Mailbag: South Carolina's BCS hopes, new Cuse coach and more

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

From @JustWaring: what are the chances of Spurrier getting his much coveted SEC championship next year at South Carolina?

Right now, it’s tough to call anyone other than Alabama the favorite in the SEC. Granted, the Tide will have to replace three of their starting five on the offensive line and will lose their best defensive back (Dee Milliner), but the program is still loaded and has great leadership returning in AJ McCarron, C.J. Mosley and, of course, Nick Saban.

The SEC East, though, still should have three top-15 teams: South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Heading into bowl season, I felt strongest about Florida, although after the Sugar Bowl, I'm not so sure Georgia might not be a better option.

Steve Spurrier’s program goes into 2013 with momentum, having won five in a row and finishing No. 7 -- making it back-to-back 11-win seasons. The really good news: the most dominant player in the country, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, will be back.

Spurrier also has two capable QBs (Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson), a few good young RBs (Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson) and some speed outside (Ace Sanders), but the Gamecocks must get better on the O-line.

The Gamecocks’ offensive line is big and certainly looks the part, but just struggled for most of 2012. Four of those guys return up front, but lots of improvement is needed. Carolina was No. 13 in the SEC in rushing offense and No. 102 in sacks allowed. Unless that gets a lot better on both counts, the Gamecocks won’t make it to the SEC title game much less win it.

From @Scohencopy: Do you like Syracuse's hire of Scott Shafer?

I do. He was a big reason why Doug Marrone was able to get that program cranked up again. Shafer was one of the more underrated defensive coordinators in college football. He sparked a big improvement on his side of the ball and no one consistently gave West Virginia’s prolific offense more trouble than Shafer’s unpredictable schemes.

I also like the energy he’s bringing to the job and how he handled his introductory press conference, setting a strong tone that Syracuse doesn’t plan on lingering in the margins of college football anymore. I can't remember the last time I heard a Syracuse football coach say anything at a press conference that made an impression on anyone. And, if you’re at a place where you don’t have a great local recruiting base -- Syracuse clearly doesn’t -- it behooves you to be that way.

From @PaulPabst: Will Gunner Kiel stay at Notre Dame?

My instincts are telling me no, the former blue-chip QB recruit who de-committed from first Indiana and then LSU before signing with Notre Dame, will at some point transfer out of ND for a better chance to play. After all, Everett Golson still has three more seasons of eligibility remaining and figures to only strengthen his grip on the Irish QB job. Meaning that Kiel might have to wait till 2016 before he can get the job.

But when I spoke to Kiel for a while last week, he said all the right things to indicate he’s going to be patient and see how things develop. Kiel talked about what “an honor” and “privilege” it’s been for him to be a part of this Notre Dame team and how much of a learning experience it all has been.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a ton better since when I first arrived,” Kiel told me. “I didn’t understand the terminology, the signals or coverages. I’ve made huge strides. I couldn’t have asked for better coaches and the quarterbacks have helped the most. We push each other to get better.

“I just have to be patient and strive to get better each day and realize that anything can happen. I hear that the talk a lot (that I’m gonna transfer) and people are going to have their opinions and are gonna talk, but at the end of the day, I gotta do what’s best for me and I’ve gotta get better.”

We heard something similar from Phillip Sims about a year ago at the same time, and he ended up leaving Alabama for Virginia, but obviously, only time will tell.

Incidentally, Kiel did a very good job diffusing any connection to that odd Les Miles recruiting stuff. “The whole thing with coach Miles and me not making up my mind is kinda funny to look back and think about how dumb and immature I was and how sloppy I was with the recruiting process,” he said. “But at the same time, I thought I was just doing what I thought was best for me. I can’t get mad at coach Miles for what he did because I probably would’ve done the exact same thing. I respect him and I still think the world of him. I’m not gonna throw him under the bus. I still respect him and I love coach (Steve) Kragthorpe. They were so good to my family.”

From @M3_Bottomline: Does Tajh Boyd get invited to NYC as a Heisman Finalist?

I like Boyd's chances to be a Heisman finalist. Even though he won’t have DeAndre Hopkins, the Clemson QB will have a loaded group of skill talent around him, led by Sammy Watkins. Clemson also has one of the top offensive minds in the country running the show in OC Chad Morris. Better still, Boyd has four starters back on the O-line and a program brimming with confidence coming off a good bowl win over LSU.

My hunch is the 2013 Heisman winner comes from this group: Boyd, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Clowney, Braxton Miller and McCarron. Then again, considering how the Heisman race has gone the past few seasons, that probably means look out for Marcus Mariota, Jeremy Hill or Duke Johnson.

From @BamaBen12: What led you to believe Notre Dame would beat Alabama?

I got caught up in the whole team-of-destiny stuff with so many odd circumstances coming together for Notre Dame to even get to the BCS title game. I felt pretty good about the pick till I saw McCarron hit the deep out to a wide-open Kevin Norwood about two seconds into the game.

The crazy thing about that game was it was a 42-14 blowout and it didn’t even feel that close. On the year, I finished four games over .500 against the spread but had a horrible whiff on the one that counted the most.

I heard plenty about that dreadful prediction on Twitter from the moment the Tide’s butt-kicking of the Irish began. Then, I get to the coaches convention in Nashville a few hours later. I run into Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. He tells me about all of the hate mail and such that he received for having voted Notre Dame No. 4 in the USA Today coaches poll last month. (Two other coaches who voted, Tommy Tuberville and Middle Tennessee’s Rick Stockstill also didn’t vote the Irish No. 1, listing them at No. 2). Franklin said Vandy had played Wake Forest the week after Notre Dame did, so through film study, Franklin had become very familiar with the Irish and how good they actually were. Then, I ran into a few more coaches who weren’t shy about bringing up the BCS title game and asking, "What were you thinking picking that Notre Dame team to beat Alabama?"

I got it. Terrible prediction.

From @Drofdarb23: What impact, if any, does Boise State's decision to stay in the MWC have on their national perception & with recruits?

I’m not sure it does have that much of an impact nationally. The reason: It’s been so hard for people trying to follow what exactly is going on with them and the Big East/MWC. What helps is another 11-win season especially after losing all of these excellent players from the 2011 team.

From @therealwannabe: What is your favorite assistant coaching hire of the offseason?

There have been a lot of strong moves made so far this offseason. The one I wrote about Thursday night, where Kevin Sumlin hired Jake Spavital away from his old pal Dana Holgorsen is high on the list. The 27-year-old Spavital is as sharp as any young assistant I’ve ever been around and the role of handling Manziel is a big one. Spavital was great with Geno Smith and he's as good an option as any to replace his mentor, Kliff Kingsbury.

Other moves I think were home runs: Boston College hiring Don Brown from UConn to run the Eagles defense. Auburn adding Ellis Johnson, Rich Bisaccia and Dameyune Craig. I also like a lot of the moves Arkansas has made staff-wise. Miami bringing on Mario Cristobal as an associate head coach. No coach in the country is more plugged into the South Florida recruiting scene than Cristobal and his energy and toughness are going to make the 'Canes a lot better. Also, if Al Golden does leave UM for another job, an obvious successor is right in place. Kentucky also did well for itself adding D.J. Eliot, who seems to be a rising star in the coaching world.

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