Updated: March 20, 2009, 9:17 PM ETBy Bruce Feldman
In light of March Madness, I'll lead this week's mailbag with a question that has basketball ties: From Dan in Syracuse: I was listening to Dick Vitale rave about how Notre Dame wanted Greg Paulus as a QB. Now that Paulus seems buried on the bench at Duke and his pro basketball prospects don't look very promising do you think David Cutcliffe would try to get him to come out for the Duke football team? Feldman: For all the hype about Paulus as a QB prospect, he would be facing a very uphill challenge. Duke is really high on QB Thad Lewis. I know Kurt Roper, the Blue Devils' OC/QB coach is very excited about Lewis because the kid is very bright and poised and has a good arm and athleticism. I don't see Paulus coming in after having not played in years and beating out a guy with an NFL future at QB. Last season, Lewis had a 15-6 TD-INT ratio. Plus Duke is already in the middle of spring ball, so Paulus wouldn't have the chance to do that. If he wants a shot at QB, he would have to transfer and find a school with a graduate program Duke doesn't offer or would have to drop down levels. From Jon in Washington: What do you think of the Huskies hire as coach Steve Sarkisian, and do you think it will make an immediate impact, not that we have anywhere to go but up. How long before the Huskies come back into the elite Pac-10 instead of the whipping boy? Feldman: Almost all the people who worked with Sarkisian think he'll do well up there. They think he's bright and relates well to players. And although he'll take many things Pete Carroll has had success with, Sarkisian realizes he can't try to copy Carroll and turn it into USC-NW. The problem is Washington is so far down it's going to take a couple of years just to build up to "respectable" before it can think about being "good". Sarkisian needs to change the mindset there because a lot of those players had gotten conditioned to losing and that's a hard habit to get out of. If Sarkisian can build up QB Jake Locker's confidence as a passer, Washington has enough promising young skill talent that the Huskies could win four games because their QB is such a playmaker. But anything more than that right now seems overly optimistic. From Sandy in Omaha, Neb.: I noticed you didn't tout Nebraska as one of those emerging powerhouses. How do you assess where Bo Pelini is right now with the Huskers? Feldman: I think there was more positive than negative in his first year. To me, the big keys at NU will be to establish an identity and to keep recruiting talent so as to develop depth and find more playmakers. Defensively, NU needs to get better, especially in the secondary. The Cornhuskers have been shredded by most Big 12 teams, and if they're to become a legit top-10 program again, that has to change. They do have one great building block in NT Ndamukong Suh, but now let's see them get better than 89th in pass D. I was interested to read this story from the World Herald about how the NU players really struggled with learning all of the new techniques. Surely with more time in the system, they should be much better for it: "[CB Anthony] West said [secondary coach Marvin] Sanders had different philosophies on press technique, footwork, keying to receivers' hips and use of hands. Sanders admits there were some things fundamentally he wanted his players to know or expected them to know without actually going through and teaching it. "Sanders has equipped them with a glossary of terms that he expects them to know, and they'll refresh next week before going forward. [Larry] Asante and West are returning starters, Matt O'Hanlon and Rickey Thenarse split time at free safety last year and Eric Hagg, Prince Amukamara and Anthony Blue all have seen time the past two seasons. From Matt in Salem, Va.: How about a shout-out next blog about recent VT signee RB David Wilson. He just won the Nike Indoor National triple jump event for the second time in a row. Two national titles in three events, set the meet record and his jump is No. 10 all-time in US prep history. He's doing track at VT and some around here say he has a shot at the Olympics! Feldman: Thanks, Matt. I forgot about Wilson, who should be fun to watch at Tech. He is a very highly regarded football talent and was rated as the nation's No. 5 RB and the No. 49 player in the Class of 2009. From Jeff in Knoxville, Tenn.: I am so fired up about the new [Tennessee] staff. Everyone is talking about the Vols and we love that because you know recruits are interested. How many current UT players did [Ed] Orgeron try and recruit when he was at Ole Miss and how big of a difference do you think it is selling Knoxville vs. Oxford to high school players? Feldman: The biggest differences in selling UT vs. Ole Miss are that the Vols have a much higher national profile and richer history, having won a national title in the late '90s. Oxford is a charming college town and Ole Miss has a great game-day atmosphere in the Grove, but the stadium doesn't compare to UT's having 110,000 on a Saturday. It's really hard to compete with that if you have a stadium that's just about half the size. Just going back from the two years I was inside the Ole Miss war room, there not