Pac-12: Ole Miss Rebels

Mailbag: Pac-12 North vs. SEC West

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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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.

New coaches make mark

January, 7, 2013
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There were 28 new coaches this season, including four from the Pac-12. A lot of those new coaches made an immediate positive impact. Some didn't.

There were 12 coaches whose teams improved from 2011 to 2012, including three from the Pac-12. There were seven coaches who did worse, including Washington State's Mike Leach. And there were eight who did about the same (we didn't count Charley Molnar at Massachusetts whose team stepped up from FCS to FBS this year).

Who made the most notable positive jumps? Urban Meyer at Ohio State (12-0 from 6-7), Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin (11-2 from 7-6), Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter (10-4 from 4-9) and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze (7-6 from 2-10).

The crash-and-burn list, of course, is topped by Ellis Johnson, who was fired after one season when Southern Miss declined from 12-2 to 0-12. Other notable regressions: Houston (5-7 from 13-1),Arkansas (4-8 from 11-2) and Illinois (2-10 from 7-6).

Here's the complete list (2011 record):
Urban Meyer, Ohio State: 12-0 (6-7)

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: 11-2 (7-6)

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State: 10-3 (10-3)

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State: 9-4 (4-9)

Matt Campbell, Toledo: 9-4 (9-4)

Kyle Flood, Rutgers: 9-4 (9-4)

Jim Mora, UCLA: 9-5 (6-8)

Bill O'Brien, Penn State: 8-4 (9-4)

Larry Fedora, North Carolina: 8-4 (7-6)

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: 8-5 (4-8)

Todd Graham, Arizona State: 8-5 (6-7)

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: 7-6 (2-10)

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh: 6-7 (6-7)

Tony Levine, Houston: 5-7 (13-1)

Jim McElwain, Colorado State: 4-8 (3-9)

John L. Smith, Arkansas: 4-8 (11-2)

Justin Fuente, Memphis: 4-8 (2-10)

Bob Davie, New Mexico: 4-9 (1-11)

Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic: 3-9 (1-11)

Garrick McGee, UAB: 3-9 (3-9)

Norm Chow, Hawaii: 3-9 (6-7)

Mike Leach, Washington State: 3-9 (4-8)

Curtis Johnson, Tulane: 2-10 (2-11)

Tim Beckman, Illinois: 2-10 (7-6)

Charley Molnar, Massachusetts: 1-11 (NA)

Terry Bowden, Akron: 1-11 (1-11)

Charlie Weis, Kansas: 1-11 (2-10)

Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss: 0-12 (12-2)
No one can accuse the Pac-12 of taking it easy when it comes to scheduling. So when Bruce Feldman broke down what he considers the 10 toughest schedules of 2012, it's no surprise that three Pac-12 teams landed in that top 10 -- including two in the top three.

Here's Feldman's list:
  1. Notre Dame
  2. Washington
  3. Oregon State
  4. Michigan
  5. Kansas
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Auburn
  8. Iowa State
  9. Cal
  10. South Carolina
Feldman on Washington: The Huskies start with San Diego State (which has won 17 games the past two seasons), then venture off to Baton Rouge to face a loaded LSU squad. After the encounter with the Tigers, they get FCS Portland State before the Huskies get into the teeth of their schedule: a three-game stretch against Stanford, the most physical team in the Pac-12, at Oregon and then home against USC to wrap things up against the league's three most talented teams.

On Oregon State: In the second half of the season, when coach Mike Riley very likely will be battling to keep his job, his team has to deal with Utah, Washington, ASU, Stanford, Cal and Oregon, which translates to probably five of the six best teams in the league.

On Cal: The Bears get seven home games, which is nice but they also have back-to-back road trips to Ohio State and USC in the opening month of the season. There is also a four-game stretch of Stanford, at Utah, Washington and Oregon and that comes right after a trip to Wazzu, which is going to be a handful for teams to prepare for this fall.

