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July 4, 2008

Mailbag: Another possibility for the Big Ten?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
June 20: Another Reesing?
June 13: Line of defense
June 6: No help needed
May 30: New coach hopes

Even in the Big Ten, where change seems as welcome as college football playoff discussions, expansion is a possibility.

The 11-team conference once invited Notre Dame to join, and from time to time, rumors have surfaced that Missouri, Rutgers and Texas were possible candidates. Eventually, another school surely will be mentioned.

In fact, one is in this week's mailbag, and the suggestion comes from one of our heroes in Iraq.

Two from the Sarge

Greetings from Baghdad. You have many soldiers ready to take a break from constant sandstorms and watch some good old-fashioned American football instead of soccer. First question: Given the recent TV contract extension between NBC and Notre Dame, I don't see the Irish wanting to join the Big Ten anytime soon. With the Big East constantly changing teams, what are your thoughts on Pitt joining the Big Ten? A league consisting of Penn State, Pitt, Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue and Indiana would provide some great regional matchups.

Second question: Were the athletic officials at Colorado making bets about who could dream up the toughest schedule? Games against West Virginia, Florida State, Texas and Kansas all in a row! Or was this schedule made when West Virginia and Kansas still were doormats?

Sgt. Richard W. Czeck in Baghdad

Constant sandstorms? Are you sure you're not stationed in Lubbock?

Mailbag questions usually are limited to one, but we'll certainly make an exception for you, Sergeant.

Although I don't know that Pittsburgh officials have any thoughts about leaving the Big East, a move to the Big Ten certainly makes geographical sense. The Big Ten has two teams in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, so why not two in Pennsylvania?

Of course, that would create an Eastern-heavy divisional format. The West obviously would include Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois and probably Purdue. That would leave the East with Pitt, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana.

Just the prospect of playing in that division might be enough to keep Pitt from making this hypothetical move.

As for your second question: While Colorado's athletic administration may have been trying to win a "toughest stretch" bet by facing West Virginia, FSU, Texas and Kansas in consecutive games, they won't win the wager. The winner would be Georgia, which faces LSU, Florida, Kentucky and Auburn in consecutive weeks from Oct. 25 to Nov. 15. And none of those games are at home.

Here's an interesting note: In their brutal stretches, both Colorado and Georgia will play in Jacksonville. Georgia always plays Florida there, and Colorado visits there on Sept. 27 to play Florida State.

By the way, the West Virginia matchup was set last year, after North Carolina canceled a series with the Buffaloes and Maryland canceled on the Mountaineers.

QB question at Cal

What is your opinion on the quarterback situation involving Kevin Riley versus Nate Longshore at California? And what kind of season do you think the Bears will have?

Mike in San Francisco

At quarterback, Cal is in an enviable situation with an experienced senior and an emerging sophomore. I don't know if new coordinator Frank Cignetti places more value on experience or promise, but I do know all coaches want quarterbacks who avoid mistakes and turnovers.

Longshore, the senior, has passed for more than 2,500 yards in each of the past two seasons but he also has thrown 13 interceptions in each of the past two seasons. In 2007, when he was hampered by a bad ankle, his interceptions always seemed to occur at the worst possible times. He threw at least one fourth-quarter interception in losses to UCLA, Arizona, USC and Stanford. In three of those games, the Bears were within seven points.

Of course, Riley wasn't beyond making errors, either. His decision to scramble rather than dump the ball and stop the clock in the waning seconds of a loss to Oregon State cost the Bears a chance for a game-tying field goal and a possible overtime victory, which would have elevated them to No. 1 in the country.

But what I like about Riley, aside from his athletic ability and strong arm, was that he manned up and didn't make excuses after his gaffe. Later, he replaced Longshore in the Armed Forces Bowl and rallied the Bears from a 21-0 deficit to a 42-36 victory over Air Force.

Personally, I think the Bears have more upside with Riley, but I can understand if the Bears opt to go with Longshore - especially if he's healthy. That's probably what coach Jeff Tedford will do.

