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February 29, 2008

When is a champion a champion?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
Feb. 22: The next step
Feb. 15: Waiting on Pryor
Feb. 8: Reality check

When is a national championship truly a national championship?

Well, having it nationally recognized would be a good start, and even then, that's not always accepted.

For example, USC was voted the 2003 national football championship by The Associated Press, but acknowledging that could get you black eye in Baton Rouge, La.

At the least, a national championship team should be recognized the year it supposedly won. And it would help if the program actually acknowledged it, too.

Wondering what team or teams are being referenced? It's in the mailbag.

Reconstructing history

About your trivia question in the Feb. 27 notebook, about the Division I universities to have won national championships in football, basketball and baseball. You said Michigan and Ohio State. But what was the first Division I university to hold titles in the three big sports? California won football in 1920, baseball in 1947 and basketball in 1959. If you are going to get paid for writing articles, you should really get all the facts correct. Missing on the first team to achieve something of this magnitude shows a lack of discipline on your part.

— Cubby Sweet in El Segundo, Calif.

Before I start on my rebuttal, let me say that Cubby signed himself as a USC homer and claims he actually hates California, but he wants to give credit where credit is due.

As for Cal's so-called 1920 national championship, football national champions weren't officially crowned until The Associated Press introduced its annual poll in 1936.

California's 1920 team was indeed voted national champion – but it was done several years (and even decades) later.

The official 2007 NCAA Football Records Book shows that Cal was voted national champs by Helms, Houlgate, National Championship Foundation and Sagarin.

The Helms Athletic Foundation was in operation from 1941-82 and named after Los Angeles philanthropist Paul H. Helms. In 1941, Bill Schroeder, managing director of the Helms Foundation, retroactively selected national champions, apparently based on his opinion alone.

The Houlgate System, which started in 1927, was a mathematical rating system developed by Los Angeles resident Deke Houlgate. His rankings were syndicated in newspapers from 1946-58.

The National Football Foundation, established in 1947, didn't name a national champion until 1959, so any champions it named before then obviously were retroactive.

Sagarin is a mathematical rating system operated since 1978 by Jeff Sagarin, who used his computer to name predated national champions from 1919-77.

In my opinion, retroactive national championships don't count.

And the final point to my argument can be found on page 155 of Cal's 2007 media guide. That page hails that 1920 team as Pacific Coast Conference Champions. There is no acknowledgement of a "national championship."

There is one other point to consider, though. The captain on that 1920 Cal team was Olin C. Majors, and any team led by a guy named Olin must have been tremendous.

Another title for Tigers?

Olin, you must not know much about LSU. The Bayou Bengals will be much stronger in '08 than in '07. Quarterback Ryan Perrilloux has a much better arm than (Matt) Flynn did, more like JaMarcus (Russell), and he can run like a deer. The line will be as good or better that last season. (Trindon) Holliday should be larger and faster, and he was already the fastest back in football. If the coach does not foul it up, LSU will repeat. All the tailbacks should be larger, stronger and faster, and we have maybe four quarterbacks to back up Ryan. All those good wideouts are back, too. Les (Miles) should shine.

— John in Louisiana

No doubt, LSU will have an excellent chance to repeat as national champion, although I don't think it's as slam-dunk obvious as you do, John.

LSU has great talent. No one is going to question that. Keiland Williams would've started at tailback at almost any program in America last year, and I know there are some in Baton Rouge who thought he should have started at LSU, too.

The returning receivers are proven, the line is almost entirely intact and the defense … well, there are a few issues there.

Don't minimize the impact of losing defensive coordinator Bo Pelini to Nebraska. Pelini was one of best – if not the best – defensive coordinators in the country. That's not to imply that Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto won't do well, but Pelini certainly left a high standard.

