- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome to the mailbag.
To the notes!
Mark from Boise, Idaho, writes: Is it just me or is everyone doubting Boise in its opener vs UW? Who wants to bet against Coach Pete given time to prepare etc? I understand it will be a very hostile environment, I was there in 07 when Boise lost, and it still stands as the loudest stadium I've been in. But this Boise team should be vastly improved offensively from last year.
Ted Miller: It does seem like most folks, including Las Vegas, which has Washington as a 3 1/2-point favorite, are picking the Huskies over Boise State, even though the Broncos: 1. Beat Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl to end the 2012 season; 2. Are ranked 19th in the AP poll; 3. And, well, are a Chris Petersen coached Boise State team.
The first is this: Boise State only welcomes back nine position player starters from the team that nipped the Huskies in a tight bowl game, while Washington welcomes back 18. That would suggest the Huskies should be taking a step forward from the team they were in 2012, while the Broncos might take a step back.
Then there's home-field advantage, which is significant in Husky Stadium in any event, but is even more pronounced because it's the first game after a massive renovation. The atmosphere will be frenzied.
So both Kevin and I are picking Washington to win.
Yet, as noted, Boise State is Boise State and Petersen is one of the best coaches in the nation. I don't think many folks who are picking the Huskies to win would be shocked if they didn't.
Mike from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: Ted, After such a lackluster performance by USC's offense do you feel they will be a contender for the South?
Ted Miller: Yes. I think it is too early to write off the Trojans. Season-opening games, particularly games on the road, are often not terribly revealing. Recall what we first thought of Chip Kelly when his Ducks got dominated at Boise State in 2009.
That said, my estimation of the Trojans certainly didn't go up based on what happened against Hawaii. While the defense looked good in the first iteration of Clancy Pendergast's new scheme, the offense meandered. The line was underwhelming, and the QB situation is no less murky. Further, we didn't see new and improved -- and inspired! -- play-calling from Lane Kiffin.
Still, the performances of Cody Kessler and Max Wittek in some ways validated Kiffin not naming a starter sooner -- neither showed why he should be the guy. In fairness to Kessler, it was his first college football game.
I think we'll get a far better measure of the Trojans -- and their QBs -- next weekend when Washington State comes to the Coliseum. It's a conference game against what figures to be an improved Cougars team.
Moving ahead, the Trojans should be 4-0 when the go to Arizona State for a key South Division matchup. If they aren't, and they then lose to the Sun Devils, it might be time to stick a fork in them even before the calendar flips into October.
Jeff from Fort Worth, Texas, writes: What was the best aspect of Utah's game last night? What was the worst? What could most easily be improved upon?
Ted Miller: The best aspect was winning. Utah State was 11-2 last year. The Aggies and QB Chucky Keeton are nobody's patsy.
But as far as specifically encouraging things, you'd have to start with the play of quarterback Travis Wilson. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 302 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Further, he seemed to keep his poise when things weren't going the Utes way.
Andy Phillips' kicking was also pretty darn good. His three field goals made the difference.
The worst? The defense and the lack of a consistent running game -- see being forced to kick a field goal after having a first-and-goal on the Aggies 3-yard line in the fourth quarter.
We should probably toss in the season-ending injury to receiver Kenneth Scott. The Utes aren't deep at the position, so that's a longterm issue.
Easily improved? Nothing is easy to improve, but you'd think the young secondary will get better. This was a tough first test for them and they struggled. Hopefully they will learn from their mistakes because things won't get any easier when Pac-12 play begins.
Brian from Denver writes: Loved that Ole Miss-Vandy game. Can't recall the PAC10/12 ever starting the season with a conference game, but I wish they would throw one game in each of the first few weeks. Is there a reason they don't? Ted, it's your job to have an opinion about things like this. Will you share your thoughts?
Ted Miller: It used to be not terribly rare, in fact. I started to go through each Pac-10/12 team and immediately hit Arizona-Oregon in 1997. Then I found a bunch for Arizona State in the 1990s and decided that was enough proof, the last in 1998.
