Jamie's Mailbag

Who will win the ACC? What's the latest with Fred Rouse? Can Nebraska win the Big 12 North? Can Ron Zook reel in the talent to Illinois? How good is Everson Griffen? How will Alabama be after having to replace some key starters? I will answer these questions and more in this week's Mailbag.

Something occurred to me as I was thinking about last season's National Championship game between USC and Texas. What coach has the nation's longest winning streak? It's not Texas Head Coach Mack Brown. It's actually Brown's Defensive Coordinator, Gene Chizik. Last season was Chizik's first at Texas. The year before he was at Auburn where the Tigers ran the table and finished 13-0.

Gene Chizik (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)
The last time Chizik lost was in Athens on November 15th, 2003 where Auburn lost to Georgia 26-7. Since that loss Chizik's has a personal win streak of 28 games and counting. During this streak Chizik's defenses have given up only 14.1 points per game. In 2004 he was named the Broyles Award winner as the nation's top assistant.

Now to this week's mailbag...

How do you see the ACC playing out? I guess it's easy to say that FSU and Miami will both win their divisions and play for the conference championship. Can anyone besides Virginia Tech possibly break through?
Bill (Atlanta, Georgia)

I would favor Florida State to win the Atlantic and Miami to win the Coastal Divisions of the ACC, just like everyone else. Having said that I do think that Clemson (Atlantic) and Georgia Tech (Coastal) are two teams that could "break through" this season. Of course I also believe that Virginia Tech could also win their side as well.

As you look at FSU and Miami you have to see that neither team is as dominant as they once were in their respective heydays. Don't get me wrong, there is an abundance of talent is Tallahassee and Coral Gables. But there are holes on each side and everyone in the ACC has ramped up their talent level.

The irony is that when you look at Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, they all have two things in common – all five teams play great defense and all five teams have a big question mark at their quarterback position.

Florida State lost seven starters on defense as well as cornerback Antonio Cromartie (missed '05 season but was still a first round draft pick by the Chargers). Still, the 'Noles should be very good on defense by penciling in players with lots of talent. The question is how good will they be early when they face Miami in week one, Clemson in week three and N.C. State in week five? Offensively, quarterback Drew Weatherford is starting to get comfortable in the FSU offense. But he's only a sophomore and still very inconsistent. The other area of concern is on the o-line, where the Seminoles were decimated with injuries last season. A third question for Florida State is will they really make a commitment to the running game with budding superstar Antoine Smith? If they do, that will take a ton of pressure off the young signal caller.

Miami should be dominate as usual on defense. In fact, they should have one of the nation's finest units. The key to the 'Canes overall success will be their offense, in particular the play of their offensive line and quarterback Kyle Wright. Like FSU, the Miami line play last season was poor and it has got to improve this year or Miami will have another subpar season. Would you believe they gave up 36 sacks in '05? The talent is there but relatively young. Larry Coker made some sweeping coaching changes including a new Offenisve Coordinator in Rich Olson. He will open things up and you will see more of an attacking offense. Wright has picked things up quickly and looks very comfortable in the new scheme. There is no question that Miami has the defense and firepower on offense to play for not only a ACC Championship but a National Championship. Can Miami put it together offensively?

Clemson plays back to back road games in week two and three against Boston College and Florida State respectively so the college football world will know if the Tigers are for real by mid-September. Last season Clemson lost four games by a total of 14 points to finish 8-4. This is a program on the verge of breaking through. Offensively, their entire starting offensive line returns, they have a stable of backs and talented receivers. The key will be senior quarterback Will Proctor and how he plays in Clemson's spread offense. He just needs to be an effective point guard, get the ball to his playmakers and not make that big mistake. Defensively, seven starters return and they are led by defensive end Gaines Adams. They will need good play from their new corners but overall this should be a very solid unit.

For Georgia Tech it's quite simple, if quarterback Reggie Ball plays well and with consistency, the Yellow Jackets can play with anyone. He will be a four year starter that has a good line in front of him, a back in Tashard Choice that can be a work horse and move the chains and the nation's best wide receiver in Calvin Johnson to throw to. Ball needs to avoid the bad throws and get the ball to Johnson. If he plays the way he has his first three years then Tech will finish in the middle of the pack and go to a "so-what" Bowl game once again. Defensively, their front seven will be as good as anyone's in the conference. The key area of concern is their secondary.

The Hokies have a new starting quarterback in Sean Glennon. This sophomore won the job and should have enough talent around him in the running game and receiver corps to settle in with the Virginia Tech offense. Only two starters return on the offensive line. The key will be a balanced offense and Glennon playing within himself and getting some confidence early. There are two things you can always say with certainty when talking about the VT program, they will always play great defense and have have exceptional special teams play. The later will be there because it always is and the Hokies will need a scoring boost elsewhere while they break in a new QB. Defensively, they have six started back and should be strong up the middle.

Look for the Atlantic Division to come down to the winner of Clemson/Florida State. Something to remember here in regards to scheduling that could loom large, FSU plays Miami and Clemson does not. I think Miami wins the Coastal side but if their offense struggles Virginia Tech or possibly Georgia Tech could be right there.

