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March 30, 2007

Mailbag: Olin is back with your football fix

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He will be on the road throughout the spring bringing you scoop from campuses across the nation.
Upon continuing this mailbag feature, so much correspondence flooded into my e-mail box that I think I have an idea how five-star football recruits must feel.

Well, except none of my messages came with offers for free trips and nice dinners.

Football season is still six months away, but it's obvious by the volume of mail that a lot of fans are going through serious withdrawal and are in need of a fix.

We'll do the best we can to ease the pain by answering questions each week. If your question doesn't appear just tighten up the strait jacket and be patient. It might show up next week.

Olin's Mailbag
Can LSU replace NFL-ready talent?

How big will the losses of JaMarcus Russell, LaRon Landry, Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis to the NFL Draft be for the (LSU) Tigers?

-- Patrick in New Orleans
Russell may be the first player taken in the NFL Draft. Landry is a definite first-round selection. Bowe probably is. Davis will be a pro, too.

It's hard to lose that kind of talent and still compete for a national championship unless you're USC, Ohio State or LSU.

Rivals.com has LSU No. 3 in the preseason rankings, so obviously we don't think those losses will be too costly.

Sure, LSU is going to miss those guys. The Tigers probably won't rank No. 11 in the nation in total offense like last year, and the secondary has to feel the loss of a player like Landry.

That said, Early Doucet has All-American potential at receiver and Matt Flynn (if he beats out Ryan Perrilloux) appears a solid quarterback after his 196-yard, two-touchdown performance in the 2005 Peach Bowl blowout of Miami. Flynn is a good runner and has been at LSU five years. The Tigers should still be good at quarterback, and new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton will do what he can to play to the QBs strengths.

The secondary could be a problem, but LSU is loaded with outstanding athletes. The Tigers have an exceptional pass rush with defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, so the pass defense won't crumble.

Can Callahan return Nebraska to glory?

Do you feel Bill Callahan is the right guy to bring Nebraska back to national prominence?

-- Teddy in Atlanta
Judging by what he's accomplished so far, I'd say yes.

When he took over in Lincoln in 2004, Callahan overhauled the offense and the 5-6 results were predictable.

The Cornhuskers have won 17 games the last two seasons, were a heart-breaking fumble away from upsetting Texas last season and might have beaten Auburn in the Cotton Bowl if not for some ill-advised decisions.

Hey, he's not perfect.

But his last three recruiting classes have been ranked among the nation's top 20 by Rivals.com, and his 2005 recruiting class was ranked No. 5.

Although Nebraska's entire defensive line completed its eligibility last season, the Cornhuskers look solid everywhere else. They will be favored to win the Big 12 North again and could win the conference championship.

That should qualify as a return to national prominence.

Schedule favors Nittany Lions

How do you think Penn State does this year? Where do you think their defense will rank?

--Mike in Philadelphia
The schedule is favorable and a lot of starters are back, so I anticipate the Nittany Lions will fare much like last season.

Penn State goes to Michigan, but Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa come to Happy Valley. That's obviously a positive.

So is having a senior quarterback, even one like Anthony Morelli that has struggled at times.

I doubt the defense will rank in the nation's top 15 as it has the last three seasons, but it shouldn't crash like it did in 2001.

Linebackers Paul Posluszny and Tim Shaw and defensive lineman Jay Alford will undoubtedly be missed.

However, Dan Connor is a potential All-American at linebacker and Sean Lee will be another excellent one.

Justin King and Anthony Scirrotto, who led the Big Ten with six interceptions last season, will head up a solid secondary.

The young defensive line will be an area of concern.

Still, there's too much talent on hand much of it from the sixth-ranked recruiting class of 2006 not to rate Penn State as a strong challenger for the Big Ten championship.

Will Wolverines be at full strength?

What's the case with Mike Hart and Adrian Arrington? Will Hart play next year, and if so will he be 100 percent healthy? And will Arrington even be on the team?

-- Jacob in Westphalia, Mich.
Mike Hart, who is one of my favorite players because he doesn't fumble and rarely loses yardage, is sitting out the spring after undergoing surgery on his shoulder.

He is expected to make a full recovery and should be 100 percent when the season starts.

Arrington was suspended for the spring for undisclosed reasons. He's had disciplinary issues before.

