Mailbag: Oregon is perfect place for Vernon Adams to destroy defenses

In Monday’s Forward Pass I wrote about new beginnings across college football this weekend, starting first and foremost with Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan debut Thursday night against Utah (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). As the games get closer, though, I’m realizing that a more apt theme might be “starting over.”

Allow this reader to elaborate.

Between Vernon Adams at Oregon, Everett Golson at Florida State, Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma, Greyson Lambert at Georgia and many others, it feels like this is the year of the transfer QB. Other than Russell Wilson, how many grad-transfer QBs have been successful at their new school? And do you think any transfers from this year will be successful at their new school?

— Ben Currin, Milton-Freewater, Ore.

It’s certainly a unique confluence of events, highlighted by the fact that a pair of grad transfers will be replacing the past two Heisman winners (Adams for Marcus Mariota, Golson for Jameis Winston). While it’s true that Wilson was an extreme outlier in terms of recent grad transfers’ success levels at their new schools, for a few reasons I believe this year’s crop will be different.

For one thing, most grad transfers in the past were not standouts at their former schools. In fact, they’re usually leaving because they couldn’t see the field. This season, though, we’re talking about some truly accomplished players. Golson started for two years at a prominent program and played in a BCS championship game. Adams was an FCS All-American who’s already shredded two Pac-12 defenses (Oregon State in 2013, Washington in ’14). Mayfield (an undergrad transfer, mind you) started as a true freshman for a Big 12 school (Texas Tech). And another grad transfer, presumed Michigan starter Jake Rudock, was already a two-year Big Ten starter at Iowa.

The two guys I’m most confident will shine in their new uniforms are Oregon’s Adams and Oklahoma’s Mayfield. That’s in part because of their talent, but perhaps more importantly, the situations they’re walking into. Adams, who draws raves from anyone who’s seen him play or practice, seems an ideal fit for Oregon’s offense, and he’s going to be surrounded by weapons at running back and receiver. Mayfield comes in with an existing grasp of new coordinator Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid offense because of its similarities to Kliff Kingsbury’s system at Texas Tech, and much like Adams he will benefit from having star Samaje Perine and touted recruit Joe Mixon in the backfield.

The two wild cards are Golson and Lambert. As Notre Dame fans know well, when Golson is “on” he can be superb, but he’s also easily rattled and turnover-prone. Furthermore, he’s taking over an extremely inexperienced offense. The boom-or-bust factor there is off the charts. And Lambert’s situation is fascinating. Here’s a guy who struggled badly at Virginia and eventually lost his job, but how much of that was on him and how much due to the fact he wasn’t playing alongside anyone near the caliber of Nick Chubb or Malcolm Mitchell? Did Mark Richt see something there that wasn’t apparent while playing with the Cavaliers or were the Dawgs’ other options just that bad?

I’m eager to find out about all of the above.

Looking at the betting lines (for entertainment purposes only), I noticed that five Big Ten schools are underdogs in Week 1. Three — Minnesota vs. TCU, Wisconsin vs. Alabama and Northwestern vs. Stanford — are double-digit dogs. This doesn’t even include a potentially tricky BYU-Nebraska matchup. How many of these games must the Big Ten win to sustain the momentum the conference has gained? If they lose all of these matchups with other Power 5 conferences, will it hurt Ohio State and Michigan State come playoff selection?

— Loren Schakelford, Fayettevile, Ark.

I’ve noticed something lately. Every time I tune into the "Paul Finebaum Show" — ostensibly an SEC-centric program — the callers are always talking about the Big Ten. It’s inevitably some variation of, “the Big Ten is the sorriest conference known to man,” “Ohio State might as well be playing in the Mountain West,” or, “they might as well shut down the entire Big Ten because it’s just a steaming pile of garbage.” If I didn’t know better I’d say the Buckeyes’ playoff win over Alabama is making people down South feel . . . oh, threatened?

As for Loren’s question, the Big Ten Network’s Gerry DiNardo put it best on The Audible last week. That conference COULD be very good in a couple of years, once Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin get Michigan and Penn State rolling, respectively. But right now it’s no better than it was the day before Ohio State beat Alabama. I’m not at all surprised to see those point spreads, and if that predicted carnage holds true, I’m sure all the Big Ten jokes of the previous eight years will return from their summer vacation. But end of day, the Big Ten laid a bunch of eggs early last season, too, and it didn’t prevent Ohio State from getting to the playoff. As long as the Buckeyes-Spartans winner can claim just a couple of other Top 25 wins over the course of the season, it should be fine.

