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August 19, 2011

Mailbag: Is UM's Hoke a true sideline savior?

Upon hiring coach Rick Neuheisel, UCLA took out a nearly full page ad in the Los Angeles Times to trumpet what the Bruins thought was the end of USC's dominance in L.A.

Dozens of delirious Texas A&M Aggies fans converged upon Easterwood Airport in College Station to welcome the arrival of coach Dennis Franchione.

Michigan fans at Yost Ice Arena roared their approval when Rich Rodriguez showed up wearing a Wolverines hockey jersey.

There's no question the hiring of football coaches with successful track records can send college campuses into a frenzy. Their arrivals signal the end of hard times and losses to archrivals. They're seen as sideline saviors.

Well, that's the way it's supposed to work out.

But it doesn't always happen that way.

Bill Callahan was a Super Bowl coach in the NFL. He was a super disappointment at Nebraska.

Howard Schnellenberger turned Miami and Louisville into nationally prominent programs. He even has built Florida Atlantic into a respectable team. But he was a dud in his one season at Oklahoma.

Boise State had great success under Dan Hawkins. Colorado had none.

Cars of Texas fans once were decorated with bumper stickers reading "Akers of Cotton" in tribute to the SWC championships and Cotton Bowl appearances the Longhorns were destined to make under Fred Akers. A few years later, those were replaced by bumper stickers that simply read "Fire Fred."

At first, Notre Dame fans were glad to have Charlie Weis from the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots. Eventually, they were glad to see him leave.

There are some coaches who take programs to great heights. Steve Spurrier did that at Florida and may do it again at South Carolina. Nick Saban did it at LSU and Alabama. Chip Kelly has done it at Oregon. Bob Stoops did it at Oklahoma.

Will Brady Hoke do it at Michigan? Or will he wind up on thin ice just like Rodriguez?

We'll examine that question in this week's mailbag.

Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag

Hope with Hoke?

Can Brady Hoke live up to the hype?
William in Memphis.

As pointed out in the introduction, there are numerous examples of a high-profile coach not reaching expectations. But the bet here is that Hoke will be the coach who restores Michigan to national prominence, although it won't happen immediately.

Michigan must get better defensively. That's no secret. The Wolverines will be tougher under Hoke and play better defense. Frankly, they couldn't be much worse.

Michigan allowed an average of 35.2 points per game last season to rank 108th in the nation. Nine opponents scored more than 30 points. Four scored more than 40.

In previous coaching stops at Ball State and San Diego State, Hoke's teams were known for high-scoring offenses. Behind quarterback Nate Davis, Ball State averaged 34.9 points in '08. Last season, with quarterback Ryan Lindley and tailback Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State averaged 35 points per game. Those offensive numbers overshadowed some solid defensive numbers. In '08, Ball State was 29th in the nation in scoring defense. Last season, San Diego State was 36th.

The future already is looking brighter in Ann Arbor. Hoke's 2011 recruiting class was ranked 21st. His 2012 class currently ranks second; there are 11 commitments from four-star prospects, including five from the state of Ohio.

With exciting quarterback Denard Robinson, a defense that should be better and an advantageous schedule in which the first five games are in Ann Arbor, don't be surprised if Michigan betters last season's seven victories.

Another SEC plan

What do you think of this scenario regarding SEC expansion: I would suggest the SEC pull in Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Then, it could restructure the conference to shift East/West borders. Put Alabama and Auburn in the East and the aforementioned new teams could be added to the West. That would make a sweet 16-team conference, there would continue to be a conference championship and the long arm of the SEC would stretch to the Midwest.
Matthew in Leesburg, Ga.

Your proposal definitely works geographically and symmetrically. Unfortunately, aside from those factors, it wouldn't work at all. Most of the long-time SEC members wouldn't go for it.

The suggested divisions would tilt the balance of power in the conference too much to the East. Under your plan, the eight teams in the East Division would be Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee have won BCS national championships. Georgia finished second in the nation in '07. Some of those programs currently are struggling, but that won't last forever.

