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Mailbag: Ignoring 'Zona, Chip Kelly trades

3/6/2015

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the notes!

Ryan from Tucson writes: Why do I feel like Arizona is constantly being overlooked this offseason within the context of the PAC-12? All I'm hearing is about Oregon's quarterback competition, UCLA replacing Hundley, and USC as national title contenders. The Wildcats are returning their first starting qb in the Rich Rod era, a 1,000 yd rusher, and the National defensive player of the year, after a PAC-12 South title! At least when overlooked in basketball we can blame East coast bias, but within the context of the PAC-12 what gives?

Bored Arizona Fan from Phoenix writes: Dear Pac 12 blog, HELP! I've been trying to get my dose of Arizona football spring/pre-season news and I haven't found much. The Arizona football news seems quiet... too quiet. No staff changes, only one big news transfer (Connor Brewer), no injuries, no run ins with the law, no more renovations? Where is my drama?!What does it mean when a program is quiet this far into the off-season? Is no news good news?Also, is it football season yet? How about now? ... Now?

Ted Miller: "Bored" provides one answer to Ryan here: Arizona hasn't had a terribly newsy offseason, and it -- for the first time under Rich Rodriguez -- doesn't have a major spring intrigue, such as a QB competition, to invite tea leaf reading from reporters. Replacing three offensive linemen and several solid but uncelebrated defensive players isn't terribly sexy, though obviously important for the Wildcats' 2015 prospects.

And yet, Ryan, your question is a good one. I know this because just the other day I said to myself, "Are we overlooking Arizona?" Maybe.

First off: Why are you hearing so much about Oregon, UCLA and USC? Well, for one, they figure to be the three highest rated Pac-12 teams in the preseason polls. That sort of thing gets a team more coverage.

Moreover, Oregon and UCLA are replacing three-year starters at quarterback, with both players being national figures. One, you might have heard, won some trophy and is now expected to be selected way-up-high in the NFL draft this spring. Star QBs get attention, and QB competitions get attention. It's just the way things are done in our dangerous, thrilling world of college football reporting.

You might recall that we covered Arizona's QB competition pretty aggressively last spring and summer -- here and here and here -- despite Rodriguez pleasantly telling us nothing until he finally tapped Anu Solomon.

As for the Wildcats perhaps being relegated behind the Ducks, Bruins and Trojans after winning the Pac-12 South Division last season, there is a further explanation. While there are a lot of shiny pieces coming back, including the nation's most decorated defensive player in LB Scooby Wright III, the 2015 Wildcats' infrastructure has taken some big hits, particularly, as noted, the O-line and defense. Those are questions that can be answered, but at this point they remain questions.

All this said, Arizona has a huge advantage, one that makes many, many coaches and players and fan bases across the country bitterly jealous: It's situated close to my home, "Casa del Guapo Genio." That means I'm certain to visit this spring, something I know Rodriguez pretty much views as nothing less than a second appearance from Santa Claus.


Trev from Los Angeles writes: Not saying this is a trend yet, but looking back the big 6 bowls that were not the semifinals, did you notice anything interesting about the teams that lost? I did. Arizona -- UNLV, UTSA, Nevada. BaylorMississippi State- Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, FCS. Ole Miss -- Boise State, ULL, Memphis, FCS. See it now, not one played a Power 5 team OOC. I believe that a team's OOC SOS need to count for 50% of total SOS and this last year kind of proved that. Thoughts? Granted I do know this doesn't mean this will always happen but I find it funny that it did when college football started saying SOS would matter again.

Ted Miller: Well look at you, Trev, with this interesting factoid! I like it. Your take is right on: A nonconference defeat would have prevented all of these teams from playing in a "New Year's Six" bowl game, which earned their conferences an extra $4 million.

I, too, think the nonconference component is one of the most critical elements for the selection committee to fairly judge teams as worthy of playoff spots, as well as lucrative berths in the New Year's Six games. It's so important that it's not only about what a program does in those games, it's about its intentions.

These teams, perhaps with the exception of Ole Miss, which played Boise State, aggressively avoided nonconference games that threatened any reasonable risk of defeat, much less a potentially ranked team from a Power 5 conference. When they made their schedules, they took a strategic stance of not caring about their transparent intention to avoid competition.

That's not, in itself, a stupid thing to do. If a team is just trying to make sure it gets bowl eligible, then scheduling nonconference patsies makes sense. But if you want to be considered for the CFP or a major bowl, it should be a prerequisite you play a nonconference game against a Power 5 foe.

What the A-list nonconference game does is provide evidence of how good your team is outside of the closed system of its conference. For example, last year everyone was writing sonnets about the SEC West. Turned out the SEC West was hugely overrated once it started playing, yep, teams not in the SEC West.

It's notable that none of these four teams stepped up their scheduling for the 2015 season. That should act as a significant impediment for their major bowl and CFP hopes, certainly more so than in 2014.


JJ from Tumalo, Oregon, writes: QUESTION.If healthy Alonso for McCoy makes sense. It took a while for Kiko's light to come on but as evidenced by his NFL Defense Rookie of the Year Award in 2013, Kiko should have been All American in 2012 after a terrific Rose Bowl in 2011. He is excellent against both the run and the pass.I recall his dominating game against K ST in the Fiesta Bowl. IMO opinion, Kiko and not Marcus was the MVP of this game. Do you think as I do that this trade makes sense?

Ted Miller: I think its a great trade for Chip Kelly and the Eagles, and this article outlines many of the reasons why.

First off, I have been around the block with debating the value of aging running backs. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote this in the preseason of 2007 about Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. I then wrote this in January 2008. So, yeah, lesson learned.

I know McCoy only turns 27 this summer, but he's already hinted he may be closer to 30 in running back years than 24, when he was super-elite. Perhaps he will be motivated by being cast off by Kelly, but the good money is on him being an A-list RB for no more than one or two more years. Meanwhile, LB Kiko Alonso is a budding superstar joining a defense that needs that sort of thing, and who, oh by the way, will cost way less in the immediate and even near term.

Don't look now, but Kelly has around $48 million in salary-cap space. My guess is his mad scientist mind is ticking a few steps ahead, perhaps even imagining bringing a certain former Oregon QB to the City of Brotherly Love.

One thing we know about Kelly is his offensive mind is playing speed chess while others are playing pong. He didn't unload McCoy on a whim. If he feels the need, Kelly can draft a quality running back this spring, perhaps as late as the third or fourth round.