Friday, August 5, 2011

"Ask the Professors" Season 2, Episode 1

Welcome to the debut of Season Two of "Ask the Professors"! I am proud to bring back this series for a second run after running it  as a sort of offseason pilot last winter and spring. The feedback from this series was simply amazing, so I decided to bring it back for a full run this fall as an in-season feature that will post every Friday night.

This week, I am pleased to introduce a fine panel that is a mix of returnees and new voices. They are as follow:

Kody Brannon of
Cory Hedin, Utah superfan who has a huge base of knowledge regarding the Mountain West and Pac-12
Bryan Morgan, Co-Founder 
John Stansberry, and
Matt Chandik, Sports Reporter for the Delaware County Daily Times and Bilo College Football Report Contributor. 

I hope you enjoy the first edition of our second season. Make sure to come back every Friday night this fall for a new edition! Thanks to our contributors this week and thanks for reading! 

No. 1 The Oregon Ducks are coming off of a 12-1 season where they lost to Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game after going 10-3 in 2009 and losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. With most of their key players returning and Cam Newton off the to NFL, can the Ducks break through and with the BCS National Championship in 2011?

Scott Bilo
Absolutely. Oregon probably has the best athletes in the country on both sides of the ball. They score points at a breakneck pace and they have one of the most underrated QBs in the nation in Darron Thomas. LaMichael James is the best RB in the country, Kenjon Barner could start anywhere else, and when you add Lache Seastrunk to the mix, the Ducks have a nuclear backfield.

They had a few issues on defense last season and were somewhat exposed on defense. They were too gimmicky at times and Auburn really used that to break Oregon down. If the Ducks can shore up some of their issues defensively and their offense rolls on as they had last fall, then yes, Oregon can make a major run.

Kody Brannon
I don't see the Ducks making another run at a BCS National Championship. The Pac-12 is going to be tougher this season than last and they have a tougher out-of-conference schedule, I don't see Oregon even winning the conference this year.

Bryan Morgan
I actually voted Oregon No. 1 in our college football poll at OnsideKick ( - to be released Monday, August 8). The dazzling array of returning skill position players, combined with Chip Kelly's offensive mind, seems to make the Ducks a no-brainer for a repeat Pac-12 title at the very least. However, three little words concern me - "Line Of Scrimmage". The Ducks lost five of seven starters along their defensive line and the offensive line loses last season's starting OT, C, and OG. An incredibly veteran offensive line was an unheralded reason for Auburn's title run in 2010 and I wonder if this won't be the Ducks Achilles' heel. The talent is there and the top programs often reload, not rebuild, but the Ducks' 2011 season most certainly rides on execution along the lines of scrimmage.

Cory Hedin
While I won't say it is impossible, I will say no. In my opinion, three things will hurt their chances of winning it all this year. First of all, the addition of a Pac-12 championship game is a hurdle that they did not have to deal with last year. Championship games add a level of difficulty to national title run that cannot be ignored. For example, in 2008, Alabama was considered by many to be the best team in all of college football. They had spent six weeks ranked No. 1 during that season and were looked at as a very serious contender, if not the favorite, for the National Championship. All was going according to plan for Nick Saban until a fourth-quarter comeback by the Florida Gators in the SEC championship game knocked the Crimson Tide out of the national title picture. Oregon will not only have to win its division, but then take on yet another quality opponent to even be considered for the title game. Secondly, I think the allegations of NCAA recruiting violations being levied against Oregon will be enough of a distraction that it will falter enough to fall out of the championship picture. USC was distracted enough by all of the off-the-field issues last year that it went 8-5 despite having arguably more talent than either Oregon or Stanford.

Finally, two words: Andrew Luck. It is my opinion that one of the reasons Andrew Luck passed on being the number one overall pick in the NFL draft was to have the opportunity to beat Oregon. While beating Oregon is likely only part of his overall goal of winning a national title, I would bet that Mr. Luck has Nov. 12 circled on his calendar as his must-win game of the year. With all of these factors coming together, I think the chances of Oregon winning the BCS championship game this year are slim.

John Stansberry
I think Oregon is probably positioned as well as any team to get to the title game this season. Its biggest in-league opposition comes from Stanford, a program that's breaking in a new coach, and if this team gets a high-profile early season win over LSU, the path to a BCS title game slot could be as easy as putting it in cruise control.

