Mailbag: USC concerns, Pac-12 parity

Welcome to the mailbag. It will be off next week. Because summer.

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To the notes!

Oscar writes: The pre 2015 USC campaign is sounding uncomfortably similar to the pre 2012 campaign, what do you think are the big differences between both teams and what needs to happen for history NOT to repeat itself.

Ted Miller: Start with this: Every fourth-and fifth-year Trojan who suffered through that miserable slog probably is intent on not repeating it, a group that includes quarterback Cody Kessler, who observed it as Matt Barkley's backup. One would suspect that was a tough lesson that many veteran players would like to believe they've learned from and don't plan to fall into the same self-destructive pattern.

A perusal of the 2012 preseason depth chart still inspires a "What the heck happened?" response. That was a really talented team. Though injuries and a lack of depth because of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions were significant issues, it should not have face-planted like it did.

It's fair to point a finger at coach Lane Kiffin, who seemed to constantly hit the wrong notes, inside and outside the locker room, as well as on game day. He certainly didn't distinguish himself as a play-caller that season, the late goal-line failure against Notre Dame surely still burning in USC fans memories.

In terms of pure talent, the 2015 Trojans don't look better than the 2012 crew. So that's not what would separate the teams. Moreover, the Pac-12, particularly the South Division, is far better than it was three years ago.

The good news is the Trojans are a little deeper, although they should look at 2012's tight end depth jealously. Better depth is not just a benefit if guys get hurt. It's about being able to play a rotation of players, which translates to a fresher team in the fourth quarter. Fourth quarters were an issue for the Trojans last season.

Still, just as Kiffin took the primary blame for 2012, it's going to come down to coach Steve Sarkisian. How well does he manage his locker room? How well does he motivate his players, day-to-day, week-to-week? Does his message resonate in the way that it creates a consistent team? If there is a valid point on which to question Sarkisian as a coach, it's that he really hasn't won anything yet.

The first key for USC is the same as any contender: Stay healthy. The second is also the same, but it stands as something the program hasn't done since Pete Carroll left: Show up every game fully prepared and focused on playing like an army of steamrollers.

James writes: With seemingly so much parity in the PAC-12 why is it that the top team in the North comes out as the PAC-12 victor year in and year out? Could it be that like the Cleveland Cavaliers they don't have as tough of a battle to get to the finals and therefore have a lot left in the tank for the championship game?

Ted Miller: The reason the North has dominated the Pac-12 since expansion in 2011 is Oregon and Stanford, the only two teams that have won Pac-12 championships while maintaining top-10, top-5 rankings. The so-called "parity" is a recent trend over the past two seasons as the South has improved. In 2012, South Division champ UCLA finished 9-5 overall and 6-3 in league play.

Further, parity has in some ways yielded to the South's superior depth compared to the North. Five of the conference's seven teams who could/should be ranked in the preseason are from the South, just as five of the six conference teams ranked at the end of last season were from the South.

Now if parity is about overall depth, the Pac-12 ranks at the top of the Power 5 conferences. The teams that will be projected to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 -- Oregon State, Washington State and Colorado -- are a darn strong bottom third, with only the SEC being comparable at the bottom.

Yet depth doesn't automatically translate to conference championships. Though the South appears again much deeper than the North heading into the season, that doesn't mean it has the best team. It's up to the winner of the South to vanquish the North champ, with Oregon again being the North favorite.

Dennis writes: Not a bad article, except it for certain shows your one sided attempt to make Texas a part of any discussion, regardless of their less than spectacular last few years. I do believe Baylor with a very good prospect at quarterback, but one with little experience should have been noted in your article..if indeed it is aimed at 'contenders". Texas..why even mention them if the article is about now, not then. If memory serves me correctly, Baylor has defeated Texas four of the last five years and the one Texas victory was by a slim margin. Get a bit more into the reality that the game has changed and try to cover the real contenders, not the ones of years past.

Ted Miller: So in an article about quarterback uncertainty, one that calls the season "Not the Year of Quarterbacks," you're annoyed I didn't mention that Baylor feels pretty darn good about junior Seth Russell replacing Bryce Petty behind center?

The reason Texas was noted is because it belongs on a "list of perennial powers with questions at the position." That isn't exactly a compliment, but if you object to the "perennial powers" connection, well, Texas pretty much fits that category. Though the Longhorns have been struggling of late, there's no question they are one of the biggest brand names in college football.

If you are looking for something to be annoyed about this preseason, your best bet is to be mad at Baylor's administrative decision to play a Fraidy Cat nonconference schedule again, one that pretty much will eliminate the Bears from the College Football Playoff race if they don't go undefeated.

Alex writes: The only thing more irritating than BYU to Ute fans is the University of Miami referring to itself as "the U". It doesn't even make any sense for Miami to call themselves "the U". Shouldn't they be "the M"? To that end, I propose an addition to your list of rivalry games -- a showdown between the Hurricanes and Utes. The winner is proclaimed "The True U". The loser has to go back to Florida and ask it's marketing department to raise funds for a re-branding campaign, perhaps to something that actually makes sense.

Ted Miller: You do know that a "U" has long been on Miami's helmets, with the split green and orange design invented in 1973. And the Hurricanes have five national titles claimed with that "U" representing them, so it's not like they are unaccomplished posers. Further, Miami also has its own ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called, er, "The U," which was a heck of a lot of fun to watch, no matter how you felt about that dynastic run in the 1980s.

That said, it's a good idea for a rivalry game, in large part because it would be a pretty interesting series in any event.

Scot writes: As a die hard Oregon ducks fan for many years, I find it unexpectedly refreshing -- almost invigorating -- to head into a season where almost anything can happen. The Ducks could once again be in the running for the national title, or we could fail to get continuity at any number of questionable positions and sink back to the middle of the pack for the season. I'm excited to see what will happen! Here's my real question: We are season ticket holders and our first child is due July 2nd. How soon can we bring him with us to a Ducks game?

Ted Miller: Invigorated by a potential "sink back to the middle"? Would that include a loss to Washington? I ask because I'm not sure how that might go over with many of your Ducks buddies.

As for you first child, congrats. There is no more amazing experience. Just remember, as someone wrote me in the mailbag in December of 2008 when my first child was born, "Sleep is overrated."

And said child will be expected to tailgate -- get him/her a green and yellow onesie with a Duck and an "O" on it -- in Eugene on Sept. 5 when Eastern Washington comes to Autzen Stadium. You need to start him/her early to facilitate full indoctrination. You probably can get an exemption for the big trip to Michigan State, but you'll need an official ruling from your Oregon friends on that.

He/she also should immediately be parked in front of the Pac-12 blog and ESPN.com. Otherwise, he/she might have a mushy brain, and you don't want that.

Barrett from Tucson writes: Just wanted to give you a heads up on some community work [Arizona's] offensive lineman helped with as part of a safety series we do with KGUN9 news here in Tucson. We've had the series with KGUN for about 2 1/2 years but this is the first time we've had help from our Wildcats. It was brush fire season and the idea was that O-lineman are the most skilled at clearing things out on the field in the way of defenders and providing a pocket for Anu to step up in. This time we asked they did those same things for houses, clearing debris and making a pocket, to avoid brush fires. Not sure who was the best actor but the guys were great to work with and we got a little shot in on the mustard and rust. As an aside, I was a former player for the Cats that graduated in 98, our Holiday Bowl team, but after 17 years, I'd forgotton how big o-lineman are, especially Alsadek.

Ted Miller: That is pretty cool. Kudos to those guys.