Never a dull letter in the Mailbag


When Editor Joe and I decided to start up the mailbag, I worried whether you readers would take it seriously. That's why this week's edition didn't go up until Friday. It should have been posted Thursday. But what could be more authentic than mail arriving a day late?

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

When Editor Joe and I decided to start up the mailbag, I had some concern that there wouldn't be enough news to keep it fresh. There's only so much of answering, "How do you think (your school here) will do this year?" that I can write and you can read without screaming.

I shouldn't have worried. You know why? I forgot one thing: every time Auburn or Alabama does something stupid, it only takes a few months for the other one to top it. Which brings us to this week's news that Alabama took Sylvester Croom's name off of a spring practice award, because Croom is now the coach of Mississippi State.

Last spring, Alabama fired coach Mike Price because of his conduct off the field. The scandal handed Auburn the high ground in the unending battle between the two. The Auburn administration responds by trying to hire Louisville coach Bobby Petrino even though it still had a coach, Tommy Tuberville. Let's just say that if former Auburn president Dr. William Walker had been on The Apprentice, he wouldn't have made though the opening credits without getting The Hand from The Donald.

Voila! Alabama back on top, a position reflected on Signing Day, when the Tide signed an overwhelming number of the top high school players in the state. Spring practice wrapped up a couple of weeks ago.

The proud tradition of Alabama football is reflected in the names attached to each of the spring practice awards voted on by the coaches.

There's the Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award.

The Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award.

The Bear Bryant Best Walk-On Award.

The Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award.

Oh, check that. This year, without any public acknowledgment, the latter became the Bart Starr Commitment to Excellence Award. Rick Cleveland, the eagle-eyed columnist at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, spotted the discrepancy and wrote about it earlier this week. Croom never heard from the university.

Croom is hurt, Shula is on vacation, and Alabama looks really petty. And nothing against Starr, but in his senior season, 1955, Alabama went 0-10. What brand of excellence are we committing to?

If the Alabama braintrust -- is that an oxymoron? -- had been running the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan suited up for Washington, then the statue of His Airness in front of the United Center would have been bulldozed into His Rubbleness.

Of course, there's always the delicious anticipation that comes with waiting to see how Auburn will take back the lead in the in-state Dumboffs. It's only a matter of time.

Your letters, please:

In reading your mailbag today, I saw the usual bashing of Paterno's Lions ... but I must say I was relieved to see that you must have been mentioning Pitt when you said "every reader in Beaver County, PA just keeled over" when discussing programs with past success ... unless a smart Stanford grad like you does not know where Beaver County is and you just assumed that Beaver Stadium was located in Beaver County.

Matt Laukaitis
Kirkland, Wash.

In response to Kyle Meerscheidt from Houston, TX's letter, your answer was
right on the money. Not sure about your geographic knowledge, though.
Every reader in Beaver County, PA keeled over? Are they that passionate
about college football in this county that borders Ohio?

If you were referring to Penn State -- they play football in Beaver Stadium
located in University Park, Centre County, PA.


J. Tomlinson
Ashland, MA

I have not now, nor have I ever been, a geography major.

What's really sad about that is that one of the best rounds of golf I ever played took place in State College.

At the Centre Country Club.

Why is the value associated with having one champion perceived to be greater than the tradition on which the game is founded? As any educated reader knows, college football was never intended to have an NCAA national champion, and in fact, as late as the '70's the AP champion was crowned in early December, before the bowl season. What exactly would an outright champion gain us in terms of entertainment? As a sportswriter, isn't it more interesting to write about the controversy associated with a split championship than writing about the statistics of the championship game all offseason? Doesn't this make the offseason more interesting and give fans more motivation to read the sports news?

I look up at our stadium in Norman and see the years for all our National Championships and I know some of them were split. However, I admit I do not know which ones. They were won in years before I was born, or in years that I was too young to remember, and there are no asterisks by them. Is it worth it to not have had the USC-Michigan game this year in the Rose Bowl just to prevent a split championship that nobody will remember 25 years from now? I know I am in the minority, but sometimes tradition is more important than championship trophies or television rights. That is what Sunday football is for.

Eric Payne
Tulsa, OK

Eric, that's fine, if you want to step back and see the big picture. The rest of us will just stand here and scream at each other.

I agree that tradition is the mother's milk of college football, and I wish I had made that point stronger in defending the AP poll. As for the importance of controversy, I never bought that argument, although, in defense of it, former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, the father of the BCS formula, made it often. Kramer is retired and living in Tennessee and -- and this is remarkable -- still believes the formula was a good idea.

If the courts were to rule in favor of the NFL and not allow Maurice Clarett or Mike Williams to enter the draft, then what would be their options? From what I know they both already have agents, and unless the NCAA makes an unprecedented decision, they wouldn't be allowed to go back to their respective schools, would they? I personally think that at the very least the NFL should make an exception in these cases regardless of what the ruling is.

