Pac-12: Florida Gators
"I think everyone had big goals -- we all had national championship aspirations," said Shaw, a regular contributor for the Gators as a redshirt freshman in 2011. "But that didn't come true. In the middle of the season when we saw that going down the drain, we were like, 'OK, let's just win one game at at time and see where that takes us.'"
While QB Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin took most of the blame, the mediocre play of a talented but underperforming defense can't be overlooked. And it wasn't. Kiffin gently led his father, Monte, a legend among NFL defensive coaches, out the door.
In came Clancy Pendergast, whose 3-4 scheme at California has morphed into a 5-2 for the Trojans. The early returns in spring were strong, and the early returns in preseason camp might be even stronger. Devon Kennard, back after missing 2012 with a torn pec, and Morgan Breslin look like a dynamic pair of outside linebackers, while Leonard Williams and George Uko are an A-list tandem at defensive end.
If fact, the Trojans' entire front seven looks stout, even with some iffy depth. The question is the secondary.
Check that. With Shaw moving from corner and Dion Bailey moving from linebacker to their more natural safety positions, the Trojans have added experience to a position deep with intriguing though young talent.
"I love it in this defense," Shaw said. "You're pretty much a general back there. You have to know what everyone else is doing. You have to be able to cover and come down into the box. You have to do it all."
So safety looks good. Cornerback? It's the big question on defense, and that likely won't completely work itself out until the final days of preseason camp, though the position is hardly bereft of talent.
Of course, the defense looked pretty good on paper last year, too. While looking back -- endlessly -- at 2012 due to media curiosity is not the No. 1 fun thing to do for the Trojans, it is part of the inevitable process of beginning to look ahead. It's about correcting mistakes and avoiding mental and emotional pratfalls that upended a season that began with such promise.
Shaw doesn't point a finger at Monte Kiffin. He points it at the players.
"I don't know if you can pinpoint one thing that went wrong," Shaw said. "Sometimes we just didn't come to play as a defense. Sometimes we had the right call in. You'd go into film and you'd see it was us as players not executing. It was the players more than anything."
That said, Shaw likes Pendergast's new scheme, in large part because it seems more conducive toward countering the diverse offensive schemes in the Pac-12, where one week you play a power offense such as Stanford and then square off with myriad versions of an up-tempo spread.
"The biggest difference is we are able to do so much more," Shaw said. "Last year, we only had a few calls. This year, we have so many different types we can call."
The chief call Shaw and USC wants to make, of course, is one that will silence those still tittering about the 2012 faceplant.
Well, other than 2012, when the draft looked a lot like the one last weekend, with 28 players also picked. The conference had 28 players picked in 2010, but that was a 10-team conference.
In short, the last two years haven't been good for the conference in terms of NFL love, and that matters in terms of national perception of how good the conference really is. Perception matters, both within our subjective systems for measuring college football teams against each other and for how recruits perceive conferences and teams.
Meanwhile, there's the SEC, which over the weekend probably posted the greatest numbers for a college conference in NFL draft history, with 63 selections, including 32 in the first three rounds. Even when you break it down by per team numbers, the SEC's 4.5 picks per team far outstrips the Pac-12's 2.33 players per team.
This is not old news, folks. The SEC hasn't long dominated the NFL draft, as some might try to convince you. The Pac-10, in fact, had decisively better per team numbers in 2008 (3.4 vs. 2.92) and was also better in 2009 (3.2 vs. 3.1).
Even last year, the SEC wasn't that far ahead of the rest of the FBS conferences. Remember the woeful Big Ten, much maligned for its terrible 2013 draft numbers? It had 41 players drafted in 2012, just one fewer than the SEC.
The SEC did have a huge 2010 draft with 49 players selected (4.1 per team), so the present momentum isn't entirely new. It's just the "Wow" factor this go-around seems more substantial as a pattern. And meaningful.
Yet this long lead-in, which might have glazed over some eyeballs, isn't about looking back. It's about looking ahead, with both hope and concern for the Pac-12 and, really, the rest of college football.
You might have heard this: The SEC has won seven consecutive BCS national titles. That makes it reasonable to view the conference as a favorite to make it eight in a row before we jump into a four-team playoff in 2014. And many believe the SEC will then dominate that playoff.
I feel I'm being optimistic for the other AQ conferences when I respond, "Maybe."
So I asked myself a question while being agog over the SEC draft numbers: That should come with a noticeable talent drain, correct? I know SEC recruiting also rates highly, but losing 4.5 NFL draftable players per team, with much of that coming from the perennial powers, has to have an impact.
Well, in terms of 2013 returning starters, the Pac-12 stacks up well with the SEC. While returning starters numbers are a bit fluid (and often overrated), my review has the SEC averaging 14.6 returning starters compared to 16.3 for the Pac-12.
