On The Mark Friday mailbag

Predicting Clemson-FSU, Notre Dame's BCS hopes and more

Originally Published: September 21, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

How will No. 4 Florida State slow down No. 10 Clemson's high-octane offense in Saturday night's ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee?

Is Notre Dame for real? Why isn't Ohio getting more love?

Those questions and a couple of quarterback snubs are included in this week's mailbag:

[+] EnlargeBjoern Werner
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesClemson needs to find a way to control FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner.

Keith in Seneca, S.C., writes: I know Florida State's defense has been dominant against the Sisters of the Poor, but how are the Seminoles going to defend Clemson wideouts Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, along with running back Andre Ellington? Can anyone slow down the Tigers' offense?

While Florida State hasn't played the stiffest competition during the first three weeks of the season (home games against Football Championship Subdivision foes Murray State and Savannah State and ACC opponent Wake Forest), it's hard to ignore its dominance on defense. FSU brought back one of the country's best defenses and ranks No. 1 in the country in about every defensive statistic. The Seminoles lead the country in scoring defense, rushing defense, pass defense and total defense.

Even without injured defensive end Brandon Jenkins, the Seminoles have one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the country. Clemson's No. 1 concern heading into Saturday night's game is blocking FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner, who already has nine tackles for loss and 6 sacks this season.

When I coached in Florida State's spring game, along with ESPN.com colleague Ivan Maisel, I was allowed to participate in the draft, in which the seniors divided their teammates into two teams. I was a little surprised safety Lamarcus Joyner was the No. 1 pick in the draft, but his teammates know the most valuable players on the field. Along with physical cornerback Xavier Rhodes, FSU's defense might match up well with Clemson's receivers. I think the Tigers have to establish the running game with Ellington to take some pressure off quarterback Tajh Boyd.

Mac in Chicago writes: Mark, under the heading of "On the Mark: Precision Passers," how is it possible to leave Teddy Bridgewater off of your list? Perhaps he has been on there in past weeks, but he had great numbers again against UNC. Arguably a better team than the opponent of any of the quarterbacks you actually included, except Cal. Any good reason? Thanks.

There wasn't any specific reason Bridgewater was left off the list, and he was certainly deserving of being included last week. In the Cardinals' 39-34 victory over North Carolina, Bridgewater completed 23 of 28 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns. On the season, he is completing 81.8 percent of his passes for 855 yards with zero interceptions in 88 attempts.

If Louisville continues to win -- and some experts are starting to predict it might go unbeaten (road games at Southern Miss, Syracuse and Rutgers might be its biggest tests) -- Bridgewater is going to emerge as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate.

John in Atlanta writes: With all the talk about Derek Dooley at Tennessee being on the hot seat one name that never comes up as being a replacement is Jim Leavitt. I am a UT fan and he would be my choice. He is currently linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers and would probably be available. What do you think?

While last week's 37-20 loss to Florida at Neyland Stadium certainly took the air out of Tennessee's early-season promise, I'm not ready to give up on the Volunteers yet. They have a fantastic passing game with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson but have to find a way to run consistently. More importantly, Tennessee has to get better on defense.

I still think there's a way for Dooley to lead this team to eight victories, which would be an improvement over the previous two seasons. He has to beat an opponent of consequence, however, whether it's Georgia, Alabama or South Carolina.

Leavitt did a nice job building South Florida's program from scratch. But the Bulls lost four games or more in every season from 2003 to 2009, and the circumstances in which he left the program might make it difficult for a school like Tennessee to hire him. If Dooley doesn't return, I think there are better candidates out there, whether it's a head coach like Louisville's Charlie Strong or a coordinator like Alabama's Kirby Smart. But I'm not ready to pull the plug on Dooley yet.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesBrian Kelly has built a strong defense at Notre Dame.

Binarydaddy in Findlay, Ohio, writes: The Irish's schedule is no doubt tough, but given how the front seven stifled [Michigan State running back Le'Veon] Bell and [Irish quarterback Everett] Golson continues to improve and make great decisions, is there real legitimacy to them competing against Michigan, Oklahoma, Stanford and USC?

Last week's 20-3 upset of the Spartans was easily the most important victory in Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's tenure to date. While Michigan State's offense leaves a lot to be desired, the Irish still manhandled a top-10 opponent on the road. Kelly wanted to rebuild the Irish through the defense, and he has put together what might be their best defensive front in years.

Golson didn't throw the ball particularly well against MSU's stingy defense, completing only 14 of 32 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown. But the sophomore continues to take care of the football, which is the most important thing.

I jumped on the Notre Dame bandwagon last week, putting it in a BCS bowl game in my bowl projections. As long as the Irish finish 10-2, they'll have a great shot at playing in a BCS bowl game. But with home games left against Michigan on Saturday and Stanford on Oct. 13 and road games at Oklahoma and USC looming on the schedule, there's still a long way to go.

Sean in Elgin, Ill., writes: Hypothetical, say Ohio State goes undefeated, they finish the season ranked No. 1 and thrash all ranked opponents they face during the season, but they are ineligible to play in the post season. Can they still get a share of the national championship?

Ohio State could technically still win the Associated Press national championship, even though the Buckeyes are ineligible to play for a Big Ten championship or play in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions. But I don't think the odds of it happening are very good. I think voters would be reluctant to put the Buckeyes at No. 1 at season's end, and I'm not sure OSU's defense is good enough to run the table.

Chris in Dallas writes: Not surprised that you picked a second-year, average University of Texas quarterback, who had a rare above-average game, but didn't mention Texas A&M's freshman quarterback, who in only his second start had one of the season's single best games.

I guess we'll have to expand our Precision Passers list. While Johnny Manziel had an unbelievable performance in the Aggies' 48-3 victory at SMU on Saturday, I thought Texas' David Ash was equally as impressive.

Manziel, a freshman from Kerrville, Texas, seems like the perfect fit for new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's offense. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns while rushing 13 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

Ash was more precise throwing the ball in the Longhorns' 66-31 rout at Ole Miss on Saturday, completing 19 of 23 attempts for 326 yards and four touchdowns. Neither quarterback played a great defense, but their performances give their teams hope after three weeks.

Keith in Ohio writes: Isn't it time to give Ohio University some love? They are not No. 1 but how about top 25?

After Ohio upset Penn State 24-14 on the road in its opener, I wrote that I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bobcats finish the regular season with a 12-0 record. Ohio blasted New Mexico State 51-24 in Week 2 and came from behind to defeat Marshall 27-24 on the road last week.

Ohio doesn't play another nonconference opponent from a BCS league and doesn't even face Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, Western Michigan or Toledo from the MAC West. It would be a surprise -- and disappointment -- if Ohio isn't 12-0 going into the MAC championship game.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball