Pac-12: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Oregon not only Pac-12 team eyeing CFP

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26

The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.

The second rule is you assume nothing. Well, that's completely wrong. The entire -- and endless! -- discussion involves projecting ahead, making assumptions about teams winning here or winning there.

So that's what we're going to do here.

As is quantified here by the inimitable Sharon Katz of ESPN's Stats & Information, UCLA is squarely in the playoff hunt, even as a two-loss team trying to eclipse one-loss teams, such as TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Mississippi State.

She notes: "If UCLA were to beat Stanford and Oregon, the average current FPI ranking of UCLA’s 11 wins would be 33, the best in the nation." Then she concludes, with a question: "[If UCLA were to win out,] could the committee really leave a two-loss Pac-12 champion, with the hardest schedule in the nation, out of the playoff?"

The answer is no.

UCLA as the 11-2 Pac-12 champion will be in the playoff, and there's nothing any other bubble teams can do about it. There are two reasons -- the most important reasons, ones we've seen bandied about incessantly in regards to the selection committee: 1) merit, 2) best four teams. The Bruins would have earned a spot based on a demonstrably superior résumé, including a victory over the Ducks which would function as an eraser for one of their two defeats. And the Bruins would pass the sight test as one of the four best teams by posting the most distinguished win of 2014 on the last day of the season (over No. 2 Oregon).

I already hear the whining out there. Hush. There is no counterargument that is valid. You have lost out to the cruel mistresses of facts and logic. So we are not going to waste time with folks who insist on fighting a losing fight only because of the colors they wear on Saturday.

The more spicy issue is the Territorial Cup. Say UCLA loses to Stanford, and the winner of No. 13 Arizona State at No. 11 Arizona on Friday becomes the Pac-12 South Division champions. That's where things get interesting.

That is this week's only matchup of top-13 teams, meaning the winner can post the weekend's most meaningful victory. In the scenario with UCLA losing, that also means the winner could post the final weekend's most meaningful victory -- again, over No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Consecutive weekends of meaningfulness! The selection committee surely will imbibe that like a 22-year-old single malt.

Arizona's strength of record currently rates 11th and Arizona State's is 13th. Those two ratings would skyrocket, while other teams vying for a top-four spot would slide.

But how could the Wildcats/Sun Devils make up so much ground? Well, we've seen teams gain incredible traction in human polls with a run of wins that seemed impressive at the time. Mississippi State went from unranked to No. 1 after beating LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Of that troika, Auburn, at No. 15, is the committee's only presently ranked team, and Texas A&M and LSU play on Thanksgiving Day hoping to avoid a fifth defeat.

So clear-thinking folks, which we are sure committee members are, would see the Wildcats/Sun Devils as worthy of a rapid climb based on veritably impressive wins validated by a season's worth of work. Conversely, in the 20/20 vision of retrospect, the Bulldogs' rise would be a fun, if temporary, illusion worthy of nostalgia -- "I remember when our Bulldogs beat No. 2 Auburn!" -- but certainly not justifying a playoff spot.

What about other teams trying to insinuate themselves into the playoff? Unless Auburn upsets Alabama, Mississippi State's only remaining game is against flagging, No. 19 Ole Miss. TCU has Texas and Iowa State, a pair of unranked teams. Ohio State has its rivalry game with Michigan and then a matchup with either No. 18 Minnesota or No. 14 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Baylor has Texas Tech and No. 12 Kansas State on Dec. 6, a matchup that could significantly bolster the Bears' case.

Ah, but Baylor has its pastry-soft nonconference schedule holding it back. If it comes down the the Bears and, say, Arizona, then the Pac-12 team is surely ... er... what? The Wildcats played UNLV, UTSA and Nevada in its nonconference schedule? Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty, that's not a very Pac-12 thing to do.

It's fortunate that Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne has a great sense of humor. He'd surely be amused -- just like the folks at Baylor -- if the committee cited that weak slate as the reason the Wildcats got left at the altar.

In any event, this is probably all idle speculation. A few more major plot twists are nearly certain. Based on history, at least a couple of the teams in the top-eight fighting for positioning are going to go rear-end-over-tea-kettle, including a member of the top-three that has been practically written into the playoff with an ink pen.

But if you retain anything from these scribbles, it must be this: The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.

CFP committee evaluates the victories 

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11

Entering the reveal of this week’s College Football Playoff Rankings, I was most interested to see how far Arizona State, Baylor and Ohio State would rise after big wins Saturday. So, naturally, the committee had to sidetrack this article by dropping undefeated Florida State behind once-beaten Oregon and forcing me to address that issue first.

For starters, it’s refreshing to see that the committee isn’t so married to the loss column that it would never put a one ahead of a zero. Whether it would do so at the end of the season is another matter, but at least for now, it would only mean that Florida State would wear white instead of garnet in a semifinal against Oregon. And since that would give the Ducks more uniform options, who’s really going to complain too much about this?

The bigger takeaway, though, is that the committee is really evaluating the wins. Even though FSU hasn’t lost a game, it has only two wins over the committee’s current top 25 -- No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 19 Clemson, both narrow escapes and both in Tallahassee. Oregon, on the other hand, has beaten No. 11 UCLA, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 23 Utah, all by double digits with two of those games on the road. The Ducks have the better wins, and they’ve looked better than the Seminoles over the last month.

I have Florida State at No. 2 and Oregon at No. 3 on my ballot but have no complaints about the committee flipping that order.

Other takeaways:

• TCU apparently passes the eye test against Alabama this week.

Johnson's move good for him, Utah

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
Quickly promoted and then just as quickly twice demoted at Utah, Brian Johnson will once again be viewed as a smart, up-and-coming coach next year at Mississippi State. In fact, he would still be a smart, up-and-coming offensive coordinator at Utah if his quarterback these past two seasons had been Dak Prescott, the dual-threat talent he's inheriting with the Bulldogs.

Heck, reporters would probably be wondering when he'd become the nation's youngest head coach after previously being its youngest offensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeBrian Johnson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIBrian Johnson has an opportunity to redirect the trajectory of his coaching career after leaving Utah for Mississippi State.
Yes, there are good coaches and bad coaches. We get that. Some coaches fail to do their job well. But it's more than a coincidence that those considered good coaches typically have the best players, often because of dumb luck. Maybe Phil Jackson is an NBA coaching genius, a Zen master enlightening players with daily haikus and self-help books, but his best skill was winding up leading teams with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaq.

The biggest reason the Utes' offense has mostly floundered the past three seasons as a Pac-12 member has been poor and middling play at quarterback, Johnson's responsibility. The biggest reason for poor to middling play at quarterback, however, is the designated preseason starter at the position couldn't stay healthy. Point a finger at a lack of a capable backup at the position if you want. That's fair, though that falls more on recruiting than coaching.

But do you think Johnson, the winningest quarterback in Utah history, would be in Starkville right now if Jordan Wynn and/or Travis Wilson never missed a snap?

This is not to say Johnson is merely a victim of circumstances. In big-time coaching you are either moving forward or you are failing, and Johnson going from Utah's offensive coordinator in 2012 at age 25, to co-offensive coordinator with Dennis Erickson at age 26, to only QBs coach under new coordinator Dave Christensen at age 27 sure seems like a career tumble. There is no doubt that head coach Kyle Whittingham earnestly wanted Johnson to be successful, both on a personal (he won a Sugar Bowl over Alabama with Johnson as his QB) and professional level.

But Whittingham is feeling a bit of heat in Salt Lake City, whether that is reasonable or not. As members of the Mountain West Conference, his Utes were a Top 25 team, potent on both sides of the ball. In the Pac-12, they have yet to post a winning conference record and their offense has ranked ninth, eighth and eighth in the conference in scoring over the past three seasons.

Whittingham's relentless tinkering with his offensive leadership -- six different play-callers in six years -- might seem impatient, counterproductive or even desperate, but it emerges from his desire to win. His detail-oriented mind sees things he doesn't like -- play calls, overall scheme, practice conduct, leadership style -- and he isn't afraid of making aggressive moves to change things.

What that also does is put the pressure entirely on him. The traffic in and out of the offensive meeting room has been too transient for there to be another scapegoat. Whittingham has been the constant.

Johnson's departure does un-complicate things, if just a bit. Christensen took over an offensive staff featuring three men who'd once sat in and were subsequently removed from his office. Now there's just two: Erickson and receivers coach Aaron Roderick.

