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October 20, 2006

Mailbag: Fans getting restless in Tallahassee

Anxious Florida State fans are wondering if Xavier Lee should get a shot at starting - and if the Seminoles will be shot down from their elite status.

The question in Knoxville is whether the Volunteers have a shot at a national championship in the near future. Indeed, will any SEC team have a shot this year?

And if the national championship is out of reach, at least teams can take a shot at their rivals. But what are the nation's most bitter rivalries?

We'll take a shot at answering all those questions in this week's mailbag.

Olin's Mailbag
Should Florida State start Xavier Lee for the rest of the season to give him more experience and see if he's the real deal? Also, should Marcus Sims be moved to linebacker to give the Seminoles more depth?

-- Ricky in Tallahassee

Is Florida State football dead? Can Florida State return to their status among college football's elite and keep Bobby Bowden?

-- Nathan in Eton, Fla.

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Tough questions. By all accounts Lee - ranked No. 10 overall and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com in 2004 - has not sufficiently impressed his coaches in practice enough for them to give him more playing time.

However, there are cases in which guys just aren't "practice players" and dramatically raise their level of performance in games.

Maybe Lee should get more game action to determine if he fits that description. But as long as he struggles in practice, starting him wouldn't be the right move for a couple of reasons.

First, the areas in which he lacks in practice could very well be problems in a game - which would likely compromise the Seminoles' best chances of winning.

Secondly, that might send the subconscious message to the rest of the team that a player can fail to produce in practice and still be rewarded with a starting position.

The Seminoles have more pressing issues than quarterback upgrading a disappointing running game and getting healthy on defense, for instance.

As far as moving Sims, that would seem a prudent decision on the surface, but you never know if there are underlying circumstances.

Sims was obviously a tremendous high school linebacker, but it appears his desire is to play running back even though he's only rushed seven times for 17 yards. Perhaps he was promised the opportunity to play that position when he was recruited. Maybe the FSU coaches think he has greater potential at running back.

Sometimes the best moves are those that don't take place. Three years ago, there was a call in Austin, Texas, for Vince Young to be moved from quarterback to receiver.

You think the folks down here are glad he wasn't?

At 4-2 the Seminoles are hardly dead and if they can upset No. 22 Boston College on Saturday they might even get back into the national rankings. The season isn't lost, and starting quarterback Drew Weatherford hasn't been terrible.

What's up with Florida State needing to "upset" Boston College and "get back into" the national rankings. That's a reversal of fortunes if there ever was one.

Clearly, Florida State isn't the dominant program it was just a few years ago when it won the national championship in 1999 and played for it in 2000.

However, the Seminoles have also won three ACC championships and at least eight games every year since then.

When the cycle turns, the first reaction is to question the head coach - especially one that is 76 years old like Bowden. The sluggish offense doesn't help matters, either.

Still, the Seminoles can regain their elite status under Bowden just as Penn State did last year under Joe Paterno.

And even if Florida State does continue to struggle and win "only" eight games a year, Bowden should remain coach as long as he desires. He's earned that.

With the triumvirate of Phillip Fulmer and coordinators John Chavis and David Cutcliffe together again, and assuming they stay together for some time, do you see a national championship in Tennessee's future?

-- Jon in Knoxville

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I see Tennessee contending for a national championship possibly as early as next season.

Why not? Tennessee potentially returns seven starters from its offense next season and six starters on defense.

The most notable of the returners would be quarterback Erik Ainge, who has blossomed under Cutcliffe's instruction. If he continues to play the way he has this season, he will be a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate next year - if he's not one already.

The improvement Ainge has made is absolutely amazing. Who's to say he won't continue to get better, especially if junior receiver Robert Meachem - who is having an All-America caliber year this season - comes back for his senior season.

Also, Tennessee's 2005 recruiting class was ranked No. 4 in the nation by Rivals.com. Most of that group will be ready to play in '07.

One player from that class, redshirt freshman running back LaMarcus Coker, is averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

This year the Volunteers only have a one-point loss to Florida. However, with Alabama, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas remaining on their schedule, they figure to lose at least one more.

Next year they have a chance to be better, though.

Hey Olin, if Arkansas loses twice and Auburn and Florida run the table and assuming USC loses do you think the winner of the SEC championship game will go to the national championship with one loss over a possible undefeated West Virginia or Louisville?

--Stephen in Auburn, Ala.

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Figuring out the BCS computers is way over my head. How does Tennessee have the same record as California and a victory over the Bears and yet be ranked behind them?

However, I'd guess an undefeated Louisville or West Virginia would be rated ahead of the SEC champion because they will get a boost in the rankings after they play on Nov. 2. Playing Pittsburgh and Rutgers - who currently have just one loss between them should also help.

Again, that's just a guess.

Frankly, I agree with Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's opinion that the SEC is almost excluded from the national championship picture because of its competitive balance.

Yeah, yeah, West Virginia beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last season, but would the Mountaineers or Cardinals go through the weekly SEC grind unbeaten? I doubt it.

The SEC is by far the toughest conference. If the champion gets through with one loss especially if it's a close call like Florida would potentially have it deserves a shot at a national title. An exception would be if that team had a lopsided non-conference loss, as is the case with Arkansas.

Who are the biggest rivals in college football?

-- Casey in Helena, Mt.

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That probably depends on where one lives and how they're doing in a given year. Rivalries are bigger when the games are meaningful, which is why the 'Big Game' between Stanford and California is usually only big in the Bay Area.

Based on history and geography, I'd rank the top rivalries as:

  • 1. Michigan vs. Ohio State
  • 2. Auburn vs. Alabama
  • 3. Texas vs. Oklahoma
  • 4. Notre Dame vs. USC
  • 5. Florida vs. Tennessee

    However, depending on what's at stake in any given year, I reserve the right to change the order.

  • Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.



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