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Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Opening the mailbag (and it was full)

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

This is a long one. But we shouldn't have let the mailbox overflow ...


Scott from Portland writes: Just a thought, are you going to do a pre-season ranking for the top stadiums in the pac-10? I would love to see a top 10 on loudest stadiums in the pac-10 so I can hopefully see Autzen at #1.

Ted Miller: Just for you Scott. Autzen is the loudest stadium in the Pac-10 (and easily among the top 10 in the country). That said: If your second favorite team -- you know, Washington -- ever gets off the canvas and starts winning again it would give Autzen a strong run for its money. Husky Stadium gets pretty freaking loud when there's something to cheer about.


Mike in Yorba Linda writes: Ted, Have you ever seen an entire conference get beat up at one position (QB) like the Pac 10 did last year? From Booty's broken finger to Dixon's ACL to Jake Locker and Nate Longshore and Carpenter's 55 sacks and Stanford and UCLA --- geeesh! Never heard of a conference-wide "bang" at such an all important position, and it obviously hurt the conference in rankings and bowl games. But the SEC folks still made their comparisons of course.

Ted Miller: I'm sure it's happened before but you make a great point. How might the season have gone if: 1. USC's John David Booty sits down in the second quarter against Stanford with a broken finger instead of gutting it out... and throwing four interceptions; 2. California's Nate Longshore doesn't get hurt late in the Bears victory over Oregon and starts against Oregon State; 3. Dennis Dixon doesn't crumple to the ground against Arizona.

That's three losses by teams ranked No. 2 at the time in which QB injuries played a huge role.

And that doesn't even include the possibility that UCLA coach Karl Dorrell might not have lost his job if Ben Olson and/or Pat Cowan were healthy all season.

But, as my dad use to say, "If wishes were fishes then cows would fly." He was annoying like that.


Bob writes: Ted, I have been enjoying your Pac X blog, particularly your position by position evaluations of the teams. But in reading your work, I want to make sure there is no confusion on your part. The actual name of the university south of San Francisco is Leland Stanford Junior University, named after the founder's son. In your ratings posts you seem intent on reinforcing the mistaken impression that Stanford's name begins with either a 10 or a 9. To put this stereotype to rest, may I request you increase your usage of 1. Stanford or 2. Stanford in your conference rating articles. Thanks in advance.

Ted Miller: Duly noted Bob. Please understand that Coach Harbaugh will have to help me out on that one. Or how about: Ranking the Pac-10's SAT scores: 1. Stanford...


Tom writes: TED: Look out for SC again this year. If they get by OHIO STATE the schedule is very very favorable. BETTER GET THE TROJANS EARLY BECAUSE ONCE THE OFFENSE JELLS IN NOVEMBER IT'S ON TO MIAMI. They will be better on defense which is hard to believe, and there is more speed this year on the offense at wide out leading to more plays. The line will take awhile to jell, but there is talent.

Ted Miller: Wait... what team are you talking about? I don't think I've heard of them. SC? South Carolina? But those are the Gamecocks. Oh... the USC Trojans. From, what, Los ..., er, Angeles. You're right: They may sneak up on some folks this year. Talk about a team that is perennially underrated though. I'm glad while everyone else is hyping another reload at Oregon State, you're out there fighting for those scrappy little Trojans.


Eric from Turlock writes: Gotta question for you. I am a young Cal fan, but even I can remember the 1-10 days of football mediocrity. Obviously I am very happy with Cal's rebirth under Jeff Tedford. However, I have heard many Cal fans saying that perhaps Tedford isn't the man to take Cal to the next level (i.e. Rose Bowl, BCS). While I disagree, I see that there are some valid points to be made. Do you think that Tedford will be able to take Cal to the "promised land"?

