the Huskies producing two huge offensive plays when the Cardinal executed poorly. It's the Huskies having a really sound defensive game plan.

Upsets happen all the time in college football, but the best programs seem to avoid them the most.

Which is why Chip Kelly's Ducks seem to be in pretty good position all of the sudden in the Pac-12 -- and national -- pecking order.

Franklin from Columbia, S.C., writes: Living in SEC land, I admit that following the PAC12 is a guilty pleasure of mine and after watching the the Oregon St. - UCLA game and listening to all the recent talk about Oregon's other team, I decided to take a look at how they stack up for next year. Am I crazy or does the CFB world need to be put on notice about the 2013 Oregon State squad? By my count, they figure to return 8 starters on Offense and six on Defense. Their O-Line will remain in great shape with Fr. Center Isaac Seumalo's ability to play any position (to account for Sr. Colin Kelly's departure). They're incredibly deep at WR and TE and look to have no problem accounting for Markus Wheaton and Colby Prince graduating. On Defense, they seem to rotate their second string on about 35% of their plays which will help account for the loss of CB Jordan Poyer, S Anthony Watkins, and LB Feti Taumoepeau. The only question seems to be how they will replace the 6-3 354lb DT Castro Masaniai. Their schedule stacks up favorably playing Washington, Stanford, and USC in Corvallis and no world beaters on their OOC schedule. If they can pick up a JC transfer or two.... dare I say, that squad may just be National Championship material.

Ted Miller: I noticed this, too, when I was writing about the Beavers Thursday. There are a lot of nice pieces coming back for the Beavers in 2013, including quarterback Sean Mannion, his entire O-line and some key guys on defense.

That said, there are some important parts that need to be replaced: wide receiver Markus Wheaton, both starting defensive tackles and cornerback Jordan Poyer. Most folks would consider Wheaton and Poyer the Beavers' two best players, and they also are good leaders.

Still, Oregon State certainly appears to be trending up after a two-year downturn. Not sure if I'm ready to list the Beavers as potential national title contenders next fall. But it's early. If they end up winning nine or 10 games this year, they certainly will be in line for a nice preseason ranking.

Drofdarb23 from Boise, Idaho, writes: The UW defense looked significantly better last night under Justin Wilcox's direction. Any chance they can upset the Ducks at Autzen next week? Wilcox's Boise State defense in 2009 held Oregon's offense to 6 first downs, 152 yards and 8 points.

Ted Miller: Always a chance.

I was very confident USC would beat Stanford. Nope. I felt nearly as confident that Stanford would beat Washington. Nope.

But those two upsets shared something important: The underdog was playing at home. Oregon will be playing within the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium. Big difference.

I will admit my curiosity has been piqued, though. What might Wilcox add to this bitter rivalry, which has been so one-sided during a run of eight consecutive Oregon wins by at least 17 points? The plot certainly has thickened after the win over Stanford, which completely reversed the recent trend in the series of Cardinal domination.

I thought Stanford would fall to USC because its secondary wouldn't be able to keep up athletically with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. That was completely wrong. I thought Stanford would be able to control both lines of scrimmage against the Huskies. That was mostly wrong.

And I think Oregon will beat Washington because of superior athleticism across the board. I think the Ducks offense is much more advanced with its first-year starter at quarterback, Marcus Mariota, compared to Stanford and Nunes. I don't think the Huskies' O-line matches up well with a rugged, speedy Ducks front seven.

Of course, they do say boneheaded predictions from the Pac-12 blog happen in threes.

Kyle from Corvallis writes: While I'm a Duck alum and hardcore Duck fan living in Corvallis, I just wanted to let you know that on your Friday 4 downs segment you called Markus Wheaton "Kenny Wheaton." While I'm sure you know that someone such as myself can appreciate the slip-up I felt it my duty as an avid reader to let you know.

Ted Miller: Gaaaaa! Man, that is bad.

The Friday Four Downs video is a tough one. Kevin and I grumble about how it often requires multiple takes to get through four different storylines in a quick fashion without messing up. As you can tell from that one, my mouth and brain sometimes don't communicate very well.