Two things give me pause about this team, though. First, there are more than a few holes to fill in on a decent defense (No. 34 nationally last season in total defense). Oregon will score in BUNCHES, but it needs a defense that can at least make a few stops along the way. Second, what impact will the off the field problems have on Duck players? Has it been a distraction? Who knows?

Matt Chandik
Luckily for us, we'll know right away if Oregon is a contender for the national title in a season-opening defacto road game against LSU. Right now, though, I have to admit I'm not that high on the Ducks. I still think they are the favorite to win the Pac-12, even with Stanford nipping at their heels, but they lost some valuable members of their team from last year. Gone are leading wideouts Jeff Maehl and Drew Davis. Gone are five of Oregon's seven leading tacklers, including Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger.

Stud cornerback Cliff Harris is suspended for the LSU game for doing his damndest to replicate a NASCAR race (minus the whole 90,000 rednecks with 12 teeth apiece and a 64-ounce cup full of tobacco spit) by driving 118 miles per hour on – wait for it – a suspended license. Really, Cliff, great job. Harris also apparently owed about five percent of what it took for Auburn to allegedly sign Cam Newton during college football's free agency, uh, JUCO signing period two years ago, in other traffic-related issues. It's safe to surmise that Harris shouldn't be driving for a while, and he won't be shutting down LSU's receivers in the first Willie Lyles Bowl, if Chip Kelly's word is true. Really, why shouldn't we believe Kelly? He and Jim Tressel are the poster boys for honesty and integrity. It's not like Kelly and his program are in some scalding water with the NCAA right now. Harris' talents will also be missed at punt returner as he scored four touchdowns and averaged nearly 19 yards per return last year.

Oregon sacked the quarterback 33 times last year. The four defenders who combined for 20 of those sacks are no longer with the team, so Kelly will need to find a way to get a pass rush.
I just don't think that when push comes to shove, the Ducks will be good enough defensively to survive the schedule. They get Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley in back-to-back weeks before finishing off the season with arch rival and pesky foe Oregon State. That's a pretty tough slate and I suspect that they'll start the season 0-1.

#2 After promoting former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to Head Coach following the resignation of Bill Stewart, are the West Virginia Mountaineers still the favorites to win a weak Big East Conference?

Scott Bilo
More than you know. The Big Least so so watered down with crap this season that most people consider this an almost lost season until TCU joins in 2012. The league is an absolute mess from top to bottom, and other than WVU, I cannot find a team other than Pittsburgh that could even remotely challenge them right now. The Mountaineers do have many questions in moving into their new schemes under Holgorson, but even Pitt is changing schemes under Todd Graham. The difference is that WVU has the pieces to make it click on offense, while Pitt really does not just yet. WVU wins the conference in a big way.

Kody Brannon
Yes, I would say they are still the favorites to win the Big East because the Big East is just so down and out and the fact that they have been the most consistent team in the conference. They should still be able win the conference and make another BCS bowl.

Bryan Morgan
West Virginia may clearly be the best team in the Big East, yet could still finish outside the Top 25, which is really an indictment of the strength of the Big East. The Mountaineers defense quietly had a stellar season in 2010, finishing No. 3 nationally in total defense (how many of you knew that little factoid?) On the flip side of the coin, only four of those defensive starters return. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, the insertion of Geno Smith into Holgerson's explosive offense is going to put up points. I would look for WVU to drop a home game to a top-notch LSU squad in September but enter the month of November as a top-15 team in the country. The 'Eers' final three games against Cincinnati, Pitt, and South Florida will determine whether WVU heads to a second-tier bowl or spends January 2012 at a BCS bowl site.

Cory Hedin
Hmmmm, who is favored in the Big LEAST? As I look over the teams in the Big East, I can't understand how it have not been replaced by another conference as one of the six automatic qualifying conferences for the BCS. I think West Virginia is definitely the favorite to win the Big East simply because the rest of the conference is very weak. The only team in my mind that may have a shot at the conference title is Pitt. However, with all of the question marks hanging over Pitt's program following the resignation of Head Coach Dave Wannstedt, and the departures of players like Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin and Jabaal Sheard, make it hard for me to believe that they will seriously compete for a conference title. Other than Pitt, I don't see any other team that I could feel good talking about in a conference title conversation. Hopefully the addition of TCU next year will bolster the power of the "power" conference.

John Stansberry
When you look at the schedule side of things, West Virginia is probably set up the best to win the Big East. Louisville, Pitt and UConn all have to travel to Morgantown. In terms of talent, you can argue that West Virginia has four of the league's ten best players in QB Geno Smith, CB Keith Tandy, WR Tavon Austin and DE Bruce Irvin.

