February 26, 2010

Mailbag: Should Tebow be more NFL-ready?

The media guides of big-time college football programs always include pages that document former players that have gone on to the pro ranks.

Some programs won't include school records or game-by-game results from past seasons, but a list of NFL alumni is a staple. Obviously, schools want to show prospects with NFL aspirations that attending their school can launch them to a pro career.

Because of that, coaches may seem obligated to do everything possible to develop players for the next level. But does developing a player for the NFL come before team success? That's a topic of discussion in this week's mailbag.

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Developing story

Should or shouldn't Urban Meyer and the Florida coaching staff take any blame regarding the lack of development of Tim Tebow as a quarterback? Or is it their job to basically win games in any way possible? Should future quarterback recruits shy away from Florida because of Tebow's lack of development?
Stephanie in Denver

Blame Meyer for what? Blame him for developing Tebow into a Heisman winner, a starting quarterback for a national championship team and a soon-to-be NFL draft choice, perhaps as high as a second-rounder?

"Credit" seems to be the correct word that should be used in this context.

First and foremost, Meyer's job is to win games at Florida. He's obviously done his job well. Developing players for the NFL is a secondary issue. Until a championship is awarded for players drafted, it's going to remain that way.

Remember Michigan coach Lloyd Carr? During his tenure in Ann Arbor, Michigan produced NFL quarterbacks Brian Griese, Tom Brady, John Navarre and Chad Henne. Yet he was often criticized because some folks felt he didn't win enough championships.

Tebow flourished in Meyer's system. Sure, he has areas in which he must improve to be an effective NFL quarterback, but that doesn't make him different than any other college quarterback going to the next level. Those who doubt Tebow can play in the NFL because of his throwing motion and/or release point or because he didn't take snaps under center in college are assuming he can't improve in those areas. I think he can.

Perhaps he could have been developing in those areas at Florida. But would it have been fair to the others players if Florida's coaches altered what they do just to make one player (albeit a great player) more NFL-ready?

Besides, playing in a pro-style offense wouldn't necessarily ensure NFL stardom. For instance, Heisman winner Matt Leinart played in a pro-style system at USC and his NFL career hasn't exactly taken off.

Furthermore, I doubt Meyer's system will scare away many potential quarterback recruits. Alex Smith played in Meyer's system at Utah and became the first player taken in the 2005 NFL draft. True, he hasn't become a great player, but is that because he played in Meyer's system?

If you'd answer yes, then explain why Leinart hasn't become a great NFL quarterback.

If a recruit is concerned that Meyer's system won't prepare him for the NFL, then simply don't go to Florida. Prospects have some responsibility, too. They have to decide whether an offense fits their abilities.

Look at Ryan Mallett, for example. He signed with Michigan to play in Carr's pro-style offense. But when Carr retired and was replaced by Rich Rodriguez, Mallett knew his skills weren't conducive for success in Rodriguez's spread offense. Mallett transferred to play for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas.

Perhaps Tebow's story will cause some quarterback prospects to avoid Florida. But my guess is Tebow's story actually will attract quarterbacks to Florida rather than scaring them away. Florida didn't sign a star quarterback prospect in its 2010 recruiting class, but that probably was because former four-star prospects John Brantley and Jordan Reed (who seems likely to move to tight end) already were on the roster.

Irish expectations

Why is it that Notre Dame can't recruit with the likes of Florida, Alabama and USC? I've been a die-hard Irish fan all my life. We always dominated the sport. Now we have trouble winning seven games a year. With coach Brian Kelly on board and with his résumé, do you honestly and truly think we can get back to the top and contend for a national title?
William in East Greenwich, R.I.

Who's to say Notre Dame can't recruit with the giants of college football? In 2008, the Irish recruiting class that included the likes of quarterback Dayne Crist, wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph was ranked No. 2 in the nation, behind Alabama, by Rivals.com. That was with the Irish coming off a three-win season.

