For Argument's Sake

Originally Published: September 16, 2004

From nagging questions to the latest rumors to soapbox moments, Ivan Maisel and Gene Wojciechowski continue their weekly arguments and go head-to-head to talk about the hottest topics in college football.

Will Jason Campbell avoid the Rix-Berlin Syndrome and produce as a fifth-year senior?
Auburn's quarterback has had two solid games in one more new offense. Al Borges, who has installed a West Coast offense at Auburn, is Campbell's fourth offensive coordinator in the last four years. Campbell has struggled reading defenses. LSU, with its sophistication and speed, dogged Campbell into a pathetic performance in last season's 31-7 LSU win.

This isn't last year's LSU team, as it showed in the overtime victory over Oregon State, and Campbell isn't playing like last year's Campbell. It must be pointed out that Auburn opened last season against USC and Georgia Tech, and this season against Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State. His exhibition season over, Campbell will be tested Saturday against as good a defensive line as there is in the country.

Campbell has a veteran offensive line in front of him, which should do a much better job against LSU than it did last season. He has two first-round tailbacks behind him in Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. All Campbell has to do is not beat Auburn, and make the occasional play to keep the LSU front honest. If he can manage that, the home Tigers might fulfill some of the expectations that they didn't come close to meeting when they went 8-5 last year.

I keep telling Ivan that if you have to explain the question, it needs some work. But he doesn't listen. He just keeps telling me, "Ahm on teevee, and yur not."

Anyway, the gist of the question is this: can Campbell avoid struggling as a fifth-year senior quarterback? And the answer is a definitive, unequivocal. . .probably. New Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges didn't change the playbook terminology when he arrived. This was done to increase Campbell's comfort level and keep the transition to yet another O-coordinator (Campbell's fourth in four years) as smooth as possible.

Auburn doesn't ask Campbell to win games. It asks him not to lose them. Running backs Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown are supposed to do most of the heavy lifting for the Tigers.

In last week's 43-14 win against Mississippi State, Campbell graded out at 97 percent, which Borges says is among the best he's ever seen. Campbell had little trouble checking in to different plays, and his numbers (8-of-17 for 139 yards and three touchdowns) would have been better if not for six dropped passes. Equally important: no interceptions and no sacks.

Mississippi State is no LSU. Hardly anybody is. Campbell completed 19-of-27 attempts against LSU in last season's 31-7 loss, but the completions were good for only 143 yards and one TD. He also was sacked four times.

Unlike Rix, and to a much lesser extent, Berlin, Campbell doesn't try to do too much. At some point he'll have to win a game -- you know LSU is going to load the box and force him to make plays -- but Campbell's understanding of the Auburn offense seems to be tracking up.

So nixay on Campbell needing the anti-Rix/Berlin vaccine.
Indiana, Kansas, Stanford are all 2-0 surprises. Is one of them for real?
There may not a Seabiscuit in this bunch, but all three appear to be much better than advertised. The biggest surprise may be the Hoosiers, whose 30-24 victory at Oregon isn't as stunning as it first appeared. Indiana had played a game, Oregon hadn't. The Ducks committed seven turnovers, allowing the Hoosiers to score on drives of 3, 30, 14 and 16 yards. Oregon also gave up a 98-yard kickoff. The mistakes were typical of an opening game. The number of mistakes was not typical.

The win serves as gratification for Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo and Matt LoVecchio, the former Notre Dame quarterback who transferred after losing the job to Carlyle Holiday. But let's not go too crazy. Indiana managed only 198 total yards, allowed 495 and converted only 3-of-17 first downs. That doesn't spell powerhouse to me.

Stanford has beaten San Jose State 43-3 and BYU 37-10. That's a great start by anyone's measure, but especially for coach Buddy Teevens, who won only six games in his first two seasons at The Farm. In fact, it reminds me of Teevens' last season at Tulane, in 1996, when the Green Wave started out 2-2. They lost their next seven and the next season, Tulane had a new coach in Tommy Bowden.

This Stanford team may be for real, if only because Teevens threw a bunch of freshmen onto the field the last two seasons, and is ready to reap the benefits. Sophomore quarterback Trent Edwards appears to be another in the long line of impressive Cardinal passers.

