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September 16, 2011

Mailbag: Should Kelly be worried?

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

Usually, when a new coach takes over a struggling program, he's given a grace period by fans. Losses in his first season usually are blamed on his predecessor.

Hey, LSU gave Curley Hallman four years. Washington gave Tyrone Willingham four years. Ole Miss gave Ed Orgeron three. Sometimes a coach gets into trouble early, but typically that's because of off-field incidents, as was the case with Mike Price at Alabama and Mike Hayward at Pittsburgh.

Oklahoma did part ways with Howard Schnellenberger after one season, a 5-5-1 finish in 1995, but that remains an exception to the rule.

A coach typically has at least two years before he's on the proverbial hot seat.

But in this week's mailbag, a reader wonders if one high-profile coach isn't catching heat after just 15 games.

Losing faith?
The Notre Dame-Michigan game was really good. But do you think that if Notre Dame does not have a good season, coach Brian Kelly could be on the hot seat at the end of the year?
Carbondale, Ill

Obviously, coaches aren't paid millions for seven- or eight-win seasons, but I don't think Kelly's job is in jeopardy unless the Irish completely implode, to something resembling the 3-9 crash of 2007.

Notre Dame typically doesn't make knee-jerk reactions to a disappointing season. Remember, Charlie Weis was there for two more seasons after the '07 disaster.

I really don't see that happening in South Bend. Frankly, Notre Dame was a superior team to USF and Michigan, outgaining both in total yardage. The reason Notre Dame is 0-2 is that the Irish have committed nine turnovers - many of which weren't forced. Do you blame Kelly when Tommy Rees literally drops the ball while attempting a pass inside Michigan's 10 or Cierre Woods fumbles without being hit or Theo Riddick fumbles a punt with no one close to him?

The answer just may be "yes." Some might say, well, Nick Saban's team don't commit a lot of turnovers and they would have a point. Still, it's early, so we'll see if Notre Dame has just had some bad or if the turnover program will be a recurring issue.

If Notre Dame can get through a game without a turnover (or at least with one or two), the Irish will be tough to beat. I still think Notre Dame can post at least eight victories if it can solve its turnover issues.

Should those issues persist, the Irish could stumble to a six- or seven-win season. I don't know if that would put Kelly on the hot seat, per se, but in that case, Notre Dame definitely would need a strong showing in 2012 to keep the heat off.

Again, though, the guess here is Notre Dame will cut its turnovers and finish with a strong season.

Looking for No. 14
Once all this legal stuff is over and Texas A&M does move to the SEC, who do you think will be the 14th team to join the SEC? My bets are on West Virginia or Missouri.
Arlington, Texas

Those are sound bets, but it seems administrators from every program that has been mentioned as a possible 14th member deny they're interested.

Many observers feel the SEC won't take a team from a state that already has a team in the SEC. For example, because Florida already is in the SEC, Florida State won't be a strong candidate.

If that is indeed the case, your guesses of Missouri or West Virginia make sense. If it came down to those two, the bet here would be Missouri. There are more TV sets in that state with Kansas City and St. Louis, and Mizzou will need a home if the Big 12 collapses, although the Big Ten could get involved.

Still, Virginia Tech would be my pick. Hokies officials, of course, have maintained that the school has absolutely no interest in leaving the ACC. We'll see.

East or west?
If the breakup of the Big 12 is inevitable, why would Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and others not want to join the SEC?
Winston-Salem, N.C

My understanding is that Oklahoma academicians really like the idea of being associated with schools in the Pac-12 such as Stanford, California, UCLA, USC, Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon, which are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Florida and Vanderbilt are the only SEC schools with AAU membership.

There is great financial potential there, too. Assuming, OU, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech were added to the Pac-12, that conference would have a "footprint" in nine of the country's top 30 TV markets - No. 2 Los Angeles, No. 5 Dallas-Fort Worth, No. 6 San Francisco, No. 10 Houston, No. 12 Phoenix, No. 14 Seattle-Tacoma, No. 18 Denver, No. 20 Sacramento, No. 22 Portland and No. 28 San Diego.

That would give Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott even more leverage when negotiating TV deals.

Crime and punishment
If you were LSU coach Les Miles, would you let Jordan Jefferson play if he was cleared of all charges?
Travis Air Force Base, Calif

If Jefferson is cleared of charges, why continue to punish him.

He already will have missed several games, so that would suffice as a punishment for getting into a bad situation in the first place. If Jefferson is cleared, the only reason I could see in not letting him play would be if Jarrett Lee is performing superbly or to avoid messing up team chemistry.

Feeling overlooked
I don't understand why all of you sports writers are not on the South Carolina bandwagon, but that's OK. I'll ride Lattimore, Jeffery, Garcia, Ingram, Taylor and Clowney to the title - and then 19 weeks from now we'll see you hacks try to redo all your ballots in November.
Blythewood, S.C.

What I don't understand? Why you're angry. South Carolina was ranked 12th in the preseason by The Associated Press - that's done by sports writers, by the way. That was the highest ranking of any team in the SEC East (Georgia was 19th), so obviously writers felt the Gamecocks were the best team in the East.

This week, the Gamecocks are 10th in the AP poll - which is one spot higher than in the coaches' poll.

They are behind two SEC West teams - Alabama and LSU - in both polls. Both those teams won at least 10 games last season and won their bowl games; South Carolina didn't do either. Alabama and LSU also are off to 2-0 starts, just like South Carolina.

If voting South Carolina behind those two makes sports writers (and coaches, too) "hacks," well... so be it.

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