And just to throw a fourth team into the mix, I think you can easily make an argument for USC to be on this list as well. The four-game swing at Stanford, home to Cal, at Utah and at Washington is sure to take its toll -- considering those are three of the top defensive fronts in the conference. Then there is the much-anticipated showdown with Oregon at home on Nov. 3 before closing out the year at home against Notre Dame.

'Holy War' is going to feel different

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
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The Pac-12 blog is worried about Utah.

Now that Utah is in the Pac-12, a member of the privileged class, is it going to forget how to properly dislike BYU? Is it going to eyeball the Cougars on Saturday and think, "You know, blue really brings out their eyes!"

This thought vexes the Pac-12 blog, which feeds on the often irrational passion of college football.

[+] EnlargeUtah Utes beat BYU Cougars
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireUtah rallied back from a large fourth-quarter deficit last season to beat BYU.
So, Utah, we've brought back a friend to remind you how you should feel about BYU because this is how BYU feels about you.

"I don't like Utah," former BYU quarterback Max Hall said after the Cougars beat the Utes in 2009. "In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, I hate their fans, I hate everything ... I think the whole university, their fans and their organization, is classless. They threw beer on my family and stuff last year, and they did a whole bunch of nasty things, and I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose."

Utes, the Cougars are going to be gunning for you hard Saturday. There's the natural state rivalry, sure, but there's a third, highly-motivating color involved other than red and blue: green.

Green as in the money Utah is soon going to be making in the Pac-12. And green as in the green-eyed monster of jealousy: BYU isn't happy the Utes jumped to the Pac-12 and it wasn't invited.

And, by the way, BYU is pretty darn good, having won at Ole Miss and falling just short at Texas. Ten starters are back on offense, including quarterback Jake Heaps, from a team that went 7-6 in 2010.

Further, this game has been highly competitive in recent years. Five of the past six have been decided by a touchdown or less. Two of those went into overtime. Last year, Utah rallied from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 17-16. The game was decided when the Utes blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired.

Utes linebacker Chaz Walker didn't seem too concerned that BYU and Utah fans and players will start palling around. When asked if the so-called "Holy War" was a bitter or friendly rivalry, he spoke carefully but without much ambiguity.

"Probably a little bit on the dislike side," he said. "There's not many BYU players you see hanging out with Utah players."

The feel of the game will be different, though. For one, it no longer counts in the conference standings. In previous seasons, the matchup often had significant Mountain West Conference ramifications. Further, instead of the chill of a season-finale in late November, this one will feature the pleasant weather of mid-September.

For Utah, it also brings the grind of the new Pac-12 schedule front-and-center. The Utes must regroup and refocus after a tough, physical loss at USC. It's likely the bye week that follows will feel pretty good.

Perhaps the Pac-12 blog shouldn't worry. After talking to a few folks on the Utah end of things, it seems clear BYU has the Utes' attention. And always will when they go nose-to-nose.

Said coach Kyle Whittingham, "It's the biggest single sporting event in the course of a year. It's the biggest thing that happens in this state."

'Measuring Stick Week' for Pac-12

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
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The week that wasn't. The week that might be.

Welcome to "Measuring Stick Week" for the Pac-12, which comes right on the heels of "Mostly Laid an Egg Week" in the Pac-12.

To recap:
  • The conference went 8-4 when 12-0 seemed perfectly reasonable to expect.
  • Oregon lost its marquee showdown with LSU. The nation is saying it was because the Tigers bullied the Ducks with their super-superior angry robot players. Seems completely reasonable, of course, to ignore four Ducks turnovers and 12 Ducks penalties. Sure that had nothing to do with it.
  • Oregon State lost at home to Sacramento State, which is not only an FCS team, it's a mediocre FCS team.
  • UCLA lost at Houston, a team it pushed around a year ago.
  • Colorado lost the battle on the line of scrimmage at Hawaii.
  • Even the teams that did win didn't do so with distinction: Washington needed a late interception to beat Eastern Washington. Utah most certainly did NOT just barely beat Montana State -- that's for you angry Twitter sorts -- but it looked terrible on offense against Montana State. USC went scoreless in the second half and also needed a late interception to beat Minnesota.
  • And in, "Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?" news, Washington State's price for manhandling Idaho State was quarterback Jeff Tuel's clavicle.