So who wins the ACC this season? Earlier this summer I was hedging towards FSU. The closer we get to Labor Day weekend the more I am liking the Hurricanes. I love the way the schedule sets up for Miami. They host Florida State in week one and they also get Virginia Tech at home. They have Virginia, Georgia Tech and Maryland away and they do not play Clemson. If Miami wins the ACC and beats a good Louisville team on the road they could be playing for another National Championship.

Can Nebraska win the Big 12 North?
Pete (Lincoln, Nebraska)
My how things change over a decade. Ten years ago the mighty Cornhuskers were coming off their second consecutive title and a Fiesta Bowl domination of a very good Florida Gator team. That Nebraska team was arguably the best this game has seen in sometime. Now folks are asking if Nebraska can finally win their half of the Big 12?

Bill Callahan
Nebraska coach Coach Bill Callahan has the big red machine headed in the right direction and this should be the year the Cornhuskers do it. Everyone looks towards offense but Nebraska should do it with defense, particularily their front seven which is one of the best in college football. Last season they led the NCAA in sacks with 50. They D-line is good and their linebackers are even better. The question mark, like some many other teams, is at the quaterback position. Senior Zac Taylor can certainly get the job done and orchestrate Callahan's west coast offense but he has to cut down on the mistakes. The offensive line should be good and the running game should be better. In fact, it has to be much better than last year. Callahan has recruited well and these Cornhuskers are faster and more athletic.

Callahan and his staff will know just how far they have come when they travel to Los Angeles to take on Southern Cal in week three. Aren't the Trojans college football's measuring stick? In terms of their conference schedule things set up nicely for them as they get Texas, Missouri and Colorado at home while they travel to A&M, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and K-State.

This is a team and a program that should win their half of the division this season and with both Oklahoma and Texas having quarterback question marks of their own there is no telling how far this Nebraska team could go.

What is the latest with former Florida State wide receiver Fred Rouse? Allen (Tallahassee, Florida)

Fred Rouse
Fred Rouse was the nation's top wide receiver two seasons ago (Class of '05) and was arguably the nation's top offensive recruit. He signed with Florida State out of Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln High School. Rouse played last year as a true freshman for the Seminoles. During his first season at FSU he had a major attitude problem, ran into academic trouble and had off the field issues. Rouse was later kicked off the team (in January). He went from being wanted by everyone to being wanted by know one. His poor attitude, lack of commitment in the classroom and personal issues drove everyone away.

Needless to say the last six months have been a humbling experience for Rouse. Not being able to play football and being a part of a team has killed him and brought him back down to earth. He has quietly kept himself in shape in Tallahassee and he has worked hard in getting his whole life situated and grounded once again.

Rouse is on the verge of transfering and things may be finalized sometime this week or early next week. Stay tuned.

I have seen different stories on Alabama replacing Brodie (Croyle) and several key defensive players. How are the new players looking? Also, (Tyrone) Prothro was seriously hurt last year. What is his status for this year?

John Parker Wilson
Sophomore John Parker Wilson will replace Brodie Croye as the starting Crimson Tide signal caller. Wilson has the tools to be a very good quarterback in the SEC. He has two question marks right now and they are lack of experience and decision making. He is prone to be brilliant on one play and make a poor decision or throw on the next. That happens with young quarterbacks and Alabama's football future looks good with Wilson running the show for Mike Shula's offense.

Tyrone Prothro came out of no where last season and emerged as one of the nation's most electrifying receivers before having the devastating injury to his leg. He won't play in '06 and would love to suit up again for the Crimson Tide. But he faces a dificult time in getting over an ugly and horrendous injury. He will certainly be missed by Alabama but their receiving corps is a deep position. Keith Brown and D.J. Hall should be their go to guys but this unit is deep with players like Matt Caddell, Will Oakley, Earl Alexander, Mike McCoy, Nakita Stover and Aaron McDaniel.

The real strength of the offense should be the running game led by Ken Darby. Like wide receiver, there is depth at running back and fullback with running backs Roy Upchurch, Jimmy Johns, Glen Coffee (knee injury) and Terry Grant and fullbacks Tim Castille and LeRon McClain. The offensive line should be very good and they are led by center Antoine Caldwell. Overall, the offense returns nine starters although true freshman Andre Smith may start at left tackle.

Defensively, Alabama is returning only four starters yet there is a lot of senior leadership. Defensive tackles Jeremy Clark and Dominic Lee, linebackers Juwan Simpson and Terrence Jones and defensive backs Ramzee Robinson and Jeffrey Dukes will all be senior starters who have played a lot for the Crimson Tide. They may not be the top unit in the SEC but they should be very good.

Very quietly Shula and his staff have done an incredible job while at Alabama considering the circumstances they inherited. They challenged for the West last season and they should do so once again this year, especially when everyone is picking Auburn or LSU.

