The best deal I ever got on ski stuff came on a warm July afternoon in Colorado, when I drove to the grocery store and found a tent sale in the parking lot. Consider this the college football tent sale. It's May, the players at the semester schools are either tied up with exams or chillin' before summer session. The coaches are recruiting.
In news terms, it's as quiet as the home crowd in the second half at Florida International. It's so quiet, I nearly read an e-mail announcing the watch list for one of the player awards. To paraphrase "Blazing Saddles," that's the last act of a desperate man.
I'd say I miss spring practice, but the fact is, because of a case of the flu that hung around longer than Sanjaya, I did miss spring practice. But I can always count on you. We asked you for mail last week, and some 500 e-mails arrived. For May, that's impressive. Y'all are as starved for college football as I am. There are a few e-mails that didn't make this column that I would like to answer. I'll try to do so soon.
Let us comfort each other in our sorrow (except for those of you who ask me who's going to win the Heisman).
From Vincent in Heidelberg, Germany: Ivan, it's known that Les Miles at LSU is sitting on a stockpile of NFL-caliber talent, as evidenced by the number of players from LSU (four) that were selected in the first round of this year's NFL draft. In fact, some now claim that LSU had the most talented team in college football last year, but somehow failed to bring home a championship (SEC or BCS). Some say the next few years will either make or break Miles, claiming that he has been winning with "Saban's players." Now that he is starting to see more of his own recruits take leadership roles on and off the field, do you think he'll be able to mold them and take them to the promised land of the SEC and BCS Championship, or is he simply living in the shadow of Nick Saban?
Maisel: Of course Les Miles is living in the shadow of Nick Saban. If you follow a coach who resurrected a program and won a national championship with it, you will coach in his shadow until you prove that you can match his accomplishments. If you don't believe me, ask Earle Bruce, Ray Perkins, Gary Gibbs and Frank Solich. This is an interesting year for Miles. His team will have been almost all recruited by him (notable exception: fifth-year quarterback Matt Flynn). Saban is back in the SEC West. The home schedule (Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn and Arkansas) tilts in the Tigers' favor. If LSU doesn't win a lot, Miles will feel some heat.
From Zack in Austin: I see the annual NCAA report cards (APR scores) are back, and once again the schools with the least amount of money and resources are being punished for, well, having the least amount of money and resources. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that like the federal government issuing a flat tax and then punishing people below the poverty line who fail to pay up?
Ivan Maisel: That issue has been bothering me, too, Zack, but you said it better than I could. Division I always has had its haves and have-nots. I just don't recall the NCAA having rules that tilted so blatantly in the direction of the haves. President Myles Brand trumpeted a $1.6 million fund that will help have-nots bolster their academic counseling. That doesn't seem like a lot of money to me.
From Zach in Austin: I just read Colt Brennan's comments regarding parking tickets he and his teammates receive when they go to practice. I know from personal experience how frustrating and expensive parking on campus can be, and I'm sure students all over the country can relate. Do you think it would be appropriate for schools to reimburse student-athletes for parking fines in light of the fact that they generate a large amount of revenue for their universities? I am glad to hear someone speak out about this issue, and perhaps changes in policies for student-athletes could lead to changes for regular students as well.
Maisel: Zach in Austin, meet Zack in Austin. Zack, Zach. Zach, Zack. Aw, let's call the whole thing off.
Zach, your heart's in the right place, but the NCAA sees free parking as the first step down the road to athletic hell. It won't happen. If the University of Hawaii makes the parking lot at the locker room and study hall free to all students, then that would be great. And when you find any university that gives back parking revenue, let me know. That would be the real story. I remember a few years back, when UCLA had some construction that took away some parking near the athletic office, the university had valets working the garages. You might think "Only in Westwood," but as someone who goes to campuses all over the country, I can tell you that parking is a universal problem.
From Newton: Texas had seven players drafted, Texas A&M none. Why such a difference? Over the past five years A&M has recruited top 20 classes, what gives?
Maisel: This year's seniors signed with Texas A&M in either February 2002 or February 2003. That means they were either in R.C. Slocum's last class or Dennis Franchione's first one -- neither of which, by the nature of coaching changes, would be expected to be exemplary. This year's draft is indicative of that, and the fact that Mack Brown and Texas have held the high ground in that state for almost 10 years. Now that the Aggies have won a game in the rivalry, we'll see if that begins to change.
From Jon in Madison: Which situation would you rather have as a head coach coming into spring: a great returning quarterback with an inexperienced defense or a great returning defense and two inexperienced quarterbacks battling for the starting position?
Maisel: I'll take the defense and two inexperienced quarterbacks. In other words, I've been listening to coaches for my entire career.
From Evan in Los Angeles: What do you think of UCLA's chances in the Pac-10 this upcoming season? Ben Olson is coming back, and the defensive line is pretty good. If they can just work out their offense, they should be in good shape. They've got a good schedule, with home games against Oregon, Notre Dame and Cal. Do you think they're a top-three Pac-10 team? Thanks Ivan.