But that's not the Pac-12's entry point.
- The SEC's top-six teams (Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina) average 12.3 returning starters.
- The Pac-12's top-six teams (Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington) average 16.5 returning starters.
So the Pac-12, generally regarded as the No. 2 AQ conference during the rise of the SEC, stacks up nicely.
Further, the Pac-12 looks like it will do far better in the 2014 NFL draft, though schools aren't eager to consider the potential early departures of players such as Oregon QB Marcus Mariota or Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
While SEC commissioner Mike Slive and SEC fans surely wouldn't agree, it would be good for college football for another conference to win the national title in 2013. It would send us into the College Football Playoff not fretting that the sport was becoming a handful of minor leagues surrounding the SEC.
At least not as much.
But just imagine if the SEC wins another title and then produces another draft of 60-plus players, a decidedly better total than everyone else. Yikes.
A few years ago, there were cracks in the "SEC rules!" argument. There were grounds for debate and ready-made ripostes. Now? Not so much.
As already noted more than a few times, the Pac-12 stacks up nicely for 2013. While "now or never" sounds a bit dramatic, it's not unreasonable to fear that if it's not now, it could feel closer to never -- or at least exceedingly rare -- as we begin the College Football Playoff.
USC is followed by UCLA at No. 11, but the Bruins and Trojans are battling for a number of prospects down this final stretch. That order could end up reversed.
Alabama is No. 2, Notre Dame No. 3, Ohio State No. 4 and Michigan No. 5.
Watch out for the Crimson Tide. They could land three or four big names on signing day and end up No. 1.
As for the rest of the Pac-12: Washington is 19th, Oregon 22nd, California 28th, Arizona 37th, Stanford 28th and Arizona State 40th.
Here are some of the top prospects still on the board.
The biggest remaining battles? DT Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA, USC, Alabama, Notre Dame) and DE Kylie Fitts (UCLA, USC, Washington).
It seems possible the Crimson Tide are going to steal Vanderdoes away from the West Coast -- just check out his Twitter feed from his 'Bama visit.
UCLA also is in on a number of prospects, including QB Asiantii Woulard and RB Cornelius Elder.
So, as usual, there will be plenty of signing day intrigue on Wednesday. And perhaps beyond.
Just imagine what might have happened had the unbeaten Buckeyes, say, anticipated oncoming NCAA sanctions and self-imposed a bowl ban last year, so they would have finished 6-6 instead of 6-7, thereby matching the most losses in school history.
- It's possible 12-0 Ohio State would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, instead of once-beaten Alabama. That would have ended the SEC's national title streak at six.
- If the Buckeyes were headed to South Florida, the Rose Bowl would have had first pick among the remaining BCS bowl eligible teams. That probably would have given us a scintillating Florida-Stanford, SEC-Pac-12 matchup -- No. 3 vs. No. 6 -- instead of the Cardinal vs. five-loss, unranked Wisconsin.
- Or, if the BCS standings still had Alabama ahead of Ohio State, which would have been highly controversial, Ohio State-Stanford would have been a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between elite, highly rated teams.
"We're not built like that," he said. "Our guys aren't built like that. We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play. How we play never changes. We're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, we're going to play our style of football, and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. Never, ever anyway. We're going to respect these guys. These guys have earned our respect. Watch the film, look at the scoreboard, and watch the film, and these guys will get your respect."
There is good news here, for Ohio State, for the Rose Bowl and for the Pac-12.
While the Big Ten has been on an extended swoon in terms of national perception, and one of its top teams, Penn State, has been wiped off the map by NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is clearly rising under Meyer. The Buckeyes will be national title contenders next fall. Or, failing that, they could become a worthy Rose Bowl foe.
As college football moves forward in 2014 with a four-team playoff, the Pac-12 needs the Big Ten to produce elite teams -- and vice versa -- or the continuing and evolving Rose Bowl partnership will suffer.
This "What Might Have Been Season" for Ohio State, which has broadly affected teams coast-to-coast, is almost certainly an anomaly.
That might not salve the immediate pain for the Buckeyes, or help make this year's Rose Bowl any better, but a hopeful glance toward the horizon is all we have for you.
Oregon is No. 4 in the coaches' poll and No. 6 in the AP poll to lead the Pac-12. Both polls have Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia as the top three. Alabama and Georgia will play in the SEC title game next weekend.
The AP poll ranks unbeaten but ineligible Ohio State fourth and Florida fifth. The coaches have Florida at No. 5, behind Oregon.
Stanford is eighth in the AP poll and ninth with the coaches. The Cardinal will play host to UCLA on Friday in the Pac-12 title game, with the winner playing the Big Ten champion -- Nebraska or Wisconsin -- in the Rose Bowl.
Oregon State is 16th and UCLA 17th in the AP poll. Their positions are reversed with the coaches.
