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June 1, 2007

Mailbag: Dealing with Razorback turmoil

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He answers your questions every week in his Friday Mailbag:
May 25: Why not us?
May 18: Sooner home cooking
May 11: Does the Big East belong?

It's been said that sometimes in college football the best recruits are those you don't get.

There are instances in which great players come with greater baggage.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt probably hordes Excedrin Migraine now. How much better off would he be if highly touted quarterback Mitch Mustain, the record-setting passer from Springdale, Ark., would have signed a letter of intent with a different team in February 2006?

Other readers wonder how teams like Florida State, Miami, West Virginia, Ole Miss and Boise State will fare next season.

I'll tackle these questions and more in this week's mailbag.

OLIN'S MAILBAG
The state of the program

What are your feelings about the current state of the Arkansas program? There has been so much drama around Houston Nutt and the hiring of the basketball coach. What do you think will happen if the Hogs have an equal or worse upcoming season?

William in North Little Rock
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Arkansas reached the SEC championship game in football, basketball and baseball, yet what should be considered a very good year for the athletic program has instead been unsettling.

Of course, the issues surrounding the football team and coach Houston Nutt are the main points of controversy up in the Ozarks. Nutt has faced accusations ranging from lying to recruits (primarily former QB Mitch Mustain) to cheating on his wife.

His wife steadfastly supports him and denies the allegations, which were based on a large volume of text messages to a local TV reporter.

It's not unusual for the local fandom to come down on its coach ask Mike Shula or Ron Zook or Larry Coker or Gary Barnett, among others. However, it usually doesn't happen after a 10-victory season.

High-ranking University of Arkansas officials are on record of supporting Nutt, who has coached the Razorbacks to three SEC Western Division championships. But that's nothing new. Administrators often give a coach a vote of confidence just before giving him the boot.

But if Nutt does indeed have the support of the university hierarchy and there is no reason to believe he doesn't then you have to believe he'll weather this storm. The Razorbacks play a very favorable schedule in 2007 and should have a high-scoring offense built around Heisman Trophy favorite Darren McFadden. Also, I believe their defense will be better than some detractors think.

With all that going for them, the Razorbacks could make another run at 10 victories and should post at least eight. Do you fire a coach with 18, 19 or 20 victories in two seasons? That wouldn't seem to make sense, not even in Springdale.

Unless the Razorbacks collapse under the weight of their offseason problems and suffer through a drastically disappointing season, I don't think Nutt will be fired. However, that doesn't mean Nutt will return in 2008. He's done a solid job at Arkansas and would be an attractive candidate for another program in search of a coach. Who's to say he wouldn't decide that it's just not worth that aggravation to stay in Fayetteville and opt to take a job elsewhere. Kind of like what former Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith did?

Rebel rising?

What are your predictions for the 2007 Ole Miss football team? Last season we picked up OC Dan Werner, who helped increase our offensive production (even if it was miniscule) and bring a new respectability to our team. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 1,000 yards, we return four starters on the offensive line, and with the past three recruiting classes we have drastically increased the speed and talent on both sides of the ball. The addition of John Thompson as DC has helped Ed Orgeron become a more well-rounded coach and allowed him to devote his energy to other issues. Given the fact that in '06 we nearly beat Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU, and some of our hardest opponents are at home, isn't it reasonable to assume that Ole Miss is capable of a winning season?

Collin in Oxford
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New coaches, a 1,000-yard running back and a veteran offensive line are definite reasons to be encouraged.

But I've got a few reasons to be discouraged Missouri, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Auburn, Alabama and LSU.

If the Rebels can't beat two of those teams they aren't likely to post six victories and get into a bowl game. The key for Ole Miss, I feel, is the quarterback play. Brent Schaeffer was terribly disappointing last season. In the spring, he was outplayed by Seth Adams.

But I'm guessing that when the season begins (with a victory over Memphis) Schaeffer will be starting. If he can play anywhere near his vast ability, then Ole Miss could be a surprising team and pull off a couple of upsets.

If he continues to struggle then expect the Rebels to come up short again. My guess? Five wins. Maybe six.

Urbanizing Tebow

How do you think Tim Tebow will do this season?

Alec in Laguna Beach, Calif.
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Tim Tebow will be an above average quarterback next season, and maybe better than that.

Last season as Chris Leak's understudy he completed 22 of 33 passes for 358 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. That may be a single game statistic sometime next season.

Anyone who watched Florida last season saw that Tebow is a good athlete and is excellent runner. The question is his ability as a passer.

I, too, saw that jump-ball throw against LSU, which probably rates as the ugliest touchdown pass in college football history.

But don't forget Tebow was rated a five-star prospect out of high school. He set a state record with 9,940 passing yards, so he can throw the ball. He also has an aura of confidence that serves him well as a quarterback.

Mostly, though, he has Urban Meyer - who is adept at developing quarterbacks and playing to their strengths.

That's why I think Tebow will be successful next year and throughout his career.

Building a resume in Boise

What is your opinion of Boise State? They have an extremely easy schedule and when they go undefeated people are saying that they deserve a shot at the national title. What do you think?

Mario in Chicago
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I think many people aren't giving the Broncos the respect they deserve after what they did last year.

