Due to schedule conflicts and time constraints, this interview was conducted via email.
DAWGMAN.COM: I heard you on Softy's show state that Ohio State is going to steamroll USC on Sept 13. That certainly shocked me to hear, as it did the Soft One. Is your opinion more of a reflection of Ohio State's superiority, or suspicion that USC has fallen off?
ED CUNNINGHAM: When I say Ohio State is going to "steamroll" USC, I should clarify that I think Ohio State will win handily in this game. Say 10-14 points. The reasons are many...including the huge unknown of how good USC's offensive line will be this year...but the biggest is that I think we've all had a Florida hangover when thinking about Ohio State. Yes, Ohio State got blown out by the Gators 2 years ago, but the fact is they didn't get blown out against LSU last year. A few key plays, including a blocked field goal that would have made the game very competitive if Ohio State had converted, turned what was a pretty good game into what appeared to be another "blow out." Ohio State should not be penalized for the image that they cannot play with the "big boys" in 2008. They, on paper, are the strongest team in the country, and have many returning players who will be impact players at the next level.
DMC: I have a theory that USC has actually not been the same since offensive coordinator Norm Chow left, and the cracks in their armor stem from inferior quarterback play in the last two seasons. I don't think it's an accident. What's your reaction to this theory?
CUNNINGHAM: If you go back to the beginning of ‘07, USC's offense could not find a rhythm. It took until mid-season before they began moving the ball consistently against good competition. I agree that Norm Chow's exit has impacted the program negatively, but they also lost Lane Kiffin before last year to the NFL. Steve Sarkisian is still learning how to develop quarterbacks and call plays, so it makes sense USC wouldn't be as efficient on offense as they have been in the past.
DMC: Speaking of the impact coordinators have on teams, Florida State hasn't been the same since Mark Richt left to become Georgia's coach. Georgia travels to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils on Sept 20th. What are your thoughts on Richt and on this much-anticipated game?
CUNNINGHAM: I don't think this will be much of a contest, and it's all about ASU's offensive line woes. They were horrific last year in pass protection, and they will face one of the best front 7s in the country in Georgia. (Even having to replace their best pass rusher from ‘07, they are loaded.) I don't think Georgia ends up in the national championship game this year...forget the SEC East slate, which is tough enough, they also have to travel to both Auburn and LSU, the best teams in the west...but I think ASU's record last year was a bit of a mirage. I think Mark Richt handing over play calling duties to Mike Bobo was a great decision for the Georgia program. Even though it was difficult for a guy who's called plays for that many years to stop, Richt can now grow as a true head coach, who is involved deeply in all aspects of his team...including post touchdown celebration plans.
DMC: I know that UCLA seems undermanned and their QB situation is seemingly a pathetic patchwork; but I still feel great anticipation in seeing Neuheisel's Bruins and Phil Fulmer's Tennessee squad under the Rose Bowl lights Sep 1. Can UCLA give them a game? What kind of impact do you foresee Neuheisel having on UCLA in the long-term?
CUNNINGHAM: UCLA will be proficient on defense... Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is simply one of the best coaches in the country...but I'll go back to the well with this answer: UCLA's offensive front may be in worse shape than their quarterback situation. (I think Kevin Craft will do fine for them, especially with who's coaching him day in and day out.) I think Tennessee is a dark horse to compete for the SEC Championship this year, and I don't think this game will be close. As far as Neuheisel's long term impact at UCLA, if you go by what happened long term at Colorado and the UW, it's hard to think history won't repeat itself. However, it would be wise to take a wait and see on this go around, and the reason is that he has the best coordinator combination in the country in Walker and Chow. Now, how long will Walker stick around? My guess is not very long if the rest of the country starts to see what a great coach and recruiter he is.
DMC: Last but not least, our Washington Huskies travel to Oregon on August 30th. Obviously this is a critical game for Willingham and for the program. With a brutal early schedule, a 2-1 start could be a springboard and an elixir while an 0-3 start could be fatal for the team and Willingham's job. I view the crucial key to the Oregon game being "Can the Huskies d-line fend off Oregon's rushing attack?" What do YOU feel is the key to that game at Autzen Stadium?
CUNNINGHAM: Because there are so many unknowns up front for the UW on defense, it's hard to know how they will respond. So, I'll go with the other side, and wait for it...wait for it...say the key is how much the UW's offensive line improves over what was a pretty good ‘07 season. With Juan Garcia possibly back in the mix, this group has a chance to be very good, but they simply must dominate the mostly new and untested defensive lines of both Oregon and BYU for the UW to have a chance to open strong. I would suspect both the Ducks and the Cougars will be able to move the ball on the Huskies efficiently, so it will be up to the offense to match that in a physical, clock controlling way. Oh, yeah, and a runner besides Jake Locker establishing himself would be helpful for the Huskies as well.
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