NCF Nation: Mailbag 110912

Mailbag: Oregon post-Kelly?

November, 9, 2012
Happy Friday.

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To the notes.

Stephan from Shanghai, China, writes: A lot is being made about the possibility of Chip Kelly heading for the NFL next year. This past off season, he was in talks with Tampa. Who are possible candidates for his replacement should he leave Oregon? Would anyone on his staff be able to replicate the kind of offense we have come to know Oregon for?

Ted Miller: First off, I am not ready for Chip Kelly to leave. I'm obsessed with the idea of tricking him into entertaining a hypothetical question before that happens.

It seems, as former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti has said, "inevitable" that Kelly takes a shot at the NFL, probably sooner rather than later. His stock couldn't be higher. It's almost certain that he will be pursued by multiple NFL teams after the season. So if Kelly decides he likes an opportunity, he'll probably bite. Not a sure thing -- my impression is he hardly seems eager to bolt Eugene -- but a lot of folks around the program feel resigned to the eventuality.

Who would be next? Well, this has been speculated about already because of how close it appeared Kelly was to leaving for Tampa Bay last year. There are two obvious names: Boise State's Chris Petersen and Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

Oregon has long been seen as the one job that might lure Petersen away from Boise State. Petersen knows the program, having been an assistant under Bellotti from 1995-2000, and it seems to be a good fit. Oregon is one of the few big-time programs where Petersen could remain in the region and not be dumped into a big city media market, which he reportedly doesn't want. Further, he'd have a chance to win a national title and get paid a lot more money.

Helfrich would ensure system continuity, and it's no secret a lot of folks inside the athletic department and potential decision-making process are high on him.

After that, you could line up a list of the usual suspects. Oregon has become an A-list job, one that will pay well. Of course, some might shy away as Kelly would be a tough act to follow.

Beavfann from Denver writes: Ted it is deja vu all over again. I think I am correct that you are 2-6 picking the Beaver games this year is that right? It is just like 2009 and 2010 your total lack of faith continues to inspire the Beavs. If the Beavers do pull it out this weekend will you make sure to pick against them the rest of the year? It should not matter after this week since Kevin will have the picking crown about wrapped up.

Ted Miller: I'm 4-4 picking Oregon State this year. I am 4-1 picking them to win (Utah, Arizona, UCLA and Washington State being correct as wins, Washington being the wrong win pick). And 0-3 picking the Beavers to lose (Arizona State, BYU and Wisconsin).

Don't recall too many folks picking the Beavers over Wisconsin, but I did write this. I picked BYU to beat the Beavers because that was Cody Vaz's first start for an injured Sean Mannion and I thought the road venue against a good defense would prove too much. I was wrong.

I thought the QB turmoil might hurt the Beavers last week against Arizona State, particularly coming off a loss at Washington. I was wrong.

It's very possible I will be wrong picking Stanford over the Beavers. I tried to explain the tough call here.

And if Mike Riley is successfully using my predictions to motivate his team, well, that would make me very happy. The Pac-12 blog loves to be a resource to its coaches.

Sam from Los Angeles writes: Your article on UCLA ascending to the top of the LA food chain makes it so glaringly obvious that you have not watched a single UCLA game this year. It must be hard considering you are the biggest USC homer of them all.1) UCLA didn't get "whooped" by Oregon last year. In fact, they did much better than essentially any person, bruins fans included, would have expected.2) "And the Bruins have been good on special teams too" - was that leftover from an article you wrote last year about UCLA? We have about 4 fumbles on muffed punts and a freshman kicker who has missed multiple PATs and it has become glaringly obvious can only hit field goals <35 yards. Yes we have a great punter, but that doesn't make up for the atrociousness that our special teams has been this year.3) Sheldon Price is having a breakout year? - Our cornerbacks have been absolutely terrible this year. They are by far our weakest and most vulnerable unit, and most likely going to be a huge reason why we lose to USC (if we lose). Our cornerbacks are big and athletic, and it makes me laugh everytime an announcer/"reporter" talks about how great they are based purely on their athleticism when the announcer has obviously not seen them play at all this year. Its nice to finally get some recognition that the Bruins deserve, but its just insulting when it comes from a guy who has been drinking the USC kool-aid since... forever... and its obvious that he has no clue whats going on at UCLA.

Ted Miller: All righty...
You write: "UCLA didn't get "whooped" by Oregon last year. In fact, they did much better than essentially any person, bruins fans included, would have expected."

UCLA lost to Oregon 49-31. The Bruins trailed 49-24 entering the fourth quarter. Oregon outgained the Bruins 571 yards to 337.
You write: "And the Bruins have been good on special teams too" - was that leftover from an article you wrote last year about UCLA? We have about 4 fumbles on muffed punts and a freshman kicker who has missed multiple PATs and it has become glaringly obvious can only hit field goals <35 yards. Yes we have a great punter, but that doesn't make up for the atrociousness that our special teams has been this year."