Also, don't forget that defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, perhaps the nation's best player in '07, is gone, as well as five other full-time starters. Again, LSU has recruited exceptionally well over the past few years, so there is no doubt talented players will step into those vacated positions. But they still have to perform as well as their predecessors, and that doesn't always happen.

Will LSU contend for a championship? Definitely. Will it be a cakewalk? No way, not with road trips to Auburn and Florida and Georgia paying a visit to Death Valley.

Right man for the job?

How do you think Bill Stewart and his staff will do at West Virginia? Also, how do you think Doc Holliday and Stewart will do recruiting at West Virginia?

— Sam in Chicago

Considering how the Mountaineers played for Stewart in a 48-28 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, some would say he outcoached Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, which is quite an accomplishment.

At the least, Stewart had his team ready and better prepared, and considering just three weeks before that game Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan, that also was quite an accomplishment.

Still, there has to be some apprehension, too. Stewart's other stretch as a head coach resulted in an 8-25 record in three years at VMU. But ask the coaches at Army about how difficult it can be coaching at a military academy.

It's hard to project how Stewart will fare in the long term. But with eight offensive starters returning, including quarterback Patrick White, I anticipate West Virginia again being the  favorite in the Big East. And if the Mountaineers play well again in '08, that certainly will get the attention of recruits who are considering West Virginia.

I do think Holliday will be an effective recruiter.

Be careful with scoreboard calls

Doug in Pennsylvania: 14-9; 17-10; 27-25; 27-24; 20-0; 33-11; 31-27; 27-0; 34-8.

— Steve in Michigan

That list of scores from the past nine Michigan-Penn State games (all Michigan wins) was in response to feedback in last week's notebook (Some programs find ways to overcome, Feb. 20) in which a Penn State alum listed the reasons top-rated quarterback prospect Terrelle Pryor should sign with the Nittany Lions.

Pryor, of course, also is considering Michigan - and likely would be a perfect fit in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.

But Steve, if I were you, I wouldn't respond by calling "scoreboard." Using that rationale, you'd be making an argument that Pryor should go to Ohio State. Do I need to provide the recent scores in that series?

Exit strategy for Bush?

What impact will the NCAA's restoration of Oklahoma's wins have on the Reggie Bush situation at USC? If the NCAA were to remove the wins from USC's 2005 season, the winner of the BCS Championship Game would be Oklahoma. Did the NCAA finally come to this recent decision so they could have an exit strategy for the chaos at USC?

— Patrick in Grand Prairie, Texas

Perhaps I'm being naïve, but I doubt the NCAA's decision to no longer "vacate" OU's eight victories from 2005 had any thing to do with the Reggie Bush issue. Hopefully, the NCAA just realized what an inane decision originally was made.

Really, how much of a penalty is it to "vacate" victories? Maybe in 30 years, if Stoops were threatening the career wins record of Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden, those "vacated" wins would be significant, but when else?

If the NCAA felt OU, as an institution, deserved to be punished for former quarterback Rhett Bomar and former guard J.D. Quinn being paid for work not performed at an Oklahoma car dealership, then it should have penalized the Sooners in ways that really matter – scholarship reductions (more than two), TV bans or postseason bans.

The NCAA ruled that OU as an institution was not at fault, so therefore it didn't deserve those kinds of sanctions. So why "vacate" the wins?  Did OU fans not celebrate those wins? Why pretend those games were never played? Why not let the opponents vacate those losses? That was a sophomoric decision, and rightly was changed.

I couldn't guess when or if the NCAA will offer a response to the reports that Bush received payment from an agent while playing at USC, and I doubt the Trojans will forfeit the 2004 national championship. If  USC was stripped of its championship, maybe the 2004 crown should be "vacated." After all, would Oklahoma want to claim a national championship after getting pummeled 55-19?

Perhaps in that scenario Auburn should be recognized as the champion because it finished 13-0 and won its bowl game that year.

But how much joy would Auburn get from that. Do you throw a victory parade and roll Toomer's Corner four years later?

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag.

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