There is no question who's in charge of the offense. No co-coordiantor titles to speculate about. Whittingham is all in with Christensen, an offensive line specialist who will call plays. Whittingham hopes Christensen can recreate the magic he had running a potent Missouri offense from 2001 to 2008.

Yet Christensen, even if he's the Garry Kasparov of Xs and Os, won't be successful without a good quarterback. Three years with Chase Daniel starting at Missouri cemented Christensen's reputation. If Travis Wilson's career is indeed over due to preexisting medical condition discovered late in the 2013 season, then the Utes prospects for 2014 are deeply uncertain.

Meanwhile, Johnson reunites with Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, who recruited and coached him as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator. Further, Johnson also will be familiar with Mississippi State's co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, who also were on Meyer's staff at Utah.

While being an offensive coach in the SEC West isn't the easiest job, particularly in Starkville, Johnson is getting a good opportunity to redirect the trajectory of his coaching career.

Utah moves on with Christensen, one voice speaking for the Utah offense.

And that voice is likely echoing inside his head as you read this, "Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback."

Mailbag: Pac-12 North vs. SEC West

October, 4, 2013
Any chance every game this weekend can be as interesting as UCLA-Utah?

Welcome to the mailbag. If your life needs just a tad more "oomph," follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's loaded with oomph, as well as many vitamins and minerals.

To the notes!

Daniel from Pullman, Wash., writes: Ted-Last Saturday morning I was listening to ESPN Radio and they were debating the match-ups of the Pac-12 North and the SEC West (on neutral fields). I believe their match-ups were Al vs. OR, LSU vs. Stanford, Tex AM vs WA, Ole Miss vs OSU, Auburn vs. WSU, and Miss St or Ark vs Cal. One voted these match-ups 4-2 in favor of the SEC, and the other scored it 3-3. (Note: I think both picked LSU over Stanford.) How would you see these match-ups playing out?

Ted Miller: The first challenge is matching the seven-team SEC West versus the six-team Pac-12 North. To make things easy, goodbye Arkansas.

Further, we don't really know how each division ultimately will stack up. Our speculation is only slightly educated here, as any would be not even halfway through season.

So start with Oregon-Alabama. This is a potential national title game. There are two ways to look at it. Is this a regular season game with just one week to prepare? I'd give a slight edge to Oregon with that. If it was a national title game, with three weeks to prepare, I'd give the Crimson Tide an edge. For this exercise, we'll go with the Ducks.

I'd pick Stanford over LSU. Just like I'd pick Stanford over Georgia, which just beat LSU. Suspect that Stanford would consistently outflank the Tigers with sophisticated schemes. A few years ago, LSU's team speed would have been an issue. No longer.

I'd take Texas A&M over Washington in a barnburner. I'd take a healthy Oregon State -- as in the Beavers after their off week -- over Ole Miss. The Rebels wouldn't be able to handle Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.

Auburn beat Washington State 31-24 on its home field, but the Cougars outgained the Tigers 464 to 394. In a neutral field rematch, I'd go with the Cougs.

Cal would be able to outscore Mississippi State, though I'd feel better with that one if the Bears didn't have so many injuries on defense.

So there you go: 5-1 Pac-12 North.

End of discussion! Right?

Andrew from Phoenix writes: Ted,Why all the volatility in Arizona State's perception? The last 3 weeks the media and PAC fans have gone from "they're ready for the national stage" to "looks like they're not that good" back to "this team can do some damage." The consensus outside of the biggest ASU homers and UA trolls was ASU would be about 8-4, just in or just out of the Top 25, and needing an upset @UCLA to win the South. I have seen nothing on the field this season that should change that. Bottom line is they demolished a poor team, handily beat (with some blemishes) a mediocre team, played a toe-to-toe in a toss up with a good team, and got their mistakes shredded by an elite team. Why so much drama?

Ted Miller: It's Kevin. He's the man behind the curtain pulling all these levers that make people crazed with drama.

I don't feel like much has changed about the perception of Arizona State, at least among those who esteemed the Sun Devils in the preseason. This is a good team, probably a top-25 team, one that is moving up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order but is not yet on the Oregon/Stanford level. And, yes, it looks like the best challenger for UCLA in the South Division, particularly after USC imploded.

But there is a logical reason for the volatility: The Sun Devils' schedule. How many teams have played three tough, AQ-conference opponents in their first four games? And with such a variety of results.

Wisconsin, 32-30 win: Controversial ending yes, but the game showed the Sun Devils are top-25 caliber.

Stanford, 42-28 loss: The Sun Devils might be a top-25 team, but they've got a ways to go to move toward the top-10.

USC, 62-41 win: An impressive offensive showing against a previously outstanding defense. More positive evidence that the program is taking steps forward under Todd Graham.

Guess what? There will be more drama on Saturday. A win over Notre Dame will provide another uptick. And a loss will add some skepticism, as well as a second fall from the national polls.

Kevin from Reno, Nevada writes: Why is Ohio State ranked ahead of Stanford? After watching ASU play Wisconsin and then Stanford, it was clear that Stanford is on an entirely different level of physicality and talent than Wisconsin. That same Wisconsin team almost beat Ohio State on the road. Also, Cal was completely over-matched against Oregon, but competed almost respectably against Ohio State. Stanford may be better than Oregon this year.

Ted Miller: At least we'll get an answer with Oregon-Stanford on Nov. 7.

But I hear you. Obviously your Pac-12 bloggers agree with you. I'd comfortably pick Stanford over Ohio State, and I suspect a lot of folks would, too. While it's dangerous to use the transitive property in college football, your point about Wisconsin is at least partially valid.

I suspect the reason most folks who are voting Ohio State ahead of Stanford are doing so is because they did so in the preseason, and the Buckeyes have yet to lose.

Andrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: Now that Lane Kiffin is out the door, we've started to hear all the names of potential candidates: Kevin Sumlin (my personal favorite), Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Steve Sarkisian, Chris Petersen, etc. One name that I haven't really seen included in any of these hypothetical lists is Alabama DC Kirby Smart. Do you think he will be considered by Pat Haden and the USC braintrust? He seems to be on track to eventually be a head coach, and his credentials are very impressive for a young coach. The two problems I see are that he 1) has resisted overtures in the past, possibly because he is in line to follow Saban at 'Bama and 2) is devoid of any head coaching experience. What do you think of Smart as a candidate for the Trojans?

Ted Miller: There certainly are worse choices.

The other knock, fair or unfair, on Smart is that Saban is the ultimate brains behind the Crimson Tide's defense. Still, working under Saban for an extended period of time should overcome that as a downside. He knows Saban's "Process," which is like learning about the stock market from Warren Buffett.

My impression is Smart is shortly going to get an opportunity in the ACC or SEC. He's a child of the South and probably wants to stay down there.

In fact, if you are looking for a darkhorse candidate for USC, what about Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier? He calls Alabama's plays, has time learning from Saban and knows the Pac-12, as he was Steve Sarkisian's offensive coordinator at Washington before heading to the SEC. He also has Big Ten and NFL experience.

While USC is surely going after a big-time name with head coaching experience, many, many great hires have been first-time head coaches, such as John McKay, Bob Stoops, Chris Petersen and Chip Kelly.

Saul from Los Angeles writes: I get it, you hate your former home up there in Seattle. Why you instantly think the Washington head coach job sucks is beyond me and Wilcox would rather go to USC to be an assistant coach when he could be a head coach. You are insufferable.

Ted Miller: Every week, there are angry notes in the mailbag that make me go, "Huh?" I get that when you write about college football, you will make folks mad. Just part of the job. But what always baffles me is when I get an interpretation of one of my positions that is untethered to any actual position I can ever recall taking.

Saul isn't the only one. It appears many Alabama fans believed this story on USC's coaching search implied Pat Haden might hire Nick Saban. That conclusion apparently was based on my typing, "What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?"

I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out what got Saul's feathers raised. Apparently it is this from my chat Thursday:
Ryan (Baja): Hypothetical: Sark goes to USC. Question: What happens to Justin Wilcox?

Ted Miller: THAT is a big question. I was, in fact, thinking about that today. I'd think Washington would give him a hard look. It's just a matter of time before he's a head coach. It might, in fact, be a matter of just a couple of months. He'll have options, including one to follow Sark to LA and get a big raise.

