First off, a great-big thank you for all of the kind words in the mailbag. My favorite part about being a sports writer is engaging in intelligent discussion with readers and you all have provided me with some great debate. On to the mailbag!
Peter in Palo Alto writes: 8.5 wins in 2012. Over or under?
Kevin Gemmell: Hmmm... if I'm in Vegas right now with a crisp $1 bill, I'm putting it on the under. I think eight wins is more likely than nine. Consider that you'll have a first-year player at quarterback, regardless of who gets the job. First-year guys are usually good for at least one or two losses on the road in games that you should have won. That's not a knock on whoever gets the job, it's just all part of the learning experience. Even Andrew Luck dropped a game or two early in his career. With that said, the defense -- assuming the safety positions gets sorted out -- will be good again with the front seven and the running attack should be fantastic. Nine wins and beyond would be a great season. Eight would be really good, which is what I'm putting them at. Seven would be more than understandable, but anything below that would be a disappointment given the talent Stanford has coming back.
Derek in Cedar Rapids, Iowa writes: Hi, Kevin, I've got to have your two cents: what do you make of the final 52 seconds or so of regulation in the Fiesta Bowl? No one would have loved that kick to sail through more than me, but before that moment, I was wondering aloud to my buddies why Coach (David) Shaw wasn't, seemingly, as fond of chip shots as I was. Man, that hurt! Anyway, I'd love to have your thoughts!
Kevin Gemmell: Derek, you're not the first to ask this, so this is addressed to you and the dozens of other mailbag questions on the same topic. As I said in one of my earlier posts, I can see both sides. He had faith in his kicker -- how dare he! I'm not going to fault him for that. Jordan Williamson was 6-of-7 from inside that range this season and the kick was dead center in a dome with no cross-wind. Yes, he missed one earlier in the game. But he also made one earlier in the quarter. If he makes it, we're not talking about this and Shaw and Williamson are the toast of The Farm. People always want to point the finger or find blame. Psychologically, it makes sense and I can understand that. It helps fans feel better about a loss if they can find someone to pin it on. I try to look at the big picture and can find a dozen plays off the top of my head leading up to that moment that could have been different. Schematically speaking, I thought the game plan was fantastic, well-executed and I think Shaw had his team ready to play. Shame it comes down to one call and one kick that ultimately didn't work out and now that's the focal point for the entire game. I will say I find the personal attacks against Williamson ridiculous and moronic. If you want to say he wasn't clutch, that's fine. But some of the comments I've read taking personal shots at the kid are insulting and completely un-called for. Grow up. Loved the way his teammates rallied around him in the locker room.
Chriss in Munich, Germany writes: (I cleaned up the English a bit): I love watching the Cardinal, especially Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener. I see quite a lot about Andrew Luck going to the Colts, but what are the projections for Coby Fleener?
Kevin Gemmell: Chriss, first off, thanks for dropping a note from across the pond. Didn't realize the Cardinal were so huge in Germany. I think Fleener is going to have an outstanding NFL career. He's a physical specimen and a perfect prototype of the new breed of NFL tight ends. He's fast, physical and has great hands. His run blocking will have to improve at the next level, but he's a work-ethic guy so I don't see that being a problem. Whichever NFL team drafts him -- presumably late in the first round or in the second round -- they are going to get a special player.
Chris in San Mateo, Calif. writes: Without Andrew Luck at the reigns for the first time in three years, how do you envision David Shaw and company adjusting their focus when it comes to recruiting?
Kevin Gemmell: I don't think they'll adjust their recruiting strategy at all. They'll keep targeting tight ends and running backs -- because those are two positions that you can evolve into different positions at the college level. Shaw said they aren't specifically targeting any quarterbacks this year (though they'll listen to anyone interested in coming) but they will probably need to address it in the next class. You can go crazy trying to find the next Andrew Luck -- especially since he's not out there. The nice thing about Stanford's schemes is they are enticing to recruits because they are NFL systems, and players with hopes of reaching the next level will have a leg up because they will be more NFL ready than most. That's a huge selling point on both sides of the ball.