Athlon's editors tackle the biggest issues in college football.
Tuesday, November 2 is all about midterm elections. Athlon editors Braden Gall, Steven Lassan and Mitch Light cast their ballots on some of the biggest questions in college football.
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You are the athletic director of a university about to play its first college football game – which coach do you want to develop your program into a national title contender?
Braden: So I have to work with this person everyday? That eliminates Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Rich Rodriguez simply based on standard of living. I will go with Chip Kelly at Oregon. I know he might be the Coach du jour, but he has the recruiting down, he has the Xs and Os down and he isn't 6-feet of steel wool like the others. If I never had to speak with the man, I would go Saban.
Mitch: A few months ago, I probably would have said Brian Kelly. Now, it would be either Chip Kelly or Nick Saban — two very different coaches. I'll go with Nick Saban. He has won a national title at two schools and has a proven track record.
Steven: You can change the players and coaching staff around him, but Nick Saban will always produce a winner. Saban is one of the best in the nation at bringing in elite recruiting classes, developing talent and most importantly, turning teams immediately into national title contenders.
If you could take any player in college football to build a team around, who are you taking?
Braden: The two most important positions on the field are quarterback and left tackle. It would either be Stanford's Andrew Luck or Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi. Luck gets the slight edge.
Mitch: It's got to be Cam Newton. He is a great running back who happens also to be a very good quarterback. He has transformed Auburn's team.
Steven: With no other pieces in place, I need a quarterback who can make plays and be an immediate difference-maker for the offense. With those factors, I'm taking Auburn's Cam Newton.
Two minutes remain in the fourth quarter and you have a choice of any quarterback in college football – which one do you pick to lead your team to victory?
Braden: Cam Newton has been pretty clutch in key moments. Ryan Mallett has the ability. So do Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Terrelle Pryor. But I will go with Kellen Moore of Boise State. He has already proven it this season with his game-winning drive/TD pass against Virginia Tech. His 188.3 passer rating this fall would be a single-season NCAA record, and his career TD to INT ratio is an absurd 82 to 15.
Mitch: I'll go with Kellen Moore of Boise State. Makes great decisions and is very accurate. Just a savvy quarterback.
Steven: Three names come to mind - Andrew Luck of Stanford, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and Kellen Moore of Boise State. Any of these passers will make a fine selection, but I'm going to take Moore. The junior is one of the most accurate passers in college football and showed in the win over Virginia Tech this year he is calm, cool and collected with the clock winding down and his team facing a deficit.
Which team is the biggest surprise this year?
Braden: Syracuse Orange. They had two returning offensive starters and had to replace a big chunk of the defensive line. They were picked either 7th or 8th in the Big East by every prognosticator in the land. Yet, they have three road conference wins over South Florida, West Virginia and Cincinnati and are in the hunt for a BCS bowl birth and Big East title. Wow is all I can say.
Mitch: Auburn is one that comes to mind right away. I thought they would be good, but not top-5 good. Baylor and Oklahoma State are two others.
Steven: Baylor and Mississippi State. I thought Mississippi State had a pretty good chance to make a bowl this year, but I never expected a top-25 ranking and a win over Florida in Gainesville. With Robert Griffin returning, Baylor had a pretty good chance to get to six wins, but beating Texas and sitting atop the Big 12 South after nine weeks seemed pretty unlikely in the preseason.
Which team is the biggest disappointment this year?
Braden: Can I vote for the entire SEC East? Florida, Tennessee and Georgia already have a combined 14 losses thus far. They had 12 all of last year and many thought last year was a down year in the East. This could be the first season that one of those three does not play it the SEC title game...ever. Otherwise, I might say Notre Dame. Losses to the Michigans of the world are one thing, but Tulsa and Navy? And the off-the-field incident?
Mitch: Notre Dame. Was tempted to go with UConn, but I think it has to be the Irish. We had them ranked No. 26 in our preseason poll, largely because of our belief in Brian Kelly. They played relatively well early in the season, even in defeat. But losing so convincingly to Navy and then losing at home to Tulsa? No excuse.
Steven: Texas. There is too much talent on this team to be 4-4. I realize there is youth on offense, but the defense did not play well in losses to UCLA and Iowa State. It's pretty clear the run-first attack Mack Brown wanted to install isn't working, yet the offensive staff has no other answers and seems reluctant to let Garrett Gilbert take on more responsibility this year. Texas won't be down for long, but 2010 is shaping up to be a major disappointment.
