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February 8, 2007

Stewart Mandel talks college football

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It's never too early to start talking about next season.

With Signing Day finished, Rivals.com message posters had the 2007 on their minds Thursday for our chat with SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel.

Mandel joined us Thursday to take questions on the aftermath of the controversy at Arkansas, Heisman sleepers, the futures of Lloyd Carr and Tommy Bowden, Florida's place at the top of the football landscape and where Florida State fits in for '07 along with many other topics.

Recently in your article "An Early Look at '07" you said that you thought Arkansas would be in the preseason top 10 if it weren't for all the drama that has been happening on the hill lately. What effect do you see this soap opera having on our season? How do you think David Lee and his offense fit in with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones? And who do you see playing quarterback for us? Casey Dick again, or someone new?

-thsSECfootball, HawgSports.com

The current soap opera at Arkansas is unlike anything I've seen. It's one thing for there to be such uproar and turmoil over a program that's struggling (like at Florida State last year), but this is a team that just won 10 games and played for their conference title. It will be very important that they get off to a fast start, because the first time Casey Dick throws a couple interceptions, or if Arkansas loses to someone they shouldn't, the criticism directed at Houston Nutt is going to be loud and intense, and that can be a very distracting and divisive to a team's season.

1. How do you see LSU's season playing out next year with a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator?

2. Who do you see as a darkhorse in the Heisman voting next year. We all know about Colt Brennan, Darren McFadden, Steve Slaton, and John David Booty, but who is someone that will surprise the country?

-PrincessKit, TigerBait.com

1. I think everything's set up for LSU to make a run at the national title, both the way its schedule falls and obviously the talent that's coming back. Gary Crowton was a great hire as offensive coordinator. When you think of LSU, you think of speed, and what better way to utilize that speed than in a spread-type offense. Obviously, much will come down to the play of the quarterback, but Matt Flynn has shown before he can get it done.

2. Well first of all, don't forget about Ian Johnson, not that he's a darkhorse anymore. And I suppose I would add Brian Brohm, Mike Hart and Ray Rice to that list. As for a true dark horse ... how about Sam Keller at Nebraska? Remember, he was starting to pop up on Heisman lists at ASU in '05 before he got injured. He's got an opportunity to step into a very talented offense next year and put up some big numbers.

My question is about my beloved Buckeyes. We all know the big losses they face on offense (Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Pittman). In Columbus we're all confident in Chris Wells, optimistic about Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline and Ray Small, and not sure about Todd Boeckman, Rob Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton. How well do you think these players will fill the big shoes that have been left?

-laux11, BuckeyeGrove.com

There's still a whole lot of talent left at OSU. Jim Tressel will do what he always does, which is mold the offense to the personnel at hand. I think you'll see less of the spread-out, open passing game under Troy Smith and more of a run-based offense centered around Wells. My bigger concern with OSU will be the mental side of things. To have the Florida game hanging over their heads for 8-9 months, that's tough to recover from. I guess the positive of it is expectations will be a little lower than usual and maybe they can surprise some people.

Given the Machiavellian nature of the recruiting game, do you think any reforms should be implemented? I'm torn between giving teenagers the chance to reevaluate their situation and allowing negative recruiting to force coaches to secure their potential gains.

-Big10Guru, TheWolverine.com

Whatever "reforms" you institute, coaches are always going to find a way around it. That's just the nature of recruiting. Everyone's trying to get an edge. It seems the biggest problem right now is the whole issue of de-commitments. Charlie Weis spoke about that a lot yesterday. While I don't think you can put in a rule requiring a kid to stick to something that's not binding to begin with, I do think college football needs an early signing period like basketball does. Make it around Sept. 1. Kids can sign their letter of intent, relax, concentrate on their senior year, and coaches don't have to spend all that time and energy babysitting all their committed kids. Of course, you would need to have some sort of "out clause" if a kid signs in September, then the coach takes another job in December.

