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May 15, 2009

Mailbag: Which is the best pass-catch duo?

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Ham and eggs. Laurel and Hardy. Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

Some combinations are so good together, they're destined to become legendary.

It's the same in college football. Old-timers at Auburn can spin yarns about the classic pass-and-catch combination of Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley. Similarly, there was Terry Hanratty to Jim Seymour at Notre Dame, Jim Plunkett to Randy Vataha at Stanford, Jerry Rhome to Howard Twilley at Tulsa and, more recently, Chad Pennington to Randy Moss at Marshall.

But like aces and eights, some combinations are deadly. For instance, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree killed Texas' hopes for a national championship last season. Harrell and Crabtree now are pursuing professional careers, but defenses still can't breathe easy because as we see in this week's mailbag several deadly combinations remain.

Deadly combos

From: John in Simsbury, Conn.: Last season we saw some great pass-catch duos in college football Missouri's Chase Daniel to Jeremy Maclin, Florida's Tim Tebow to Percy Harvin and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree, to name a few. Who looks to be the deadliest pass-catch pair this season?

There is no shortage of combinations to consider. And just like last season, the majority will come out of the wide-open Big 12.

Eight teams return a quarterback who passed for 3,000 yards and a player who had at least 1,000 receiving yards. Three of them are in the Big 12, including Kansas, which has two 1,000-yard receivers. Quarterback Todd Reesing passed for 3,888 yards in '08, when Dezmon Briscoe had 92 catches for 1,407 yards and Kerry Meier had 97 catches for 1,045 yards.

The most productive returning tandem, yardage-wise, is Houston quarterback Case Keenum (5,020 yards) and wide receiver Tyron Carrier (1,026 yards).

The other returning 3,000/1,000 combinations are Illinois' Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn, Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant, BYU's Max Hall and Dennis Pitta, Texas' Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate and Southern Miss' Austin Davis and DeAndre Brown.

There are some combinations in which the quarterback or receiver didn't quite reach that level but still are extremely productive Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham, Minnesota's Adam Weber and Eric Decker and Cincinnati's Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard are examples.

Of course, there is a big difference between productive and "deadly," as you put it. To me, "deadly" is defined as a combination that's a serious threat to hook up for touchdowns from any place on the field, regardless of the coverage.

Obviously, several of the previously mentioned combinations would qualify. To me, the "deadliest" is Oklahoma State's Robinson and Bryant, who combined for 19 touchdown passes last season. Of those touchdown connections, 13 covered more than 20 yards. In fact, their average touchdown covered 28.9 yards. They also hooked up for multiple touchdowns in six games last season. That's deadly.

Hope in the desert

From: Randy in Tempe, Ariz.: A lot of people are excited about Arizona State's defense. Do you think it will be enough for the Sun Devils to win seven or possibly eight games this season?

The Sun Devils' defense is cause for excitement with end Dexter Davis and tackle Lawrence Guy in front of a solid group of linebackers. We'll take a wait-and-see approach on the secondary.

But for all the excitement on defense, there should be an equal amount of anxiety about the offense. The line has been awful the past two seasons, the running attack is sluggish and the Sun Devils will have first-year starter Danny Sullivan at quarterback.

A good defense will only go so far. Surely, the Sun Devils know that after being held to 20 or fewer points six times (all losses) while going 5-7 last season.

If the offensive line progresses and the running game improves, seven victories aren't out of the question. By the way, in 20 years as a college head coach, Dennis Erickson never has experienced consecutive losing seasons.

Looking ahead

From: Jason in Oklahoma City: I have a random question about the 2010 NFL draft. I have seen a lot of mock drafts already showing four Oklahoma players in the top 10. Do you know what the record is for most players from one school taken in the first round? Is it Miami?

Early speculation is that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, offensive tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy could be selected early in the first round of next year's draft. That is assuming all enter the draft; Bradford and McCoy will be juniors and still have another year of eligibility.

