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March 11, 2011

Mailbag: Tressel deserves criticism

Nobody in college football really does anything wrong. Not on purpose, any way.

Players accept travel and accommodations to attend a party in Miami, and unscrupulous agents get the blame. Hey, it's not the players' fault they went.

NCAA limits on practice time are found to have been exceeded. Well, it was just an honest mistake. Plus, the person who blew the whistle is soft and a malcontent.

A rogue player accepts the use of a home for his family. Gee, how is a school supposed to keep track of things like that? A father tries to sell his son's services for six figures. Well, you can't blame the son, so it's OK as long as the player says he wasn't aware of what was going on.

Ignorance apparently is a powerful alibi with the NCAA these days.

So, what happens when a prominent coach hears that some of his players had violated NCAA rules, but instead of passing along that info, he keeps quiet? He then admitted he knew only when the facts were made public. Heck, he can't even use the ignorance alibi.

What should happen to that coach?

Maybe he should be commended. Well, that's what one correspondent says in this week's mailbag.

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Tressel deserved worse

What will the situation with Jim Tressel mean for Ohio State recruiting? And should Tressel be commended for sitting there to face the music rather than running like some other coaches/players?
Jonathan in Dallas

We've learned that Jim Tressel, who appeared to be a man of impeccable integrity, knew before last season that some of his players were violating NCAA rules by selling memorabilia and awards but did nothing about it.

Still, unless the NCAA docks Ohio State multiple scholarships over the next few years, don't expect this scandal to have much impact on recruiting. The state of Ohio produces numerous outstanding prospects annually and most of them dream of one day playing for the Buckeyes.

Hey, USC got nailed by the NCAA for the Reggie Bush scandal, but by appealing its sanctions and getting recruits to enroll early, the Trojans assembled a 2011 recruiting class that was ranked No. 4 in the nation.

I suspect Ohio State recruiting will continue to thrive.

But by no means should Tressel be commended. Rather, he should be subject to a far greater suspension than the two games that Ohio State officials deemed appropriate.

Tressel won't be on the sideline for the Buckeyes' first two games this fall, against Akron and Toledo. Is that a punishment or a bonus?

The question now is how the NCAA will react. It seems as if the group now looks for ways to absolve athletes and coaches for their crimes rather than punish them.

In December, the NCAA handed down five-game suspensions to five Buckeyes -- quarterback Terrelle Pryor, tailback Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas -- for selling memorabilia for upward of $1,000. But the NCAA said the suspensions would be deferred and not go into affect until this season, which allowed that quintet to play in the Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas.

Earlier in the season, when Georgia receiver A.J. Green was found to have sold a jersey for $1,000, he immediately was suspended for four games.

By the way, Ohio State appealed to the NCAA to have those suspensions reduced. Surely, that's out of the question now.

The NCAA should be even harsher with Tressel. He learned of the violations last April, so when Green was punished in September, Tressel certainly became aware of the potential ramifications for such a transgression. Still, he did nothing.

In this instance, the coach should face greater consequences than the players. Tressel oversees the program. As with any coach, he is in a position of authority, so more should be expected from him. The "he's immature" excuse that is so conveniently used for players doesn't apply.

It's extremely likely that the Ohio State administration, players and fans will support Tressel. Six consecutive Big Ten championship buys a lot of love. But that doesn't change the fact that Tressel tried to cover up violations. And he didn't own up to it until this week, when Yahoo! Sports reported he had knowledge about the violations almost a year ago.

He deserves criticism and consequences, not commendation.


Whose turn is it?

With SEC teams winning each of the past five national championships, which SEC team do you think has the best chance of winning the national title this season?
Freddie in Montgomery, Ala.

This opinion won't be received well in Baton Rouge (or Auburn or Columbia or Gainesville, for that matter), but my pick would be Alabama.

The Crimson Tide return seven offensive and nine defensive starters from last season's team, which went 10-3 (with losses to Auburn and LSU by a total of four points) and absolutely destroyed Big Ten tri-champ Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.

Alabama's defense held nine opponents to fewer than 14 points last season and should be better in 2011.

The offense is a concern without tailback Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Greg McElroy. But the offensive line will be dominant and the running game won't miss a beat with Trent Richardson replacing Ingram in the starting lineup.

Obviously, Jones will be missed. You can't lose one of the top receivers in the country and not feel it. But Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are more than adequate. And the Tide has a logjam of young and talented receivers waiting for a chance.

There are some questions about quarterback, with sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims competing for that job. Remember that Alabama won the 2009 national title with McElroy in his first season as the starter.

For that matter, LSU won its '03 and '07 national titles with first-year starting quarterbacks.

LSU projects as a contender, but the Tigers lost their three best defensive players. In addition, they play Alabama in Tuscaloosa this fall.


Fast start?

How do you think Michigan will do under first-year coach Brady Hoke?
Chris in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Hoke turned struggling programs into winners at Ball State and San Diego State. It took a while at Ball State, which was 12-1 under Hoke in his sixth season there. He posted nine victories in his second season at San Diego State.