The 116th Civil War was close. And then it wasn't. Yes, we've seen that before with Oregon.
Oregon scored 28 consecutive second-half points and blew away Oregon State 48-24.
The Beavers opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive that narrowed the deficit to 20-17. But they made things easy for the Ducks by then giving away five of their six turnovers in the second half.
A week after getting shut down by Stanford in their first loss of the season, the Ducks (11-1, 8-1) rolled up 570 yards while winning their fifth Civil War in a row. Oregon State (8-3, 6-3) gained 393. The Ducks outrushed the Beavers 430 yards to 82.
After the Beavers scored on their first possession of the third quarter, Oregon made its move. It drove 66 yards for a touchdown, and then the Beavers fumbled the ensuing kickoff. A 29-yard De'Anthony Thomas run later -- on fourth-and-5 no less -- and it was 34-17.
Kenjon Barner rushed for 198 yards on 28 carries with two TDs, but he was banged up much of the second half, when Thomas took over. Thomas rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries and three scores.
Beavers QB Sean Mannion, who lost his job to Cody Vaz after throwing four interceptions at Washington on Oct. 27, again threw four interceptions.
Oregon, which has won 15 consecutive road games, now awaits a couple other results. First, it needs Stanford to lose to UCLA this afternoon, which would make the Ducks the Pac-12 North Division champions. They then would play UCLA, already the South champion, on Friday in the Pac-12 title game.
Further, Oregon is still in the national title hunt. It needs, first and foremost, for No. 1 Notre Dame to lose tonight at USC. It also probably needs Florida to lose to Florida State, a game that is in the fourth quarter as this sentence is typed.
Even if Oregon doesn't reach the Pac-12 title game, where it would play for a Rose Bowl berth or more, it is almost certain to be an at-large selection for a BCS bowl game, mostly likely the Fiesta Bowl.
ESPN.com took on the idea of which team should be ranked No. 2 today.
Guess whose case I took on. That's right. Toledo.
What was my case for Oregon?
Oregon should be No. 2 because it's got the best chance of ending up No. 1.
Based on what we've seen so far, you'd pick Oregon to beat Florida. You'd pick Oregon to beat Notre Dame. And you'd pick Oregon to beat Kansas State, which Wildcats coach Bill Snyder already did by dropping the Ducks from his schedule this fall, thereby creating a false perception Oregon wanted a weak nonconference schedule. No, that was Kansas State.
Some might even pick Oregon to beat Alabama.
You can read the rest here.
Kevin gives you a summary of Oregon State's and USC's cases, too. And Ivan Maisel chimes in for Oregon here.
Despite being ranked second in the human polls, Oregon is fourth in the second iteration of the BCS rankings.
Man the battle stations! Launch preemptive attack on East Coast bias!
Easy now. Do not fret. Lots of football left.
And if Oregon finishes 13-0, it still remains a good bet the Ducks would play for the national championship, even if there are three unbeaten teams.
First of all, the SEC title game takes care of one team: Alabama and Florida, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings, cannot both finish unbeaten. If they end up 12-0, they will meet in the SEC title game. And, no, a 1-loss SEC team won't eclipse an unbeaten team from another AQ conference.
As for No. 3 Kansas State and No. 5 Notre Dame, both have plenty of work ahead, particularly the Fighting Irish, who play at Oklahoma on Saturday. That game is a win-win for Oregon. If Notre Dame wins, Kansas State's best win will tumble in the rankings. If Notre Dame loses, there is one less unbeaten team to worry about.
Kansas State has a number of tough games ahead, including Texas Tech on Saturday. And, folks, the simple reality is Kansas State ran away from a schedule game with Oregon, which is why the Ducks ended up with such a weak nonconference schedule. It's hard to believe pollsters, knowing that, would consider in appreciable numbers ranking 12-0 Kansas State ahead of a 13-0 Oregon.
But Oregon has a far more arduous slate: No. 9 USC on Nov. 3, No. 17 Stanford on Nov. 17 and No. 7 Oregon State on Nov. 24. Then the Ducks would play what figures to be a ranked team in the Pac-12 title game.
That schedule should make up considerable strength of schedule ground for the Ducks. And if they stay ranked No. 2 in the human polls, which is two-thirds of the vote, the odds are strong they will finish ahead of Kansas State or Notre Dame, even if they both remain unbeaten.
Of course, there are variables. What if one or more of these presently highly-ranked Pac-12 teams face plants? Kansas State and Notre Dame have the same issue, by the way.
The bottom line: It's too early to know how this plays out. And, really, Oregon needs to focus on the only thing it can: winning.
As for the rest of the BCS standings: Oregon State is seventh overall and fifth with the computers. The Beavers most certainly are not out of the national title picture if they finish unbeaten. Truth is, the Beavers' strength of schedule ranking could end up better -- far better, in fact -- than Oregon's.
