Senior College Football Columnist

Mailbag: Talking SEC's dilemma, Texas D and Jameis Winston

Here is the Friday mailbag. As always, you can send your questions to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:

From @NashvilleMMA: Do you still believe the SEC rivalries should be kept? Mainly Bama vs UT

This topic has gained a lot of traction this week, and I received more questions related to the SEC scheduling model than any other in the past 24 hours.

This particular aspect of it is intriguing. That one rivalry that Chris/NashvilleMMA brings up (Bama-Tennessee) is a long-established rivalry, as is Auburn and Georgia. Most of those other matchups between SEC East and West schools have just been thrown together in the last decade-plus or shorter.

The issue to me is at what cost should the league go to try to preserve a few big rivalries? Keeping in mind, Bama's arch-rival is Auburn, not the Vols, and where would the Tigers rank on the Bulldogs' list of rivals? I know the latter two have played seemingly forever, but the game for UGA fans probably ranks behind the rivalry with Georgia Tech and the one with the Gators. And we know South Carolina's arch-rival is Clemson, not Arkansas.

A few weeks ago, when I spoke to Stanford coach David Shaw, he made a strong argument that in the face of the shift to the College Football Playoff, there needs to be more uniformity when it comes to the criteria used: Each league playing the same number of league games to determine its champion and all the leagues either having -- or not having -- a league title game. Beyond that, it's mostly random how the SEC has let this play out. And if I was a Florida or LSU fan (especially an LSU fan, given how stacked the SEC West has been of late) I'd be ticked about it.


Les Miles made the case to CBS this week that the current SEC scheduling gives certain teams "unintended and unearned advantages" in the pursuit of a conference title. He said he would like to see the end of the permanent crossover rivalry game, allowing more rotation in the cross-division matchups.

How does facing Florida work out for the Tigers (and vice versa)? In the past 10 years, both teams have been ranked in the Top 25 nine times. Compare that to Arkansas-South Carolina (a combined one time both were ranked in 10 meetings); Bama-Tennessee (one time); Vandy-Ole Miss (zero) or Miss State-UK (zero).

Now, you could say to some degree these things are cyclical, but they're really not that cyclical. Florida has been elite for much of the past 25 years. Kentucky? Vandy? Not so much.

Is it self-serving for Miles to want the shift? Sure, but regardless of that, he does still make a good point. And, as Matt Hayes of the Sporting News noted, it's not like the LSU coach groused when his team had to face Alabama again in a BCS title game after having already beaten the Tide in Tuscaloosa a few months earlier.

Not only that, no team has been more willing to face big-time opponents in the nonconference schedule than Miles', with the Tigers having faced, among other power conference opponents, Oregon, WVU (for a home-and-home) and now TCU this year in the opener.

To me, the most sensible way for the SEC to handle this is to rotate the teams from the other division in a schedule rotation, which also would address what Nick Saban has been making the case for since it would enable a player to face all the league teams in his SEC playing career.

From @nimesh_patel: Do you see improvement in Texas' defense this year?

I do. Having spent some time in Austin the past month and talking to folks inside the program, it sounds like there is a lot of reason for optimism around UT.

In 2012, the Horns' D was rattled by injuries, and the guys who were forced into heavy action didn't hold up well. There was a big dropff in production and accountability. There were major busts, and it appeared that only led to more guys trying to do too much. That made the defense even more out of sorts.

But there were some positive signs late in the year: UT was impressive in swarming Oregon State in the bowl win to get to nine Ws. Getting standout LB Jordan Hicks and pass-rushing stud Jackson Jeffcoat back from injuries will make a big difference. They'll headline, along with a talented group of corners (keep an eye on emerging CB Sheroid Evans), a defense that returns nine starters.

"We're getting more speed," Mack Brown said. "We're getting more depth back, which has been one of our biggest problems. When we were really good, we were two-deep, so injuries didn't wipe us out. And, in this league, what's happened is, we've gone to being a fastball league with tempo so much that by the fifth, sixth game, if you're playing the same guys and they're rushing the passer, they're tired. They just get worn out. What we've really worked on is getting six defensive ends and five defensive tackles and six linebackers and trying to rotate 'em enough that you have some fresh legs."

(I'll have a lot more on Texas next week in the blog.)

From @Buddyshow: How good is Jameis Winston going to be at FSU, and what do you think about the changes on Fisher's staff?

I think Winston will prove to be the best QB in the past dozen years. I'm tempted to say since Charlie Ward, but Chris Weinke did win a Heisman in 2000. And lots of five-star guys seem to be great until they actually start playing real games.

