Mailbag: Are the Sooners being overlooked and has Oregon officially arrived?

Here is this week’s mailbag. As always, send your questions via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:

 
From @AdamLoewy: Do you feel OU is being overlooked? VERY favorable schedule, experienced QB & D, Mike Stoops back, and no bullseye on em.

Not really. Oklahoma is a 12-1 pick to win the 2013 BCS title per Bovada. Only four schools are bigger favorites. Phil Steele has OU ranked No. 2 in his preseason poll. I have the Sooners in my preseason top 5 at No. 5. Most of my brethren in the college football media that I've heard from have the Sooners somewhere in their top seven. That's a lot of respect for a program that was preseason No. 1 last year and ended up ranked No. 15 in the final poll of the season (Coaches).

I'm expecting a bounce back from the Sooners this fall because of the experience you have in QB Landry Jones and the energy and presence Mike Stoops should bring back to this team. Something clearly has been lacking at OU since he left for Arizona. OU's still been really good, but hasn't had a truly elite team in a while. It's a bit of a surprise to think that the Sooners haven't been ranked in the final Top 4 in eight years.

Their O-line has more seasoning this year, but the off-season issues with a bunch of receivers may give some pollsters pause. Expectations though are pretty high for freshman Trey Metoyer.

They do also return three of their four top tacklers from 2011. Mike Stoops is especially good in the secondary and I suspect he'll make a big impact back there. He has some talented and experienced guys to work with. They do have to replace Jemell Fleming, the defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl, but word is CB Lamar Harris impressed a lot of folks around the OU program and people are optimistic.

That said, I am not as sure that the schedule is all that favorable. The month of November looks tricky, where they have three road games, including trips to West Virginia and TCU. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs figure to be the toughest challengers for the Sooners in the Big 12 this fall given what they have coming back.

 
From @East_Coast_Duck: has Oregon finally "arrived" in the elite of college football's national players? Appears they have staying power.

Yes, the Ducks have arrived as a powerhouse in the truest sense of the word. Just look at their track record the past three years: They're 34-6 the past three seasons and finished No. 4 and No. 3 the past two years. That's a big statement. They also came within a last-second field goal of winning the BCS title.

The Ducks had outstanding before under Mike Bellotti, but only had one stretch where they had three consecutive seasons ranked in the Top 25 (from 1999-2001). And then the next three seasons, they were a .500 team in Pac-10 play. They were good, but seldom great, certainly not at the level of "powerhouse" because they couldn't sustain it before.

Winning the Rose Bowl last January was another big step for Oregon and Chip Kelly because it quieted the skepticism that if teams have extended lenghts of time to prepare for his system, the Ducks can be thwarted.

The Oregon football brand has been elevated in the past half-decade and this program has risen more dramatically than any other program in the country. That's in large part due to the edgy uniforms and branding by Phil Knight and Nike, but even more due to the frenetic offensive style Kelly brought to Eugene. On top of that, the Ducks are now beating other powerhouses for top recruits, and as evidenced by the case of De'Anthony Thomas, they're sometimes doing it by going into a powerhouse's backyard for the blue-chipper. This past winter, they beat everyone for Arik Armstead, the touted DE from California, among others. This isn't flukey stuff.

The one thing that seemed to have a chance to undermine this rise was the NCAA investigation centered around Will Lyles, but it doesn't look like that will have as significant an impact as suspected it would this time last year. Kelly's decision not to take the Tampa Bay job was an interesting barometer there. And we've seen the Ducks are still reeling in blue-chippers, as evidenced by them landing Thomas Tyner, a five-star 2013 running back from Oregon even after they had just signed top RB Byron Marshall in the 2012 class.
 

From @BrandonLane5: What do you think about Phil Steele picking FSU #1?

 

Preseason magazine guru Phil Steele is the best at what he does. His annual is a must-have for anyone who covers the sport. Going FSU, a program that hasn’t finished in the top 15 one time in the past seven years, is certainly a bold pick. Anything aside from an SEC program or USC is going out on a limb.