USC is ninth in the standings, behind two one-loss teams: No. 6 LSU and No. 8 Oklahoma. The Trojans are not out of things, particularly if there is only one unbeaten team at season's end.
The top-five is the same in both polls: 1. Alabama; 2. Oregon; 3. Florida; 4. Kansas State; 5. Notre Dame.
In the coaches poll, which counts in the BCS standings, LSU, at No. 6, is the top one-loss team. USC is eighth, the third one-loss team behind No. 7 Oklahoma.
Unbeaten Oregon State continues to get little love from the coaches. It's ninth.
The Beavers are seventh in the AP poll and USC is 10th.
Stanford is 19th in both polls.
Oregon was ranked third in the initial BCS standings released Sunday night, behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida.
The Ducks are No. 2 in all the major polls, but are ranked sixth by the computers. One computer poll has the Ducks 10th, which is a function of their weak early schedule.
But Oregon fans shouldn't worry. Even if Alabama and Florida remain ranked Nos. 1 and 2, they will play in the SEC title game. The loser almost certainly wouldn't have enough juice to eclipse the Ducks if they were unbeaten.
In other words, as long as Oregon keeps winning, it's in good position to play for the national title again.
Unbeaten Oregon State is eighth in the BCS standings. The Beavers are 10th in the Harris Poll and ranked 11th by the coaches but are fifth with the computers. Yes, the computers like the Beavers more than the Ducks.
The Beavers also could work their way into the mix. If they and the Ducks remain unbeaten, the would play host to Oregon on Nov. 24 for the Pac-12 North Division crown.
And yes, based on the strength of the Pac-12, an unbeaten, Pac-12 champion Oregon State team would have a good shot at playing for the title.
USC is 10th. It ranks 15th with the computers. Stanford is 20th, ranking 16th with the computers.
Kansas State is No. 4 and Notre Dame is fifth.
While it's interesting to review the standings, keep an important thing in mind: We've got a lot of football left to be played.
Yes, the college football punditry and peanut gallery can sound like a broken record. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 and ranked seventh, and almost every sign suggests legitimacy, but, well, we've been down this road before. And not only with Notre Dame. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was blowing kisses at Florida State -- the Seminoles are finally back -- before it became a national punch line or cautionary tale, however you wish to view a loss at NC State.
Notre Dame plays host to No. 17 Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal might present the Irish their toughest test yet. Stanford, after all, beat USC. Whipped the once-No. 2 Trojans at the line of scrimmage, no less.
Of course, Stanford also wilted against Washington, making a Huskies defense that would get decimated by Oregon look stout.
There are 14 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions). Some teams mostly feel -- fairly or unfairly -- like curiosities: three in the Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers), Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and Mississippi State. Others own undeniable heft: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and, yes, Notre Dame.
Odd that this weekend's Red River Rivalry feels so far off the radar, although both Texas and Oklahoma could play roles in winnowing the contenders and pretenders. The Sooners still have dates with Notre Dame and West Virginia, while the Longhorns conclude the season against Kansas State.
The "what ifs" are rampant. Such as: What if Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon all finish undefeated; who then plays for the title? Or switch out Oregon with West Virginia or Kansas State. There are the multiple unbeaten quandaries, and then there are all the best of the once-beaten comparisons, such as: Can USC get back into the national title hunt?
Again, so many variables in our penultimate season yoked by the lovely BCS system. It's difficult to predict how pollsters will react. And don't even start with the computers. With strength of schedule, it's not just what your team has accomplished, but what all its foes did. And all its foes' foes. Etc., etc.
What's also interesting is that the march toward clarity isn't always linear. At any moment, a couple of upsets can put a boot print in our consensus expectations. For example, what might have happened last season if LSU had been nipped in the SEC title game?
The good news is a page will turn next week. If Kansas State and West Virginia both survive tricky road games this weekend -- the Wildcats are at Iowa State, and the Mountaineers are at Texas Tech -- they meet in Morgantown on Oct. 20, so one of the Big 12's two unbeatens will fall.
Same goes for the SEC East. If No. 3 South Carolina manages to win at No. 9 LSU on Saturday, a visit to No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20 seems like the Rubicon for the division. Only one unbeaten will remain in the division, just as only one unbeaten -- Alabama or Mississippi State -- can emerge from the West.
And, if everyone then holds serve, we could have an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the SEC title game.
But, alas, that's getting ahead of ourselves.
We started with the notion that Stanford will provide a nice test for Notre Dame's legitimacy. The Cardinal, after all, are riding a three-game winning streak in the series.
But we know past success doesn't guarantee future results. Just look at your 401K. Or the Fighting Irish's storied history.
Is Notre Dame for real? Heck, is anyone for real?
