Time for the Friday Mailbag. As always, if you have a question, send it to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.
From @cjdyal Is it possible for UF to make a Bama 08 type of jump, where both teams went 7-6 year one? UF returns 10/11 starters on D.
That Bama team had a lot more experience on offense with a very talented and seasoned O-line to lean on and a veteran QB in senior John Parker Wilson. They had 18 starters returning. The other big thing that had going for them was a really experienced coaching staff led by Nick Saban. And keep in mind, even though that Bama team had gone 7-6, all six of those losses were by a TD or less. Of UF's six losses, only two were by a touchdown or less. They were not as competitive and they're younger, both on the field and on the sidelines.
The Gators should have a very tough defense, as you alluded to, but it's the offense that is the big unknown. It was awful last season and there are major question marks for new OC Brent Pease heading into 2012: Both young QBs are unproven and looked very shaky when they got the chance to play. There is no established tailback to lean on for those young QBs. There is no go-to guy at receiver to count on in the clutch. There is some experience on the O-line and they do have some speed, but this was still a group that was just 105th in the country in total offense. That's why Pease is one of the more intriguing hires of the off-season. There is a talent there but it seems pretty raw. Last season was a rough transition period, where things got worse before they got better. I feel like Pease is a much better fit here than Charlie Weis was.
I expect UF to be improved in 2012, but I wouldn't expect a jump that big from unranked to top six.
From @DMcCallCU11 Top 5 sleeper teams not on the radar that may make noise in the BCS??
At this point, it's hard to get a great sense of who is "not on the radar" for 2012 and would be deemed a sleeper. I guess you could say anyone not in the SEC, USC, Oregon or Oklahoma might qualify as "a sleeper" these days. My two best sleeper candidates are both newcomers to the Big 12, TCU and WVU (assuming the Mountaineers can shed the Big East this offseason). Both teams were pretty young last season. The Horned Frogs especially so. Both should be explosive on offense. WVU, which just scored 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl, figures to be one of the top two or three scoring teams in the country. TCU should pile up points too and will be even better on D.
Three other sleepers who could make noise in the BCS (although I'm just saying could make a BCS bowl, not be a national title contender): BYU - 15 starters back, plus both specialists; FIU - 17 starters back, including 10 on D, lots of speed on offense and winnable non-conference games against Big East and ACC teams; and La. Tech, 14 starters back from a good team; they play in a weakened league and their toughest non-conference games are against a rebuilding Houston team and Virginia.
From @SilverCrushBlog What is Notre Dame missing besides stability at QB? It seems like 1988 was 100 years ago.
Well, that is a very big missing ingredient. If you don't have an elite defense, and I'm talking about an Alabama or LSU-caliber defense or you don't have a very good QB, you can't be a top-five college team. You'd be fortunate to even be a top 15 team. Look at FSU, the Noles had a pretty tough defense, but they had issues at QB and finished No. 23.
When people say "the only difference between us and (so-and-so) is they have a good quarterback and we don't." Well, that's like saying the only difference between that Ferrari and my car is the engine. It is a very big deal. You're not talking about a tight end or a SAM linebacker.
The Irish, despite having a great WR and TE tandem, were shockingly inept in the Red Zone and had way too many meltdowns. That lack of efficiency, much of it goes back to shaky QB play, really holds a team back because it mangles any effort you have to sustain momentum and crush an opponent's will. Now maybe that's change since Tommy Rees/Andrew Hendrix have more experience or Everett Golson is ready to step out or maybe we'll find out that Gunner Kiel is mature enough and talented enough to overtake the others and be The Guy. Until that happens, there is skepticism for a program that hasn't lived up to the hype for a very long time.
Back to the other side of the ball: Notre Dame's defense was improved in 2011, but it's still nowhere near elite. ND's secondary really struggled to make plays on the ball and was still lacking when it came to facing capable offenses (Michigan, USC and Stanford). Beyond that, the Irish have some really athletic players, but not enough of them.
From @Brentboyles why is everybody on the band wagon with USC for next year?