He could return for the season, but at this point probably only Lloyd Carr knows if he will.

Deep sleep in Starkville

Do you see Mississippi State as being a possible sleeper team in the SEC and making a bowl this year?

--Matthew in Mobile, Ala.
Sorry, Matthew. I just don't see it. Trips to Auburn, South Carolina, West Virginia and Arkansas and home games against LSU, Tennessee and revenge-seeking Alabama doesn't bode well for a resurgent season.

The Bulldogs should be better offensively this season, mainly because they couldn't be much worse than in 2006.

Five-star junior college transfer Co-Eric Riley will join holdover Tony Burks to form a nice set of receivers. Freshman running back Robert Elliott, a four-star recruit, figures to give the offense a boost.

The defense has its questions, especially up front.

The Bulldogs should be a little better, but I wouldn't count on a bowl game. From here, a break-even record would look like a successful season.

Will Rutgers keep rolling?

How do you think Rutgers is going to be next year? Will they have a good recruiting season?

-- Conor in Basking Ridge, N.J.
I'm picking West Virginia and Louisville as the top teams in the Big East, with Rutgers right behind them.

The Knights have six starters back on offense, including Heisman Trophy contender Ray Rice at running back. Six starters return on defense as well.

Of course Rutgers won't have the element of surprise, so that will make winning more difficult next season.

However, expect the Knights to post at least eight victories next season and keep their momentum going.

Their recruiting looks to be getting better, too. A lot of New Jersey prospects like offensive lineman Art Forst and quarterback Will Hill all among the Rivals.com top 250 for 2008 are reportedly seriously considering Rutgers.

Don't dismiss the Gamecocks

Given the difficulty of the Gamecocks' travel schedule are they still a year away from competing for the SEC crown?

--Jim in Washington, D.C.
I'd hate to dismiss a Steve Spurrier-coached team as a championship contender - especially one that has Blake Mitchell, Cory Boyd, Kenny McKinley and Jasper Brinkley.

Look at what the Gamecocks did last year. They lost four games by seven or fewer points, and only a blocked field goal prevented them from knocking off national champion Florida. I don't think South Carolina can be overlooked.

But the travel is indeed brutal. Trips to Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas are on the schedule. Last year South Carolina lost to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas in Columbia, so beating those teams on the road will be especially difficult.

Return to glory for Miami?

What are the chances of Miami making the national championship game?

-- Jesus in Pawtucket, R.I.
Not too good.

Going from a one-point victory over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl to national champion in one year seems like a stretch to me.

Randy Shannon may prove to be a great coach, and there is obviously talent on that roster. However, to me a national championship is too ambitious for a team that was 7-6 and the subject of a 31-7 beat down by Louisville.

The Hurricanes should shoot for winning more than three games in the ACC before taking aim on that crystal football.

However, I'll acknowledge it's not out of the question. Oklahoma won seven games in 1999 before winning the national championship in 2000. Ohio State also won seven in 2001 before winning it all in 2002.

But OU's Bob Stoops and Ohio State's Jim Tressel were in their second years as head coach. I'll be more optimistic about Miami's chances under Shannon in 2008.

Defense still a question in South Bend

Why is no one talking about what is going on in South Bend? I think people are tired of the same old Notre Dame. But I think the nation is in for a big surprise with the new defensive schemes and some of the top recruits that have come in.

--Jimmie in Atlanta
Uh, Jimmie, I think you answered your question with your second sentence.

Maybe the Irish will make remarkable improvement under new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. But until we actually see significant improvement, it's hard to erase that image of LSU receivers running free through the Notre Dame secondary in last year's Sugar Bowl.

What's in a name?

Other than the golfer, Olin Browne, how many other Olens do you know? I grew up on a dead-end street where there were three. It was the most common name, so no one thought it was unusual. I've only met one since then.

-- Olen in Baton Rouge
Imagine a bunch of Olin's (or Olen's) on a dead end street. Sounds like my career before Rivals.com called. Anyway, I've known three other Olins my dad and granddad and a kid I knew when I was 12. However, this is a college football forum, so to make this appropriate let me point out that former Washington center Olin Kreutz (now with the Chicago Bears) is probably the biggest and baddest Olin of them all. Oh yeah, there's also Olan Mills, who obviously could have taken a nice photo of Olin Kreutz.

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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