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April 6, 2007

Mailbag: Spring answers to Fall questions

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He will be on the road throughout the spring bringing you scoop from campuses across the nation.
Sometimes questions asked in April cannot be truly answered until October.

But why procrastinate? You snooze, you lose. Where college football is concerned, nothing is worse than losing.

So we press on fully aware that spring football is still in progress and months of offseason preparation remain before the games begin in August.

Want to know who will start at quarterback for Notre Dame? Just ask.

Want to know if Jimbo Fisher's presence will rejuvenate Florida State's offense? Go ahead, inquire.

If you're wondering about the Oregon Ducks' fate in 2007, just continue reading.

Of course, we reserve the right to change our opinions in October.

Olin's Mailbag
The quarterback question at Notre Dame

How do think Notre Dame will fare this season? Who do you think will start as quarterback, and secondly, will the same person end the season as quarterback? If different please name.

-- Jerry in Austin
Who will start at quarterback for the Irish? Only Charlie Weis knows for sure, and even he may not know.

This spring he's letting junior Evan Sharpley, sophomore Demetrius Jones, sophomore Zach Frazer and freshman Jimmy Clausen work with the first team for a week. Clausen, the nation's top-rated prospect in 2006 by Rivals.com, reportedly hasn't had his week with the first team. He has shown a quick release, looks natural at the position and has demonstrated the awareness to throw the ball away when necessary.

At this point, Weis is trying to determine who will be his top two quarterbacks. My guess and it's just a guess is Jones and Clausen with Jones emerging as the starter because of his athleticism and the fact he's been there for a year. But again, that's no more than speculation.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback, I don't see Notre Dame winning more than eight games because of the uncertainty at quarterback, defensive issues and a difficult schedule that includes road trips to Penn State, Michigan and UCLA and home games against Boston College and USC.

A Seminole revival on offense?

Florida State's defense has not been the problem the last few years, it's the anemic offense. Do you see a dramatic turnaround under former LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and new offensive line coach Rick Trickett?

-- Scott in Orlando
I received about a half dozen similar questions from Florida State fans.

No doubt, defense has not been the issue for the Seminoles. They have ranked 26th or better in total defense the last four years, but 59th or worse in total offense the last three seasons.

Expect Florida State to improve offensively under Fisher, who in his first season at LSU helped turn Josh Booty into an All-SEC quarterback. Whether he can get similar results from Drew Weatherford or Xavier Lee is a huge question, but just having a new perspective figures to give a boost.

Anyone who doubts a new offensive coordinator can make a difference for a quarterback should look at the amazing progress Tennessee's Erik Ainge made under David Cutcliffe last year. Tennessee was 85th in the country in pass offense in 2005. Cutcliffe returned to work with Ainge and in 2006 the Volunteers ranked 12th.

Obviously, the FSU quarterbacks will benefit if the Seminoles can improve their running game. RB Antone Smith has looked good this spring. Expect him to have a solid year if Trickett can build the offensive line into a reasonably effective unit.

But in response to another question, I would not anticipate Florida State to improve so much that it would win the ACC. At this point, I'd pick Boston College or Virginia Tech.

More of the same for Purdue?

With a very young squad, Purdue managed to go win eight games last season. How do you see Purdue doing this year with Curtis Painter back under center?

--Matt in Indianapolis
The return of Painter, who was seventh nationally in passing last season, and receiver Dorien Bryant ensures the Boilermakers will again be a team with which to be reckoned.

But Purdue's defense is the issue. Nine starters return for the Boilermakers, but they ranked 114th in total defense last season.

With that much experience returning Purdue should be better defensively, but I still don't think they're going to top Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State in the Big Ten race.

The guess here is that Purdue will be very similar to last season and post seven or eight victories.

Can Oregon climb to the top of the Pac-10?

What will it take for Oregon to have a successful year? How likely is it that they will challenge USC for a Pac-10 title?

-- Daley in Eugene, Ore.
Define successful year. Hopefully, it doesn't mean winning the Pac-10.

Cal, UCLA and Arizona State are the biggest challengers to USC's Pac-10 supremacy. However, that doesn't mean Oregon cannot be better than last year's team that finished 7-6.

The Ducks should be better.

Fourteen starters return seven on offense and seven on defense. That includes QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart, who could be a Heisman contender if he can avoid injuries. On the other side of the ball, the Ducks need to find a couple of linebackers to bolster the defense.

An early game at Michigan will give some idea about what to expect from the Ducks. Cal, USC and Arizona State all come to Autzen Stadium, which is a plus.

But remember, last season Oregon lost its last four games and scored 10 or fewer points in three of them. The Ducks clearly have some problems to address before they can realistically think about unseating USC.

Easy sailing for Mountaineers

With West Virginia's offense as loaded as any team in the country, a defensive secondary with a year under their belts, do you see the Mountaineers possibly playing in New Orleans?

--Bill in Bealeton, W.V.
Yes. If they schedule Tulane.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Jokes aside, West Virginia could definitely be playing in the BCS championship game. The Mountaineers have 16 starters back eight on each side of the ball. West Virginia has two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Steve Slaton and Pat White.

Barring injury, I cannot see a game on the schedule that West Virginia shouldn't be favored to win. Louisville comes to Morgantown this season, and that game will have extra meaning for Slaton because of his costly fumbles against the Cardinals last season.

West Virginia will have to sweat out the BCS standings, though. Southern California, Michigan and Louisiana State will get more credit from poll voters for playing more difficult schedules, so Mountaineers fans may spend all season stressing about whether they could be left out of the national championship picture like Auburn in 2004.

How far can defense lead Virginia Tech?

Virginia Tech returns most of its No. 1 rated defense from last year. How far will that take them?

-- Lee in Seattle
Pretty far. Maybe even to the ACC championship.

The Hokies rode that defense to 10 victories last season, and it should be just as good next year with superb linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall anchoring that unit.

RB Branden Ore is a excellent, and if Virginia Tech can get good QB play from Sean Glennon or somebody else then double-digit victories are a possibility again.

But that's no easy schedule with road trips to LSU, Clemson, Georgia Tech and rival Virginia. Boston College, Florida State and Miami come to Blacksburg.

Mizzou keeping in step

If Tony Temple plays all season like he did in the Sun Bowl, and the defense steps it up, does Mizzou have the talent/potential to win the Big 12 and play in a BCS game?

--Nathan in Marshall, Mo.
Well, if Temple plays every game all season like he did in the Sun Bowl he'll get the Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately, that 194-yard outburst was the exception rather than the rule.

However, that performance did show his capabilities. And with QB Chase Daniel, a good corps of receivers and TEs Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman returning, the Tigers figure to be exciting on offense.

The defense should be OK, too.

I could see Missouri winning eight or nine games while playing a favorable schedule in which Nebraska, Texas Tech and Texas A&M all go to Columbia.

Although Nebraska will be favored, Missouri won't be far behind in the Big 12 North.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.

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