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October 8, 2010

Mailbag: Balance of power shifting west?

In Monopoly, there are Boardwalk and Park Place. In New York, there is Park Avenue. In Florida, it's Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.

In college football, the exclusive, high-rent area is the SEC, which always is hailed as the supreme collection of teams.

Yet, another conference appears to be challenging the SEC as the strongest conference. Which one?

Well, to find the answer, do as legendary newspaper editor Horace Greeley once said: Go West, young man. Or you can just peruse this week's mailbag.

Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag

On the rise

Where do you think the Pac-10 ranks in terms of conference prestige? And how do you think adding Colorado and Utah will change their ranking?
Michael in La Palma, Calif.

West of the Rockies, they call it "East Coast bias" because, for whatever reason, Pac-10 football (with the exception of USC) was largely looked down upon nationally. (Actually, not just by those along the Eastern Seaboard.)

A 1-6 record against Mountain West Conference opponents in 2008 certainly didn't help. Neither did a 2-5 record in bowl games last season.

But the Pac-10's profile is changing. First, the aggressive expansion bid by new commissioner Larry Scott that almost lured six Big 12 teams got the nation's attention. The on-field performances of Oregon, Stanford and Arizona, among others, have kept it.

Before this season, the Pac-10 typically was viewed as the nation's fourth-best conference. This season, a strong case can be made that it's second, and some might even say it's the best. That, of course, would be met with accusations of blasphemy by staunch believers of SEC supremacy.

This season, the Pac-10 is 9-4 against opponents from other "power" conferences. That includes Arizona's victory over Iowa and UCLA's victory over Texas.

The Pac-10 has only three ranked teams -- Oregon, Arizona and Stanford. But don't be surprised if Oregon State and USC eventually climb back into the polls.

USC is 4-1. Oregon State is just 2-2, but took competitive losses against Boise State and TCU.

Arizona State projects as a second-tier team in the Pac-10, but lost on the road against Wisconsin by a mere point.

Finding a conference that's had a better early showing than the Pac-10 isn't easy. The SEC is 7-4 against "Big Six" conference teams. The Big Ten is 5-4. The Big 12 is 8-3.

The Pac-10 figures to be even better when it adds Utah and Colorado. Utah is unbeaten and has a victory over Pittsburgh of the Big East; in addition, the Utes have finished unbeaten twice in the past six seasons.

Colorado is 3-1 and has a victory over the SEC's Georgia. The Buffaloes' only loss was a 52-7 blowout to California of the Pac-10.

Right call

Around these parts, Bo Pelini is some sort of legend already. Time will tell if he's a coaching prodigy or not. My question: If he was/is such an amazing coach, why was Nebraska the only team in the country that went after this guy when he was at LSU?
Ed in Earling, Iowa

Pelini has proved himself. He took over a Nebraska program coming off a five-win disappointment in 2007; he has two bowl wins and two seasons with at least nine victories, and was an eyelash away from winning a Big 12 championship last season.

Nebraska's defense was porous under Bill Callahan, but Pelini has put together units that have ranked among the nation's best.

Colorado reportedly showed interest in Pelini before hiring Dan Hawkins away from Boise State. Michigan State was interested in him before opting to hire Mark Dantonio. And a lot of folks down in Baton Rouge want him back as coach, even though LSU is 5-0 under Les Miles.

But even if LSU were in need of a coach and interested in Pelini, there is no guarantee the Tigers would get him. He has a great job and has his program rolling at Nebraska.

Big numbers

Is it possible that Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon are the two best players that nobody is talking about? It just strikes me as odd that players who put up those kinds of numbers don't get mentioned.
Brian in Stillwater, Okla.

Weeden and Blackmon certainly have gotten off to tremendous starts this season. Weeden is ranked ninth in the nation in passing and has thrown 13 touchdowns passes. Blackmon leads the nation with 139.5 receiving yards per game and with nine touchdown catches.

If they are overlooked nationally, it's probably because they haven't faced great competition.

Washington State is one of the weakest teams in the country. Troy is a Sun Belt Conference school that lost to UAB. Tulsa allowed more than 50 points to East Carolina. The Cowboys' 38-35 victory over Texas A&M was more impressive than any of the first three, but Weeden had his least effective outing of the season with a good-but-not-great performance that included 284 passing yards, two touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Blackmon was outstanding, though, with 10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown.

To be honest, Weeden probably will continue to be overshadowed nationally, with Michigan's Denard Robinson, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Auburn's Cameron Newton and Stanford's Andrew Luck getting most of the attention directed at quarterbacks.

Heck, reporters at the Daily Oklahoman were discussing this week whether Oklahoma's Landry Jones was the best quarterback in the Big 12.

Blackmon has a better chance to earn All-America honors, though I'd say Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles is better.

Still, be assured both will get the recognition and accolades they deserve if they continue to play well and excel in upcoming games against big-name opponents such as Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma.

Planning ahead

At what time are college football schedules decided? Are they working on next year's schedule now or at some point during the season?
Kevin in Fort Hood, Texas

Typically, the bulk of schedules are made years in advance.

For example, Texas has its schedule set through 2017 and already has agreed to a home-and-home series with Notre Dame in 2019 and 2020.

Not every program sets its schedule that far in advance, though. The Web site Nationalchamps.net, which has a link to future schedules, shows that Penn State, for instance, is set through 2012, but still needs set games in the seasons after that.

At times, programs back out of a game or series that has been set years in advance, then schedule another opponent -- usually a weaker one.

In 2008, Kansas State, in hopes of improving its chances for bowl eligibility, bought out of a game with Fresno State and instead scheduled FCS member Montana State. It didn't work, though. The Wildcats still only managed five wins and missed the postseason.

Last month, Tennessee announced it was dropping a series against North Carolina that was to begin next season and instead opted to schedule Buffalo.

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