As you note, UCLA has one of the best punters in the nation in Jeff Locke. The Bruins rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in kickoff coverage, No. 3 in kickoff returns and No. 5 in punt returns. They are 11 for 16 on field goals. That .688 percentage ranks seventh in the Pac-12, but 11 made field goals is tied for third most in the conference. Yes, Ka'imi Fairbairn has missed three of 41 PATs and has limited range, but refresh my memory about what he did against Arizona State.
You write: 3) Sheldon Price is having a breakout year? - Our cornerbacks have been absolutely terrible this year. They are by far our weakest and most vulnerable unit, and most likely going to be a huge reason why we lose to USC (if we lose).

I listed six guys, but you criticism is valid -- a bit overstated but valid -- with my positive assessment of Price. I overvalued Price's three interceptions, which all came against Houston. And Price played poorly against Oregon State, California and Arizona State.

I am sorry you believe I insulted your team by writing that article. I am sure your letter will be hung up in the UCLA coaches' offices and used in recruiting.

(Read full post)

Friday mailblog

November, 9, 2012
Finally home from Blacksburg. Got mail??

Mike in Clarksburg, W.Va., writes: HD --- C'mon how about a little love for my Canes?? Seriously you are picking UVA?? The Canes have been pretty good on the road in the ACC (undefeated). That's ok you just helped motivate this young team to win again. I guess in an election year I shouldn't be surprised with your flip-flopping!!! Lol

HD: Ha! I've been giving the Canes love all season, Mike. Virginia? Not so much. I wrote the Hoos off at their bye week, but they made a statement on the road last week against NC State that said they're not giving up. I expect Virginia to build upon that performance at home -- especially if they can run the ball as well as they did last week.

jeff waker in Yadkinville, N.C., writes: What are your thoughts on this years Duke football team? are they for real or is their success just a fluke?

HD: A six-win season at Duke is not a fluke -- it's hard work finally translating into wins for the program, and it's long overdue. With that being said, the lopsided scores in losses to Florida State and Clemson were evidence of just how much farther the program needs to go. Duke has been able to take advantage of a down year in the Coastal Division, but when matched up against more elite teams, Duke has been exposed. Duke deserves a ton of credit for reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994, but there is still a lot of work to be done in Durham.

Steve in Orlando, Fla., writes: Hey HD. With bowl projections starting to clear up towards the end of the season (granted things still are not clear), what do you think the chances are of a FSU vs Notre Dame bowl game are? I am huge fans of both programs and would love to see another rematch -especially with the year ND has had. A lot of projections point to a FSU vs Boise State or Louisville game, and I am hoping for a better matchup. Thanks!

HD: Sorry, Steve, but the chances of that aren't good because the Discover Orange Bowl has the last pick of the BCS bowls this year. The Irish will likely be scooped up already if they're not in the national championship. The most likely scenario right now is a game against the Big East champs because Boise State's loss last week hurt the Broncos chances of getting into a BCS bowl this year.

David Yannarella in Due West, S.C., writes: Heather,Can you explain why Nuk Hopkins isn't getting Heisman hype? He's playing for one of the most explosive offenses in the country, has over 1,000 receiving yards, and has made some incredible catches in each game Clemson has played. Do you think he could enter the talk if he puts up another great game or three in the next three weeks?Thanks, I enjoy reading your blog. I;m trying to do my own sports blog right now, and I read your work for inspiration.

HD: Thanks, David, check's in the mail. You're right, Nuk is having a great season, but I think his quarterback, Tajh Boyd, is playing even better. To me, Boyd is the ACC's best hope to get to New York this year, but the reality is that they're overshadowed by guys playing for undefeated teams in the national championship picture.

Brandon in Winston-Salem, N.C., writes: Heatherbeing a UNC Grad, I got a quick question for you. If Carolina wins out and has the best record in the Coastal Division, dont they at least get to call themselves Costal Division Champs even if they dont get to play in the Championship Game? At least that title is something in this somewhat waste of a season

HD: They can call themselves whatever they want, Brandon, but they ACC isn't going to recognize them as champs of anything. You can't call it a waste of a season, though. For UNC to have the best record in the Coastal would speak volumes about that program being headed in the right direction under Larry Fedora. It would be a Coach of the Year worthy performance for him, and it would be a major selling point for recruits.

Spence in Raleigh, N.C., writes: How likely is it that TOB is out at NC State at the end of the season?