Regardless of the quarterback, I see Cal challenging Oregon and Arizona State for second place in the Pac-10 behind USC.

Tide on the rise?

How long do you think it will take Nick Saban to have Alabama up and running like the days of Bear Bryant or maybe Gene Stallings? It would appear he is doing everything in his power to wake up that sleeping giant with the influx of talent he is bringing into Tuscaloosa.

Kevin in Clearwater, Fla.

There is no doubt Saban is upgrading the talent level on the Alabama roster, but first things first. Shouldn't Tide fans be concerned with beating Auburn and winning the SEC West before reaching for the brass ring?

We all know that based on its history Alabama has high standards, so we'll cut some slack here.

I'd look for Alabama to be a serious national championship contender in 2011. That might seem like a long way away, but let me explain.

First, look at this trend: Rivals.com rated Texas' 2002 recruiting class No. 1 in the nation. In 2003, Florida's was ranked No. 2. In 2004, LSU's was No. 2. Three seasons later, each of those teams won a national championship.

That trend would point to USC or Florida State (OK, nobody's perfect) winning it all this season because the Trojans' and Seminoles' 2005 recruiting classes were ranked first and second.

But if you're not buying into class rankings, consider that Alabama will have a first-year starter at quarterback in 2009. No team has won a BCS championship with a freshman or sophomore at quarterback.

In 2010, Alabama would project to have an upperclassman with significant playing experience at quarterback. That also would have allowed Saban to have assembled more talent around that quarterback.

In addition, remember that Saban won a national championship in his fourth season at LSU. So asking for five years at Alabama doesn't seem unreasonable.

But as good as Saban is, Bama fans shouldn't count on him constructing a dominant program on par with Bryant's. Alabama won two national championships in the '70s, but the SEC then wasn't nearly as strong as it is now. For instance, in the five seasons from 1975 to 1979, there was just one season in which two SEC teams finished in the top 10 of the AP poll 1977, with No. 2 Alabama and No. 6 Kentucky. These days, it's expected that three - even four - SEC teams can finish in the top 10.

Will Johnson wreck at Tech?

I think Paul Johnson will crash and burn at Georgia Tech with the offense he plans on running. Do you honestly believe he can be successful in the ACC?

Clarence in Fort Drum, NY

Well, the ACC isn't exactly the summit of college football these days, so I'm inclined to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt.

In the past three seasons, Johnson's Navy teams were 3-3 against the ACC. Yeah, the three victories were against Duke, but two of the three losses were competitive. Navy lost to Maryland 23-20 in 2005 and fell to Boston College 25-24 in the 2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Johnson figures to get far better athletes at Georgia Tech than he had at Navy, so why dismiss his chances for success? True, his option offense is somewhat unusual, but that only makes it more difficult to prepare for.

Big changes at Hawaii

I want to know your thoughts on Hawaii this season. Obviously, the Warriors' chances of going undefeated aren't good, but how do you think they will fare? They have a good defense and their offense isn't as bad as people think. I'm predicting 9-4 or 10-3 with a bowl game. Then again, I might be jumping the gun. Your thoughts?

Mark in Honolulu

Making another bowl appearance is a reasonable expectation if the Warriors finish with a winning record, they will go to the Hawaii Bowl but nine or 10 victories seems a little ambitious to me.

Coach June Jones is gone. Quarterback Colt Brennan is gone. Receivers Ryan Grice-Mullen, Davone Bess, Jason Rivers and C.J. Hawthorne are gone. That's a lot of offense to replace.

That doesn't imply quarterback Tyler Graunke will be inept, just that it's unlikely he can match the production of Brennan - who threw for 4,343 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2007.

There is talk Hawaii will field a strong defense, and maybe it will. Still, Hawaii's success was because of its offense: Last season, the Warriors won games in which they allowed 44, 37, 35 and 30 points.

And with non-conference games against Florida, Oregon State, Washington State and Cincinnati, this season's schedule is much, much more challenging than last season's.

I think eight victories would be a very good season, though seven might be more realistic. And even fewer is possible.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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