Pac-12: Don Delillo

Mailbag: USC in the polls and Oregon QBs

August, 10, 2012
Happy Friday.

Here's where you go to answer this important question: "If I follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter, how will the gods reward me with riches and glory?"

And, no, I don't think the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, will transfer to any Pac-12 school.

To the notes!

Smudge from Irvine, Calif., writes: How important are the preseason rankings for USC's national title hopes (and which preseason rankings really matter)? Will there be further preseason rankings released before the season starts? If so, I suspect USC could leapfrog LSU now that the Honey Badger is gone.

Ted Miller: The coaches poll, as much as it pains me to type this, is the only preseason poll that "matters." It and the Harris Interactive College Football Poll make up two thirds of the BCS formula -- the six computer polls make up the other third. The Harris Poll doesn't have a preseason poll and first gets published the second week of October. The idea there is that it allowed pollsters to see teams play before they rank them, an idea that more than a few folks have hailed through the years. But the Harris Poll has mostly resembled the AP and Coaches poll since it started.

Preseason rankings are important because they provide an immediate stagger among teams. If you start off No. 1 and win all your games, you are fairly certain to remain there, even if the teams that started 8th and 14th also are undefeated. And, if you start off No. 1 and lose, you likely won't fall as far as a team ranked 14th that loses. That means you can climb back into the picture more easily.

USC's preseason ranking of No. 3 is a pretty solid position, starting with the fact that No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama play each other.

LSU is a worse team without Mathieu. He's a game-changer. Just ask Oregon. But LSU is loaded on defense and in the secondary. The drop-off won't be catastrophic. In fact, I suspect USC losing DE Devon Kennard to injury might prove to be a bigger hit because the Trojans are thin on the D-line and LSU is not in the secondary.

For example, the Trojans defense probably would find it easier to adjust to the loss of T.J. McDonald, perhaps the best safety in the nation, because they are deep at the position, rather than Kennard. I think LSU would have suffered much worse losing, say, QB Zach Mettenberger, who's never thrown a pass for the Tigers, than Mathieu because the void behind Mettenberger is pretty vast.

Chip Kelly from Hot Tub, My office writes: Ted, Who should be Oregon's starting QB?

Ted Miller: OK. You guys win. You wore me down. I will tell you -- and you Hot Tub Chillin' Chip -- who Oregon's 2012 QB should and will be.

Bryan Mariota.

You see how I did that? I used Bryan Bennett's first name and Marcus Mariota's last name and zaniness ensued. That's why I'm the No. 1 ranked blogger inside this Starbucks right now. (Unless Debra the Knitting Blogger comes back for another Frappuccino. Girl can turn a righteous phrase about stitching).

The honest answer -- and, yes, it pains me to type this -- is I have no idea. No one outside of the closed walls of the football program does, and I tend to believe the battle truly is ongoing for both Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. I've seen no more of either than you have. I saw Bennett play well when he replaced Darron Thomas last year against Arizona State and then started at Colorado. I also saw Mariota dramatically outplay Bennett in the spring game. That, our sabermetric-savvy friends would tell you, is too small a sample size to form any conclusions.

My impression, more so than with any other QB competition in the conference, is both are ready to go, ready to play well from the start. Before spring practices, I favored Bennett by a significant margin based on what I'd seen from -- and heard about -- him. After spring practices, I've tended to favor Mariota by a slight margin, based almost entirely on how he rose to the occasion and Bennett seemed to take a step back. That said, I think it's been underrepresented just how much better Mariota's supporting cast was in the spring game.

But, again, these are just superficial impressions. As I've noted before, I thought Nate Costa was going to beat out Darron Thomas before the 2010 season. So if I made a prediction, Chip would read it and do the opposite, just to make sure the Pac-12 blog was forced to again wallow in wrongness.

Gekko Mojo from Memphis writes: Nothing from you on Deontae Cooper's tragic third ACL tear? Really? You cover the medical retirement of a walk-on receiver at Oregon, but not this? Odd.

Ted Miller: I feel terrible about Cooper. Young man can't catch a break.

We had a news story here. We linked local reports here. And Mason Kelly wrote about it here.

It would have been difficult to write much about Cooper from our remove. The sophomore has never played a down for the Huskies and I've never spoken to him.

As for Oregon receiver Justin Hoffman, he was a senior who started six games last year. Here's the short post we did on him.

Further, timing also matters in these matters. Hoffman's retirement was announced on July 20. You could fairly call that a slow news time in college football. Cooper re-injured his knee at the beginning of preseason camp, when there's a lot going on.