By the way, who is Kenny Wheaton? Never heard of him. Did he ever score or anything?

(Again. Gaaaa!)

Notre Dame mailblog

September, 28, 2012
What's happening?

Marvin from Rochester, Ind., writes: No doubt ND looks better especially on that D front, that said last week looked to be a good test however Mich ST only showed they were not a top team in the big ten. Watching Mich game right now and ND is up 13-3 but what we are seeing is robinson is not a GREAT passing Qb. If ND holds on to win this one they will be ranked in the top 10... to high? Both Mich and Purdue have decent D lines and average passing QBs and have given ND close games, don't you think once ND faces a real top 10 team with a good passer and all around defense that ND will get blown away?

Matt Fortuna: Marvin, they certainly need to rely less on their defense. Notre Dame through four games looks good enough to have a realistic shot at winning all of its remaining games. By that same token, it has a very slim margin for error and cannot afford to turn the ball over in key spots. You expect more than a seven-point win over a team that turns the ball over six times. Then again, Notre Dame is winning these games this year, something that probably couldn't be said for last year's team.

Josh from Fort Benning, Ga., writes: How much of an issue is the fact that Eifert only has one reception (albeit a huge one) in the last two games?

Matt Fortuna: Josh, I asked offensive coordinator Chuck Martin about this during the week. He said it has more to do with the passing game not being up to speed than any shortcomings on Eifert's part. He is an elite tight end, probably the best in the country, and I think all agree that Notre Dame is much more dangerous when he is making catches. But no one has really stepped up yet when he is double-teamed.

Scott from Phoenix writes: Matt, how "undertalkd" about is Theo Riddick? This kid continually does whatever is asked of him to help the team win. Also, does yesterday's qb "situation" basically mean next year it's slot wr for Everett and it's Gunner's qb job to lose? Let's be realistic, the kid is a physical presence, always on the sideline looking to learn something.

Matt Fortuna: Scott, Riddick has delivered multiple times for the Irish so far, and his experience as a slot man always leaves that threat open when he is on the field. As for your other question, neither I nor anyone I have spoken to has ever seen Everett Golson go out for a catch, nor do I know what kind of hands he has, so I'm not sure where that idea has come from. He is a quarterback, plain and simple. Gunner Kiel has loads of potential but doesn't know what the other quarterbacks know yet, which is normal for a true freshman. And he should be engaged on the sideline, like everyone else.

Mike O'Connor from Campbell River, British Columbia, writes: Hey Matt,With everything Manti T'eo has been through and his peformances on the field falling into the "amazing" category.What else is he going to have to do to be considered for the Heisman? Play offense?Thanks,Mike

Matt Fortuna: Mike, he'll have to continue this tear the whole season, and his team will have to be in BCS consideration. I'm not saying I agree with it, but it is just so much harder for a defensive player to win the Heisman, and no linebacker has ever won it. Not taking anything away from Te'o, who deserves all of the credit he has received, but Luke Kuechly last year had probably the best single-season from a linebacker that I've ever seen in my short life, and you never heard his name under consideration.

Adam Stall from Everywhere, S.C., writes: Your an idiot.

Matt Fortuna: To steal a line from my friend Brian Hamilton: This is never not funny.

SEC mailbag: Florida a BCS buster?

September, 28, 2012
It's time to take some questions as we enter the weekend:

Robert in Salt Lake City writes: How much of a role does UF have in determining who plays for the national title? Will possibly knocking off FSU put someone in it, or will FSU be on the outside looking in at that point?

Edward Aschoff: The Gators could be a real BCS buster for a few teams. For starters, Florida hosts LSU next week and a Gator win could throw a wrench in the Tigers' plans for a return to the national championship. Oh, and there are the games against Georgia and South Carolina. All three of those teams are ranked within the top 6, so the Gators are very much going to be a part of the national championship picture in some form or fashion. That doesn't mean Florida will be competing for it, but it could determine who plays in it because the Gators have a chance to beat each one of those teams. Now, will they? I don't know, but this team is better equipped to than it has been in the past two years. As for Florida State, the Seminoles still have to prove to me that they're back. Yes, they beat Clemson, but wasn't that supposed to be a vaunted defense? I believe it gave up 462 yards and gave up 37 points in the process. Also, beware of the Thursday night game at Virginia Tech. FSU has a way of losing those games it shouldn't …

Bobby in Ludowici, Ga., writes: Kentucky, Vandy, Arkansas, and Auburn are clearly the most struggling teams in the SEC, who has the best chance at making a bowl game?