One word: Yuck.

But if you lay an egg, you can always pick it up and make an omelet. (Preferably with real butter. And some cheese.)

Measuring Stick Week offers plenty of opportunities for redemption. Or, if you want to be a negative-Nelly, for a precipitous slide in national esteem. (Here's a quick preview of the games).
  • Instead of FCS foes, games include matchups with three ranked teams from other AQ conferences -- two on the road -- and two games against foes from non-AQ conferences that had double-digit wins in 2010 (Nevada and Hawaii).
  • There are two conference games, though only one counts as a conferences game. Utah's visit to USC not only counts in the standings, it will be widely viewed as an early measure of the Utes' place in the conference pecking order. California's visit to Colorado stands as a nonconference game -- it was scheduled before expansion -- and is all about the Buffs hoping to redeem themselves for the disaster in Berkeley last year.
  • Stanford and UCLA are heavy favorites against Duke and San Jose State, respectively, but Stanford is traveling 2,800 miles to Durham, while it's never certain what the Bruins will do.
  • Can Washington State improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2005 at home against UNLV without its starting QB?

Pac-12 teams are underdogs in only two of these nonconference games: Arizona and Oregon State (by two and three TDs, respectively). That means the conference needs to go at least 6-2 to hold serve. That means Arizona State -- a 7.5-point favorite even though Missouri is ranked -- and Washington need to beat good teams at home. And Oregon, Stanford, Washington State and UCLA need to take care of business against double-digit underdogs.

And it wouldn't hurt if the Wildcats and Beavers at least distinguished themselves with competitive performances on the road.

The reaction to the Pac-12's first weekend of games was bad from the national media. You can see some here. And here.

You might find it unfair that few took note of the SEC suffering a few embarrassing performances, too, with Georgia getting outclassed by Boise State in a glorified home game and Ole Miss going down at home to BYU and Auburn just escaping Utah State. But that conference, as its adherents are known to point out, has won five consecutive national titles.

The Pac-12 needs more teams in the Top 25 to burnish its image. If Arizona State and Washington win this week, the Sun Devils will be in and the Huskies will be close. The Utah-USC winner will be ranked, while the Wildcats would be too if they pull the upset.

College football is often more of a beauty contest than a game contested on the field of play. The Pac-12 made big news this offseason by getting rich. That's why it has so many suitors now who want a piece of the action.

Being rich makes you attractive in our society.

But the Pac-12 would rather be George Clooney -- rich, good looking -- rather than T. Boone Pickens -- rich and wrinkled.

It figures to become one or the other when the smoke clears after Measuring Stick Week.
It's not often that NC State has something to offer the Pac-12, but more than a few of you apparently think the Wolfpack and coach Tom O'Brien have a gift for the Conference of Quarterbacks: Russell Wilson.

Some of you say, "Who?" Others exclaim, "Go west Russell! Go west!"

Wilson, as ESPN.com's Ryan McGee points out Insider, is presently the second baseman for the Class A Asheville Tourists of the South Atlantic League. But in a previous incarnation he was a dual-threat quarterback for the Wolfpack, one who led the ACC in total offense (3,563 yards passing, 435 rushing).

[+] EnlargeNC State's Russell Wilson
Scott A. Miller/US PRESSWIRERussell Wilson is free to join other football programs, but he is under contract with the Colorado Rockies.
And O'Brien has released him from his scholarship, which means he can play anywhere free-and-clear next fall (other than another ACC team or NC State nonconference foe).

Hey, California and UCLA: Is that something you might be interested in?

Sure, it might make sense for Wilson to remain in the region, which means the SEC. And South Carolina and Auburn are two schools that might be interested in Wilson. But what about a sense of adventure? Los Angeles or the Bay Area would broaden your horizons, Russell.

There is a catch: baseball. Wilson is under contract with the Colorado Rockies and, as McGee points out, they don't seem terribly flexible about allowing Wilson to skip off this summer for a preseason camp, on the East or West Coast.
[Rockies senior director of player development Marc] Gustafson said he had read the stories and the comments made by Wilson. Asked if he expected Wilson to play for the Tourists until the season ends Sept. 5, he said, "Absolutely."

