Mailbag: Anyone care about USC or Masoli?

Just back from Los Angeles. Sorry this comes a bit late. Some of you might already be at happy hour.

Remember: You can follow me on Twitter. And why the heck wouldn't you want to do that?

Erik from State College, Pa., writes: Maybe since I'm not a PAC-10 fan, I'm missing something here, but what's up with everyone's obsession about the conference being more up-for-grabs than usual because USC is out of the picture. Sure, I'll be the first to admit that USC had an outstanding run over the past decade, but after loosing 4 conference games last year as well as a head coach, did the rest of the conference still view the Trojans as a serious threat to the conference title? I thought last year proved that it wasn't the PAC-1+9 conference where everybody else fought for 2nd place.

Ted Miller: State College, Pa? What are you trying to give the Oregon State fans nightmares?

To answer your question about USC being a threat: Yes and no.

Let's remember first of all that Oregon being tabbed No. 1 breaks a seven-year run for the Trojans atop the media poll. That's a sea change of preseason expectation.

But, further, while USC lost four Pac-10 games, it did go to the house of Big Ten champion Ohio State and take home a victory (and that Buckeyes team went on to beat an Oregon team in the Rose Bowl that blew out the Trojans). My point is that USC was odd last season. While not as talented as most of the USC teams that won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles, it was more talented than its final record indicated. The 2009 Trojans were not mentally tough. They didn't play like a well-coached team. And they didn't seem to be completely bought in. In other words, they underachieved because they lacked that intangible ingredient all good teams have: competitive unity.

The 2010 Trojans, despite all the doom-and-gloom, still own top-10 talent. If they are motivated and focused all season, they will win 10 games and end up a top-10 team.

But there also are eight other Pac-10 teams with legitimate bowl shots. You see a lot of different media doing rankings of all 120 FBS teams. If I were doing that, I'd rank every Pac-10 team -- other than Washington State -- in the top 50. You can make a strong argument for five or so teams winning the conference.

That quality depth is the biggest part of the "wide-open" talk.

The other is this: USC, no matter what it does, isn't going to the Rose Bowl. So one elite team is already out of it, thereby making things more wide open.

Rance from Camus, Wash., writes: Can you clarify for my dad and I: USC is at 71 scholarship players currently, which is 14 under the 85 number. Does this mean they will not fill 16 more spots over the next 3 years to meet the loss of 30 scholarships total or how will this play out?

Ted Miller: USC is appealing the NCAA sanctions. If its appeal is rejected before national signing day on Feb. 2, then the Trojans will only have 15 scholarships available. If USC doesn't get a ruling before signing day, which is more likely, it has self-imposed a five-scholarship reduction for this recruiting class because it's asked the appeals commit to reduce the scholarship penalties from 10 to five over each of the next three years. So the 2011 Trojans class likely will be 20.

That said, as Scott Wolf noted, USC could bolster its numbers by signing as many as 10 mid-year enrollees in January (they'd be counted against last year's class). Of course, it won't be easy to find 10 quality players who are willing and able to enroll. And, if the appeal is rejected, USC will only be able to sign 15 over the next three classes.

Aaron from Phoenix writes: Ted, UA grad living in Phoenix forced to listen to ebullient optimism about ASU football. Taking off my blue and red-tinted glasses, I just can't see more than six wins for the Sun Devils (and that's being generous). Am I wrong?

Ted Miller: I live here too but I haven't noticed much "ebullient optimism" from Sun Devils fans. I see more hand-wringing.

Most media sorts agree with you. The Sun Devils were tabbed ninth in the Pac-10 media poll, and that is where I rated them, too. If you look at the schedule, you can pencil in victories over the two FCS foes and, probably, Washington State. After that, it's hard to be confident in many other wins.

That said: The Sun Devils should be good on defense (I get the feeling, though, some are underestimating the loss of seven starters from last year, including end Dexter Davis and linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel). If they are merely adequate on offense -- say scoring 25 points per game -- they have a chance to surprise some folks and perhaps win seven or even eight games.