To be clear: I think Washington would seriously consider Wilcox if Sarkisian left for USC and I'm SURE Wilcox would take the job.

If there is an implication my chat comment that Wilcox would rather be offensive coordinator at USC than head coach at Washington, then I humbly apologize. He would not. What I wanted to suggest is that if Wilcox was offered a head coaching job for a non-AQ program, he still might opt to follow Sarkisian to USC and wait for an AQ job. Such as, you know, a place like Washington.

The big hypothetical here is Sarkisian going to USC. It's possible, by the way, that Sark would say no to USC again, just as he did when it went after him before hiring Lane Kiffin.

And, if it needs to be clarified, there is not a person who has ever talked to me about Seattle who doesn't know how much I love that town.

UCLA a 'schedule loser?'

July, 15, 2013
One of the big problems in college football is it's often not how good you really are but how good your competition is. The degree of scheduling difficulty across the sport is hardly uniform. Not even nearly so.

At the end of nearly every season, it's fair to raise a skeptical eye over the notion that more than a few 10-2 teams are better than some that are 11-1 or 12-0. From another perspective, many 5-7 teams are better than more than a few 8-4 ones.

This has long been an issue that frustrates Pac-12 folks. Playing a nine-game conference schedule -- which means half the conference teams will get an extra defeat -- as well as a challenging nonconference slate, means the Pac-12 has it tougher than other conferences.

Some will argue this point below, as always. They will be wrong. So just tell them so and move on. Right is right and blather is blather.

Phil Steele has taken a look at the college football schedules and he sees some winners -- Louisville! -- and losers.

One of whom is UCLA.

He writes:
In nonconference action, they must travel to Nebraska, which is my pick to win the Big Ten Legends. In conference play, the Bruins have arguably the toughest back-to-back road trip of any team in the country this year. They play Stanford on Oct. 19 followed by Oregon on Oct. 26 and must also play at USC this year. Overall, the Bruins have top-25 talent, but will find it hard matching last year's nine wins.

Steele has a point. The Bruins' schedule is not only difficult, its conference slate is decidedly more difficult than the schedules of its top two South Division foes, Arizona State and USC.

While the Sun Devils have tough nonconference matchups -- Wisconsin and Notre Dame -- they don't play Oregon. Neither does USC. Advantage Sun Devils and Trojans.

Further, USC also misses Washington, while the Bruins miss Oregon State and Washington State. From today's vantage, the Trojans get the more favorable end of the Northwest pairs.

Just imagine how annoying it might be to UCLA fans if they beat USC head-to-head but the Trojans win the South because they were a single game ahead in the standings.

But Steele also includes an interesting -- and probably controversial -- point on how he does his preseason rankings. He writes, "Many analysts have UCLA in their preseason top 25, but I do not because of their tough schedule."

In other words, Steele ranks teams on how he thinks they will finish the season, not how good he actually thinks they are. Or at least that's a strong part of his thinking.

We're not criticizing Steele, for we know how often the Pac-12 blog confuses you folks with our top-25 lists, power rankings and various predictions. They often don't seem consistent.

This week, I will send my predictions to the Pac-12 office for the Pac-12's North and South Divisions. Schedule will figure strongly into how I rank conference teams. I previously sent my preseason top 25 to my bosses in Bristol. Schedule didn't figure into that at all -- other than me penalizing teams with notably weak nonconference schedules as a matter of principle.

When I do my final Pac-12 preseason power rankings, they might not perfectly align with my top-25 vote.

That's because I see each as a different sort of measuring stick, just as Steele puts together his rankings with different criteria than I -- or you -- might use.

By the way, let's tip our cap to longtime Pac-12 blog favorite Mississippi State, a notoriously soft nonconference scheduler. The Bulldogs have added Oklahoma State, a likely top-25 team, to their slate this fall. Good for them. They are now off my scheduling naughty list.

Consistency separates Oregon from Pac-12

October, 30, 2012
Alabama was up 38-7 over Mississippi State, but coach Nick Saban -- veins bulging, spittle flying and words pummeling -- was giving a backup player his own personal Crimson Tide.

I had three thoughts: 1. That is beautiful; 2. Chip Kelly would approve; 3. The Pac-12 needs more of that.

Saban never stops expecting his players to produce the best football they possibly can. It's about treating every moment as valuable. As boring as it sounds, it's about consistency.

Consistency is what Saban is all about. Same with Kelly. You could also add Kansas State coach Bill Snyder in there, too.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Scott Olmos/US PresswireDuring his run at Oregon, coach Chip Kelly has dodged major upsets.
And that is what, at present, separates Oregon from all the other teams in the Pac-12, as it does Alabama in the SEC.

Saban was blowing a gasket not long after USC had imploded at Arizona, losing 39-36 to a less talented team. How many Arizona players would you pick before his USC counterpart if you were about to play a pickup game? Not many. At least not many before the season began.

But one of Kelly's many, oft-repeated phrases is that the team with the best players doesn't always win. It helps, sure. A lot. But Kelly counters with the three things he, his team and his coaches can control: Attitude, effort and preparation.

You've heard all of the Chipisms: "We have a standard vision of how we should play," "Fast, Hard, Finish," "Win The Day," "Faceless opponent," "Every week is a Super Bowl," etc.

He sometimes uses them opportunistically to stiff arm a question. Now he even anticipates some of the media smirks his redundant answers sometimes inspire.

"You can shrug your shoulders but, I'll tell you what, our formula for success has worked every single time," Kelly said after the Ducks bombed Washington 52-21. "Every single game is the most important game we play."

One of the tweaks against the Ducks under Kelly before the Rose Bowl win last January over Wisconsin was they hadn't won the big game. They'd lost the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. They'd lost the national title game after the 2010 season. They'd lost to LSU to open the 2011 season.

Fine. But what you don't see is this: A face plant. A major upset. You don't see Oregon going down to a clearly less talented team, just as USC did at Arizona.

Kelly is 42-6 overall and 30-2 in Pac-12 play. In 2011, he lost to LSU, which finished 13-1 and ranked No. 2, and USC, which finished 10-2 and ranked No. 6. In 2010, he lost to Auburn, which finished 14-0 and ranked No. 1. In 2009, he lost to Boise State, which finished 14-0 and ranked No. 4, and Ohio State, which finished 11-2 and ranked No. 5. He also lost to 8-5 Stanford, his only loss to a team that didn't finish ranked.

Major upsets are a part of college football. But Kelly has practically eliminated them for his team. How many other Pac-12 teams even approach that?

Think of your team. How many times over the past four seasons has it lost to a team it should have beaten?

California has become an NFL pipeline under coach Jeff Tedford, but that now is one of the reasons he's on the hotseat. Why the mediocrity with so many NFL-quality players?

Arizona State lost its final four regular-season games last year. It was more talented than every one of those teams. Other than, perhaps, California.

How often has Utah ranked ahead of UCLA in the recruiting rankings? Never? Well, guess who beat UCLA 31-6 in 2011. A year later under demanding new coach Jim Mora, the Bruins beat the Utes 21-14.

As great as Pete Carroll was at USC, it's notable that most of his losses were major upsets. From 2003 to 2008, Carroll lost six Pac-12 games. None of those teams had fewer than four losses. None ended up ranked in the top 15. Only three ended up ranked at all. Three lost six or more games.

A story I heard from a USC insider: When the Trojans bus pulled up to Reser Stadium at Oregon State in 2008, just about everyone was asleep. That's not how you win the day.

Carroll's USC teams were almost unbeatable in big games, particularly against marquee nonconference foes. But it's clear that they didn't own the vision that every week is a Super Bowl against a nameless, faceless opponent.

Alabama and Oregon share a negative this season: They have yet to play an A-list foe. Both will this weekend, with the Crimson Tide visiting LSU and the Ducks going to USC. But the reason pollsters -- the evaluators with eyeballs -- rank them Nos. 1 & 2 is the way they take care of business: Consistent and efficient domination.

How do you get a team to do that? You take offense at any moment that falls short of a vision of the best possible football.

If a Pac-12 team intends to eclipse Oregon in the near future, it needs to suffuse its program with that same vision.

