Mailbag: Pressure on Oregon?


Welcome to the mailbag, the first with Pac-12 teams on the field getting ready for the 2014 season.

Yes, your team is destined for great things. But only if you follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Kevin from Columbus, Ohio, writes: How much pressure should be placed on Don Pellum at Oregon considering the Ducks have lost to Stanford two years straight? A third time would be a clear indication Oregon's defense can't stop the beef of Stanford and sends an even stronger message that Oregon won't be able to stop an SEC team if it makes it to the national title game.

Ted Miller: A third consecutive Oregon loss in the series might suggest that Stanford has the Ducks' number, but it has no relevance to the SEC. I can count on four fingers the number of SEC teams that wouldn't wilt on the line of scrimmage against Stanford -- or be multi-TD underdogs to the Ducks.

You might want to ask Tennessee fans about Oregon's defense, though some were rendered mute and blind by 59 unanswered points. Further, compare and contrast Oregon's defensive effort against Auburn and LSU with what other SEC defenses did to those teams in 2010 and 2011.

But to take your general premise seriously, I don't think there's any particular pressure on new Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum. I think there's pressure on Oregon, period.

That's what happens when your program rises to the super-elite. Think about it: What would rate a successful season for the Ducks in 2014? Nothing less than the Pac-12 championship, and if that doesn't include an invitation to the first College Football Playoff, I'd bet more than a few Oregon fans would give the season a harrumph.

Oregon finished 11-2 last year with a final No. 9 ranking. From a long-term perspective, it was one of the best seasons in program history. From the perspective of the last five years, Mark Helfrich's first season after replacing Chip Kelly was a bit of a letdown.

Helfrich knew what he was getting into. The new reality is many Oregon fans now expect their Ducks to win the Pac-12 title and be in the national championship mix annually. (Oregon fans over 50 just slapped their foreheads.) Some might say Helfrich won't completely win over some fans until he wins the title, the one thing Kelly couldn't quite accomplish.

As for Pellum, he will encounter the same sort of pressure Helfrich is experiencing. He is replacing longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who quietly built a nationally ranked defense while laboring in the shadow of the Ducks high-powered, up-tempo offense. For some fans to completely buy in to Pellum, they'll need to see the Ducks continue to rank among the conference's statistical leaders. For an even pickier contingent, the defense will need to improve.

How can it improve? Ah, we now come to your point about "beef," but perhaps from a different angle. While Oregon's offensive struggles against A-list defenses over the past five years have tended to grab the headlines, the defense also has, at times, fallen short, though I'd assert it has mostly measured up in big games.

The key issues does appear to come down to "beef:" In six of the Ducks' eight defeats since 2009, they've been outrushed. Further, there's no question that Stanford controlled both lines of scrimmage in last year's victory. The Ducks defensive front seven couldn't get a stop in the first half. That's why one of the messages coming out of the offseason is Oregon's intention -- apparently realized -- to get bigger.

Just so everybody knows, by the way, it's no longer the SEC that worries coaches across the country. That conference faces a major talent drain this season, particularly behind center. It's Florida State. The Seminoles are stacked.

Costi from Phoenix writes: Ted, As an Arizona fan, Rich Rod's comments really troubled me to the Key Questions for Pac-12 South Coaches. Watching the UofA play ASU the past two years, it has seemed like Rich Rod has not taken this rivalry very seriously. On the other hand it is my belief that Todd Graham has probably made the Territorial Cup the most important game on the schedule. I am a strong believer in the idea that in this state there are two seasons, the regular season and the Territorial Cup. Do you think Rich Rod's job could potentially be in peril with a third loss to the Devils despite another successful bowl-eligible season? Or am I over-reacting? Is the rivalry game just going to be another game on our schedule if we continue to have winning seasons?

Ted Miller: Respectfully, Costi, you are overreacting. Rich Rodriguez takes every game seriously. Heck, the guy takes every play in practice seriously. He knows how important the Territorial Cup is. He's plenty aware of his being 0-2 against his good buddy Todd Graham. There won't be a person in the country who will want to win that game next year more than Rodriguez.

No, I don't think Rodriguez will be in trouble if he loses a third consecutive game to the Sun Devils after another winning season. I don't think that's even been whispered by any significant decision-maker associated directly or indirectly with the football program.

In 2012, the Wildcats pretty much threw up on themselves in the fourth quarter and the Sun Devils played a mentally tougher game on the road. In 2013, the Sun Devils were a lot more talented on both sides of the ball.

This year? It's a lot closer to a toss-up in terms of talent, though Arizona State has a third-year starting QB in Taylor Kelly who won't worry too much about playing in Tucson. Rodriguez's life would be much easier with a win. But another loss won't be catastrophic if the Wildcats have a good season, such as entering the game with eight or so wins.

Rodriguez's chief goal isn't just to post winning or even eight- or nine-win seasons. It's not even to consistently beat Arizona State. He wants to win the conference championship and get the Wildcats to their first Rose Bowl.

Joe Bruin from Westwood writes: Hey Ted... It's me, Joe! All of us Bruins fans should have listened to Coach Neuheisel when he said, "Punting is winning." Truer words were never spoken, and we all took it for ridicule. Now, anyone who enjoys, watches, or plays the game of football knows that field position is huge. How big (or small) will the loss of Sean Covington affect our season? Should Bruins fans be worried? I don't know how Matt Mengel is going to fare this season, but we are going to need good field position this year, especially against teams like Oregon, Stanford, and ASU. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Ted Miller: I'm sure glad that folks don't record my off-the-cuff comments for posterity.

Miller in 1985: "Folks, the mullet is here to stay. It's a haircut that best conveys masculinity."

Miller in 1991: "MC Hammer is certain to be remembered as the best rapper in history."

Miller in 1999: "Rarely would I recommend a stock based on a sock puppet, but Pets.com is a sure winner!"

Miller in 2001: "Why does Britney Spears date Justin Timberlake? She's so much more talented than him."

Miller in 2007: "You should buy real estate. That market will never crash."

Miller in 2008: "I think we've finally got a President and Congress that are going to work together!"

Miller in 2010: "At least we know Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver will be married forever!"

Miller in 2012: "Stanford beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium with a redshirt freshman QB? Ha!"

My wife has a much longer list, by the way.

As a freshman, Covington ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in punting and, perhaps more important, UCLA ranked second in the conference in net punting. So before he transferred, Bruins fans knew they had a A-list punter coming back, one who could significantly help the underrated field-position game.

Now the Bruins have uncertainty at the position. That's not a positive, though in terms of where uncertainty really worries you, punter is down the list. It might, in fact, be at the bottom of said list.

In a close game, you'd like to have a good punter. But you'd rather have Brett Hundley, Eric Kendricks, Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and Fabian Moreau.

Or you should simply expect Noel Mazzone's offense to never need to punt.

Gary from La Grande, Ore., writes: Which scratch-and-sniff ticket scent do you anticipate will be most popular? Locker Room Melange or Really Offensive Linemen?

Ted Miller: Time to musk up, eh? I hear "Really Offensive Lineman" is made with real bits of Hroniss Grasu and Tyler Johnstone, so you know it's good. Sixty percent of the time it works every time.

What would Ode to Chip Kelly smell like? Something that crossed sarcasm and a bacon cheeseburger?

I'll be honest. If Oregon made tickets that smelled like Pok Pok in Portland, I'd probably buy one even though I get a media pass.