EA: Right now, it's hard to say if any will make a bowl game. All sit at 1-3, and all have tough roads ahead. Arkansas has four home games left, but could drop to 1-5 with back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and Auburn coming up. Auburn has five home games left, but Georgia and Texas A&M are on that list and Alabama is on the road. Three of Kentucky's remaining five home opponents are currently ranked, and Vanderbilt ends the season with three road games in the final four weeks. For Arkansas and Auburn, next week's matchup between the two will make or break the Hogs' bowl chances. A loss will likely terminate Arkansas' real bowl chances. Same for when Vandy plays Kentucky. At this point, I'm going to go with Auburn because of those five home games and road games at Ole Miss and Vandy. Auburn has to at least split those two road games and win three of its final five home games.

Steve in Virginia writes: Just from looking at the stats this year, it's starting to look like the Gamecocks might be more of a pass first team this year instead of a run first team. Do you think this will continue, or will the Gamecocks have to adjust back more to the running game against teams with solid DBs?

EA: I think as Marcus Lattimore gets stronger and healthier, Steve Spurrier will go back to him more. He was South Carolina's bread and butter for a year and a half, and once this team gets into the meat of the SEC season, look for him to get more carries. He's already starting to look stronger out there, and he carried the ball 21 times against Missouri. Connor Shaw has done a good job of spreading the wealth around in the passing game, but I'm sure he'd like to see someone other than Ace Sanders step up as a consistent target. If that doesn't happen, expect more from the running game.

Scott in Atlanta writes: Other than perhaps money, what are teams like Vandy and Kentucky (or even Ole Miss/Miss St) missing to consistently catch up to the rest of the SEC considering the amount of exposure the SEC has now after winning so many championships? Certainly they should be able to get some great kids that were not picked up by other SEC teams that want to play in the SEC instead of other conferences.

EA: Well, you have to consider that schools like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU don't really recruit, they just kind of gather talent. When you have that ability, you can pluck kids from just about anywhere. And that means schools like the ones you mentioned get hurt in the process. The schools you mentioned have to do a better job of developing players once their on campus. These schools won't just automatically start out-recruiting the Alabamas and LSUs. They have to start with development and getting more wins and getting signature wins over the big guys in the league. That will attract better players. They also have to fend off bigger schools from out side of the SEC. That's where you see a lot of the "great" players you referred to go. I think development will help with recruiting, but I don't see those schools getting to "plucking" status in this league.

Mark inTulsa, Okla., writes: I'm just curious to know how you can have a QB poll and NOT have A&M's Manziel on a list of the seven QB's. I mean, I could understand leaving him off of a Top 2 or even a Top 3 list, but Top 5? Look at the numbers per game.

EA: There's no doubt that Johnny Manziel has been impressive. He's really picked up on A&M's offense and brings a great element to it with his legs. But he was a no-show in the second half of the Aggies' loss to Florida -- the only real competition for Texas A&M this year. He was tremendous against SMU and South Carolina State, but the other quarterbacks on our list have done more against better competition. That's not to say Manziel won't make this last at the end of the year, but for now we want to see more from him against better talent.

Jblackburner in Atlanta writes: Which SEC team has the best RB depth, top-to-bottom, in your opinion? I say Bama.