only were quite a few who were on the Rebels' recruiting boards but even were a bunch they chased pretty hard. Going alphabetically, these are the UT players I recall: DB Eric Berry -- They loved him, but he didn't show much interest. RB Lennon Creer -- They liked him, but didn't extend him an offer because there were other out-of-state RBs they were more interested in. LB Chris Donald -- They recruited him and thought they had a shot at landing him, and they needed LBs, although I do remember Orgeron's being leery of Donald. They had some film of him working out in the weight room and when Orgeron studied it, he thought Donald seemed surprisingly stiff, and that bugged him. DB Art Evans -- Their Florida recruiter (Matt Lubick) liked him a lot and said they had a chance. He wasn't one of their top three WR targets, but they wanted him and lost him to UT. LB Herman Lathers -- He played at a Louisiana high school where assistant Frank Wilson (who is now at UT, as well) had three prospects he liked a lot, including Lathers, but that was the year the staff got fired. WR Ahmad Paige -- The Rebels wanted him, but couldn't get him. DB Dennis Rogan -- He was a guy they liked but weren't sure where they'd play him, and they didn't go after him very hard. QB Nick Stephens -- They liked his physical skills, but there were some questions about his maturity and whether he could lead a team. DE Rae Sykes -- They chased him hard, but grades were an issue at the time. OL Dallas Thomas -- Another one of those Scotlandville High kids Wilson thought he had a good shot at. DT Victor Thomas -- Ole Miss was fairly high on Thomas and gave him an offer. DE Chris Walker -- They weren't sure whether he was an OLB or a DE, but Orgeron loved his athleticism, especially after the Rebels watched him play basketball. But the Vols beat them on Walker. LB Rod Wilks -- Hugh Freeze, the Rebels' recruiter on him, was confident that Wilks could be a good SEC receiver and that he could land him, although there were questions about his speed. From Hansel in Portland: Although Stanford has yet to prove anything, they probably deserve to be on this list. Jim [Harbaugh] is the real deal as their coach, and their latest recruiting class is loaded. I'm not arguing that they should be on this list, but if you made another list like this in a few years, I'd be shocked if Stanford isn't on it. I think they'll be a 10-win team in just a few seasons. Feldman: I am a big believer in Harbaugh as a coach, although I think Stanford is such a tough place to try to win a national title. That school more than any other, with the possible exception of the academies, is the hardest to get players into school. There are other prestigious academic schools that play major college football but their coaches get a lot more help from admissions when it comes to football players. That isn't the case at Stanford. For that reason alone, I think your depth is always going to be a concern. From Cris in Chicago: I found a story you wrote on Dayne Crist that had a quote from Charlie Weis saying that no one can make you a better player than he can. That got me to thinking since [Notre Dame] almost had Urban Meyer as a coach, what do you think would've happened had Tim Tebow come to South Bend and been coached by Charlie Weis? Feldman: Well, that would be a big twist. I think Tebow would've been successful, although I doubt Weis would've let Tebow run as much as he did, so I don't think he would've been anywhere near as productive. I also doubt Jimmy Clausen would've signed with ND at that point, knowing Tebow was there. The Irish have had woeful offensive lines, so Tebow's toughness and running ability would've come in handy, although it should be pointed out that he did play behind a pretty green O-line himself early in his career. My guess is that in 2007, Tebow's sophomore year, the Irish probably would've won twice as many games as they did, but I seriously doubt that Tebow would've won the Heisman. RANDOM STUFF • Coming off a great year, Buffalo does still have a lot to improve on for 2009. New DC Fred Reed says UB needs to get better at stopping the run and rushing the passer, reports Rodney McKissic: "UB also needs a better pass rush. The Bulls recorded 14 sacks a year ago -- tying Florida Atlantic and North Texas for 112th in the country at one per game. The Bulls lost both starting defensive ends in Andrae Smith and Mike Thompson, but the staff is high on redshirt freshman Steven Means (Glover Cleveland [High in Buffalo]), who was unblockable last year in practice." A 6-3, 220-pounder, Means sounds like one of those unique athletes you often hear about blossoming into a star for a lot of mid-majors. He was slightly undersized, yet still managed 20 sacks in his senior year. He also excelled in track and as a swimmer, which is a combination you rarely come across. • Tons of new terminology for Syracuse folks to digest with new coach Doug Marrone taking over. Donnie Webb has the glossary. More interesting to note is that Todd Marinovich's kid brother Mikhail is listed No. 1 on the depth chart at DE. He is a 6-4, 232-pound sophomore. To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.
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