There are many other topics, on and off the field. With that in mind and the first kickoff just two weeks away, the Guru invited two Sports Illustrated writers – Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples – to join us for a round table discussion on the Top 10 Questions for the 2010 College Football Season:
Mandel: It will have much more of a build-up from the regular season to the BCS games and I’m sure ESPN will be making sponsors buy a whole season package, too. Fox started out pretty well with the Boise-Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl) game, but it went downhill from there.
Staples: Even though Fox’s NFL coverage is fantastic, they never knew quite what to do with (college football). And it’s difficult for the announcers, who haven’t seen college football all year, to be thrust in to call its biggest games at the end of the year. That won’t be an issue with ESPN. A good example is Ron Franklin, I think he's misused on ESPN because he's great. He's seen these guys for many years, he knows all the coaches' tendencies. It's not something you can just pick up doing one game a year.
The Guru: The NCAA really put the hurt on USC, with a two-year bowl ban and a huge scholarship reduction. How long will it take the Trojans to dig out of this hole? Staples: I think 2012 is gonna be ugly, because they’ll be playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores and walk-ons. But Miami was back in 5 years after its probation and was good again in 2000 and won the national championship in 2001.
Mandel: USC should be OK for the short run, but by year 2 or 3 of the probation, the reduced scholarships will hurt. Both Alabama and Miami had losing seasons (while they were on probation), and USC should expect the same.The Guru: On balance, the sanctions against the Trojans are pretty harsh. Did USC’s crime deserve such punishment? Staples: USC got the penalties strictly because of their arrogance. They pretended nothing was wrong and were very defiant. The NCAA is not looking for angels, they just want you to admit wrongdoing and fix it. The problem is now they’ve set a precedent and they’ll have to back it up. If they find similar situations at Florida, Clemson or any of the current investigations, they’ll have to hammer that program.
Mandel: The NCAA doesn't have to follow any standards as you would in a court of law. They had very shaky evidence on USC for institutional (lack of control) and it’s something that’d never hold up in court. But they can do whatever they want, and in effect they just wanted to send a message to a program that bucked them to the end.The Guru: Reggie Bush wasn’t the only guy who fell for the influence of shady agents. Is there anything the NCAA can do to root out this problem? Staples: No. This has been a problem for 20 years. The NCAA can try to go after these guys but it has very limited influence. It’s interesting that Nick Saban is taking the more proactive approach with the (NFL). A lot of these guys aren’t even registered agents, so the NFLPA can’t do anything about them. Only the legal system can stop them.
Mandel: Only if the federal authorities decide to go after them, that's the only way to scare off these agents. They’re not scared of the NCAA.The Guru: The Big Ten went after Nebraska to create a 12-team conference, instead of Notre Dame. How long can the Irish hold out as an independent?
Mandel: The only team out there that the Big Ten wants is still Notre Dame, so this will come back up in 2016, when their (NBC) contract expires. Notre Dame might be boxed in as far as the bowl picture, with them being shut out of some Big East bowls. It may be the BCS or nothing pretty soon.Staples: It may be Shreveport, here we come. After the 2014 bowl games, they might have to win nine or 10 games a year just to get into a bowl. I am starting to think that it's a better move for them to join the Big East. It’s a more valuable basketball conference and they already play all their other sports in it. But Notre Dame is still a game changer when it comes to (conference realignment).
The Guru: Was the Pac-10 that close to becoming the Pac-16? Or did Texas use the Pac-10 for all its worth to get what it wanted?Staples: I don't think it was a ploy. The Pac-10 was shooting for the moon and it was very serious. It took some really shrewd negotiations by the Big 12 and of course, Texas. Once the Big 12 agreed to let Texas have its own TV deal, Texas held all the cards. The Pac-10 just couldn’t accept (letting Texas have its own TV network). But Texas can still blow up that conference whenever it wants to.
Mandel: I think when Texas A&M thought about defecting from that group (of Big 12 teams going to the Pac-10) to join the SEC, that gave Texas pause. They didn’t want to break up that rivalry. Texas has always envisioned having its own TV network, so this allows them the same or even better deal than what they’d gotten from the Pac-10 and in a more comfortable setting than going out west.The Guru: The Mountain West has made a good case to be included in the BCS over the past few years. Will the conference get an invitation soon? Mandel: ESPN just ponied up. The BCS upped the rights fees to $125 million a year and they're in the position of power. The only thing that’s floating out there is the anti-trust issue, and they can avoid that by giving the Mountain West an automatic bid. (The MWC has) done a good job and politically it’s the smart thing (for the BCS) to do.
Staples: I think that'll happen, especially if Boise State (which will join the MWC in 2011) and TCU are the only undefeated teams at the end of this season. That will create a hard question for the voters. I’d love to see that as a referendum on the BCS. That might just be the thing that pushes them to a playoff.The Guru: Boise State has a favorable schedule and a loaded team. The Broncos are without a doubt a national title contender. Can they win it all?
Mandel: I think they can get in the (BCS championship) game and we’ll see what happens from there. We've never seen them play a top team with a championship on the line. They might win or they might lose by 30. But why should they be permanently blackballed from the title game?Staples: I think they can get in and they can win the game. Boise State has figured out the loophole. They will start the season high enough in the polls, and as long as they go undefeated, and there are not two undefeated teams in the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 – and that’s pretty unlikely this year – they'll play in the (title) game.
The Guru: Can Mark Ingram repeat? Will Jake Locker get a fair shot coming from the West Coast? Who will win the Heisman Trophy? Mandel: Ingram has little chance of repeating. Once you win, you get held to a higher standard. He’ll be in the mix, and also Terrelle Pryor and Jake Locker. East Coast bias at one point was a legitimate issue, but not with the Internet age and the influence of the blogosphere. Locker has had more publicity already than anybody else this preseason.
Staples: The problem with the award is it’s dominated by quarterbacks and running backs. I have a dark horse guy in Florida State’s Rodney Hudson. But a guard, even a dominant one, is never going to win the Heisman. More likely, on that team, quarterback Christian Ponder will get a look as a Heisman candidate.
Mandel: Alabama deserved to win it last year, but it’s very hard to repeat and it’s never happened in the BCS era. I pick Alabama to be back in the title game but I don’t know if they’ll win it.Staples: I’m also picking Alabama for another title run. They have the two best running backs in the country and the backup (Trent Richardson) may be even better than the one who won the Heisman. They have to replace some guys on defense, but the new guys have a higher ceiling. They’ll be tough to score on.
The Guru: So do you root for anybody during the season, maybe your alma mater?
Staples: I don't root for anybody and I can't root for anybody, just can't do it. I went to Florida and I've had people complaining, for example, when I wrote about Tennessee and their recruiting issues, a guy suggested that I wouldn't have done that if it was Florida. That's hogwash, just ridiculous. There is never anything personal for me. I just like at be at games. I want to be there.Mandel: I'd like to see Northwestern, my alma mater, do well. But you want to be objective, have the right perspective and pay attention. The best thing that's happened to me is having Andy here at SI. He wants to go to all the games, so I get more chances to just plop down on the couch and watch some of these games on TV.