On The Mark Friday mailbag

Welcoming back the Vols-Gators rivalry, John L. Smith and more

Originally Published: September 14, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

SEC coaches on the hot seat.

Picking on woebegone Savannah State.

The next coach at Arkansas.

We tackle those topics and more in this week's mailbag:

John in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: It's about time Florida vs. Tennessee meant something again. Which coach has more pressure on him this weekend? I think Derek Dooley has to get to 8-4 to keep his job. What do you think?

[+] EnlargeDerek Dooley
Jim Brown/US PresswireHow badly does Derek Dooley need a Tennessee victory over Florida?

I'm not ready to say that either the Gators or the Volunteers are "back," but both teams showed signs of breaking out of their mediocrity during the first two weeks of the season. I don't think there's any question Dooley needs this game worse than Muschamp. With an 11-14 record entering his third season, Tennessee fans were running out of patience. A victory over NC State in Atlanta was a nice start to the season, but we've seen UT get off to hot starts before.

We've seen quarterback Tyler Bray throwing the ball all over the field to receivers such as Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. What we need to see is Tennessee running the ball consistently and playing sound defense. That's why I'm not getting overly excited about the Vols yet, but they can certainly change my mind at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.

Muschamp inherited a bigger mess than most people want to admit, but I think his team is starting to show some of the characteristics he wants it to have. The Gators are more physical on offense and they did a great job on defense in the second half of last week's victory at Texas A&M. If Muschamp can guide the Gators to road victories at Texas A&M and Tennessee in consecutive weeks, I think it's the kind of jump-start his program needs.

Jesse in Sioux Falls, S.D. writes: I enjoy reading your column and have enjoyed your coverage of college football for several years. I certainly understand your frustration with Savannah State and their scheduling practices. However, I do take issue with ESPN using Savannah State as the 'poster child' for FCS football. As a graduate and avid supporter of North Dakota State University, I can say without question, our games with FBS programs mean a great deal to our team and to our fans. NDSU sports a 6-3 record against FBS teams since 2006, the year we transitioned to D-1 (most by any FCS school in the nation) with victories over Minnesota, Kansas, CMU, Ball State and last week Colorado State. ESPN unfortunately chose to highlight the Savannah State blowouts to make the case that FCS schools should not be allowed to schedule FBS schools and vice versa. They failed to mention NDSU's victory over CSU and gave little coverage to other FCS schools with victories this fall (Sacramento State, Youngstown State, etc.).

I think you misunderstood my earlier comments about Savannah State. I certainly don't have a problem with FCS schools playing FBS opponents. It's an opportunity for FCS programs to earn enough money to support their athletic departments and gives kids a chance to play on a big stage, which they otherwise wouldn't have. Every once in a while, like North Dakota State over the past six seasons (or Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007 or James Madison over Virginia Tech in 2010), we'll get an upset that sends seismic shocks across the sport.

My problem with Savannah State is that athletic director Sterling Steward Jr. put his coaches and players in position to be thoroughly embarrassed on consecutive weekends: 84-0 at Oklahoma State in the opener and 55-0 at Florida State (in less than three quarters) last week. The Tigers collected $860,000 for being sacrificial lambs, which will at least put a dent in Savannah State's budget deficit, which has accumulated over the years because of gross mismanagement.

Sam in Auburn, Ala., writes: Do you think that ranked teams losing to unranked teams, or struggling in games that they should easily win, proves that preseason rankings are more for fanfare? Shouldn't rankings come out at least after four weeks after seeing a few games?

I've never been a huge fan of preseason polls, even though I publish one a few hours after the BCS National Championship Game every year. We update it a couple of times, after national signing day and then after the deadline for underclassmen to enter the NFL draft. Why? Because college football fans eat it up and just want something to read about their teams during the offseason, even if it's silly predictions in May.

Preseason rankings are mostly determined by how a team did the previous season and how many starters it has coming back. Michigan shouldn't have been ranked in the top 10 this season based on its returning personnel and demanding schedule. But the Wolverines were a popular team because they won 11 games in coach Brady Hoke's first season and knocked off Virginia Tech 23-20 in overtime in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan might end up being a contender in the Big Ten Legends Division, but it shouldn't have been ranked No. 8 to start the season.

Chris in Jackson, Tenn., writes: Do we finally see the real Florida State this weekend?

[+] EnlargeEj Manuel and Jimbo Fisher
Melina Vastola/US PresswireFlorida State hasn't had to break much of a sweat during its first two games.

I think we'll finally see the No. 5 Seminoles play a legitimate opponent, if not this week against Wake Forest then certainly next week against No. 11 Clemson at Doak Campbell Stadium. As you might know, I've been high on the Seminoles the past couple of years. When you look at Florida State, I think they're as impressive as any team in the country when they're climbing off the bus. The defense took a big hit with the loss of defensive end Brandon Jenkins to a foot injury, but that's a position where the Seminoles are equipped with enough depth to overcome it. If quarterback EJ Manuel stays healthy and gets some help from the running game, I think FSU is a legitimate BCS title contender.

Michael in Fayetteville, Ark., writes: Who do you think will be the next coach at Arkansas?

I wrote a couple of weeks before the season that I thought Arkansas interim coach John L. Smith was in over his head, but I never imagined the Hogs would lose to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock. There's no question that the loss of quarterback Tyler Wilson cost the Razorbacks that game, but they did a terrible job of protecting him. Undoubtedly, the loss will end whatever chances, if any, Smith had of keeping the job beyond this season.

As far as candidates, I think Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long might want to start with West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. I think his high-octane offense might work in the SEC and he has plenty of experience recruiting in Texas. A lot of people don't know that Long was actually very close to offering the job to Muschamp, who was working as Texas' defensive coordinator at the time, until Bobby Petrino threw his name into the hat. I wonder if Long would go after another defensive coordinator such as Alabama's Kirby Smart or Texas' Manny Diaz. Louisville's Charlie Strong also has been mentioned, but I think we'll have to wait until closer to the end of the season to see which coaches are the hot commodities.

Kevin in Memphis, Tenn., writes: If [quarterback Zach] Mettenberger stays healthy and continues to improve, how does LSU not make it to Miami?

Lose to Alabama and then the Crimson Tide finishes unbeaten? The Tigers haven't gotten a lot of attention during the first couple of weeks of the season, but they were impressive in beating up Washington 41-3 in Baton Rouge, La., last week. The Tigers probably won't be tested until they play at No. 18 Florida on Oct. 6 and then host No. 8 South Carolina on Oct. 13. The showdown at home against No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 3 will probably determine which team wins the SEC West.

Mettenberger, a juco transfer who spent one season at Georgia, at least gives LSU the threat of a downfield passing game. The Tigers are still going to rely on what's gotten it done in the past -- a suffocating defense and bruising running game.

David in Birmingham, Ala., writes: Alabama beats LSU and wins out, and LSU only loses to Alabama (or vice versa). USC and Oregon split their two games, FSU only loses to Clemson, Oklahoma only loses to WVU and WVU only loses to Texas. All other teams have two losses. Who makes it to the national championship game?

I'd be stunned if voters will ever go for Alabama vs. LSU Part II.

Mark Schlabach | email

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