Friday, October 9, 2009
Opening the mailbag: Polls, stressed fans and LeGarrette Blount
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The mailbag likes diversity, but there wasn't much this week.
Lots of California. Lots of Washington got screwed. Lots of LeGarrette Blount.
California fans were shaking their fist at the heavens. And some folks were eager to tell me how stupid I was for overrating the Bears. Not sure how I can respond other than, "Yep."
As for the Huskies gripes with the officials: Mostly valid. But the territory feels sort of stale. Look forward, Huskies! Arizona's visit is a critical game in the Pac-10 pecking order.
Took one Blount question.
And away we go.
Jeff from Dallas writes: Theoretically speaking, if the Ducks win out, would they have a chance at breaking into the top 5? If so, would we jump Boise State? I know I'm getting way ahead of myself here but as a loyal Duck fan, I cant help but set myself up for heartache.
Ted Miller: Yes and yes.
At 11-1, with a win over USC, the Ducks likely would be top-five. Now, would Oregon jump Boise State if the Broncos remained unbeaten?
I think so. Why? Because Oregon's schedule is exponentially tougher -- none of Boise State's other 12 foes would finish in the top-half of the Pac-10. More than a few are among the worst FBS teams.
Moreover, season-openers are often treated differently than games in the middle or end of the season, and not just because of rankings momentum. The Ducks are clearly a better team today than they were in the season-opener.
I know that won't go over with Broncos fans but there is a solution: Schedule a BCS foe early and late -- even if they won't do a home-and-home series.
If Boise State played, say, Kansas -- I pick Kansas because the Jayhawks would hide behind the sofa if Boise called for a game -- on Dec. 5 instead of New Mexico State, thereby bookending their season with legitimate BCS foes, it would make up for the perception that the Broncos poured their hearts into one season-opening game and then coasted through a milquetoast schedule.
Mike from Berkeley writes: As a Cal fan I have nothing but respect for what Coach Tedford has achieved. He took over a program that was a perennial doormat in the Pac-10 and made it relevant. That said 2007 was a major disappointment, and while Cal will probably finish with 9 or 10 wins this season that is a major disappointment given the talent level. So do you think Tedford can ever lead the bears to the Rose Bowl? If not do you think another coach could, or will Cal just never have the recruiting power to reach that level?
Ted Miller: Remember when Nebraska fans use to say that about Tom Osborne?
Bobby Bowden went 10-2 in 1977, his second year at Florida State. Before he won his first national title in 1993, his team rolled through six consecutive "disappointing" seasons of 10 or more wins.
Mack Brown just couldn't win the big won. Then he did.
Is Jeff Tedford the coaching "genius" he was touted as in 2004? Probably not. Is it fair to question how he coaches and who he hires and other aspects of his job? Sure. He makes a lot of money and that comes with the territory.
The quarterback magic has worn off. The "failing to live up to high expectations" issue feels more legitimate today than it ever has.
But to your question as to whether Tedford can lead the Bears to the Rose Bowl: Absolutely.
If Tedford remains the Bears coach for another decade, I guarantee the Bears will go to the Granddaddy during that span. [Cut that out and we'll meet back here in 2019].
And to your final question: Yes, another coach probably could do better.
Urban Meyer could. Pete Carroll probably could. Nick Saban maybe (he'd be out of his element on the West Coast). Bill Belichick is another possibility. Maybe Tony Dungy would come out of retirement.
But if Cal doesn't feel its chances are good to hire one of those guys, my advice would be to stick with the coach who got the long-suffering program consistently inside the velvet ropes.
Spencer from LA writes: It turns out LeGarrette Blount lawyered up. And what about that fake apology? The real story isn't that Chip Kelly changed his mind, it's that he was forced to by the fear of a lawsuit.
Ted Miller: You refer to this story.
That was a valid story, reported straight by Mark Fainaru-Wada, one half of the combination that broke open the story of steroids in sports and wrote the landmark book, "Game of Shadows."
But this is a prime example of the need to read between the lines.