Admittedly, the WAC isn't a premier conference. Playing in that conference enhances the Broncos' chances of going undefeated in a given year.

And I do believe that Florida, Ohio State, USC, Michigan or any of the other top teams from a year ago would have beaten Boise State.

But then, I also thought Oklahoma would beat the Broncos in the Fiesta Bowl and I was wrong.

Look at what Boise State accomplished last season. The Broncos beat Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion. They blasted Oregon State, which defeated USC the Pac-10 champion.

They beat Hawaii, which beat Arizona State in a bowl game, and beat Nevada, which lost to Miami by a single point in a bowl game.

True, Boise State faced some lackluster WAC teams, but so did many teams from power conferences in non-conference play.

Does a victory over Louisiana Tech mean more if it's in a non-conference game?

I don't expect Boise State, with a new QB and several other new starters, to go undefeated this season.

Also, its schedule isn't intimidating. A trip to Washington is the only game against a BCS conference opponent.

However, the Broncos shouldn't completely be discounted as an elite team if they go undefeated again and stretch their winning streak to 26.

That said, I must admit I would still put a one-loss LSU, Michigan, West Virginia, Texas, USC, etc. into the national championship game this year and in future years over Boise State unless they upgrade their non-conference schedule.

But upper-echelon teams may not be willing to play them, especially in Boise.

Hurricane warning

Why is everyone overlooking Miami this year? I know they won't go to the national championship this year, but no one gives them a chance to win the ACC or even go to a decent bowl game. Do you think Miami can win the ACC or go to a good bowl game?

Mike in Palm Beach
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What's your definition of a decent bowl game? If it's a BCS game, then count me among those who don't think the Hurricanes will go to a decent bowl game.

If they prove me wrong I'll take my medicine when the Hurricanes gloat. And I may have to.

Miami will field one of the country's best defenses with DE Calais Campbell and S Kenny Phillips heading up what should be another very stingy unit.

Expect the offensive line to be better, the receivers aren't bad and RB Javarris James can be very good. Also, freshman Graig Cooper will be one of the most exciting newcomers in the country as a running back and kick return man.

But the Hurricanes will miss TE Greg Olsen. The erratic quarterback play of Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman is a concern.

Based on the defense, what I expect to be an improved offense and the influence of coach Randy Shannon, I'd expect the Hurricanes to win at least eight games in the regular season.

But I'm still picking Virginia Tech to win the Coastal Division.

Morgantown to New Orleans

I heard that you picked USC and West Virginia to play in next year's national championship game. How can you pick someone like West Virginia? Even if they did make it, Steve Slaton and Pat White wouldn't be able to gain a yard on USC's defense.

Austin in Westphalia
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West Virginia? What was I thinking?

I'll tell you. The Mountaineers have posted consecutive 11-victory totals and now their two best players Slaton and White will be juniors. They are leading a team that returns seven offensive starters and nine defensive starters.

This should be a huge year for the Mountaineers, and even their detractors can't legitimately blast their schedule after the Big East's success of 2006.

An early game at Maryland will be dicey, a trip to South Florida won't be easy and the Moutaineers also go to Rutgers. Obviously, I believe they will win all three.

The make-or-break game for West Virginia will be a Thursday in early November against Louisville, which defeated West Virginia last season. I'll speculate that West Virginia prevails in that game for two reasons:

The game is in Morgantown.

Slaton lost two fumbles which proved critical against the Cardinals last season, and he will be seeking redemption.

After that, I'm guessing West Virginia rolls over Cincinnati, Connecticut and Pittsburgh and finishes the regular season undefeated.

Of course, other contenders would have to stumble, too. LSU will be as talented as any team in the country, but its schedule includes Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas. Luckily for the Tigers, most of those games are in Baton Rouge. Still, that's a grind that could easily include a loss or two.

Michigan, which must rebuild its defense, plays Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State in succession in September and faces Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State in consecutive weeks in November. It wouldn't be out of the question to find losses in either of those stretches.

So, there you have it. I feel West Virginia has the best chance of going unbeaten. Should that occur, the schedule should be good enough to ensure the Mountaineers' trip to New Orleans to face USC.

I did pick USC to win that game. However, if the over/under line for West Virginia's offensive production is 1 yard, I'm taking the over and betting the house.

The Seminoles of old?

I was wondering as low as Florida State will be ranked this year (assuming the Seminoles are ranked) do you think if FSU went undefeated (not likely, I know, but humor me) that they would move all the way up to the national championship? In my opinion it's a no-brainer with our schedule, but I have people telling me that it wouldn't happen. I just wanted your opinion.

Justin in Tallahassee
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If Florida State goes unscathed against a schedule that includes games at Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Florida, a game against Alabama in Jacksonville and home games against Miami and Maryland then the Seminoles will likely play in the national championship game.

I say likely because if Southern California and LSU also go unbeaten they would play.

I'd rate a few SEC schedules tougher than the one Florida State faces. But Florida State's schedule is definitely among the nation's best. If the Seminoles go unbeaten they will definitely be in the national championship discussion.

But, like you, I don't think it will be happen. The Seminoles will be better this year, but not that much better.

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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