Pac-12: Daniel Woodrell

Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.

Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.

Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.

Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.

Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.

Mailbag: Pac-12 network and horrible biases

May, 6, 2011
Happy Friday.

First of all, there are many questions about the Pac-12 network. I share your questions because there are no answers yet. At least officially.

Pac-12 Media Enterprises will operate the network. But that's about as far as things got, other than commissioner Larry Scott saying -- sorta cryptically -- that the league will have another major announcement in 60 days.

I'm with Jon Wilner: Got to be about the network, considering it's a fairly big project scheduled to be up-and-running in about 15 months (August of 2012).

Maybe the conference starts from scratch; maybe it buys an existing channel and re-brands it. Don't know yet. As for distribution, all we got from Scott this week is his confidence that there will be national distribution in some shape or form that will lead to increased revenue and widespread exposure for the conference.

The biggest reasons Scott believes it won't be hard to get wide distribution for the network is that it will broadcast plenty of A-list content -- football and men's basketball -- not just Olympic sports. That's not the case on the Big Ten Network.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes.

Mike from Modesto, Calif., writes: Not that the NFL draft should match Ted's Pac-10 Top 25 perfectly, but it did reflect my comment on the biases on the top 25 list, especially anti-Stanford. Owen Marecic was drafted in the fourth round, well ahead of the other Pac-10 fullbacks who the NFL "rated higher" than Owen, according to Ted (Havili went at the very end of the draft). Marecic also went a round before Jaquizz Rodgers, #9 on the Pac-10 list that Marecic was left off of. Richard Sherman was ignored by Ted all season despite playing a complete shutdown corner and forcing teams to ignore his side of the field most of the year. Sherman was not ignored by the NFL who took him ahead of the two Top 25 Oregon CBs (#20 & 22)--their names are not important, beings they were ignored by the NFL, as was Jeff Maehl (#12 on the list), but not Ryan Whalen, drafted in the 6th round. Defensive lineman Kenny Rowe was #17 on Ted's list, but went undrafted, unlike Sione Fua, who went in the third round, but was left off of Ted's list.

Ted Miller: Again, as I tweeted, leaving Marecic off was a mistake. I explained my reasoning for why I did -- and still don't think it was invalid -- but if I had to do the list over, I would include Marecic.

But let's also understand something: The NFL draft isn't what the top-25 is about. Oh, a player's potential NFL standing plays a role -- it certainly does with Andrew Luck -- but it's not the be-all end-all. Jake Locker and Rahim Moore didn't make the list either, and they were off the draft board before a lot of guys on the list.

As for Sherman, I'm happy he got drafted. Good dude. But he didn't earn first- or second-team All-Pac-10 honors. The three cornerbacks on the list all did.

Yes, Ryan Whalen was drafted and Jeff Maehl was not. Whalen had 439 yards receiving and two touchdowns in 2010. Maehl had 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns.

I've repeatedly called Sione Fua an underrated player and praised his NFL prospects, but he had 23 tackles last season. Rowe had 16.5 ... tackles for a loss.

And, by the way, No. 25 on the list, California running back Shane Vereen was picked in the second round. You don't seem concerned about his low rating for some reason.

There was no anti-Stanford bias. Make your own list. See how difficult it is.

There might be more Cardinal players on the preseason top-25 list than any other team. I can think of five or six guys off the top of my head. But that won't reflect a sudden pro-Stanford bias or a desire to appease you Cardinal fans outside my house RIGHT NOW with torches and pitchforks and long ropes.

It will just be little ole me trying to make a new list that, again, won't make everyone happy.

Ryan from Zanesville, Ohio writes: I'll pose this question to you:Hypothetical scenario: The Pac-12, Big 10, ACC, Big 12, and Big East all produce a 12-0/13-0 team as does Boise St. A 12-0 and a 11-1 SEC team play in their conference title game and the 11-1 team barely edges out the 12-0 team on a late 4th quarter controversial call. Which two teams meet in the title games? Does the BCS system implode like the nuclear test at Bikini Atoll?

Ted Miller: I know the genesis of this question, which I get some form of a lot: Does the BCS system essentially ensure that the SEC champion plays for the national title?

Short answer: no.

