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June 11, 2010

Mailbag: Hits keep on coming for Kansas

It has been a tough year at Kansas.

Football and basketball players got into a brawl that embarrassed the university. To further the embarrassment, coach Mark Mangino was fired amid allegations that he abused players. Of course, this happened after the Jayhawks lost their last seven football games to finish with the first losing season since 2004.

Then, the Jayhawks' celebrated basketball team, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, was stunningly eliminated in the second round by ninth-seeded Northern Iowa.

A few months later, a basketball tickets scandal involving university personnel was uncovered.

Now, the Big 12 Conference appears on the verge of collapsing and the Jayhawks may be homeless. The situation is so dire that University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little reportedly resorted to phoning her counterparts at Nebraska and Missouri hoping to convince them to turn down advances from the Big Ten.

Nebraska turned a deaf ear and reportedly will announce it is joining the Big Ten as soon as today. Colorado has already joined the Pac-10. Five other Big 12 members -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- reportedly will join the Pac-10.

So where does that leave Kansas? That's a question for this week's mailbag.

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Kansas to the ACC?

With all this conference realignment going on and the Big 12 seemingly about to dissolve, what do you think of Kansas joining the ACC? The basketball team would instantly help the ACC remain one of the powerhouses of college basketball. By the level of football competition in the ACC, Kansas would fit in nicely. What do you think?
Neil in Washington, D.C.

Lately, Kansas has come off like a clinging vine, with its chancellor and state politicians trying to persuade (beg?) Nebraska and Missouri to resist any invitations from the Big Ten.

From here, that seemed unnecessary. Kansas' basketball program, one of the very best in the nation, likely will ensure that the Jayhawks will come out OK. Some conference -- a good one -- will find them attractive.

Although geography is becoming less and less a factor in conference affiliations, I'd be somewhat surprised if the ACC offered membership to Kansas.

The ACC is already an elite college basketball league; it doesn't need Kansas to boost its stock. Besides, if the ACC opted to expand and wanted to add strength to its already-powerful basketball presence, it could approach the likes of Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville or West Virginia and stay in the same time zone.

If the Big 12 does indeed collapse, the guess here is that Kansas would have two realistic options.

The Big East, another tremendous basketball conference, may also be raided by the Big Ten and maybe the ACC. So, the leftovers from that conference, the leftovers from the Big 12 and maybe a couple of teams in between (perhaps Memphis, Houston and UCF?) could form another conference with East and West divisions.

If that doesn't appeal to the folks in Lawrence, there could be a chance to join the Mountain West Conference, which this week delayed an invitation to Boise State.

Perhaps the nine-team MWC could add Boise, Kansas and Kansas State, then break into two divisions. The east could include the Kansas schools, TCU, New Mexico, Colorado State and Air Force. The West could have Boise State, Utah, BYU, San Diego State, Wyoming and UNLV.

That looks like a conference that deserves automatic qualifying status (if the BCS continues to exist).

A long shot could be the SEC, though that is extremely unlikely.

Of course, if none of those options are satisfactory, Kansas has to keep its fingers crossed that the Big 12 somehow stays intact.

Heisman darkhorse

What are the chances of Evan Royster emerging as a Heisman candidate? He had a solid '08 season, but seem to disappear in '09.
Luke in Norman, Okla.

The first inclination is to acknowledge Royster as a good running back, but cast doubt on his Heisman chances.

While it's true Royster has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and is closing in on Penn State's career rushing record, it's also true he remains a notch below the country's elite running backs.

Royster gained 1,236 yards in 2008 and 1,169 yards in '09. Those are good seasons by anyone's standards. But Alabama's Mark Ingram, last season's Heisman recipient, rushed for 1,658 yards and was something of an upset winner. Ingram's rushing total, while impressive, was the lowest output for a Heisman-winning running back since Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1975.

What that indicates is Royster must dramatically increase his rushing total to be considered a realistic Heisman hopeful. That won't be easy. First of all, the Nittany Lions face four opponents that ranked among the nation's top 34 in rushing defense last season. Second, they will have two new starting offensive tackles.

Third, and perhaps most concerning, Penn State has to replace quarterback Darryl Clark. Sophomore Kevin Newsome figures to step in, but he's unproven. Look for opposing defenses to stack the box in an effort to thwart Royster and the running game.

Of course, Alabama faced a similar situation last year with Greg McElroy in his first season as the starting quarterback and Ingram still had a terrific year. So, maybe Royster will, too. But Ingram also helped Alabama to a national championship. Penn State doesn't figure to be that good this season.

Still, Royster could emerge as a legitimate contender if he has a strong showing against Alabama on Sept. 11.

Thrown into the fire

How beneficial do you think having to step in for Colt McCoy in the BCS championship game was for Garrett Gilbert? He was thrown onto college football's biggest stage and, after a couple of rough series, performed well for a true freshman. I look for him to be one of the best in the next couple of years. What are your thoughts?
Woody in Fernley, Nev.

It was probably more beneficial for Texas fans and their peace of mind than it was for Gilbert's confidence.

Now, that's not to imply Gilbert didn't benefit from facing Alabama's brutal defense during last season's national championship game and having a strong showing in the second half. Throwing two touchdown passes in less than a half against the Crimson Tide would boost anybody's confidence.

But a quarterback at a college program such as Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida or any other of that ilk already has a tremendous amount of confidence. That's clearly not a job for a shrinking violet.

Also, keep in mind that Gilbert's father was a long-time NFL backup quarterback, so Garrett has been around the game his entire life. And in high school he led his team to a couple of Texas state championships, which is no small accomplishment.

Given his obvious ability and accomplishments, it's not unrealistic to think Texas will continue its current run of successful quarterbacks (James Brown, Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young, Colt McCoy) with Gilbert at the helm.

His showing in the second half against Alabama, in which he was 11-of-24 for 162 yards and two touchdowns, should only expedite his development.

What Gilbert's performance really did was give Texas fans a reason to be optimistic about the Longhorns' quarterback play for the next two or three years. They can say they saw a true freshman thrust into a tough situation against the nation's best defense and fare reasonably well. They also can say that by bouncing back from a rough start and playing well under those circumstances, Gilbert showed great promise and has the potential to be an all-conference player.

I'd agree.

Up the ranks

If June Jones gets SMU into the top 25, would he be considered a Hall of Fame-caliber coach? He helped Hawaii gain national prominence and now is doing the same at SMU.
Pat in Hawaii

If Jones can build on -- and sustain -- the success he started last season at SMU, then he absolutely should be an eventual Hall of Fame coach.

His current coaching record is 85-57, which is good but won't dazzle anyone. He may never reach 150 victories. But using total wins as a measuring stick is unfair in some situations. This would be one of them.

As has been previously mentioned in this space, it's easier to win at some programs than others. For example, last season Jones led SMU to eight victories and Mike Gundy led Oklahoma State to nine. Who did the better job? I'd say Jones.

Before Jones' arrival in 1999, Hawaii's program was floundering. The Warriors hadn't managed a winning record in six seasons and had gone winless in '98. In Jones' first season, the Warriors went 9-4, a nine-game improvement that set an NCAA record for greatest single-season turnaround.

Hawaii averaged 8.4 wins per season in Jones' tenure, which was punctuated by an undefeated regular season and a Sugar Bowl appearance in '07. The next season, he was at SMU, which managed one victory in '07 and had not made a bowl appearance since '84. Yet last season, the Mustangs went 8-5 and blasted Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.

Those two amazing reclamation projects won't ensure that Jones reaches the Hall of Fame. But they do show he deserves consideration.

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