Sept. 5, obviously, means that Wilson wouldn't be available for the opening of the season on Sept. 3. Would any team be willing to bring him to town, despite missing fall camp and the first game? Well, stranger things have happened but it's not a great formula for locker room chemistry.

Of course, desperate times at quarterback call for desperate measures. And there are always loopholes and politicking that could get Wilson aboard sooner. If Wilson really wants to play football, he will.

The odds, though, seem remote, particularly of him ending up in the Pac-12. But in January 2010, who would have thought that Jeremiah Masoli would end up the starting quarterback at Ole Miss and not Oregon?

Pac-12 in UFL draft

May, 3, 2011
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Five former Pac-12 players -- six if you include former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli -- were selected in the UFL draft on Monday.

Here's the list.

No. 4 Martail Burnett, DE, Utah (Virginia)
No. 13 Joe Toledo, OT, Washington (Omaha)
No. 24 Spencer Paysinger, LB, Oregon (Sacramento)
No. 41 Cameron Colvin, WR, Oregon (Las Vegas)
No. 52 Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon (Virginia)

Note: Former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli went 38th to Omaha.

Press Coverage: Oregon vs. Auburn

November, 10, 2010
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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.

Oregon fans: Go, Masoli!

October, 26, 2010
10/26/10
4:37
PM ET
He Whom Shall Not Be Named needs to be named, because Oregon fans who want a clearer path to the BCS national title game should be rooting for former Ducks QB Jeremiah Masoli on Saturday.

Why? Masoli's new team, Ole Miss, plays host to Auburn, which holds the No. 1 spot in the BCS standings ahead of the No. 2 Ducks.

So how is Masoli doing these days? He's doing fairly well; his team not so much. The Rebels fell to 3-4 on the season with a loss to Arkansas, but Masoli put up huge numbers. Consider this from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Masoli ran for 98 yards on 15 carries. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. His 425 yards of total offense was the second highest single-game total in Ole Miss history behind only Archie Manning's magnificent 540-yard effort against Alabama 41 years ago.


Masoli doesn't have anything approaching the supporting cast he had at Oregon -- it's doubtful whether any Ole Miss offensive player would start for Oregon -- but he's done an admirable job as a senior playing with a new team, scheme and conference.

Auburn's defense could offer Masoli a chance to shine: It's mediocre in most statistical categories but most notably ranks 101st in the nation in pass defense, yielding 248.9 yards per game.

Hmm. Maybe Oregon would be perfectly content for Auburn to keep on winning and appear opposite of it for the national title.

Pac-10 lunch links

October, 15, 2010
10/15/10
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Lots of Pac-10 up front

September, 29, 2010
9/29/10
1:43
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It's Pac-10 day up front on ESPN.com, which is led off by Ivan Maisel's story on the conference's rise due to coaching.

There's my story on Oregon-Stanford. And another on USC's and UCLA's role-reversal.

Scouts Inc. takes a deeper look at Oregon-Stanford and makes a pick. KC Joyner takes a look at a potential weakness for Cardinal QB Andrew Luck.

This is an interesting Pac-10 vs. SEC debate with Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo.

They match up the SEC side-by-side with the Pac-10 and say who'd they'd pick: Alabama-Oregon, Stanford-Florida, Auburn-Arizona, USC-LSU, Arkansas-UCLA, California-Kentucky, Mississippi State-Oregon State, Washington-Ole Miss and Tennessee-Washington State.

Van Pelt has 5-5. Russillo, 7-3 SEC.

First, an interjection: Ryen, Kentucky wouldn't beat Cal. In fact, if Cal played Kentucky 10 times, Cal would win nine. And that would be the case over the past eight seasons. Programs are not in the same class. Somebody probably will argue with that below. The only reply is: wrong.

But there's another major point: 12 teams vs. 10 teams. What would happen if you knocked off the SEC's No. 1 (Alabama) and No. 12 team (Vanderbilt) to make it a 10-team matchup?