Mailbag: No wimpy scheduling

April, 27, 2012
Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Mitchell from Boston writes: The first round of the NFL draft should answer you pac fans about which conference is the best. But here's my question. What do you mean with this "Wimpy scheduling needs to be addressed, including finding ways to circumvent misleading measures of "strength of schedule." There is nothing "wimpy" about playing in the SEC. It's big-boy football. The SEC doesn't need to play a tough schedule because it already plays an SEC schedule.

Ted Miller: Glad to explain, Mitchell, because it's important to understand what I am saying and what I am not saying.

The SEC is the nation's best football conference. Six consecutive national titles leave little doubt, particularly with five different teams claiming at least one in the BCS era. And the draft numbers for Thursday were impressive. There is a gap between the SEC and every other conference, and my belief is that gap has widened over the past 10 years -- from being mostly perception to become (self-fulfilling?) reality.

So what am I saying about scheduling? Well, dagnabit, I'm going to pick on Mississippi State again. Apologies in advance, lovely Starkville.

Last year, the Bulldogs' nonconference schedule featured Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tennessee-Martin. This is hard to believe, but the 2012 slate is even more embarrassing: Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee.

Our new system for determining a four-team playoff needs to make it nearly impossible to play for the national title with a nonconference record like that, even if lightning struck and the Bulldogs went undefeated. There needs to be an evaluative component that specifically analyzes nonconference competition separate from conference competition, one that gives a team points for aggressively scheduling and deducts points for hiding like a quaking kitten from a challenge.

Further, the new system needs to find a way to spread this deduction throughout a conference. Why? Because Mississippi State starts the 2012 season 4-0. You can't say that about any Pac-12 team. Or Big 12 team, for that matter, because the Big 12 also plays a nine-game conference schedule.

Look at it this way. The worst record imaginable for the Bulldogs in 2012 is 4-8. There is only one sure-thing on Oregon State's schedule -- Nicholls State (I won't mention the Sacramento State debacle in 2011). The Beavers play Wisconsin and at BYU in their other two nonconference games. The Beavers conceivably could end up 1-11 and still be significantly better than Mississippi State. But that wouldn't show up in a typical strength of schedule measure.

Then there is that nine- vs. eight-game conference schedule issue. That almost automatically decreases the strength of schedule ranking for the Pac-12 because it guarantees six more losses annually in the conference. Further, there's this: Guess which three teams Georgia didn't play in the 2011 regular season? Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.

When you have three conference misses a year, it can skew things more than if you have two.

While we can certainly acknowledge the SEC has taken the lead in college football, the SEC can't expect a "just because" perception to be superimposed on the future. It can't be allowed to insist that just because it plays an SEC schedule that it doesn't have to play quality nonconference games -- and on the road, too.

Now let's give credit where credit is due. LSU posted perhaps the most impressive regular season in college football history last year, in large part due to nonconference wins over Oregon and West Virginia, which both ended up winning BCS bowl games. And Alabama deserves credit for playing Virginia Tech and Penn State in recent years and opening against Michigan in 2012. So, Alabama and LSU fans can take a bow and know we're not writing about you. Not directly.

There is no way to completely remove a substantial subjective element from determining a four-team playoff in college football. But if we're going to create a four-team playoff with mega-millions as the reward for earning a berth -- and a major revenue downer for not -- then we need to insist that our process of evaluation requires in advance certain standards for every conference.

Bob from Raleigh, N.C., writes: If the Pac decides to join the rest of CFB and go to 8 conference games, will they still have the provision of the Bay Schools playing SoCal schools every year? I realize sometimes to get a deal, some schools have to be bought (see Staples Center in basketball), but to be more equatable, they would have to break that up, right?

Ted Miller: If we do, indeed, end up with a four-team playoff in 2014, then the Pac-12 needs to end the nine-game conference schedule if the Big Ten and SEC are still playing an eight-game schedule. To not do so would simply be negligent. Too much money will be at stake to give those other conference an annual head start in the rankings.

And, if the Pac-12 goes to eight conference games, it almost certainly would end the guaranteed annual meetings between the Bay Area vs. Southern California schools.

Some fans would huff and puff, but the longterm benefit to the conference as a whole is too valuable. And, by the way, neither Bay Area coach would frown at such a change.

Miller from Aloha, Ore., writes: I do wonder what the rest of the country thinks/feels about Larry Scott. I'm obviously a huge fan due to what he has done for the Pac-12, but I think that many in the country might not like him because he has been too successful too quickly. And is there a chance this might make the other 11 Conference Commissioners (and the Domer representative) ignore his input due to jealousy, etc?

Ted Miller: Larry Scott is a likable guy. He's gracious and accessible. And he's the least imperious of the major conference commissioners, at least since Dan Beebe was forced out of the Big 12.

If anyone dislikes Scott, it's because he's smart and effective and ambitious. And, yes, I get the feeling that some commissioners don't count themselves as fans because of that. This a competitive business, and Scott has been winning too much for some folks liking. It's easier to like a competitor who is easy pickings.

But there also are no stupid men in the room. "Like" isn't as important as "respect," in any event. They all know that Scott, perhaps more than any other commissioner, knows how to grow revenue in our present age of advancing technology. Within a few months of his hiring, his consistent theme was how undervalued not only the then-Pac-10 was but also how undervalued college football was. His vision is big-picture. And it's clear he sees more of the field than many of the folks yammering in Florida this week.

So, no, they won't ignore Scott. He knows where the money is hiding.

Tim from Winston-Salem, N.C., writes: So far through the spring practices, Washington's defense seems to consistently be getting the better of the offense, with the secondary earning seemingly endless praise from the coaching staff. While I understand that the O-line is in shambles right now, do you think that the defense really is making big strides under Wilcox, or is it just the offense getting use to new looks from the D?

Ted Miller: First, I think Justin Wilcox is pretty much a sure-thing. He will make the Huskies defense better because he's never failed as a defensive coordinator. The biggest concern for Husky fans should be how long before he leaves to become a head coach.

That said: Spring practices won't reveal much of anything about the Huskies defense, particularly with them working against a patchwork offensive line. It muddies things further that the the Huskies are replacing their top skill guys, too.

But there are things you can notice. You bring up the secondary. How many times over the past three years did you go: How did he get so open? Where the heck is the safety? If you watched the Huskies scrimmage this spring, and you saw few if any clearly broken coverages, that suggests that guys understand where they are supposed to be. Being in the right place, properly in position to complete an assignment, is step two for a defense. It's one-third the battle. It's the difference between being sound and unsound, and the Huskies were too often unsound under Nick Holt.

What's the first step? Well, that's something else you can get a feel for after watching a few practices. The first step is playing hard every play. If you watch enough football -- and enough different teams -- you can start to see a difference in how teams play and practice. Is everybody running to the ball? Is there constant chatter and enthusiasm? Are pads popping all over the field? Way back when Chip Kelly used to let reporters watch practice, you could see that Oregon practiced hard. That might be a part of their recent success.

The third step? Being good enough to make the play when you're doing your best and know your assignment. That could be the area where Wilcox is most challenged this year. The Huskies still aren't where they need to be in terms of talent and depth on all three levels.

Ryan from Salt Lake City writes: So what is one supposed to do to pass the time until fall camp? Other than read the PAC 12 blog religiously.

Ted Miller: Well, you certainly hit the chief pass time. The Pac-12 blog NEVER GOES AWAY... even if college football does for a few months.

Other choices?

Read a book. Talk to your wife or kids. Perhaps both.

Watch the all five seasons of "The Wire." Go to the beach. Fix up your back yard. Fix up my backyard. Read -- or re-read -- two literary classics. Learn to cook a heavenly spaghetti carbonara. Train for a triathlon. Develop your own cocktail. Actually become informed on political issues instead of only blathering boilerplate ideological rants. Decide to definitively find out which restaurant makes the best hamburger within 20 miles of your home. Watch baseball. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Expand your musical horizons.


Any other suggestions?

SEC to play nine? Heck, no!

February, 6, 2012
Life just got easier for the SEC. As if the SEC needed things to be easier.

When the ACC expands to 14 teams, it will play a nine-game conference schedule. Just like the Pac-12. Just like the Big 12.

The Big Ten approved a nine-game conference schedule, beginning in 2017, but then the Pac-12 partnership was announced. That automatic addition of a challenging game has convinced the Big Ten folks to stick with an eight-game conference schedule.

