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Thursday, December 23, 2010
Pac-10 mailbag: A verdict on Neuheisel?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The mailbag comes early this week. Call it my early Christmas gift.

No, I don't have a receipt.

Follow me on Twitter. Or don't, and be a humbug!

To the notes!

Angry Bruin from Fresno writes: So what do you have to say about Rick Neuheisel now? He's ruined three programs, Colorado, Washington and UCLA. Each were worse off when he left. He's even made [Norm] Chow a bad offensive coordinator. At least the Bruins went to bowl games with Dorrell. UCLA needs to hire Brady Hoke NOW!!!

Ted Miller: There's a lot here. And Brady Hoke certainly has done a fine job at San Diego State.

First, UCLA regressed this season. There are plenty of explanations -- injuries being chief among them -- but a second 4-8 finish in three years puts Neuheisel squarely on the hot seat. And not unfairly. Further, the Norm Chow, "will he stay or will he go" controversy, isn't helping things.

But the typical dump of Colorado's and Washington's recent woes on Neuheisel isn't fair or accurate.

Colorado went 7-5 in 1999, the first year after Neuheisel left and lost three games by a touchdown or less. In 2000, it went 3-8 and lost six games by eight or fewer points. In 2001, it went to the Fiesta Bowl as the Big 12 champions.

So Neuheisel left behind a competitive team that eventually went to a BCS bowl game with fourth and fifth-year players he recruited. The mess that developed thereafter can hardly be attributed to Neuheisel.

Washington is more problematic. The Huskies won the 2000 Rose Bowl, Neuheisel's second year, and went to bowl games after each of his four seasons. And I've always thought the 2003 team he never got to coach after he was fired would have fared much better than 6-6 if he had been around.

But it's hard to excuse the middling talent he left behind, so Neuheisel deserves a fair share of blame for the Huskies woes through 2006. Still, I've always thought the "he's playing with the previous coach's players" excuse/justification has always been given too much weight, either way. It's certainly valid to an extent, but Neuheisel deserves predominant credit for the 2000 Huskies, who weren't terribly talented but finished ranked No. 3 in the nation because they found ways to win.

I thought Neuheisel would turn things around faster at UCLA, though the Bruins he inherited had significant issues and talent holes. I've also long admired a lot about Neuheisel, which puts me in a decided minority among reporters. I've admired his ability to rally players through adversity, his ability to find ways to win in the fourth quarter and his desire to make college football fun for his players. I've also seen enough through the years to respect his Xs and Os.

But college football is a bottom line business. The Bruins need to show significant improvement in 2011 or Neuheisel might lose his job.


Derek from Tucson writes: How much of a chance do you give Arizona in their bowl game against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl?

Ted Miller: It makes sense that the Wildcats are an underdog. Oklahoma State is 10-2 and Arizona is 7-5 (and riding a four-game losing streak). The Cowboys feature some serious offensive firepower, see a nation-leading 537.58 yards per game.

That said, the Cowboys defense is ranked 91st in the nation, giving up 412 yards per game, and they are particularly bad against the pass, ranking 115th in the nation.

Paging Nick Foles and Juron Criner. (On the downside for the Arizona offense is that senior center Colin Baxter -- the Wildcats resident tough guy -- will miss the bowl game because of knee surgery).

The Arizona defense was banged up over the final third of the season. It should benefit from a few weeks off. And it's probably smarting from its sagging performances during that four-game losing streak.

If Foles is sharp, and defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore bring their A-games, the Wildcats have a good shot at pulling the upset.


Vips from Thailand writes: Thought you might be interested in some of the data we have been crunching in regards to college football rankings and conf vs conf records. Pac10 has routinely outperformed preseason expectation (as does the MWC/WAC). I've provided the links: Conference Matchups and AP Voters; Most underrated college football teams; Conference over/under ratings.

Ted Miller: Good stuff. My head exploded with all the data and computer code, but it's still good stuff.


Gary from Portland writes: No idea what to think of this, but this writer does do his homework and watches a lot of film. He contributes very detailed [Oregon] practice reports (when they're open, of course). This is a look at Auburn DT Nick Fairley.

Ted Miller: Ah, yes, a nice counter to the "Oregon has never seen anyone like Fairley!" bloviation. Fairley is a good player, but I will be surprised if he is able to dominate inside.

Further, Oregon has faced three defensive tackles who could be NFL first-round draft choices this spring: Oregon State's Stephen Paea (a consensus All-American), USC's Jurrell Casey and California's Cameron Jordan (who is a "big" end in a 3-4 defense).

None recorded a sack and the threesome combined for 13 total tackles, though Jordan had a nice game against the Ducks.


Anne from Eugene, Ore., writes: Creeping up in yours (and others) bowl previews is the possibility of the Pac-10 going 0-4 this bowling year! As a Duck fan knowing very little about Auburn, except that they are very good with a runaway Heisman QB, is the championship game that futile for Oregon? I know you have yet to preview the game fully, but can you give us some foundation for this viewpoint? Is it the traditionally SEC-biased national media, or does it have some root in truth?!

Ted Miller: Oregon is going to win the national championship.

Does that help?