Pac-10 mailbag

July, 25, 2008

I'm leading this week's mailbag with some Pac-10 stuff:

From Bill in Tucson, Ariz.: Do you see Arizona reaching a bowl game? And if they don't, is it bye-bye for Mike Stoops?

Feldman: I do think Stoops has to get his team to a bowl game this season to keep his job, but he will. I expect them to win at least seven and maybe as many as nine, if -- IF -- QB Willie Tuitama can become more consistent and accurate with the deep ball. Arizona has some outstanding offensive weapons, especially in TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Mike Thomas, both will be among the nation's best at their positions. Tuitama has a much better grasp of Sonny Dykes' scheme in Year II, and there will be a lot of big plays out there, not to mention "easy" plays that the system provides. He has to take advantage of it.

One of Stoops' problems has been Arizona has struggled early in the season and can't build confidence. I think that's going to be fixed this fall. In fact, with games against Idaho, Toledo, at New Mexico and at UCLA, followed by Washington and at Stanford, Arizona has a realistic shot to open 5-1.

From DeShawn in San Diego, Calif.: Mark Mangino just got a massive contract extension, is he worth it? Does he owe a big thanks to Bill Self, too?

Feldman: No doubt. Just ask Va. Tech. To win 12 games at Kansas is an amazing accomplishment. I don't think Mangino and his staff get enough credit for being such shrewd talent evaluators. Look at some of the gems they unearthed in Texas alone. Many of their standouts had similar stories to QB Todd Reesing, where KU was their only offer from a BCS conference school. I don't think Bill Self had anything to do with that part of it, although I think Bill Young, his former defensive coordinator, does deserve plenty of thanks.

From Jessica in NYC: Which non-QB or RB do you think has the best chance to win the Heisman this year? Jeremy Maclin?

Feldman: Maclin is one of five guys I think who might have a shot to get some buzz going. Usually the only receivers with a decent shot are guys who double as returnmen and Maclin and Florida's Percy Harvin both do that. The trouble is both of them also play on teams with high-profile QBs who could rob some of the spotlight and potential votes. Of the two I think Maclin might have a bit better shot because he should get more touches since UF has more weapons to work in. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree is the best pure receiver and again should put up staggering numbers, but like the other two, he will lose some votes to his QB.

The other two guys are more long shots: Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and USC's Rey Maualuga. Both are well-known defenders from glamour schools. Laurinaitis' story has been out there for two years already and he's won every defensive award possible. He has a knack for making lots of big plays in big games. Maualuga is the most vicious hitter in college football. If he has a game like he did in the Rose Bowl when USC plays the Buckeyes in September, and the Trojans win a 14-0 game where he and his defense dominate Beanie Wells, maybe Maualuga becomes the Trojans' Heisman candidate in 2008.

From Robyn in Pasadena, Calif.: What do you make of Rick Neuheisel's comment about "when we catch" USC, not saying if?

Feldman: I know a lot of people had fun with this, but really what is Neuheisel supposed to say? It's not as if he's all deferential to Pete Carroll and his program, USC will go soft on him and let him have a few recruits or try to win 14-7. Neuheisel is out to put a stamp on his program and get people fired up about the new direction for UCLA football.

From John in Spokane, Wash.: Which game (OSU vs. USC or Florida vs. Georgia) could you see being played out in a rematch for the national title. There are scenarios for both to happen in my mind.

Feldman: My hunch is Florida-Georgia since both teams figure to have more games against ranked opponents to build back up after a loss. I don't think it's realistic to expect Ohio State to get another title game shot should it lose at USC because that loss would only add to the skepticism amongst voters about the Buckeyes -- and the Big Ten. USC losing would need a lot of help because it's hard to peg another Pac-10 team to be a top-five squad whereas the SEC will offer more chances and a possible bonus game in the SEC title game.

From David in Winston-Salem, N.C.: Ole Miss' top returning passer is their punter. This shows they're in for a rough year right?

Feldman: If Texas transfer Jevan Snead were to have been eligible in 2007, he would've been the Rebels' top passer. As I've said before, I expect Snead to be one of the breakout stars of this coming season. He's got a very good arm, moves a lot better than people probably think and he's working with a underrated group of receivers. I think they'll give Wake a good game this year.

From Alex in Tampa, Fla.: I usually agree with what you write, but that top-10 list of games to watch is missing one big game. How do you have ND at Washington and Wisconsin at Fresno State over Miami at Florida. That seems a little crazy to me. That is a much bigger must see game than Wisconsin at Fresno State. It weakened your top 10 for me. I would love to hear how close the Miami game came to making the top 10 and why you chose the other two over that game.