Thomas from Charlottesville, Va., writes: Regarding Colorado and Utah, everyone keeps saying they now have a year in the league, so things will be easier for them. But in truth, aren't both teams going to be traveling to venues they have not played in before for every road game? In other words, how much do you think it impacts CU and Utah to still be the new guys since they are going to be in new stadiums for every road game in conference play this season?

Ted Miller: That's a fair point. For a second year, Colorado and Utah's conference road venues will be unfamiliar. That could register more as a negative than as a positive.

That said, I suspect a road game is a road game to most college players. Think of it like this: Most college players are around only four or five years. And most only see action for two or so years, plus or minus. With rotating home-and-home schedules, not to mention three conference misses, the most a vast majority of college player will experience playing in a conference road venue is two times.

For example, Oregon safety John Boyett will be a four-year starter this year. And when the Ducks go to the Coliseum on Nov. 3, it will be only his second time playing there.

There could be something said for support staff, those who organize trips, being unfamiliar with new hotels and new road venues. Or coaches not being familiar with stadiums or visiting locker rooms. But I don't think it's a major issue.

Matthew from Corvegas, Ore., writes: Ted,Am I the ONLY one that realizes the Ducks are not a top 5 (or 10, even) team? I mean, they don't have a QB or a RB. Barner won't be healthy the whole season, that DaT likes to fumble.

Ted Miller: Yep. You are the only one.

Chris from Penticton, British Columbia: I had the pleasure of getting to know the late Bud Riley as he lived his last years in our beautiful area.A fanatical Utah fan, I found a friend in a man who revered the game of college football as much as I did.His story, from a kid in Alabama to high school football coach in the small mining town of Wallace, Idaho....on to University of Idaho, Oregon State and the CFL...was wonderful to listen to. Through my connection to Bud, Mike got me tickets to a 2008 game in Corvallis where #1 USC came to of my most memorable NCAA experiences. Sitting in the section were numerous Oregon State alumni players who asked me to be sure to give their good wishes to Bud when I got home. Rest in peace, Coach. Ted, I am sure you would have loved this guy...with his deep southern accent and matter-of-factness, Coach Riley was a gem. I will truly miss him.

Ted Miller: A nice tribute. I hope Mike has a moment during preseason preparations to check out your kind words.

JP from Salt Lake City writes: Just bought and will read Delillo's Underworld on your recommendation. Would you consider posting your top ten must read books?

Ted Miller: Congrats. Be forewarned: It's a dense, at times difficult book. Here's a really interesting, sports-centric Q&A with DeLillo about "Underworld," particularly the first part, which is a scintillating account of Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World.

It's darn near impossible for me to make a top-10 list. I think it would change daily. And I actually answered a question like this a year ago. Here's what I wrote:
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.

See... I included DeLillo's "White Noise," which is far more accessible than "Underworld." I'd also now sub Franzen's "Freedom" for "The Corrections."

That's a lot more than 10, but you guys know I tend to be long-winded.

Opening the mailbag: How do we divide the Pac-12?

February, 12, 2010
Happy Friday.

To the notes.

Donald from Eugene writes: If the PAC10 actually does expand to 12 teams, the conventional wisdom is they would create North and South divisions. However, that would leave NW schools with the distinct possibility of not traveling to Southern California for two straight seasons thus killing recruiting (see Big12 North.) Wouldn't it make more sense to try the "AFC/NFC" split and put for instance UW, UO, Stan, UCLA, UA and CU in one division and the other six in the other? The teams would still play their traditional rival, it just would be out of division. That way every team will be assured of traveling to the Bay Area and SoCal on a regular basis.

Ted Miller: Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner.

I've been a bit surprised by how so many people have pooh-poohed the idea of Pac-10 expansion -- read: Colorado and Utah -- simply because of the supposedly calamitous results of a North-South split.

How will the Northwest schools survive without an annual visit to recruiting hotbeds in California [insert sob]!

As Donald notes: Fine, then forget the whole North-South thing and let's go with much more felicitously named "Ted" and "Donald" divisions.

My division is USC, Stanford, Washington State, Arizona State, Utah and Oregon State.

Donald's division is UCLA, California, Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.

(Please, that was random. Don't read anything into which teams I selected).

Each Pac-12 team plays five divisional games as well as its traditional rival in the other division annually (we announce the first annual hate-fest between Utah vs. Colorado!). Each team then rotates two games among the other five teams in the other division.

Note how the Oregon-Washington rivalry gets preserved! And how we kept Jim Harbaugh and Lane Kiffin in the same division, which I am certain will be great fun.

That's eight conference games, which means teams then can load up on patsies for their four-game nonconference schedule -- if they wish -- which would mean more bowl-eligible teams and more seasons with two BCS bowl teams.