EA: I'm still going with LSU. While I'm impressed with the slew of talent in Alabama's backfield, I just think the Tigers have a little more punch in their group. And both have injuries to key players in Jalston Fowler and Alfred Blue. Take Blue out of the equation, and Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford Spencer Ware and Jeremy Hill have rushed for 680 yards and nine touchdowns. Not to mention, they are averaging 6.3 yards per carry. But look beyond stats. These guys are absolute animals on the field. Ware just never goes down after one hit. It takes a couple of guys to bring him down, while Hilliard is more of the complete package with his strength and speed. Ford led the team in rushing last year and really looks like he's getting his burst back And Hill might be the most talented, but hasn't really been able to show all of his stuff. Also, add fullback J.C. Copeland to the mix and this is the tough backfield to face. With Fowler out, Alabama doesn't have the same big-bodied blocker and pounder that LSU has in Copeland.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

September, 28, 2012
Some questions and answers before the weekend. Not surprisingly, a lot of you are weighing in on this story.

CK from Seattle writes: I'm going to call it right now Adam. B1G has a good bowl season (or at least better than recent years -- not saying much I know). Reason being the B1G teams seem to often play higher ranked teams and teams playing close to home. With our poor rankings this year, I imagine we'll have some more even matchups. That said -- Wisconsin has looked terrible, Michigan isn't impressive, MSU struggled against mediocre ND and Nebraska had a laugher in Cali. Verdict is still out on OSU. Well -- after saying that, I feel less confident, but still think we'll get better matchups this year.

Adam Rittenberg: CK, you very well could be correct. It's hard to envision the Big Ten keeping its streak of multiple BCS berths alive. Then again, I've thought the streak would end in the past, and it hasn't, as Big Ten teams and their massive fan bases remain so attractive to the big bowls. The matchups undoubtedly would be better and potentially more appropriate if the Big Ten only sends a team to the Rose Bowl. And if the Big Ten does well, I think the league will get credit because difficulty of bowl lineup doesn't seem to matter much with how leagues are perceived. That said, the Big Ten has to start winning Rose Bowls again. One victory in the past nine is pretty bad.

Dan from Austin, Texas, writes: As a proud PSU alum, it's tough to see the conference in this state. I agree with the premise you are attributing this to, however to understand why the talent pool is low, you have to understand what QBs in other markets are doing all year round. Look at how many Texas QBs are leading D1 programs around the country and starting in the NFL. The reason 7-on-7 leagues that were started about 10 years ago. You now have a generation of Texas QBs who have been able to have 2x to 3x more reps than QBs in the North.

Adam Rittenberg: I think 7-on-7 leagues are a factor, Dan, but spring football in the south might be a bigger one. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller told me that from a talent standpoint, the recruits he landed from Texas and other states weren't way above those from the Midwest. But the fact that the Midwest kids didn't have spring football in high school made them less prepared to play college ball right away. "The southern states are really getting the edge," Tiller told me. "Florida with their spring practices and Georgia with their spring practices and Texas with their spring practices, those kids, I know when we recruited them to Purdue, they were just advanced players over the guys we were getting out of the Midwest. They weren’t necessarily more gifted naturally, but they were just advanced in the sense that they played so much more football." Tiller also noted that some southern states (Texas) have longer regular seasons than those in the Midwest, so players are playing more games before they arrive at college.

Steve from San Francisco writes: I can't agree with Earle Bruce, and not just because I went to Michigan. I think the quarterbacks in the league are not the problem. Look at Alabama. Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron have led them to National Championships and they are not NFL caliber quarterbacks. Maybe they will be backups for a while, but they aren't carrying those teams, it is the top-down talent around them -- strong defenses, speedy, large, wide open receivers, and huge, yardage-churning running backs. Go back to UM-Bama to start the season, McCarron's and [Denard] Robinson's numbers were eerily similar, and how close was the final score? McCarron missed a bunch of receivers too, he just happened to also have 3 running backs tearing up the field. The question is: will the Big Ten ever be able to pull enough talent in all schools so that every class has the depth to match the SEC and I think the answer is no. I wanted to go to Michigan, but I grew up in the north. Most of the talent these days is in the south. Why would they ever go to a place that is frozen in the winter when they could be in the sun with girls in bikinis? Yes, you get your one-offs, but it is all positions talent and depth where the Big Ten has lost its prestige.

