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October 26, 2007

WVU one of many still in national title race

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Despite covering two games this week, he found time to answer some questions.
Previous mailbags
Oct. 19: Balance first step to success
Oct. 12: Hard to figure
Oct. 5: Looking for love

While planning a trip to Blacksburg, Va., for Thursday night's big ACC showdown between Boston College and Virginia Tech, I stopped to read and answer e-mail.

Here are some opinions on whether West Virginia can reach the BCS championship game, who may be Nebraska's next coach, what team will win the Big Ten, what it will take for Texas to return to national prominence and whether LSU is vulnerable against Alabama.

Oh, and some bonus trivia, too.

Still in it?

What are the chances of West Virginia making the BCS title game if the Mountaineers win out? What do you think has to happen?

Brandon in Emory, Va.

It's not out of the question, but West Virginia has to win the rest of its games and get some help. West Virginia is seventh in the BCS standings and has a respectable schedule remaining that includes games against Rutgers (5-2), Cincinnati (6-2) and Connecticut (6-1).

But what the Mountaineers really need is for at least five teams ranked ahead of them to lose.

Here's a rundown of the schedules for the teams ranked ahead of West Virginia in the BCS standings. Keep in mind this was written before Thursday night's game between Boston College and Virginia Tech:

1. Ohio State (8-0) (.9759 BCS average) at Penn State (6-2), vs. Wisconsin (6-2), vs. Illinois (5-3), at Michigan (6-2).
2. Boston College (7-0) (.9501 BCS average) at Virginia Tech (6-1), vs. Florida State (4-3), at Maryland (4-3), at Clemson (5-2), vs. Miami (5-3), ACC championship game if it gets that far.
3. LSU (7-1) (.9114 BCS average) at Alabama (6-2), vs. Louisiana Tech (2-5), at Ole Miss (2-6), vs. Arkansas (4-3), SEC championship game if it gets that far.
4. Arizona State (7-0) (.7629 BCS average) vs. California (5-2), at Oregon (6-1), at UCLA (5-2), vs. USC (6-1), vs. Arizona (2-6).
5. Oregon (6-1) (.7623 BCS average) vs. USC (6-1), vs. Arizona State (7-0), at Arizona (2-6), at UCLA (5-2), vs. Oregon State (4-3).
6. Oklahoma (7-1) (.7551 BCS average) vs. Texas A&M (6-2), vs. Baylor (3-5), at Texas Tech (6-2), vs. Oklahoma State (5-3), Big 12 championship game if it gets that far.

There will be a lot of positioning in the coming weeks, and teams ranked behind West Virginia certainly could make moves. There are too many scenarios left to definitely say what it would take for West Virginia to be in New Orleans.

Again, though, unless the Mountaineers win out, they won't have a chance.

Wolverine revival

What are Michigan's chances of beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten championship? And where do you see Michigan ranked at the end of the season?

Camden in Lansing, Mich.

It looks as if Michigan has a good chance to break that losing streak to the Buckeyes. The Wolverines have bounced back nicely from their horrific start and have won despite injuries. If they can get healthy Mike Hart, in particular they will make a strong push for the conference championship.

Michigan and Ohio State are 4-0 in the Big Ten race, and the Wolverines already have victories over four of the next five teams in the standings.

Also, the Wolverines appear to have an easier remaining schedule. Their next three opponents Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin are a combined 12-12. Ohio State's next three opponents Penn State, Wisconsin and Illinois are a combined 17-7.

This season's Michigan-Ohio State game is in Ann Arbor, which gives Michigan an edge. In addition, Ohio State doesn't use the spread offense that gave Michigan trouble early.

Michigan is ranked 19th in the AP poll. If the Wolverines can win the rest of their games, they should climb into the top 10. They may even reach the top five if they win the Rose Bowl because there probably will be so few unbeaten and once-beaten teams this season.

Who's next at NU?

If (Nebraska coach) Bill Callahan is fired, who would be your top picks to replace him?

Williams in North Little Rock, Ark.

The Huskers can't fool around with this hire and have to get a proven winner. I'd look at the NFL and perhaps find a coach who has Super Bowl experience ... oh, wait, maybe that's not such a good idea. (Hey, Huskers fans: If you don't have a sense of humor, how are you going to get through the rest of this season?)

Remember, Tom Osborne said he might not make a change. But that's just a nice guy being nice.

I'm sure LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who used to be defensive coordinator at Nebraska, will be mentioned. A proven coach like Wake Forest's Jim Grobe may be brought up, too. Cincinnati's Brian Kelly has great credentials as well.

Buffalo's Turner Gill, a former Nebraska quarterback, would be a great sentimental choice, but he hasn't been successful enough - though Buffalo doesn't offer much chance for success.

Hey, Nebraska was interested in Houston Nutt a few years ago. He might be available.

Finish important for Texas

What do you think about Texas' chances of returning to national prominence since this season is all but a wash?

A.J. in Dallas

Funny: At some places, being ranked 17th is prominent. Of course, Texas has higher aspirations, especially considering just two years ago the Longhorns ended a 35-year wait and won the national championship.

I'm assuming the question is when the Longhorns contend for a national championship again. That might depend on how they finish this season.

If they continue to show improvement, as they did in a hard-fought loss to Oklahoma, the Longhorns could come back next season and be a championship contender if a few things happen. If some young defensive players who were highly coveted recruits reach their vast potential, that would help. UT would also need a dependable tailback to emerge to bolster the running game.

Jamaal Charles could have been that guy. He should've been that guy. But you wonder if he has the heart, and you know he doesn't have the hands - as witnessed by his fumbling problems.

Yet, even if Charles and the young defensive players perform to their ability, based on players that probably will return, Oklahoma likely still will be favored in the Big 12 in 2008.

Mack Brown always recruits well, and he has a state full of talent from which to recruit. That means there is always the possibility of a quick "turnaround."

So much goes into winning a national championship talent, chemistry, health, luck that it's obviously hard to predict an eventual winner. Heck, we all thought USC and LSU were the best teams, and neither may make it to the BCS Championship Game this season.

Tide may rise

If quarterback John Parker Wilson and receiver D.J. Hall both have good games, could Alabama knock off LSU?

Christian in Evansville, Ind.

Appalachian State beat Michigan. Stanford beat USC. So, yes, in this bizarre season Alabama can beat LSU. And that probably would require Wilson and Hall to have big games.

It's going to be an emotional game, and playing in Tuscaloosa certainly will help the Tide. LSU's defense has been vulnerable of late, having allowed at least 24 points in each of its past three games. Alabama, meanwhile, has shown the ability to score.

If LSU's defense plays up to its ability, the Tigers should win comfortably. But if that defense continues to underachieve like it has in recent weeks, Alabama has a chance. But I'll still take LSU.

Bonus Trivia

What player holds the SEC record for touchdowns in a season?

Ed in Melbourne, Fla.s

Alabama's Shaun Alexander scored an SEC-record 24 touchdowns in 1999. Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel holds the record for touchdown responsibility with 41 in 1996 (two rushing, 39 passing).

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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