HD: It's honestly too early to tell. He still has some opportunities to finish strong. If the Pack beats Wake and pulls off a stunning upset of Clemson, I'd think he'd be safe. If not, then we should have this conversation again.
It's time to answer some of your questions before we hit the road for another big weekend in the SEC:

Jacob in Lexington, Kent., writes: I love Sonny Dykes for the Kentucky head coach. He's young, and can coach well. Plus, he used to assist at UK, and knows offense. If we can't get him, I like Neal Brown or Brent Pease. What are your thoughts? Who'd be the best fit?

Edward Aschoff: Dykes is one of those up-and-coming names that is sure to hear his name a lot when it comes to openings this winter. Kentucky is certainly one that he's being linked to and it sounds like Kentucky is interested. And why not? Louisiana Tech is 8-1 and has the No. 2 scoring offense. His team also ranks third nationally in total offense, averaging 570.9 yards per game. Kentucky wants an offensive mind to come in and bring some excitement back to the football program. Dykes has that ability. Duke's David Cutcliffe could also hear his name thrown in. He'll be taking Duke to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 and has had success in the SEC during his time as an assistant at Tennessee and as Ole Miss' head coach. Keep and eye on Pease, he seems interested and spoke openly about the job earlier this week. Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart will probably get a mention, but you have to wonder if he's holding out for something else or if he's ready to coach in the SEC. I think Kentucky has to go after someone who will help bring offensive playmakers back to Lexington because the Wildcats are really hurting in that department.

JJ in Tumalo, Ore., writes: How do you guys rate the SEC overall this season? Obviously the bottom half is not better than the bottom half of other conferences. Do Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee, MIZZOU, Kentucky and Vandy play "All World SEC D?" As a Duck fan I am most interested in seeing how the Bama D' handles A&M with but a week instead of 40 days to prepare against a dangerous spread offense. Look at Oregon's future schedule. We Duck no one. How about a home-and-home with Bama? I know it won't happen. Why challenge yourself on the road when 100K will pay to watch you blow out Georgia State? All the best and thanks for the great SEC coverage.

Edward Aschoff: Lots of stuff in that one, but I'll see if I can help you out a little. To answer your first question, I think the SEC is still on top. Not sure you can shrug that off when you have five teams ranked within the top eight of the BCS standings. All of those teams could still make a BCS bowl game as well, including Alabama, which just has to win out to make it to the national championship. As for "All-World" defenses, Alabama, LSU, Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri all rank within the top 25 nationally in total defense. So, two of those teams you mentioned have been very good on defense this year. Missouri might not have an impressive record, but that defense has been pretty impressive this season. Vandy is third nationally in pass defense, as well. They might not be All-World, but they're pretty good. I'd also love to see Alabama play Oregon, or any SEC team play Oregon outside of a BCS bowl game. Home-and-home? Bring it on. I'm sick of seeing weak nonconference games on SEC schedules. Good football makes everyone happy. Also, expect Alabama's defense to be ready this weekend.

Dave in Savannah, Ga., writes: Is it now time for the tired old stat that UGA is X of XX against Florida to be retired? UGA has won four of the last nine, three of the last six and is on a two-game win streak against Florida. Are losses against a Florida team dating back to when current players were in diapers or not even born truly relevant? Seems intellectually lazy for sports writers to keep qouting those old numbers just for dramatic impact. What's your take?

Edward Aschoff: Honestly, I think you're right about retiring this old stat. Florida absolutely dominated Georgia during the 1990s and for most of the past decade, but, like you said, most of the players on either side could care less. Especially with Georgia winning two straight. Right now, the Bulldogs have all the momentum and can crow as loud as they want. This team can forget the past. Florida fans don't have to, but they shouldn't use it to tease Dawgs fans.

JE in Dallas writes: What do you think A&M has to do to beat Alabama? Short of zero turnovers, and not getting bulldozed at the line of scrimmage by Bama's O-line, what do you think are the keys to a possible upset?

Edward Aschoff: Making sure Manziel is upright and finding his guys. Alabama's defensive line isn't elite, but it can cause problems for offenses. It can be pretty disruptive. But we know that Texas A&M's offense revolves around Johnny Football. He has great weapons at receiver and talented running backs to work with, but the offense lives and dies by his effectiveness. Look at the second half of the Florida game and the LSU game. LSU showed some holes in Alabama's defense. Will they be there Saturday? I don't think so. I think the Tide's defense will be much more sound, but the Aggies have the ability to make some big plays. But it call comes down to Manziel. Oh, and yes, the defensive line has to be able to get past that O-line ...

Les Miles in Baton Rouge, La., writes: It's funny when my bag of tricks work they love me, but if I wasn't as aggressive as I was they would've questioned me as a coach. Whats it gonna take to please those in Tigerland?

