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August 25, 2006

Mailbag: Shining up the crystal ball

As football season nears the requests for predictions grow.

Therefore, we don the turban, tie on a cape and do our best Johnny Carson "Carnac the Magnificent" impression. The envelopes have been hermetically sealed, and the answers are:

  • Anticipate a strong season, but a BCS bowl is too ambitious.

  • Nine regular-season victories and a probable postseason trip to Jacksonville, Fla.

  • Some sanctions are likely, but with the inconsistent NCAA it's impossible to say how severe.

  • Leinart or no Leinart, I'm taking the Trojans.

  • Three bowl games in four years. They keep rebuilding.

  • You don't have Brady Quinn or Troy Smith.
Now, may the fleas of a thousand camels nest in your arm pits.

Olin's Mailbag
Virginia Tech seems to overachieve when expectations aren't that high in the preseason. When they began unranked two years ago they went on to win the ACC. This year they barely crack the Top 25 and are picked behind Miami, Clemson and Florida State. Can Virginia Tech's defense carry them to a BCS bowl?

J. Barron, Chantilly, Va.

-----

I thought expectations were always high in Blacksburg. Who knew?

Coach Frank Beamer has some holes to fill with just four offensive and five defensive starters returning, but discounting the Hokies from BCS bowl contention would be like discounting Jeff Gordon from winning a NASCAR race because of a new guy in the pit crew.

Virginia Tech has managed at least 10 victories in five of the last seven years and made a couple of Sugar Bowl appearances in that span, so there is no reason to think they won't be a significant factor in the ACC race. They also have the ACC's best kicker, Brandon Pace. Never underestimate the value of a kicker.

That said, I don't see the Hokies winning the ACC. Virginia Tech's defense was the nation's best statistically and should be good again with linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. But five starters from a year ago were taken in the NFL Draft, including end Darryl Tapp and cornerback Jimmy Williams, and their absence will be felt.

And for all of Marcus Vick's issues, he was a pretty good quarterback. Replacing his production isn't guaranteed.

The schedule is soft on the front end, which will provide plenty of time for the new starters to get settled in, but games against Boston College, Clemson and Miami in October will determine where the Hokies are headed in the bowl season. The guess here is it will be a second-tier bowl.

How many regular-season games are the Huskers going to win, and what bowl game will they go to and who will the play? Will they win the bowl game?

Joe S., Freemont, Neb.

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Planning a trip to Las Vegas, Joe?

OK, here goes. Get ready to bet the farm (I'm sure there are several in Freemont).

I'm predicting nine regular-season victories and a trip to the Gator Bowl against an ACC opponent - Clemson or Florida State, perhaps? The winner? I'd probably take an ACC team to win, but bowl games are usually decided by which team is most interested in playing.

If the Huskers' season turns out this way hail me as a divine prophet. If not, forget you ever saw this.

Are there going to be any lasting effects of the Big Red Imports (scandal) on the Oklahoma program? If so, what will they most likely be?

A. Stevens, Oklahoma City

-----

There is precedent that indicates the Sooners should expect NCAA sanctions in some form, largely because of violations that occurred in OU's basketball program under Kelvin Sampson.

Schools guilty of more than one major infraction during a five-year period are subject to more severe punishment.

For example, Texas A&M was banned from television, bowl games and the Southwest Conference championship in 1994 after booster Warren Gilbert was accused of paying players almost $8,000 for work not performed.

That's about 10 grand less than Rhett Bomar reportedly received from Big Red Imports.

In 2002, Alabama received five years probation, was banned from appearing in bowl games for two seasons and lost 21 scholarships over three seasons after the NCAA accused Crimson Tide boosters of offering recruits large sums of money.

However, the NCAA comes down harder on some schools than others. The most severe punishment would probably be a one-year bowl ban and maybe a loss of a few scholarships, but that's just a wild guess.

What do you see happening in the Nebraska-USC game? USC lost a lot, and I think they will be searching for an identity early in the season, and Nebraska wins. Your thoughts?

Sean, Omaha

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Sean, my above response to your fellow Nebraskan, Joe, predicted the Huskers will win nine regular-season games. That means three losses, and I'm thinking USC deals one of them.

USC indeed lost a lot, but has a lot returning, too. The Trojans offensive line will be excellent and their receivers are the best in the nation. Containing Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and Patrick Turner would be difficult with the defense at full strength, but without injured cornerback Zackary Bowman it just seems unlikely.

Of course, Matt Leinart won't be throwing to them, but John David Booty isn't a stiff or he wouldn't be playing quarterback at USC in the first place.

USC won't be the near-unbeatable machine it has been the last two seasons, but it's not yet time to expect victories over the Trojans, either.

The Kansas Jayhawks have made it to a bowl game two of the last three years and had an impressive 7-5 record last year. Do you see them building on that success and becoming a power in the Big 12 North? How do you think they will fare this season after losing almost all their starters on a pretty solid or dominant defense, and starting a redshirt freshman quarterback?

Tad, Canton, Kn.

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The Jayhawks won with defense last year, and duplicating that will be difficult after losing nine defensive starters. Linebacker Nick Reid, defensive end Charlton Keith and defensive back Charles Gordon were All-Big 12 selections in 2005 who are not returning.

Athletic linebackers Mike Rivera and Eric Washington will provide a jolt of speed, but the defense still won't be as good as last year. But then, it probably doesn't have to be because the offense has seven starters returning and a possible star in the making with redshirt freshman Kerry Meier, who some Kansas fans think will develop into the best Jayhawks quarterback since David Jaynes.

Expect the Jayhawks to defeat Northwestern State and Louisiana-Monroe to start the season. Then, count road games at Toledo, Texas A&M, Baylor and Missouri and home games against South Florida, Oklahoma State, Colorado and Kansas State as "winnable."

The opinion here is Kansas will prevail in at least half of those "winnable" games and go to its third bowl game in four years. That wouldn't necessarily earn status as a North Division power, but Kansas isn't the doormat it once was.

Why doesn't any sportswriter or sports magazine use the same criteria when ranking teams? They said the (Miami) Hurricane offense sputtered last year so they have no shot this year. But their defense will be nasty.

But Ohio State lost its whole defense and Notre Dame's defense made Ohio State's offense spectacular, all of a sudden. What a joke.

Jason, South Bend, Ind.

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Rivals.com ranks Miami in the top 10 and projects the Hurricanes as the ACC champion.

By the way, Notre Dame ranked 10th in total offense and eighth in scoring offense last season and has seven starters returning.

Ohio State ranked 32nd and 26th and has seven starters back. Miami ranked 73rd in total offense and 55th in scoring and has five starters back.

Teams still must score to win, no joke.

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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