 

On paper, FSU as a BCS title contender, makes some sense. The Noles have a very fast, talented, experienced defense; a smart, gifted charismatic QB (E.J. Manuel) and a deep group of receivers. Another big key—and Steele factors in how manageable a team’s schedule quite a bit in his rankings—is the fact that the Noles’ two arch-rivals, Miami and UF, are both rebuilding. This is the best time to get them.

 

The reason why I don’t have the Noles in my preseason top five is because many of those above attributes were cited going into last season too. (The Noles were preseason No. 6 in 2011.) And quite frankly, the Noles have been mentioned a lot in some fashion or another in the preseason over the past decade. They’ve gone from the default powerhouse to recently, the trendy darkhorse pick based on a seemingly deep roster. But, let’s not forget the Noles always load up on four and five-star recruits, who often have proved to be misfires. (Perhaps that’s more indicative of the flaws in the online recruiting rankings as much as anything else.)

 

The Noles have repeatedly fizzled in recent years, often in spectacular fashion. It was either because the QB play was shaky, the staff chemistry was bad or the defense was undisciplined. Regardless, something’s always been missing with these FSU teams. Does it even seem plausible that the Noles should’ve lost four of its past six games to Wake Forest? This program has underwhelmed a lot, and you start to wonder if that “underachiever” factor has seeped into the locker room, where guys struggle with the expectations (no matter what they say publicly) and eventually lose focus and wilt under them, where it takes on a psychological weight with the fear that something is eventually going to trip them up. For most pollsters, this program has lost the benefit of the doubt.

 

Can you trust the leadership of this 2012 team? I don’t know. I like Manuel, but I’m not sold on this group enough to go all-in after the recent history.

 

From @MikeLarson3585: Justin Combs is being blasted in the media for accepting a full ride to UCLA for football? Can you explain why?

 

Best explanation I can come up with is because people like getting outraged about others being outraged, so things go into circles and it just yields a lot of sniping back and forth: Things get misconstrued and misunderstood and then others weigh in without truly understanding much and that only adds fuel to the whole mess.

 

As I mentioned Friday morning, when I noticed my timeline on my Twitter feed cluttered with references to the controversy about Puff Daddy/Diddy’s son, the whole storyline is bizarre. Schools have signed sons of wealthier families to athletic scholarships in the past and no one said a peep about those, and I’m not even talking about the hundreds of kids who are second-generation athletes (like Peyton and Eli Manning; Andrew Luck; Jarrett Payton; Austin Rivers, etc). A few years back Cannon Smith, son of business mogul Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, signed with Miami after being offered by several other FBS programs. (He later played for Memphis.) And there are numerous other examples.

 

I was surprised that UCLA felt compelled to issue a statement about it, which probably gave the story more legs, while talking head shows bat it around trying to find anyone with a valid point to truly be outraged about.

 

From @CoachJimJackson: does the sec really think that it would get three teams in the playoff??? This is silly.

 

It’s more that there is the possibility that it could happen. Remember, just a week before the last regular season BCS rankings came out the SEC had the three top ranked programs: LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. You could make the point that Arkansas or LSU was destined to drop because the two still had to face each other, but what if it were a team from the SEC East and there wasn’t the same crossfire of all three of those top three facing each other? You could have a scenario, where the SEC, especially now that it’s up to 14 teams, has three of the top four slots.

 

From @jbcarlsonison: IF you're buying stock in one team for the next five years and your choices are UF, Tenn, Az and Penn State, who ya got?

 

Interesting grouping you’ve presented. Three of the four have rich football history, and yet that other program, Arizona, is the only one school led by a guy who is a proven winner as a head coach.

