Q&A With Stewart Mandel

CNNSI's Inside College Football expert Stewart Mandel took some time to look at the 2002 season, the Fiesta Bowl, the Heisman Trophy as well as other topics.

What were your overall impressions of the 2002 season?
I felt that Miami was going to be strong and had a chance to return to the title game. I felt that Ohio State would win the Big Ten but didn't know they were capable of going to the National Championship game. I think one of the main themes of the year was how several traditional powers struggled such as Nebraska, Florida and Tennessee. Tennessee was a big surprise. I think Nebraska has been slipping for a bit and Florida going through their coaching change was understandable. Spurrier was that program.

Did it surprise you after the past couple of NFL drafts that Miami would be back and this strong?
To accomplish what they've done with all of the parity in college football is amazing. Winning 34 straight in college football right now is a huge accomplishment. You have powerhouses losing to teams that they shouldn't be. Florida State lost to Louisville this season. In addition to the Big East schedule Miami went out and scheduled Florida, Tennessee and Florida State which is suicide. No one can fault Miami that those teams had down years. I knew they had the talent but with the added game this season I didn't think we would see any unbeatens this year.

Can they do it again next year?
It will be very interesting to see how they fill in the missing pieces. The talent level will not drop off but losing Dorsey who is such a leader for three years is going to be tough. Everyone knows that Brock Berlin has talent but I have to believe there will be some drop off at quarterback from the loss of Dorsey. He meant so much to this team.

Speaking of Dorsey, what were your thoughts on the Heisman and his 5th place finish?
I saw more columns on why he shouldn't win the Heisman than ever before. Most of the time you see writers pushing candidates and why they should win it but Dorsey received a lot of negative criticism this season. Personally I thought that Carson Palmer should have won the Heisman and at one point I agreed with the people writing that Dorsey should not win it. Through the Tennessee game he just didn't seem like himself and he had a lot of unexplainable interceptions. He did have two great games at the end of the year. I felt that he did seem to get punished by a lot of the media this year. His outburst after the Heisman I saw as something that was building all season. The guy goes 38-1 and probably says "what more do you want me to do?" I also was surprised that McGahee finished a distant fourth. Everyone talks about Palmer winning it with his performance against Notre Dame but with 2/3 of the votes coming after December 7th didn't McGahee then win it with his performance against Virginia Tech? I think the combination of him being a sophomore and maybe people splitting votes between him and Dorsey hurt him. I also think people may have just figured he would have a chance to come back the following year and win in. I'm not sure but I was surprised he finished so low. If that is what voters did then I don't agree with that.

What are your thoughts on the Fiesta Bowl matchup?
I think it is going to be a better game than most think. Ohio State is not a fluke and they didn't go 13-0 on pure luck. Ohio State has what causes Miami trouble and that is a dominant back. I think Maurice Clarett is as good as it gets in college football at running back. I'm not saying Ohio State is going to win the game though.

Do you have an "official" prediction on the game?
No not yet. I'll announce that in the coming days.

What are the keys for each team?
I think Ohio State obviously has to run the ball but don't think they can win solely on that. Craig Krenzel will have to make plays similar to the play he made to beat Purdue for Ohio State to win. I think Miami is pretty much the same every game. They are always balanced. They'll have McGahee grind it out and then allow Dorsey to make plays. I think they just have to keep Clarett from running for huge yards. Maybe keep him around 100 yards or so and not 170 or something like that. Just minimize the damage he does.

What are your thoughts on the Big East?
It is a lot, lot stronger than when the BCS started and they instituted the infamous "Big East Rule." They're not ready to compete with the Big Ten or the SEC but they have the premiere program in the country in Miami along with a very solid Virginia Tech and a couple of up and coming teams in West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Boston College is also right there. I think the only thing maybe holding them back is the slide Syracuse is on.

Is the BCS working?
I'm not a playoff advocate but the BCS has alienated a lot of college football fans. Fans cannot understand what all of the rules are. I feel bad for Iowa fans that were all set to go to the Rose Bowl. They're telling themselves that they do everything asked of them and not they are not even going to the Rose Bowl? Myself and others that cover college football didn't even know of this exception that the Orange Bowl used to get Iowa and USC. I think they really need to reduce the number of bowls, it is so watered down. I am doing preview and keep seeing teams with 7-6 or 7-5 records. The requirements are just not very stringent to host a bowl game. As long as you can provide the guarantee to each team anyone can sponsor a bowl game now.

As for this season's BCS - thoughts on the Orange Bowl?
I think that will be a great game but I think Iowa may be exposed a bit. USC is a highly athletic team and played by far the toughest schedule out there.

Rose Bowl?
I was picking Oklahoma before the Mike Price situation and I'll stick with them but Washington State can react either way. It could hurt them or they could rally around him. I think Washington State is a great team but when the played Ohio State they were out muscled and Oklahoma is a very physical team. It seems in matchups like this the teams that are more physical always win.

Sugar Bowl?
I think this will be ugly but who knows though? Georgia has a ton of talent and they've waited 20 years for a season like this.

What games will you be at personally?
I'll be covering the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl

Take an early look at 2003 for us
I've actually already started a little on that and I see the following top five, albeit early ...

1. Ohio State - all 11 starter on offense back.
2. Oklahoma - might be #1 if Ohio State isn't, needs QB play.
3. Georgia - Lots of talent coming back.
4. Miami - Not #1 but cannot take them out of the top 5.
5. Texas - They have as much talent as anyone except for Miami, maybe the loss of Chris Simms will actually help They just need to win that big game. I'm surprised Roy Williams is coming back though.

Any other teams to watch?
Auburn is one. Campbell their quarterback has been real solid and with Alabama's troubles Tubberville should clean up with in-state recruiting. Washington is another team. You wonder how they were 4-5 at one point this season. They have Miami type talent at wide receiver with Williams and Frederick. If they get their running game going watch out.

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