Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Pac-12 [Print without images]

Thursday, September 9, 2010
Opening the mailbag: Does Tennessee have inside information?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Welcome to the Thursday mailbag!

Decided to move it back a day because many of you have begun your, er, game preparations by the time we'd post it Friday afternoon.

Follow me on Twitter. Please.

To the notes!

Dave from Portland writes: I keep hearing about a zipper conference schedule. Just what is a zipper?

Ted Miller: It's the idea of splitting the Pac-12 up by rivalry pairs instead of geography (North-South).

So Arizona and Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State, USC and UCLA, etc., are in opposite divisions but guaranteed a game each year, though perhaps not on the dates their fan bases are accustomed to. So a team would play five games each year in its division, one guaranteed game with its rival in the other division and then a rotating schedule of three games with the other five teams. There also could be further designated games if, say, Cal and UCLA wanted a guaranteed game or Oregon and Washington, though that could complicate things (or could be solved within the divisions).

The advantage is it ensures the Northwest schools are paired with one team from Southern and Northern California and, at worst, will make a visit to each region every other year. Northwest schools want trips to California for recruiting purposes. The zipper plan also maintains traditional rivalries.

The California schools are resisting the plan because they want to be guaranteed games with each other on an annual basis. There are other downsides. For one, not going regional means increased travel costs. Also, if rivalry games are preserved for the final week of the season, it's possible you'd have have a rematch a week later in the new Pac-10 championship game (imagine, say, Oregon-Oregon State on back-to-back weekends). Further, when you don't break up divisions by geography, it's difficult for casual fans to know which team is in which division. As in: Name all the ACC teams in the Coastal Division.

While the idea isn't new, the first time I can recall reading the term "zipper" was from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.

Dan from Olympia, Wash., writes: One of the things that I've noticed that the Big10, Big12, and SEC do well is schedule and market their rivalry games. Which brings me to these two questions: 1) Would the Pac10 be better served if they spread out the in-state rivalry games over three to four weeks instead of the two we have now? That way, people would get a chance to see all of the games and would give the conference to showcase each game without them overlapping? 2) Is the Pac10 missing a trick here and should promote other rivalry games inside the conference that do not have a name or title sponsors? For example, the Washington-Oregon game could be marketed in the same way the Red River Shootout is. The intensity between the fan bases are surely there.I can see nothing but good coming from this? Your thoughts?

Ted Miller: Some good points. When it comes to marketing and promotions, the new Pac-12 under Larry Scott strikes me as cutting edge, so I'm sure what you're saying here is also being said in the Pac-10 offices at present. Repackaging the rivalry games and relentlessly hyping them could become a prime directive for, say, a Pac-12 network.

There is a major reason why most rivalry games fall at the end of the season, other than just tradition: The potential for maximum impact. Consider the Civil War last year: The stakes were not only state pride, they were the Rose Bowl. Ergo: The biggest Civil War ever. You could say the same for the Ohio State-Michigan game: It's monumental when the stakes are the Rose Bowl or even the national title game, and you'll note the Big Ten opted to protect the game's date at the end of the season when it decided how to break into divisions.

Just imagine if Oregon and Oregon State had met in, say, week eight. Big game. Big rivalry. But little national interest, unless one or both are in the top-10 and contending for a national title.

As for finding ways to market other rivalries, I agree, particularly with Oregon-Washington. To me, that is the most underrated rivalry in the nation, though it lost some luster when the Huskies went into the toilet from 2004-2008. But all you have to do to get a sense for the bitterness is to read the comments section from the Pac-10 blog, where a story about Stanford's special teams can degenerate into barb trading between Ducks and Huskies.

The Columbia River Calamity? Feel free to provide your own ideas.

What you should take away from my answer here: Going forward, the Pac-12, once the patrician conference that resisted change and aggressive marketing, is now willing to at least entertain just about any idea within reason that promotes the conference and leads to increased revenue.

Torsten from Orlando writes: How concerned should us Duck fans be about Tennessee's new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox. As Duck fans know he was the former coordinator at Boise State, the only team to beat Oregon the past two years, and because of that probably has an edge about how to stop our system. Not to mention their new Grad Assistant was a Duck Grad Assistant first. Is this something that we should start sweating and worrying about or am I just sweating the small stuff?