It's probably best to turn to one of history's great college football pundits at times like this. As Socrates once noted when his preseason picks imploded, "I know one thing, that I know nothing."
Or, more charitably, at least very little.
Andrea sent over the Q&A she did with Rodriguez, which we're going to publish in its entirety. It includes lots of background on Rodriguez and his innovative offense, which has been copied by a lot of folks -- yes, including that guy up in Eugene.
Thanks to Andrea for doing all the legwork and writing a nice story.
When was the first time you had coaches asking for pointers on your offense?
Rich Rodriguez: When we went to Tulane, the second year we had a good year, with Shaun King. Then you had some games on TV, and that was the first time after that season that a lot of coaches started coming and visiting and calling. We beat BYU in a bowl game, and Lavell [Edwards] was the head coach, Norm Chow the offensive coordinator. So after the game, they said, ‘Would you come over and talk some football with us? I’m thinking are you kidding me? This is Norm Chow and Lavell Edwards, the passing gurus. I said I’ll do it on one condition. You have to give me some of your information, too. You have to teach me what you’re doing. Norm and I have been friends since that time. It was a great trip.
What was your connection with Tommy Bowden at Tulane?
RR: At Glenville, I went to the Bowden Passing Academy and I always talked football. Tommy had taken an interest in what we were doing. We never worked together when he called me to be offensive coordinator. It was really flattering. I asked, ‘Will you let me run my offense?’ He said sure. Tommy was the first big name, big coach, who took an interest in what we were doing. When we went to Tulane, there were a few folks. At Clemson, we saw a few more. Then at West Virginia, it wasn’t as good the first year we were there, but after that it took off again. I can remember Urban [Meyer], when he first got the Bowling Green job, we were at a coaches convention hospitality bar. He told me, ‘I’d like to run some of your offense.’ So he sent his whole staff for a week, we traded some ideas and so we always traded ideas. The Oklahoma guys, Bob Stoops and I became friends. They would come to our place or we’d go to Oklahoma and spend the week. After the Sugar Bowl year in the 2005 season, we had a whole bunch more. Some 30 different staffs come in, Penn State, Ohio State some non-traditional non-spread coaching staffs. I said maybe I am being too open, but I thought it was a great opportunity for us to learn, too. To pick their brains.
At the Pac-12 meetings last week in Phoenix, it became clear that conference coaches and athletic directors as well as commissioner Larry Scott favor a potential four-team college football playoff including a requirement that each of the four participants wins its respective conference championship.
The reasoning for that is logical and unassailable: A national title contender should first prove it's the best team in its conference. College football folks -- coaches, administrators, etc. -- frequently talk about preserving the value of the regular season. Not requiring a playoff team to win its conference directly contravenes that.
On the other side of the playoff debate are the folks who don't want any such requirements. They say introducing one muddies things up. They say it's important to pick the "four best teams." Keep it simple and credible!
Four best teams? Er, how will we determine that? The ole BCS rankings? A selection committee?
There needs to be give and take here. If the Pac-12 and Big Ten are going to sacrifice their automatic tie-in to the Rose Bowl, that means they need to get something in return. Thankfully, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany already has proposed an equitable plan that allows for both sides of this debate to get most of what they want.
It's the top-six plan: Conference champions would be required to be ranked in the top six of the final rankings in order to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff. If four conference champions aren't ranked in the top six, then the highest ranked at-large teams would fill however many voids there are.
CBS Sports' Brett McMurphy went through all the scenarios. He found that, since 2004, only seven top-four teams in the final BCS standings would have missed the playoffs with this top-six plan.
Under this format, in the past eight years, 30 of the 32 teams in the playoff would have been conference champions. Only two teams -- No. 2 Alabama (in 2011) and No. 4 Ohio State (in 2005) -- that weren't a conference champion would have qualified for the national semifinals.
Using the conference affiliation for the schools for each season and not their future affiliation, the SEC would have had the most schools in the playoffs from 2004-11 with eight, including seven conference champions. The Pac-12 and Big 12 would have been next, each with six schools, followed by the Big Ten with five (four conference champions, one at-large), the Mountain West with four, the Big East with two and the ACC with one.
Of the Mountain West's four representatives, two were by Utah, now in the Pac-12, and two by TCU, which joins the Big 12 this fall.
That sounds about right.
The teams left out? Stanford and Texas, both twice, and Alabama, Michigan and LSU.
The best scenario to look at is 2008. From McMurphy's breakdown:
Top 6 ranked teams: No. 1 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ), No. 2 Florida (SEC champ), No. 3 Texas (at-large), No. 4 Alabama (at-large), No. 5 USC (Pac-10 champ), No. 6 Utah (Mountain West champ).
Conference champs in four-team playoff: No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Florida, No. 5 USC, No. 6 Utah.