And the SEC? It will continue to play eight conference games. Even with 14 teams. And that will help it continue to dominate the BCS standings.

Why is this important? A nine-game schedule means a conference forces itself to appear weaker in the BCS standings. A 12-team league automatically adds six defeats to its ledger. No matter what. The ACC, with 14 teams, will add seven. Again, no matter what.

An eight-game conference schedule allows a team to become Mississippi State. (We apologize to Bulldogs fans for constantly bringing this up, but we wouldn't bring it up if it weren't 100 percent true).

Mississippi State played in a bowl game last year despite going 2-6 in SEC play. No Pac-12 team played in a bowl game with fewer than four conference wins.

The Bulldogs best win last year? Probably an overtime win at home over Louisiana Tech, a game that Tech controlled but lost because of three turnovers.

When Mississippi State -- or many SEC teams -- makes its schedule, its singular goal is to guarantee four wins just about every year. That's what happens when you play teams like Memphis, UAB and Tennessee-Martin on an annual basis.

This wasn't always the case for Mississippi State. Just a few years back, it played home-and-home series with Georgia Tech and West Virginia. Solid teams. But after getting poleaxed in all four games by a combined count of 160-65, it decided it was better to get picked on by the Pac-12 blog than try to man-up against quality nonconference competition.

Oh, as a footnote, Mississippi State is already 4-0 in 2012: Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee State. No, I did not make that nonconference schedule up.

Meanwhile, in addition to Pac-12 teams playing a nine-game conference schedule, every conference team in 2012 -- other than Oregon and Colorado -- plays at least one A-list nonconference foes. Many on the road. (Yes, Ducks fans, I know Kansas State canceled a home-and-home series).

What this means is Pac-12 teams expose themselves more often to a risk of losing. That means more 4-8 and 5-7 teams and therefore fewer bowl teams. That means more opportunities for a team to fall out of the national title hunt with a single loss. Or a second BCS bowl berth with a second. That means when the computers measure the conference for the BCS standings, they see not only more defeats but those defeats cause the conference to get docked for strength of schedule.

Yes, the SEC as a whole benefits from Mississippi State -- and other low-rung SEC programs -- avoiding challenging nonconference games.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, fresh off a contract extension, understands this. So do most of the Pac-12 coaches. They need to figure out a way to get the Pac-12 presidents and athletic directors on board.

Unless, of course, the SEC comes around -- which some believe is inevitable -- and all the AQ conferences all agree to play the same scheduling format.

The nine-game conference schedule made some sense for a 10-team league because it crowned a true champion as every team played every one else. And, yes, more AQ conferences will play a nine-game slate in 2012 than did in 2010.

But the conference that has won six consecutive national championships won't. That might not be a coincidence.

Stoops: The day after

October, 11, 2011
The ideal scenario for Arizona after firing Mike Stoops on Monday is finding a coach who's a perfect fit -- bright, charming, good recruiter -- and leads the program to its first Rose Bowl and then decides to stick around instead of climbing up the coaching ladder.

Won't be easy. The program hasn't done it before.

But AD Greg Byrne is smart and well-connected. His last football hire was Dan Mullen at Mississippi State in 2008, which worked out well (though not as well this season as some expected). And Byrne did a nice job sweet-talking hoops coach Sean Miller when it seemed certain he was headed to Maryland.

And, on the other side of things, Stoops ideally will regroup, reflect and get another shot at leading a program, having learned hard, valuable lessons with the Wildcats.

Feel free to root for a happy ending for both parties.

Here's some reaction from a variety of sources.

Mike Stoops is out: Why and what's next?

October, 10, 2011
Mike StoopsJim Z. Rider/US PresswireMike Stoops was fired after Arizona lost to winless Oregon State -- the Wildcats' fifth loss in a row.
In the Hemingway novel, "The Sun Also Rises," a character is asked how he went bankrupt. He replies, "Two ways ... gradually and then suddenly."

And so we have the firing of Arizona coach Mike Stoops midway through his eighth season Monday.

On Oct. 30 of last year, Arizona won at UCLA and improved to 7-1 overall. The Wildcats, then ranked 13th in the AP poll, were headed to Stanford for a marquee showdown. The program's first-ever Rose Bowl was in play. Stoops was coming off consecutive eight-win seasons. He appeared to be on the cusp of becoming a hot coaching prospect.

But the Wildcats were slammed 42-17. It would be the first of 10 consecutive losses to FBS teams. As the losses piled up, "hot" became the way to describe Stoops' seat instead of his prospects.

Stoops, 49, inherited a program in the absolute dregs in 2004. The Wildcats hadn't posted a winning season since 1998. After a slow start, he led Arizona to three consecutive bowl games.

But the wheels came off badly this season. After opening with a victory over Northern Arizona, the Wildcats were blown out in four consecutive games. The schedule was brutal. The losing streak included two losses each to Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma State and USC. But it also included one to archrival Arizona State to end the 2010 regular season. Then on Saturday, the Wildcats lost to then 0-4 Oregon State.

When the Wildcats lost to the beleaguered Beavers, the universal reaction was Stoops was in trouble. But few figured it would end so quickly.

Stoops was told Monday afternoon by athletic director Greg Byrne of the decision to fire him. Defensive coordinator Tim Kish will serve as interim coach.

“It just ended," Stoops said. "That’s his decision as the leader of the program. It is what it is.”

Byrne and school president Eugene Sander told reporters at a news conference announcing the decision that the speculation on Stoops' future was becoming a distraction.

Stoops will get a $1.4 million buyout. When I talked to him Monday, he was more gracious than grim. It's possible that the losing and frustration were wearing him down as much as they were fans and administrators.

Stoops, who leaves Tucson with a 41-50 overall record and a 27-38 mark in conference games, was heavily criticized for his animated sideline persona. He was not a guy who tried to hide his frustrations -- at officials, players or other coaches -- during games. When he won, it was tolerated, even amusing. When he lost, it was seen as a significant negative.

And little went right this year, starting in spring practices, when injuries to several key starters -- most notably safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer -- started a downward spiral.

Two other issues hounded Stoops: (1) He had the best quarterback in program history in Nick Foles (the Wildcats haven't had a quarterback who even approximates Foles); (2) the defense, Stoops' bailiwick, is terrible.

Don't cry too hard for Stoops, though. He'll land on his feet. He's respected and well-connected as a coach -- his brother is Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and he's good friends with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. He'll get job offers, most likely in the short term as a defensive coordinator. And he's probably learned plenty of lessons during his first tour as a head coach that might help him get a second chance.

So what next for Arizona?

The first question: How much is Arizona willing to pay? Stoops' $1.4 million annual salary sounds great for most of us, but is fairly middling among marquee coaches. And beyond Stoops' replacement, you have to pay a coaching staff. Salaries for assistant coaches have gone way up, well beyond what Stoops' staff was paid.

Top name you will hear: Boise State's Chris Petersen. Three words: Huge long shot.

Second name: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. Three words: Huge long shot.

Just because Byrne knows Petersen and Mullen doesn't mean either is eager to bolt to an uncertain situation.

Other names: Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and former All-American Ricky Hunley.

All three of those guys would raise enthusiastic eyebrows. Each has plenty to offer.

The Wildcats are off until playing host to UCLA on Oct. 20, a Thursday night game. It will be interesting to see how the players react. Part of the reasoning to dump Stoops now was to make it easier for players to focus.

If the Wildcats were to end their losing streak, that reasoning would make sense.

And, of course, Arizona fans can always start thinking about basketball season.

Mailbag: Revisiting Oregon-LSU

September, 23, 2011
Happy Friday.

Nine out of 10 dentists recommend my Twitter feed for whiter teeth and fresher breath.

And here's that 10th dentist.

To the notes!

Greg from Hillsboro, Ore., writes: 4 turnovers. 12 penalties. That had a HUGE stake in how the Oregon-LSU game turned out. Now consider: Oregon's **offense** put up 27 pts on that LSU defense. I think we will find over the course of the season that LSU has the best defense in the country.I'd wager THAT offensive output vs LSU's defense will cause the national media pundit know-it-alls to see that game in a new light.

Rotfogel from Oakland writes: I'm not sold on the Oregon Ducks as being belonging in the same sentence with Stanford...not this year. I believe we'll be seeing them lose at least 3 more times this year. The talent level just is not there and we can't assume they'll just magically play like they did last year, not sans talent. Cal should be the #2 team in the North this year...the reason?...NO MORE KEVIN RILEY!!!!

