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Opening the mailbag: Griping about grades

1/27/2012

Happy Friday.

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To the notes!

Kohler from Boise writes: I'm a bit confused about your end of season rankings. A 7-6 Washington, that finished #3 in the Pac-12 is given a final grade of a C. Meanwhile, a 4-8 WSU is ALSO given a final grade of a C? The Huskies Defense was horrible in 2011, but they still managed to overcome that and rise to the top of the league. I'd throw in some comment about how you must hate the Huskies, but I'm not one of those Duck haters who just looks for a reason to complain about your writing.

Ted Miller: A fair question.

Let's start with this (and assuming you are a Washington fan). Remember your August of 2011 self. Strapping. Confident. Trash talking. What record would you have projected for Washington? And for Washington State. My guess is most Huskies fans thought an eight-win regular season perfectly reasonable. And my guess is your Cougars brethren were hoping for six but foresaw something closer to 5-7. Each team had a different set of reasonable expectations. And both teams fell short of expectations. So both teams get docked.

In the same vein, if Oregon had finished, say, 9-3 and not won the North Division it likely would have been in the Cs. And at 8-4 with a loss to Washington, it might have been a D, though injuries and circumstances also play a role in the final grade.

Different teams, different sorts of expectations. So, yes, these grades are on a certain curve. All seasons don't start from the same place.

Further, there are variables. The Cougars received a benefit of the doubt because they lost their starting QB to injury for essentially the entire season. While the Huskies could counter that QB Keith Price was an unknown as a first-year starter, the complete collapse of the defense earned a major demerit because there were high preseason expectations that the unit would be vastly better than recent vintages. It wasn't. Meanwhile, the Cougars dramatically improved their numbers on both sides of the ball from 2010 to 2011. Washington, perhaps surprisingly, was much better on offense but much worse on defense.

Further, the Huskies get docked because of their downward trajectory at season's end. This 7-6 finish was not nearly the match of last year's 7-6 finish. They started 5-1 this fall, earned a national ranking, but then got exposed when the schedule toughened up. Losing four of the final five is a worse path to 7-6 than winning four in a row to end the season in 2010 was.

As far as their place in the Pac-12, it makes sense to rate the Huskies fourth (did you forget USC?), a decisive head-to-head win at Utah giving them an edge over the 8-5 Utes, who got a B for their strong showing in their first year of Pac-12 play. But that's largely a function of the competition for that spot. California, which got a C also? Or Arizona State, which got a D? Or UCLA, which got a D+?

To me, the Huskies and Cougars seasons seem very similar in terms of generating fan satisfaction. Neither team failed, but neither walked away happy. And both teams made major staff changes as a result -- changes both sets of fans, by the way, are thrilled about.


Patrick from Las Vegas writes: During the Pete Carroll years, we all wanted a USC vs SEC BCS title game. Isn't it kind of fitting that it USC has the best chance of all other contenders to end the SEC's run?

Ted Miller: Well, let's not count Trojans before they hatch. Keep in mind that the reason USC didn't win more national titles under Pete Carroll was its predilection to throw up on itself against a middling foe at least once a year. And, based on the totality of the 2011 season, they didn't completely kick that habit -- see the loss at Arizona State that, obviously, looks much worse now than it did at the time.

To play for the 2012 national title, the Trojans likely will need to go undefeated. They have a favorable schedule, but if they take a foe lightly, they will face plant. Paging leadership from Matt Barkley.

As for past misses between USC and the SEC: In 2003 and 2008, I would have been extremely confident picking USC over LSU and Florida, respectively. I'd rate 2006 a toss-up between USC and Florida.

But, as of today, I'd like LSU's chances against USC.


Brian from Syracuse, NY writes: One of the big unwritten rules in recruiting is that when a coach changes schools, he should cease recruitment of the kids he had been recruiting for his old school. Thus it is surprising how unapologetically Tosh Lupoi has continued to recruit since going to UW. How sacred are the unwritten rules among the coaching fraternity? Is the wrath of other coaches any real deterrent.

Ted Miller: Unwritten rules in recruiting?

There are written rules -- the NCAA's -- that get bent, twisted and broken all the time. As for unwritten rules, it's mostly about every man for himself.

Yes, as some of you have observed, I did write this on on Jan. 17:

If Lupoi aggressively tries to flip a handful of players committed to Cal -- something we honestly doubt he will do -- then, well, we'd hope that would cause him to lose some sleep. While all is fair in love, war and recruiting, that would be a bit sleazy. Of course, effective sleazy that is within NCAA rules often falls under this category: good recruiting.

Now, there is a difference between recruiting players committed to Cal, and recruiting players who are still uncommitted that he was recruiting for Cal. But, of course, Lupoi has been actively pursuing touted safety Shaq Thompson and athlete Cedric Dozier, who are both committed to Cal. Yes, that looks yucky.

My guess is Lupoi has lost some sleep on this and, yes, probably feels a little sleazy. But this is the business. It's sleazy. He was hired by Steve Sarkisian to kick butt and sign names, not win a Nobel Peace Prize.

I also think it might be helpful to imagine a workable recruiting pitch for Lupoi at present. It probably goes something like this, "Look, I'm not going to say anything bad about Cal and Jeff Tedford. Great school, great program. But let me tell you about Washington and Coach Sarkisian." And then Lupoi hopes his personality and ability to connect (or re-connect) with young men takes over. I can't believe Lupoi would badmouth Cal, because any athlete with a lick of sense would see right through that.

As for long-term relationships among the coaches, they tend to work themselves out. Sarkisian and Tedford are pros. They know the business. I'm sure Tedford isn't happy about things, and as a competitor he'd probably like to stick it to Sark in some way. But there will be no "wrath" between the two. That's a waste of energy.


Nick from Conway, Ark., writes: You're already writing off the Red Wolves in their opener against Oregon? We all saw what Mike Dyer did against them a couple of years ago. True, Oregon will likely win this game, but if the Ducks have the same mindset as you, this game can get interesting.

Ted Miller: Yes, Nick, I am writing off Arkansas State against Oregon on Sept. 1. If the Red Wolves are within 30, I'd be shocked.

As for Dyer's transfer from Auburn, that makes things worse for the Red Wolves. Chip Kelly will be able to play that excruciating video over and over again, so Ducks defenders should be plenty motivated to stick it to Dyer. And make sure he's down.

Of course, Dyer should feel fortunate that safety Eddie Pleasant is now off the to NFL. He's surely the one who'd most like another shot at Dyer.