First, let's say a lawyer was brought in to force Oregon to reconsider Blount's season-long suspension. What was that lawyer going to do? Where was his traction? What was the legal argument?
The only thing I can think of would be the different treatment given Oregon point guard Aaron Brooks when he clubbed Washington's Ryan Appleby during a game.
You'll also note that the actual lawyer, Rob Carey, had no comment.
Who did comment? A guy named Chris Horn, whose apparent motive for talking is a desire for publicity for his "newly formed nonprofit designed to advocate for student-athletes."
He's a -- to use his phrase -- "quiet voices in the background" guy. Only he's shouting "look at me!"
Maybe Horn did help Blount (that's not my take, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt). The problem is Horn's subsequent publicity-seeking is a disservice to Blount.
The story before Horn went public was that Blount had earned the opportunity to possibly play again this season because of how he had behaved after his meltdown at Boise State. How he responded to his worst moment had won over coach Chip Kelly and Oregon administrators.
It's a redemption story.
Horn, instead, wants the story to be that he and Blount's parents pressured Oregon into changing their position. He wants everyone to know that.
It's about lawyers and potential lawsuits.
So which story helps Blount get to the NFL?
If Kelly and Oregon feel like they were pressured, or are embarrassed by Horn going public with his account, do you think they are going to support Blount's cause when NFL GMs call?
And I know Kelly well enough to know that if he feels lawyered up and pushed around, Blount won't see significant action even if he manages to get reinstated.
By the way, no one at Oregon backs up Horn's account. An anonymous source in Fainaru-Wade's story is quoted as saying that Blount "met with Harry Edwards for 10 minutes." Edwards said he talked to Blount for six hours.
And if this is mostly about the Ducks wanting to get back a star player who can help them win, why will they wait until Nov. 7 -- after the USC game -- to allow his earliest possible reinstatement? Heck, if the program had the threat of a lawsuit as potential cover, why not bring him back for the Oct. 24 date at Washington? A five-game suspension is a nice number, and that would give Blount a warmup game before the Trojans come to town.
As for Blount's letter of apology, yes, it doesn't read like he wrote it.
I respect how Oregon has handed this process, both in the early going and during the redirection. I'm rooting for LeGarrette Blount to get his life back in order.
I'm not sure this third-party advocacy has much merit.
Henry from Nashville writes: You stated in your mailbag that the AP poll is more respected which is why USC is regarded to be the real 2003 champion by most people. If that is true, then the Miami Hurricanes are the real champion from 1991 instead of the Washington Huskies, right? Because in 1991, the AP declared the Miami Hurricanes to be champions. It was the coaches' poll, which you loathe, who declared a great Washington Huskies team that I remember fondly (Steve Emtman, Napoleon Kaufman, Mark Brunell, Billy Joe Hobert not so much) to be worthy of a title. So, agree or disagree? According to the same standards that you use to belittle LSU's accomplishments in 2003, was Miami the "real champions" in 1991 and Washington the fraud or not?
Ted Miller: And don't forget that USC wouldn't get half a national title in 1978 because the AP went with an Alabama team that got whipped at home by the Trojans.
First, while some might not admit it, both Washington after the 1991 season and USC after the 1978 season would have preferred to have the AP trophy instead of the UPI trophy.
The AP started its poll in 1936. The UP -- United Press -- poll of coaches began in 1950. It later became the UPI (United Press International) and USA Today took over the coaches poll in 1991.
So the AP has the historical continuity thing going for it.
Further, we're talking different ages of college football and different circumstances. The Internet and cable TV, not big college football presences in 1978 and 1991, have probably changed things more for writers than for coaches in terms of information gathering.
As for 2003: USC was No. 1 in both polls at the end of the season.
The AP as well as the Football Writers Association voted USC No. 1 after it manhandled No. 4 Michigan 28-14. The coaches poll, meanwhile, was contractually obligated to make the winner of BCS game No. 1. In that game, LSU beat Oklahoma 21-14.
A month before, a three-loss Kansas State team that would later lose to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl beat the Sooners 35-7.
