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September 5, 2008

Olin's Mailbag: How to build a BCS resume

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Name this team: It has a veteran quarterback, an NFL-caliber receiver and a dynamic running back who could get into the Heisman Trophy discussion.

It has a solid reputation. It's nationally ranked, already has posted an impressive victory on the road and will be at home to face perhaps its most difficult opponent.

The same team has won four of its past five bowl games.

If that team, which figures to play at least three ranked opponents this year, won its conference championship and had a double-digit victory total, should it play in a BCS bowl game?

Football fans in California's Central Valley certainly hope so.

Bulldogs to the BCS?

Nick in Fresno, Cal.: What do you think about Fresno State and its chances to go to a BCS game this season?

The Bulldogs have a good chance, especially after defeating Rutgers 24-7 last week.

A win over a "Big Six" opponent is a big feather in the cap. And Fresno has a chance to compile an entire headdress with upcoming games against Wisconsin on Sept. 13 and UCLA on Sept. 27. If the Bulldogs win those and finish unbeaten which would also require winning at Boise State on Nov. 28 they should be in a BCS bowl.

So, what are the chances they pull that off? Well, probably 50-50.

The Bulldogs return 10 offensive starters and seven defensive starters from last season's team, which went 9-4. That includes quarterback Tom Brandstater, tight end Bear Pascoe and running back Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns against Rutgers.

Fresno has an open week to prepare for Wisconsin, so that's a plus. Another plus is that the Badgers tend to struggle on trips out west see last season's 20-13 escape against UNLV.

At this time, I'd still lean toward the Badgers in that game, but it will be close. If the Bulldogs can pull off that upset, they will have two early victories over "Big Six" teams.

In that scenario Fresno would have to be considered a probable BCS team if the Bulldogs finish unbeaten. History shows teams that aren't in a "Big Six" conference have to go unbeaten. So, Fresno not only would have to win against high-profile opponents, but avoid becoming an upset victim. That isn't easy.

Winning proposition

Ben in Omaha, Neb.: If USC quarterback Mark Sanchez goes undefeated, scores 30-plus touchdowns and has a 65 percent (passing) efficiency, is there any way that anyone could possibly beat him out of the Heisman Trophy? Florida quarterback Tim Tebow could have 50 touchdowns again, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill could have 2,000 yards and 20-plus touchdowns, but I still don't think anyone would vote either of them over Sanchez with an undefeated season under his belt. I think it just goes to show how spoiled quarterbacks on winning teams are. Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Chris Weinke and Eric Crouch were on teams that had, at most, one loss in the regular season. If those players had lost more than four games but had the exact same numbers of touchdowns and efficiency, none of them would even be considered. The only pride that Heisman voters should feel in this decade is about Tebow and Reggie Bush.

Sorry, Ben, but I'm not buying your argument about quarterbacks. You say those quarterbacks wouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy if their stats were the same but their teams hadn't won as much. Isn't that like saying Usain Bolt wouldn't have set the 100-meter dash world record in the Olympics had he not run so fast?

Those teams won so much because their quarterbacks produced such great statistics. Obviously, that wasn't the only reason it is a team game but championship-caliber teams almost always have a productive quarterback.

Under the scenario you described, I would be inclined to agree that Sanchez probably would win the Heisman. A quarterback with great statistics on an unbeaten team usually would win the Heisman. But not always. That description certainly fit Texas' Vince Young in 2005, and he didn't win it.

Besides, there could be more than one quarterback to fit your scenario. What about Tebow, Georgia's Matthew Stafford, West Virginia's Pat White, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford or Missouri's Chase Daniel? They could all finish unbeaten, and with tremendous stats.

I wouldn't count out any running back who has a spectacular year, either.

It's so early that many players will rise and fall as Heisman contenders. Many will be quarterbacks. But it's almost guaranteed that whoever wins it will come from a team that has at least nine victories.

By the way, I voted for Young over Bush in 2005, and I take pride in that.

First things first

David in Tucson, Ariz.: I think that Arizona has the talent and the schedule to be the No. 2 team in the Pac-10. Am I crazy to think that this team can win nine or even 10 games this season?

Crazy is such a harsh description. How about bananas? Or not playing with a full deck?

Seriously, David, I kid because I care.

Optimism is a good thing. And why not have it after the Wildcats scored 70 points last week?

Arizona obviously has some talent. Willie Tuitama-to-Mike Thomas should be one of the most dangerous and productive passing combinations in the country. But projecting nine or 10 victories assumes the Wildcats will pull off a few upsets while also beating every team they should. That's assuming a lot for a team that hasn't managed a winning season in 10 years.

Aiming for bowl eligibility would be a more realistic goal. Personally, I think the Wildcats could post six or seven victories maybe eight if everything falls just right.

But 10? Well, Illinois improved from two wins in '06 to nine in '07 and Wake Forest went from four wins in '05 to 10 in '06, so you could say crazier things have happened. That is, if you want to use that description.

Playing favorites

Al in North Carolina: Is Clemson still your pick to win the ACC when it appears the flagship of the conference clearly is Wake Forest? And one other question: Why would Wake Forest not be the flagship of the conference?

Is it really an honor to be the flagship of a sinking league?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

To answer your question: Yes, I'm staying with Clemson as my pick to win the ACC, though admittedly my enthusiasm for the Tigers has waned considerably.

Wake Forest will post a third consecutive winning season. Riley Skinner is an excellent quarterback. Jim Grobe is a tremendous coach. But does a season-opening victory over Big 12 bottom-feeder Baylor really establish Wake Forest as the team to beat in the ACC? Sadly, maybe it does.

But I'm still sticking with Clemson.

Inside perspective

Matt in Hackettstown, Ala.: I am a huge Auburn fan and hate the Crimson Tide, but after watching the Alabama-Clemson game, I was shocked to see Glen Coffee start the game. What happened to Terry Grant? I know he entered the game later, but it looked last season as if he was the guy for Alabama. Is he in the doghouse after a solid freshman season?

Alabama's plan was to attack Clemson between the tackles. The Alabama coaches felt Coffee, Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch were better-suited for that than Grant. Coffee, Ingram and Upchurch also are considered better in pass protection.

Grant also has had problems with a shoulder and a sports hernia, so that could have contributed to his low total of four carries against Clemson. We'll have to wait to see whether those injuries limit him later, too.

Quarterback country

Randy in Alabama: Is there a better quarterback town than Mobile, Ala.? Yes, I know about western Pennsylvania, but the list of Mobile-area quarterbacks goes on forever. JaMarcus Russell won a national championship at LSU. Tee Martin went to Tennessee and won a national championship. Now, you have Pat White. There also have been Scott Hunter, Richard Todd, Dameyune Craig, Pat Washington and a lot more that I can't think of and this is just at quarterback. Mobile puts out the players, no doubt.

Mobile should be proud. But the areas that have produced the most quarterbacks would have to be either western Pennsylvania as you mentioned or northern Louisiana, the Shreveport area in particular.

The top names hailing from western Pennsylvania include Joe Namath, George Blanda, John Unitas, Dan Marino and Joe Montana. Try to top that.

The Shreveport area's alumni include Terry Bradshaw, Bert Jones, Doug Williams, Bubby Brister, Stan Humphries and Joe Ferguson, among others.

Northern California currently may be the most productive area for quarterbacks. Of the 32 quarterbacks expected to start season-opening NFL games, four (Trent Edwards, Tom Brady, Jeff Garcia and Aaron Rodgers) are from there.

But as far as college football goes this season, the Dallas area has the most with nine. That list is headed by Georgia's Matthew Stafford, Missouri's Chase Daniel and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell.

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