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September 15, 2006

Mailbag: Husker fans ready for Trojans

From North Platte, Neb. to some place in Japan, the Husker Nation is gearing up for this week's college football clash with Southern Cal.

The Trojans might be considered prohibitive favorites to win the game, but hopeful Huskers encouraged by consecutive blowout victories - remain optimistic Nebraska can pull off the upset.

But even the most stubborn fans could use a little validation, and therefore they've raised the question of whether their belief in the Cornhuskers is shared.

Is it? Read on.

Olin's Mailbag
Is there really no one outside of Husker Nation that thinks the Huskers have a chance against USC? Our last two games have been (won) by a combined 105-17. That's pretty dang good no matter who you play. The offense is clicking and the defense is one of the best and deepest in the country.

All I can say is, 'USC look out, we're coming.'

-- Bryan P., North Platte, Neb.

What do you think are Nebraska's chances against USC with Nebraska's new offense and well-known defense?

-- Loren, Iwakuni, Japan


Be careful, Bryan. Calling out USC might be like passengers on the Titanic saying, 'Look out iceberg, we're coming.' The blowout victories over Louisiana Tech and Nicholls State were nice for gaudy statistics, but that won't impress the Trojans. USC has put up bigger numbers than those against better opponents in recent seasons.

Of course, these Trojans don't include Bush, White and Leinart. Also, USC lost safety Josh Pinkard for the season, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis is out for this game and linebacker Oscar Lua is questionable, so Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor will be facing a hurting Trojans defense.

That in itself gives the Cornhuskers a chance to pull off an upset. Also, Nebraska's native Californians running back Marlon Lucky and receiver Maurice Purify no doubt will be psyched up to play well in their home state.

It also wouldn't hurt if the Cornhuskers defense, which led the nation with 50 sacks last season but has posted only two thus far could get some pressure on John David Booty.

All that said, I still think Southern Cal will win.

What do you think Chuck Amato needs to do to keep his job at N.C. State? If he does get fired who do you see them hiring?

-- Shea, Scranton, N.C.


He needs to recruit non-qualifiers, of course. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

From here, it seems Amato will maintain his job at least a little while longer - as long as he isn't an embarrassment. That was the case earlier this week when he pointed out that the Mid-American Conference accepts non-qualifers as an excuse for N.C. State's loss to Akron. The ACC doesn't accept non-qualifiers.

Aside from that blunder, he's done well at N.C. State, having managed at least seven victories in four of his six seasons there.

If the Wolfpack surprisingly chose to fire him, some of the hot names that will surely surface for all openings will be Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon and Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. If those two don't work out maybe N.C. State could get J.D. Brookhart, the head coach at Akron.

On Cal, (Marshawn) Lynch and (Desmond) Bishop both wear No. 10. Is this legal?

--Thai, San Jose, Ca.


College rosters are often made up of more than 100 players, including walk-ons. Then there is the issue of retired numbers, too, so sharing numbers is not only legal it's necessary.

The only stipulation is that players with the same numbers can't be on the field at the same time. Lynch is a running back. Bishop is a linebacker.

How good do you think Ben Olson can be for the (UCLA) Bruins, and when do you think the nation will give us some respect?

-- Dontrelle, Sacramento


Olson could have gone anywhere he wanted coming out of Thousand Oaks (Ca.) High School, so there is no reason not to believe he cannot be a very good quarterback for UCLA.

Thus far, he's completed 73.1 percent of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns and just one interception. He was spectacular in a season-opening victory in which he completed 25 of 33 for 318 yards and three touchdowns against a good Utah defense, and that was his first game in almost four years.

The nation will start respecting the Bruins when they start playing sound defense. Judging from what they've done so far, that might not be too long. After games against Utah and Rice, UCLA ranks 17th nationally in total defense. Even against so-so competition that represents major improvement. If UCLA's defense continues to improve, first-year defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will be the assistant coach of the year.

I'm a huge Kentucky fan. I am very disappointed in the football program. Who are the front-runners to take over the program? Do you see us going young and (hiring) an upcoming coach or a coach who has already proved himself?

--Reid, Rockport, Ky.


I feel your pain. Who knows what Kentucky will do. Maybe the Wildcats will rally around embattled coach Rich Brooks and follow last week's blasting of Texas State into a victory over Ole Miss. Maybe they will get on a roll, reach a bowl game and then reward Brooks for an outstanding job and extend his contract.

If that doesn't happen maybe they would look to coax Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who was successful as a head coach at Ole Miss, out of Knoxville.

Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong was apparently interested the Vanderbilt job that went to Bobby Johnson back in 2002, so he might be interested in relocating to Lexington.

