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July 25, 2008
Who claims the Sunshine State silver medal?
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
July 18: Expensive trips
July 11: Patience pays
July 4: Bigger Big Ten?
June 20: Another Reesing?
There is the silver medalist. There is the first runner-up. Heck, there's even the maid of honor.
Not bad. But nobody really aspires to be second.
The same goes in college football, where chants of "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!" never are heard.
Yet there are some instances where being No. 2 is an impressive accomplishment – like being the second-best program in a particular state.
Obviously, that's a bigger deal in some states than others. That would be a bad joke for Hawaii, Wyoming or any of the other seven schools that are the only Division I-A football programs in their states. It would be a dubious distinction in Arizona, Washington, South Carolina or any of the other states with two I-A programs. And it really wouldn't be much to brag about in Colorado, Utah or Oklahoma, which have three I-A teams.
But in states with at least five or six programs, being No. 2 isn't that bad. Especially if that state has a history of producing some great teams – such as Florida, for example.
Obviously, the University of Florida, just one year removed from a national championship, currently is the dominant program in the Sunshine State. Which one is No. 2, though? The answer, which may surprise, is in this week's mailbag.
Who's No. 2?
— Devin in Alabama
Tampa or Tallahassee? I have to go against the capital city on this one.
FSU doesn't figure to have an all-out collapse, but there certainly are reasons to be apprehensive. A schedule that has Wake Forest, Colorado, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida and Miami is among the reasons.
On the other hand, USF returns four offensive line starters, quarterback Matt Grothe, running back Mike Ford and All-America defensive end George Selvie - as well as six other defensive regulars. And that's from a team that posted nine victories last season.
Things can change over the course of the season, but to me, USF has the potential for more victories and better chance of winning a conference title.
Two party crashers?
Now that BYU has appeared in your preseason rankings (No. 12), I have a question about BCS crashers. This is the time of year when college football fans can entertain themselves by considering plenty of "ifs." In that vein: If a WAC team and a MWC team both finish with strong seasons (possibly with undefeated records), do you think the BCS selection committee would see fit to choose two non-Big Six schools?
— Brian in Roanoke, Va.
Well, the BCS doesn't have a selection committee like basketball. But I know what you mean. My answer is no, I don't think two teams from non-Big Six conferences will get into BCS games.
The champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC are guaranteed berths, and typically the runners-up in those conferences are more highly regarded, have better fan bases and are considered better TV draws.
That said, it would be great fun to see unbeaten teams from the WAC and MWC in the same season to watch the accompanying theatre of it all. Let's look at BYU and Fresno State as possibilities this season.
It would be great fun to watch BCS proponents squirm if BYU is undefeated, including victories over UCLA and Washington, and if Fresno beats Wisconsin and UCLA on its way to a perfect season. And what if both are unbeaten and the "Big Six" runners-up all have two losses, which was the case last season?
If only one were chosen between BYU and Fresno? Fresno's non-conference victories likely project as more impressive, but BYU is in a stronger conference.
Matching up with Mizzou
— Mike in Chicago
Missouri will be favored but expect another close, hard-fought game.
Mendenhall's early departure for the NFL obviously was a big blow for the Illini, but keep in mind that he rushed for only 33 yards against Missouri last season - although he did score two touchdowns in that 40-34 loss.
Mizzou got much better defensively in the second half of last season. Want proof? The Tigers allowed an average of more than 430 yards in their four non-conference games. But they reduced that average by 80 yards in Big 12 play despite facing some of the country's most explosive offenses.
Illinois will be solid again, but I think Mizzou could be spectacular.
Picked third … again
Tennessee once again is picked to finish third in the SEC East. People seem to forget that they were picked third last season, and all they did was beat the No. 1 preseason pick in Georgia and win the East. So why is it that people think it is impossible for the Vols to win the East and possibly the SEC this season?
— Anonymous (presumably in Tennessee)
I don't think it's impossible. Nobody should ever count out Tennessee. Elite programs always are dangerous, especially in seasons when they're "underdogs."
But it makes sense to project Tennessee behind Florida and Georgia, if for no other reason than those teams have proven quarterbacks – Tim Tebow at Florida and Matthew Stafford at Georgia. Tennessee, with Jonathan Crompton replacing Erik Ainge, does not.
If everything falls right, Tennessee could defy prognostications and win the East again. But that will be counting on everything falling right two consecutive years. Or have you forgotten those unsuccessful field-goal attempts by South Carolina and Kentucky in overtime and Vanderbilt in regulation that enabled the Vols to win the East last season?
Return of the Blackshirts?
— William in Nebraska
The difference could be significant. Pelini is a masterful defensive coach who will demand more production from his defense. And he will get it.
Nebraska's defense will be more aggressive, more ornery but less bulky than a year ago. Several likely starters have shed pounds to fit into Pelini's scheme.
But a scheme will only take one so far. Nebraska's defense was among the worst in the country, ranking 113th in total defense and 115th in scoring defense.
Pelini's presence will ensure those rankings will improve, but by how much?
You've heard the coaching adage that "Jimmys and Joes beat X's and O's." Well, defensively, Pelini can X and O with anybody. But he'll need a year or two to bring in the caliber of players he needs to really make his defense special.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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