It's been a while since I opened up the mailbag. There wasn't one last week while I was embroiled in Sugar Bowl coverage. So let's do a two-parter today. Still time to get your questions in for this afternoon's second part.
Robert G. from Louisville writes: I think you're being too critical of Cincinnati. When you look at the emotions involved in this game -- the Bearcats are coming off just being dumped by their coach, while Florida has Tim Tebow's last game and a coach who is doing his job despite the discomfort it creates for him. Same with West Virginia; how hard would it be for any team to beat Bobby Bowden in his last game?
Brian Bennett: Emotions only go so far. Yes, Cincinnati had some difficult things to deal with when Brian Kelly left, but that happened on Dec. 10, giving the team a full three weeks to get ready. To a man, the Bearcats said they would be OK and that they were focused on the game. And Kelly or no Kelly, this was the biggest game in school history, with a chance at going 13-0 on the line. And they laid a total egg. The game was never even close, as Florida led 37-3 at one point in the third quarter. There's no other way to say it except that Cincinnati was outplayed and outcoached thoroughly in New Orleans.
As for West Virginia, yes, Florida State had a lot of emotion on its side. But then how do you explain the Mountaineers taking a 14-3 lead? I didn't really understand the game plan for West Virginia. It had the better team and was controlling the action early but just couldn't maintain it. Maybe emotion helped the Seminoles get some momentum after it got back in the game, but that never should have even happened.
Don from Dayton writes: I have to admit that Cincinnati's performance in the Sugar Bowl was poor, but I have to remind you and everyone else that they lost their head coach less than a month before the game. I am not trying to make excuses, but Brian Kelly did call a considerable amount of the offensive plays. In the Sugar Bowl, the offense was nonexistent. Do you think that will be taken into account when the final standings come out?
Brian Bennett: Kelly may have called a better offensive game, but unless he played linebacker, too, it probably wouldn't have mattered much. Florida absolutely steamrolled Cincinnati's defense on its way to 51 points. I don't think there was any way the Bearcats could have hung with the Gators no matter who was coach. Guys like Joe Haden, Carlos Dunlap and Brandon Spikes were just too much defensively.
David from Cincinnati writes: Brian, please tell me that the Bearcats' terrible postseason is no reason to be any less optimistic about next year. I really think less than 10 wins (losing to Oklahoma, splitting Pitt and WVU) would be a disappointment.
Brian Bennett: I'll say this: there aren't many teams, if any, who would have beaten Florida last Friday night if the Gators played that way. So it should have no effect on next year from that standpoint. What will have an effect is a coaching transition and losing valuable players like Mardy Gilyard, Jeff Linkenbach, Aaron Webster, etc. I think Cincinnati should be very good again, but to place those kind of expectations on Butch Jones in Year One may be a bit unfair.
Brad / Little Birch, W. Va., writes: What is your bet on what Noel Devine does now? Will he stay or will he go and what makes you think that? Please reply in 2 page double space format...
Brian Bennett: I can't give you double-spaced, but I'll try to add a bibliography at the end. My gut feeling is that Devine will go. We all know his life story (both his parents died of AIDS) and I think it's going to be too hard for him to say no to an NFL paycheck. And really, will his stock get any higher than it is now? Devine has done just about all he can do at the college level. That's just my feeling, anyway.
Aaron from Nashville: What do you make of West Virginia being put in a no-win situation against Florida State? If we win we're the villain. If we lose, well, they went 6-6 and it makes WVU and the Big East look pathetic. Also, do you think the outcome would have been any different had Jarrett Brown been able to go in the second half?
Brian Bennett: All that is true, but the bottom line is that Florida State was, in fact, a 6-6 team, and West Virginia was better. For whatever reason, the Mountaineers just didn't seem to make very good adjustments as that game went on. I don't know if Jarrett Brown makes too big of a difference; he was only 1-of-4 with an interception. The game plan did not seem to involve throwing the ball, except late when the coaching staff ignored Devine for some reason. If nothing else, at least Geno Smith got some valuable experience for 2010.