There is a problem, though: the schedule. After the two FCS games, four of the next five are on the road versus good teams (Wisconsin, Oregon State, Washington and California) and the lone home game is Oregon. It's critical that the Sun Devils don't lose their confidence during that rugged stretch when they will be breaking in a new quarterback.

Paul from Tucson wrote: I was curious if you knew who gave Arizona, Oregon, and Stanford their 9th place votes in yesterday's media poll. Is this a secret ballot vote or made public for all? Seems to me the fans of those schools might like to know this in case they wish to question someone in the media with a hidden agenda.

Ted Miller: While many voters reveal their ballot, I haven't seen the ones to which you refer (if any one has, feel free to send the link). And, yes, it is a secret ballot, so the Pac-10 office won't release names.

I would be surprised if any of those three teams finished ninth, but voting Oregon ninth is absurd. I will right now guarantee you 100 percent that Oregon doesn't finish ninth or 10th in the conference. Iron clad.

The person who voted Oregon ninth doesn't really believe the Ducks will finish ninth. It's not a defensible position. It's like a food critic calling the Des Moines Applebees the best restaurant in the U.S.

While the Pac-10 blog is all for that whole free speech thing, if I were in the Pac-10 office tabulating the votes, I would have called said voter and asked him or her to explain. And then I would have revoked their voting privileges. Or posted the nutty voter's e-mail, home address and cell phone number anonymously on Addicted to Quack.

Kidding. Probably.

"Pac-10 nation" from West Coast of America writes: STOP TALKING ABOUT MASOLI!!!!!! NO ONE CARES we know ruined his career at oregon. we get the point. and we dont care about ole miss either. camps start lets move on.

Ted Miller: I'm not talking about Jeremiah Masoli. He's making news and I'm linking news stories.

As for no one caring, if that were true, thousands of people wouldn't be reading the stories or clicking the links. And Sports Illustrated wouldn't do a big story on him if no one cared.

You might not want people to care. Or you may be sick of seeing him referenced as "former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli." But there are lots of people who are following what he'll do next.

Josh from Puyallup, Wash., writes: If me and a buddy go to Pullman this year in our USC gear for the USC vs. Cougs game, think we will get mugged, shanked or killed? I've never been to Pullman....

Ted Miller: If you go to the right places, you will be challenged to a beer chugging contest. And you will lose.

I like Pullman. Is Pullman a vacation destination? No. Does it have a bunch of great restaurants? No. Does it get pretty dang cold during the winter months? Oh, yeah. But I've had a good time every time I've covered a game there (and, by the way, Martin Stadium might have the best press box meal spread in the Pac-10).

I recommend Rico's and, if you've got your game face on, The Coug.

And, by the way, a Sept. 25 game in Pullman means you'll get a beautiful fall day.

Zen from Portland writes: Ted, I'm gonna rant, you are an idiot. You do no research, you are biased, you're just dumb. Best case for Oregon is 1 loss and worst case is 5 losses? USC best case is undefeated? No Ted, you're stupid. I thought these weren't predictions but extreme scenarios, I would then say you're not giving Oregon State enough credit, first off there the favorite to win the Pac-10, with USC sanctions, and ducks losing well every significant player on there Rose Bowl roster. Oregon State has depth and is strong in the secondary, will reload at linebacker, and you rant and rave about there D-Line(the only thing with the exception of Quizz you give them credit for), Katz is great, and as for breaking him in, no meaningful snaps, uh been there done that, Lyle, and Canfield? same situation. Quizz, one year older, one year stronger, one year better. The Beavers, especially the Rodgers brothers, are so excited about TCU, that we will win that game, Boise State is the only game I'm nervous about, USC and Oregon at home, the rest of the Pac-10 is nothing fret over. Oregon State best case is Undefeated you sorry excuse for a college football journalist. I've never enjoyed reading your blog, and ever since I read that I've avoided it. Does none of this even scan your brain when you write?

Ted Miller: No.