And Michigan had beaten that very same Ohio State team 35-21 to conclude its regular season.
In other words, at the end of the season, every shred of evidence pointed to USC as the nation's best team. All of it.
Ah, but this wasn't a democracy seeking to reward merit. It was a dictatorship of computers and men in dark, smokey rooms.
Not even men! Seen the movie "The Terminator"? The circumstances of 2003 were exactly what happen when you don't have a John Connor around.
And, even then, a few brave souls in the coaches poll -- three out of 63 -- did what they knew was right and voted USC No. 1.
Bret from Washington, D.C., writes: Why are Pac-10 teams that are 3-1 or 4-1 (Stanford, Arizona, UCLA) worse than Big-12, SEC, ACC teams that are 3-1 and 4-1 that manage to get ranked (South Carolina, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, etc.) Basically it just seems like Pac-10 teams have to win more games to earn a ranking than those that hail from other time zones. Every year Pac-10 spends most of the year with only two teams ranked
Ted Miller: Fair or unfair, Stanford, Arizona and UCLA lack the pedigree -- at least, recently -- of the teams you mention.
Ole Miss, Georgia Tech and Nebraska started the season with national rankings, which helps their cause.
Others, have beaten ranked teams -- South Carolina over Ole Miss, for example.
UCLA would have been ranked this week if it had not lost to Stanford.
Arizona didn't look terribly good while losing at Iowa, and the win at Oregon State didn't register as much because the Beavers lost to Cincinnati the previous week.
Stanford got pushed around in the second half at Wake Forest.
Not saying these are good reasons. Just trying to explain voter thinking.
Any of the three, however, likely would earn a rankings if it wins this weekend.
Patrick from Tempe writes: I don't believe this has been covered by you yet this year, but Arizona State is having some serious attendance issues this football season. This past Saturday, vs Oregon State, there were no more than 30,000 people at the game, and by the end less than 5,000-8,000 remained. My favorite local blog is trying to tackle the subject, and if you could link it it would help us better understand the issue.
Ted Miller: Been a bit surprised by the poor attendance but I see a couple of reasons.
First, after last season, fickle local sports fans are skeptical of the product. They want to see wins.
Second, we're in a national recession that has hit the Phoenix area particularly hard. There's less discretionary income, and football fans forced to choose between the Sun Devils and an NFL team coming off a Super Bowl berth -- or paying their mortgage -- are probably headed to Glendale instead of Tempe.
Shane from Corvallis, Ore., writes: ted i'm severely disappointed in you. How could you continue to vote Oklahoma in the top 25 the only have a .500 record they might athletically deserve to be in the top 25 but a .500 record itself should keep them out, there are many more teams with much better records that deserve that spot you should also inform the other bloggers of there grievous error.
Ted Miller: Sorry to disappoint.
But I wouldn't have dropped USC from my top-25 if it had lost to Cal.
I think Oklahoma is a good team. And, yes, a lot of voters are giving the Sooners the benefit of the doubt, as well as giving them a break for Sam Bradford's injury.
Beyond that is this: The Sooners are 2-2 because they scheduled aggressively -- BYU and at Miami. That always gets credit with me for that.
If Oklahoma had Kansas' schedule -- or Texas' or Ole Miss' -- the Sooners would still be in the national title hunt. I don't want a quality program like Oklahoma to start hiding from competition, nor do I want other programs to see the Sooners suffer unfairly for seeking competition.
Ryan from San Francisco writes: USC beat WSU 27-6 and Oregon just beat them 52-6. USC beat Cal 30-3 and Oregon beat them 42-3. How much stock do you put into using comparisons to determine the strength of a team? I believe that WSU had more first downs than USC and I think you know the Oregon/WSU first down disparity. The Cal game was comparable because Cal played at home. I know you can never tell the outcome until the teams actually play but what are your thoughts on comparing teams this way?
Ted Miller: It's certainly one measure.
Does it make you feel like things are going to be easy in Autzen on Halloween night?
Didn't think so.