Ted Miller: Eric, go buy a case of yellow post-its. Every time you hear a Cal fan say, "You know, I'm not sure Tedford is the man to take us to the next level," take out a post-it and write this on it: "In Tedford I trust." And then slap it on his or her forehead. Charge them $1 for the service, too. Seriously, I really hope Cal fans aren't at wits' end after a 7-6 season that ended with a bowl victory. Those days of 1-10 weren't so long ago, and Cal isn't exactly an ideal place to build a college football superpower. Cal will never put together a run like the Pete Carroll Era down South. Can it reach the Rose Bowl? Heck yeah. Should have done so a few years back when Mack Brown made like a DC lobbyist. Now, is Tedford perfect? Is he the super-genius some of us touted a couple years ago? Probably not. Bet he'd tell you the same. Last year's implosion was shocking, and like a stand-up guy, Tedford hasn't made excuses or hidden from speaking about it, like many coaches do. He's tried to be proactive, again giving up play-calling duties so he can better manage his program.

If I were an athletic director, Tedford would be on my dream list of potential head coaches.


Kenny in Corvallis writes: Hey Ted, First off, I want to say that I love the blog. But I want to clear some things up first, because no one in the media seems to understand exactly what Oregon State has returning. Yes, it's hard to replace one of the most productive running backs in conference history. Also, questions about the QB situation linger. But let's talk about the defense first. I'm tired of people saying we lost 7 "starters". Yes, the team lost 7 starters, but its not like the guys replacing them are unexperienced. We return our sack leader Victor Butler, and Slade Norris was a deadly pass rusher used on 3rd down last year. They have experience. We also signed the #1 JUCO player in the nation, Simi Kuli, who just happens to be a defensive end. There's 3 of the 4 guys right there. As for our linebackers, we are plugging in guys who have been in the program for a couple years. Keith Pankey is the only underclassmen starter for the defense (sophomore), but the coaching staff has raved about him all year. And year after year our linebackers get replaced by another batch of talented LBs, this year looks to be no different. Our DBacks return most (except for Bryan Payton) and that is the one group in college football that is usually the weakest. As for our offense, our OLine looks to be solid yet again. There are some question marks, but overall it should be another good unit. Running backs are inexperienced, but again, the coaching staff loves what we have. And our receiving unit may be one of the better units in the conference. Sammie Stroughter, Darrell Catchings, and James Rodgers should all help Lyle Moevao. Not to mention the schedule helps a lot. The meat of the Pac10 is at home (USC, Cal, ASU and Oregon) which are probably the best teams in the Pac10 (not including OSU). I'm not saying that there aren't question marks, because there are. But there are question marks with every team. UA struggles year in and year out, yet get more preseason respect than OSU every year. Don't make the same mistake of thinking UA is going to have a "break out" year, because they won't. I'm a fan of college football, and I understand that what happens on the field matters much more than what happens in the papers in July, but it'd be nice for Oregon State to get some credit for what they've accomplished the last couple of years, rather than get blasted for being that cow college in Corvallis, little brother to the almighty dollar in Eugene. UO has questions as well, especially at QB, yet everyone pegs them to be a top 3 team.
I would expect Oregon State to yet again be in the top 4 in the Pac10 again this year. Another 9 win season is definitely not out of the question. Thanks again for the blog. It's the only thing that keeps me alive during these summer months

Ted Miller: This is why I love writing about college football. Can you just feel the passion and hope in Kenny's note? He took time out of his day to write me 500-words of detailed analysis about his beloved Beavers. My reply? As I've said over and over -- we media folk almost always underestimate Oregon State. Sure, I picked the Beavers to finish in the bottom half of the conference. But I certainly wouldn't be shocked if they scrapped their way to another nine-win season. And I was impressed when I visited spring practices. It's just that projecting their success feels far more speculative than other teams. There are a lot of variables with the Beavers that won't become clear until games are played.


Brandon in Tempe writes: On a couple of occasions, you have commented on how you believe this is the year that UofA turns it around. I just want a bit of clarification. Considering their sissy out of conference schedule and high-powered offense, sure they can get to a bowl game with 6-7 wins. But is that really "turning" it around? Seriously, any pac-10 team (including WSU) could get six wins with that schedule. I hope UofA does get to a bowl game and they extend Stoops contract. Stoops has been more of a help then a hindrance for my sun devils.