Everyone I've spoken to who has spent time around Winston -- and I mean everyone -- raves about him. Not only about his physical tools, but his leadership and charisma, too.

Now, will he be consistently great in 2013? That's probably too big a stretch given he's never played college football, but I think he will back up the five-star hype.

As for the staff changes at FSU, the new guys are replacing some outstanding assistants. Mark Stoops was a terrific DC, and the other guys were excellent position coaches and recruiters -- and maybe more importantly good "people" people. I think some of the additions that Jimbo brought on to replace them are of that caliber, but I'm not sold across the board on all of them.

From @BludeBrunner: With all of Michigan State's questions on offense, how many wins do they get?

The Spartans were one of the bigger disappointments in 2012. It was certainly no fault of Pat Narduzzi's D, which was once again superb. (They ranked No. 4 in the nation in total defense.) But the offense (No. 95 nationally) was a total dud. And that was despite it having a stud RB in Le'Veon Bell. But now Bell is gone, and the QB situation is still murky after a shaky 2012 in the wake of Kirk Cousins' departure.

MSU does return nine starters on offense and should be better on the O-line, but skill position-wise, it's hard to get too fired up for MSU. Is new assistant Jim Bollman going to trigger big change in the offense? My hunch is no. But I'm hearing the D should be even better than it was last season. And with even a little improvement on O, eight wins is very realistic. Keep in mind this was a team that lost five conference games last season by a combined 13 points.

If they can just get decent QB play, given how their schedule sets up, they have a good shot to open 7-1. I suspect at ND on Sept. 21 might be the only time the Spartans will be an underdog in the first two months of the season.

From @myalinc: Miami returning 22 starters, but get ZERO national love. Your thoughts?

I think that most likely stems from the fact that the Canes didn't really beat any good teams in 2012. They did thump Va. Tech at home last year, but that was a Hokie team that was .500 going into that game.

In the games against the three "good" teams that they faced (at Kansas State, vs. ND in Chicago and home against FSU), UM avoided getting blown out only once, a 33-20 loss to the Noles. In fairness to Al Golden, he had one of the youngest teams in the country, and they did get better late in the season.

The good news: Their offense is explosive. Stephen Morris, who has a powerful arm and good feet, might be the most underrated QB in the country. Duke Johnson, who was banged up in the middle of the season, is special and a legit Heisman contender. Plus, the O-line is big, athletic and seasoned.

The biggest problem last year was their defense was dreadful. I'm pretty sure it'll be considerably better in 2013. But unless a defensive tackle emerges as a difference-maker, I don't see the Canes as more than a 9-3 team.

More than anything, the Canes are in the "prove it" stage. They are just 13-11 overall and 8-8 in ACC play the past two seasons. We'll find out whether they're close to being a legit top-15 caliber team come Sept. 7, when a talented Florida team visits.

From @Mengus22: I'm curious what your thoughts are on Polian and the new staff taking over and following a legend like Chris Ault at Nevada.

Brian Polian has been one of the more impressive assistants that I've been around the past few years. I've seen him handle team meetings (as a special teams coordinator) and at practice. He's learned from some brilliant football people and guys who are experts in running a team/organization. Probably from long before he ever became a coach. That bodes well for his future as a head coach.

I also like some of the hires that he made. I've heard good things about Nick Rolovich, his OC, and Polian made a shrew move by surrounding himself with some experienced vets, particularly Jim Hofher, a former college head coach.

The tricky part goes back to the end of your question -- the replacing the legend part. That is never easy. And, for as much as Chris Ault elevated the Nevada program, it's still one that is on the very low end of resources, probably much more so than most college football fans would expect.

From @J_smitty67: do you see UCLA as a true threat to win the Pac 12? Hundley for Heisman?

The North looks to be the stronger division in the Pac-12. But heading into 2013, I like the Bruins' chances to get back to the conference title game. I'd make UCLA a slight favorite over USC and ASU in the South despite how shaky the Bruins looked late in the season.

Brett Hundley is much bigger and stronger, and more experienced. He's going to be a lot of fun to watch in 2013. I feel like it's probably a year too early for Hundley as a serious Heisman contender.

He will miss Johnathan Franklin, but his old high school buddy, speedy Paul Perkins, has folks inside the program excited. The young O-line won't be sooooo young anymore although they might have to rely on a handful of true freshmen for depth.

The D will be led by some stars at LB, especially big-play terror Anthony Barr. I do wonder if they can be good enough up front to be a top-10 team. Potentially, those guys look like they could be, but we'll see.

For all of the Bruins' firepower, they're still probably a notch below Stanford and Oregon.

 
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