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Steve. Bruce also told me the running back position is down in the Big Ten, and while I don't necessarily agree with him there, the number of elite QB-RB combinations might not be as high as it should be. The wide receiver spot certainly has been down in the league, and I would also look at cornerback as a weakness in recent years. Everyone points to defensive line play and says that's where the SEC has the advantage, but I look at the linemen the Big Ten has produced in recent years -- J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Heyward, Jared Odrick etc. -- and don't see a massive shortage. Maybe there's not as much depth in the Big Ten as there is in the SEC, but I don't think there's a dearth at defensive line. Your last point is spot on. The issues go beyond just one position, and it's hard for the Big Ten to recruit overall rosters that can match the best teams from the SEC.

Brutus from the Ninth Circle writes: Hey Adam, have a question about Penn State. With the departure of Paul Jones, I'm beginning to think that there are 2 key things going on. First, [coach Bill] O'Brien knows that he has to get the scholarships down to a certain level and he has to "trim the fat," if that's the right phrase. Second, every team has under-performers, so they would be the first to go. It seems to me that BOB is cleaning house to get to the levels that he needs to be at, protecting the core players, and lightening the load with players that are less critical. Jones was the 3rd string quarterback and way down the list on TE. Seems like a good call to let Jones go. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Brutus, I don't think O'Brien is running players off from Penn State. I think he's being honest with them about their futures, and he didn't see a future for Jones at quarterback for the Lions. I believe O'Brien when he said he saw Jones as a contributor at tight end, but ultimately Jones wanted to play quarterback, as he tweeted Wednesday night, and he couldn't do that at Penn State. It's probably too soon to how Jones would have fared as a tight end for PSU, and there are quite a few players ahead of him at that spot. While I don't think O'Brien will lie awake at night thinking about how he could have kept Jones in State College, I don't think he's thrilled to see Jones leave. As O'Brien said Thursday night, Jones just needed a fresh start.

Dylan from Nebraska writes: Adam, Is there a Big 10 team that could, with some help, still contend for a national title? Would a 1-loss Nebraska, or Michigan St team make it? Would an undefeated Minny or Northwestern make it?

Adam Rittenberg: It's very hard to envision any Big Ten team taking the field in Miami on Jan. 7. The problem is the Big Ten didn't do much of anything in the first four weeks to justify having a 1-loss team make the title game ahead of comparable squads from other conferences. Between Minnesota and Northwestern, I'd say Northwestern would have the better chance because it has a slightly stronger strength of schedule than the Gophers do. And while I've been impressed at what both teams have done, there's little to believe either squad will run the table, especially in the tougher division (Legends). UCLA, which beat Nebraska, already has a home loss to Oregon State, pretty much eliminating the Huskers. Maybe if Notre Dame runs the table and so does Michigan State, there would be a slight, slight chance. But it's hard to see a national title game without featuring a team from the SEC, which has won the past six championships.

Jesse from Lansing writes: Adam -- Coach Kill seems to be a great fit for Minnesota right now. He doesn't reek of that used car salesman attitude (all talk-no walk) that [Tim] Brewster brought to the U. I am really enjoying his matter-of-fact, tough-love gotcha style and the fact that he's more focused on developing his players than the previous regime. Points also for the consistency brought on by his loyal coaching staff. Say Kill is able to build back this program in the next 3-4 years, what are the chances another BCS program lures away him away? I would like to think he's happy here and would stick around for a while. The U administration has been more than generous in providing him the resources he needs to get the job done as well as the time (7-year contract, I believe). Still, Bill Snyder can't stay at Kansas State forever, and being a native Kansan, that would be another opportunity for him to say retire close to home.

Adam Rittenberg: Jerry Kill might not have been Minnesota's first or second choice, but the guy looks like the right choice for a long-suffering Gophers program. He has definitely paid his dues in coaching at the lower rankings, and he doesn't take this opportunity for granted. That said, he obviously has ties to the Kansas area. Ideally, Kill would build up Minnesota's program enough so a move to Kansas State would be more lateral than an obvious step up. I don't get the sense he's a guy who wants to keep moving around every few years, but I doubt you're the only Gophers fan who made the connection to the K-State situation. Kill won't make any move until he feels like he has built up the program sufficiently, which likely is still a few more years away.

