Chris Dufresne takes time out each Friday during the season to answer questions on college football. Unbuckling the mailbag:
Question: Helfrich is a fraud. The guy doesn't even know what to fix
Answer: Oh, you must have stayed up for Arizona 31, Oregon 24? It wasn't second-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich's finest midnight hour. And if you asked me to rank Pac-12 coaches from one to 12, Helfrich would rank in the bottom half.
Oregon was exposed, just as I predicted last week after the Ducks almost lost at Washington State.
Did you notice how I dropped Oregon like a bad stock and predicted the Ducks' doom if they didn't resolve huge injury issues on the offensive line?
Helfrich promised this week that Oregon had "fixed" some things but that was obviously not the case.
I'll cut Helfrich some slack because no one anticipated Oregon losing three of its top offensive linemen to injury before October.
Q: Wondering if, for his health, Mariota should have declared last year. What do you think?
A: Gee, Dustin, I don't know. Marcus Mariota has been sacked 12 times in his last two games. It's easy to say now Mariota should have taken the money and run to the NFL, but I never criticize players who want to return to college.
It doesn't always work out. Ask USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who returned only to get knocked all the way to the fourth round after that blindside hit by UCLA's Anthony Barr.
I do fear, though, for Mariota's safety. He's a brilliant player and an upright person.
He deserves to leave college football in an upright position.
Q: The notion that "The Big Ten" is only as strong as its two marquee pillars…Michigan and Ohio State.." is ancient history…. Today, on any given day, any Big Ten team can beat any other Big Ten team…
A: Yeah, I saw it last week when the gutty Minnesota Gophers wrestled the Little Brown Jug away from Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Michigan and Ohio State, though, still stir the drink.
Those schools have combined to win 76 Big Ten titles. The next closest school, Minnesota, has 18.
You think that's closing the gap?
I do agree that, on any given day, any team can beat another.
In fact, I can't wait for that storied Big Ten match-up on Nov. 29 between Maryland and Rutgers.
Q: I think you're being very generous to the Maize and Blue to compare the state of Michigan football to the state of Ohio State football. Ohio State has no problems filling its stadium as far as I can tell, and they have pretty solid coach
A: Forget Ohio State's coach. How about the strength coordinator? Anthony Schlegel is the best open-field tackler I've seen at Ohio State since linebacker Randy Gradishar.
Too bad Schlegel is out of eligibility.
That body slam he put on the mechanical engineering student who ran on the field last Saturday was right out of pro wrestling.
It may have also been excessive.
Q: Chris, I guess I have to eat my words: Namely, that Michigan would win the Big Ten. Don't think it will happen. But I still think the Wolverines can bounce back and play some good football.
A: Don't spoon your alphabet soup just yet, Gib, because Michigan is only 0-1 in league play and still could possibly come back to win the Big Ten.
I also believe in the Tooth Fairy.
And I know for a fact that Elvis (Grbac) is still alive.
Q: You are missing the real story on Hoke. It's not that he is a bad coach (he is), but that he endangered the safety of a QB
A: I realize you tweeted this a few days ago before I wrote my Thursday column on the Big Ten mess at Michigan.
Like the coaches, trainers, medical staff and administration at Michigan, I was a little late to the seriousness of this story.
But at least I didn't issue a statement at 1 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning to admit that Shane Morris should not have reentered last Saturday's game with a concussion. That's what Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon did.
I just want you, and all other Michigan fans, to swear on Lloyd Carr's half share of the 1997 national title that you would be storming the gates over the handling of Morris if the Wolverines were 5-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country.
I think you can be right on both fronts: You can think Hoke is a bad coach and you can think Michigan abysmally handled the Morris situation.
Q: Please @DufresneLATimes visit Starkville. We'll SHOW you exciting
A: I HAVE been to Starkville…Car broke down there once while a bunch of college buddies were on our way to a football game.
A creepy guy in a truck offered to drive us into town but we said, no, we'll walk. He took offense. We got to town and noticed there were no people...Next thing I know a guy is running at us with a burning candle and a pick axe.
Wait…that was a stupid horror movie I saw on cable: "House of Wax."
I was in Starkville Sept. 4, 2004, for a very significant moment in college football history.
That was the day Sylvester Croom become the first black head football coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
You read the year right: 2004.
Writing the game story from Starkville--yes STARKVILLE!--remains a highlight in my career.
Here are the first few graphs:
STARKVILLE, Miss—History-making is not always what you expect.
It can be Rosa Parks on a bus, a march to Selma or, as it happened Saturday night, Sylvester Croom running onto the field after emerging from a giant, inflatable Mississippi State helmet.
Surrounded by Bulldog players, Croom burst through a blow-up facemask at 5:01 Central Daylight Time and, a few steps later, broke down one of sport's last, and most shameful, barriers.
On a muggy night, in front of a crowd of 52,114, at Scott field, deep in the heart of Dixie, the 49-year-old Croom became the first African American head football coach to lead his team in a Southeastern Conference game.
"It's a historic day," said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, who flew in for the occasion.
Mississippi State's 28-7 victory over Tulane served only as a happy-ending footnote to the larger story.
Q: You mentioned six SEC West teams in the top 15. Everyone knows that these six teams will play 30 games with each other and spread 30 losses across their records
Because coaches vote, does the SEC commissioner influence the SEC coaches' votes to prop up the SEC West early in the year and give the impression of more strength than really exists?
A: I know SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and can tell you he does not tell coaches how to vote.
Here are the three things the SEC does better than anyone:
What do I mean by strategic scheduling?
The SEC plays an eight-game schedule in a 14-team league, which produces random misses across divisional lines.
If things break right, you can draw more weak opponents than in the Pac-12, which plays nine games in a 12-team conference.
The SEC also brilliantly schedules in non-conference.
The six SEC West schools ranked in this week's top 15 are a combined 25-1. That's fantastic. Dig deeper and note only three of those games have been "true" road games.
Texas A&M played at Southern Methodist, the worst team in FBC this season. Mississippi State played at South Alabama, a Sun Belt team that recently moved up from 1-AA.
The other game was legit: Auburn at Kansas State, and Auburn barely escaped with a win.
The SEC West does play a lot of quality neutral-site games (LSU v. Wisconsin, Alabama v. West Virginia, Ole Miss. v. Boise.)
Give the SEC West credit for winning those games and getting to divisional play with all those schools so highly ranked. That's important because defeats suffered against each other don't hurt as much in the polls.
Q: Who wins between SMU and Vanderbilt?
A: Nice try. Vanderbilt lost to Temple, but Southern Methodist could be one of the worst teams in history. The program that emerged from NCAA's "Death Penalty" may have been more competitive.
Consider: SMU has been outscored, 202-12, in four defeats. The Mustangs rank last, nationally, in scoring offense and defense.