I don't think the program will miss Stewart that much. That's because Holgorsen will turn Smith and Austin into statistical monsters by the time the Mountaineers enter Big East play in October. That fact, combined with the scheduling advantage and the talent gap I referred to, makes West Virginia the prohibitive favorite to win the Big East.

Matt Chandik
First off, who gives a shit about the Big East? The fact that it's still an autobid conference is embarrassing. UConn won the league last year. The same Connecticut team that managed all of 10 points against Michigan in the season opener. Shit, 10 points was an average quarter for most teams facing Michigan, yet the Huskies couldn't do more than that in a game? Pathetic.

With that being said, I do expect West Virginia to be the favorite in that joke of a conference, if only because the other teams are just shittier. Geno Smith is the league's best quarterback and returns from a season that saw him chuck 24 touchdowns to just seven picks. He brings back three of his top four targets to throw to, despite losing the electric Noel Devine, and leading wideout Tavon Austin can get it done on the ground and kick returns, too.

New head coach Dana Holgerson should be able to upgrade the WVU offense, which slipped a bit during the Bill Stewart era (which, by the way, who's really shocked that he didn't work out? No one? A coach that couldn't get it done in 1-AA was a bad coach in 1-A? Seriously? Okay, thanks.). WVU has one of the fastest teams in the conference and brings back a solid defensive nucleus.

#3 The Alabama Crimson Tide is regarded as having one the deepest, most talented rosters in college football. With the graduation of QB Greg McElroy and lack of an experienced or highly-regarded QB recruit on the roster, will the Tide fall to the middle of the pack in the SEC?

Scott Bilo
Fall to the middle of the SEC pack? Not a chance. The defense is absolutely stellar and the run game is top-shelf with Trent Richardson and company. Alabama may not win the SEC, as I believe South Carolina will put it all together this season, but the Tide will definitely not be playing any earlier than January when it comes to Bowl season. It is just far to good, despite the QB situation, which may turn out to be OK. It won't be great, but OK is good enough to win.

Kody Brannon
The Tide could possibly fall, a team is only as good as its starting QB. With the fact that it lacks a solid QB, Alabama will probably only win the games it is supposed to, and struggle against the better teams in the conference.

Bryan Morgan
I can't imagine any scenario in which Alabama falls to the middle of the pack - i.e. a 7-5/8-4 type of finish. Crazier things have happened but I can't wrap my brain around that when you look at the hellacious defense that is returning. Look at these 2010 national rankings across a host of national statistical categories:  No. 10,  No. 2,  No. 7, No. 23, No. 1, No. 6, No. 2, No. 12 and No. 4. The secondary is an NFL secondary, as is the linebacker corps, and Nick Saban will not allow a letdown in the defensive backfield. The running back corps is solid, at a minimum, and could border on spectacular if it can get some excellent production from Eddie Lacy and/or Demetrius Goode. Editor's note: Goode transferred to North Alabama May 23. 

Unlike Oregon, Alabama returns nearly its entire offensive line and 10 starters on defense. Yes, the quarterback situation could be viewed as dicey with A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims battling out for the starting spot. Both were high-profile recruits with lots of upside. If one of them can execute the offense at anything resembling the efficiency of Greg McElroy, Alabama may be the best team in the country.

Cory Hedin
I think any other year in the past five or so years, had you posed the same question I would have answered with a resounding YES! I make it no secret that I do not like Nick Saban and cannot wait for the day that someone leaks information about all the NCAA violations that I feel like he probably committed. However, as much as it pains me to say it, I think Alabama will likely still be at or near the top of the SEC this year. This, however, is not because I feel like Alabama will be really good this year. My conclusion is based more on the Southeastern conference as a whole. Over the past several years, there has always been one or two teams in the SEC that simply stand out as not only SEC title contenders, but BCS championship favorites. This year, however, I feel like the SEC is more open to be won than it has been in years. There really does not seem to be that one team that just jumps off the paper at you and stand head and shoulders above the rest. In other words, I see the SEC as being more even across the board than it has been for a long time. This means that just about any team has a shot at rising to the top. What it may come down to is which team’s boosters had the biggest pocketbook this last recruiting year.

John Stansberry
Alabama is way too loaded to fall back in the pack in the SEC, the talent advantage Nick Saban has built up guarantees that it stays ahead of teams like Mississippi State and Tennessee. However, this team has to get some swagger back as it failed to make a BCS bowl last season after being the favorites to repeat as national champs.