Feldman: After the initial five or six matchups, I tried to vary things up a little and find games that could have significance beyond the impact on just those two games. Obviously there are bragging rights in the Miami-UF game and to some extent, it could have an impact in a few recruits' minds. But I don't see that game as a deal-breaker for either side. If UF rolls, people expect it. It's in Gainesville. Miami's new QB will be playing his first road game and the Canes are expected to be around 7-5. If UM upset Florida in the Swamp, I'm sure there would be a rush to say Miami's back. I just don't think it's as realistic right now. Maybe in 2009.

Random Stuff
• I went to Pac-10 media day on Thursday and there were a few things that stayed with me. For starters, the bemused look on Jake Locker's face when Ty Willingham, seated next to him, was asked how much he'd like to have his QB run. As Willingham was saying, "the preference is to have him not run at all," Locker's eyebrows arched up and he started to chuckle. I talked to the QB later about that and he said he loves to run. Interesting to note that Locker is actually the leading returning rusher in the Pac-10, with 986 yards and 13 touchdowns. We got to talking a little bit about him being compared to Tim Tebow and Locker said he isn't a fan of such comparisons. He explained that he respects Tebow, but he thinks they are different players.

More Locker: There seemed to be a genuine admiration amongst coach and QB. A few times during the day Locker talked about the character qualities he sees in Willingham and elaborated on one of the things that stayed with him from the recruiting process:

"One of the first things coach told me was that, as a quarterback, you're put in a position of leadership whether you like it or not," Locker said. "A leader doesn't seclude himself from others; he includes himself in whatever he can do and tries to benefit everybody else when he gets the opportunity. One thing he said that always stayed with me is that you've got to be able to have all the guys respect you and look up to you; at the same time you have to make them feel that you're at the same level as they are and you're not any better. It's a fine line to keep those two things in balance. It's something I'm constantly thinking about."

• Later, Willingham had some interesting comments about some of the new rule changes and rule emphasis, particularly on the subject of blocking below the waist. (This came after Mike Bellotti had mentioned there was some consideration to getting rid of all blocking below the waist, which obviously would've had a major effect on the Academies and Georgia Tech and a few other systems that rely on cut blocking. My buddy Rod Gilmore said he thought that would really be trouble for option football.) Willingham said he was glad they didn't do away with it because they would really take a lot of smaller players out of the game. He also explained that it will be interesting to see how some of these line-of-scrimmage blocks get called because the viewpoint of how "engaged" a lineman is could slide into a very gray area.

• Cal probably won't have a RB tandem this fall as productive as the Marshawn Lynch-Justin Forsett pairing, but coach Jeff Tedford sure did sound excited about his new combination of Jahvid Best (back to 100 percent after injuring his hip against USC) and redshirt freshman Shane Vereen.

"This is the most explosive backfield we've had since we've been here," Tedford said.

• Speaking of Cal, even though some NFL mock drafts don't mention Bears center Alex Mack, but do rave about Oregon center Max Unger, UCLA DT Brigham Harwell gushed when he talked about the league's best center.

"Alex Mack will embarrass you if you don't bring your A-game."

• Few coaches can be as candid as Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. During his 15-minute Q&A session in the main media room, he made a comment that I thought was interesting while praising LB coach and co-defensive coordinator Andy Buh: "In my opinion, the linebackers were the best-coached position on our football team," Harbaugh said. It's pretty rare to have a head man say something along those lines because they usually are afraid how one of their other assistants might take that.

• Last time I saw Stanford center Alex Fletcher was in the spring when I observed him getting booted from practice after scuffling with a teammate following a play near the goal line. Thursday, Fletcher came across as one of the most likeable, sharp players I've interviewed in a while.

• Expect Arizona State to do a lot more three-step drop and four-wide action in its passing game. This is in response to the Sun Devils giving up like 400 sacks last season as they struggled coming off play-action or too often getting QB Rudy Carpenter sacked after taking a seven-step drop.

• Pete Carroll was, as usual, very pumped. I talked to him at the end of the day before he got into his ride and he was thrilled with how his representative, LB Brian Cushing, handled himself in the interview sessions, explaining in principal the mind-set behind the coach's "Win Forever" philosophy.

• Bret Bielema says Wisconsin's QB job is transfer Allen Evridge's to lose, reports Jim Polzin.

"If you were a betting man, I think you would have thought that T.D. was going to be the guy [last season] and Allan had to beat him out," Bielema said Thursday. "This year I think the table has flipped. I think that Allan is probably the guy and the other guys have to try to beat him out."

• Boise State is trying to get back to its blue-collar ways, Brian Murphy writes:

Ian Johnson -- and other current Bronco stars -- are noticeably absent from this year's media guide covers. Instead of highlighting award candidates, the cover's most prominent feature is a team logo. A player, his number obscured, is also pictured carrying "The Hammer." Not a single current player is featured on the back cover or the inside covers. "Everybody has a role. No one role is more important than any other," coach Chris Petersen said.



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