Perhaps Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter, who had some success as a head coach at Cincinnati, would be interested. Also, Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart hired Dennis Erickson at Oregon State back in 1999, and maybe he'd try to lure him away from Idaho. Or maybe Kentucky would go after Louisville offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, the brother of head coach Bobby Petrino.

All the (postgame) hype went to (Troy) Smith, (Ted) Ginn, Gonzo (Anthony Gonzalez) and (Antonio) Pittman. Nothing was mentioned about the Ohio State offensive line. Texas' defensive front was supposed to be one of the best. Our line is the best. They will decide our season.

-- Adam, Toledo, Ohio


Ohio State averaged 2.7 yards per rush and quarterback Troy Smith was sacked three times and hurried 10 more.

Even against Texas that doesn't strike me as a great game for the Buckeyes' offensive line. From this point of view Ohio State's strength remains Smith and his receivers. Their performance and how well the defense plays will determine the Buckeyes' season.

What is your prediction of Michigan and Notre Dame this Saturday? What are some of your keys to a win for Michigan and Notre Dame? And what is your take on Michigan's offense and Chad Henne?

--Cedric, Roseville, Mich.


My prediction is Notre Dame 24, Michigan 20. Notre Dame must protect Brady Quinn against a good Michigan pass rush and continue to play well on defense.

Michigan must establish a consistent running game with Mike Hart, which would in turn help the Wolverine receivers to find open spots in the Irish coverage and buy a little more time for Chad Henne to deliver the ball. Whether Michigan's receivers will hang on is another story.

Hart is a terrific back and Henne is underrated, but this game marks the first real test for the Wolverines' rebuilt offensive line.

On defense, LaMarr Woodley and Co. also must put pressure on Quinn or he'll have a big day throwing to Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight.

Turnovers, of course, frequently decide games against teams with evenly matched personnel. My feeling is Michigan is more likely to commit a costly turnover.

At the beginning of the season LSU was one of the least-talked about top 10 teams in the country. Why is that? Why is it that far-fetched that a young, yet-talented defensive line couldn't step in and do the job the defensive line did last year?

-- Kirk, Denham Springs, La.


Three new starters in the defensive line was the primary reason there were/are some questions about LSU. Three starters from last season were drafted by NFL teams. While LSU always has talent, there remains a level of uncertainty with new starters.

However, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey have answered many of those questions in the first two weeks of the season. That was against inferior competition, though. If they remain dominant this week against Auburn's offensive line, then the only question about the LSU defense will be whether it is the best in the nation.

Even with some preseason hesitancy about the defense, LSU was ranked in the top 10, meaning the Tigers were not lacking for respect.

If LSU was to get past Auburn do you believe the Tigers could go undefeated and claim their second national/SEC championship in four years? Or do you believe that another team other than Auburn will emerge in the SEC?

--Dillon, Baton Rouge


Sure they could. Who will LSU play that's better than Auburn. Of course, that would require road victories against Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas - and none of those will be easy wins.

Florida is my pick to win the SEC East and Chris Leak has made significant strides in performance and confidence in his second year in coach Urban Meyer's system.

Despite last week's close call to Air Force, Tennessee's season-opening thumping of California shows the Volunteers cannot be overlooked. Heck, they beat LSU in Baton Rouge last year and that was Tennessee's worst team in 20 years.

Arkansas figures to be a scary team as it regains its health and freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain gets playing experience. Also, Arkansas usually plays LSU tough. This year should be no exception.

I read your article on Miami and Larry Coker's situation, and I couldn't agree with you more. Larry Coker's coaching isn't the problem as much as Larry Coker's recruiting. Miami used to be a recruiting juggernaut, but lately it seems like all the top high school players look at the 'U' with disdain. What gives?

-- Chris, Houston


Actually, Rivals.com ranked each of Miami's recruiting classes from 2002 through 2005 among the nation's top 10.

It seems the biggest knock on Coker as a recruiter is that he's such a nice guy he doesn't attract the intimidating players that Miami built its image on. However, he did sign problem-child Willie Williams in 2004, and that did not turn out well.

One of the highest-rated recruits in 2004, Williams had legal issues and left the team before this season.

Hello Olin. I know the Mountaineers have a weak schedule. How come a lot of good teams left the Big East? Also, I don't understand why the Mountaineers' schedule is so weak.

--Joey, Leehigh Acres, Fla.


The ACC wanted to expand to 12 teams so it could among other things stage a lucrative conference football championship game. Miami felt its future would be more secure in the ACC rather than the Big East.

After Miami joined the ACC on July 1, 2004, Virginia Tech soon followed. Boston College was added in 2005 to form a "super conference."

Losing those three teams severely weakened the Big East, which replaced them with Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida. That in turn weakened West Virginia's schedule.

However, the Mountaineers have at least tried to put together a decent non-conference schedule with state-rival Marshall, Maryland of the ACC and Mississippi State of the SEC.

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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