- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Greetings. Welcome to preseason mailbag camp. The mailbag had great offseason workouts and we're using our low preseason ranking as motivation.
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To the notes!
Dennis from Washington, D.C., writes: Rather than focus on high level Oregon at USC, what are your thoughts on the matchup between Oregon defense vs. USC offense? The questions for Oregon largely center on QB, but we know that Oregon's defense is stacked and fast, and USC's offense is going to be great on offense.
Ted Miller: The season hasn't even started and we're already zeroing in on Nov. 3!
Oregon is going to be very good on defense. Perhaps as good as the Ducks have been since the Gang Green days. Yet I'd give the USC offense anedge. The Trojans are a little 2005-ish -- as in epically talented.
The Trojans offense has no obvious weakness. Perhaps there's a question how well Aundrey Walker will play at left tackle. And there are some depth concerns on the O-line. But you have nine starters coming back from a unit that averaged 35.8 points and 456.8 yards per game. You have the best quarterback in the nation throwing to the best receiver combo in the nation in front of four returning starters from a line that gave up just eight sacks in 2011. You have two 1,000-yard tailbacks. You have two future NFL tight ends. You have an X-factor guy like George Farmer.
It almost doesn't seem fair.
In last year's 38-35 USC victory in Autzen Stadium, the Trojans jumped ahead 38-14 in the third quarter, as Matt Barkley threw four touchdown passes, before the Ducks mounted a furious comeback to almost force overtime. USC rolled up 462 yards on the road. Oregon fans point out -- reasonably -- that defensive end Dion Jordan and linebacker Dewitt Stuckey were hurt, and losing Jordan in the first quarter can't be discounted. He's the guy who should have made life tough for Barkely. USC fans would counter -- reasonably -- that wide receiver Robert Woods was playing on one leg and the Ducks still couldn't stop Barkley and Marqise Lee.
But to me -- and be prepared to hear this much of the season from me -- the big issue is the game being played in the Coliseum. That means you give a four-year starter at QB -- Barkley -- plus total control at the line of scrimmage with no crowd noise issues. That favors Barkley, though I'm sure more than a few Ducks would point out the same could have been said in advance of the 2011 Stanford-Oregon game with Andrew Luck.
And, oh by the way, the Ducks will be using a first-year starter in the biggest stadium in the conference. I know a lot of Oregon fans feel great about Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett, perhaps even liking them more than Darron Thomas. But this is the sort of game where you'd want a veteran such as Thomas behind center. And I bet Thomas, who's apparently still looking for a pro team to give him a shot, wishes he were there, too.
Now, just because I give the very, very good USC offense an edge over the good Oregon defense doesn't mean the Ducks are doomed. I see the Oregon offensive line having an advantage against a thin and uncertain Trojans defensive front. With Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Chip Kelly's very, very big brain, it's entirely possible Oregon will be able to go point-for-point with the Trojans.
Of course, both teams might want to take heed of the eight games that separate them and this hot date.
Spence from Salt Lake City writes: USC is the obvious front-runner in the South. If they are upset what team is next in line to represent the South division in the PAC-12 championship game?
Ted Miller: My pick for No. 2 in the South is Utah, though I've sort of got a nagging UCLA thing of late, which I'm trying to resist because I've gotten that bug before.
Here's the problem with theorizing about an alternative team winning the South: Can it upset USC AND take care of business for the rest of the conference schedule? To me, that means going no worse than 7-2 in conference play because I don't see the Trojans losing more than two conference games.
The Utes, with no games with Oregon and Stanford, and USC coming to Salt Lake City on Oct. 4 for a Thursday-night matchup on ESPN, seem like the best bet to get that done. But they went 4-5 in their first year of Pac-12 play and were handled pretty easily by Washington, Arizona State and California, losing by a combined count of 100-38 in those three games. And two of them were in Rice-Eccles. Utes fans, of course, would note that they played those games without QB Jordan Wynn, who went down for the year in the first half against Washington.
It's possible that USC could implode, perhaps after losing a game it thought it would win or catching a horrible injury bug. But my present feeling is "overwhelming" would be the best way to describe the Trojans frontrunner status in the South Division.
Justin from Dallas writes: What's your opinion on early-season neutral-site games? Like Alabama v Michigan at Cowboys Stadium and LSU v Oregon last year there. Shouldn't these games be preserved for the campus? All about the $$ right?
Ted Miller: Well, yes, everything is about the $$. This is the USA. We like money. A lot. And if you don't, send me yours. I'll put it to good use, like buying a bigger TV.
I love these big intersectional games -- neutral site or not. They might be my favorite thing in college football, other than the Rose Bowl. If it's necessary to use a venue like Cowboy Stadium to lure nationally ranked teams from different conferences to play regular season games, so be it.
We spend a lot of time comparing conferences. To me, these games are most revealing. My respect for LSU as a program -- and its incredible 2011 regular season -- is based more on its beating Oregon and West Virginia than winning the SEC West. It took guts to make that schedule.