Edward Aschoff: See, I thought that national championship in 2007 made fans more appreciative. Or the fact that you guys went on a historic run until the national championship last year. So far, you've never won less than eight games during your eight seasons at LSU. Still, it's an interesting bunch down there. They just get a little frustrated by all those heart-stopping calls, or the head-scratchers. You really can't blame them. In a league in which winning means so much, you tug at their hearts with a lot of the decisions you make. Those fourth-down decisions last week? Really? You don't get how that can frustrate fans? Winning cures all, but know that this fan base is itching for a championship with all that talent it has.

Matt in Athens, Ga., writes: Ed- Why do you and Chris have Georgia in the Outback bowl? Would losing to Alabama in the SEC championship really make Georgia go that far down? Why not Capital One?

Edward Aschoff: If Georgia makes it to the SEC championship game and loses to Alabama, I think the Capital One Bowl would jump all over Florida, especially if it finishes the season 11-1 and doesn't make it to the Sugar Bowl. If LSU wins out, it will be hard for the Sugar Bowl to turn the Tigers down. Two losses might still get the Gators in as well. They'd probably have a better chance with just one, but it's still possible. The Gators were last there following the 2007 season and Florida would be a big draw in Orlando. I'm not saying Georgia wouldn't be, but I think the Capital One Bowl would be very interested in bringing the Gators back to Orlando.

Tim in Atlanta, writes: Is it your sense among SEC-land that folks prefer to see a Alabama-Oregon matchup compared to Bama-KSU? If so, do you think the desire for that matchup will move the polls to ensure it, or do you think the pollsters are largely locked into their votes now?

Edward Aschoff: I think people in the SEC would love to see Alabama-Oregon because they couldn't be any different. Oregon has all the offense and no defense. Alabama has all the defense and a balanced offense. It's Nike speed vs. SEC power. We saw it in 2010 and 2011, but this is Alabama. It's the No. 1 team in the nation and it's going for its second consecutive national championship, while there are plenty of people out there saying Oregon deserves the No. 1 spot right now. People in SEC country are tired of hearing that. They want this settled on the field more than the players do. I just think it'd be a great game.

Notre Dame mailblog

November, 9, 2012
What's crackin'?

Michael from Evansville, Ind., writes: Hey Matt, love what you do with the blog! My question is: With Notre Dame running the ball as well as they have this year, and the weaker defenses we play in the next three games, do you think its possible the Irish could have 2 1,000 yard rushers in Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood? They both need to average around 100 yards rushing in each of the last 4 games. Thanks.

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Michael. I would say it's definitely possible, though it's going to be tough for a guy like Cierre Wood to gain 452 yards over four games while splitting a majority of carries. Would be a big testament to how good he is if he were able to pull it off, given the fact that he was suspended the first two games. The Irish probably would have done it last season if poor Jonas Gray didn't tear an ACL on Senior Day.

Ed Ryan from Denver writes: If four teams are still undefeated and ND is ranked fourth, what bowl do they go to and who do they play? If ND is 11-1 what bowl do they go to and who do they play?

Matt Fortuna: Ed, the most likely scenario is the Fiesta Bowl, which has the first choice among the BCS at-large bids. Notre Dame -- assuming it is No. 4, as it is in your scenario -- would then face Kansas State, the Big 12 champ. It is possible, however, that the Pac-12 ends up with just one BCS-bowl eligible team, Oregon, which in this scenario is destined for the national title game. So there's a possibility the Irish could get taken as a replacement Rose Bowl team, where it would face the Big Ten champ, which, for my money, will be Nebraska.

Wayne Janke from Piscataway writes: Have you heard anything regarding the altercation that involved the three Pitt starters? It was published and then nothing came of it...should we expect any disciplinary action or is Pitt so desperate for wins that they are turning a blind eye to their players beating up on the public? Or did they just let it run through the system at bureaucrat speed so they could play their starters against Notre Dame (epic fail)?

Matt Fortuna: I've gotten many emails like this one in the last week. I'd caution to let the legal process play out and read all of the details before jumping to any conclusions, though how anyone can be upset about Pitt's guys playing last week when Michael Floyd was suspended a grand total of zero games last season confuses me.

Jim Goodman from Cleveland writes: You said that when ND looks back on the season (in particular the Pitt game), it will look like anything but a Picasso. I think I know what you were going for, but you made an ironic choice of artist. Picasso's odd cubist style, with warped figures and oddly shaped features, would actually lend itself very well as a metaphor for their season (at least as it pertains to the Pitt game).

Matt Fortuna: Winner.

Big East mailblog

November, 9, 2012
Time to open up the mailbag ...