Hi Stewart, given the typical lack of success by true freshman quarterbacks, what do you think the ceiling on wins is for UCLA now that they have named Josh Rosen the starting QB?

— Garret, Sacramento, Calif.

I agree that starting a true freshman, no matter how talented, raises concerns because of his inevitable growing pains. But much like my answer about the grad transfers, you have to consider the supporting cast. In Rosen’s case, he could not ask for a much better one for his first season of college football. He’s got the most experienced offensive line in the country (131 career starts) in front of him. He’s got the Pac-12’s leading rusher last year, Paul Perkins, behind him, and he’s got a go-to receiver, Jordan Payton, to throw to. So it’s not like Rosen has to carry the offense the way, say, Cal’s Jared Goff did as a true freshman starter for Cal in 2013 (when the Bears went 1-11).


Rosen’s inexperience was truly the singular factor that kept me from picking the Bruins to win the Pac-12 South. (Heck, if Brett Hundley were back I’d have UCLA in the playoff.) But quarterbacks coming out of high school today are better prepared than ever before. Last year, Miami’s Brad Kaaya started as a true freshman and put up admirable numbers — 58.5 percent completions, 3,198 yards, 26 TDs and 12 INTs — though that didn’t keep the ‘Canes from imploding down the stretch.

If Rosen is merely adequate, UCLA should win at least nine games and possibly hit double digits. But if Rosen gets overwhelmed and/or commits a lot of turnovers, the Bruins may unfortunately squander all that other talent.

How optimistic should I be about Florida this year? Will the Gators get eight to nine wins or closer to six or seven wins?

— Kimberly Woodham Griffis, Suwanee, Ga.

I think you should be very optimistic, because Florida’s undefeated right now, so why not? Leave it to party poopers like me to be realistic. Because realistically, those numbers are all optimistic.

First off, I love your stuff and I have been reading you for at least a decade. And I love the old school Mailbag because I just can’t bring myself to join Twitter. My topical question(s) are about Tim Beckman. If he was 25-12 instead of 12-25, is he still Illinois’ coach? Or if you take the report Illinois produced but replace “Illinois” with “Ohio State” and “Tim Beckman” with “Urban Meyer?”

— Jason Kohut, East Lansing, Mich.

Good call on Twitter. I hate it, but I’m also on it every waking hour of the day.


That’s hard to answer definitively without knowing what exactly is in that report, but no, I would assume he’d still be the coach. And one reason for that is it’s much less likely that players would have felt comfortable going public with their allegations of mistreatment in the first place if their coach was successful and revered by the fan base. Last spring when ex-Illini offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic went on the Twitter rant that instigated this whole thing — and particularly when others came on and seconded him — I remember thinking how rare it is for college athletes to publicly criticize their coach. That told me right there something was not right with Beckman’s program.

Now, I’ve heard many people suggest the report was a convenient excuse for AD Mike Thomas to axe a bad coach. I don’t necessarily agree. If that were the case he could have fired Beckman last year after his third straight losing season. Instead, Thomas doubled down, announcing the coach’s return after clinching that all-important Heart of Dallas Bowl berth. The climate at that school has changed considerably since then, with multiple sports under fire for similar accusations, the chancellor resigning and Thomas himself on thin ice. This seemed like a case of getting out in front of a story in advance of the report’s release rather than Beckman come under fire again midseason.

Hi Stewart, a question about the New Year’s Six selection: If Michigan State and Oregon are the highest-ranked teams from their conferences to not make the playoff, would they rematch in the Rose Bowl? Or would the committee be able to move one of them to another New Year’s Six bowl to avoid the rematch?

— John Robertson, Houston, Texas

That’s a good question, one I’ve gotten quite a bit since including that very rematch in my preseason Bowl Projections. The short answer: No, there’s no getting out of it.

In the years they aren’t hosting playoff games, the Rose (Big Ten-Pac-12), Sugar (Big 12-SEC) and Orange (ACC) bowls’ contracts are with those specific conferences, not the larger system. So you’re never again going to see a scenario like 2010 when the Rose was required to take TCU. Nor is there any minimum ranking requirement to play in those games. It’s a pretty straightforward deal — the contract conferences send their champions to those bowls if they don’t reach the playoff; if unavailable, the next highest-ranked team goes. I know of no stipulations allowing for a trade (not that the Rose Bowl would ever trade away a Big Ten or Pac-12 team even if it were allowed).

