You know one team that none of us mentioned in this impromptu title debate, despite winning 11 games last year and despite rating among Vegas' top-10 contenders? Oklahoma. Isn't that strange? Dan Johnson of Big Rapids, Mich., wonders the same thing:
Ever since the debacle against USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl, it seems like the pollsters have been a little bit leery of ranking Oklahoma high in the early part of the season. Do you think that OU is finally starting to move past that hurdle or do you think that the poll voters still keep that particular game in mind when making their decisions?
There's no question that 55-19 humiliation became something of a milestone in terms of the perception surrounding Bob Stoops' program. It's pretty simple: Before that game, the Sooners were considered a national title contender every year; now, they're not. Sure, they may start every season in the top 10, but I get the sense not too many people outside the great state of Oklahoma actually believe them to be capable of hanging in USC/LSU/Texas/Florida territory. And for that, I blame not only that Orange Bowl but also the Big 12 title-game beatdown by Kansas State the year before, the season-opening loss to TCU the following year, the end of their run of dominance against arch-rival Texas, the Rhett Bomar scandal and the Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State. Basically, where once there was an aura of invincibility that surrounded Stoops' program, now they seem like just one of many very-good-but-hardly-impregnable teams. And that's reflected in their standing in the polls.
Isn't this just a lot of words to explain the simple fact that the Sooners lost four games in 2005 and three games in 2006, both of which are inconsistent with being a major power? I suppose Mandel deserves minor kudos for mentioning that Stoops no longer having a hex over Mack Brown is a major issue, since the Longhorns typically provided Oklahoma with their validation every year in an otherwise unimpressive Big XII, but how does he not mention the 800-pound gorilla in the room? Bob Stoops is a defensive guy and his best Oklahoma teams were dominant on that side of the ball. Last year, Oklahoma gave up 34, 28, and 35 (in regulation) in their three losses. In 2005, OU allowed 40+ twice and 30+ two more times. The interesting angle on Oklahoma is what happened to Bob Stoops' previously dominant defenses, but why go that route when we can be hyper conventional and blame it all on quarterbacks:
When you look at the 2007 Sooners on paper, there's a lot to like. Between Allen Patrick and freshman sensation DeMarco Murray, the running game should be phenomenal. They have a veteran offensive line and a solid group of receivers (love Malcolm Kelly). And most of the defense returns as well. So why can't OU win the national title? Because of one big, huge, glaring deficiency that has come to the attention of Nick Tait in Tulsa:
Bob Stoops has run one of the most successful programs in the nation, and in so doing produced both a Heisman winner (Jason White) and runner-up (Josh Heupel) at quarterback. Yet Stoops seems to be consistently scrambling to locate quarterback talent. When he kicked Rhett Bomar off the team last year, the Sooners were forced to use a wide receiver (Paul Thompson) the entire season. When Sam Keller decided to leave Arizona State, I thought he would be perfect for Norman. When he (and no one else) did not, it left a three-man competition for 2007 -- without any standouts. My only explanation for the tepid interest in quarterbacking at Oklahoma is its track record with developing pro talent. Any thoughts?
It's true: OU's quarterback stable right now borders on disastrous. None of the three contenders -- redshirt freshman Sam Bradford, juco transfer Joey Hazle and true freshman Keith Nichol -- were highly recruited elsewhere (though Nichol originally committed to Michigan State). The hope in Norman is that Bradford, the likely starter, will surprise people like Colt McCoy at Texas last year, but if he doesn't there aren't a whole lot of other viable options. Part of the problem is just bad luck -- Tommy Grady transferred to Utah because he was stuck behind Bomar and ASU's Rudy Carpenter, from what I've been told, would have been on the first plane to Oklahoma had Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter not pulled his 11th-hour switcheroo with Keller. But I also think you hit the nail on the head in your question: High-profile QB recruits want to go someplace where they know they can develop into NFL quarterbacks. Stoops has produced two phenomenal college QBs (Heupel and White) and one very solid one (Nate Hybl), but they barely sniffed the next level. I'm not sure it's fair to blame that on OU's program, but if you're Keller, and you're going into your last season to prove yourself before the draft, and your choices are playing for the Sooners or playing for NFL passing guru Bill Callahan, you're probably going to pick the latter.
And if you're a pollster trying to fill out your preseason ballot, and you know OU is likely going to be starting a no-name freshman QB, that probably weighs on your decision far more than a 55-19 blowout three years ago.
First of all, as someone who is paid to know about college football, Mandel shouldn't have to be corrected by a lawyer taking a blogbreak after a hearing that Keith Nichol was a four-star recruit and Rivals.com's #6 dual-threat quarterback, right behind Willy Korn, who is expected to start sooner rather than later at Clemson.