Only based on this season, which conference is the toughest?
Braden: Normally this would be an easy contest between the SEC and the Big Ten. But the Pac-10 has closed the gap significantly. Other than one team, anyone can beat anyone out west. The Big Ten is a close second as 8 teams will be bowl-eligible.
Mitch: I was very close to going with the Pac-10, but the SEC is still the king. The league has tremendous depth, with five very good teams in the West and some solid teams in the East in South Carolina and Florida.
Steven: Close call between the Pac-10 and SEC, but I'll go with the SEC. Both conferences have national title contenders (Auburn and Oregon), but the edge in depth goes to the SEC with Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Florida. The Pac-10 has lost some of its depth with Washington underachieving, and California hit or miss every week.
Who is the most exciting player in college football?
Braden: Michigan's quarterback Denard Robinson. His burst is unlike anything we have ever seen at the quarterback position. Running backs DeMarco Murray, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore are fun to watch as well.
Mitch: Since I have already used Cam Newton for an earlier answer, I'll go with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. The team is struggling a bit, but keep in mind that he has topped the 175-yard passing and 175-yard rushing mark in the same game four times this season
Steven: I think dual-threat quarterbacks are some of the most exciting players to watch every week. With that in mind, I'll go with Auburn's Cam Newton, Michigan's Denard Robinson or Baylor's Robert Griffin. If I had to choose someone other than a quarterback, I'd take LaMichael James from Oregon.
Do you want to see a playoff or modify the BCS system to determine the national champion?
Braden: If it is good enough for the most powerful and lucrative sport on the planet (NFL), our national pastime (MLB), as well as the most exciting overtime set-up (NHL) and the single most exciting sporting event on the planet (March Madness), then it should be good enough for my favorite sport in the world. Win it on the field, I vote playoff.
Mitch: I would like to see a 16-team playoff. It works in the FCS ranks.
Steven: There will always be debate no matter what system is in place. Even if a playoff is created, there will be complaints about which teams didn't get in, where the games are played, how the money is divided or how the teams are seeded for a bracket. However, a playoff is the best way to decide a champion — whether that's a plus-one model or an eight/16 bracket.
Should the Heisman Trophy vote take place after the bowl games?
Braden: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Mitch: I kind of like it the way it is.
Steven: I'd leave it the way it is, but if the Heisman Trophy was awarded after the bowl games, I would have no complaints either.
Two coaches have been fired so far this year. Which one will get the ax next?
Braden: Dan Hawkins at Colorado or Mike Locksley at New Mexico. Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska are left for the Buffs, who have yet to win a conference game. An 0-8 season won't cut it in Boulder.
Mitch: Dan Hawkins of Colorado or Mike Locksley of New Mexico.
Steven: Dan Hawkins at Colorado will be the next coach to get the ax.
Most underrated coach?
Braden: Mike Riley of Oregon State or Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern. Riley has more to work with and accomplishes slightly more. Playing for trips to the Rose Bowl every year is remarkable considering the level of athlete he recruits. No one evaluates talent and develops players better than Riley.
Mitch: I don't think he will be underrated much longer, but I will go with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State.
Steven: Oregon State's Mike Riley simply does not get enough credit nationally for the job he has done in Corvallis. Before going to the NFL, Riley built the foundation for Dennis Erickson to take Oregon State to its first winning season since 1970 in 1999. Riley returned to Oregon State in 2003, and the Beavers have been one of the Pac-10's most consistent programs since then, achieving six winning seasons in the last seven years. I'd also throw Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, Paul Rhoades at Iowa State and Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern into the discussion.
Assistant coach most likely to be a head coach by January?
Braden: I would love to say Vic Koenning of Illinois. The new defensive coordinator for the Illini might have been the best hire of the off-season. I am just not sure Zooker will let him go just yet. Auburn's Guz Malzahn and Wisconsin's Paul Chryst both have proven they have what it takes to succeed in big time college football and could easily get jobs soon. But I will go with Penn State's Tom Bradley — and not because he will keep the head coaching job. But when JoePa steps down (is forced out) at the end of the year, Bradley could take over in the interim. He played in Happy Valley and has coached there since 1979.
Mitch: Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator at Auburn.
Steven: Guz Malzahn, offensive coordinator at Auburn or Brent Venables, co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma.