Mailbag: It won’t be long before Steve Sarkisian wins big at USC

Time for the Monday Mailbag. As always, send your college football questions to me via Twitter to @BruceFeldmanCFB.

From @CamPeverley: Is USC worthy of their preseason hype, or is 2016 more realistic with having closer to a full roster than 2015?

They have top-10 caliber personnel. QB Cody Kessler is a good starting point. He has a lot of experience, is a good leader and makes solid decisions as reflected by his 59-12 career TD-INT ratio. They did lose some talented playmakers on offense in WR Nelson Agholor and RB Buck Allen. My hunch is they’ll miss Allen more, but that’s in part because I think the WR corps led by budding star Juju Smith, a 215-pound sophomore, is deeper than it’s been in years.

The O-line is the biggest question with the roster. The most gifted linemen are the younger guys. The group should be improved since they have everyone back and have more seasoning and depth. Then again, new OL coach Bob Connelly is the team’s fourth line coach in four seasons.

Given that the Trojans are finally clear of the NCAA sanctions (although they’re still hobbled by them since they’re still going to be around only 76 or 77 scholarship guys come training camp), USC’s talent level should continue to improve over the next few years with added depth. The schedule this fall doesn’t break that well for USC. They have to travel to Oregon and Notre Dame, who figure to be two of the most talented teams they’ll face, and they’ll play at a good ASU team as well. 

Beyond the roster questions, there is another matter to sort out: Can Steve Sarkisian’s teams be consistent enough to win a conference title? That is something we haven’t seen before at Washington, and the Trojans were far too up-and-down last year, but I do think he’ll win big at USC before too long. They’ll have too much talent not to.

From @CroMerican: Are the Vols ready to contend for the SEC East or are they still a year or two away? 

I think the Vols are still too young to predict they are the favorites to win the SEC East. I’d go with Georgia and then perhaps Mizzou, but I feel like they’re trending upwards now more than South Carolina or a rebuilding Florida program. I do buy that Butch Jones has Tennessee ready to "contend" in the East, and by 2016 they should be primed to make a run at the SEC title. 

UT was the youngest team in the country last year but blossomed late in the season, winning four of their last five — including on the road at South Carolina. The Vols are learning to win, which is important for a young team and a program that has dealt with a ridiculous amount of turnover.


Their offense was much more dynamic when Josh Dobbs took over at QB and provided a real threat in the running game to take some heat off stud freshman RB Jalen Hurd. They have a bunch of talented wideouts. The O-line was extremely green in 2014 but should be much better this year. The other big reason why I expect UT to be a borderline top-25 team this year is the emergence of the D-line, led by budding superstar Derek Barnett (20.5 TFLs and 10 sacks as a true freshman with 18 of those TFLs in his eight SEC games). Jones also signed the best D-line class in the country, and 315-pound early enrollee Shy Tuttle has already created some nice buzz this spring.

We’re going to find out just how much the Vols have grown up this year, because they host Oklahoma in Week 2 and get Georgia and Alabama (in Tuscaloosa) back-to-back in October (with a bye week in between).

From @AKlueber: What’s the win threshold Al Golden has to hit this season to remain employed?

Golden is an underwhelming 28-22 — and just 16-16 in the ACC — in four seasons at Miami. He had one of the more talented teams in the country last year if you look at the crop of players that were on the UM team in 2014 and are now moving on to the NFL. Yet, the Canes were just 6-7 and 3-5 in the ACC. And, as I’ve pointed out in recent months, Golden’s had a bunch of double-digit losses and many of them were against unranked opponents. 

With that backdrop for his fifth season, I think he has to win at least nine games this fall in hopes of keeping the job. In fact, if UM goes 9-3 but doesn’t win its division, I suspect he’ll be gone. The schedule isn’t ominous. After a trip to FSU, the next toughest road trip is either to Duke, Pitt or Cincy. And Golden does have a terrific young QB to build around in Brad Kaaya, but the D just hasn’t been good enough in his time there and it’s a stretch to think UM will develop enough to push past FSU and Clemson.


From @jaytdehart: Out of all the new head coaches, who has the most wins in year 1?

Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst and Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi both inherit pretty good situations, but I’ll go with Houston’s rookie head coach Tom Herman. Tony Levine left behind a bunch of very good players on both sides of the ball. From talking to folks close to the program, this figures to be the most talented Cougars squad in a generation.

While Herman doesn’t have a QB as good as UH great Case Keenum, Greg Ward and Utah transfer Adam Schulz both have experience. Ward, a former WR, was 6-2 in the final eight games last season and completed 67 percent of his passes while also giving opponents fits with his wheels. The Cougars did lose a good DC (David Gibbs), but Todd Orlando has players to work with. I think 10 wins — even with a road trip to Louisville on the schedule — is very possible.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.