John in Altamonte Springs, Fla., writes: Can you do a segment highlighting the progress of our new incoming Big East members? I know my hometown school UCF is doing fairly well, but what about SDSU and Boise, as well as the other C-USA incoming members? I feel the Big East blog readers like myself would like to see how their future members are doing the season before entrance into the league as well as your take on them and use your expertise as a barometer for how they will succeed next year.

Andrea Adelson: First, here is a quick rundown on the records for incoming members:
  • UCF: 7-2, leading C-USA East
  • Boise State: 7-2, just fell out of Top 25 after upset loss to San Diego State; in three-way tie for first in Mountain West
  • San Diego State: 7-3, in first-place tie in Mountain West
  • Navy: 6-3 (joining in 2015)
  • SMU: 4-5
  • Houston: 4-5
  • Memphis: 1-8

Here are a few thoughts. I think the biggest surprise has been San Diego State. The Aztecs started the season 2-3, with a loss to San Jose State, so I did not get my hopes up for a good season. But since then, they have reeled off five straight wins, including an upset of Boise State last weekend. They have a great shot at a 10-win season if they can win their bowl game. As for Boise State, I am not too surprised to see some of the struggles. I think the Broncos are going to go into the Big East next year as one of the favorites, because they will return virtually everybody. My biggest disappointments have to be SMU and Houston. Nothing has gone right for the Cougars under first-year coach Tony Levine; and I wonder how much June Jones' near-departure to Arizona State has impacted the psyche of the program. As for UCF, I also expected the Knights to win the East, but it appears as if they will serve their postseason ban in Year 1 in the Big East. So that automatically disqualifies them from competing for a championship.

Lucy the Bearcat in Cincinnati writes: Is it just me or does Cincinnati seem to strike gold whenever they go to the backup QB? Collaros was discovered once Tony Pike was injured, and Brendon Kay seems to be a glimmer of hope in the QB spot after Munchie Legaux has let us down. Seems UC is good at recruiting backup quarterbacks that are anxious to get their shot in the spotlight.

Adelson: Great observation, Lucy. Every team should strive to have competition at quarterback, given the uncertainty that always surrounds the position. Plus, you do not want your starter to ever feel complacent, as if his job is his forever. Kay is not the only good backup Butch Jones has in his stable, either. He has done a great job stockpiling talent at quarterback.

Scott McPherson in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: B.J. Daniels is a great young man. I always said to him before (Tallahassee) Lincoln games, "Go have fun." For the most part, he did. I have seen him perform football miracles; I have seen B.J. take an entire team on his shoulders and carry them to unexpected victory after victory. Here's hoping he heals quickly and rehabs with the same enthusiasm that he brought to both Lincoln and USF football.

Adelson: Here, here, Scott. Everyone here at the Big East blog hopes Daniels has a very speedy recovery.

Bernard in Stillwater, Minn., writes: AA, what does the BE have to do to get the respect they deserve? I mean Notre Dame is supposed to be the fourth-best team in the country and someone from the bottom of our league played them more then tough this past week. How do we get some love from the writers, who frankly don't seem to watch any Big East games based on the way they write? I appreciate your time!

Adelson: For starters, Bernard, the Big East has to win those games. Coming close is not going to cut it when you are a league in desperate need of getting national respect. Playing Notre Dame close is all well and good, but a loss is still a loss, and you are not going to get credit for your conference by almost winning. When you have a marquee game like that, you have got to win it. Look at the nonconference wins for the Big East this season. The best one is ... Louisville over North Carolina? The Tar Heels have a winning record at least. Arkansas (4-5) and Virginia Tech (4-5) -- teams that were beaten by Rutgers, Cincinnati and Pitt -- do not.

Josh in Louisville writes: If Louisville finishes the regular season undefeated, do you think they will go down as the "worst" unbeaten team in the BCS era? Right now, they have only beaten two teams with winning records and Rutgers is the only one remaining that's above .500. Granted you can only play the teams on your schedule and it's not their fault, but this team shouldn't even be considered among the best of the best if they're undefeated right?!?

Adelson: Well, they are not considered one of the best of the best, Josh. That is clear in the rankings. The strength of schedule has been an absolute killer. Nobody anticipated Kentucky, FIU and Southern Miss would be as bad as they have been. But as for the worst unbeaten team -- that would be Hawaii, which finished the 2007 season ranked No. 10, the lowest of all unbeaten teams in the BCS era.

Paul in Lancaster, Pa., writes: Andrea,Longtime reader, first-time commenter -- YOU think it's maddening to watch Syracuse? Try bleeding Orange (Syracuse native and alum) and having to watch those guys! What's especially maddening is that I truly admire a lot of what Coach Doug Marrone has done and really want to see him succeed. But every mental miscue is just another blow to the credibility of the whole operation. The funny thing is, they've shown me enough this year to make me think we actually have a chance against Louisville. Crazy? Maybe. Loyal? Always. Keep up the excellent work!