Hilston from Slidell, La., writes: The Tigers exposed your duckies. how'd that crow taste?

Ted Miller: Hilston, I picked LSU to win. But I've been wrong so many times that I can tell you crow tastes a bit like chicken and isn't so bad with some hot sauce and a cold drink.

But all this opining on the Ducks -- their worthy or unworthiness -- got me to recalling my reaction to the LSU-Mississippi State game. To put it simply, that was a brutal butt-kicking, even if the Bulldogs' scheme is way, way smarter that poor ole Chip Kelly's.

Oregon's offensive line lost the battle to LSU's defensive front. No question. But the Bulldogs' offensive line didn't look like it belonged on the same field with LSU. I sort of felt sorry for those guys. And if I were an Oregon fan watching the Bulldogs, ranked 20th in the preseason, getting completely bullied -- at home no less -- I certainly would have felt better. That sort of play-by-play dominance by the Tigers was nothing like the LSU-Oregon game.

So much goes into a football game and how it turns out. Ask Washington and Nebraska fans about the intangibles of their teams' three-game series, and the recollections will be so skewed you'd wonder how they could have watched the same three games.

So we have LSU-Oregon. The interpretation of this game has spiraled from "LSU decisively won" to "LSU manhandled." The latter is simply wrong. LSU won the battle on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but it certainly wasn't "men against boys," as it was with Mississippi State.

But don't just believe my words. Consider the numbers.
  • Oregon outgained LSU 335 yards to 273.
  • And that wasn't all about the "make it respectable" drives in the fourth quarter. Oregon also had more yards at halftime: 167 to 100. Both teams had 46 rushing yards at the break.
  • LSU outrushed Oregon 175-95. The Tigers averaged 3.6 yards per rush. The Ducks averaged 3.4.
  • The Ducks had three scoring drives of over 60 yards, including a 19-play, 79-yarder. LSU had one.
  • The Ducks were 9 of 19 on third down. LSU was 6 of 15.
  • LSU had zero sacks. Oregon had one.
  • LSU had six tackles for a loss. Oregon had five.
  • Oregon had 12 penalties for 95 yards. LSU had five for 47.
  • Oregon had four turnovers, including a fumbled punt that was returned for a short TD. LSU had one turnover.

And if LSU fans think I'm trying to reduce the Tigers impressive 40-27 win, please, I've been ranking you No. 1 since then.

My larger point: LSU is better than Oregon, but Oregon is still good. I'd wager top-10 good, maybe even top-five. The only SEC teams I wouldn't pick the Ducks to beat would be LSU and Alabama. And, Rotfogel, if Oregon loses three more games this year, I'd be completely shocked.

DC Dawg from Washington D.C. writes: seriously dude, you gotta get back in touch with your purple and gold side! Cal may actually put up 28 this weekend (though I doubt it), but the Dawgs are gonna put up at least 40. They put up nearly that many on Nebraska, and the Cal defense AIN'T Nebraska. Watch for Polk to get 150 on the ground, and Price to spread the ball all over the yard. I see 3 TDs thru the air and 2 on the ground. Add a couple of Nick Folk FGs and it's good night, not-so-Golden Bears!

Ted Miller: My purple and gold side? You mean this?

Your optimism and enthusiasm is certainly a good thing. So I feel bad sounding like a party pooper.

Cal's defense is better than Nebraska's. Washington scored 30 and 40 points at home against Eastern Washington and Hawaii. I'd be shocked if they hang 40 on the Bears, or if Polk rushes for 150 yards.

But maybe I'll be wrong and get a delicious plate of crow.

Matt from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: How do you figure Osweiler is on the spot against USC? That offensive line had no answer for Illinois' blitzing. Sure, Oz held the ball too long on occasion, but that happens when your offensive line commits 5 penalties and gets zero push putting you on constant 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations. And shame on Erickson for throwing Oz under the bus at his press conference. He's obviously protecting more fragile egos among his (otherwise veteran) offensive line.

Ted Miller: I don't necessarily see my my "On the spot" videos -- an important part of everyone's Wednesday, I'm sure -- as being negative, though they sometimes could be interpreted that way, such as with Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who's made his fanbase restless.

So why did I put Osweiler "on the spot"? Osweiler has become the unquestioned leader of the the Sun Devils. He was the biggest single reason they beat Missouri, and he made a number of key mistakes that cost them at Illinois.

In other words, in two competitive games, it's fair to say the Sun Devils have gone as Osweiler has gone.

That means, with USC coming to town owning an 11-game winning streak against ASU, the Sun Devils will be looking for Osweiler to be more like he was against Missouri and less like he was against Illinois. And, considering I picked the Sun Devils to win, I must think he's going to flourish "on the spot."

Roger from The Woodlands, Texas writes: AFTER A YEAR TO THINK ABOUT IT: LEAVING IT AT 12 IS THE RIGHT MOVE Ted,The move to 16 would have been a mistake. Look at the troubles 16 members caused for the old WAC in the mid-1990s. Delusion of quality (on several fronts) was the reasoning for the group that formed the Mountain West. Plus UTexas is toxic. Their self-centeredness ruined the SWC and now the Big 12. We don't need UTexas' baggage or are obligated to solve the Big 12's problems. In many ways you're defined by the company you keep.Besides I don't see the Big 10 ever adding 4 teams without significantly lowering of their standards.Let the Big 10 and Pac 12 make a pact to stay at 12 members, keep the Rose Bowl alliance and let the others continue to trip over themselves trying to catch-up (just like when they created the BCS to compete against a stand-alone Rose Bowl which is still the most compelling naturally created bowl story when it doesn't involve TX schools). THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE SAID ABOUT TRADITION!!!

Ted Miller: Many folks share your thinking. The big question with Texas is -- and will continue to be -- whether it's willing to become an equal part of a strong unified whole, or if will continue to insist on special status. Even if Texas agreed to play by Pac-12 rules today, would it feel the same in, say, five years?

Texas continues to role the dice on its self-regard. We'll see if that works out for it.

As the Pac-12 stands today, it still feels like the Pac-10 to me, in that Utah and Colorado feel like good fits. (Do you guys agree or disagree?). I feel like the expansion that has happened has enhanced the conference, not changed its culture or distinctness

A Pac-16 would make the conference richer, but it would certainly change things. I think it could have worked and worked well, but only if it was formed as a 16-part unified whole, with no special status for any program.

Scott from Phoenix writes: I know that this may sound harsh or cold, but what about the idea of the PAC 12 adding OK and OK State and dropping Ore State and Wash State? Both of those universities are in all honesty more set up for a WAC level conference. This way, you could increase the competition of the league and TV revenues....yet not have to deal with Texas. It should also be noted that I am an alum from Oregon State.....even though it might hurt to be dropped, I am realistic about their value.

Ted Miller: Again, the Pac-12 is not going to drop Oregon State and Washington State. Or anyone else.

You do realize that Oregon State won the Fiesta Bowl in 2001 and owns one of the nation's best baseball and gymnastics programs. The Beavers aren't lightweights.

And Washington State has played in two Rose Bowls since 1997. How many conference programs not named USC can claim that?

Chris from Tucson writes: would you say that this is the year that Chris Peterson of Boise St. finally gets plucked by a PAC-12 school? Schools like UCLA and Arizona should try and capitalize on the changing landscape in football by getting a coach like Peterson. Arizona or UCLA can guarantee Peterson a spot in football's richest conference and in turn they get a coach who's beaten Oregon and Oklahoma.

Ted Miller: While UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is on a very hot seat, I don't think Arizona coach Mike Stoops is.

As for Petersen, he's a top-five coach. If UCLA opts to make a change, it should open its bank vaults for him. That would likely mean a $3 or $4 million salary. So we're talking perhaps three times the $1.25 million Neuheisel makes. And Petersen should be guaranteed around $2.5 milion to pay his new staff. Further, he should ask for guarantees on major facilities upgrades.

That is actually not a lot of money in today's FBS culture, particularly when you factor in the cost of living in LA.

Will UCLA make that commitment? My guess is no.

Further, my impression of Petersen is he's not wholly motivated by money. He really seems to love coaching Boise State. And he knows that if the changing college football landscape left Boise State in an untenable position, he'd be able to get his pick of jobs.