The two teams that play for the championship are the two teams that finish atop the BCS standings. The standings include three components: USA Today Coaches Poll, Harris Interactive College Football Poll and an average of six computer rankings. Each component counts one-third toward a team's overall BCS score.

For a one-loss team to beat out an unbeaten team, it must somehow end up with a better human and/or computer ranking. That would happen for a couple of reasons. Either a high preseason ranking, a tough schedule or both.

So, a 12-1 SEC -- after winning the SEC championship -- would have to have a pretty special resume to beat out four of five unbeaten teams from AQ conferences to play for the national title. How could it happen? Well, say the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big East and ACC champions have just one win over a ranked team, while the 12-1 SEC champ beat five. Unlikely, but that could do it.

Understand that your scenario has never happened. A once-beaten SEC team has not eclipsed an unbeaten AQ conference champion for a spot in the national title game. That's only happened to unbeaten teams -- fair or unfair -- from a non-AQ conference.

The SEC, however, has been treated as first among equals by the BCS standings when matched against other 1-loss teams from AQ conferences. That's what happened to USC in 2003, 2007 (two losses) and 2008.

Jeff from Fredericksburg, Texas writes: You Sir-Need to write a retraction or at minimum an apology for the lack of facts and honesty in your blog about the PAC with there "oh so many draft picks". What a [term deleted], 6 of those young men never played in the PAC. Was this a slam at the Big12. Truth be known they were right behind the PAC and in front of the [Big Ten]. Because 7 of the calculated [Big Ten] were actually in the Big 12....Note Nebraska. You are either a typical deceptive lying journalist with an agenda or just down right stupid. What a moron!

Ted Miller: Sigh.

1. I included Utah and Colorado because they now fall under my coverage area of the Pac-12. My including them was a service to Utah and Colorado fans.

2. All the way down in the second paragraph ... "If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17."

No, the Big 12 wasn't right behind the Pac-10. You're running into a problem with a complicated mathematical calculation. So go buy a calculator. I'll wait here.

The Big 12, with Nebraska and Colorado, produced 30 draft picks. The Pac-10 without Colorado and Utah produced 31. This, by the way, was explained in the story: "Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections."

But the one-man advantage isn't the story. Take the calculator out of its box. Divide 30 by 12. Then divide 31 by 10. What do those numbers mean?

They mean the Pac-12, without Colorado and Utah, provided 3.1 draft picks per team to the NFL. The Big 12, with Nebraska, provided 2.5.

Jim from Portland writes: My friends I are starting to forecast (err...trash talk) the 2011 seasons of our favorite teams. We are stuck on how to figure out who will be the conference champion because none of us are familiar with how ties will be broken for entry into the Pac 12 championship game. Can you help us figure out whether a 9 and 3 Cougar team will head to championship game or a 9 and 3 Beaver team will go assuming they are tied and have the best records in the north (this example is tongue in cheek as I am a diehard Duck fan, but if it happens I will take full credit for being the first to say it).

Ted Miller: Divisional tiebreaker for two teams is head-to-head matchup.

By the way, here's how the home field will be decided in the Pac-12 championship game in the event that the winners of the North and South divisions have the same conference record.

Tom from Washington D.C. writes: As a former roommate of the 07/08 Stanford tree, I can't tell you how many different ideas for a Sportscenter commercial we came up with. Just thought some Stanford football fans might appreciate how well you guys nailed it with this one.

Ted Miller: That's a good one. Poor tree.

Kyle from Bellevue, Wash., writes: One of my favorite things about the Pac-12 Blog are the quotes you include at the beginning of your posts, which have led me to some good movies and books. As a fellow English major, could you recommend a reading list? Since I graduated college a month ago, it feels funny to not be assigned reading, so I was thinking that Professor Miller may be able to assign some for me.

Ted Miller: Professor Miller! Someone knows how to tap into my vanity.

I answer this off-topic question, though, because a book just blew the top of my head off: "Winter's Bone" by Daniel Woodrell. My advice is read it. Now.

They made a movie of it, which I plan to watch this weekend, and which is supposed to be pretty darn good, too.

If I were making a reading list, here's a start: White Noise, by Don DeLillo, Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, Light in August, by William Faulkner, The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, The Bushwhacked Piano, by Thomas McGuane, The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John le Carre, A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley, Still Life With Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Sure I left a few out.