September 22, 2006

Mailbag: No. 1 takes more than just talent

Does the nation's No. 1 ranked football team need an "it" factor to play for a national championship? And how does a team become ranked No. 1, anyway?

Can Virginia Tech's offense improve to the point that the Hokies can be No. 1, at least in the ACC?

Is there a No. 1 ranking in UCLA's future, or does UCLA even have a future for which to look forward.

We'll boldly answer all those questions. Starting with No. 1.

Olin's Mailbag
We've seen in the last few years that the most talented teams in the country with the best players don't necessarily win the national championship. What is the deciding factor? This year, does Ohio State have the most talented team. If not, do you see them having the "it" factor that puts them there?

-- Kasaun, Hyattsville, Md.


Hmmmm. The most talented team doesn't always win the national championship? A lot of folks from Auburn, Ala., Miami and Southern California Matt Leinart, specifically would tend to agree.

The deciding factor is always wins and losses. Unless, of course, you're referring to Auburn - which won all of its games in 2004 and had no shot at the national championship. But that's what you get for scheduling Division I-AA opponents like The Citadel.

Oh yeah, controversial calls going your way doesn't hurt, either. No one knows that more than the Ohio State Buckeyes, who benefited from a questionable pass interference penalty to win the 2002 national crown.

Yet, in most cases the most talented team usually emerges as the national champion, I believe. But figuring out who has the most talented team in September is a difficult task. Especially because some teams are better at the end of the season than they are at the beginning - and vice versa.

With Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Antonio Pittman, Ohio State definitely has one of the most talented teams. But is it more talented than Michigan with Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham, as well as a solid defense?

Auburn, West Virginia, Texas, Florida, Georgia and LSU all have talented teams, too.

However, Ohio State already has any "it" factor which could be beneficial. If the Buckeyes didn't have "it" they wouldn't be ranked No. 1.

When will we see Virginia Tech's offense improve, and what chance do they have at an ACC and national championship?

-- Doug, Richmond, Va.


There are five sophomores or freshmen in Virginia Tech's starting offense, so it's not that surprising the Hokies rank 69th nationally in total offense.

Many of the problems are easily traced to a young offensive line, which returned just one starter tackle Duane Brown from a year ago. Tech starts freshman Sergio Render at guard. That unit should get better each game as it gains experience playing together.

The Hokies also have had some trouble at tight end. Starter Greg Boone, a redshirt freshman, came to Blacksburg as a quarterback. Backups Sam Wheeler and Ed Wang haven't taken a collegiate snap.

On the positive side, sophomore quarterback Sean Glennon threw for 301 yards last week, although it was against Duke.

Sophomore running back Branden Ore has been productive with 229 yards, but there's little depth behind him. That's out of character at Virginia Tech, where the fans have gotten accustomed to seeing two great backs like Kevin Jones and Lee Suggs rather than just one good one.

Despite its offensive issues, the Hokies are playing solid defense and have allowed just 10 points this season. That alone will make them contenders in the ACC. Their games against Georgia Tech on Sept. 30 and Boston College on Oct. 12 will reveal how seriously they will contend.

Their offensive issues will probably prevent the Hokies from winning the ACC, and a national championship is too ambitious this year.

What are all the factors of ranking all of the college football teams?

--Matthew, Denver, Col.


First, let's admit that rankings are based on opinions and everybody has one, although not all opinions have rational judgment as a foundation.

With that in mind, I'll try to give a rational answer. If we're talking about preseason rankings you look at the number of returning starters, schedule, where pivotal games will be played, the previous season's record and how they did in the second half of the year. Heralded newcomers will also be factored in to the equation.

Now, if we're talking about in-season rankings you look at the won/loss record, the caliber of competition and how they performed. At least, that's the way it should be.

All that said, it doesn't seem right that LSU dropped from No. 6 to No. 10 in the latest AP poll after taking a controversial 7-3 loss on the road to Auburn, which moved up from No. 3 to No. 2.

You lose a close game to the No. 2 ranked team in the nation on its home turf and fall four spots? That makes sense somewhere, I guess.

Also, Clemson and Florida State have the same record, but Clemson beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee, no less and are ranked one spot behind the No. 18 Seminoles.

Even stranger, Boston College, which is undefeated and beat Clemson, is No. 20.

How bright is UCLA's future?

-- Chris, Elk Grove, Cal.


Probably as bright as the past, considering the Bruins were 10-2 last season.

Actually it might even be brighter simply because UCLA appears to be playing defense this year. Yeah, it's early and the Bruins are only two games into their season, but they rank 15th in total defense, which is 98 places higher than they finished last season. They've allowed 26 points thus far, which would've been a good half the last two or three years.

Also, the 2-0 Bruins are a very young team. UCLA will start just three seniors center Robert Chai, split end Junior Taylor and defensive end Justin Hickman in Saturday's game against Washington. Quarterback Ben Olson is a sophomore, tailback Chris Markey is a junior and middle linebacker Christian Taylor - who's leading the defensive resurgence - is also a junior. Next season figures to be an excellent one in Westwood.

Of course, this season looks good, too. The Bruins will be favored in their next three games vs. Washington, Stanford and Arizona and could be 5-0 going into a rough October stretch in which they face Oregon, Notre Dame and California all on the road.

But who's to say they won't win some or all of those games, especially if they go into that stretch unbeaten? Karl Dorrell, hired in 2003, has done a good job as head coach there. He's been virtually overlooked because of the tremendous success of those Trojans across town.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.

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