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September 1, 2006

Mailbag: Optimism on offense for the Tide

There is a Seminole in Gainesville, Fla., an Alabama fan in Auburn, Ala., and a Sooner is way down in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

Living behind enemy lines isn't easy, especially during the framework of the college football season - when even friends and neighbors will dish out verbal abuse if your team flounders while theirs flourishes.

But take heart displaced fans. There is always hope. A Buckeye can enjoy Ann Arbor and a Pittsburgh Panther can relish life in Morgantown, W.V. provided his/her team is winning.

For some of you, here's a heads-up on whether you can expect to keep your head up, or run for cover.

Olin's Mailbag
Do you think Florida State is truly back and ready to run through college football again? How will you rate their offense this year and do you think Drew (Weatherford) can run their offense? How does the defense look?

Cecil in Gainesville, Fla.

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Weatherford was very productive as a freshman last season, and there is no reason to believe he won't build on that. The offensive success will be largely dependent on improvement up front, where the Seminoles were inconsistent last year (and that's being polite).

Expect the offensive line to be better, and in turn expect the Seminoles offense to be much better than the one that ranked 59th in the NCAA in 2005.

The defense doesn't figure to be as good after losing five starters who were NFL draft choices, including first rounders Ernie Sims, Kamerion Wimbley and Brodrick Bunkley. But the linebackers are nasty and defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews always seems to have stars just waiting for their chance to shine.

There doesn't appear to be any dominant teams this season, so Florida State could be right in the national championship picture if their kicking game doesn't let them down.

Yeah, there's always that issue.

Another issue being a Noles fan in Gainesville must compare to being a Republican in Massachusetts.

I understand to a certain degree why everyone is wary of Alabama this year (because of ) the losses on defense. One of the main arguments seems to be the (quarterback Brodie) Croyle loss. I'm probably looking at the glass half-full, but with everyone else returning and a quarterback that has been in the system for three springs shouldn't the offense only get better?

Derek in Auburn, Ala.

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I thought Cecil the Seminole had it tough living in Gainesville, but a Tide fan in Auburn must be about as welcome as the flu.

Derek, drink plenty of fluids from your half-full glass because the Tide has its reasons to be optimistic. Flashy running back Kenneth Darby can make anybody miss. Bama has four offensive line starters returning and freshman Andre Smith has already taken over as a starter at left tackle.

Here's the half-empty part. Alabama averaged 402.5 yards of offense and 29.6 points in the five games in which receiver Tyrone Prothro played last season. After his injury, the Tide averaged 327.8 yards and 16.4 points in the remaining seven games - and that included a blowout victory against woefully overmatched Utah State.

Take Utah State out of the equation and Alabama's production dropped to 300.3 yards and 13.3 points, which shows the importance of the Tide's defense. It also explains why the loss of seven defensive starters raises serious doubts this season.

Prothro isn't coming back this season if ever and by losing Croyle you're taking a third-round NFL draft choice out of the mix.

John Parker Wilson (who threw just 11 passes last season) may prove to be Croyle's equal, but at this point he's an unknown quantity on an offense which struggled the second half of last season.

What are your expectations for Oklahoma this season? A lot of sources believe OU is overrated due to the dismissal of Rhett Bomar. Also, do you believe Adrian Peterson can win the Heisman this year?

Sean in Edinburg, Tex.

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Before Bomar and J.D. Quinn were removed from the roster the feeling was Oklahoma had as good a chance as any team to win the national championship. Their odds just got a little worse.

The Sooners defense will be suffocating, a healthy Adrian Peterson is the best back in America (and that could include in the NFL) and the receivers are excellent.

But Bomar was made the starter over Paul Thompson last season because he was the better quarterback. Thompson is not incompetent, but it would seem unrealistic not to expect at least some decline in performance at that position.

Losing Quinn, a likely starter at guard, shouldn't be overlooked either. The Sooners offensive line was already suspect and taking a probable starter out of the mix only raises more questions. That line will obviously play a large role in whether or not Peterson wins the Heisman. My guess is he won't because of the line's issues. Defenses will crowd the line of scrimmage and dare Thompson to beat them with his arm.

However, I'd still anticipate Peterson rushing for about 1,500 yards and the Sooners to notch at least nine victories.

Bill Callahan isn't on the list of coaches on the hot seat. Is that because his job is secure or because Nebraska has fallen that far off the radar screen?

Tom in Fort Worth

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Define job security at Nebraska. Remember, two seasons after Frank Solich's Cornhuskers played for the national championship he was fired, so projecting Callahan's job security is a dicey proposition. Still, he should be secure because after a two-year absence Nebraska is back on the "radar screen."

After an agonizing 5-6 finish in 2004 Nebraska's first losing season in 43 years the Cornhuskers bounced back to 8-4 last season and post an Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan. Recruiting has improved to the point that Rivals.com ranked Nebraska's 2005 class No. 5 in the nation, and the Huskers appear to have made a successful transition from Power I to West Coast offense after Zac Taylor passed for 2,653 yards last year.

Nebraska is also the popular choice to win the Big 12 North Division, a feat it has not accomplished since 1999.

Therefore, Callahan deserves credit for getting Nebraska's football program back on an upward climb and his job should be secure. But if the Huskers falter he'll be on a seat as hot as the electric chair. Ask Solich.

Penn State was clearly last year's national "sleeper" team. I don't see anyone listing them in the top 10, or in many cases the top 20. In your opinion might they be a "sleeper" again this year?

Bruce

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Penn State is wide-awake. Coming off an 11-1 season and Orange Bowl victory, the Nittany Lions cannot be considered a sleeper even though venerable coach Joe Paterno typically takes mid-day naps.

Losing quarterback Michael Robinson creates a huge void, but the Lions are optimistic about replacement Anthony Morelli. Tony Hunt is a productive running back, tackle Levi Brown has All-American ability and linebackers Paul Posluszny, Tim Shaw and Dan Connor are the nation's best group.

Penn State has some holes to fill and probably won't win 11 games again, but the Lions shouldn't be ranked any lower than fourth in the Big Ten. No one would be surprised if they finished as high as second.

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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