Nick from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Hi Adam. I am a die-hard, but very realistic Iowa Fan. Its probably taboo to make comparisons between the last 4 years of Hayden Fry's dismal career and where Kirk's career currently is. The reality is Hayden Fry recruiting significantly diminished after the Tavian Banks/Tim Dwight era which led to more losses. Ferentz had to completely rebuild Iowa. Over the last few years the talent, development has reduced with the losses increasing. Ferentz use to personally coach special teams and it showed. Since he stopped coaching them they have gone down hill ... quickly. I see him now more as a figure-head like Hayden Fry's last years. Do you see these comparisons as well? The angst is growing in Florida among the Iowa fans.

Adam Rittenberg: Nick, I can understand your frustration, and I doubt you're the only one making that comparison. While Iowa's program undoubtedly has lost momentum since 2009, I don't know if there has been a huge drop in talent. Iowa never was talented enough to overcome mistakes like running away from an onside kick or committing a dumb personal foul penalty in the closing seconds of a 2-point game. Most of Ferentz's teams have played smart, fundamentally sound football and often played above their collective talent level to win a lot of games. I don't think the 2012 Hawkeyes fit this description. It's fair to wonder if players are being developed as well as they used to in Iowa's program, but aside from a handful of recruiting classes (i.e. 2005), I haven't seen major differences in the types of players Iowa signs. I'm sure the facilities upgrades will help in recruiting, and I also think Ferentz has a lot left as a coach. But it's definitely a rough situation right now in Hawkeye Country.

Charlie from Ames, Iowa, writes: Adam, Just listened to your "Game of the Week" talk and noticed you said that Le'Veon Bell is the Big Ten's best running back. I think that's a little presumptuous to proclaim this early in the season. Based on a larger time scale (last year) and his performance in limited time this year, I'd still take Rex Burkhead. Now, I know what you're going to say. You're going to pull out the Brian Bennett card and base everything you think, do, and say on "body of work." But, this isn't directly about body of work, it's who you think is best based on all past performances and projected future performances. Although Bell will unquestionably, unless he gets hurt, finish the year with more yards than Burkhead, don't you think Burkhead deserves just as much mention for the Big Ten's best running back?

Adam Rittenberg: Charlie, my comment pertained strictly to this season. No one would argue -- aside from a few Northwestern fans -- that Bell has been the Big Ten's best running back this season. We've barely seen Burkhead, and he could turn out to be the league's top back, but he hasn't been to date this season because of the knee injury. Burkhead's overall career has been more impressive than Bell's, but I think Bell has closed the gap -- more because of what he has done lately, not because of any shortcomings with Rex's game. I will say this: Le'Veon Bell projects better to the NFL than any back in the Big Ten, including Burkhead and Montee Ball. If he keeps this up, he could be a potential first-round pick in next year's draft if he chooses to forgo his senior season.

Dave from Denver writes: Does Schlabach get paid by the SEC too?

Adam Rittenberg: Only in joy.

Friday mailblog

September, 28, 2012
Back to "normal" without a top 10 matchup this week ...

Richard Moore in Clemson, SC writes: Where do you think the best atmospheres in ACC football are? I went to Tallahassee for the Clemson, FSU game and it was trashy and actually rather quiet. I found Duke a few years ago quiet (obviously) but actually very nice.

HD: Well, it depends what you're looking for. If you want the closest thing you're going to get to an SEC game, Clemson and/or Florida State for big games is probably your best bet. If you're looking for an overall best game atmosphere, Virginia Tech on a Thursday night is probably it. If you're looking for a beautiful Saturday on a campus with the kids, Charlottesville and North Carolina top my list.

Matthew Bradley in Soddy Daisy, TN writes: Al Golden is building something down in Miami, Heather. Not only is he in the process of building a nationally relevant college football team, but he is building a family atmosphere as well. That is probably one of the most touching pictures I have seen in college football in recent memory. Parents want their kids to be safe and sound in an institution. I think this deserves some credit. Thanks for your blogs, you do a great job.

HD: You don't see that too often. You're right, it deserves some credit.