But Stanford as a whole doesn't look as good to me as Kansas does. The Jayhawks started fast last season, faded down the stretch but hung on long enough to secure a bowl bid. Kansas had 15 starters return, 15 starters who got a taste of success last season and two extra weeks of practice before the bowl game.

The results were obvious -- a 21-3 defeat of Tulsa and a 63-14 rout of Toledo, in which the Jayhawks scored 42 points in the first 18 minutes of the game. Can you tell anything from that? Yes, Toledo is a huge favorite for Biggest Disappointment of 2004. After that, it's too early. But in a weakened Big 12 North, Kansas has a shorter path to the finish line than do Indiana or Stanford.
These three programs were a combined 12-25 last season. Now they already have six wins, including the Al Michaels victory IU pulled off at Oregon last Saturday.

I'm not sure I want to board any of these trains just yet, but if I had to buy a ticket it would be for the Jayhawk Express. KU won six games last year, played (and lost) in a bowl, and appears to have the most momentum of the three programs. They face an 0-2 Northwestern team that gives up lots of points, then get Texas Tech, then play a Nebraska team in transition, so a 5-0 start isn't out of the question. After that. . . good luck: Kansas State (though, the Wildcats have some issues these days, especially on the offensive line), then at Oklahoma.

Seven wins would be a stretch, but not a total shock.

Who has ticked off more of their programs' fans: Michigan's Lloyd Carr or Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer?
The Michigan coach and the Tennessee coach won national championships in 1997 and 1998, respectively, and neither one decided to run for governor. Both coaches are suffering from the malady of familiarity.

The answer to the question is Carr, because he has lost most recently. After Michigan's 28-20 loss at Notre Dame, Michigan fans are railing about Carr's conservative play-calling, the Wolverines' fifth consecutive loss in their road opener, and poor special teams play. After the Notre Dame game, last season's trip to the Rose Bowl may as well have been a generation ago.

Carr's explanation of his choices on offense is simple. He's playing freshman quarterback Chad Henne.

"It's an incredible challenge for a kid who's never been in a college game," Carr said, discussing the quick decisions a quarterback must make in the face of a blitz. "It's a challenge for a fifth-year senior. There's no magic. There's no silver bullet. It's hard work and time. We have to give him things he can do and allow him to develop in such a way to play to the strengths of our team. Right now, the strength of our team is defense."

The Volunteer fans haven't found anything to grumble about yet, what with Tennessee having played once, a 42-17 defeat of UNLV. But 13 losses in the last four seasons, topped off with consecutive Peach Bowl humiliations, have strained the one-time storybook romance. Depending on two freshman quarterbacks in an SEC East showdown with Florida is a big gamble by Fulmer. If the Vols lose at home, Fulmer will hear about it.

Can I answer this after Tennessee's game against Florida?

For the moment, I'm going with Carr, but only because of the Wolverines' recent loss to unranked Notre Dame. Otherwise, it's probably a toss up.

Former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes used to say that a coach loses 10 percent of his support each season. If that's the case, then Carr is headed toward zero (this is his 10th year) and Fulmer is in negative integers (this is his 13th season).

At Michigan you have to beat Ohio State. Carr has done this six out nine times. But he's lost two out of the last three to the Buckeyes, and also lost two of his last three bowl games.

Meanwhile, since winning a national championship in 1998, Fulmer has lost four of his last five bowl games -- the last two in depressing, UT-phoned-it-in fashion. But he's beaten archrival Alabama eight out of the last nine meetings, but 3-8 against Florida.

What does it all mean? That Michigan and Tennessee fans are more spoiled than trust fund babies.

Fulmer is 114-28. He's won more than 80 percent of his games. That normally gets you a statue with your name on it in front of the stadium.

Carr is 87-27, which doesn't exactly suck.

Do they have their coaching flaws? Sure. Fulmer's teams have tanked it in non-marquee bowls, and Carr sometimes takes the CIA secrecy thing, and I'm-a-Michigan-Man act a little too far. But here's a bet: they'd be unemployed for exactly zero seconds before other athletic directors called with job offers and begged them to "tick off" their fans the same way.