So while it won't be middle of the pack, I can see Alabama once again stubbing its toe a time or two in 2011. That’s because the quarterback battle between AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims will yield an inexperienced leader, the Tide's depth at running back is suddenly a problem and the defensive line is a little unsettled.

Matt Chandik
Fuck and no. I love Alabama's team this year. I mean, it helps when you can pick and choose what players you want and cut/find a mystery career-ending injury/sickness/disease that only the UA staff knows about on kids that have outlived their usefulness, but this team is loaded. If you read my Heisman predictions on this site (and if you didn't, well, go read them now), you'll know that I'm very high on running back Trent Richardson. He's my No. 1 pick for the Heisman and I think he's tremendous. Better yet, he fits what Nick Saban likes to do offensively to a T. He can run exceptionally well between the tackles with his size and strength, but he also has breakaway speed to burn as evidenced by his seven carries of 20 or more yards on just 112 carries last year. He can catch the ball well and he was a good kick returner, though I'd be surprised to see him return kicks this year.

The strength of this Crimson Tide team, though, is on defense. It's a college football coach's wet dream to have a defense like this, though I suspect Nick Saban will have a few more defenses like these before it's all said and done. It's a prototypical 3-4 defense filled with quick and massive defensive linemen, agile, hostile and mobile linebackers and defensive backs that are enormous and fast.

The Tide's top 10 tacklers are back from a year ago. 10! How the fuck does that happen? Alabama produced the No. 3 pick in 3-4 defensive end/4-3 defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and should somehow IMPROVE defensively. That's ridiculous. I'm pretty sure I have a man crush on the entire Alabama defense this year. This is the same Alabama defense, basically, that was last seen giving Michigan State swirlies and wedgies while taking the Spartans' lunch money in the Capital One bowl.

It would be more shocking than Terrelle Pryor being a moron of epic proportions, uh, wait, bad analogy. Anyway, I don't think Alabama will drop off and the Tide is actually my pick to win the national championship.

#4 With both Ohio State's numerous problems and Michigan having a new coach, can Big Ten newcomer Nebraska with the conference championship in there 1st season in a new conference?

Scott Bilo
Nebraska is going to make major noise in the new Big 10 and it will be playing Wisconsin in Indianapolis for the league title. I have no doubt about that. If the Huskers can develop Taylor Martinez and take him to the next level while keeping him healthy, the Huskers may be damned near unstoppable, but Wisconsin will have a hell of a lot to say about it. Don't discount Michigan State, either as the Spartans are looking to go to the next level.

Kody Brannon
Nebraska has to be the full favorite to win the Big Ten because there isn't another team that is as deep and looks ready to pounce on a conference that is in the downward slide this season. Nebraska moving to the Big Ten may be the best thing for the school.

Bryan Morgan
In a word, yes. After a decade of watching the Big Ten title struggle oscillate between Ann Arbor and Columbus, the conference axis has shifted. 2011 is shaping up as the year where the center of gravity shifts to a dotted line running between Madison, Wis. and Lincoln, Neb. If you don't have the Oct. 1 date between Nebraska and Wisconsin circled on your calendar, I may just have to revoke your college football fan card. 2011 will be the ultimate what-if science project for college football fans. We've always wondered what would happen when you take a top team and stick them into another conference. We're about to find out what the results look like as Nebraska's season plays out.

Cory Hedin
I think that Nebraska has a very good shot at winning the conference title in its first year. I am very interested, however, in watching what new head coach Brady Hoke can do with Michigan. I was very impressed with the improvement that I saw in a Hoke-led San Diego State team that had dwindled in mediocrity for as long as I can remember. Hoke brought an attitude of winning and excellence to San Diego State that made his players believe that they could compete with any other team in the Mountain West Conference, and for the last two seasons, they not only competed but scared the crap out of the top teams in that conference. When Hoke took over in San Diego, he had very little talent to work with, but he squeezed the most he could out of what talent he had and then coached several of his players up to the point that they were among the best players in the West. Now that Hoke has some better talent to work with, I would not be surprised at all to see a very quick return to prominence for a Michigan program that has been starving for the national spotlight again.

John Stansberry
I think Nebraska has the tools, especially on defense, to win the Big Ten. However, I have to wonder how much familiarity plays into a team being able to win a league. Even in an age where video is so readily available and scouting is so sophisticated, can the "newness" of it all undermine the Huskers a bit?