Allan in Aiken, SC writes: After seeing the coming of age piece about EJ Manuel that goes on to describe how his break through came against Clemson, it reminds me of the Auburn game against Clemson where a realitive nobody named Cam Newton broke through to the national spotlight. As a Clemson fan who appreciates the quality competition we bring to a game, other team and players riding off into the sunset on a high note at our expense is really frustrating, when will we ever be the team that makes that statement instead of a stepping stone to the top ten and BCS glory?

HD: Rest assured, Allan, it won't be long. Clemson isn't that far away. It could be a BCS bowl team this year, and it could be a national title contender in 2013. The pieces are certainly in place. The staff, the recruiting -- Dabo Swinney has everything he needs to win a national title. It's easier said than done, but it's definitely within reach now. The missing piece is the defense. If and when Brent Venables turns that thing around, look out.

Justin Brown in Lynchburg Va., writes: I keep seeing all these things about Georgia Tech's offense being to stubborn for its own good, but what about the defense? We don't seem to have the players capable of pressuring any quaterback we face nor do we seem to have the speed needed to run the 3-4. Is the defense Tech's weakest link?

HD: I agree that getting pressure on the quarterback was a big problem against Miami. Al Groh would agree, too. I might argue, though, that special teams was equally as troublesome last year. I still think it's a little too early to tell, but if it doesn't show some significant progress through the rest of the season, I think Groh could be in trouble.

Rod Bosco in Vienna, Va., writes: ND will become the 15th official football member when the team and league agree to a 7-game conference schedule. That leaves room for 1 more team. IMO, the ACC is best served by having that team come from PA. You need to link the region from DC to Boston. UConn and Rutgers are not good fits, and NYC is mostly pro sports oriented. That leaves Philly. My choices: (1) PSU, (2) Nova. Once the lawsuits are settled, the ACC can come in on the white horse and save PSU. Or, the ACC can help Nova expand PPL Park to 30k (although I believe the current 18k capacity is above the minimum for FBS). Note that at 30k Nova would be comparable to WF and Duke. thoughts?

HD: I see your point, but if and when Notre Dame joins the ACC fully in football, Navy will get my vote for the next team in. The ACC wouldn't have to worry about academics, Maryland-Navy would be revived, Notre Dame-Navy would stay intact, and the league wouldn't have to worry about academics. I love it. I say goferit.

Mailbag: Fastest players, Tech-ISU, QBs

September, 28, 2012
Thanks for all the emails this week. Should be a fun weekend of games. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

On to this week's Mailbag:

Jason in Austin writes: David, I keep seeing you write about how fast Tavon Austin is, and as a Longhorn fan, I keep trying to compare his speed to Marquis Goodwin or DJ Monroe. Who, in your opinion, are the five fastest players in the Big 12?

David Ubben: This category is pretty tough. Ultimately, we can't know until we line these guys up and have them go at it. So, who's the absolute fastest? We have no real idea. It's a big group and I don't think you can narrow it down to just five. That said, there's a class of guys who are clearly among the elite. Here's who I've got as guys who have a case (in no particular order) as the fastest man in the league:
From what I've seen so far, Texas Tech freshman Jakeem Grant might join that group, but I want to see him with the ball in his hands a little more often.

ksucats44 in Manhattan writes: Hey DU,Could you post links to all the "where to go" articles somewhere so that we can look at them in preparation for away games?

DU: I've got you covered. I may tweet or post them during the week for every Big 12 school hosting a home game.

Here are the city guides you need for this weekend:

Big 12 Blog guides to:

The Old Scarlet and Black in Lubbock writes: You got to make up your mind Ubb's. First you put us on upset alert, then pick us to win. You say our WR's are deep but then do this talking about how WVU and Baylor as the best offenses in the league. Either take us out to dinner or stop texting us late at night! If we make it out of Ames with the win what are our chances of being the team that you think will do the upsetting next week instead of the team you think will be upset... again?

DU: It's kind of crazy, actually. People get more fired up about being put on upset alert than they actually do about me picking their teams to lose.