Stewart, it seems that there is a trend with some of the bigger programs waiting until the absolute last minute to name a starting quarterback. Michigan is playing coy about its starter with two days until game time, and Alabama released its depth chart with five (!) potential options for its starter vs. Wisconsin. It seems that schools would want to name their starter well ahead of time, to give him more reps with the first team and opportunity to build chemistry with their receivers. What are your thoughts on this, and do you think there is an advantage (or disadvantage) to waiting until the last minute?

— Nick Stepp, Haslett, Mich.


Almost any coach will tell you he’d much prefer to have a clear-cut starter by the end of spring practice for all the reasons you said. That guy solidifies himself as the leader of the offense, organizes summer workouts, etc. But in most cases that only occurs if it’s an older player and just a clearly obvious decision. There are some advantages in waiting until August, be it to keep the heat on the likely starter so he doesn’t ease up in competition, or so as not to alienate a younger guy who loses the job and immediately transfers. But believe me, most coaches feel a lot better knowing who it’s going to be than letting a competition drag on.

To that end, not all last-second announcements are created equal. Jim Harbaugh knows who his guy is but is playing coy because he’s paranoid like that. I believe Louisville’s Bobby Petrino is doing much the same. And even if Urban Meyer has made up his mind, why NOT make Virginia Tech keep preparing for both J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones? But in the case of Alabama, Georgia, Florida State and others that came right down to the wire — their coaches just didn’t know yet. Nick Saban is planning to use the first game as an open audition, and Mark Richt and Jimbo Fisher may well reverse course if they don’t like what they see.

My guess is all of those guys would have gladly made an announcement sooner but they didn’t know themselves.

Incredible!!! I’ve always loved your podcast, Stewart, but Dave Wannstedt is the best guest that I’ve ever heard on any podcast!!! Please bring him back weekly! He’s so funny I don’t care if he’s telling anecdotes about movies or ballroom dancing, I just want to hear him again.

— Michel CardinalMontreal, Canada

Bruce and I had a feeling he’d be a big hit. If you haven’t done so already, do yourself a favor and carve out 45 minutes to listen to Tuesday’s episode. Unless for some crazy reason you don’t like hearing hilarious stories about coaching the 1986 Miami team that showed up for the Fiesta Bowl in army fatigues, Barry Switzer leaving a game with five minutes left, blowing off the halftime locker room to watch a Motown act and much more.

Who is the most underrated team in the Pac-12 this year? Why is Arizona getting little respect despite making it to the final last year?

— Scott Pirie, Regina, Saskatchewan

You answered your own question — it’s Arizona. In fact the other day I happened to see a list of the six ranked Pac-12 teams and did a double-take when I saw the Wildcats listed all the way down at No. 22. But then, who am I to talk? I picked them to finish fourth in the South and to go 8-4, which probably would put them in the low-20s range. And I don’t feel good about that at all. But then, I wouldn’t feel any better at having Arizona State, UCLA or USC fourth, either. Heck, I think Utah is better than fifth. Has there ever been a division where five of the six teams tied for first or second? (Sorry, Colorado.) I feel it’s that closely bunched.

With Arizona, we pretty much know what we’re getting. This team won 10 games a year ago and brings back nearly all of its key players — quarterback Anu Solomon, running back Nick Wilson, receivers Cayleb Jones and Samajie Grant and of course all-everything linebacker Scooby Wright. Not only that, Rich Rodriguez is arguably the best coach in the division. So theoretically this team should be even better than last year’s division winner. But we’re nothing if not suckers for potential, and I see Arizona State emerging as a similarly prolific offensive team with a better defense; I see UCLA as a far more talented team than either of them; and USC with more NFL-ready talent than all of them.

One other thing to keep in mind about Arizona: It doesn’t have a bye week all season. It plays 12 straight games — including nine straight conference opponents — before ending a week earlier than everyone else. That’s got to catch up to the ‘Cats at some point.

Who would you say won the "MOST TIMES IN THE NEWS" offseason national championship game? Jim Harbaugh and his khaki pants? Ohio State and its QBs? FSU’s courtroom issues? Or was there a wild card?

— Jeff Hostetler, Pensacola, Fla.

Obviously. Harbaugh won in a landslide, though you, Jeff, won the most Mailbag mentions.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to