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July 11, 2008

Mailbag: Patience pays off at some schools

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
July 4: Bigger Big Ten?
June 20: Another Reesing?
June 13: Line of defense
June 6: No help needed

Fans of struggling programs always want a quick fix, but patience often pays off.

Virginia Tech won five games in its first two seasons under Frank Beamer and never won more than six games in his first six years there. Since then, though, the Hokies haven't won fewer than seven games and have posted at least 10 victories in seven of their past nine seasons.

Greg Schiano managed just 12 victories in his first four seasons at Rutgers, yet the Scarlet Knights now have a streak of three consecutive bowl appearances. Missouri endured losing records in three of its first four seasons under Gary Pinkel. Now, the Tigers have a streak of three consecutive winning seasons, are coming off a season in which they won the Big 12 North and had a No. 4 final AP ranking. This season Mizzou is a legitimate national-title contender.

No doubt, fans of the Hokies, Scarlet Knights and Tigers are glad they were patient.

Surely, fans in Starkville, Miss., are, too. We touch on that and more in this week's mailbag.

Building the Bulldogs

I'd like to know your thoughts on Mississippi State. After an 8-5 campaign in 2007, coach Sylvester Croom is quietly building a solid foundation in Starkville. If you take a look at his early commitments for '09 and listen to the reactions of the recruits he speaks with, I think you'll see Coach Croom is putting together something special in the Magnolia State.

Todd in Mississippi

At this time last year, I wrote that I doubted Mississippi State would fare much better than it had in the first three seasons under Croom. That was no knock on Sly, but I just didn't think he had enough talent - especially on offense.

I'll happily admit when I'm wrong, particularly when my error was in underestimating Croom and his program. That won't happen again.

While I do not see Mississippi State as a championship contender in the SEC, I do think another bowl appearance is in the Bulldogs' future. The defense will be strong again. The offense should be better with quarterback Wesley Carroll having experience and Anthony Dixon behind him in the backfield. But the offensive line is inexperienced and the receivers are suspect.

However, Croom is well on the way to addressing those issues. His 2008 class included three offensive linemen that were either three- or four-star prospects. He already has 10 commitments for the 2009 class, including four-star wide receiver Chris Smith of Meridian, Miss.

If an in-state program could consistently attract the top prospects in Mississippi, it could become a national power. In 2008, Croom signed eight of Mississippi's top 25. That's not too bad.

Still, with Houston Nutt now at Ole Miss and Larry Fedora at Southern Miss, the in-state recruiting competition is going to be fiercer. The three Mississippi schools finished in the top 25 in 1999, and it might not be too long before that happens again.

A blind eye?

What do you make of Clemson's blatant attempts to ignore Deandre McDaniel's arrest for allegedly beating his girlfriend? You get the sense here in the Upstate that if we don't talk about it, it'll go away. Tommy Bowden has stated he'll deal with it when he returns from vacation, and in the meantime, the university has ruled McDaniel has done nothing to warrant suspension or a penalty of any kind due to the fact the alleged victim decided not to be present at the university's meeting. Will we see this go to trial or will this become just another example of a Clemson star breaking the law, not missing any time during the season or a bowl game, then suddenly being dismissed for vague and fickle reasons following the season?

Michael in South Carolina

That's a touchy subject, Michael. Remember the old "innocent until proven guilty" idea. Some say that still applies.

Let's be clear, though. There is no excuse absolutely none for abusing women. From the time I could walk, my dad taught me boys do not hit girls, and I repeat that lesson to my 4-year-old son.

So, if it's proved McDaniel did commit assault, as has been alleged, he should be dismissed from the team immediately.

Yes, Bowden left himself open for criticism by retaining McDaniel. But Bowden did say McDaniel still was on the team "at this time." That indicates to me that Bowden wants to get more information before making a final decision.

One could argue that Bowden should suspend McDaniel now and only reinstate him if he's exonerated. And maybe he should, especially because initial reports don't look good for McDaniel.

But then initial reports didn't look good for USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, who had sexual assault charges against him dropped two years ago. Initial reports also didn't look good for members of the Duke lacrosse team who were falsely accused of rape two years ago.

I'm not saying McDaniel is innocent. I'm saying I don't know yet.

I also don't know how fans of a rival program can suggest Bowden benefits from retaining McDaniel at this time. Is it because McDaniel can participate in summer seven-on-seven drills or because he can use the weight room? The season is nearly two months away, so there is ample time to take disciplinary action if it's warranted.

Of course, if McDaniel is found guilty, the disciplinary action might not be up to Bowden.

Worthy of ranking?

Appalachian State could probably beat most Division I-A teams, so why don't you consider slipping them into the mix? Who cares if they are I-AA?

Pete in Valle Crucis, NC

Good question. Here's what I hope you'll consider is a good answer: Rivals.com ranks the 120 teams in Division I-A. Appalachian State is not in Division I-A. Therefore, Appalachian State is not included.

Now, if we were ranking the best teams in college football, perhaps the Mountaineers would be included. After all, last season they beat Michigan, which finished the season ranked No. 18 in the final AP poll. Does that mean App State should have been ranked No. 17? And does that mean Wofford and Georgia Southern, both of whom beat App State last season, should be ranked higher than the Mountaineers?

Pitt predictions

A lot of people are calling Pittsburgh the surprise team this season. But now that so many people are on the Pitt bandwagon, just as many are calling Pitt overrated. Can you tell us why Pitt can be a surprise team this year?

Matt in Pittsburgh

The Panthers haven't had a winning record in any of the past three seasons, a streak of futility that might compel some to overlook the Panthers this season.

Last season, the Panthers were 5-7. However, four of those losses were by seven or fewer points. So what was the problem?

It clearly wasn't defense. Pitt ranked fifth in the country in total defense, and seven starters are returning. The loss of coordinator Paul Rhoads, who left for Auburn, could have been a problem. But coach Dave Wannstedt compensated nicely with the hiring of Phil Bennett.

Look for the Panthers again to be good defensively. In fact, their defensive line could be among the best in the country.

No doubt, the problem for Pitt was its anemic passing game, which didn't have much of a chance after All-Big East receiver Derek Kinder endured a season-ending injury in August and starting quarterback Bill Stull was lost for the season in the first game.

Consequently, the Panthers - directed by true freshman Pat Bostick much of the season - ranked 104th in the country in passing offense. A compromised passing game allowed opponents to focus squarely on tailback LeSean McCoy, who still managed to gain 1,328 yards.

The Panthers project to be much better in the passing game with Stull and Kinder returning - as well as the arrival of freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin, a five-star prospect.

Yes, Pitt has to replace both tackles, but the offense still should be vastly improved. So, with a better offense and a proven defense, it's not unrealistic for the Panthers to post eight to 10 victories.

Sleeping on the Seminoles

A lot of people are writing Florida State off this year. I guess I can understand because of their lack of performance in recent seasons. This season, though, they have a favorable schedule, and it's their second year in the new system - so they should have a better grasp on things. Do you think they have a shot at the ACC championship? And what do you think their final ranking will be?

Joe in Jacksonville

Maybe I'll be proved wrong, but I just don't see the Seminoles as a legitimate contender for the ACC championship.

Although the defense should be solid, the offense has too many issues to be optimistic. The loss of projected starting guard Evan Bellamy, who is out for the year with a blood clot in his leg, adds more angst to an already-troubled unit. The Seminoles will be grossly inexperienced up front, which sure doesn't help an offense that has gotten sporadic quarterback play in recent seasons.

I see the Seminoles posting six or seven wins, and eight would be a very good season.

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

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