More importantly, Mandel's explanation for Oklahoma's quarterback problems makes no sense at all. If NFL success is a pre-requisite for recruiting success with quarterbacks, then why was Steve Spurrier able to sign Rex Grossman and Brock Berlin when his NFL quarterbacks had all been wash-outs? How was Ohio State able to sign Troy Smith and Justin Zwick without having produced an NFL starter in eons? How has Penn State ever been able to sign a quarterback? How was Alabama able to sign Tyler Watts and Brodie Croyle when they haven't produced an NFL starter since Richard Todd?
The correct explanation for Oklahoma's quarterback situation is very simple: they committed to Rhett Bomar and all their other options (guys like Tommy Grady who were highly recruited) bailed, so when Bomar was kicked out of school, Oklahoma was left with nothing. They are in the process of rebuilding their depth at the position and Keith Nichol is the first step in that direction. And what the hell is with giving Bill Callahan credit for developing college quarterbacks? Ask Harrison Beck, his premier quarterback recruit, about Callahan's genius.
2. Lloyd Carr and Charlie Weis
In two years, Charlie Weis has beaten one team that finished the season in the Top 25 (No. 24 Penn State last year), yet he seems to walk on water Notre Dame's fan base and evades all criticism. Lloyd Carr has multiple Big Ten titles over the last decade and a national championship, yet a large chunk of the Michigan fan base can't stop dissing him. By mid-January 2008, what are the chances that ND Nation will be starting to wonder about Charlie and the forever Blue have all decided that Lloyd is worthy of being rated amongst their best ever?
--Ken Braun, Lansing, Mich.
There's no question this is going to be an important year in both coaches' tenures, but I'm not sure it's fair to compare the two so directly. Weis is still very much in the building phase of his program, which was pretty far down when he got there. While all those big-game blowouts the past two years exposed the 2005 and '06 Irish as national-title pretenders, I can't say I blame ND fans for being excited about the future following 19 wins and consecutive BCS berths. Apparently they've seen enough to believe Weis is the guy to lead them to the promised land. The question is, will they still feel that way if, as most of us expect, Jimmy Clausen & Co. endure a rough transition season in '07. We're talking about an offense that is going to be very young and will almost certainly struggle early in the season. Unfortunately, that also coincides with the toughest part of ND's schedule. It's not inconceivable to envision the Irish losing their first three games (Georgia Tech, at Penn State and at Michigan) as well as several others (at Purdue, at UCLA, BC, USC).
The Irish close, however, with Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. If they can get to a bowl, and especially if they finally win a bowl, I would imagine the enthusiasm surrounding Weis will remain in tact come January. If they finish 5-7 or 6-7, we may see the beginnings of a Tyrone Willingham-style backlash.
As for Carr, the expectations are higher because he raised them by winning that title in '97. While Michigan has fielded many good teams since then, the closest they've come to returning to that level was last year, and even that season culminated in a familiar ending -- losing to Ohio State, losing the Rose Bowl. The prevailing feeling is that this may be Carr's last season one way or the other, but if he wants to go out with the kind of legacy and appreciation one might reasonably associate with a guy who's won 76 percent of his games and five Big Ten titles, he'd best be advised to finally beat the Buckeyes (he'd still be just 2-5 against Jim Tressel but would finish with a winning record -- 7-6 -- against OSU overall). Beating a national-title caliber program like a USC in the Rose Bowl or another BCS game would be icing on the cake.
If this is true, then Notre Dame fans are idiots because they would be deciding to be happy with Charlie Weis for beating Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford and then doing better than 1-7 in the opening eight games. Unless Irish fans are totally irrational (resisting the urge to take gratuitous swipe...there, it passed), then they recognize that this year and possibly next year as well are going to be the years when they will suffer the most for Ty Willingham's incredibly weak recruiting classes. That said, they probably also recognize that making a bowl is not a huge hurdle for any major program. If Irish fans liked what they saw from Notre Dame in Weis's first two years, then they should not let 2007 and 2008 affect their judgment too much, unless the Irish completely bottom out. What Mandel misses is the fact that thinking Notre Dame fans might be quietly wondering about Weis after a season in which the Irish had experienced talent all over the field and failed to produce much against almost all of the quality defenses they faced. Mandel also misses the fact that fans are almost always happy with a coach during the honeymoon period, especially when that coach is following two dolts.
As for Lloyd Carr, I can't tell you how enlightening it is to read that his legacy might be affected by whether he finishes out his career with four straight losses to Ohio State. And isn't Carr's legacy as a guy who has won 76% of his games affected by the fact that he coaches at a program that has won 75% of its games over the course of its 126-year history?