Ted Miller: Oh, Sun Devils fans... watch the hubris. Per your question: Yes, I think the far easier nonconference schedule is the biggest reason Arizona will reach its first bowl game since 1998. It should help the Wildcats get off to a fast start while a rebuilt defense finds itself. But understand: Success builds success. Go back and look at the Dennis Erickson's nonconference foes at Oregon State. That sure helped the Beavers believe in themselves and develop a winning rhythm. I can't stand it when supposed national powers -- or teams claiming to be one -- schedule a bunch of directional schools. But programs that aren't powers or are struggling should try to schedule as many victories as they can. Look at Washington: Tyrone Willingham may lose his job after this season because he's played the nation's toughest nonconference slate the past two years.


Joshua in Tempe writes: ASU has been mentioned as a "sleeping giant" for quite some time, what with the outstanding athletic facilities, favorable climate, and, well, social life. However, with Coach Erickson's track record, do you think if/when he departs Tempe, we will be able to secure a premier coach to lead ASU to that "promised land" that USC has owned for the better half of a decade? And if so, whom?

Ted Miller: First, love the "well" before social life. Got some buddies from Atlanta coming in town for the ASU-Georgia game and I plan to take them to, well, Mill Avenue. As for Erickson's "track record": I think ASU might be his last stop. He's 61 and I wouldn't be shocked if he didn't hit 70 as the Sun Devils coach. Along the way, he'll probably tuck a few Rose Bowl trophies into the athletic offices. When he opts to retire, he'll hand off a primo program that anybody would want to coach.


Israel in El Paso writes: I have a question, every year USC seems to kick itself in conference play and lose to inferior teams. To be honest, as a USC fan I am more worried about the Trojans' Pac-10 schedule than their match up with Ohio State. So in your opinion, who do the Trojans let beat them this year, or should I be more concerned about Ohio State?

Ted Miller: You should be more worried about Ohio State. I think the Trojans will run the Pac-10 table. Of course, that's what I thought last year, too. And the year before.


Mike in Rochester writes: re: Starters' worth, your analysis is--ahem--a good start, but too superficial. Why not dig into the conference's figures more? I.e., what precisely constitutes a "starter?" A guy who starts a majority of the games? Only the games against the weak teams? Against the tougher teams? Did he start the last 4 games? (presumably giving him that end of season edge heading into this season). Like most sports data these are incomplete (at best), but you're definitely on the right track--experience IS important. But defining precisely what constitutes this game-winning experience is a long way from your article. Many SC fans, for example, are not as worried about their lower # of "starters" due to some of the "non-starters" having started one or more games. Also, how about the JC transfer RB for the Ducks--he is NOT a starter, nor is their presumed "new" starter at QB this year, but both have meaningful experience. I would wager that there is some sort of "tipping point" when it comes to game experience and that level is related to, but certainly not equal to, "starting" (however defined). Now, having said all this, these data are useful points of comparison with other conferences...presuming they use the same criteria for defining what a "starter" is. But even then there are loopholes, since teams have varying degrees of schedule difficulty and a guy who has started "only" 3 games--but against top-25 competition--may be WAY more prepared and savvy than a guy who started 8 or 9, but against weaker teams.

Ted Miller: I believe the answer you are looking for is ... 14.

I bet Chris Low's SEC blog doesn't get this highfalutin kind of mailbag notes.

By the way, Mike, you're right. "Returning starters" is just an easy way to look at things. When I analyze teams, I do incorporate many of the variables you note.


John in Los Angeles writes: In all seriousness, if Cal's WR corp is solid, I don't see how Cal can not finish in the top 3 in the Pac-10. Whomever wins the QB position will be a star, Javid Best is a stud, their OL is solid and their D is probably the best in years. It's all about the WR's. Am I right?

Ted Miller: I don't share your certainty at QB. Longshore lost his mojo last year... can he regain it? Or, if Kevin Riley is the guy, he lacks significant experience. And one or the other will be breaking in a green group of WRs (as you note) and running backs. Best is an exciting player, but he's undersized: How many touches a game will he get before he starts to break down (see last year)? And I'm not sold on the DL or DBs (things look great at LB, though).

All for now.