Eric Blevins
Boone, NC

Eric, you are the soul of consideration, and the NFL would be doing the right thing by letting those guys in, even if they win the court case. Their options would be to work out, go back to school, get a job, and kick themselves in the butt for committing without a guarantee from the judicial system that they would get into the draft this month. Think about this: if Clarett doesn't play, he would go two consecutive seasons without suiting up.

Ivan, nice article on UConn and Coach Edsall. However, I see UConn as a severely overrated team. Where is the love for Rutgers? They've shown just as much improvement over the past couple of years, even if UConn has beaten them two out of the last three years. Give Rutgers the UConn schedule the past two seasons and RU has two winning seasons as well. No one ever gives coach Greg Schiano the credit he so rightly deserves. He started with an empty cupboard and now that cupboard is filling up so much that potential recruits are choosing schools like Auburn over Rutgers. He has this team on the cusp of turning this dormant program around and everyone will see that on Thanksgiving vs. UConn on ESPN2. (Like the plug, huh?) Where do you see this program and where do your ESPN colleagues see Rutgers?

Jason Canter
Madison, NJ

The Scarlet Knights have gotten better each season under Schiano, and by last year, they were making good teams work to beat them. Does that translate into 2004 being the breakthrough season? I don't have enough scarlet in me to make that leap.

You've got to love Dave Brown and the TV schedulers: UConn at Rutgers, 10 a.m. ET, on Thanksgiving. That's 7 a.m. PT, which means non-stop football until the Thursday Night game on ESPN -- this year being West Virginia at Pittsburgh -- concludes right before the nighttime SportsCenter.

Mom, I'd like to apologize in advance for sitting in front of the TV for 12 hours. If it will make you feel better, this year, I promise to try the squash casserole.

I'm a student here at the University of Nebraska and looking at your chats and mail responses I think I need to get across the feelings of some of the Husker fans and the portrayals I'm seeing. Over the last 40 years I don't think any other program can say they have had a larger impact on college football as Nebraska. For some reason I don't think I'll ever really understand people just don't like us around the country and want us to do poorly. Now maybe it's because I'm studying stats, but if we won 9 games for 34 of 35 years, and won 10 games just last year, I would have to say that the probability of us having a losing season is quite low. Have you seen our schedule? We should go 7-4 or 8-3, if not better. Saying we are a wild card and are no longer a top 25 program is insulting and that's why you see so many Husker fans get defensive. Our consistency is like no other in college football and we have earned the right to be ranked in the top 25 based purely off history.

David Johnson
Lincoln, Nebraska

All right, we might have grazed a nerve in the heartland. But asking a running team to implement the West Coast offense is like asking Marion Jones to run a marathon. David, you are onto something, though. I think ranking teams purely off history has some merit. Here's my new top 10: 1. Harvard. 2. Yale. 3. Notre Dame. 4. Chicago. 5. Carlisle. 6. Army. 7. Alabama. 8. Oklahoma. 9. Centre. 10. Princeton.

Over the years I have felt the frustration of losing Rose Bowls (we are four out of 14 since 1970 and one out of six against USC), but this last loss encapsulated Michigan's failed offensive coaching philosophy.

A recent article in the Ann Arbor News just before the 2004 Rose Bowl Game entitled "It's Not A Complicated Offense" said it all. Two Defensive Coordinators that played Michigan in 2003 were interviewed and they revealed (under the condition of anonymity), the breakdown of the Michigan Offense.

"The University of Michigan football team uses fairly straight-forward run- and pass-blocking schemes and has used them for some time. The offensive philosophy is still, at its heart, run the ball and control the clock. Figuring the Wolverines out isn't difficult."

What an awful thing for a coach to do to his team. To place them in a
position where the opposing team not only knows what they are going to
do, but they have a month or so to prepare for this simplistic and
predictable offensive scheme.

The classic company line when we lose is that we just didn't execute
well enough. Of course execution is important, but what if the other team has equal or better talent? Often times innovative coaching is what makes the difference. Over the last 15-20 years, whenever Michigan has faced equal or superior athletes, our glorified and predictable high school offense is often completely immobilized.

So I challenge all of you Michigan Faithful to take off the blinders and
see the truth for what it is. If you really want to see Michigan compete
with the best of the best and truly be the "Leaders and Best" and win
more than one National Championship in 54 years, the coaching philosophy has got to change. Even you, the most blindly loyal, wouldn't you just once like to be able to say, "Wow, what an innovative Michigan Offense"!

Rick Simon
Class of 1979
Westlake Village, Calif.

No, that's not Class of 1979, Ohio State.

My unofficial count is that in nine seasons, Lloyd Carr has gone 33-20 against ranked teams, which is good bordering on very good, and 5-4 in bowls, which is mediocre. My belief is that Carr will change the offense right after the 'Rines lose to defending national champion Indiana. But that's just me.

How about it, Maize-and-Blue Nation?

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel's Mailbag.