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Lots of feedback from the Monday preseason top 10 list to lead this week's mailbag:
From Justin in NYC: How could you possibly leave the Irish out of your way too early top 10 for 2009? Did you not watch the Hawaii Bowl? The Irish might have eight No. 1 draft picks on their starting line-up and Weis finally got rid of [offensive line coach John] Latina, the guy who had been holding everything back.
Feldman: I don't think it's so outlandish to leave a team that has gone 10-15 the past two seasons out of the preseason top 10. I did like what I saw in the Hawaii Bowl, although it wasn't like they blew up the scoreboard on USC or even BC in that game.
As I've said many times over the past year, I really like ND's receivers. That said, I'm not sure what you're basing the No. 1 picks thing on. I could envision freshman WR Michael Floyd and TE Kyle Rudolph eventually becoming first-rounders, but it's still a long way off, and on defense there just weren't any special players, although maybe some will emerge. As for John Latina, it obviously didn't work out with Weis in South Bend, but the guy had a pretty impressive track record for developing talent (Terrence Metcalf, Todd Wade, Marcus Johnson) before he came to ND.
I did give the Irish some consideration, though, because of the firepower on offense and because their schedule in 2009 is extremely favorable and schedule is a key factor. They play only four true road games. They get USC at home, and their next-toughest game is probably against Stanford. Plus, they face the two worst teams from BCS conferences, Washington State and Washington. If the Irish can improve their ground game and Clausen can become more consistent, it's hard to imagine they won't win at least nine games and probably 10 games. Then again, I never imagined they could lose to Syracuse at home, and I thought they'd win at least eight games in '08, too.
From Eric in Columbus: Aren't the Buckeyes missing or is this more anti-OSU bias coming from the media?
Feldman: I think OSU handled themselves pretty well against Texas, but the Buckeyes are losing so much to the NFL with their best two defensive players in James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins (along with LB Marcus Freeman), not to mention Beanie Wells' and both receivers' leaving. The O-line will be pretty green. Terrelle Pryor still is very raw as a passer, and working with inexperienced wideouts won't be easy. Top 25? Yes. Top 10? I'm not seeing it.
From John in Las Vegas: At South Carolina, hasn't it always been Stephen Garcia or bust? Chris Smelley has never proven to be much. And it doesn't really make a ton of difference if they can't get a line to block or a running game that ranks in the top 75. As coach Spurrier said during last season, Garcia gives us hope. But a competent running game would probably give Garcia hope.
Feldman: I agree with that to a certain extent, but from what I've been told, Spurrier has really no other viable options aside from Garcia this time around. There are no guys who have been in the program three or four years who know the offense. It's just Garcia, and considering how many quality players from their defense jumped to the NFL and that they're losing standout WR Kenny McKinley to the pros as well, that's a lot to put on a guy who has been very shaky.
From Kit in Billings, Mont.: What about Shonn Greene not making the top 10 list for bowl performances as he ran all over South Carolina for 121 yards and three scores and was the only player to eclipse 100 yards in all 13 games. Isn't that worthy of consideration?
Feldman: It is, and Greene had a great year. He got my vote for the Doak Walker Award. Still, I thought there were more noteworthy performances, and the guy I came closest to adding was UNC receiver Hakeem Nicks, who was spectacular against WVU, catching eight passes for 217 yards and three TDs, including the best catch of the bowl season.
From Sally in Charlotte: Why wasn't Riley Skinner included on the list? His 100% completion rate in the Eagle Bowl didn't qualify as a top performance? I'm sure it's because you don't consider that a "real" bowl or Wake a "real" football team. That's fine with us because we know Wake's team is much better than Notre Dame and Riley is significantly better than Jimmy Clausen, but the media will never admit that any more than they'll stop ranking the Big Ten.
Feldman: Skinner obviously was very sharp. I think Clausen's hitting on a lot more deep balls to me was even more impressive, though I see your point. And I do think Wake is a real team and I think even the most die-hard Notre Dame fan would concede that Wake was better than the Irish in 2008. Wake did beat a ranked team on the road (No. 24 FSU). Skinner also has been more consistent than Clausen, although the Wake QB is also 11 months older, and I suspect the Irish quarterback should have a big 2009 given the receivers he's throwing to and the aforementioned schedule he's facing.
From Donnie in Belpre, Ohio: Pat White was the finest HUMAN BEING ever to wear a WVU uniform. The fact that he was also the greatest player in the school's history is secondary. I wish Pat all the success in life that he deserves. I personally feel he will find success like his friend Steve Slaton, but if not, he has all the tools to do great things.