Here's how I approach upset alert each week: It's not necessarily a game that I think will be an upset. It's simply the underdog with the best chance to pull a surprise each week. TCU is going to take care of business this weekend at SMU. I don't think Baylor's got much of a chance to beat West Virginia and I think Texas rolls against Oklahoma State.

Tech was pretty much the only team left, and Iowa State at home is always scary. I don't necessarily pick my upset alerts in my predictions, but it's my game of the week that might go the opposite way experts expect. Nothing to get all bent out of shape about. Some weeks, there's more potential for upsets. Some weeks, there really aren't any, and I end up having to pick Texas State against Tech. Take it easy, folks.

Josh in Salina, Kan., writes: Not that it really matters much, but I wanted to ask about the shovel pass/fumble thing. I agree that super duper slow mo looked like Jones' hands were intentionally moving forward, but how many times have you seen a QB throw a shovel pass that falls incomplete and without any hesitation the QB starts to run after the ball?!? If he really had passed it, he would have just stood there and not put himself in harms way going after an incomplete pass. Who does that? ... Unless it was unintended...

DU: I've never seen K-State fans more fired up than when I insisted it was the right call. It was. This play, popularized by Dana Holgorsen in recent years, is technically a shovel pass, but it's sort of a hot potato play that's super dependent on timing.

Like we saw from Oklahoma, it can look terrible when it's done right. When Oklahoma State has done it the past two years and West Virginia does it with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, it looks pretty good. Jones clearly possessed the ball and re-directed its path toward Roy Finch, who was completely oblivious and got an earful from receiver Trey Metoyer after the play.

As for Jones' reaction, when the ball's on the ground on a short pass like that, I'm sure his instincts just took over and he went after the ball. That doesn't mean it was a fumble.

It was incomplete, and it was the right call from officials.

Will in South Bend/Morgantown writes: Hey Ubbs. Which QB do you think goes the longest without throwing a pick among the current sans interception QBs? Which games do you think each makes their first blunder?

DU: I'm taking Geno Smith on this one. David Ash will throw a pick this weekend against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys secondary is too talented. Justin Gilbert or Brodrick Brown will get one, and Geno will be the Big 12's last man standing after this week against Baylor.

Lucien in Omaha, Neb., writes: First, you knew this was coming. You doubted Paul Rhoads (which you said never, ever, ever to do?again). Not only did you doubt Rhoads and the 'Clones but you picked TT to win by a fairly large margin. AND you've been touting how hard it is becoming to win in Ames. You know what I think it is? I think you're still a teenage boy at heart and are picking against the Cyclones just to defy your ISU alum father. I can't think of any other reason why you woul have Tech by such a large margin. When are you going to come to the same conclusion that the AP voters and Coaches have come to? Even Vegas says they are 3 point dogs. It's time to quit fighting it and give ISU it's due.

DU: Ha, I don't think that's the reason. I was never much of a rebel. I mostly think Iowa State won't be able to cover Tech's receivers, and that Seth Doege is criminally underrated around the league. With an offense back at full strength and clicking, he's going to have a huge game. Iowa State's defense has looked good of late, but that stat about nine consecutive games giving up fewer than 30 points in regulation? Let's break it down.

The first was against Tech, and yeah, that win was impressive. No qualms there. Holding Kansas under 30? Iowa State and just about everybody else last year. Oklahoma State? Impressive, but we've talked about the circumstances of that game plenty over the past few months. I'm not going to get into that any more than to say that it wasn't the same OSU team we were used to seeing.

Oklahoma? That game took place in about 40 mph winds and Oklahoma's receivers dropped about nine passes. That was in the post-Ryan Broyles era at OU, too. Kansas State? The Wildcats were seventh in the Big 12 in scoring last year and Iowa State held them just two points below their average. Rutgers? Come on.

It's an impressive stat, sure. But it's not indicative of some just amazing defense that Big 12 teams can't deal with. The Oklahoma State game was the most impressive of the lot by far, and we saw some inspired stuff from the Cyclones, but that 30-point streak ends this weekend.

Evan in Atlanta writes: What will you do if Baylor's defense pitches a shutout at WVU Saturday?

DU: Give up hope and give up this blog. If that happens, it will be official: I don't know anything about this game.