What are the chances Michigan's Lloyd Carr will still be in Ann Arbor after this coming season? I have a feeling that even an 11-1 record (with a loss to the Buckeyes) won't be enough to save his job in Ann Arbor. Supposedly he tweaked his contract but didn't disclose what he did to it. On a side note, do you think Ron English will leave the Maize and Blue coach for an NFL team?

-Brad Go Blue, TheWolverine.com

My hunch is this will be Lloyd's last season, but you can never really predict these things. He knows this is his best team in a long, long time. If they were to go out and win the national title, would it prompt him to go out on top, or would he decide he's having too much fun to leave? And I think it would be dumb for English to leave now, because if they do well and Lloyd does retire, Ron would almost assuredly be in that mix to replace him.

The Gators are reigning national champs in football, basketball and recruiting. We have Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin and Urban Meyer. What do you see as the biggest obstacle that could prevent the mighty Gators from ruling the college football world? Or at least winning a couple more national titles in the next five years?

-GroovyGator42, GatorBait.net

The biggest obstacle for Florida is its conference. Clearly, they're assembling the kind of talent to be in the mix every year, but the SEC right now is just too tough and too deep to expect to make it through with 1 or less loss every year. Steve Spurrier made a good point about this recently. Back when he was on his run at Florida in the '90s, the only real competition year in and year out was Tennessee in the East and Auburn and Alabama in the West, but just look at the coaches in that conference now. Mark Richt at Georgia. Spurrier at South Carolina. Nick Saban at Alabama. Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. Les Miles has gone 22-4 at LSU. It's ridiculous. And all those teams finished in the top 10 in recruiting this year, too. So it's not like Florida is the only team in the conference bringing in talent.

Penn State is returning a lot of skill and experience. Can you see PSU challenging for a national championship?

-PSU_JASON, BlueWhiteIllustrated.com

Penn State should be very good defensively again, and if Anthony Morelli plays like he did in the bowl game, that bodes well for the offense. As a whole, I'm not sure Penn State is at national championship level just yet. They've recruited very well the past few years, but not like USC/LSU/Florida/Texas, etc. A more reasonable goal should be just trying to win the Big Ten, which won't be easy with the teams Michigan and Wisconsin have coming back.

How much time do you think Tommy Bowden has? We started the year hoping for a BCS bowl but ended the year losing to Kentucky.

-CUTiger5, TigerIllustrated.com

This is a big year for Tommy. (Of course, I feel like we say that every other year). I've never coached a football team before, but I'd like to think if you gave me C.J. Spiller, James Davis and Gaines Adams, I'd be able to go at least 8-5. He needs to show he can contend for the ACC title, and he needs to do it now before FSU and Miami get themselves turned around and his window closes.

I wrote you after your preseason Top 25, in which you left Florida State off, but somehow felt that South Florida, and a UCLA team that FSU beat like a drum by 17 in the Emerald Bowl were going to be better. I would like answers to that considering FSU has top 10 talent all up and down that roster and a great coaching staff in place to do big things this season. The only question mark is a brutal schedule.

-didier80, Warchant.com

I got by far more emails about FSU's exclusion from that list than any other team, and I was a bit puzzled by it. Did they do an Eternal Sunshine type experiment in Tallahassee to erase the 30-0 loss to Wake Forest, the 2 yards rushing against Miami, etc., from everyone's memories? The reality is, FSU wasn't even close to being a top 25 team last year. One bowl game does not override the 12 games before it (especially when the star of that game, Lorenzo Booker, is gone). Should FSU be improved next year? Absolutely. Bobby Bowden did a phenomenal job assembling the new staff. But they're going to have to prove to me they're a top 25 team first, I'm not going to just assume that to be the case because of the coaching shuffle. And like you said, the schedule is murderous. With Alabama, Florida and Colorado, ACC road games at Clemson, BC, Wake and Virginia Tech, they could be a much better team and still lose 4 or 5 games.

Check out SI.com for Stewart Mandel's insights and analysis on college football and basketball. Mandel has also completed a book called Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls about the chaos and controversy of college football that will come out at the start of next season.

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