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Mailbag: Pessimism, Iowa senators and recruiting concerns

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter. Or check out my Facebook page. You can do old-school email at TedMillerESPN@gmail.com.

More than a few notes on USC athletic director Pat Haden's retirement. You can read my thoughts on that here.

To the questions!


Sam writes: I can't help but notice that your tone this offseason has been that of a Debby Downer. I'm not sure if it's the higher-ups that have been insisting you write more articles critical of the Pac-12, but there has definitely been a shift from 10-year-old Ted watching a new "Star Wars" movie to 45-year-old Ted sitting through a 12-hour marathon of "Downton Abbey" reruns. Granted, I understand a lot has happened (and a lot of it negative) since those stories, but come on, Ted, we need you to cheer us up. We need you to tell the Pac-12 will reign again. We need you to give us hope!

Ted Miller: There's always hope. For one -- brace yourself -- I could be wrong.

I know! That's crazy talk.

No, no higher-ups have told me to trash the Pac-12. It might surprise you, but my bosses don't tell me what to write. In fact, most of our conversation begin one of two ways: 1. "What are you going to write?" and 2. "Why are you such a pain in the tookus?"

Here's the deal: I try to call them like I see them. Honest. When I thought the Pac-12 was challenging the SEC as the nation's best conference, I wrote that, and included plenty of snarking.

The Pac-12, simply, has obvious issues: 1. The 2015 season began with hype but ended with disappointment; 2. The Big Ten and SEC are eclipsing the Pac-12 financially and there doesn't seem to be an easy remedy; 3. The Pac-12 is slipping rather than rising in recruiting; 4. Recent coaching hires -- head and assistant -- haven't possessed much "Wow" factor.

I also believe folks in the Pac-12 office, starting with commissioner Larry Scott, need to hit a reset button and be more self-critical. They need to examine -- and audit -- the way they do business because the once "everything is awesome!" climate around the league is fading. Fast.

For the record, if, say, USC upsets Alabama to start the 2016 season, I certainly will use the moment to join all the West Coasters in trolling our friends from Down South.


Paco from Sacramento, California, writes: You've been pretty vocal in ridiculing Iowa for their outrage over the Stanford band's performance in the Rose Bowl. What do you make of Iowa state senator Mark Chelgren's bill that would ban Iowa's institutions of higher learning from communicating with Stanford until the latter apologizes for the Stanford band?

Ted Miller: The good news is everyone -- at least intelligent folks -- is laughing at Chelgren's bit of lame pandering (notable that my spell-check keeps turning Chelgren's name into "children").

Second bit of good news is Iowa does have intelligent senators, such as Michael Gronstal, who mocked the whole thing to the Des Moines Register when asked if lawmakers would consider Chelgren's legislative proposal.

"Are you serious? Is that a serious question? It is absurd," Gronstal said. He added: "I think it would probably be good if senators from southern Iowa had a sense of humor. We probably need a few more of those."

It's also been pointed out -- with all due respect to Iowa, a good state institution -- that, well, Stanford is Stanford. It's, at the very least, among the 10 best universities in the entire world. The notion that Iowa should turn down academic collaboration with Stanford based on a few mouth-breathers' hurt feelings is pretty dim.


Frank from Tucson, Arizona, writes: I largely agree with your article from yesterday about how the Pac-12 needs to improve in recruiting if it’s going to compete for national titles going forward. I have to wonder, though, about the validity of the recruiting statistics you quoted. For example, yes, the SEC West landed 74 players from the ESPN 300, but weren’t most of those players ranked that high in large part because they committed to SEC West schools? It’s no secret high schoolers are ranked higher by recruiting websites as soon as they get offers by one of those seven schools, which is not something that happens when an Arizona or Oregon State or Washington State extends an offer. So isn’t this disparity in recruiting classes in many ways just a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Ted Miller: I understand your point and it's not invalid.

If a lightly regarded player is suddenly offered by Alabama or Ohio State or Texas or USC, it will raise eyebrows, not only with recruiting services but also other coaches. While every team talks about how they thoroughly vet and rate their recruits and pay no attention to recruiting rankings, that's just about bunch of hooey.

ESPN recruiting folks spend a lot of hours evaluating film, and it is my understanding folks at other recruiting services do, too. My feeling is there is a genuine effort to be objective.

My personal opinion is that the process does favor players from the Southeast and Texas. Part of that, however, is justifiable. Youngsters in the Southeast and Texas play more football. More teams have spring practices. More players participate in offseason 7-on-7 football. And there's a seemingly more aggressive effort to sell athletes, which includes providing more and better film.

This part is going to bother some folks: High school football down South is just better than it is in most Western states (not California). That's mostly demographics, but it's also cultural.

I would encourage you to attend a high school football game in, say, Texas, Florida or my home state of Georgia. This fall, I went to a high school game in Arizona, and one of my chief -- and smug -- thoughts was, "My high school team would have brutalized these guys." While 75 percent of that was my juvenile masculine, glory days pride -- 5AAA champion Westminster Wildcats! -- a lot of it is simply that high school football is so important in the South that the players can't help but be better.

In fact, as I've noted before, if you want to know where many of the best offensive and defensive linemen on the West Coast are, go to a high school basketball game. There you'll see 6-foot-5 guys with good feet laboring on the basketball court. They'll never sniff a college basketball scholarship, but they don't play football.