No doubt, LSU and Oklahoma are premier programs. But Arkansas, A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech merely are good programs that have yet to achieve elite status.

Besides, from what I understand, Oklahoma isn't interested in joining the SEC. If the Big 12 collapses, as many expect it will, word is OU administration is much more interested in going West. Surely, the Pac-12 won't hesitate to expand and would go after Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Texas Tech was hot to join the Pac-10 when it announced its expansion plans in 2010, too.

The bet here is that the SEC will expand to 14 teams in 2012, with A&M and another program poached from another conference (perhaps Florida State or West Virginia) and eventually will grow to 16 teams. I doubt that Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Texas Tech will be among them.

UK up or down?

Given Joker Phillips' increased attention to recruiting and the addition of Rick Minter as defensive coordinator, do you feel Kentucky has a chance to move up the SEC food chain or will the Wildcats more likely be fighting Vandy and the Mississippi schools to stay out of the cellar?
Brad in Tokyo

It's easy to like Joker Phillips. He's intense and confident and willing to challenge the established powers in the SEC. Phillips won't be outworked. And if there is an area in which he feels his team is lacking, he'll move quickly to rectify it, as he did with the hiring of Minter.

Phillips has won some recruiting battles, but not enough of them to make Kentucky a consistent challenger in the SEC East.

Look for Kentucky to continue the progress made under Phillips' predecessor, Rich Brooks. I wouldn't be surprised if Phillips even takes the Wildcats a step further than Brooks. A step further would mean posting a nine-win season here and there. I can envision a year when Kentucky puts it all together and becomes a strong factor in the East Division race, but the feeling here is that would be a once-in-a-decade thing.

Kentucky under Phillips can be a team not to be taken lightly and a consistent bowl participant - and that's not bad. I just don't see the Wildcats becoming a consistent threat to the established powers.

Tigers to watch

If you had to pick one or two players on the Auburn roster to have a breakout season, who would they be?
Tom in Birmingham, Ala.

First of all, one would have to consider quarterback Barrett Trotter.

Any quarterback that coordinator Gus Malzahn works with seems to thrive.

In Malzahn's first season at Tulsa, in 2007, Golden Hurricanes quarterback Paul Smith passed for 5,065 yards. The previous season, he threw for 2,726.

In 2008, Tulsa's David Johnson threw for 4,059 when replacing Smith. In '09, Malzahn joined Chizik's staff at Auburn. Chris Todd, the Tigers' backup quarterback in '08, passed for 2,612 yards with 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions that season.

Last season, Cam Newton won the Heisman and Auburn won the national title.

This fall, tailback Michael Dyer figures to play an even more vital role in the offense. He could have a big year. But last season, he rushed for 1,093 yards, so he's already broken out. Junior wide receiver Emory Blake averaged almost 17 yards a catch on 33 receptions last season. More passes are sure to come his way this season. In addition, some folks down on the Plains are comparing freshman receiver/kick returner Trovon Reed to former Florida All-American Percy Harvin. If Reed is anywhere close to that explosive, he could have an immediate impact.

On the defensive side, ends Nosa Eguae and Corey Lemonier and tackle Jeffrey Whitaker are poised to make giant strides.

Among the elite?

Where do you think Oregon's place is in the landscape of college football? Have the Ducks arrived in the penthouse? It seems Oregon sits just a rung below the penthouse and occupies the top floor - the teams that are knocking on the door to be considered elite. What are your thoughts?
Oliver in McLean, Va.

I would agree that Oregon is nearing elite status. Oregon is similar to Virginia Tech, which made a strong run at the national championship in 1999. The Hokies have been good ever since, but haven't won a national title.

It appears Oregon will remain good for a long time. Right now, Oregon is one of the trendiest and most attractive places in the country to high school football prospects, who like Eugene, the facilities, the climate, the uniforms, Autzen Stadium and the overall Nike influence there.

But Oregon has to have success over an extended period and win a national championship before it joins the elite.

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