CHRIS DUFRESNE / COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Despite its record, Georgia Tech poses problems for USC

Chris Dufresne takes time out (he gets 3 per half) each Friday during college football season to answer questions. This week's topics include the dark side of USC's Sun Bowl matchup and a brighter bloom about the Rose Bowl.

Unbuckling the mailbag:

Question: Imagine how USC fans are going to feel after a 6-7 Georgia Tech team wins the game.

Larry Diaz

Answer: How could USC fans feel any worse? The Trojans were picked to win the national title, lost five times and have been "rewarded" with a Sun Bowl matchup against an insect-nicknamed team with a losing record.

The good news for USC fans is El Paso is only an 11-plus-hour drive from Newport Beach. In fact, Newport is closer to El Paso (796 miles) than El Paso is to Houston (802 miles).

USC fans can pass the driving time by playing the popular car game, "I spy USC's new defensive coordinator."

Or, sing the time-killing tune "62 Oregon points on the board, 62 points on the board. Take one down, pass it around, 61 Oregon points on the board."

The worst USC season imaginable is ending in a border town across from Juarez. What a potential nightmare this is for outgoing defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. He finally gets away from all those Pac-12 spread offenses only to end up pitted against Paul Johnson's triple-option attack.

Playing Georgia Tech is similar to doing agility drills through barbed wire. USC defenders need to watch their legs, as the blocking schemes in the triple-option attack are completely different, with offensive linemen coming at you from all angles.

Q: Will SC-Georgia Tech make us forget 2008 Sun Bowl Classic: Pitt 3, Oregon State 0?

Steve Kelly

A: Come on now, fans of lawn bowling thought that game was a thrill a minute. The only score was Justin Kahut's second-quarter field goal and the teams combined for 20 punts. It was the lowest-scoring bowl game since Air Force and Texas Christian played to a scoreless tie in the 1959 Cotton Bowl.

There was also the Sun Bowl in 1940, when Arizona State and Catholic didn't score.

I suspect there will be points in this year's game. Georgia Tech played Florida State tough last week in a 21-15 loss, but allowed 106 points in its previous three games.

USC has unpleasant memories of its last trip to El Paso, when Paul Hackett's Trojans were shocked by TCU, 28-19.

The game marked low ebb for USC and was a launching point for an up-and-coming TCU program that used victory to build momentum as it headed into the next millennium.

That USC win ultimately helped TCU get to the Big 12 Conference.

Q: Can you remember a less impressive Heisman crew than this year's? Each guy isn't even the best at his position.

@jrphelps77

A: I wasn't crazy with the first crew back in 1935, led by Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago. Berwanger's victory couldn't even save his school's football program.

The trophy wasn't named "Heisman" until the second year, and the telegram informing Berwanger he won noted he had been named "most valuable football player east of the Mississippi."

What were players west of the Mississippi … chopped liver?

Monk Meyer of Army finished second, and in third place was Notre Dame's William Shakespeare, whose famous quote, "To tee or not to tee," would be coined by field goal kickers for generations to come.

Seriously, the Heisman goes to the best player that particular year, so in that context I have no problem with this year's field.

I still can't believe Andrew Luck didn't win a Heisman at Stanford, but last year he ran into a more dynamic candidate in Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

Eric Crouch and Gino Torretta won Heismans, but John Elway and Peyton Manning did not.

Elway finished second behind Herschel Walker in 1982; Crouch's competition in 2001 was Rex Grossman.

Manning fended off Randy Moss in 1997, but not Charles Woodson.

Matt Barkley or Geno Smith could have made this a very impressive Heisman crew had both quarterbacks not become fizzle sticks.

Is Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M the best quarterback in the nation? Maybe not, but he did amass 4,600 total yards and had a tremendous game in upsetting then-No. 1 Alabama.

Manti Te'o may not be America's best defensive player, but he is the best defensive player on a team that is going to the BCS title game.

Collin Klein, the third finalist, would have won the award had his Kansas State team won at Baylor, but that's the way the Heisman goes.

Q: "Heisman" is a franchise, no? Why not award a separate "Heisman" for defense?

Kurt Linn

A: That's actually not a half-bad idea.

