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

Thursday, July 3, 2014
Mailbag: Worries about Oregon, Cal

By Ted Miller

Happy July 4th Eve. The mailbag arrives early this week.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Landon from Atlanta writes: I have heard rumblings of late, as to the upcoming demise of Oregon's dominance ? probably not this year, but in coming seasons. People point to solid coaching hires within the Pac-12, as well as a perceived slipping in recruiting recently. Some of these things make sense (CFB is cyclical), but is the recruiting issue more of perception than anything? People think Oregon SHOULD be recruiting better, because they are a more of a football power. However, Oregon has never been in the top 10 of recruiting. When ESPN ranked the top 150 quarterbacks in the class of 2011, Marcus Mariota was 123rd! Could Oregon be doing what it has done along, and it's just people's expectations that have changed? Maybe Oregon should be quoting Mark Twain about their demise.

Ted Miller: We've written about this before, though to a different question. Oregon, as previously noted, is doomed.

Consider this analysis:

Purple John from Seattle writes: Oregon is doomed. They are Johnny-Come-Latelies with no tradition. With Chip Kelly gone, it's just a matter of time before the glorious and stately Washington program stomps the Duckies into oblivion.

Orange & Black Sarah from Corvallis writes: Oregon is doomed. They are a lawless program under the thumb of a dithering plutocrat. Everyone knows that good eventually wins out, which means the Beavers and Mike Riley soon will overcome the evil kingdom in Eugene.

Stanford Steve from Bristol, Connecticut, writes: Oregon is doomed. As a former Stanford great both on the field and in the classroom, I have discovered the unifying equation for the universe. The eureka moment came when I eliminated Oregon from Pac-12 contention.

See. Oregon is doomed.

What's the source of these "rumblings" you're hearing? It's not any preseason publication I've seen. Oregon is practically a unanimous pick to win the North Division and Pac-12 championship. The Ducks are being ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 in preseason polls. Mariota is a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

As for recruiting, have you been keeping up with the latest news, Landon? While the Ducks have missed on a few national prospects, most notably a couple of QBs, they've jumped seven spots to No. 18 in the latest ESPN.com recruiting rankings.  That made the Ducks the No. 1 team in the Pac-12.

Oregon is 57-9 over the past five years, a span during which it being in the national title hunt has become the standard not the exception.  Folks mostly expect that to continue in 2014. While replacing Mariota won't be easy in 2015, keep in mind he's the third starting QB during this run, not the only one.

Yes, people's expectations have changed. Two regular-season losses now constitutes failure for some Ducks fans. That's how things go. Is it likely Oregon is going to go 57-9 over the next five years? Probably not. But I doubt there will be a massive downturn in the program's trajectory anytime soon.

Chester from Tempe, Arizona, writes: What are your thoughts on Arizona's RB situation and if RichRod n Co have enough offensive firepower and options to off-set the lack of a running game threat? You would think defenses would key on the passing game now.We recently lost a former 4 Star RS Frosh RB Pierre Cormier to injury retirement.

Ted Miller:  While running back is a legitimate question for Arizona, I see it as more of a question of a name -- "Who's it going to be?" -- rather than a "Will the Wildcats be able to run the ball."

Arizona is going to run the ball well in 2014 for two reasons: 1. Rich Rodriguez offenses always run the ball well; 2. The Wildcats have one of the Pac-12's best and most experienced offensive lines.

I have no idea who wins the job between Nick Wilson, Zach Green, Terris Jones-Grigsby and Jared Baker, or some combination thereof with some contribution of elusive receiver DaVonte Neal. What I suspect strongly is the program will eclipse 5.0 yards per carry and 3,000 yards rushing as a team while throwing the ball better this fall.

Ben from LA writes:  I don't know anything about Dykes, or who the Chancellor has in mind for AD, but I think of Cal as a sleeping giant. It's the Pac-12's best university that isn't saddled with an admissions handicap, it's got the campus, the weather, and proximity to a favorite city and America's premier industry, and it receives the same TV dollars as all the other schools. Given Cal's extraordinary proficiency at every academic and professional endeavor, what do you think are the obstacles to football excellence?

Ted Miller: I wonder what might have happened if Cal had completed its facilities upgrades in 2005 when Jeff Tedford and the Bears were an established Pac-12 power. I'd certainly wager that Tedford would still be the coach and Cal wouldn't have gone 0-8 in conference play in 2013.

The biggest thing holding Cal back before -- and during -- Tedford's tenure was a lack of commitment. Berkeley was Berkeley first -- Telegraph Avenue! -- and Cal Bears football was an afterthought, casual amusement or something to protest. That is no longer the case. The facilities are A-list, the Pac-12 is surging and fans and the administration are fully committed to being competitive.

The problem Sonny Dykes inherited was talent. He didn't have enough to be consistently competitive in the North, and then the guys he had got hurt.

Is Dykes the long-term answer? We should get a better idea of that this fall. The Bears need to show improvement, even if that doesn't include reaching the .500 mark.

But to your question about what might be holding Cal back, there is nothing exceptional you could point to, as there is with, say, Utah (three years removed from non-AQ conference) or Washington State (isolated location with limited recruiting base).

Cal can win, which means it should win. All it takes is the right coach and right players.

Jon from Tumalo, Oregon, writes:  Zero, zip, nada, nudge games between the SEC/PAC in 2014 unless there is a meeting in the Playoff.How can anyone possibly compare Conferences that hardly tee it up against one another? After all, WAZZOU gave Auburn at its place all that the Tigers could handle. I know scheduling is arranged far in advance but wouldn't an SEC/PAC Challenge (SEC teams 6 and 7 from the prior season play one another) be super sweet? LET'S PLAY BALL AGAINST THE BEST.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 and SEC don't play often as it is and won't play any regular-season games this year. This was specifically called a drag by ESPN brass and your Pac-12 reporters during a meeting this past week. You are not the only one who wants to pair the two best conferences and, you know, see what happens when stadium size and bombast no longer matter.

Yet I wouldn't hold your breath. I don't get a sense either conference is aggressively seeking out the other in any consistent way. The SEC doesn't want to play home-and-home series with West Coast teams, and the Pac-12 isn't eager to do too many one-game visits in enemy territory, as the Cougars did last year when they proved to be nearly the equals of the SEC champions. That leaves neutral-site games, which are complicated to put together and limited in number.

While there have been some tentative talks -- and some intense Twitter speculation about certain marquee matchups -- nothing has progressed to a point that it can be seriously discussed as a possibility.

As for quality nonconference games, the Pac-12's special relationship with the Big Ten is prevailing -- see good matchups this fall with Michigan State (Oregon), Michigan (Utah), Northwestern (Cal) and Illinois (Washington).

There are a couple of SEC-Pac-12 matchups in the future: Texas A&M will play Arizona State at Houston’s NRG Stadium Sept. 5 2015, and then has a home-and-home with UCLA in 2015-16. There also are some more SEC-Pac-12 games scheduled a few years down the road.

Maybe we'll get one in the College Football Playoff?