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September 26, 2008

Mailbag: Could a MWC team win it all?

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Old-fashioned ways of thinking have become so passé.

There was a time when sophomores couldn't win the Heisman and teams with two losses couldn't win the national championship.

Both happened last season.

That raises the question of what outdated notion could fall next. For example, conventional wisdom assumes football teams in non-"Big Six" conferences can't play in the BCS Championship Game.

But considering what the Mountain West Conference has accomplished so far, that might be changing, too. At least it's up for discussion in this week's mailbag.

MWC hopefuls

Christopher in Bangkok : Noting the Mountain West Conference's complete dominance of the Pac-10 (on Sept. 13) and that there currently are three teams – BYU, Utah and TCU – being talked about as potential "BCS-busters," it would stand to reason that the MWC is really good this season. If Utah or BYU were to run the table, couldn't you make the case that they at least should be considered for the national-title game? Granted, USC beat Ohio State, but if Ohio State were to make a poor showing over the course of this season, I think it would only be fair to grant the MWC some serious consideration this season. It is a good conference.

Fair? What's fair got to with college football? If it were fair, there would be a playoff so every team in the country could at least assume it has a shot at the national championship.

No team from outside the "Big Six" conferences other than Notre Dame has a realistic shot at winning the national championship. An undefeated BYU, Utah, TCU or Boise State would get into a BCS bowl. Provisions have been made for that. But putting one of those teams from "lesser" conferences in the national championship game … well, now you're going too far. That's not going to happen.

It's not right, but that's the way it is.

Still, it would be interesting if one of those teams – BYU, for example – went undefeated, had victories over "Big Six" teams and was one of just two teams to finish unbeaten.

If a one-loss team played for the national championship while an undefeated team with a solid schedule was left out, it would be interesting to hear the BCS brass tell us again how well the system works.

Diagnosing the Ducks

Marc in Memphis : What is Oregon's biggest problem? Is it the quarterback situation or the poor defense?

Any issues Oregon has with a pass defense that has allowed 958 yards and five touchdown passes through four games pales in comparison to the Ducks' quarterback situation.

Seriously, how many teams could flourish when down to their fifth-string quarterback? Probably none.

The Ducks' only two totally healthy quarterbacks are true freshmen – Chris Harper and Darron Thomas. No program wants to start a freshman quarterback.

Six freshmen are listed among the nation's top 100 passers, but Boise State's Kellen Moore – a redshirt freshman – is the only one playing for a team with a winning record.

But the Ducks can be optimistic. Sophomore Jeremiah Masoli only endured a "mild" concussion in last week's loss to Boise State, and he may be able to play against Washington State on Saturday. If not, at least Thomas played well (three fourth-quarter touchdown passes) a week ago. Besides, Washington State's run defense is a wreck. The Ducks can win by letting running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson carry the load.

Next week, original starting quarterback Justin Roper is expected to be back from his knee injury.

Then, that experienced secondary could be the biggest area of concern.

Bowling Blue Devils?

Ronnie in Sacramento, Calif.: Could Duke go to a bowl?

If the Blue Devils defeat Virginia on Saturday – and based on both teams' performances so far, that's a distinct possibility – Duke will be 3-1. The last time Duke posted three victories in the first month of the season was 1994 – coincidentally the last time it reached a bowl game.

Three victories would put the Blue Devils halfway to bowl eligibility. Of course, a "glass is half-empty" kind of guy would point out that means Duke still needs three more wins. It's possible. The Blue Devils obviously are improved and playing better under first-year coach David Cutcliffe.

But the feeling here is they will fall short.

Beanie's Back

Mark in Youngstown, Ohio : Ohio State's Chris Wells is expected back against Minnesota. Is there any chance voters can look past his injury and still send him to New York for the Heisman ceremony?

Sure, there's a chance. After all, numerous pundits – including six "experts" at Rivals.com – considered Wells the preseason favorite to win the Heisman.

But for Wells to emerge as a finalist, he can't miss any more games and he must have outstanding performances the rest of the way. In addition, contenders such as Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, BYU quarterback Max Hall and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel will have to falter. Don't count on that.

Even if Wells stages a history-making comeback and averages 200 yards a game or something equally outlandish, it's unlikely he'd win it. The game against USC was his chance to show what he could do against perhaps the best defense in the country. Losing that opportunity was costly.

That's probably not fair. A player shouldn't be punished for being injured, but that was the case last season. If Oregon's Dennis Dixon hadn't had a season-ending knee injury, he would have won the Heisman and the Ducks might have won the national championship.

The focus in Columbus should be getting Wells back and hoping he finishes strong.

The real McCoy?

Larry in Houston : Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is silently building up a great season. Can he emerge as a legitimate Heisman candidate?

No doubt about it. He is third in the nation is passing efficiency. He has passed for 833 yards, completed 78 percent of his passes and thrown 11 touchdown passes and just one interception. He also leads the Longhorns with 194 rushing yards. Texas is undefeated, too.

But there is apprehension about McCoy because of the schedule he's faced; Florida Atlantic, UTEP and Rice are a combined 3-8, and each ranks 96th or lower in total defense.

Meanwhile, other top quarterback candidates have played better competition. Missouri's Daniel has faced Illinois. Oklahoma's Bradford has played Cincinnati, USC's Sanchez has played Ohio State and BYU's Hall has played UCLA and Washington - which aren't great, but are better than Texas' opponents.

That doesn't mean McCoy won't emerge as a strong candidate. It just means that he has to continue to have strong performances against the meat of the Longhorns' schedule.

McCoy's "candidacy" likely will be dependent on his performance against Oklahoma on Oct. 11 and Missouri on Oct. 18. Those are good defensive teams, and he'll go head-to-head against other Heisman contenders. If he plays well – and if Texas wins – McCoy will significantly raise his Heisman profile.

Receiver watch

Michael in Marietta, Ga.: With the big game this weekend between Alabama and Georgia, which true freshman wide receiver – Alabama's Julio Jones or Georgia's A.J. Green – do you predict to have a bigger game and a bigger season?

That's a tough call. I was at Georgia's game against Arizona State last week when the Bulldogs rolled over the Sun Devils 27-10 (it wasn't that close). Green caught eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. Afterward, Georgia coach Mark Richt indicated that Green will have a more prominent role in the offense as the season progresses. That's good enough for me.

Remember, though, that Georgia and Alabama are strong running teams that may be inclined to keep the ball on the ground. Georgia wants to feature running back Knowshon Moreno. Meanwhile, Alabama's Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram have been a productive running duo.

Both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are strong against the run. If one team – or both – can't find consistent success on the ground, they have to throw. In that scenario, I'm guessing Georgia has the slight advantage with Matthew Stafford. Therefore, I'd guess Green would be most likely to have a bigger game and perhaps a bigger season.

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