Mailbag: USC in the polls and Oregon QBs

Happy Friday.

Here's where you go to answer this important question: "If I follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter, how will the gods reward me with riches and glory?"

And, no, I don't think the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, will transfer to any Pac-12 school.

To the notes!

Smudge from Irvine, Calif., writes: How important are the preseason rankings for USC's national title hopes (and which preseason rankings really matter)? Will there be further preseason rankings released before the season starts? If so, I suspect USC could leapfrog LSU now that the Honey Badger is gone.

Ted Miller: The coaches poll, as much as it pains me to type this, is the only preseason poll that "matters." It and the Harris Interactive College Football Poll make up two thirds of the BCS formula -- the six computer polls make up the other third. The Harris Poll doesn't have a preseason poll and first gets published the second week of October. The idea there is that it allowed pollsters to see teams play before they rank them, an idea that more than a few folks have hailed through the years. But the Harris Poll has mostly resembled the AP and Coaches poll since it started.

Preseason rankings are important because they provide an immediate stagger among teams. If you start off No. 1 and win all your games, you are fairly certain to remain there, even if the teams that started 8th and 14th also are undefeated. And, if you start off No. 1 and lose, you likely won't fall as far as a team ranked 14th that loses. That means you can climb back into the picture more easily.

USC's preseason ranking of No. 3 is a pretty solid position, starting with the fact that No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama play each other.

LSU is a worse team without Mathieu. He's a game-changer. Just ask Oregon. But LSU is loaded on defense and in the secondary. The drop-off won't be catastrophic. In fact, I suspect USC losing DE Devon Kennard to injury might prove to be a bigger hit because the Trojans are thin on the D-line and LSU is not in the secondary.

For example, the Trojans defense probably would find it easier to adjust to the loss of T.J. McDonald, perhaps the best safety in the nation, because they are deep at the position, rather than Kennard. I think LSU would have suffered much worse losing, say, QB Zach Mettenberger, who's never thrown a pass for the Tigers, than Mathieu because the void behind Mettenberger is pretty vast.

Chip Kelly from Hot Tub, My office writes: Ted, Who should be Oregon's starting QB?

Ted Miller: OK. You guys win. You wore me down. I will tell you -- and you Hot Tub Chillin' Chip -- who Oregon's 2012 QB should and will be.

Bryan Mariota.

You see how I did that? I used Bryan Bennett's first name and Marcus Mariota's last name and zaniness ensued. That's why I'm the No. 1 ranked blogger inside this Starbucks right now. (Unless Debra the Knitting Blogger comes back for another Frappuccino. Girl can turn a righteous phrase about stitching).

The honest answer -- and, yes, it pains me to type this -- is I have no idea. No one outside of the closed walls of the football program does, and I tend to believe the battle truly is ongoing for both Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. I've seen no more of either than you have. I saw Bennett play well when he replaced Darron Thomas last year against Arizona State and then started at Colorado. I also saw Mariota dramatically outplay Bennett in the spring game. That, our sabermetric-savvy friends would tell you, is too small a sample size to form any conclusions.

My impression, more so than with any other QB competition in the conference, is both are ready to go, ready to play well from the start. Before spring practices, I favored Bennett by a significant margin based on what I'd seen from -- and heard about -- him. After spring practices, I've tended to favor Mariota by a slight margin, based almost entirely on how he rose to the occasion and Bennett seemed to take a step back. That said, I think it's been underrepresented just how much better Mariota's supporting cast was in the spring game.

But, again, these are just superficial impressions. As I've noted before, I thought Nate Costa was going to beat out Darron Thomas before the 2010 season. So if I made a prediction, Chip would read it and do the opposite, just to make sure the Pac-12 blog was forced to again wallow in wrongness.

Gekko Mojo from Memphis writes: Nothing from you on Deontae Cooper's tragic third ACL tear? Really? You cover the medical retirement of a walk-on receiver at Oregon, but not this? Odd.

Ted Miller: I feel terrible about Cooper. Young man can't catch a break.

We had a news story here. We linked local reports here. And Mason Kelly wrote about it here.

It would have been difficult to write much about Cooper from our remove. The sophomore has never played a down for the Huskies and I've never spoken to him.

As for Oregon receiver Justin Hoffman, he was a senior who started six games last year. Here's the short post we did on him.

Further, timing also matters in these matters. Hoffman's retirement was announced on July 20. You could fairly call that a slow news time in college football. Cooper re-injured his knee at the beginning of preseason camp, when there's a lot going on.

Thomas from Charlottesville, Va., writes: Regarding Colorado and Utah, everyone keeps saying they now have a year in the league, so things will be easier for them. But in truth, aren't both teams going to be traveling to venues they have not played in before for every road game? In other words, how much do you think it impacts CU and Utah to still be the new guys since they are going to be in new stadiums for every road game in conference play this season?

Ted Miller: That's a fair point. For a second year, Colorado and Utah's conference road venues will be unfamiliar. That could register more as a negative than as a positive.

That said, I suspect a road game is a road game to most college players. Think of it like this: Most college players are around only four or five years. And most only see action for two or so years, plus or minus. With rotating home-and-home schedules, not to mention three conference misses, the most a vast majority of college player will experience playing in a conference road venue is two times.

For example, Oregon safety John Boyett will be a four-year starter this year. And when the Ducks go to the Coliseum on Nov. 3, it will be only his second time playing there.

There could be something said for support staff, those who organize trips, being unfamiliar with new hotels and new road venues. Or coaches not being familiar with stadiums or visiting locker rooms. But I don't think it's a major issue.

Matthew from Corvegas, Ore., writes: Ted,Am I the ONLY one that realizes the Ducks are not a top 5 (or 10, even) team? I mean, they don't have a QB or a RB. Barner won't be healthy the whole season, that DaT likes to fumble.

Ted Miller: Yep. You are the only one.

Chris from Penticton, British Columbia: I had the pleasure of getting to know the late Bud Riley as he lived his last years in our beautiful area.A fanatical Utah fan, I found a friend in a man who revered the game of college football as much as I did.His story, from a kid in Alabama to high school football coach in the small mining town of Wallace, Idaho....on to University of Idaho, Oregon State and the CFL...was wonderful to listen to. Through my connection to Bud, Mike got me tickets to a 2008 game in Corvallis where #1 USC came to town....one of my most memorable NCAA experiences. Sitting in the section were numerous Oregon State alumni players who asked me to be sure to give their good wishes to Bud when I got home. Rest in peace, Coach. Ted, I am sure you would have loved this guy...with his deep southern accent and matter-of-factness, Coach Riley was a gem. I will truly miss him.

Ted Miller: A nice tribute. I hope Mike has a moment during preseason preparations to check out your kind words.

JP from Salt Lake City writes: Just bought and will read Delillo's Underworld on your recommendation. Would you consider posting your top ten must read books?

Ted Miller: Congrats. Be forewarned: It's a dense, at times difficult book. Here's a really interesting, sports-centric Q&A with DeLillo about "Underworld," particularly the first part, which is a scintillating account of Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World.

It's darn near impossible for me to make a top-10 list. I think it would change daily. And I actually answered a question like this a year ago. Here's what I wrote:

If I were making a reading list, here's a start: White Noise, by Don DeLillo, Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, Light in August, by William Faulkner, The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, The Bushwhacked Piano, by Thomas McGuane, The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John le Carre, A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley, Still Life With Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

See... I included DeLillo's "White Noise," which is far more accessible than "Underworld." I'd also now sub Franzen's "Freedom" for "The Corrections."

That's a lot more than 10, but you guys know I tend to be long-winded.