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Friday, December 2, 2011
Mailbag: Playoffs, new hires & Crazy Ladies

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Happy Friday.

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To the notes.

Jeremy from Hastings, Neb., writes: Oh, my head. Right now, we are one fluke away from a Rose Bowl that includes a 7-6 UCLA team and a national championship game including two teams that did not win their conference. (Should Georgia pull off the upset, it is entirely possible voters still see it fit to put LSU against Alabama though neither team will have won the SEC.) My question is this. Is it really in the best interest of all involved to have the BCS and conference championship games/bowl placements so intertwined? As a Pac-12 guy displaced in Big 10 country, I am less than thrilled to see the inaugural championship game star 6-6 UCLA. And I'm downright terrified of them bottling lightning for one day and catching Oregon on a bad one to wind up in the Rose Bowl. Surely I'm not alone. If the BCS was built with the intent of pitting the two best teams against one another for the national championship, then why do we still allow it to play such a factor in the conference championships/bowl game placements?

Ted Miller: The BCS's chief intent is to match the two best teams without resorting to a playoff which, clearly would cause us to have the worst economic collapse since 1929. (Oh, right, never mind).

It includes a human element, as in, "Hmmm... I think these are the two best teams based on what my eyes have told me (and... shhh... my personal biases)." And there is a computer element, as in, "Bleep, gurgle, ones and zeroes, ones and zeroes... bleep... bleep... Alabama and Wichita State!"

But let's look at how things stack up in your question, starting with the Pac-12 championship. Yes, it doesn't look like much of a game, but the Ducks are fully aware of the deal. Lose to a 6-6 team and then their rear ends will be parked in front of the TV watching the Bruins play the Big Ten champions in the Rose Bowl.

The solution: Don't lose, Oregon.

As for the SEC championship, if LSU loses to Georgia, the question will be simple. Who are the two best teams? Why do we -- and the computers -- think that? Who most deserves a shot at the national title based on their totality of work?

There won't be a correct answer. There will only be the answer our present system provides, and no matter the answer somebody will be outraged at the injustice of it all. And, yes, the likely matchup still would be "LSU-Alabama II: Revenge of the Punters!"

But let's keep this in mind: One of the joys -- and frustrations -- of the NCAA basketball tournament is its upsets and unpredictability. Many of us love the upsets. And then we get to the final and sort of think, gosh, I wish Kansas and North Carolina were playing.

College football at present has this X-factor formula -- the BCS -- that is superimposed on top of the actual field of play. It's a strange and unique and controversial thing. College football fans have to pay attention to perception and process more than fans of any other sport. It's its own sort of theater. Or theater of the absurd, if you will.

Let me put it this way: The BCS is an inferior option to a playoff, though anti-playoff folks do make some reasonable points. But it also is superior to the old bowl system which rarely matched two teams that were even in the national championship discussion on New Year's Day.


Matt from Wilsonville, Ore., writes: I have been an avid Duck fan for years and I love watching their offense do their thing. Obviously over the past couple of years, they have been great running the ball, but they couldn't do that without a good passing game to complement that. I have noticed that when teams are able to slow the run against the Ducks (Auburn, LSU, USC), that they obviously don't fare so well. Do you think that the Ducks need to start passing the ball more to force the opposing defenses to play the pass which then would open up more running lanes? When the Ducks made their comeback against USC this year in the fourth quarter, I noticed a lot of passing which yielded success. What is your take on the Oregon offense?

Ted Miller: I actually think Chip Kelly does a good job at figuring out what a defense is giving him. Recall that the Ducks passed for 374 yards against Auburn because the Tigers ganged up on the run and defensive tackle Nick Fairley was a disruptive force in the interior. And Oregon rushed for 209 yards against USC. Below its season average, yes, but they did that despite falling behind 21-7 at halftime and 38-14 in the third quarter.

One of the things to keep in mind when we dissect Oregon's small handful of losses under Chip Kelly: They've all come against good teams. Boise State, Ohio State and LSU all had elite defenses that were given extra time to prepare. My perception after covering college football a few years is that extra prep time favors a defense, because coaches get more practices to drill into their players heads their keys and assignments. Defenders who have received extra practice repetitions against the Ducks' pace and misdirection are going to be more confident and disciplined. That means fewer creases due to freelancing defenders biting on a fake. That means a sounder scheme. And if said players have NFL talent -- like everybody on the LSU defense -- they are going to cause problems.

That's my usual blather. Let me conclude with this: Until teams start to consistently figure out Kelly's offense, I'm not going to pretend to have any useful advice for a guy who might be one of the best offensive minds in college coaching in a generation.

But I do expect a call from Kelly -- "Ted, what is wrong with me!?" -- if things start to slide. At which point, I will open my "Magic Book of Sports Writing Smartness" and tell him to throw to the tight end more.

And, no, you can't see my "Magic Book of Sports Writing Smartness." You'd have to pass through the "12 Labors of Jim Murray" first, and I wouldn't recommend that if you don't want to anger the gods and/or get a serious case of carpal tunnel syndrome.


"Mike Riley" from Corvallis, Ore., writes: Am I [Oregon State coach Mike Riley] on the hot-seat because Mike Leach is at WAZZU? I make my living finding hidden talent. Leach made his living finding hidden talent in Texas that Texas, a&m and Oklahoma didn't want. I found the Rodger's brothers in Texas and brought them to the NW, but will WSU now find these types?

Ted Miller: The hiring of Mike Leach at Washington State just made the Pac-12 North tougher, and the Northwest far more hotly contested. My guess is, yes, Kelly, Steve Sarkisian and, you, Coach Riley, at least raised an eyebrow.

And, yes, the Beavers coach will be on the hotseat in 2012. A third consecutive losing season could threaten a guy who was among the most secure coaches in college football just two years ago, particularly if the Cougars perk up, the Huskies win eight or nine games and Oregon continues to go to BCS bowl games.

Things are changing in the Pac-12. With more TV money, the conference can be more competitive with coaching salaries. That means not coming in second for a guy like Leach or Rich Rodriguez. It will be interesting to see if a conference team can snag Kevin Sumlin away from Houston, instead of getting out-fancied by SEC-bound Texas A&M. That certainly would announce that the conference has more than one or two destination jobs.


Robert from Tucson writes: I have a favor to ask. You may have heard of the "Crazy Lady" at Utah home games. She dances in front of the band between the 3rd and 4th quarters. The athletic department is considering cutting her "stage." This would be a travesty. The MUSS loves her!! Could you help out by maybe posting the SLTrib article about her in your Lunch Links?

Ted Miller: Occupy the Crazy Lady?

Utah, save the Crazy Lady.

Marketing departments don't create college football traditions. When they try, they come up with bad ideas that get ridiculed. (Cackle, cackle, says me).

I'm already imagining this from Lya Wodraska in 2015, under the headline: "Curses of the 'Crazy Lady'?"

Utah fans are not superstitious sorts, but the Utes four-year streak without a bowl game has many asking if yanking the beloved Crazy Lady in 2012 in favor of "Otis the Giant Red Blob of Overthinking Marketing Stupid" was a bad idea.

"I'm not going to say that we're cursed because of Crazy Lady's removal, but you did notice that a meteor fell from the sky and onto our running back just as he was about to score the winning touchdown against BYU, didn't you?" Utes normally level-headed coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Or that somehow Matt Barkley has been USC's quarterback for seven seasons because of that mysterious "Just Because" ruling from the NCAA? Or that all of our of offensive linemen are asking me if their new skinny jeans make their butts look big?"


Beware Utah. Beware.