Sure, some conference hits and misses will provide an advantage. But that's how it is in every conference that doesn't play a round-robin schedule.

In a few years, media pundits would go, "Sheesh! The Pac-12 has 10 bowl-eligible teams! What a conference!"

What about losing the convenience -- and cost-effectiveness -- of regional travel provided by North-South divisions? Well, travel would remain mostly like it is now. So big deal.

By the way, though Donald and I are clearly brilliant, this has been done before. There's an obscure constellation in the college football universe know as the "Atlantic Coast Conference," which is broken up into the the "Heather" and "Dinich" divisions. Or they might be the "Atlantic" and "Coastal" divisions, I forget.

And, by the way, as a son of the South, I can tell you that there ain't no coast near Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke or Virginia.

Kevin from Phoenix writes: I have to take issue with the Spring Rankings. Arizona replaces 12 starters? I'd be curious to know what math you used to get 12 out of nine.

Ted Miller: OK.

Arizona's departing 2009 starters, per its depth chart.

Offense (5): WR Terrell Turner, OT Mike Diaz, OG Herman Hall, OT Adam Grant, HB Chris Gronkowski.

Defense (7): DT Earl Mitchell, NT Donald Horton, LB Sterling Lewis, LB Vuna Tuihalamaka, LB Xavier Kelly, FS Cam Nelson, CB Devin Ross.

The list doesn't including TE Rob Gronkowski because he sat out the entire season.

Kenny from Florence, Ariz., writes: I don't understand your logic in your spring power rankings. Putting USC, Oregon State, Cal, UW, & Stanford all above Arizona. Is it because of the Holiday Bowl performance? Ok well let's remember what happened during the Pac-10 conference season: Arizona beat USC in LA, Oregon St. in Corvallis, Stanford in Tucson.

Ted Miller: The Holiday Bowl performance was fairly yucky. But that's not why I rated Arizona seventh.

As you will note from above, the Wildcats lose three starting offensive linemen, three linebackers, both defensive tackles and two very good defensive backs.

And most of those guys weren't just starters -- they were mainstays (five second-team All-Pac-10 guys, including four on defense).

That's a lot to replace, particularly with two new coordinators. And keep in mind that the Wildcats will be using two pair of co-coordinators in 2010 after using just one guy in each role last year.

There may be a period of adjustment there.

It's perfectly reasonable to believe the Wildcats will plug-and-play and away they will go. But I will put them at No. 7 -- in a very deep Pac-10 -- until I see what those plugs might look like.

And I will be in Tucson during spring practices, so perhaps I will be impressed. I typically am when I watch a Mike Stoops team practice.

Kai from Castro Valley, Calif., writes: If someone were to go back in time and tell the 2000 Ted Miller how much teams have changed (i.e. number of bowl appearances in 2000-2009 compared to 1990-1999), which team do you think you wouldn't believe changed this much? In other words which team had the most phenomenal change good or bad from the start to the end of the decade? (Personally it's WSU for me).

Ted Miller: If the 2000 me met the 2010 me he tell me to get to the gym and lay off the beef and bourbon.

There are so many surprises in the decade.

The biggest surprise would be Washington, the 11-1, 2000 Pac-10 champion, winning 12 games from 2004-2008.

The second biggest surprise would have the rise of USC under Pete Carroll -- "USC hired Pete Carroll?" the 2000 me would ask. "That surely was a colossal failure!"

The third biggest surprise would have been the rise of Washington State: 30 wins, three consecutive top-10 rankings from 2001-2003. And Mike Price leaving the Cougars for Alabama. And how that turned out.

The fourth biggest surprise would be Oregon State's sustained success. I mostly thought that 2000 was a brilliant flash of football serendipity. It wasn't.

Gordie from Pasadena, Calif., writes: Let's say the Pac-10 picks up Utah and Colorado, and the Big Ten picks up Missouri. So does that mean the Big 12 becomes the Big 10 and the Big Ten becomes the Big Twelve (since it already has eleven teams)?

Ted Miller: Ha! Nice.

Gary from Portland writes: Recruiting revealed, the layers peeled back like an onion.

Ted Miller: Hit that link: You will be amused.

Ethan from San Francisco writes: You win... I have no idea where your Thursday quote [above the "Pac-10 lunch links"] came from.

Ted Miller: Glad you asked because it comes from one of my all-time favorite novels: Don DeLillo's "Underworld."

It's a dense, 800-plus-page read, so it won't be everyone's favorite brew, but the first 60 pages are set around Bobby Thomson's home run -- "The shot heard round the world" -- to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers and win the New York Giants the 1951 National League Pennant.

Go to a bookstore and read those 60 pages. It's some of the best writing you will ever read.