Oregon over Florida, Stanford over Auburn, Arizona over LSU, USC over Arkansas, South Carolina over UCLA, Arizona State over Kentucky, Cal over Mississippi State, Oregon State over Ole Miss , Washington over Tennessee and Georgia over Washington State.

8-2 Pac-10. And a majority of those would be consensus picks supported by our friends in Vegas.

Just saying.

Thomas: Better than Masoli?

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
7:34
PM ET
While it didn't get into my story on the Oregon-Arizona State game, I think this Chip Kelly comment on Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas is interesting.

Kelly was asked how Thomas compared to his other Oregon QBs. That, of course, means former QB Jeremiah Masoli came up.

"He's ahead of where Jeremiah was three games in, I can tell you that," he said.

It's not an exact comparison. Masoli was a JC transfer who had just arrived at Oregon in the summer of 2008, and he didn't make his first start until game four (Justin Roper started the first three, though Masoli played extensively in two of the three) and he was promptly knocked out of that game (Boise State). Thomas is a redshirt sophomore who's in his third year with the program, so his knowledge of Kelly's system is far more extensive.

That said: Thomas' numbers are better than Masoli's. Way better.

In his first three full games as the starter, Masoli's QB efficiency rating was 109.46. Thomas presently ranks fifth in the Pac-10 with a 148.8 rating.

Masoli, you might recall, was all over the place his first year. In start three of our tally vs. UCLA, he only completed 5 of 19 passes. Of course, he rushed for 170 yards after showing little as a runner in the previous five games.

Of course, Kelly surely would like Thomas to produce like Masoli did over the final three games of 2008 when he completed 50 of 75 passes (67 percent) for 830 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. He also rushed 38 times for 248 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and seven scores.

That's 13 TDs in three games.

But it's clear that Kelly is pretty darn satisfied with the early-season performance of Thomas. And, really, how disappointing can the QB of the nation's No. 1 offense be?

"I think Darron has been tremendous," Kelly said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's been really smart with the ball."

Oh, and let's just add this: Thomas ranks 27th in the nation in passing efficiency. Over at Ole Miss, Masoli ranks 60th.

Ducks fans, avert your eyes: Masoli update

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
11:04
AM ET
Two stories for those of you who still have an interest in Jeremiah Masoli.

First, this is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the process of him transferring from Oregon to Ole Miss and earning immediate eligibility. It appears that, even then, there were further conflicts with Oregon and coach Chip Kelly.

As for football: Masoli appears to be doing just fine.

And for those of you who constantly write me that you are no longer interested in Masoli, why are you reading this sentence?

Pac-10 lunch links: More on Masoli vs. NCAA

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
2:30
PM ET
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.

NCAA statement on Masoli's ineligibility

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
10:14
AM ET
Turns out the NCAA denied former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli immediate eligibility at Ole Miss because his request for a waiver didn't match the "intent" of the transfer exception.

Here's a statement from the NCAA.
The NCAA staff has granted a graduate student transfer waiver for University of Mississippi football student-athlete Jeremiah Masoli, but he must wait until the 2011-12 academic year to compete. Mr. Masoli can continue to pursue his academic career, is eligible to receive athletics aid, and may practice with the team

In its decision, the staff noted the student-athlete was unable to participate at the University of Oregon based on his dismissal from the team, which is contrary to the intent of the waiver. The waiver exists to provide relief to student-athletes who transfer for academic reasons to pursue graduate studies, not to avoid disciplinary measures at the previous university.

According to NCAA rules, created by member schools, football graduate student-athletes must receive a waiver in order to compete if they enroll in a university other than where they received their undergraduate degree.

After receiving information from both universities and the student-athlete, the NCAA staff obtained the final piece of information yesterday evening from the University of Mississippi and issued its decision today. The university may appeal this staff decision to the Subcommittee for Legislative Relief, an independent group comprised of representatives from NCAA member colleges, universities and athletic conferences.

Ole Miss is appealing the decision. The odds of seeing Masoli playing this year, though, seem poor.

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