In fact, since Notre Dame's '05 class was ranked 40th, the Irish have had three classes ranked in the nation's top 10. The past two classes were ranked 21st and 14th, but the uncertainty surrounding then-coach Charlie Weis' status surely contributed to that.

Interestingly, you mentioned Florida, Alabama and USC as comparisons for Notre Dame. All three of those programs have won national championships within the past six years, and all are in warm-weather climates.

Recent success always is a factor in recruiting, and climate has become more of an issue. The top 10 in recruiting rankings typically are dominated by teams in warmer climates. So are national champions. Ohio State in '02 was the only national champion this decade that wasn't from a warm climate. In fact, the Buckeyes and Nebraska are the only "northern" teams to even play in a national championship game this decade.

Notre Dame also has higher academic standards and entrance requirements than many of the nation's top programs. Indeed, in 2004, former Irish Heisman recipient Paul Hornung suggested Notre Dame should ease academic restrictions for athletes and play easier schedules.

Kelly, who replaced Weis as coach, has succeeded everywhere he has been. I'd anticipate he'll be successful at Notre Dame, too. But Notre Dame fans should alter their definition of success. True, Notre Dame once dominated college football, but today's high school prospects weren't even born when the Irish won their last national championship, in 1988.

Expecting a top-20 finish every season and legitimately contending for a national championship every four or five seasons would seem reasonable for Notre Dame. Anything beyond that probably isn't.

Coaching for his job?

How well do you think Michigan will have to do this year for Rich Rodriguez to keep his job, especially with the possible NCAA sanctions? What are the expectations for him this season and are they within reach?
Charlie in Evanston, Ill.

Before Rodriguez's arrival in 2008, Michigan had made bowl appearances in 33 consecutive seasons. Now, the Wolverines have gone back-to-back season without a postseason appearance.

The guess here is Michigan has to have a winning record and play in a bowl for Rodriguez to keep his job.

That may seem like a modest goal, but it cannot be taken for granted. The offense figures to keep improving with quarterback Tate Forcier going into his sophomore year and four returning along the offensive line, so that's reason for encouragement.

But the defense is a huge concern. Last season, the Wolverines couldn't slow down a good offense, allowing at least 30 points in seven games. And that was with end Brandon Graham, a likely first-round draft choice, and cornerback Donovan Warren, their best defensive back who opted for early entry into the draft.

The Wolverines face a challenging schedule with non-conference games against Connecticut and Notre Dame, Big Ten road games against Penn State and Ohio State and conference home games against Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin, which all beat the Wolverines last season.

Getting to seven wins won't be easy, but I think the Wolverines will find a way. They lost some close games a year ago and maybe they can pull out a few this season with a more experienced quarterback.

They'd better.

Listen up

Every season, it seems as if there are a lot of teams getting bashed for their weak non-conference schedules except Texas. Why do we not hear more people dogging their schedule?
Michael in Princeton, N.J.

Maybe you're just not listening.

Texas' 2008 non-conference schedule was widely and loudly criticized, and probably cost the Longhorns a shot at the national championship.

That season, Texas played Florida Atlantic, UTEP, Rice and Arkansas in non-conference games. Meanwhile, Oklahoma faced Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Washington and TCU.

Texas beat Oklahoma in '08, but the Sooners eventually moved ahead of the Longhorns in the BCS standings even though they had identical records. The non-conference schedule (Cincinnati was 11-3, TCU was 11-2) was the primary reason Oklahoma passed Texas. As a result, the Sooners played Missouri for the Big 12 championship and Florida for the national title.

Texas had scheduled a game with Utah that season, but the Utes asked out. Had Texas beaten Utah, which went 13-0 in '08, the Longhorns might have been in the championship game.

By the way, the contention that Texas plays a soft non-conference schedule every year is way off-base. The Longhorns played Ohio State in '05 and '06 -- nothing soft about that.

Still, Texas obviously is aware of the perception and apparently has taken action. This season, the Longhorns play at UCLA. In 2011, they play UCLA and BYU. They have Ole Miss scheduled in '12 and '13, and will play California and Minnesota in 2015.

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