Feldman: I watched some of the Senior Bowl practices this week, and it looked like White acquitted himself pretty well as a QB. I suspect he will be drafted fairly high in April and someone will give him a chance to make plays for their offense as a change-of-pace quarterback/receiver/wingback.
From Michael in Los Angeles: To take you away from menagerie of football questions you're probably receiving, which school's pressbox would you say provides reporters the best spread (food) and which one have you attended where you've left and said "chips?" Food is almost as important as internet access to reporters.
Feldman: I did a little survey on this with about 15 college football writers who have traveled around quite a bit to weigh in on the food question. The school that got the most votes for good press box food was Texas, which has a local Tex-Mex place cater some quality fare. The brats served up at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium also are a hit, as are BYU's Brazilian-cooked meats and the University of Memphis' BBQ.
The three schools that got the most votes for the worst: Iowa, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, although the Irish also got one vote for best food too.
• Dan Mullen's new staff at Mississippi State is cleaning up locally on recruits, reports David Paschall.
"Mullen was hired Dec. 11 and pledged to blanket the state, pointing out Mississippi is unmatched when it comes to per capita production of NFL players. 'Our top priority is taking care of these high-school coaches and junior-college coaches in the state to where they know they have an open-door policy here for full access to our program,' Mullen said. 'We will get in every high school in this state before we even worry about going anywhere else. We have to make sure those players know they have a home here and they have a place where they can represent their state university.'"
My three cents: Of ESPN.com's 15 top-rated players in-state, the only one committed to Ole Miss is kicker Andrew Ritter. Eight are committed to MSU, although the Rebels did get standout lineman Bo Tillman, a 6-7, 275-pounder who committed to Southern Miss last winter but didn't qualify and is expected to get cleared for 2009. Also, look for former blue-chip DB-RB Tig Barksdale, now at Hargrave Military, to end up in Oxford if he makes the grade academically. I'm curious to see how well Ole Miss closes in the next two weeks, given that the Rebs are coming off a great finish to a 9-4 season and they have one of the nation's best young QBs (Jevan Snead) to sell to young offensive prospects. That is a big chip to play. Word is they're in the mix for three very promising big wideouts in Marlon Brown, Patrick Patterson (he of the world's biggest hands) and Lamar Scruggs. Don't be surprised if they get Patterson and Scruggs.
• What is up with Devon Kennard, the nation's top-rated DE prospect and the son of former Dallas Cowboys OL Derek Kennard? The standout from Arizona assesses the pluses and minuses of his top three choices to WeareSC.com:
"I felt a real good home environment from Texas, it's a big program, a big state and it's an awesome opportunity. But if I went there, I would be leaving the Pac-10 and it's a little farther from home. That's pretty much the only negative there."
On USC, "It's very similar (to Texas), but it's closer to home. They have a really good coaching staff and a really good winning program. But you have to look at the coaching attrition and things like that."
And on Cal, "I really feel like I have a good relationship with the coaches at Cal. It's a good situation for me to walk into and the education there is obviously the awesome. All three schools offer a great education, but I think it's fair to say Cal has the best education system. But they want to alter my position to a 3-4 defensive end/linebacker type of deal. Cal is the only school to say I'm a 3-4 guy."
• There were lots of happy high school coaches in the northeast when BC elevated longtime assistant Frank Spaziani to head coach. Spaziani has epitomized to many of them what a great teacher was all about. He also made time for many of them who wanted to pick his brain in clinic settings. Adam Kilgore has more on him here in a story definitely worth checking out:
"For almost 40 years, Spaziani had been comfortable working in cramped assistant coaching offices, adhering to what a coach told him long ago: Do your job, do your job, do your job, and something good will happen. Most people get what they deserve. Spaziani recalled those words often. It was the first thing he thought after he became the head coach at BC Jan. 13, the position he wanted more than anything else.
"His new surroundings, if unfamiliar, signify the conclusion of a coaching odyssey for Spaziani, the 61-year-old son of blue-collar, first-generation Italian-Americans, the hollering, mustachioed coach who has prowled the Eagles' sideline wearing a visor, sunglasses, and a yellow towel draped over his left shoulder for the last 12 seasons. Spaziani could have left BC two years ago, figuring the school owed him the head coaching position after 10 years of service, figuring he had ably replaced Tom O'Brien as interim head coach and rallied the Eagles to a bowl victory, figuring a man deserves something more after he's coached at four colleges and in two countries."
