Opening the mailbag: USC post-Kiffin?

Happy Friday. This is the mailbag (Say to self in James Earl Jones voice).

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To the notes!

Oscar from Irwindale, Calif., writes: If and when USC and Lane Kiffin decide to part ways I know for a fact it will be the greatest day in LA. But something has me concerned, Pat Haden just can't hire any coach, it has to be a Jon Gruden or a Jack Del Rio kind of coach. If Pat hires the wrong guy I see USC going back tracking another 3-4 years. In a time where UCLA, Stanford and even Oregon are just cherry picking our recruits, it seems like USC doesn't have a sales pitch anymore. The past draft didn't help the cause either. I think these next few seasons are going to be interesting. Am I seeing the glass half empty?

Ted Miller: You do realize that Kiffin's recruiting classes ranked fourth, 13th and 14th in the nation the past three years, with the last two limited to 15 scholarships, 10 below the typical limit?

So, yeah, I do think you are seeing the glass as half-empty.

The Pac-12 blog, just like most media outlets, has taken some shots at Kiffin. Much of it has been justified. Just as the praise we gave him after the 2011 season felt justified.

My overall feeling is we still don't truly know if Kiffin is a good head coach. After the outstanding job he did in 2011, we were leaning in his favor. After 2012, we're leaning the other way. But what if the Trojans go, say, 11-2 this year and beat UCLA and Notre Dame? Or even go 10-3 and split with their rivals? That likely -- barring any of the off-field oddities and distractions that made 2012 even worse than its record -- would force us to re-evaluate him again.

Of course, no USC coach wins over his fan base until he wins a Rose Bowl. And even that provides no guarantees. USC is one of those programs where less than 10 wins and a conference title is a disappointment.

My advice to USC fans is to fully invest in this coming season -- in Kiffin and his players. Think positive. When you cross paths with suddenly enthused UCLA fans, don't rip your coach. That serves no positive purpose.

Is Kiffin on the hotseat? Absolutely. He can't afford another massively disappointing season such as 2012. Probably even a moderately disappointing one. But mentally firing him now is counterproductive.

As for looking ahead, the Pac-12 blog has a policy against speculating on a future coach when the present one is busting his rear end trying to make things right.

Peter from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Tell me what's different about 2013 for the Sun Devils. I'm tired of hearing about the sleeping giant that is ASU. Why should we be more excited about this year than, say, 2011? Also, my twin brother is a UA alumnus. Please structure your argument around our superiority. Thanks Ted. Also, you should start calling your videos "TED talks."

Ted Miller: "TED talks"? Well that's pithier than what I usually get: "A Guy Who Looks Like A Male Super Model Says Smart Things About College Football."


I think a better parallel for this season, if you're looking for a cautionary tale at least, is 2008. The Sun Devils started that season ranked 15th but finished 5-7. That high ranking was based on a 10-3 finish in Dennis Erickson's first year and the return of quarterback Rudy Carpenter, defensive end Dexter Davis, and cornerback Omar Bolden.

And little else.

The Sun Devils were particularly questionable on the offensive line that year, which was made clear when a couple of injuries hit. I recall watching practice before the much-hyped matchup with Georgia and observing poor redshirt freshman Adam Tello being inserted into the starting lineup. He looked like he was about 260, and he was about to square off with 300 pounders Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins, UGA's monstrous defensive tackles.

It's a notable parallel because Todd Graham is entering his second season after a moderately successful 8-5 debut, one that greatly exceeded preseason expectations. And quarterback Taylor Kelly, defensive tackle Will Sutton, and linebacker Carl Bradford are cornerstone players for high 2013 expectations.

But this is a better team than 2008. The biggest difference? Not only are the Sun Devils strong on the offensive line, the depth is pretty solid.

As for structuring this argument around "superiority," I think the Sun Devils will finish higher than Arizona in the Pac-12 South this season. That's the best I can do, because it seems to me both programs are trending up under good coaching staffs.

Kenny from Portland writes: I'm going to assume your omission of Brandin Cooks as a potential 1,000 yard receiver for this year was just due to lack of coffee on your point, and not pure stupidity or hatred for Oregon State. We all know you love Oregon State, and you're not (incredibly) stupid, so how did you miss so much coffee? What gives Ted? BTW, didn't you hear? He ran a 3.86 40 recently in practice?