SEC should expand conference play

August, 4, 2011
The good news is a third automatic qualifying conference is going to a nine-game conference schedule, joining the Pac-12 and Big 12. The bad news is the Big Ten won't adopt the change until 2017.

Still, one of the controversial aspects of the Pac-10 and now the Pac-12 -- a nine-game conference schedule hurts a conference in the computer and human polls and makes for fewer bowl-eligible teams -- is becoming more the standard, not the exception.

The big question: Will the SEC follow suit?

Answer: Don't hold your breath. Not if the conference isn't forced to by the other automatic qualifying conferences making up the BCS, which should do exactly that in order to standardize scheduling. Otherwise, the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 are competing on a more challenging playing field than the SEC and ACC, which also plays eight conference games.

Why would the SEC resist a nine-game schedule? Lots of reasons.

For one, it doesn't need a ninth conference game, like Pac-12 athletic directors would have you believe they do. SEC fans are so dedicated to their teams, they will sell out their home stadiums even to see a directional school. So why would SEC teams potentially give up an easy home win for a potential road loss?

SEC athletic directors are well aware that when their teams go West, they more often than not get stomped -- just ask Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi State (tip of the cap to LSU for traveling and winning, by the way).

Some SEC folks will get all magnanimous and tell you that playing East Patsy State helps the Fighting Petunias financially. So its about noblesse oblige.


What it's really about is making life easier for the SEC. The top teams get an extra easy win, and the extra patsy means the bottom SEC teams can schedule four wins annually. That means the SEC bottom-feeders can schedule all the way to two games short of bowl eligibility.

Then, when eight or so teams are bowl eligible, pundits will be wowed by the depth of the SEC.

Further, the top-line SEC teams strength of schedule will be boosted by beating conference teams that schedule their way to a winning record or at least four wins.

Finally, eight conference games helps get teams preseason rankings, which is invaluable to the perception of a conference as well as the fortunes of its individual teams.

For example, take Mississippi State. Here's what they did last year. The Bulldogs have improved under Dan Mullen, but they would have been a middle-of-the-road team in the Pac-10 in 2010. They didn't beat any good teams, but they ended up 9-4 due to scheduling and finished ranked a wildly-inflated 15th.

And that earned them a No. 20 preseason ranking in the coaches poll, which the Bulldogs figure to maintain because they've scheduled four easy nonconference victories again: Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tennessee-Martin.

No offense Mississippi State, but we'd love to see you schedule a game out West. You might enjoy a trip away from Starkville.

While we tweak in jest -- we're all friends here, right? -- this is a substantive issue.

Starting in 2017, you will have three conferences playing by one set of rules. And two others playing by another. That isn't good for college football.

Senior Bowl: Cal's Jordan shines

January, 25, 2011
It appears that California defensive end Cameron Jordan is on his way to the first round of the NFL draft.

Jordan was one of the stars of the first day of Senior Bowl practices, earning "top performer" honors from's Steve Muench, who wrote:
No one was able to move Jordan today. Even Nate Solder, who dominated everyone, had a tough time with Jordan in run periods. Jordan did an excellent job of staying low coming out of his stance and jacked up Solder, effectively taking away his power base and gaining control in the battle. We wouldn't say he has violent hands, but he has a strong upper body and gets good hand placement so he can control guys. That's what you look for in a five-technique guy. He slid in to play DT, where he looked a little quicker, and he is certainly big and strong enough to play that position at the next level. We'd like to see him battle some of the top offensive linemen some more this week, but he's off to a strong start and is the top five-technique guy here and probably the best one in this class.

ESPN draft guru Todd McShay also called Jordan and Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan "the best defenders here."

As for the Jake Locker watch, here's the Day 1 report.
Washington's Jake Locker's day was a little bit like a microcosm of his career. He made some unbelievable throws, like one fade route in the back of the end zone. Perfect timing, perfect touch and dropped it right in. He nailed a couple skinny posts where he led the receiver and put it in the perfect spot for yards after catch. And maybe his best throw of the day was a sideline comeback route where he just drilled it with perfect timing. But he can't bottle it up and do it consistently. He had a handful throws that he made one time, but didn't do it the next time. It's that inconsistency that is frustrating. If it was just today and you saw something else on film, you could attribute the inconsistency to just being Day 1. But if this pattern continues, this isn't going be the week he needs it to be. Still, he did not have a bad day. In fact, he had the best day of the QBs here and there is no doubt who is the most naturally talented QB here.

More on Locker's first day here.

There was a battle between a big, bad SEC lineman and a little ole Pac-1o one.
Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod's tightness in hips and his lack of mobility was exposed by Arizona's Brooks Reed. Twice Reed beat Sherrod with quickness -- once to the outside and once using a double move. Reed has a quick get-off and uses his hands well.

This practice report is very high on Jordan and former Washington linebacker Mason Foster, calling Jordan "unblockable" and Foster a "riser," noting he may be the "best linebacker in this year's draft at dropping back into coverage."

Also, Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster.

Pac-10: Who needs to win their bowl game?

December, 23, 2010
Bowl games are rewards for successful seasons. At least that's the theory.

But what if you lose your bowl game? What does that say about that so-called successful season?

It's hard to call a bowl game a "must-win" because it's really not -- rarely does a bowl, for example, determine a coach's fate. But it seems reasonable to measure the four Pac-10 bowl games in terms of "need to win."

This is the fourth and final entry in our series rating how much each of the conference bowl teams needs to win its bowl game. You can review the first entry here, the second one here and No. 3 here.

Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Auburn Tigers (13-0) versus Oregon Ducks (12-0)

The set up: Two unbeaten teams. The SEC versus the Pac-10. The SEC going for a fifth consecutive national title. Oregon trying to win its first ever and establish itself as the preeminent power on the West Coast. Two Heisman Trophy finalist, with the winner, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, squaring off with the nation's leading rusher, the Ducks LaMichael James. Newton is a monster -- he's 6-foot-5, 250 pounds -- and has passed for 28 touchdowns and rushed for 20 touchdowns, but the Ducks enter the game with the nation's most potent offense. Both teams have owned the fourth quarter, so no lead is safe. Only one team came within 10 points of the Ducks: California. Auburn beat six teams by eight or fewer points. Is Auburn more battle tested? Tigers fans think Auburn played a much tougher schedule. Pac-10 fans think Arizona State would have won the SEC East and Mississippi State would have finished ninth in the Pac-10, so the Ducks schedule was just as tough.

Why Oregon needs to win: You don't get many chances to win national championships. A perfect season is a rare thing in college football. When you have a chance to finish No. 1, No. 2 is the worst thing in the world. Further, the entire nation is rooting for the Ducks (other than Washington and Oregon State fans). The rest of college football wants to see the SEC humbled. The rest of college football -- including many SEC adherents -- have issues with the controversy that surrounds Newton. It's fair to say that the Ducks are wearing the white hats (and, by the way, will wear angelic white uniforms). It also would mean a lot for a second Pac-10 team to win a BCS national title, particularly with the conference becoming the Pac-12 in 2011 and negotiating a new TV deal. Finally, while Auburn is a slight favorite, a lot of "football people" think the Ducks are going to win and that they are a more complete team. It's probably an exaggeration to say Oregon "should" win. But they should.

Why just getting there is enough: Oregon has never won a national championship, so just getting to the Big Game is enough. After all, how many 12-1 seasons has Oregon had? The Ducks are a program on a steady climb, winning the national title would be great, but it would be pure gravy for a team with just one top-five ranking (2001, No. 2) in the final AP poll, one that has won its second consecutive outright Pac-10 title for the first time. And have you seen Newton and Auburn DT Nick Fairley? They are huge and they may be cannibals. Those guys are likely to eat Chip Kelly during a pregame function! Then what will those itty bitty Ducks do? No more gimmicks or sleight of hand or Autzen Advantage. Finally, Oregon is playing an SEC team. Eeeeek! Poor ole Oregon has no chance.

Conclusion: These are two very good, evenly matched teams. Newton is the best player in the nation -- perhaps the best college football player of the past decade. And Oregon has had a great season, win or lose. But this is the biggest stage in college football. Oregon can't waste this opportunity. Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted. One moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip? Oregon, this is your moment. Win the day.

