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September 28, 2007

McFadden fine despite team struggles

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. This week he heads to West Virginia vs. South Florida and Saturday's Auburn-Florida game.
Previous mailbags
Sept. 21: Sometimes the system works
Sept. 14: Tigers on top?
Sept. 6: Reason for hope
August 31: Bull market

Only in college football can eating doughnuts be a character flaw and freedom of choice be a bad thing.

But let's focus on good things.

For example, there's the future of Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden. There is debate about the nation's best team. And there is the projection for the nation's most attractive college football matchup for the second week in October, a weekend that offers a possible preview of the Big 12 championship game.

Of course, that could be a bad thing.

All of this is explained in this week's mailbag.

OU + the little 11?

What is up with the Big 12? Aside from OU being really dominant, it would appear that the conference is way overrated. I know everyone is down on the ACC, but it would appear that the Big 12 is not performing to the level it was hyped. .

— Bradley in Mildenhall, United Kingdom

Hey, Bradley, have you ever heard the expression, "Appearances can be deceiving"?

Well, it's true. They can be. But that's not the case in the Big 12.

That league was down last season and might be worse this year.

Last season, the Big 12 was 3-5 in bowl games. The three wins came against teams that finished with losing records (Texas beat Iowa, Texas Tech beat Minnesota and Oklahoma State beat Alabama).

Oklahoma obviously is a great team this season, but other than the Sooners it's difficult to get excited about a Big 12 team.

Texas is undefeated, but struggled against Arkansas State and UCF. Missouri is unbeaten, but hasn't played a really good opponent, although Illinois is certainly improved. Nebraska is 3-1, but perilously close to 1-3.

Those are the four Big 12 teams that are currently ranked.

Big 12 teams went 5-6 in nonconference play against opponents from other BCS conferences, which isn't too bad. But when Oklahoma State loses to Troy, Iowa State loses to I-AA Northern Iowa and Texas A&M needs triple-overtime to survive against Fresno State, it definitely calls into question the strength of the league.

Why is the league down? It's probably just a down cycle. But the first step in regaining its status as one of the power conference would have to be upgrading defenses. Half the conference's teams rank 64th or worst nationally in total defense.

McFadden stock watch

Though back-to-back losses are hurting Darren McFadden's campaign for this year's Heisman, where do you believe he stands in next year's NFL Draft?

— Jonathan in Little Rock

First of all, McFadden's Heisman chances are good. Ricky Williams won the Heisman in 1998 despite Texas losing three times.

In fact, many polls that track the Heisman still have McFadden as the leading candidate. Personally, I rank him second to Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson.

As far the as NFL Draft goes, his status depends on whether he leaves Arkansas early and what teams are drafting highest.

McFadden's mother has been quoted saying he would enter the draft after this season, but he said he hasn't decided. The guess here – and I think it's a safe guess – is that he will leave for the NFL.

Then, look at what teams likely will draft high. Should Atlanta continue to struggle and get the first pick, it seems logical the Falcons would select a quarterback - most likely Louisville's Brian Brohm, with whom Falcons coach Bobby Petrino already is familiar.

A lot of teams no doubt would be interested in LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey or Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, too.

Still, count on McFadden to be at least a top-five selection if he stays healthy.

By the way, in the past three drafts, four running backs have been taken in the top five – Reggie Bush (by New Orleans), Ronnie Brown (by Miami), Cedric Benson (by Chicago) and Cadillac Williams (by Tampa Bay).

In an amazing coincidence, today we released our top 100 prospects for the 2008 NFL Draft right here. Frank Coyle and his staff at www.draftinsiders.com have partnered with us for coverage of the last two NFL Drafts.

Team to beat

After four weeks of football, who do you think is the best team in the country? I know there is a lot of football to play, but who do you think is the team to beat right now?

— Scott in Alexandria, La.

That's a coin flip between LSU and USC.

At this point, I'm leaning toward the Trojans, who have more experience at quarterback and what I think is a better offensive line.

But when you pick between the Tigers and Trojans, is there really a bad choice? It would be great to see them go at each other.

GameDay dreams

If Kentucky beats Florida Atlantic and South Carolina, could ESPN GameDay end up in Lexington for the LSU game on Oct. 13?

— Jayce in Lexington

I've got to be honest with you, Jayce: As crazy as it might seem, the people at ESPN never have asked me about where to stage GameDay. But that won't stop me from speculating.

That would seem to be a great choice. Both teams would be undefeated, maybe in the top 10 (LSU is now No. 2, Kentucky is No. 14), and the game probably would feature a matchup of a top – if not the top – Heisman candidate in Kentucky's Woodson against perhaps the nation's best defense.

Also, there is the recent historical aspect of the "Blue Grass Miracle," when LSU scored the game-winning touchdown on a 75-yard pass as time expired.

Sorry to bring that up, Jayce. However, that happened the last time the Tigers visited Lexington, so that's an additional element.

Also, at this point, there wouldn't seem to be a better matchup that week.

The other Oct. 13 games that match currently ranked teams are No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 21 Penn State and No. 20 Missouri at No. 3 Oklahoma.

Sooners rich in Texas talent

Why don't the Sooners just move from Norman, Okla., to Laredo, Texas, or something? C'mon. Every year the Sooners come to Texas and scoop up athletes from our high schools. It's like they don't even recruit Oklahoma. Adrian Peterson is from Texas. Current OU tight end Joe John Finley is from Texas. Star receiver Malcolm Kelly is from Texas. Texas is, no question, a pipeline for football. We just lose all our athletes to powers like OU, Florida, USC, etc. Why don't people see this?

— John in Waco

I think everyone does see that, John. That's why Oklahoma, Florida, USC, etc. recruit Texas.

But hey … the University of Texas has done all right, too. Remember that national championship two years ago?

Besides, it's not like the Longhorns haven't ventured out of state, either. Ricky Williams was from San Diego. Chris Simms was from New Jersey. Eric Metcalf was from Virginia. In fact, two starters from the '05 national championship team's offensive line – Kasey Studdard and Lyle Sendlein - were from out of state, though both had fathers who played at Texas.

Texas doesn't recruit out-of-state as much as Oklahoma, but it doesn't have to. Texas has a larger population and more football players.

No doubt, Texas, A&M, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech, among others, would love a rule requiring high school athletes to attend college only in their home states. But this is America, so they have freedom of choice - even if that choice is to play for the Sooners.

Fed up with Fulmer

What is the chance of our doughnut-eating coach, Phil Fulmer, being replaced. If so, what do you think about a coach like Jimmy Johnson?

— Stan in Savannah, Tenn.

Why the adjectives, Stan? Personally, I love doughnuts, especially chocolate ones. So who could blame Fulmer if he likes them, too?

Back in August, Chris Low of Volquest.com spoke with Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, who adamantly asserted that Fulmer's job was not in jeopardy. Of course, that could change if the Volunteers have a losing season, or even a poor one.

Right now the Vols are 2-2, with losses coming on the road to Florida and California, both ranked in the top six. Does losing to them really warrant firing a coach that has a national championship on his résumé?

There have been rumors that Fulmer will be fired if the Vols lose to Georgia on Oct. 6. We'll see.

For argument's sake, let's say Tennessee loses to Georgia, but wins its last seven and finishes 9-3. Should Fulmer be fired for that?

I don't think so, but then I don't make that call.

If he were fired, that brings up the question of his successor. I don't know who that would be, but it won't be Jimmy Johnson.

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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