Non-conference champs in four-team playoff: None.
Top-6 teams left out: No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Alabama.
Revisionist history: The good news is that the top four conference champions are all ranked among the nation's top six teams. The bad news is No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Alabama, both of which didn't win their conference, would not be included in the playoff. Lower ranked, but conference champion, USC (No. 5) and Utah (No. 6) would have made the field.
In 2008, the top-six model would have created a far superior postseason. The most likely scenario would have seen USC, clearly the best team in 2008, beating Utah, which physically manhandled Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl, for the national title.
Wait ... did I just pull one of those "Just because" deals there, making assumptions about how good a team is?
Yes, I did. Most folks outside of the Southeast -- including Vegas bookies -- believed USC was the best team in 2008. It finished the regular season with the same record as Florida and Oklahoma, but its loss on the road against an Oregon State team that won nine games was deemed worse than the Gators' and Sooners' blemishes. That judgment was arbitrary and ran counter to what many folks believed: The Trojans in 2008 would have left a bootprint on the foreheads of either Florida or Oklahoma.
And, of course, when Utah held Alabama to 208 total yards -- 31 yards rushing! -- it became nearly impossible to say the Crimson Tide belonged in the same building. Oh, that's right, an Alabama team playing in its first BCS bowl game since 1999 was SO disappointed that it lost the SEC title game that it decided not to try hard in the Sugar Bowl. Please.
Of course, this analysis is bothering some folks. Good. That's how the "Just because" stuff felt for the Trojans in 2008 and for Oklahoma State last year. The most certain way to ensure the new four-team playoff will foment annual controversy is to make the "Just because" element its foundation. We'll still be debating the subjectivity -- and inherent biases -- of the system for weeks as the season winds down.
See, out here on the West Coast, the top-six plan seems simple. It seems fair. It doesn't muddy anything up. It actually provides clarity: Win your conference.
It first tries to award the highest-rated conference champions for, you know, accomplishing something during the regular season, then it makes sure that we don't end up with a three-loss team in the playoff.
It's the best and most equitable endgame in the four-team playoff scenario. And the Pac-12 and Big Ten should fight for it.
That's a silly analogy, but the point is something that is merely better doesn't mean it will be perfect. Or even much more than theoretically better. (As in: Perhaps there's a family out there that would cause even worse brain rot than the Kardashians if its vacuousness were on display in a TV reality series).
During the BCS Era, the epicenter of controversy was typically at No. 3. While some years things laid out perfectly and there was a wide consensus on the two best teams, many years there was little tangible justification to see the No. 2 -- or No 1 -- team as being any better than No. 3. For example, Oklahoma State was No. 3 this past season, and many would have rather watched the Cowboys play LSU for the title than an SEC West rematch between the Tigers and Alabama.
Well, in a four-team playoff, No. 5 becomes the new No. 3 -- the last team left out. Dennis Dodd goes back and ranks the best No. 5 teams from 1998-2011, and there is plenty of Pac-12 representation. Which means there would have been plenty of Pac-12 consternation.
And, oh boy, the conference would have been in the thick of controversy if there were a four-team playoff based on last year's BCS standings. Notes Dodd: "Look at last season when Pac-12 champ Oregon – fifth in the BCS -- would have not played in a four-team playoff but a division rival it beat (Stanford) would have. The difference? Oregon scheduled tougher."
Sure Oregon fans would have taken that well.
Of course, we still don't know how the four teams will be selected for the future playoff, and it's unlikely it will be the BCS standings as they are currently configured. Know that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will work hard to ensure a more accurate strength of schedule component.
As for Dodd's rankings, they are interesting, though Dodd should reverse the top-two. The 2009 Florida team would have lost to the 2008 USC team by double-digits. Everybody knows that.
Besides USC at No. 2 in 2008, he's got USC in 2006 at No. 4, Oregon in 2011 at No. 6, UCLA in 1998 at No. 10, California in 2004 at No. 11 and Oregon in 2005 at No. 13.
So a lot of different Pac-12 teams would have been frustrated by a subjective system leaving them out.
Further, don't think your team doesn't have dog in this hunt. If the Pac-12 gets left out of the Final Four, all 12 members will miss out on millions. Recall that the conference has equal revenue sharing. If Oregon makes the Final Four, Oregon State still gets an equal share. And if Oregon and USC makes the Final Four, that will mean even more money. If a BCS bowl game is worth $23 million, then just imagine what a Final Four game will be worth. And how it would hurt to miss out.
And if the Pac-12 gets left out a couple of years in a row, then it could find itself at a substantial revenue disadvantage compared to other conferences.
Not to be a party pooper, but there are tangible concerns going forward. Don't pack up your frustration with the system just yet.
Follow me on Twitter here.