I see that several big recruits for next year are looking at the Illini football team. Can (Ron) Zook pull off any of these big names and build on the recruiting win of Isiah Williams and bring back some respect to the Illini nation?
Ryan Meikamp

Ron Zook
There is no question that Ron Zook and his staff will go out and recruit good players to Illinois. That will happen and they need to give the man time, unlike what they did at the University of Florida. He will get players but it's up to him to learn from his mistakes and build that program up. Let's face, the Fighting Illini only have one way to go and that's up. And much of their future success will fall on the shoulders of new quarterback Isiah Williams. I though last season he had more upside than any other quarterback in the nation. He has a cannon for an arm and super athletic ability. However, he has a long way to go and is very raw. But with proper coaching and a good work ethic Williams could certainly develop into the centerpiece of the Illinois program.

Now Zook and company have to go out and get players to surround him with. The Illini must recruit their state and own their state, particularily the city of Chicago, to turn things around. Big name prospects like defensive end Martez Wilson (Chicago, Ill.) and running back Robert Hughes are must gets for Zook. They are battling Notre Dame for both of these standouts. Illinois will battle Ohio State for Josh Brent (Bloomington, Ill.) for one of the region's top defensive tackles. They are also going to get an official visit from defensive lineman D'Angelo McCray (Jacksonville, Fla.) one of the top prospects from the state of Florida. The point here is that they are on the top kids and are in good position with many.

This is a critical recruiting campaign for Zook and the Illinois program. Last season, in his first full year to recruit, the Fighting Illini finished with the No. 28 rated recruiting class in the country and the No. 4 rated class in the Big 10. That's not bad considering year one under Zook was horrible (2-9) on the field.

Zook must count on improvement on the field this season. That's a given. He will also use playing time as a big allure to Champagne. Zook played a ton of young players in Gainesville and it was a great way to attract the kids to the Swamp. He will do the same thing here and that will help pull these elite players because everyone wants to play early.

Recruiting is the key and Zook and his staff will get the players to Illinois. Whether they win big is not known but surely he will get the Fighting Illini back to respectability.

Why does Scout.com not have an athlete category in your recruiting database? Come to think of it, why don't you have a category for fullback, and split up quarterback, offensive linemen, and linebackers? I would think you would have all the positions. It just seems incomplete and stupid not to have all the positions covered.
Michael (Seattle, Washington)

Michael, you do bring up some good points and some of which I agree on. First of all, as a recruiting team, we huddle up after each recruiting season and talk about ways to get better. We look at and analyze everything. I think as a group we would love to have a fullback position, we would love to break up the o-line to tackle and guard/center, and we would like to break up linebacker to middle and outside. As far as an athlete category we are split as a team. I firmly believe that our job is to project a position. That is why we have a primary and secondary position in terms of projection. To call someone an athlete is a cop-out in my book. I have the same thoughts for splitting up quarterbacks into a dropback or athletic QB category. A quarterback is a quarterback and to break it up is a cop-out and marketing ploy to give your rankings a boost. The more positions you create means everyone appears to be ranked higher. And as fans, you love it when your team signs those high rated prospects.

Anyway, I know we are almost in the football season now and nothing will likely happen this season. But I hope Scout.com adds some position categories for the next recruiting season (FB, OT, OG/C, OLB, MLB). We all think this would be a great addition to the database. To execute something like this is not something easy to do for us. Our engineers in Seattle have to put it together and it has to mesh into our admin system so it doesn't affect past years recruiting classes, rankings, etc. From what we our told from our technicians out west it's somewhat of a complicated fix but a fix that can be done. Hopefully soon.

Jamie, how would you access defensive end Eversen Griffen from Arizona and where do you feel he's headed to play college ball?
Eric (Phoenix, Arizona)

Everson Griffen
They call five-star defensive end Everson Griffen the "Freak." Well, the 6-4 and 265 pound defensive end from Avondale (Az.) Aqua Fria High School, is an extraordinary athlete that runs freakishly fast for a player his size. Like I said, the name is appropriate. At our L.A. Scout.com Combine he ran a 4.46. That's unreal.

To be honest with you I had a hard time believing it. But when you watch the film the film doesn't lie. Not only can he run and run well but this kid makes plays. Just as impressive as his speed is his quickness, especially off the line of scrimmage. Griffen has a great first step and he can flat out be a blur around the edge and make his way to the quarterback. He can also chase you down from the backside and fight through traffic at the line of scrimmage. Griffen uses his hands pretty well and shows some power too.

Griffen is also an impressive running back that is a north-south runner. But make no mistake about it, the "Freak" will be chasing quarterbacks in his future.

Where will he chase them? He must like the city of Los Angeles because he calls Southern Cal and UCLA his co-favorites at this time. Griffen can pretty much name his school at this point but looking at recent history it would be hard to bet against the Trojans.

Griffen is the No. 1 rated defensive end in the nation and the No. 7 rated prospect overall. He is the highest rated prospect at this position since a few Peach State standouts from the Class of 2004 that both signed with the Georgia Bulldogs – Brandon Miller and Charles Johnson.

If you would like to submit a question on college football or recruiting please email jamienewberg@scout.com

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