Maisel: Until proven otherwise, the Pac-10 belongs to USC and Cal. If there is a third member of the ruling class, I think Oregon is a stride or two ahead of UCLA. This is an important year for Karl Dorrell. The upset of USC last December could be a springboard for the Bruins or it could be a reminder of what UCLA hasn't done on a consistent basis. I'm less concerned about how Olson does than about how the defense does. That's the engine for a Bruin renaissance, as the 13-9 victory over the Trojans proved. Keep an eye on Arizona State. Dennis Erickson wins everywhere he coaches.
From Matthew in Columbus, Ohio: I just read about the episode at Penn State and it made me think: With the uniformity in rules on the field, should there be a uniform code of punishment for incidents off the field? The NCAA already demands that you qualify academically to be eligible to play. If at any point after your initial admission you fail to maintain NCAA standards, you become ineligible. So, what is stopping the NCAA from imposing a similar screening for off-the-field incidents in order to be eligible to play? Likewise, if you get involved in illegal activities after being admitted you will be punished, suspended, or become ineligible at that point. I understand that I am oversimplifying this for brevity's sake, but I certainly think it is feasible. Also, I am not writing this to cast aspersions on Penn State. Thoughts?
Maisel: I'm guessing that you're onto a Roger Goodell model -- a commissioner who would hand down edicts. I don't think your solution is workable in college athletics. I don't see the members voting to take that power away from themselves and hand it to the NCAA officials. The membership is wary of an NCAA central office that would be so powerful. The members want the NCAA to establish a single set of rules so that everyone competes on the same field. But they only want the NCAA to police so much.
From Ed in New Jersey: After going 11-2 last season, with numerous returning starters, how do you think Rutgers will do this season? If they go undefeated, do they deserve to play in the championship game?
Maisel: I think Rutgers will not take the next step into the BCS this season. One, the loss of Brian Leonard on the field isn't as big as the loss of him in the locker room. Two, quarterback Mike Teel has got to show that he can make defenses back off of tailback Ray Rice. Teel hasn't done so yet. Three, the magic of last season comes once or twice in a lifetime, not in consecutive years.
From Patrick in St. Louis: What kind of season are Juice Williams and Illinois poised to have in the Big Ten?
Maisel: Ron Zook is a charismatic man who won at Florida (but not enough) and hasn't won yet at Illinois. He's 4-19 with the Illini, and in this era, three years like that don't always beget a fourth. Zook has some young talent, like Williams, who showed promise as a freshman quarterback last year. He also has a highly regarded incoming freshman class. That means Illinois won't turn the corner this year, but the Illini could get close enough to use the blinker.
From Stefan in Bismarck, N.D.: With the Florida Gators returning only two starters on defense, will their last two recruiting classes be enough to help fill in the shoes on defense and get them back to the BCS title game?
Maisel: Two returning starters on defense? There's no way. I mean, to find a team that had only two returning starters on defense and still played for the national championship, you have to go all the way back to uh, Ohio State, a year ago. Never mind.
From Paul in Nashville, Tenn.: Ivan, In this decade I have seen history made in sports that I thought would never happen. A team comes back from down 0-3 to win a seven-game series. An eight seed beats a one seed in the NBA in a seven-game series. Vandy beat Tennessee in football (only happened three times since I was born. I am 31, and a UT fan). The same school wins both the football and basketball title in the same year. What do you think will be the next history making event in sports? I say a 16 seed beats a one seed in March.
Maisel: A 16 beating a 1 is a good one. I'm thinking something really crazy, like Wake Forest winning the ACC. Naah, forget I even mentioned it.
From Joe M. in Whittier, Calif.: Ivan, Your opinion on an ACC team qualifying for the BCS championship game? And please clean your computer screen of the drink you spat out when you read this question.
Maisel: Good one -- that was funny. Did you have a serious question? Oh, that was it. Sorry. The ACC will be better this season. How could it not? The thing is, the league has dropped far enough that one outstanding team would have a better chance of getting to the BCS Championship Game. Its road to 13-0 would be shorter. But the ACC doesn't appear to have one of those teams.
From Jon in Westport, Conn.: Ivan, with so many high school All-America running backs on the roster at USC, do you you expect an exodus to other schools by some of these kids or will Pete Carroll find a way to spread the ball around enough to satisfy everybody?
Maisel: We had a guy in California write about the ACC and a guy in Connecticut write about USC. Weird. Anyway, part of what Carroll does best is treat people well. His players love to play for him. If there are any disgruntled players in the USC backfield, they have kept that unhappiness in-house.
From Frank M. in Blacksburg:
I was under the impression that schools were only allowed to offer 25 scholarships in any given year; but I see that for 2007 every SEC school has exceeded this amount. Is there a reason?
Maisel: Some guys already in the program won't make it academically. Neither will some recruits. Some guys who have signed will "grayshirt" and come in next January. But you're right. How these guys multiply four times 25 and get 85 is sheer genius.
From Sam in Blacksburg: How far behind are the Hokies going to be having missed a large chunk of spring practice?
Maisel: I don't think it will make a bit of difference, Sam. The players will bond together because of what happened on campus. They will have worked out together all summer. In the grand scheme, three spring-training practices isn't much.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.