We have a note from a not-so-special guest this week to lead off.
Ted Miller from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Hey, Ted! You and Kevin do a great job. Is it true that the Surgeon General found that reading the Pac-12 blog makes you smarter? Doesn't surprise me a bit!
Anyway. My question: What do you think about word that some Pac-12 schools are dragging their feet on scheduling games with Big Ten foes, per the Big Ten-Pac-12 alliance?
Ted Miller: You have reached a new low, Self, with this juvenile artifice. So apologies to all. (I just wanted to address this).
Are some Pac-12 teams not thrilled with the Big Ten-Pac-12 partnership? Maybe.
It was announced in December that the Rose Bowl partners and academically elite conferences would, starting in 2017, play an annual football series involving all 12 schools in both leagues. But Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett on Thursday that the partnership in football had not been finalized because "there are a couple of teams in the Pac-12 that are dragging their feet a little bit."
Both conference offices denied there were major issues. A Pac-12 spokesman emailed this statement: "Our schools are excited about the collaboration with the Big Ten, and we are continuing to work on sports scheduling details."
But the truth is, yes, some schools aren't thrilled, which goes along with scheduling issues that the Pac-12 blog has frequently -- redundantly? -- noted through the years.
Let's say you're Stanford.
- You start with a nine-game Pac-12 schedule. The ACC, SEC and Big Ten play an eight-game conference schedule, which allows for four nonconference foes -- read: typically at least three scheduled patsies.
- Then you add Stanford's (and California's) insistence on playing USC and UCLA every year. Hey, tradition!
- Then you add Oregon's rise in the North Division as a national power.
- Then you add an annual series with Notre Dame.
- Then you add an annual game with the Big Ten.
That means Stanford could play 11 tough games every year against top AQ foes.
Here's Mark Schlabach's Way Too Early Top-25. Let's say the Cardinal next fall drew Michigan State as its Big Ten foe. That means Stanford would play: No. 2 USC, No. 4 Oregon, No. 9 Michigan State and No. 23 Notre Dame in 2012. Great fun. You could compute Cal's schedule much the same way.
The Pac-12 blog has some solutions. These solutions will be: 1. Best for the Pac-12; 2. Best for Cal and Stanford; 3. Controversial.
First, the Pac-12 needs to end the nine-game conference schedule. It might make athletic directors' lives easier in terms of scheduling and filling a stadium, but it hurts their teams and the conference as a whole. That's not an opinion. It's a mathematical fact.
Kill it. Please.
Second, Stanford and Cal need to end this silly "We must play USC and UCLA every year!" deal. Hey, I get it. Some fans enjoy the weekender. But -- come closer, because I want to whisper to you an embarrassing truth -- IT"S STUPID TO INSIST ON PLAYING USC EVERY YEAR! (Whoops... did I just yell that?) And, heck, UCLA should eventually get back into the top-25.
Insisting on playing USC every year is no different than if the ADs at Cal and Stanford said, "Hey, let's play Alabama... EVERY YEAR!"
Here is the realpolitik of college football: You can schedule success.
The Pac-12, instead, is scheduling failure. Its scheduling practices create a perception that makes the conference seem worse than it is, just as the SEC's scheduling practices accomplish the opposite.
I will not quote Cal coach Jeff Tedford and Stanford coach David Shaw on this matter. Both these guys are competitors who fear no team.
But neither one of them will hate me after reading this.
Nor will any other Pac-12 coach.
Big Ten-Pac-12 alliance? Great. Love big nonconference games. Second best thing in college football behind rivalry games.
But, first, kill the nine-game conference schedule. Then end the "designated games" between the California teams. Set up a pure rotating schedule between the North and South Divisions that will ensure the best scheduling equity possible.
Emtee Dubyew from Keizer, Ore., writes: I recently read an article on ESPN that Ohio State is installing a "Oregon style" no-huddle rapid paced offense. I seem to remember a segment Urban Meyer did when he worked for ESPN, he talked to Chip Kelly about Oregon's offense and practice methods. I mean with the PAC-12/Big10 relationship Oregon and Ohio State could do battle in the future. So would this lead to coaches being less willing to share their secrets and methods with the rest of us?
Ted Miller: Hmm... that name. You Ducks and Huskies never stop, do you? You mean this video, of course. Good stuff with Chip & Urban.
Less willing to do cool videos like this? I doubt it, and let's hope not.
First of all, coaches visit other teams all the time, though reasonably they don't allow visitors from teams they are scheduled to play. And more than a few times, it becomes a joke at a bowl game that one set of coaches met with the other set the previous spring. Still, the exchange of ideas doesn't yield details of a specific game plan. While Kelly and Meyer offer some nice insights during their chat, it's mostly superficial stuff that can be easily digested by a general audience.