Adelson: Thanks for writing in, Paul. You are not the only one who thinks Syracuse has a chance. I think the Orange do, too. AP college football writer Ralph Russo went ahead and called the upset, picking Syracuse 28-24.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 9, 2012
Week 11 is nearly here. Enjoy.

Steve from Albuquerque, N.M., writes: Who will get the most pursued Nittany Lion this offseason, Deion Barnes, Allen Robinson, or Bill O'Brien?

Adam Rittenberg: All three men likely will have chances to leave, but I'd expect all three to remain. It will be interesting if any NFL teams pursue O'Brien, who has excelled both as a coach and as a motivator in his first season as a head coach. My sense is he wants to see things through in State College, where his legacy likely would be much greater than if he went to the NFL, which spits out coaches every few years. Barnes and Robinson both have stated they intend to remain with Penn State, but that likely won't stop other teams from recruiting them. Both men can be multi-year starters at Penn State and play for coaches (O'Brien, Larry Johnson, etc.) who know what it takes to get them to the NFL. While every player wants to compete for championships, it won't stunt Robinson's or Barnes' long-term development if they remain at PSU.

Michael from Ft. Picklett, Va., writes: Adam, I have been wondering. Why is it that the Huskers are not able to land the top prospects? Is it location? I see Ohio State and Michigan are able to take about anyone they want. What can the Husker do to improve? I feel this is the reason the Huskers are not able to be as dominate as the teams of the 90's.

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, Nebraska still gets some top prospects, but there are some challenges for the program. The location doesn't help, because Nebraska has to extend itself nationally more than other programs. And for recruiting purposes, being in the Big Ten provides some challenges, too. Nebraska's recruiting success in Texas stemmed in part from the pitch that players could play near home a few times a year (Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas A&M). That's not there any more. Dirk Chatelain addressed the Texas recruiting issue this week, noting that Nebraska recruiting coordinator Ross Els still thinks the team can have a good presence in the Lone Star State. I guess time will tell, but I'm not so sure. The key is for Nebraska to increase its presence in the Big Ten footprint, particularly Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Husker coaches have ties to the region and should be able to pluck more high-level prospects in the years to come. A Big Ten championship this season -- plus a Rose Bowl championship -- certainly will help.

Nate from Iowa writes: Adam, I have one that if you are brave enough to answer it will start a great debate on the message board below. I had a very spirited debate with a good friend that wasn't settled and wonder if you can give your input. No one can deny the great legacy and tradition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. 5 National titles, 3 Heisman Trophy Winners, Top 5 All-time Wins in NCAA Football. But can you really say that Iowa, although they haven't beat Nebraska since the 80's, hasn't had more success than Nebraska in the past 10 years? I'm not one to measure success on wins alone, I look at the entire picture. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Nate, if you're going purely by on-field results, you can make a case for Iowa against Nebraska from 2002-2011. Keep in mind Nebraska endured a major dip in its program under Bill Callahan, while Iowa had a historic run from 2002-04 and another surge in 2009, when it won an Orange Bowl championship. Both teams were very good in 2009, but Nebraska since has been the stronger program, winning nine or more games in each of the past four seasons. The Huskers have lacked the major breakthroughs Iowa had in 2002, 2004 and 2009, but they've been a little more consistent as of late. It's a fun debate, and you can make good arguments for either team.

Rob from Omaha writes: Adam -- You and Brian have been down on Michigan State and Maxwell, but really a 9 point differential from 5-5 to 9-1. I think Maxwell has played very well this year, a few poor decisions and a couple balls that sailed, but otherwise, I think he is very strong. Assuming no early departures, I say Sparty is a top 5 program next year. What are you thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, love the optimism, but a top-5 program? That's setting the bar very high for a team that will finish with at least five losses (no matter how close they are). I guess it's possible, but that's an enormous jump to make. I also have a hard time seeing how Maxwell has played "very well" when he's completing barely than half of his passes (54.2 percent). While at times people have been too hard on him, as his receivers are either unproven or unreliable, a drop-back quarterback with limited mobility needs to be completing at least 65 percent of his passes to be doing very well in my book. While Ohio State's Braxton Miller completes just 56.9 percent of his passes, he does so much more as a runner to help his team win. Maxwell needs to get a lot better for Michigan State to contend for the Big Ten title in 2013, and I think he could make those strides. But it might be tough for Michigan State to maintain this type of defense year after year, especially if/when coordinator Pat Narduzzi leaves to become a head coach. The offense also will have question marks, namely line depth and possibly running back if Le'Veon Bell bolts for the NFL. I agree that Michigan State will be an improved team next year and most likely a contender in the Legends division, but let's pump the brakes on the top-5 talk.