 

I’m going to remove Tennessee first. While I think Derek Dooley has a decent shot to win eight games and keep his job for another year, he’s done little to build faith that he’s the ideal guy for such a big program. He’s had massive staff turnover. He hasn’t beaten anyone of note in two years, and lost to some very mediocre programs. He also did nothing in his three years at La. Tech. On top of that, he’s working for an AD (Dave Hart) who wasn’t the one that hired him. Yes, there is talent in Knoxville, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, but would it shock anyone if those big, athletic wide receivers and perhaps even QB Tyler Bray left after this season?

 

I’d take Penn State out next. There are still clouds hovering around State College after all of the craziness that went on there. The talent base is not at the level of the top three or four teams in the league. Making matters worse, the arrival of Urban Meyer at Ohio State to go with the re-emergence of Michigan, only makes things tougher. The bright side: It does look like Bill O’Brien’s off to a nice start in recruiting. He has eight commits, and six of which are ranked as four-star guys by Rivals.com. In the past five years, Penn State has only signed six or more four-star guys two times. Still, it rarely works out for the guy who follows the legend, and then you add on that O’Brien is a first-time head coach, and the odds get slimmer.

 

This comes down to Florida vs. Arizona. The Gators struggled in Will Muschamp’s first season, but that should’ve been expected with such a dramatic shift in systems. There’s still plenty of talent there, starting with an athletic defense and two promising young QBs. Muschamp will recruit very well, but expectations after what Urban Meyer did there are too steep, especially when you consider that the SEC is tougher now than it was when Steve Spurrier or Meyer took over at UF. The SEC West simply wasn’t as stacked at the top like it is right now.

 

The bar at Arizona is much lower than at the other three. The Cats haven’t even been to a Rose Bowl. If Rich Rodriguez can consistently turn this program into a Top 20 school, that’d have the biggest upside. I think he can. He showed he could do it at WVU, when he won big and his teams won BCS bowl games. It was bad timing and a bad fit at Michigan. I know he’s learned from that and will run his program better. He also inherits a better triggerman to run his offense right from the start in senior Matt Scott, and in former WVU DC Jeff Casteel, he has a better guy to run his defense than what he had at Michigan. Better still, Rodriguez takes over when USC is dealing with scholarship reductions and arch-rival ASU is rebuilding.

 

 

 

From @Zman5652: Has anyone in the national media ever heard of Rex Burkhead?

 

Obviously, we have. Burkhead is a very good back. Keep in mind though, that initially, he was overshadowed by the attention Taylor Martinez got in 2010. He was the guy generating the buzz.

 

The other big reason why Burkhead’s not more of a national name is because he plays in a conference where Wisconsin’s Montee Ball was the back everyone ended up talking about.

 

If Burkheads’s to become a serious Heisman contender, Nebraska has to emerge as a legit Top 10 team and he must produce more against the better teams. If you look at the Huskers three losses to Wisconsin, Michigan and South Carolina, he had a total of 51 carries, yet his longest run was just 13 yards.

 

From @scott_thrill: I don't see Arkansas finishing better than 4th in the SEC West after all the drama. Your thoughts?

 

I have them third in the West, behind LSU and Alabama. The Hogs have quite a bit of experience on defense, an outstanding QB (Tyler Wilson) and a stud running back (Knile Davis).

 

I do agree that the absence of Bobby Petrino hurts them some as a BCS title contender, especially since the Hogs get both LSU and Bama at home this year. Petrino, for all his personal flaws, is an excellent head coach and offensive mind. They’ll miss him this season. Bringing back John L. Smith was probably the best of a bad situation since the timing of Petrino’s scandal was so terrible.

 

In Smith, you get an experienced head coach, who also knows the system and personnel from his time under Petrino. The down side is Smith has never proven to be an elite head coach. In a dozen years running FBS programs, he’s had just one team finish ranked in the Top 25 and the program at Michigan State went in reverse under him. In 12 seasons as a FBS head coach, Smith's teams have only won more than seven games three times. That’s not a track record to get too fired up about.

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