Further, Meyer is an offensive innovator much like Kelly, with both on the front lines of spread-option concepts. That Meyer is planning to adopt an up-tempo, no-huddle offense is no surprise.
David from San Diego writes: So the big word post-spring practice is that USC's secondary is for real this year. Now I'm a die heard USC fan, but how can this assessment be made when everyone and their mama knows that USC's offense consisted mainly of 2 young, backup QB's, a thin RB corp, the best WR in the PAC-12 or possibly the nation out of action, not too mention all of our TE's have been hurt and not practicing either. Would you agree that all the hoopla on the secondary is a tad bit premature?
Ted Miller: All hoopla in April is a tad premature, just as the hoopla over a recruiting class is premature. We in the sportswriting business spend a lot of time giving you premature judgments, just as fans on message boards do the same -- "No worries! We have a JC transfer coming in who will solve all our problems!"
Why are folks high on USC's secondary?
Well, for one, it welcomes back all four starters from a unit that yielded the fewest TD passes (17) in the Pac-12 last season. The Trojans ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Not only that, just about every guy on the two-deep is back. Oh, and Florida transfer Josh Shaw is eligible to play in 2012.
Cornerback Nickell Robey and safety T.J. McDonald were both first-team All-Pac-12. McDonald is an almost certain preseason All-American. He could be the first safety picked in the 2013 NFL draft.
And there's a hunch, and it's not unreasonable, that Year 3 under coordinator Monte Kiffin could yield strong improvement, just as it did in 2011 compared to 2010.
So, best I can tell, the hoopla is based on good players coming back from a good secondary that seems likely to be better in 2012.
Or, perhaps, the hoopla comes entirely from a counter-intelligence operation run by a cabal of Freemason USC boosters connected to the Trilateral Commission.
Don from Portland writes: While I agree with you that pot in Oregon is seen as a non issue, it seems that the Ducks willingness to speak candidly about smoking to a reporter bespeaks a complete disregard for the feelings of their coaches, fans, and those players who do not use drugs. Shouldn't Chip Kelley be more concerned about his players apparent lack of loyalty?
Ted Miller: Yes, based on the ESPN Magazine article, it's clear at least one Duck broke the locker room Omertà. Yes, that should annoy Kelly and other players. I doubt it will keep anybody up at night, but it's a concern.
But that also answers some of you who feel Oregon was singled out or targeted. Typically how it works for a reporter working a story is he gets a tip or a lead, then he has to get a source talking. That's what happened here. And let's be real. If we were ranking Pac-12 towns for a laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana smoking, it likely would go: 1. Eugene; 2. Berkeley; 3. Boulder; 4. Seattle; 5. LA. As the article noted, "... The Princeton Review and High Times both have ranked the University of Oregon among the most pot-friendly schools."
You probably have just as many, er, "enthusiasts" here in Arizona among the Wildcats and Sun Devils. But I would suggest that the political-legal attitudes here are a bit different, not to mention rules about random testing.
Also, I do want to point out to Ducks fans, Oregon wasn't really singled out that much. For one, there was also a general story on pot smoking in college football, the gist of which is "wow... just about everybody is doing it."
Also, from the article:
NEWS FLASH: COLLEGE kids smoke weed. That includes, according to an NCAA study released in January, 22.6 percent of athletes -- up 1.4 percentage points from the previous study in 2005. College football players (26.7 percent) ranked the highest among major sports. And the Oregon football program provides an interesting case study on the impact -- or lack thereof -- of marijuana use among players.
And this: "One senior NFL executive who interviewed players at the combine says about 70 percent confessed to smoking pot, likely on the advice of their agents."
There was no implication in any part of the story that Oregon is unique. It just ended up being the "case study," in large part because someone on the team was willing to be a source.
There also was this about Kelly: "The Oregon regime is also cracking down. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kelly has taken a hard stance in his three seasons as head coach. "I've heard weed was bigger before I got there," says one Kelly-era Duck, "but Chip cracked down on that. He'll actually attend classes with guys. If you miss a study hall, he'll drug-test you."
I got a lot of mail about this series. Most of you noted that the under-25 demographic has a much different vision about marijuana usage than the 50-and-overs. No doubt about that. Some of you were mad at ESPN, citing our desire to crush a West Coast power that threatens the SEC. Lots of folks communicated a general, "Neh." Some of you appeared to be partaking while typing.
My feeling, as I previously wrote, is this: Fret about this for 20 minutes. But that was on Wednesday, so it's time to move on. This article is unlikely to do any real harm to the university or the football program.
Ryan from Fairfield, Conn., writes: I am a former collegiate football player, and now I am inspiring to be a Director/ Producer. One of my best friends and myself created this mini-documentary, it is an emotional conversation with football players. Here is the Youtube link, check it out tell me what you think.
Ted Miller: I think it's pretty cool.