Chris from High Point, N.C., writes: Hey, Adam, with the lack of depth at LB for the Buckeyes and all of the talent that they are seemingly stockpiling on the D-line, do you think that some of those players might switch to LB or work in a modified role like Nathan Williams? Thanks for considering my question.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, some players might work in a rush-end role like Nathan Williams or former Buckeye standout Thaddeus Gibson. Freshman Noah Spence, at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, might fit into that spot. But for the most part, Ohio State's younger defensive linemen are big enough and strong enough to play up front, and likely wouldn't work well at linebacker. I agree building depth at linebacker is a challenge for Ohio State, but you don't want to force a player at a spot where he doesn't naturally fit physically. Keep in mind, too, that Ohio State has a lot of youth at linebacker that could turn out to be good in the long run, players like Joshua Perry, David Perkins and Camren Williams. Linebacker will be a fascinating position to watch in 2013 as those guys get a little older.

Solomon from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, in your Week 11 predictions, you predict that Iowa "ensures the Boilers won't be bowling for the second straight year." This isn't quite true as Purdue played in the Pizza Bowl last year and beat WMU 37-32. Just keeping you honest.

Dan from Carmel, Ind., writes: You stated in this week's predictions that Purdue won't go bowling for the 2nd straight year, better check that, they played in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2011. Not that it should help Hope keep his job.

Adam Rittenberg writes: I think that sentence has been misunderstood, and for that, I apologize. I was trying to say a loss would prevent Purdue from going bowling for a second straight year, not that a loss would keep Purdue home for a second straight year. I should have been more clear, but I'm well aware Purdue played in the postseason last year and gave the Big Ten one of its three bowl wins.

William from Denver writes: Adam, what do you think are the chances of Fitzgerald leaving for Auburn or Arkansas if, big IF, those coaching positions open up?

Adam Rittenberg: Almost zero chance, William. You don't turn down Michigan, which would have been a really good fit, and then leave for mid-level SEC jobs where you have no connections. Also, Pat Fitzgerald is a Big Ten guy through and through, and I don't see him enjoying some of the challenges in the SEC (not talking about on-field competition, if you catch my drift). It wouldn't surprise me if an SEC team or two pursued Fitzgerald, but I'd be really surprised if he leaves Northwestern any time soon. He received a 10-year contract last year, and Northwestern recently approved the on-campus facility he really wanted. Fitzgerald has ties to Chicago and wants to see things through at Northwestern with the new facility.
Thanks for all the e-mails this week, everybody. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

Let's get to your e-mail!

Terry Nixon in Marietta, Ga., writes: Hey Squinky--uh I mean Ubbs,See you're back with us. What is it the 4th, or maybe just the 3rd time you've picked us for the upset special. Keep doing it and you will get at least one right. I know we ruined your forecasting year the last couple but you didn't have to get even all in one year. Oh well enjoy while you can--next year is out for you.

David Ubben: Ha, this stuff always cracks me up. Fans get more bent out of shape at being put on upset alert than being picked against. I'm not even kidding. You've got me there, Terry. I've put OSU on alert in three of the last four weeks, and they soundly proved me wrong against Iowa State and TCU.

Still, you can only project with given information. I wasn't the one spearheading the upset alert last year, but the simple nature of being an undefeated team is everyone's going to dissect the ways and possibilities you can lose each week. That's what spices up any BCS race. Ironically, the one game almost no one put OSU on upset alert last year for, it lost.

So, maybe we're doing you a favor. Kidding. But don't take it so personally.

Jeremy writes: What percentage do you give each of the four unbeatens to stay undefeated going into bowl season?

DU: You don't have to ask me. The last projection I saw (by our BCS expert Brad Edwards, I believe), the four unbeatens had 7.9 percent chance of all being undefeated, up from three percent last week. Coincidentally, that 7.9 percent is the exact same as the American national unemployment rate.


Ben Nelson in Dallas writes: You stated that you went 3-2 in your picks last week. Actually, it was more like 3-3."On Saturday, Texas Tech will beat Texas and transform into the best team in Texas after Mississippi State knocks off Texas A&M." I'll be checking for an update to the blog.

DU: You got me here too, Ben. I'll accept my reckoning. Thing about going out on a limb? Sometimes it snaps.

Eric Lovig in Paola, Kan., writes: In a recent blog you posted that "Oklahoma would need two K-State losses to win the conference outright, but would earn a share if they win out and Kansas State slips up in one of its final three games."I was reading up on the big 12 rules and via their website and it reads: "The following procedure will determine the Big 12 Conference representative to the Bowl Championship Series in the event of a first-place tie: a. If two teams are tied, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.") According to the Big 12 website, even if Kansas State "slips up" in one of its last 3 games and OU wins out, Kansas State (having one conference loss) would be the Big 12 champs since they own the tiebreaker with OU (also one conference loss) by beating them head to head. Am I missing something?