Ted Miller: Kenny, I'd like to introduce you to the top-half of that story. Goes like this:

The conference featured four 1,000-yard receivers last year. One is off to the NFL: Oregon State's Markus Wheaton. One is out for the season -- or at least a significant part of it -- with a knee injury: Arizona's Austin Hill. Two others are back:

That's a good start. Lee was a unanimous All-American and Cooks could push for such recognition this fall.

Did you notice anything?

The reason we didn't including Cooks as a potential 1,000-yard receiver is because he already has been one.

And, by the way, don't feel bad. A USC fan blasted me on Twitter and called me a "hack" for leaving out Marqise Lee.

Eric from Sammamish, Wash., writes: The Huskies have a QB returning in Price that has unbelievable potential (see 2011 Alamo Bowl), one of the best recieving corps in the Pac-12 with Williams, Johnson, Mickens, freshman Stringfellow. The best TE in the nation in ASJ, a returning 1400 yard rusher, and an O-Line much improved from last year. So the offense is going to be loaded. Lets say the defense manages to play at the same level they did last year, even though they lost Trufant. In my best-case scenario, I see the dawgs going 10-2, getting a BCS bowl from an at-large birth (Stanford is 12-0 playing in Nat'l Championship). Could you see, in the best case, this happening?

Ted Miller: I think 10-2 is a legitimate "best case" for Washington. But I'd rate it a longshot.

First, Washington needs to open the renovated Husky Stadium the right way: With a win against Boise State. That won't be easy.

But the schedule features a number of tough road games, which the Huskies haven't managed well of late: at Stanford, at Arizona State, at UCLA, and at Oregon State. And, of course, there's that little Oregon issue.

Can the Huskies go 4-2 in those games, as well as not get upset in games where they are a favorite? Maybe. But I see 9-3/8-4 as more realistic.

Of course, your first point is the linchpin. Will Washington get the Keith Price of 2011, the Alamo Bowl included? Or will it get the Keith Price of 2012? If it's the former, then 10 wins seems way more plausible.

Jim from Seattle writes: Can you explain to us how the SEC can justify a second team in the BCS or in the Future playoff with an 8 game conference schedule and a FCS cupcake game allowing the SEC to maximize the number of teams that can go post-season? Should the SEC be forced to sacrifice the FCS game or a second team being BCS eligible?

Ted Miller: It might surprise you to hear me type this, but I think we can all relax. Nine game conference schedules and tougher nonconference scheduling for the SEC? It's going to happen, if not in 2014, then soon.

My take-away from the SEC meetings isn't that the SEC coaches want to keep an eight-game schedule. That's mostly irrelevant. It's that commissioner Mike Slive strongly intimated that a nine-game slate is coming and that he wants teams to play a more challenging nonconference schedule.

For one, the SEC just signed a huge new TV deal and will be starting a network. That's motivation to provide a better quality product on a weekly basis.

The word out of the SEC meetings was teams should aspire to 10 good games. That's exactly what we should ask of all college teams in the mix for the new playoff.

So it's possible that the SEC will shortly kill one of my most frequent rants.


Eric from Tempe writes: As a burgeoning football writer at ASU, I was curious as to what would be some good summer reading options to learn more about college football. In particular, I really wanted to learn more about how the NCAA works regarding infractions and violations but any great college football reading recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

Ted Miller: Burgeoning! I'm burgeoning, too, but mostly around my middle.

I don't read that many college football books. When I get done today, I'm going to grab a cocktail and read a few pages in Denis Johnson's "Tree of Smoke." Expecting it to be really uplifting!

But I do have some recommendations, though not about NCAA cases.

  • "The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA," by Taylor Branch. This is a sobering account, though I take issue with some of its conclusions. For someone so inside college football, it's good to read what those on the outside think. And, of course, that also informs one of the weaknesses of the book.

  • "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan probably played a role in the, er, death of the BCS. If you write a book that presages change, you have accomplished something.

  • "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," by Bruce Feldman is a must-read to understand the recruiting process. Feldman gets incredible access, and you really get into the suspense of trying to land a highly touted guy. And then you want to take a shower.

  • "Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football," by John Bacon is one of those "this is what really happened" behind-the-scene stories. While it doesn't fully exonerate, Rodriguez, it does paint a sympathetic picture of a him in a mismatched marriage. It also reveals the real Lloyd Carr, and shows some discouraging examples of the media trying to force a story that really isn't there.

  • Stewart Mandel's "Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls: Tackling the Chaos and Controversy That Reign over College Football," has become a bit dated just because of all the change in college football of late, but it hits on a lot of different issues in an intelligent, amusing way.