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August 14, 2009

Mailbag: Schedule critics can go either way

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Critics have blasted Texas, Penn State and Ole Miss for taking it easy with their schedules this season.

Each of Texas' non-conference opponents - Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and UCF - had a losing record in '08. Penn State appears to be applying for MAC membership with games against Akron and Temple; the Nittany Lions also face Syracuse and Football Championship Subdivision member Eastern Illinois. Not to be outdone, Ole Miss is playing two FCS teams as well as Conference USA also-rans Memphis and UAB.

In those cases, the criticism of the schedules would appear justified.

But as we see in this week's mailbag some teams get criticized for scheduling strong opponents.

Win-win for Navy

From: Lance in Alexandria, Va.: Why in the world would Navy put Ohio State on its schedule in 2009 and 2011? It would be a miracle if the Midshipmen won, and assuming they lose (which is almost inevitable), it hurts their chances of becoming bowl eligible. Why would Navy knowingly book such a powerhouse?

What's this - a program criticized for playing good opponents? That's a switch.

Navy has posted at least eight victories in five consecutive seasons, which shows the Middies don't have to schedule as many patsies as possible in an attempt to be bowl eligible.

Heck, it wasn't that long ago when Navy was one of those patsies. So, rather than be criticized, Navy should be applauded for playing the Buckeyes. Sure, Navy will be a significant underdog, but what about the old "no guts, no glory" line?

Besides, that's just one game. Navy has 11 others and figures to be competitive in those. And maybe the Middies will be surprisingly competitive in Columbus.

Sure, the odds of Navy prevailing in Columbus might be akin to winning the lottery, but like the lottery, you can't win if you don't play. In fact, it's better than the lottery: Navy will pick up a lucrative paycheck for playing - even if they lose big.

Best division battle?

From: Corey in Decatur, Ala.: The SEC was the best conference last season, but the Big 12 South was the best division. Which conference division do you think will be the best and most exciting this season? And which team will come out on top?

The ACC Coastal is intriguing with Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Each was in the top 20 of the preseason coaches' poll, and Miami will be a factor in the division, too.

The SEC West is even better with Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss - all in the preseason top 10 - slugging it out.

But my choice for best divisional race remains the Big 12 South, which last season finished in a three-way tie among Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

In the coaches' preseason poll, Texas and Oklahoma are ranked in the top three and Oklahoma State is 11th.

Like Texas Tech last season, this appears to be the season Oklahoma State has been waiting for since the inception of the Big 12. The Cowboys' trio of quarterback Zac Robinson, tailback Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Dez Bryant leads one of the nation's best offenses, and the defense hopes to be improved with Bill Young taking over as coordinator.

Texas travels to face Oklahoma State - just as it traveled to Lubbock last season - and another three-way tie is a real possibility.

The Big 12 South representative has won the conference championship in six of the past seven seasons. Three times in that span, the Big 12 champion has played for the national title.

That makes the Big 12 South the most compelling race to me. And I think the Longhorns win it.

Will Eagles soar?

From: Josh in Mobile, Ala.: Considering the return of the bulk of a record-breaking Southern Miss offense and a favorable schedule, do you think the Golden Eagles have a chance to run the table?

Obviously, a big season is anticipated in Hattiesburg, and for good reason. The Golden Eagles have 10 offensive players and nine defensive players with starting experience. Quarterback Austin Davis passed for 3,128 yards last season, running back Damion Fletcher could join a short list of Football Bowl Subdivision players to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons and the Golden Eagles are entering their second season under coach Larry Fedora.

But an undefeated season is asking too much.

Star sophomore wide receiver DeAndre Brown, who last month reaggravated a broken left leg he sustained in last season's New Orleans Bowl, is not participating in contact drills during August camp. Though he should play this season, will he perform at the level of a year ago, when he had 67 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns?

Also, the schedule really isn't as favorable as you might think. Among the opponents Southern Miss plays outside of Conference USA are Virginia, Kansas and Louisville. Kansas is a strong contender to win the Big 12 North, and that game is in Lawrence.

Virginia and Louisville aren't championship contenders in their leagues, but they won't be pushovers, either. Though Virginia only managed five wins last season, one of them was by 15 points over Conference USA champion East Carolina.

In addition, Southern Miss closes the season against Houston, Marshall, Tulsa and East Carolina - with three of those games on the road. The Golden Eagles definitely have a chance to win all those games, but none can be taken for granted.

I wouldn't say it's impossible for Southern Miss to go unbeaten, but it is highly unlikely. Set your sights on winning Conference USA, then hope for the best.

Room for Locker?

From: Jon in Knoxville, Tenn.: Adrian Peterson was the top recruit as a tailback in 2004. Considering Bryce Brown was the top recruit as a tailback in the 2009 recruiting class, how would you compare the two?

Any comparisons to Peterson would be grossly unfair to Brown.

Peterson is generally considered the best current running back in the NFL and might be the best back in Oklahoma history, which says volumes considering the Sooners have produced three Heisman-winning runners - Billy Sims, Billy Vessels and Steve Owens.

Remember, Peterson rushed for almost 2,000 yards as a true freshman at Oklahoma and finished second to USC's Matt Leinart in the Heisman voting. Don't look for Brown to match that.

And don't forget that Peterson played high school football in Texas, where he faced much stronger competition than Brown faced in Kansas.

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