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Football Friday Mailbag: SEC’s biggest threat, PSU QB battle and how top-ranked Alabama could be left out of the SEC Championship Game

While college games are still a few weeks away (getting oh so close you guys), there will be football played tonight and it will be available for our collective viewing pleasures through the miracle of motion picture broadcast through space (game’s on TV). Sure, it’s just preseason NFL football but let’s not call it meaningless. Position battles in every camp mean jobs are on the line. New coaches are trying to get their systems in place and find out what adjustments will be needed before the regular season kicks off after Labor Day.

But getting back to the point, today is the first Football Friday of the 2013 season, and that means it is time to get dialed in for some football talk. This year I am introducing a new regular feature to the website with the Football Friday Mailbag. I realize you can et a mailbag fix almost anywhere you look, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure what is going to separate my mailbag from this one or this one or this one or this one or this one or … well, you get the point. The only thing I can tell you that will be exclusive in my mailbag posts is the fact that this is MY mailbag. I’m also giving you a number of ways to submit your questions for consideration to be posted.


You can send me questions at any time by tweeting me on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB). Sometimes I will take the questions people may ask me out of the blue and include them in the mailbag as well. Here’s the lone question I received on Twitter, from the disembodied logo of the almighty SEC.

The SEC is home of the past seven BCS champions, and of course the conference has sent eight teams to the SEC Championship game during that run. The conference has a powerhouse in Alabama that is already being deemed the team to beat and a surging Texas A&M program returning the Heisman Trophy winner form a year ago. The SEC is the clear, no question about it dominant conference in college football right now. The debate is on which conference is playing second fiddle and the answer is not exactly all that easy to figure out.

Big 12 logoYou can approach this from a variety of angles. Do you go with the conference that has the biggest threat to ending the SEC’s BCS title streak (Big Ten, Ohio State or Pac 12, Oregon/Stanford) or the conference that could have the most competition for a conference title (Big 12). I like to keep in mind that parity does not always make the best conference, which has been an argument the Big East faithful have preached for years and may be the argument shared by fans in the Big 12 this season.

However, I think if there is one conference out there that could stand the best chance if lined up top to bottom with the SEC in 2013, the Big 12 might have the best chance to land some blows. I think the SEC would win the top two match-ups of conference champions and runners-up, but as you get deeper down the line-up I think there are some Big 12 teams that could come away with some wins than the Big Ten, Pac 12 or ACC might.

One thing many college football writers do in the off-season is rank the conferences. I have gone back and forth with some of my ordering but if I had to rank them today it would probably look like this:

  1. SEC
  2. Big 12
  3. Pac 12
  4. Big Ten
  5. ACC
  6. American
  7. Mountain West
  8. Conference USA
  9. Sun Belt

I have the SEC locked in at number one and the Big Ten is a firm fourth overall in my book. Flip-flop the Big 12 and Pac 12 if you want and I wouldn’t complain. The ACC is fifth but has potential to move up quickly this season with some key victories. After that I think the American and Mountain West are pretty much neck-and-neck but Louisville gives the American the slight edge for now over the Mountain West with Boise State. Check back with me in October and see if I change my mind.


I will also be taking a cue from Eight Laces and using an Ask.FM page to accept questions at any time. I will answer questions there when I can and will highlight some of the best questions here in the mailbag as well. I encourage the use of the Ask.FM page because you can also submit your questions anonymously if you want to shield yourself from public embarrassment for what may be seen as a silly question (for the record, there are no questions too silly in my book) or perhaps you just want to hide the fact you are distracted from work.

I had a couple anonymous questions find my inbox this week after setting up a profile the other day and am responding to them here for the first time. Let’s take a look…

Who is going to win the starting QB job at Penn State, Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg?

High School Football: Under Armour All-America Game

I knew I would get one Penn State question, and this one has certainly been one of the big topics heading in to the 2013 season. Let’s refresh everyone on the situation. Bill O’Brien is entering year two as head coach at Penn State and he worked some magic to make Matt McGloin an NFL-bound quarterback (McGloin was signed as an undrafted free agent by Oakland). After losing Steven Bench (transferred to South Florida), the depth under center is extremely raw. The battle for the starting job will be between junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and blue chip freshman Christian Hackenberg (pictured).

From the sounds of it, both bring good size to the position as well as solid arms. Ferguson was enrolled in the spring so he has an early edge in the competition after having practiced in the spring and get a feel for O’Brien’s offense, but Hackenberg has the potential factor in his favor. I do not expect O’Brien to throw Hackenberg in the fire if he does not feel he is ready for that role in week one, but I would understand the logic in doing so. Throw him in to the middle of things right out of the gates and see how you can mold him from the start.

If the decision had to be made today though, I think Ferguson would get the nod for the Nittany Lions with a plan to have Hackenberg ready to take over when needed or at a certain point in the season. My gut tells me Hackenberg will be the week one starter, but my brain is telling me Ferguson is the one to beat right now.

If Johnny Manziel does get suspended and misses the Alabama game, is there anyone who can defeat the Crimson Tide in 2013?

I am not so sure Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is going to be suspended, mostly because I have no faith in the NCAA to put together any sort of investigation that would yield any evidence to support a suspension. Whether Manziel took money in exchange for autographs or not, I expect another fun season in College Station, Texas. That will be the scene for what very well could be the regular season game of the year when Alabama makes a visit to the only team to hand them a defeat in 2012. Oh yeah, Texas A&M is going to be pretty darn good this year as well.

Alabama is my team to beat in 2013, and I think they very well could lose to Texas A&M again. If Manziel is on the field, I might even go ahead and pick Texas A&M to win the game, but I’ll hold off on official predictions until the week of games. If Alabama does happen to slip up on the road, I can’t imagine it will be anything more that a single-digit defeat. With a small margin of defeat coming on the road against what could be a top five program in the nation’s top conference, how much would a top-ranked Alabama team actually fall in the standings? Fourth? Fifth? There is almost no chance Alabama would fall out of the top ten under those circumstances, and if anything has been learned in college football history it is that if you are going to lose it is best to do it early.

Outside of Texas A&M I’m not sure Alabama will take a hit in the regular season. Seriously, do you see a loss on this schedule? Alabama gets Arkansas, Ole Miss and LSU at home. They don’t play Florida or Georgia or South Carolina (until a potential SEC Championship Game). Kentucky is nowhere near ready to give Alabama a threat, and Tennessee is heading in the right direction with Butch Jones but still is unlikely to leave Tuscaloosa with an upset win. Road games at Mississippi State or Auburn? I don’t see it.

Nick Saban

And here is the other thing to consider. If Texas A&M does beat Alabama, the Crimson Tide could feasibly be left out of the SEC Championship Game and still play for the BCS Championship. I feel like I have seen this story before. Texas A&M’s conference schedule is not that much tougher than Alabama’s, although the Aggies do have to visit LSU (and Arkansas). Even if Texas A&M happened to lose at LSU or Arkansas, they would own the first division tiebreaker against Alabama (head-to-head competition) and would advance to the SEC Championship Game ahead of what could at the time be a top-two Alabama squad as long as that was the only loss in conference play.

Has the number one team ever been left out of a conference championship game? Now THAT would be a fitting way to wrap up the final year of the BCS.


Thanks for reading the first installment of my mailbag. This will be a regular post every Friday from now through the end of the college football season. Feel free to send me your questions at any time on Twitter and Ask.FM. You can also use the contact page to email your questions. We will focus on college football but can have some fun with this as well. Other topics of interest may include the NFL, old NES trivia and other 90’s nostalgia and whatever else comes to mind.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.