Having all four selected in the first round definitely would be a great accomplishment and a wonderful nugget of information to tell future recruits. But four first-round selections from one team really isn't an unusual occurrence. In fact, the 2009 draft in which USC had the most first-round picks with three was the first time in eight years that one school didn't have at least four players taken in the first round.

Miami has the record with six first-round selections in the 2004 draft: safety Sean Taylor, tight end Kellen Winslow, linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams, offensive tackle Vernon Carey and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

Miami in '02 and Ohio State in '06 each had five players picked in the first round. The teams with four selections are Florida State in '97 and '06, Miami in '01 and '03, Penn State in '03, Auburn in '05, LSU in '07 and USC in '08.

If those mock drafts prove correct (and they usually don't), Oklahoma could become the first team with four players selected in the top 10 since Michigan State in 1967.

Any chance for the little guy?

From: Heath in Provo, Utah: I would like to know if you honestly believe that a non-"Big Six" conference team has a chance to play in the BCS championship game. I would also like you to explain to me why the most biased poll in the country the coaches' poll is used in the BCS poll. There is no stronger pull for a coach than to vote for teams in his conference.

In my opinion, no team outside the six power conferences the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, ACC and SEC ever will play for the BCS championship. I don't think the system will allow it.

First of all, a team from the "lesser" conferences (WAC, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Conference USA) has to go undefeated just to get into a BCS bowl. When a team from those conferences has been undefeated, it still hasn't received a chance to play for the championship.

Hawaii was unbeaten in the 2007 regular season, but two-loss LSU was chosen for the championship game instead. That was the right choice in that case. Hawaii benefited from an historically weak schedule, then was administered a beatdown by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

But explaining away Utah's exclusion last season was much more difficult. The Utes finished the regular season unbeaten and had victories over TCU, BYU and Oregon State, which beat USC. Florida and Oklahoma, each with a loss, played for the championship. Utah was relegated to the Sugar Bowl where it upset Alabama 31-17. And for what it's worth which, really, is nothing Utah's margin of victory over Alabama (14 points) was greater than Florida's (11 points).

Personally, I thought Florida was the best team in the country, and I doubt Utah was the second-best team. But I also thought Utah would lose to Alabama.

The bottom line is that Utah met all the seemingly necessary criteria to play for the national championship and still was denied. If that team couldn't play for a championship, no non-"Big Six" team will.

Moving on, I agree the coaches' poll is tainted. That was made clear in 2006, when Ohio State's Jim Tressel refused to cast a ballot in the poll that would decide whether Michigan or Florida would face the Buckeyes in the championship game.

For decades, The Associated Press (writers) and UPI (coaches) polls determined national champions. When the BCS system was formed, those polls were used along with computer rankings to decide the championship game matchup. The AP removed its poll from the formula after the 2004 season and was replaced by the Harris poll, a panel of voters with various backgrounds in college football.

Incredible but not unmatched.

From: Dave in Downers Grove, Ill.: I enjoyed your story on the greatest NCAA running backs. It's worth pointing out that USC's O.J. Simpson rushed for 3,214 yards in only two seasons. Double that and it's more than Ron Dayne's NCAA-record total. Then, consider that O.J. played in only 19 games. Pro-rate his yardage pace over four 12-game seasons and you've got 8,120 yards. Incredible and unmatched.

Incredible? Yes. Unmatched? No. Not even under the hypothetical scenario you described.

No argument that Simpson was spectacular. I'm old enough to remember watching him play for the Trojans, and he was absolutely amazing.

But consider Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders, who rushed for 2,628 yards in his only season as a starter. Imagine if he had started four seasons; he might have accumulated 10,512 yards.

In considering what did happen rather than what could have, Georgia's Herschel Walker remains my choice as the greatest runner. But anyone who wants to argue for Simpson, Sanders or even Earl Campbell or Tony Dorsett would have a valid case.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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