Here is this week's mailbag. As always, send questions to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:
From @lawfaulker: After finishing 23 in recruiting and the potential 10 second play runoff rule, is Oregon's run at the national title over with?
Haha. For starters, it's questionable whether that defensive sub rule passes. Remember, to put in a new rule this year, there must be proof it's a safety issue. As we've reported the past few days at CBS, there has been no such documented study provided. [For the flipside of that and how the safety concerns line up with the issues, the site CFBmatrix did some research that may debunk it.]
As for recruiting ranking, I wouldn't put too much stock in that. The Ducks rarely have been ranked by any of the recruiting sites in the Top 10. 247Sports has never had Oregon ranked in its top 10 recruiting rankings and listed UO No. 28 in 2009 and No. 21 in 2008. Yet in the past five seasons, the Ducks are 57-9 and have never finished below 11th in the polls. The program has shown that it has a keen eye for evaluating talent, developing it and fitting it to the Ducks system.
Oregon is a legit national title contender in 2014 and will begin the season in my Top 5. They have a real Heisman contender in QB Marcus Mariota and the anchor of the O-line back as well in center Hroniss Grasu, one of the Pac-12's best. This might be the best offense in the country with 10 starters back and a dynamic triggerman in Mariota. Look for bruising freshman RB Royce Freeman to provide a nice jolt to a deep backfield that already has Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, the freshman stud who really improved as the season went on.
Josh Huff is the one guy on offense they have to replace, but the Ducks will have a deep group outside. Start with Braylon Addison, a talented playmaker who is more slick than fast, and Keanon Lowe, a tough kid who is their best blocker. The new guys will be redshirt Darren Carrington, a polished 6-2 wideout with great hands who would've played last season if not for being banged up in two-a-days. Some of the Ducks staff rave about Carrington's potential. Dwayne Stanford is a 6-5 sophomore with good ball skills who might've cracked their top four last season if he didn't get hurt. Two more to watch, Jalen Brown who is on campus and word is, impressing teammates, and Charles Nelson, a recruit who's clocked a 10.4 and picked Oregon over USC and Notre Dame.
The defense is led by All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but UO does have to replace three reliable D-linemen and three other players from the secondary. Keep an eye on JC transfer Tui Talia, a 6-5, 270-pound D-lineman, who former USC coach Ed Orgeron raved about on our Signing Day show, calling him one of the nation's top five junior college recruits. Another question will be how the Ducks do now that long-time DC Nick Aliotti has retired.
The non-conference schedule features a tough game against Michigan State, but at least it's in Autzen. Another tricky spot is having to go to L.A. to play UCLA October 11. I think the Bruins are the next most talented team in the conference, but Oregon gets an extra couple of days to prep since the Ducks will be coming off a home Thursday night game. They get Stanford at Autzen as well, and that game is sandwiched around games against two of the worst teams in the league: Cal and Utah.
Texas A&M just lost a program-changer in Johnny Manziel so I'll start there. The Aggies also lost a terrific WR in Mike Evans and a good one in Travis Labhart and a Top 10 pick at left tackle in Jake Matthews, but they can slide future first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi over to LT (he received back all four first-round grades from the NFL btw). The backs are good and there's plenty of young talent at receiver especially with big Ricky Seals-Jones back and explosive Speedy Noil on campus.
OC Jake Spavital has three intriguing options to replace Manziel: He has former blue-chip recruit Kenny Hill, who is sharp, throws a good ball and has enough speed to keep defenses honest in the run game. Hill also ran a version of this offense in high school. He's ready. They also have former five-star QB recruit Kyle Allen already on campus. He's a terrific passer, really accurate and polished. The wildcard is fifth-year senior Matt Joeckel who has some starting experience. He has the least mobility but the most experience and also has a good arm. Joeckel opted to return to A&M for another season while he gets ready for law school and he's definitely a factor in this battle.
A few others worth watching:
-LSU: Does early enrolled freshman Brandon Harris with his rocket arm overtake Anthony Jennings, Stephen Rivers and Hayden Rettig?
-Texas: Will David Ash able to stay healthy and hang on against dual-threat guys Tyrone Swoops and Jerrod Heard ... and potentially Max Wittek if he opts to transfer to UT?
-Clemson: OC Chad Morris has an excellent system, who gets the keys to it? Will it be vets Cole Stoudt or Chad Kelly, or hotshot freshman DeShaun Watson?
-Alabama: We've heard plenty about the talent of FSU transfer Jacob Coker. Can he do it on the field in the SEC?
From @TheRealACarr: which conference will be better overall in 2014: The Big Ten or the Big 12?
I'll say the Big 12 will be better but it seems close. Obviously there are less teams in the Big 12, but I still feel like the quality of the league is a bit stronger.
Both have two teams I expect to be in the preseason Top 15: Oklahoma and Baylor for Big 12 and Ohio State and Michigan State for the Big Ten. After that, I think Wisconsin is the next strongest team. The swing teams here are traditional powers Texas and Michigan. I'm not sure you can expect either to be in the Top 20 this season.
But when you look at the second half of the leagues, I see the Big Ten as more watered down and that perception has only grown with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. WVU, TCU, Iowa State and Kansas are coming off bad seasons, whereas the Big Ten has a woeful Purdue squad, Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern. My guess is Northwestern, TCU and WVU will have bounce back seasons.
From @UKFootballSteve: Bruce, what is a realistic win total for Mark Stoops' second year in Lexington? Go Cats!
There are reasons for optimism around Kentucky coming off a touted recruiting class, led by blue-chip QB Drew Barker, who has a legit shot to start in 2014. They also upgraded the D-line with standout JC DT Cory Johnson and five-star recruit Matt Elam. Powerful RB Mikel Horton also arrives with big expectations. The O-line returns some young guys with experience. The problem is finding some playmakers on offense. UK was No. 108 in scoring last season and, while that should improve in 2014 will it improve enough for a 2-10 team to get to 6-6?
Just to get to four wins assuming they can beat Ohio and ULM in the non-conference, they'll likely need to knock off Vandy or Miss. State in Lexington and/or Tennessee or Louisville on the road. I could see one or two of those happening but not three of four.
So, I'll say four wins is realistic.
From @GoVols2016: who did u follow around in this one (book)?
As I alluded to on Twitter Friday morning, I'm in the process of writing my next book that'll be out in late 2014. It will have the fly-on-the-wall access reminiscent of Meat Market but the scope of this one is on the quarterback evaluation and development business.
For the past year, I've been behind-the-scenes with the Elite 11 group (Trent Dilfer, George Whitfield, Jordan Palmer and company) as well as the Texas A&M staff and others. I've spent much of the past six weeks down in San Diego area with Whitfield's draft camp where Johnny Manziel has been prepping. This book will, I think, resonate with college, high school and NFL fans because it will delve into all three levels.