Q: I can't believe you ranked Stanford behind Georgia … remind me how many ranked teams the Bulldogs beat?

David Thom

A: It's a legitimate point, and one my Stanford wife repeatedly makes as she hands me dinner on the back porch.

There is no doubt Stanford played a tougher schedule than Georgia and that both schools ended up with 11-2 records.

Here's where the argument falls apart like USC's defense. The Stanford Cardinal lost this year at Washington, which lost to Washington State, which lost to Colorado. That's a direct loss link to Colorado, arguably the worst team in Division I.

I just can't get that loss out of my head.

Georgia had a bad loss at South Carolina, the No. 10 team in the Bowl Championship Series standings, and also lost to Alabama.

Q: What about UCLA being ranked ahead of Michigan?

Richard Chisholm

A: UCLA is 9-4 to Michigan's 8-4. UCLA is ranked one spot ahead of Michigan in the BCS standings, 17 to 18, and also ranks ahead in the USA Today, Harris and Associated Press polls.

Michigan leads UCLA only in the "Ann Arbor 'Go Blue' Interactive Bo Schembechler Index."

What about UCLA being ranked ahead of Michigan? That's almost like asking: What about the U.S. being ranked ahead of Iceland?

Q: When are you and Simers getting a radio show together?

Kevin Tiernan

A: As soon as we can get Kirk Herbstreit to join us in studio on the campus of Northern Illinois.

Q: A 70-31 shellacking of a ranked opponent to win the Big Ten is anything but a saunter: Have you ever driven an M1A1 tank? That's what the Badgers looked like at the end.

Frank Quinlan

A: Wisconsin did look impressive against Nebraska and I'm sort of softening on my position that the five-loss Badgers should not be allowed anywhere near Pasadena.

Stanford vs. Wisconsin is a bad-looking matchup, but it may not be a bad game. Wisconsin has lost five times, that's true, but three of the defeats were in overtime and the other two were by three points. So that's five total losses by six points in regulation.

The comeback of Barry Alvarez also makes Wisconsin more intriguing. Alvarez, the team's retired legendary coach, is returning to lead the Badgers in the wake of Bret Bielema's surprising defection this week to Arkansas.

Alvarez has a 3-0 record in Rose Bowl games and his last win, in 2000, was against Stanford. So, yeah, I'm starting to warm up to this idea.

Q: Battle-tested? The facts assert that Florida is far more battle tested than Notre Dame.

Dale Anderson

A: Yes, but Florida's battle tests were almost-losses at home to Bowling Green, Missouri and Louisiana Lafayette. I understand a win is a win is a win, but needing a blocked kick to hold off Louisiana Lafayette at home has to warrant some constructive criticism.

Yet, it's almost like, with Southeastern Conference schools, close wins over inferior teams don't count. Louisiana State won at Auburn this year, 12-10, but it didn't hurt LSU one bit. Auburn finished the season 0-8 in the SEC and fired its coach.

Q: Yes, we should all be impressed by the SEC, where the top six teams went 30-0 against the bottom. What a great "conference."

Dan Artmann

A: That is a fantastic statistic and goes to show just how top-heavy the SEC was this year. The conference had six really good teams, three in each conference. Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M represented the West; Georgia, South Carolina and Florida were the powers in the East. The remaining four teams in each division were mediocre to bad, with Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee being downright awful.

Q: What do you think of the [Bret] Bielema hire, in terms of product that he will produce?

Drew Stevenson

A: I think it's a risky pick for Arkansas given Bielema's roots are in the Big Ten Conference and that his Wisconsin teams were built on power and not speed. You can't win in the SEC playing the way Wisconsin did in the Big Ten.

Can Bielema recruit in the South? Can he recruit players other than real big guys who like to drink milk out of 10-gallon drums?

This will be Bielema's challenge. There were also reports Bielema didn't handle criticism well in Madison. Well, wait until he gets a heaping helping of SEC criticism.

It's a fish-out-of-water-hire to me, but so was Nick Saban when LSU hired him away from Michigan State.

I'll apply my usual three-year rule to Bielema's hire. Let's see where Arkansas is in Year 3.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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