Ted Miller: Oregon should beat Tennessee on Saturday because it's got better, more experienced players.

Now, if you are looking for reasons the Ducks might lose, Wilcox would be No. 2 on my list behind QB Darron Thomas struggling in his first road start in front of 105,000 at Neyland Stadium. In fact, those two pair together nicely as 1A and 1B.

Wilcox, a former Duck, is one of the bright, young coordinators in the nation, which is why Derek Dooley lured him away from Boise State. His game plans last fall against Oregon and then against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl were outstanding. And it should help him that his graduate assistant, former Duck Peter Sirmon, was a GA at Oregon last year.

These two will be familiar with Oregon's spread-option offense and the skills of individual players -- their strengths and weaknesses. Sirmon, for example, might have specific ideas on what might make Thomas uncomfortable.

So, yes, concern is legitimate.

That said: Sometimes there's information overload and overthinking. Oregon's Chip Kelly also knows what Wilcox did against the Ducks the past two seasons, and he probably knows what Sirmon might add to the equation in Knoxville. Count on Kelly having some counterpunches for the "inside" information that Wilcox and Sirmon might have.

Seth from Santa Barbara, Calif., writes: Here's a question for you: If you were suddenly transported to a mysterious and exotic world in which you were the only sports writer and no other media coverage or ranking systems existed (or had ever existed before). Based on your observations of week one on the field performance who would your top 10 be? Feel free to rank the PAC-10 the same way if you are so inclined.

Ted Miller: OK. So you want a ranking that leans overwhelmingly on what a team accomplished in week one instead of my subjective take on who's the best?

My national top 10: 1. Boise State; 2. Utah; 3. TCU; 4. Fresno State; 5. Jacksonville State; 6. Michigan; 7. South Carolina; 8. Arizona; 9. Kansas State; 10. Oregon.

As for the Pac-10, based entirely on what was accomplished in week one: 1. Arizona (won impressively on the road against a respectable team); 2. Oregon (looked unstoppable against a bad team); 3. USC (won on the road against a respectable team); 4. Oregon State (lost a competitive game on the road against an elite team); 5. Arizona State (created reasons for optimism on offense); 6. California (may have found a playmaker at receiver); 7. Stanford (beat an FCS team about like it should have); 8. Washington (lost to a good team on the road, but one it was expected to beat); 9. UCLA (lost to a middling team on the road, but one it was expected to beat); 10. Washington State (got beat up worse than expected by a middling team on the road).

Max from Sacramento writes: Your stock report reminds me of the NASPAQ.

Ted Miller: Thanks for the link. Worth taking a look.

Mr. Dude from Portland writes: Yup, there sure is a nickname for Barner and James. Last year people started calling them Blaze N' Taze. Blaze for James' ridiculous speed, and Taze for the hybrid tazer position (slot + running back) Kelly implemented last year. Both adjectives are sure to leave many defensive players laying on the ground in a charred, mangled and helpless mess. Also it was a play off the previous years speed power combo (Johnson and Blount) smash and dash.

Ted Miller: OK then.

Sure you don't like "Accelerating Anatidaes" better?

And when someone says, "Dude?" to you, do you go, "Hey, that's Mr. Dude!"

Cam from Albany, Ore., writes: You asked on your blog if there was a nickname for Oregon's backfield and I have it. Traditionally you see "Thunder and Lightning." With James and Barner you have Lightning and Lightning. I humbly submit the title of "Blitzkrieg" for your consideration.

Ted Miller: Cam, you and Mr. Dude need to talk this one out. I know better than to get between wide-eyed Ducks fans.

Steven from Guntersville, Ala., writes: Normally I am content with people being ignorant if it doesn't concern me, but this is rediculous. I am in no way affiliated with Bama, other than being a fan. Do you even watch football? What are your rankings based on? Ill go out on a limb and give you Boise, because they have played in the best game, so far. But to have Bama behind the suckeyes and the horny toads, is borderline insane. For heaven's sake, TCU beat WHO? Maybe Boise and BAMA will go undefeated, and you can see who plays real football in Glendale. You can sit with the boise fans, after the crowd that showed up Monday Night, im sure there will be plenty of empty seats. Lets start voting with our head and not how Lame kiffin taught you to!

Ted Miller: Apologies. I've found myself being rediculous all week.

My bad.