• Perhaps there was a little backwash in the move of Auburn LB coach James Willis to archrival Alabama, writes Ray Melick:
"It's not likely Willis will be on the priority guest list for any Auburn alumni meetings any time soon. He may have a very good reason for crossing that very big divide that runs through this state, but even the Auburn people who agree that Willis was wronged by his alma mater aren't likely to forgive. According to several people close to the situation, a dispute arose when Auburn athletics department officials asked Willis to return the severance pay he'd received when Auburn fired him last month. Apparently the bean-counters didn't get Athletics Director Jay Jacobs' message that money would be no object in putting together Gene Chizik's new staff. Someone believed that when Willis was re-hired by Chizik after being fired along with the rest of Tommy Tuberville's staff that Willis should return the severance that was owed him under his prior contract.
"Willis didn't agree, believing that his being fired by Chizik and his being rehired several weeks later were isolated incidents, two separate contracts that were not related. It is difficult to believe that Auburn would risk losing Willis over an amount in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $80,000. Surely if Chizik really wanted Willis to stay, the two sides could have worked something out. While $80,000 is a lot of money to ordinary people, in the world of college athletics these days, anything less than $100,000 is treated like petty cash."
• With ace WR recruit Reuben Randle in Baton Rouge, this is a huge recruiting weekend for Les Miles, Glenn Guilbeau writes.
"Randle, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound prospect who could immediately impact the suddenly thin LSU receiving unit, leads a band of 14 prospects visiting LSU today through Sunday in the last major visit weekend for the class of 2009. Signing day is Wednesday, Feb. 4. Miles is so happy with his class that he performed the following gush last week after introducing his three new defensive coaches. 'This potentially has the opportunity to be an historic class -- one of the greatest classes ever,' he said. 'We think we have a class that can win a national championship, and certainly that's our intent. That's where we're headed. That's how we're approaching the back end.'"
Among the other visitors is fast-rising DE Sam Montgomery from South Carolina, who has been rumored in some circles to be a silent commit to Butch Davis and UNC.
• Oregon State seems to be doing very well in recruiting this winter, as it has landed Arizona wideout Markus Wheaton, who had been leaning to Oregon before the Ducks made some staff changes, reports Greg Biggins:
"'The two coaches that were recruiting me from Oregon were both let go,' Wheaton said. 'Coach Pfugrad was the receiver coach and Coach Gray was the one recruiting me. They were both let go and those were the guys I was really comfortable with.
"'Oregon State was always right there and it just felt good being there. I like that it's a small town and I love Coach Riley and the rest of the coaching staff. It's hard to explain but it just felt right at Oregon State. Like you get that special feeling about a school and that's what it was for me at Oregon State.'"
• DeWayne Walker couldn't get many JC transfers at UCLA, but he's going to have to load up this year at New Mexico State:
"'My strategy is to oversign,' Walker tells Graham Watson. 'And what that means is that if you have 18 scholarships, you sign 23 guys and out of that, those five extra scholarships are high school kids. So, if I sign 23, those five high school kids will have to sit out one semester. That's a way to catch up and to balance out your team with high school kids and then the advantage, too, is that now those kids get to participate in spring ball. And even if you need to redshirt some of them, you can have a greyshirt year and a redshirt year. So it's almost like a guy going on his mission. They get more experience and you can build your team gradually with high school players.'"
• Miami might get a visit this weekend from standout DB Greg Reid, who just recently learned he's actually related to another Canes recruit -- cornerback Jamal Reid, who is recruiting his relative, reports Manny Navarro:
"'We actually found out in late November that our granddaddies were brothers,' said Jamal Reid, who played against Greg Reid in the Under-Armour Game. 'Our families are originially [sic] from Jasper and we never knew it. Ever since then, we got each other's cell phone numbers and have been talking to each other. I'll call him every now and then to tell him he should be a Cane with me. I was supposed to be visiting Miami this weekend, but I changed it so we could come together on the 30th. Hopefully, he can come with me.'"
• Thanks in large part to the efforts of assistant Glenn Spencer, a Georgia native who spent more than a decade coaching in his home state, Oklahoma State is doing very well in the Peach State.
According to Scott Wright, OSU just landed D-lineman Ryan Robinson out of Georgia.
Robinson joins LeRon Furr and David Paulsen heading west from Georgia.
• With the commitment of tiny blazer Derrick Hopkins, USF keeps getting faster, writes Greg Auman:
"And yes, Hopkins has run against Florida freshman Jeff Demps -- they went head-to-head at last year's Florida Relays in Gainesville. 'I had him up until about 65-70 meters, and then he hit another gear,' said Hopkins, who ran a 10.43 that day; Demps ran a ridiculous 10.17 seconds."
• One-time Ohio State commitment Bradley McDougald, a safety from Dublin, Ohio, is set to play for Kansas.
• Kyle Whittingham's nephew Jason, a linebacker from Provo, has committed to stay close to his family and play for the Utes and is one of two guys with family ties to head to Utah, reports Lya Wodraska.