There also have been plenty of times Pac-12/10 teams have played in the second week, including the aforementioned USC-Washington State game on Sept. 7.
As for a reason why you don't see a lot of conference games on the opening or even second weekend is because coaches would prefer to have their early-season kinks worked out in nonconference games, which don't affect the conference standings. Further, athletic directors don't like them because a lot of Pac-12 schools aren't in class the first weekend, so you'd risk a lackluster showing in the student section.
Not a Husky from Seattle writes: Which conference team(s) do you think has the most upside this season? Looking at where things stood for say the Beavs and Cougs on the cusp of last season, I wouldn't have predicted either of those two outcomes. I had them switched. If there is any team that could dramatically exceed or fall short of this year's expectations, which would they be?
Ted Miller: I think Arizona is a team that could significantly exceed expectations. The Wildcats have a favorable schedule and seem likely to improve on defense. The only real question is quarterback play. If that's at least solid, the Wildcats could win eight or nine games.
On the potential downside, I see the three South Division favorites: Arizona State, UCLA and USC. There are plenty of reasons to like all three, but also potential questions. And all three won't finish the season happy.
We saw that USC is hardly a certainty Thursday night. And Arizona State needs to prove it can win against good teams.
Dan from Denver writes: Hey Ted, Disclosure: this is a nitpicky question relating to a prediction the PAC-12 blog made for the 2011 season, but bear with me. Perhaps you'll be happy with this evidence of PAC-12 blog devotion. Anyway, in 2011, former OC David Shaw was starting his first year as HC at Stanford. Though he was following up arguably the best coach in school history, he had lots of returning talent and the conference's best QB. The PAC-12 blog placed the Cardinal at the top of the conference. Isn't Helfrich inheriting a similar situation this year? Isn't giving the nod to Stanford this year just a reflection of home field advantage, which has been shown to be tenuous the last two seasons? Maybe I'm just getting my ducky feelings hurt but I think Oregon isn't getting enough respect, especially considering what we know they can do to Stanford's defense if they're at the top of their game.
Ted Miller: We most certainly did not!
Got to admit you had me worried there.
Yes, both Kevin and I picked Stanford to win the Pac-12 this year. Still, both of us have said it was essentially a toss-up, with the unknowns of a coaching change being a factor you must acknowledge.
But keep in mind Oregon was picked by the Pac-12 media and is ranked ahead of Stanford -- No. 3 versus No. 4 -- in the AP and coaches poll.
And, as for disrespect, the Ducks’ No. 3 preseason ranking matches the program’s highest (2011) to start a season.
Mike from Denver writes: Wow, what a joke of a blog. Did you even watch the CSU/cu game last year? The Rams DOMINATED the second half of that game on both sides of the ball. It wasn't even close. And the Rams HAD the lead through the 3rd quarter and MOST of the 4th. Jesus stop making stuff up. It is embarrassing.
Ted Miller: Yes, I watched the game. No, I'm not embarrassed. It is factually incorrect to say that a 22-17 game "wasn't even close."
The offending passage for Mike likely is this
As for Colorado, it's pretty simple. If the Buffaloes had made plays in the fourth quarter of a game [against Colorado State] they seemed poised to take control of, it's possible that Jon Embree would still be the head coach, not Mike MacIntyre.
So, what's the source of the phrase "seemed poised to take control of"?
It's nothing less than... the game's play-by-play!
On the final play of the third quarter, Colorado linebacker Derrick Webb sacked Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson, forcing the Rams to punt from their own 17-yard line. Marques Moseley returned that punt 24 yards to the Rams 35-yard line.
The Buffaloes drive stalled at the Rams 13, and Will Oliver kicked a 30-yard field goal. Colorado jumped ahead 17-16 to start the fourth quarter.
So "poised to take control of" is a pretty fair description of the situation, as is noting that the Buffaloes didn't win because they didn't make plays in the fourth quarter, such as that final drive that ended on the Rams 39-yard line.
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