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November 2, 2007

Trying to see into a foggy future

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
Oct. 26: WVU still in title race
Oct. 19: Balance is the key
Oct. 12: Hard to figure

Although only in my mid-40s, remembering the past sometimes isn't easy without the help of record books, almanacs and TiVo.

Still, recollections are easier to come by than premonitions. Yet many of this week's mailbag questions ask for peeks into the future. So let's down the lights, burn incense and break out the Tarot cards to see what could be in store for Oregon, Michigan State, Notre Dame and the Big East Conference.

But a word of warning: I'm near-sighted, so things tend to get out of focus when looking too far ahead.


Defensive Ducks

Do you think the Ducks' defense is good enough to take Oregon to a BCS bowl?

Chris is Albany

I'd rather answer that after Saturday's game against Arizona State, but since I don't have that luxury, I'll say "Absolutely."

Oregon's defense isn't great, but it doesn't have to be great. It just needs to be good enough to give the explosive offense a chance to outscore opponents, and they've done that.

Oregon's defense isn't bad. The Ducks held USC to 17 points and Michigan and Washington State to seven points. The Ducks have 11 interceptions, 20 sacks, eight forced fumbles and haven't allowed a rushing touchdown inside the red zone in three consecutive games.

Defensive end Nick Reed is a solid pass rusher, and free safety Matthew Harper played so well in last week's vital 24-17 victory over USC he had two interceptions that he was named the national defensive player of the week.

If Oregon reaches a BCS bowl and I think it will the offense clearly will lead the way. But the Ducks' defense will have a part in that, too.

Fair shot for Lee?

What's fair about Drew Weatherford having three years to try to improve his playing skills and Xavier Lee only getting three games as the starter to prove himself? That seems a little one-sided to me.

V. in Daytona Beach

Lee is a redshirt junior, so he has had ample time to prove himself. Florida State coaches have seen him every day in practice in that time, and Weatherford usually was deemed to have a slight edge. And that's with two offensive coordinators, too.

True, Weatherford's performance never has demanded that he be the Seminoles' quarterback. However, Lee - when given the chance - hasn't seized the opportunity.

Lee has played well at times, particularly against Alabama when he came off the bench to lead a 21-14 victory. However, he has played poorly, too. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes with two interceptions in the disappointing loss to Miami.

Even more disappointing is that he's suspended for violating academic policy. A starting quarterback or even a potential starting quarterback has to make sure all bases are covered so he'll be there for his team.

Lee has great arm strength and wonderful running ability, but he has to be more consistent and reliable if he's going to live up to his vast potential.

Wake up

The entire state of North Carolina would like to know how not one but two teams with three losses can be ranked ahead of two-loss Wake Forest. Are you telling me that a Wake Forest team can lose only to a then-nationally ranked Nebraska team and quite possibly the best team in the land (Boston College) and still have teams with more losses ranked higher than them?

Al in North Carolina

Wake Forest deserves a lot of credit for posting six consecutive victories, and the No. 21 Demon Deacons definitely deserve to be ranked.

But let's be honest. That Week 2 loss at home to Nebraska didn't look good then, and it looks awful now that the Huskers have been exposed as inept. Nebraska's other three victories have been over Nevada, Ball State and Iowa State and the Huskers should have lost to Ball State.

Also, Wake Forest's six-game winning streak has come against teams that are a combined 19-29. The only winning team the Deacons have defeated is 5-3 Florida State, which is unranked.

In contrast, No. 18 Florida and No. 19 Auburn the three-loss teams ranked ahead of Wake Forest have lost to better teams and have victories over ranked teams. Florida defeated Tennessee and Kentucky. Auburn defeated Florida.

A bigger Big East?

In this age of conference expansion, the Big East shouldn't be too far from joining the other 12-school leagues. They have no schools with long traditions or consistently dominant programs. What four new schools would receive offers if the Big East does become big? I'm guessing Penn State, Maryland, Temple and Boston College.

Cornelius in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Your guess on that subject is as good as mine. But I couldn't envision a scenario in which Maryland leaves the ACC, and I don't know why Boston College would want to go back to the Big East.

There is always speculation that Penn State isn't "comfortable" in the Big Ten, so maybe in the right situation it would look at options to go elsewhere. But the Big Ten is a premier league, and history shows schools leave conferences to make a step up, not a step down.

Now, if the Big East could lure Notre Dame for football (which is unlikely), then that changes everything. But the speculation here is that if the Big East did expand, it would do what it has done previously and raid Conference USA and invite UCF, Memphis and perhaps Marshall or Tulsa.

Spartan forecast

How do you see Michigan State finishing?

Carson in Ames, Iowa

The 5-4 Spartans have games remaining against Michigan, at Purdue and Penn State. They might win one of those.

I think Michigan wins this week, but the Spartans have solid chances against Purdue and Penn State. I believe they will win one of those most likely at Purdue if they can control the ball and limit the Boilermakers' offensive opportunities and finish 6-6.

Irish eyes look to the future

How do you feel Notre Dame's struggles will affect its recruiting class?

Nick in South Hadley, Ma.

It may have a positive effect. There is no greater attraction than the chance to play, and a team with a 1-7 record certainly would seem in position to offer playing time.

Based on non-binding commitments, Notre Dame's recruiting class is currently ranked the nation's best by Rivals.com. That includes highly regarded running back Jonas Gray of Detroit's Country Day High School, who previously had chosen Nebraska but changed his commitment to the Irish last week.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.

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