DU: You're missing one big thing, Eric. This isn't the old Big 12, where one team has to play for the Big 12 title from each division. Everybody knows K-State would be the real Big 12 champion, just like everybody knows who the real division champions are in the old Big 12. It's the team who represented the division in the Big 12 championship game.

That's true, but the Big 12 rules are only about who represents the Big 12 in the BCS. Oklahoma wouldn't get the Big 12's automatic bid if it tied Kansas State, but it would have earned a share of the Big 12 title. Get used to it now. I don't like it, and I'm sure you don't either.

The simple truth: Split Big 12 titles are a reality in the new Big 12. The Big 12 got lucky and didn't have one last year. It might happen again. Though, if K-State slips up, I expect Oklahoma to be sitting their waiting to collect another Big 12 title -- and a BCS bid, even though it won't be the Big 12's automatic BCS bid.

Johnny Bryant in Austin, Texas, writes: Does Texas have a realistic shot of making a BCS bowl?

DU: It's definitely realistic. Let's break down the obvious path. Texas is sitting pretty at No. 17 in the BCS right now with Iowa State this week and TCU on Thanksgiving night after a bye week. Then it's on the road at K-State.

Texas might be inside or near the top 10 if it wins those first two games, but if it beats K-State, there's no doubt. Texas would likely be at No. 7 or 8 and looking really, really good with a 10-2 record.

Do you really think any BCS bowl would turn down the Longhorns at 10-2 in the top 10 and rolling in with a six-game winning streak? Absolutely not.

Debate the possibility of Texas winning out to that point all you want, but the path is there, and after last week's win at TCU, the possibility looks a lot more realistic.

David Wells in McAlester, Okla., writes: Just read your article about your prediction for an upset, possibly even a blowout in the West Virginia vs Oklahoma State game. I'm not saying an upset isn't possible, but there is a much possibility of a blowout in OSU's favor as there is in WVU's. OSU beat TCU by 22 in Stillwater just 2 weeks ago, and TCU beat WVU at Morgantown just last Saturday. From appearances last Saturday, it looked like OSU's 3rd team quarterback played better than their 1st (it appeared Lunt was suffering from some rust), and by the way Chelf played, if he had played the whole game, OSU may have had a chance of upsetting KState (I don't now how the turnover situation may have panned out, that's anybody's guess). I can't see an advantage of one side knowing the other, both teams know how certain aspects of the other team operate, so any advantage would equal out. Would it surprise you if OSU walked away blowing out WVU?

DU: I mean, you could do this all day with about any two teams with losses. West Virginia beat Texas on the road. Oklahoma State lost to them at home.

WVU isn't playing very well the past month, and the truth is teams don't offer the same quality of play every week. That's the nature of the game. My prediction was West Virginia will snap out of whatever funk it's been in the last month and knock off the Cowboys.

Compare scores all you want. I know what I've seen: A West Virginia team not playing up to its potential the past month. They took a decent step forward last week, and they'll get over the hump this week.

Mike in Oklahoma City, Okla., writes: Terrance Williams has been given little love on the national stage for his performance so far. Do you forsee a repeat of last year when Kendall Wright was overshadowed by a nationally known receiver, Justin Blackmon? Blackmon got the the Biletnikoff in 2011 despite Kendall Wright having better overall numbers. What does Williams have to do to take home the award this year?

DU: Well, last year was kind of the perfect storm for Wright. I think Blackmon was a better receiver last year, but Wright put up his craziest numbers down the stretch last year after the finalists list was made. You can debate the legitimacy of the timing of that finalist list if you'd like. That's fair.

As for this year, Williams is hurt by playing for a weak Baylor team while Marqise Lee has had a lot of attention in playing for a national brand like USC, though the Trojans have plenty of struggles of their own.

I do think Williams ends up winning it if he keeps his pace. He's just been so consistent. We haven't seen a guy rack up numbers like this since Blackmon in 2010. He caught 100 yards and a TD in every single game. That was pretty unbelievable.

Williams has at least 130 yards in every game but one, and scored in every game but two. Keep that pace up, and he's going to be very, very hard to turn down for the award. He's got to just keep on trucking. Baylor winning some games would help, but it doesn't have to happen. Like I've said all season, receivers don't have a heavy influence on whether teams win games when you compare them to running backs and quarterbacks. Teams are running 80-100 plays in the Big 12 these days, and receivers touch the ball 10-15 times a game tops. He can't single-handedly win games for Baylor. He hasn't had much help from the defense and a productive but turnover-prone Nick Florence this year.