I do not doubt that the SEC is the nation's best conference. In our BCS system, it has been able to win six consecutive "national title" games. But I also firmly believe -- as do all SEC coaches and athletic directors -- that if the SEC scheduled more tough nonconference games, the size of its perceived superiority would narrow considerably. Why? Because if Florida or Georgia or Auburn or Arkansas or South Carolina scheduled more home-and-home series with teams like USC, Oregon, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and the like, they'd lose a lot more often.
My hope with our new four-team playoff format and a selection committee is that it becomes a requirement -- if unwritten -- to schedule ambitiously out of conference.
Eric from Pullman, Wash., writes: Will Washington State be able to hold any Pac-12 opponent to fewer than 27 points this season (which was the fewest they allowed last year)?
Ted Miller: Maybe. But I suspect the Cougs will have to outscore folks, which is what Mike Leach did when he was at Texas Tech, by the way.
The Cougars allowed 34.6 points per game in conference play last year, which ranked 10th in the league. My belief is they will be a bowl team if they can become poor-to-middling on defense this year -- say surrendering 28 to 30 points per game -- rather than egregious.
But here's something that's simpler: 3-1.
The Cougs need to start at least 3-1 -- 4-0 is entirely possible, by the way -- to post a six- or seven-win season, one that will get them to a bowl game for the first time since 2003.
Rob from Redwood City, Calif., writes: As you are well aware, Cal has reinstated linebacker Cecil Whiteside, and added Khairi Fortt from Penn State. What impact if any would this have on your position ranking of the Cal linebackers? And even if neither starts how important is depth at a postion like linebacker when you run a 3-4 scheme? Do most teams really rotate players very often at this postion or are they important just in case of injury?
Ted Miller: Cal likely would boost up from the top of "Good shape" to the bottom of "Great shape." I'd still rate Stanford, USC and Oregon ahead of the Bears, because they have more proven players at the position. Both Whiteside and Fortt have seen action but they aren't sure things.
Cal had a good defense last year, and it's hard not to give conference Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks a lot of credit for that. And folks will tell you that while Kendricks was the engine of the Bears defense, fellow inside 'backer D.J. Holt was the brains. So those are legitimate voids they left behind.
I will say this: Cal has some real questions, such as receiver and offensive line. But its defense isn't going to keep Jeff Tedford up at night.
Scott from the U.S. Virgin Islands: Please please please help me settle a dispute that has been going on for months. Who is better at this point, Oregon or FSU? Every ranking on ESPN, Athlon, and the coaches' poll have Oregon ranked higher than FSU. The exception is Phil Steele's preseason ranking. I try to have this conversation with my FSU buddy but he will not admit anything. He agrees with Phil Steele on the rankings but then when it comes to strength of schedule by Phil Steele, Oregon 55th and FSU 70th, then Phil Steele doesn't know ACC football. I told my friend no one knows ACC football with the exception of VA Tech taking their usual thumping in the Orange Bowl. Please please please talk some sense into this guy.
Ted Miller: Tough one. Just like a lot of folks, I'm high on Florida State this year. But a significant part of FSU getting a high preseason ranking is its playing in the ACC. You need look no further than the past two Orange Bowls to make a definitive statement about the ACC.
If I were talking to your friend, I'd say something like this: "Did you say something? I'm sorry. I was distracted by this shiny Rose Bowl trophy, three consecutive BCS bowl games and 34 victories over the past three years. Where do you guys keep your trophy from the Champs Sports Bowl? I bet it's really cute, you little champ! Nice nail-biting, four-point win over Notre Dame. The Irish only lost by 14 points to a Stanford team we beat by 23. You lost four games last year. We've lost six over the past three years. Look I like your spunk. I like your enthusiasm. It makes me want to pinch your little garnet cheeks. But we're Oregon. We're there. You're a nice little team down below eyeballing our behinds. I'm not even sure I'm allowed to talk to a guy who's a fan of a team that lost to Wake Forest, Virginia and Clemson last year. Ergo, you've got the next round to compensate me for my noblesse oblige."
Darren from Monterey, Calif., writes: I'm getting a little nervous about the PAC-12 Network not coming to DISH. Should I be worried? Or should I wait until August 24th-ish?
Ted Miller: The Pac-12 Network is pretty confident in its position. It's already happy with its distribution deals on cable. And DirecTV has its own issues.
I think the deal will get done, though the Pac-12 Networks launch date of Aug. 15 is getting pretty close.
The satellite carriers have less leverage than the Pac-12 Network does. And you, as a customer with options, shouldn't be shy about telling your satellite carriers about how great cable looks with the Pac-12 Networks. If the satellite carriers don't make a deal with the Pac-12 Networks, they essentially are saying they don't care about major West Coast markets. They are throwing sand in the eyes of their Pac-12 footprint customers.
Gary from Eugene, Ore., writes: Guess what a new Duck song is out by Xile, you can check it out here and the news story that talks about the former Ducks in the video.
Ted Miller: Every time I get one of these, I think, "OK, enough is enough. No more Oregon videos." But my policy is to post it if it's good, and that's pretty darn fresh.
Are they still saying "fresh"? Or did I just look really 40-something?
Excuse me while I pull up my black socks up from my sandals.
7hChantel Jennings and David Lombardi