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April 4, 2008

Florida State fans yearn for success

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
Mar. 28: Party crashers
Mar. 21: Historical trend
Mar. 14: Glory days

Sometimes we wonder why things can't be like they were.

Why can't gasoline cost less than $1 per gallon? Why can't you leave the doors of your house unlocked and feel secure? Why can't I fit into jeans with a 30-inch waistline?

Change is inevitable. There is high tide and low tide. Leaves turn from green to gold and back to green. Eventually, you just have to accept it.

You have to accept that gas prices will rise, that the world isn't as safe as it used to be, that rap music isn't going away like disco did. And you have to accept that some college football programs even those as once-dominant as Florida State can't stay on top forever.

OLIN'S MAILBAG
The good old days

I want Florida State to be a strong team like it was back in the glory days. Why can't they be like they were before?

James in Newport News, Va.
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Perhaps more than any other group, Florida State fans should understand that times change. There was a time when the Seminoles' program was among the most underachieving in the nation, but then Bobby Bowden came along and changed the culture in Tallahassee.

Now, everyone demands at least a BCS victory or the season is a total loss. Well, that's the monster Bowden created.

Even in the past four seasons the perceived hard times of the Bowden era Florida State has played exceptional to respectable defense, so the offensive issues clearly are the problem.

I guess the Seminoles never recovered from the career-ending knee injury of prize quarterback recruit Lance Harbor, who would have been in line to follow Chris Weinke. Please forgive the "Varsity Blues" reference, but quarterback and offensive line play have been the Seminoles' Achilles' heel of late, and the level of performance at those positions definitely needs to be upgraded.

Perhaps 2008 is when we'll see the Seminoles improve there. Rick Trickett is in his second season as offensive line coach and considerable improvement usually is made in the second year. And quarterback Drew Weatherford, though injured this spring, will be entering his senior season.

But even if the line play and the quarterback play improves significantly, it's best to accept that the glory years when the Seminoles posted at least 10 victories and finished in the top five every season from 1987-2000 are gone.

For a while, Florida State was the hot program that attracted the majority of top recruits. Now LSU, Florida and USC are the programs signing those players.

More for Missouri?

Do you think Missouri can step up this season and win its big games on the road? It's hard to call last season disappointing, but after an appalling performance in the Big 12 Championship Game - along with that regular-season loss at Oklahoma - I think every Tigers fan was a little disappointed. It helps that the Tigers avoid their kryptonite this year. But is a win against Illinois and at Texas in the picture? And do you think they can steal the Big 12 title away from the powerhouses this year?

Dylan in Columbia, Mo.
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As the adage goes, one must walk before running. Last season, Mizzou walked into the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time. This season, the Tigers would be my preseason pick to win it.

Of course, Oklahoma will be the popular pick to capture its third consecutive Big 12 championship and fourth in five years, and it's hard to argue against the Sooners - who return quarterback Sam Bradford and tailback DeMarco Murray and boats offensive and defensive lines that will be among the top five in the nation. But Oklahoma must replace, among others, wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, linebacker Curtis Lofton and cornerback Reggie Smith arguably the Sooners' top three players from 2007.

The Tigers return two Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Chase Danieland wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, one of the nation's best tight ends in Chase Coffman and nine starters on defense. They would figure to be favored in every regular-season game they play even the road games.

The season-opener against Illinois won't be easy, but the Illini must prove they have adequate replacements for tailback Rashard Mendenhall and linebacker J Leman, a couple of departed All-Big Ten performers.

Mizzou's trip to Austin on Oct. 18 won't be easy, either. But Texas also is replacing its leading receiver and leading rusher and must rebuild a pass defense that ranked 110th in the nation last season.

New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp figures to upgrade the Longhorns' defense, but how much and how soon?

Mizzou ranked ninth nationally in passing offense last season, and 10 of the 11 Division I-A opponents Mizzou faces in 2008 (the Tigers also play Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State) ranked 65th or worse in pass defense, including eight that ranked no better than 83rd.

Of course, that doesn't guarantee anything because teams can get better. But when looking at that in early April, it sure gives Missouri a promising outlook in '08.

Houston, solve our problem

Within the past couple of years, Ole Miss has lost to teams such as Florida, LSU, Alabama and Georgia in games decided by six points or less. Do you think the fact that Houston Nutt's teams at Arkansas were able to put up more points than any other team in the SEC during his tenure will rub off on the Rebels and help them return to SEC West title contention?

Justin in Guntown, Miss.
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Nutt's influence should help bolster Ole Miss' offensive production, but tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones didn't come with from him from Fayetteville, so don't expect too much too soon.

Still, there is reason for optimism in Oxford. As you mentioned, the Rebels have had some-near misses the past two seasons, and that was with the disappointing Brent Schaeffer and former walk-on Seth Adams at quarterback and the solid but unspectacular BenJarvus Green-Ellis at tailback.

This season, quarterback Jevan Snead, a transfer from Texas who fared well in the few chances he got to play as Colt McCoy's backup in '06, takes over the offense. He probably won't challenge for All-SEC honors, but he should be a significant upgrade at quarterback.

In addition, Enrique Davis, a five-star running back prospect, signed with the Rebels in February. He eventually may improve that position.

Ole Miss returns productive receivers Mike Wallace and Shay Hodge, as well as top offensive linemen Michael Oher and John Jerry. Combine that with Nutt's influence, and it's not outrageous to think the Rebels could pull out some close games in '08. They're not ready to win the SEC West, but they could make a realistic run at a bowl.

Buckeye bashers

Why has Ohio State become such a love-them or hate-them team?

Kerry in Atlanta
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That's easy.

Why was Notre Dame a love-them or hate-them team? Why was Miami? Why was Oklahoma?

Because they win.

Ohio State has posted double-digit victory totals in five of the past six seasons, has a national championship in that span, played for two others and won or shared four Big Ten championships.

Although the Buckeyes have been criticized for losing the past two national championship games, 99 percent of the programs in Division I-A covet that type of success.

In college football, hatred often is a compliment of sorts. You hate who you envy. Only a few programs can be ultra-successful and still not be despised. Usually, that takes having a charismatic coach or a friendly, magnanimous fan base.

Florida State wasn't widely hated during its run because Bowden was an endearing personality almost everywhere outside of Gainesville and Coral Gables. And Nebraska's powerhouse teams of the '90s were more appreciated than detested because Tom Osborne was so well-respected, and because Nebraska fans are generally as cordial as your next-door neighbor.

Like Bowden and Osborne, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is a nice guy most fans respect. But the Ohio State fan base? Well, let's say game-day visitors in Columbus don't feel as welcome as those in Lincoln.

Forgetting Fresno?

I understand why would you pick BYU as your "BCS buster" for '08, but don't you think that Fresno State should at least be added to the discussion?

A.J. in Fresno, Calif.
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Fresno State definitely is in that discussion. The Bulldogs return 10 offensive starters and seven defensive starters from a team that went 9-4 last season.

Obviously, Kansas State which paid $250,000 to get out of a game against Fresno State this season is aware of the Bulldogs' prowess. Think about that: A "Big Six" conference team pays a quarter-million bucks not to play at home against a WAC team. You don't hear that one often.

The concern here about Fresno is the season-opener at Rutgers and a Sept. 13 game against Wisconsin, which is expected to field a strong team in 2008. Even though Fresno cannot be counted out in either of those games, winning both would seem extremely difficult.

Historically, one loss eliminates non-"Big Six" teams from BCS consideration. And to me, BYU seems the best bet to go unbeaten.

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



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