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December 4, 2009

Mailbag: Big changes from week to week

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

Quite often, it seems, there is no place for logic in college football.

Take a look at the Big 12 Conference, for example.

On Oct. 10, Texas Tech crushed Kansas State 66-14. The next week, Kansas State blasted Texas A&M 62-14. The following week, the Aggies traveled to Lubbock for what was expected to be their usual flogging by the Red Raiders. So what happens? A&M routs the Red Raiders 52-30.

Teams don't play the same from week to week. Mistakes that occurred in one game may be corrected in another. A team might match up with the next opponent better than the previous one, so even if a team shows an explosive offense or a vulnerable defense against one opponent, don't assume that team will do the same against the next opponent. That isn't logical.

We'll explain further in this week's mailbag.

On the defensive

From Chris in Austin, Texas: Do you think Texas' poor defensive showing against A&M was a fluke? Or should I be worried about Nebraska and then Florida or Alabama destroying us again?

The Longhorns should be concerned, but not because of their defensive showing against A&M. Rather, it's because Nebraska has an ornery defense. Any strong defensive team always has a chance to win.

Texas also is a good defensive team, despite its showing on Thanksgiving. The Aggies scored 39 points and would have broken 40 if not for a failed chip-shot field goal late in the fourth quarter.

Texas coach Mack Brown put much of the blame on himself and his staff for trying to do too much in a short week of preparation.

"We probably felt like we'd been playing so well on defense that we tried to do too much," he said. "We'll go out and do what we do this week."

That's one reason to expect Texas to have a better defensive showing. Another is that Nebraska simply doesn't have the same big-play ability on offense that Texas A&M does.

Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson was a second-team All-Big 12 selection for good reason. He has passed for 3,217 yards and 28 touchdowns; Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee has thrown for 1,931 and 13 scores. A&M is ranked 21st in the country in passing offense; Nebraska is ranked 93rd. The Aggies have scored more than 30 points in nine games this season. Nebraska has done it four times.

It wasn't a fluke that A&M put up 39 points against Texas. If Nebraska does, it will be.

Oh no, not Tebow

From J.T. in Los Angeles: The best player in the nation will not win the Heisman this season. If Florida's Tim Tebow won the trophy, it would be disgraceful. He has not been outstanding by any means this season. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart has been consistently outstanding the entire season. But the Heisman has become such a quarterback-driven race, Texas' Colt McCoy has a shot now, too.

Don't count out Gerhart. He could win the Heisman.

Some rate McCoy slightly ahead of Gerhart, but if McCoy doesn't have a strong performance against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game, a ton of votes likely will shift Gerhart's way.

Of course, Tebow or Alabama running back Mark Ingram could catapult into the lead if they have monster showings in the SEC championship game. But both Alabama and Florida have outstanding defenses, so that's not likely to happen.

There's no doubt Gerhart is deserving of the Heisman. He leads the nation with 1,736 rushing yards, has exceeded 100 yards in 10 games and 200 in three. Furthermore, he hasn't done that against a collection of soft defenses, either. He has faced six teams that are ranked among the nation's top 43 in total defense.

But McCoy deserves it, too. He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes for 3,328 yards and 27 touchdowns. He's also a dangerous runner, which was obvious when he rushed for 175 yards against Texas A&M.

It's nothing new to have multiple candidates who deserve the trophy. Last season, McCoy and Tebow were as deserving as Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who won it.

If you believe in history repeating itself, Gerhart supporters can be encouraged by Bradford winning it last season. The only Stanford player to win the Heisman was Jim Plunkett in 1970. The previous winner was Steve Owens - from Oklahoma.

SEC is cupcake city

From Ned in Sisters, Ore.: Do you really believe Florida and Alabama should be ranked as high as they are? They play three "cupcake" teams each year and the top-to-bottom strength of the SEC does not compare to the Pac-10 year in and year out.

I have no issue with Florida and Alabama being ranked first and second. Both teams are undefeated and have wins over No. 13 LSU. Alabama also has beaten No. 12 Virginia Tech.

The charge that they only play "cupcake" teams is unfounded. Both have played FCS opponents, but that's common for teams in Big Six conferences. In fact, 50 of the 66 Big Six teams (including Notre Dame) played at least one FCS opponent this season.

Florida has faced seven opponents with winning records. Alabama has faced eight.

True, many of those opponents finished 7-5 in the SEC, but that's not a knock. SEC teams were 10-4 in non-conference games against Big Six opponents; five of those wins were on the road or at a neutral site.

No other team currently in the top 10 has played more opponents with winning records than Alabama or Florida.

Cincinnati will face its seventh when it plays Pittsburgh on Saturday. Oregon, with two losses, also has played seven, including Oregon State on Thursday night. Six of the top 10 - Texas, TCU, Boise State, Ohio State, Iowa and Georgia Tech - have played five teams that are better than 6-6.

No joke: Duke is on the way up

From Andy in Fairfax, Va.: Being a Duke alum, I'm a bit biased. But I'm curious. How long before "Yeah, but your football team lost to Duke" no longer is synonymous with "Your team is awful"?

That time is drawing closer. Duke football has been a joke - the Blue Devils managed just two total wins from 2005-07 - but that's not the case anymore.

Duke has won nine games in two seasons under coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils were tantalizingly close to making a bowl game with a 5-7 record in '09. They were competitive in losses to Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami.

Cutcliffe is an excellent coach. If he can raise the talent level with a couple of solid recruiting classes, no one will be laughing at the Blue Devils any longer. I'm not saying they're going to win the ACC, but a bowl game definitely is possible in the near future.

Of course, some will scoff at that notion, particularly because quarterback Thaddeus Lewis was a senior this season. But remember that a few seasons ago, Stanford was a laughing stock. This season, it is 8-4.

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