Needs to win meter (scale of 1 to 10, "10" being a must-win): 8

Press Coverage: Oregon vs. Auburn

November, 10, 2010
It's time for a blogger debate! And it doesn't get much better than when we match the SEC and Pac-10.

Our topic: No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn. Who's better and why?

Both are unbeaten, and if the season ended today, they'd play for the national title.

We've got lots of football left, and probably many more plot twists in the hunt for the national title, but there's no reason we can't engage in a hypothetical, is there?

So the Pac-10 blog -- Ted Miller -- and the SEC blog -- Chris Low -- have decided to meet for some civilized debate on Auburn versus Oregon.

Ted Miller: Chris, since things are so quiet in the sleepy SEC, I think we should spice things up with a Pac-10-SEC blogger debate! It seems like a long time since we last had a debate between our two conferences. How’d that one go? Let’s see I championed Taylor Mays and you celebrated Eric Berry. Wait. Why did I bring that up?

Anyway, our topic is Oregon and Auburn: Who’s better and why.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
John Reed/US PresswireGene Chizik has silenced those critical of his hiring last year but getting Auburn off to a 10-0 start this season.
This is a potential national title game between the No. 1 Ducks and No. 2 Tigers, who are both unbeaten and feature Heisman Trophy candidates leading high-powered offenses.

You get first blood. Tell me about Auburn. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that Jay Jacobs was getting hounded for hiring Gene Chizik. Guessing that’s died down a wee-bit.

Chris Low: No doubt, Ted. I wonder where that obnoxious guy is now, the one yelling at Jacobs as he was leaving the airport after finalizing the deal with Chizik? Maybe Jacobs knew what he was doing after all. The guy with the 5-19 record at Iowa State has done all right by himself on the Plains. He has a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback and the SEC's leading rusher in Cam Newton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature who runs like Bo Jackson and also has an NFL arm. Keep your eyes, too, on freshman running back Mike Dyer, who they haven't had to lean on much this season, but is oozing with talent and has fresh legs for this stretch run. The Tigers' defensive numbers are nothing to write home about, but they do have the kind of dominant interior defensive lineman, Nick Fairley, who can take over games. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Fairley's the closest thing he's seen to Warren Sapp. Auburn's calling card defensively has been making plays at key times in the fourth quarter. The Tigers have been a serviceable defense through three quarters this season, but they've been a championship-caliber defense in the fourth quarter -- which is why they're 10-0.

So tell me about Oregon?

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireSophomore Darron Thomas was thrust into the starting quarterback job and has performed admirably.
Ted Miller: Speaking of coaches: How about Oregon’s Chip Kelly? How could he possibly expect to top winning the Pac-10 and playing in the Rose Bowl his first season? How about contending for a national title in his second? The Ducks, however, expected to be here when the 2009 season ended because just about everybody was coming back from the Pac-10 champions. That is until a guy you are now familiar with -- quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- got caught up in some off-field issues and eventual got himself booted from the team. That seemingly left a void behind center, but sophomore Darron Thomas has not only filled Masoli’s shoes, he’s gone up a few sizes: He’s 15th in the nation in passing efficiency and 21st in the nation in total yardage. Meanwhile, speedy running back LaMichael James is the top Heisman alternative to your guy, Newton. As for the defense, it’s like the offense: Extremely fast. It ranks 13th in the nation in scoring defense and it has forced 28 turnovers, second-most in the nation. Folks often underestimate the Ducks' defense because it gives up some yards -- it ranks 29th in the nation in total defense -- but that’s because the offense scores so quickly: The nation’s No. 1 offense ranks 115th in the nation in time of possession. But the Ducks only give up 4.45 yards per play. Our factoid of the day is that number would rank No. 1 in ... wait for it ... the SEC!

Obviously, we're talking about two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn.

Chris Low: Ted, I think what separates Auburn is Newton. Nobody has been able to stop him. If you commit to taking away the run, he's proved he can beat people throwing the ball. And if you come after him and/or don't have enough people in the box, he's been magic running the ball. Keep in mind, too, that we're not talking about a 220-pound guy running the ball. We're talking about a 250-pound guy who's physical, tough and doesn't run out of bounds. In the red zone, he's the great equalizer, because he gains 3 yards when he falls forward and has the size and the strength to push the pile. On top of it all, he's always a threat to throw the ball. Similar to Oregon, Auburn doesn't flinch if somebody puts 30-plus points on the board, because the Tigers' mentality is that they're going to score 50. Their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, will make you defend everything -- reverses, throwback passes, passes to the backs, even passes to Newton. He caught a touchdown pass two weeks ago against Ole Miss. The Tigers also play at a tempo on offense that has opposing defenses gasping for air in the fourth quarter. But when they have to, they can put teams away and finish games by running the ball. They're fourth nationally (one spot ahead of Oregon) this week in rushing offense with an average of 307.2 yards per game. Auburn's top four rushers -- Newton, Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin -- are all averaging at least 6.4 yards per carry. Do the Ducks have any answers for that running game?

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Paul Abell/US PresswireAuburn's Cam Newton is just as dangerous with his arm as he is on his feet.
Ted Miller: That’s what’s so interesting about this as a potential national title game match -- there’s an odd familiarity that both teams will have with each other despite never crossing paths. My guess is Malzahn and Kelly already have studied each other, just in terms of mutual admiration. And both defenses will be familiar with up-tempo, no-huddle, spread-option offenses that can power you and finesse you and throw downfield. Further, the Ducks have played against a number of big, fast, capable quarterbacks with NFL futures: Washington’s Jake Locker, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Stanford’s Andrew Luck. The results have been mixed. Last year, Luck and Pryor got them. Luck beat the Ducks with uncanny downfield accuracy, which is why he’ll go No. 1 in this spring’s NFL draft. Pryor shocked them with the best passing game of his career in the Rose Bowl. Locker missed this year’s game, but he’s never had much luck against Oregon. In general, Oregon has a good run defense: Opponents are averaging 3.38 yards per rush. But the Ducks are undersized. A physical Stanford team had some success, rushing for 177 yards. But one thing about Oregon on both sides of the ball: It is masterful with halftime adjustments. They shutout Stanford, owners of the nation’s No. 5 scoring offense, in the second half, and have given up just 48 points in the second half this year -- just seven in the fourth quarter!

Obviously, two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn if it played Oregon in the national title game. How do you see it going?

Chris Low: Well, if that happens, the first thing we all better make sure we have is a calculator. That and make sure there's no danger of a power surge to the scoreboard. You're right about Oregon. Nobody in the country has been better in the second half. The Ducks' ability to score points in bunches is amazing, but the Tigers are equally adept at going on head-spinning scoring sprees. Just ask Arkansas, which saw Auburn roll up 28 points in the fourth quarter in Xbox-like fashion. I have no doubt that an Auburn-Oregon matchup would be played in the 40s. I think the difference, though, would be Auburn's ability to put the breaks on the track meet and run the football in the fourth quarter, especially with Newton being so good at converting on third down. So I'm going Auburn 45, Oregon 41 in a game that rates up there with the Texas-USC classic to decide the 2005 national title.

Ted Miller: That's clearly something we can all agree on: This likely would be a highly entertaining, offensively driven national title game if these two teams manage to get themselves there. Further, I think, after never getting a USC-SEC title game, folks on both coasts would enjoy an SEC-Pac-10 matchup. No trash-talking there, right? And I do see a clear advantage for Auburn: It has been tested. It's played five games decided by eight points or fewer, and three decided by a field goal. The Ducks closest game? An 11-point win at Arizona State. But that's also why I'd pick Oregon in this one. Oregon beat the No. 6 team in the nation, Stanford, by 21 points. It shut Andrew Luck out in the second half. And I look at all of Auburn's close games: Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky and LSU, and think: None of them would be within 10 points of the Ducks. Maybe LSU, because any game Les Miles touches is surprising. And I think Vegas would agree with me. So if we ended up with an Oregon-Auburn national title game, my guess is the Tigers would go TD for TD with the Ducks in the first half, then the Ducks would pour it on late for a 50-35 win. But I reserve the right to change my mind, particularly because I think the Tigers' toughest test -- Alabama -- is ahead.

Moreover, both teams should be advised: You probably should get to the Jan. 10 date in Glendale before you start trash-talking each other. At least before you use your best stuff.



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