I think he'll get a faster start at Michigan. He's inheriting an experienced team with a bona-fide star at quarterback in Denard Robinson and some good receivers. The challenge for him will be improving a defense that allowed at least 31 points in nine games last season.

Hoke's background is on defense. He played linebacker in college and coached defensive linemen and linebackers before becoming a head coach. He has an aura of toughness, which is needed in Ann Arbor.

Predicting the Wolverines' defense will be better isn't saying a lot. It couldn't get much worse.

Michigan can score, though. And if the defense shows any improvement, I think the Wolverines can improve on last season's total of seven wins.


Double-edged sword

In 2008, a Florida team that lost at home to Ole Miss was selected to play in the BCS national championship game over a USC team that lost on the road to an Oregon State team that was good. If USC had been selected instead of Florida, which it should have been, we wouldn't be talking about SEC dominance but rather USC dominance. That USC team had one of the most dominant defenses in college history, but wasn't picked because Florida played a 13th game.
Dan in Meridian, Idaho

USC very well might have had the best team in the nation in 2008. Of course, there is no playoff, so that never will be known.

The BCS system isn't there to determine the best team in the nation. Its purpose is to match the top two teams in the BCS standings.

True, USC's lone loss was 27-21 at Oregon State, which finished 9-4. Florida's loss was 31-30 at home against Ole Miss, which also finished 9-4.

So, if you're looking for edges, then perhaps USC should have gotten a slight edge because its loss was on the road.

But the comparisons couldn't end there. You also have to compare wins. Florida beat five teams that were ranked at the time they played. USC beat three.

Florida did have an extra game; it played unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. That same week USC played UCLA, which finished 4-8. So, what's going to impress BCS voters more? Obviously, Florida's victory over Alabama.

The extra game did benefit Florida. But had Florida lost, the national championship game would have been Alabama vs. Oklahoma, so USC still would have been left out.

A conference championship game is a double-edged sword. Sure, it can help a team reach the national championship game, as it did with Florida. It also can knock a team out of the national championship game, as was the case for Kansas State in '98, Tennessee and Texas in '01, Missouri in '07 and Alabama in '09.

Again, USC may have been the best team in '08. But if you take an objective look at it, Florida was the right choice to play Oklahoma in the championship game.


Sold on Golden

I know Al Golden has a great reputation as a recruiter, but how would you rate him as a coach? Realistically, how many wins can I expect from Miami this season?
Andre in Miami

Golden took over a miserable Temple program that was winless in 2005 and had the Owls in a bowl game four years later.

That says all I need to know about him. By '08, it was apparent he had a brilliant future. It was just a matter of which higher-profile program would hire him.

I'm not predicting Miami will win the ACC next season. (Florida State is my pick). But I think nine wins is realistic.


Underachieving?

With all of Georgia's great facilities and with the great talent coming from the state of Georgia (and Georgia usually getting most of it), why hasn't Mark Richt been able to get Georgia to take that next step and challenge for the national title?
Calvin in Atlanta

No doubt, Georgia has slumped the past two seasons, with a total of 14 victories in that span. That may be acceptable in Athens, Ohio, but it clearly isn't in Athens, Ga. This season, Richt's job is at stake. Phillip Fulmer, Tommy Tuberville and David Cutcliffe can attest that SEC schools have little patience for subpar seasons.

But to say that Richt hasn't had Georgia challenging for the national title isn't correct. Failing to reach the BCS championship game does not necessarily mean that a team isn't in the national championship picture.

In fact, Georgia may have had the best team in the country by the end of the 2007 season. Remember, the Bulldogs lost early to South Carolina and fell at Tennessee in the sixth game.

But they came on strong in the second half of the season and won their last five regular-season games by double digits. That included victories over Florida (42-30), Auburn (45-20) and Georgia Tech (31-17).

Georgia, which rose as high as fourth in the BCS standings, was tied with Tennessee in the SEC East standings and needed a Vols loss to get into the SEC title game.

Three times in the second half of the season the Vols escaped with victories because of failure in their opponents' kicking game. Vanderbilt kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt narrowly missed a 49-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in a 25-24 Tennessee victory. The next week, Kentucky had a chance to win in overtime, but Lones Seiber's 35-yard field goal try was blocked and the Vols eventually won 52-50.

If either of those field goals had been converted, Georgia would have gone to the SEC championship game to face LSU, which that year became the only BCS national champion with two losses.

Instead, Georgia went to the Sugar Bowl and walloped previously unbeaten Hawaii 41-10 in a game that wasn't that close. The Bulldogs finished second in the BCS standings.

The next season, Georgia was ranked No. 1 in the preseason, but never was at full strength because of an early rash of injuries along the offensive and defensive lines.

So, Richt has put together teams that have been in the thick of the national championship picture. He just hasn't gotten one into the national championship game.


Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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