Also, the schedule could be nicer, with a trip to Wisconsin welcoming Nebraska to the league and back-to-back trips to Penn State and Michigan coming down the stretch. If Taylor Martinez can stay healthy and generate more in the passing game, though, I have to think Nebraska is at least a lock to win its division the first time out.

Matt Chandik
I think Nebraska is definitely the favorite in whatever division it is in. Sorry, but I refuse to call it whatever Jim Delany decided to call the divisions after he got way too drunk one night while celebrating his eventual takeover of the entire world. Nebraska is in a division with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern, so it obviously faces all five of those teams, but it didn't get any breaks from the schedule maker in the opening season as there's also a date at Wisconsin and home games against Ohio State and Penn State.

However, I do think Nebraska will win its division, if only because there really aren't many top teams in that division. Michigan State won't be as good or as lucky as it was a year ago (seriously, Mark Dantonio, pull the horseshoe out of your ass. While you're at it, pull the dick out of it, too, and crack a smile for once instead of jerking off to Jim Tressel photos and Ohio State highlight videos.), though the Spartans could still be a tough team to beat. Hokemania is running through Ann Arbor right now on the heels of a tremendous start to the 2012 recruiting class (if you ever thought you'd see the day where Michigan went all Texas and shit on everyone's asses and had 21 commits for the next class in August of the year before, you are a fucking liar.) and a return to things Michigan fans like (4-3 defenses, pro-style offenses, NOT GETTING A FUCKING TRAIN RUN ON THE WOLVERINES LIKE DURING THE MOTHERFUCKING RICH ROD ERA), y'know, things like that. However, UM is still probably a year or two away despite having a ton of returning starters. Judging by the defense a year ago, I'm not sure I want to see these returning starters.
Iowa could present a challenge in the “Which state is the most ass backward in the Midwest?” title game. The Hawkeyes have been the masters of all things corn-related during their days in the Big 10 and I doubt they'll take too kindly to some new guy thinking that he's going to show Iowa how you make the perfect ear of corn or how you're supposed to husk it just so. Ain't happenin', sir. I still think that a new quarterback against the vaunted Nebraska defense, led by the likes of Jared Crick, Lavonte David, Alfonzo Dennard and fueled by the smoke and ANGARZ that comes out of Bo Pelini's ears when Taylor Martinez tells him that the quarterback's vagina got too many ears of corn stuck in there, is going to struggle.

Northwestern has Dan Persa to make things interesting, but I don't think the Wildcats are a serious threat. Minnesota, well, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? IT'S MINNESOTA. Yes, the same school that started Adam Weber at quarterback for four years. They didn't learn the first year, apparently.
Nebraska should be the favorite, but the Huskers aren't without their warts. Taylor Martinez is a fine runner, but he cracked 200 yards passing all of once last year (against Oklahoma State, which really doesn't count when you factor in that it was, y'know, Oklahoma State's defense) and didn't crack more than 63 yards in either the Texas game or the bowl game against Washington. There's literally no one with experience behind him, either. Look at the four people who attempted passes for Nebraska last year. Martinez was one. Cody Green was the second, but he transferred to Tulsa. Zac Lee, who was the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reason why Nebraska lost the Big XII title game against Texas in 2009 (the same one where Ndamukong Suh decided that he would use the literal translation of his name, House of Spears, and spear the shit out of anyone in the house trying to block him en route to a game that should have won him the Heisman) finally graduated, much to the delight of Nebraska fans. The last one? He's your starting running back this year, Rex Burkhead, who completed three of four passes, all for touchdowns, last year out of the Wildcat formation. Heralded recruit Bubba Starling can't decide whether he wants millions of dollars from the Kansas City Royals or to go to school at Nebraska (which, seriously dude? I could see if you picked, like, Miami, Florida, LSU, USC, but Nebraska?). Bottom line is that if you're a Nebraska student, have a pulse and don't mind a grown man berating the shit out of you every time there's an opportunity, that grown man would like to have you try out to be a Cornhusker quarterback! From what I hear about Nebraska, if you're a female student, coach Pelini has spots on the offensive line for you to try out for.

Also, receivers, let's talk. Right, they have none. Niles Paul's about to get cut by the Washington Redskins, and he was the leader last year. Three of the top five pass-catchers are gone, and the two leading guys coming back combined for less than 600 yards and five touchdowns. Splendid. You know what that means, right? TOM OSBORNE OPTION ATTACK!

Either way, I think NU is the favorite until proven otherwise. I think the Huskers will face Wisconsin in the first Big 10 title game.

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