I can give you seven very good reasons:
1. They are led by arguably the best QB in college football who has a ton of experience, Matt Barkley.
2. They have the best 1-2 WR tandem in the country, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
3. They return their entire back-seven on D that includes their top tacklers who were freshmen in 2011 (Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard) and perhaps the top two DBs in the Pac-12 in safety T.J. McDonald and CB Nickell Robey.
4. They bring back four starting O-linemen and now actually have some quality depth behind those guys.
5. They return a 1000-yard rusher, Curtis McNeal.
6. They get the two most talented teams on their schedule, Oregon and Notre Dame, in the Coliseum.
7. No team will be hungrier.
From @chrisasims Hey Bruce, here's a question for you: How do you expect Oregon to fare next season without Darron Thomas and LaMichael James?
As long as Chip Kelly's running the show there, the Ducks should be fine. Despite those players moving on, Oregon is in really good shape. I had them in my Top 5 that I posted the other day.
Kelly has some very talented people ready to step up. Bryan Bennett is faster and a more accurate passer than Thomas, but lacks his experience while Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and a more physical young back, Tra Carson, should ease the loss of James. Another name to remember with the Ducks in 2012 is redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, who has coaches very excited in Eugene. The O-line also should be better.
From @danielmcfadin How do you think Gus Malzahn's first season at Arkansas State will compare to HughFreeze's?
I don't expect Malzahn to match Freeze's 10-win total this year. ASU lost almost its entire defense and that was a surprisingly solid group that was top 25 in most categories and No. 13 against the run. Malzahn does inherit a good triggerman in Ryan Aplin, who should put up big numbers, but there are probably too many quality guys to replace to expect more than eight wins in Year One, especially when you consider the Red Wolves have to visit Oregon and Nebraska in the first three weeks of the season.
From @galdog33 reading Swing Your Sword now...great read so far...do you think Coach Leach can start as fast at WSU as his other stops?
Thanks! I don't see the Cougars overtaking Oregon in the Pac-12 North this year after finishing in the basement of the division. They were 4-8 in 2011 but were competitive. Paul Wulff certainly did not leave the cupboard bare. Leach walks into a decent situation. They have some good pieces on offense with two talented QBs (Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday) and one stud WR (Marquess Wilson). The down side: The O-line is very shaky. They were 116th in sacks allowed. They also really struggled on D, ranking 95th in scoring defense.
Leach, though, never has had a losing season at Tech, and I doubt he has one in his first year at WSU. I'm not sure he can double last year's win total, but I'll be surprised if the Cougars aren't a bowl team. It will be an interesting first month in Pullman. They have a challenging opener against his alma mater, at BYU. After that, they have EWU, at UNLV and Colorado. My hunch is they should be 3-1 when they face Oregon in Seattle.
From @365ROLLTIDE even though Bama loses a lot, do you think the SEC west will come down to the Bama/LSU game next season? Thanks
I do. While I think Arkansas is a dangerous team and the Hogs get both LSU and Bama at home in 2012, I still feel like they don't have enough big-time guys on defense to win that division. Bama may only return a handful of starters but the Tide gets back the nucleus to perhaps the best O-line in the country and has a proven winner at QB to go with Eddie Lacy, who would've started probably for 100 other teams were it not for Trent Richardson.
From @mckdaddy1 what kind of gig would Houston Nutt get if/when he gets back into coaching?
Nutt has had a lot of success in his coaching career and is still only in his mid-50s. He won SEC Coach of the Year three times, which is impressive. But it is intriguing where does a guy like this go after his stint at Ole Miss? The broadcast booth? As an assitant to the NFL?
After a great start in Oxford, things fell apart in a huge way with the worst season in school history last year. From what I've been told by sources in Oxford he left a real mess behind. I wouldn't expect Nutt to go from that to land another SEC head coaching job. Maybe next season a Conference USA job opens up or perhaps somewhere in the Sun Belt. I'd be surprised if Nutt took a job as an assistant at a bigger school since he's been a head coach for so long.