Mailbag: Too much ASU hype?

For those who were wondering, the weekly chats will return. Not sure when, but they aren't gone for good. Until then, enjoy the mailbag. And, as always, follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

Anton in Red Cliff, Colo. writes: Curious as to why everyone is on the Arizona State bandwagon? If they were to replicate last season's record vs teams with winning records and losing records they would finish with a 4-8 record. Their only win during the regular season against a team with a winning record was vs. Arizona, a game the Wildcats arguably lost rather than the Sun Devils won. Against the power teams in the conference they did miserably. I'd figure a 5-7 record seems about right for this team. Not 10-2 or 9-3 like other people are saying.

Jake in Los Angeles writes: Have you taken a look at Arizona State's schedule? I understand their in conference schedule is easier than UCLA's and USC's but I seriously expect the ASU hype to end after they (most likely) fail to have a winning record after their first 5 games. 2 of those games are locks for ASU losses, and two of them are toss ups. I doubt their above .500 5 games into the season. The South will come down to UCLA and USC, and probably whoever wins that game will win the South (same situation as last year). UCLA will win and rematch Stanford in the championship, which again will come down to a mistake or two on either side of the ball.

Kevin Gemmell: I can't speak for everyone else, so I'll offer my thought process in picking ASU to win the South on my media poll ballot.

First and foremost -- it isn't simply because of Will Sutton or Carl Bradford. It's Taylor Kelly, and his 67.1 percent completion percentage as a first-year starter, second only to Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's the fact that he ranked second in the conference in efficiency, second again only to Mariota. It's the fact that Mike Norvell is expanding the playbook now that Kelly, Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Chris Coyle have a year of experience under their belts in the system. By the way, Grice is about 220 pounds now that he's had a full offseason in a Division I training program. There isn't much of a ceiling on what that core group of players is capable of.

It's hard not to imagine this group being better than they were last season, which leads me to believe they'll do better against tougher competition than they did last season.

Now, speaking of Sutton and Bradford, those two make up the most dynamic pass-rushing tandem in the country. They combined for 44 tackles for a loss last season. That's more than 14 FBS teams had in an entire season! These guys are quick. They are nasty. And they get after the football.

They are also the team with the fewest question marks in the South. UCLA's to-be-determined rushing attack and inexperienced secondary is why I dropped it to second. USC's quarterback competition gives me hesitation. But I also believe UCLA and USC are extremely capable of winning the division. And I wouldn't be shocked if any of the three did.

But since it was a poll, someone has to be first, so I went with the team with the fewest questions.

As for the schedule, there are plenty of toss-up games that could certainly go the other way. But I see them winning more of those toss-ups than they lose. Getting USC early in the season and at home is helpful as the Trojans try to break in the new quarterback and adjust to a new defensive scheme. If I were an ASU fan, I'd feel a lot sketchier about that game if it were in the middle of November. Keep in mind also that they miss Oregon this season -- and it might not take nine or 10 wins to capture the South. Eight wins might be enough with a top-heavy North, and a South that is going to go all cannibal on itself.

Finally, I think Todd Graham has done a heck of a job. You need only to look to their drastic reduction in penalties last season. That shows me that 1) Graham and Co. can coach. 2) These are players who want to be coached. Combine that with some All-American talent, and you have a team that will compete for a division title.

Or they could finish 5-7.

Tyler in Tübingen Germany writes: So Mr. Scott recently announced that the Pac-12 will have limited contact during practices. Are the other conferences doing this? If not, then this rule is absolutely ridiculous. Every team in every conference should play by the same rules. Limited contact was one of the things which hurt the Huskies during the Willingham era. His players didn't know how to hit and didn't know how to react after getting hit. I think this is a mistake.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, Scott announced it, but every team in the conference signed off on it. Larry Scott doesn't just point ahead and say "make it so." If that were the case, we'd all be watching games on DirectTV by now.

Second, yes, other conferences are doing this -- only it's not on paper and official the way the Pac-12 has done it. Most teams in the country -- including NFL teams -- follow similar doctrines. And they have been doing it for quite some time. You can read the official language of the policy here. It provides plenty of time to teach the fundamentals without overdoing it on the hitting.

You are right about their needing to be uniformity -- especially as we move to the College Football Playoff. I'd be equally concerned with teams having an equal number of conference games and strength of schedule parity.

Chaz in Eugene writes: I wonder what some of the gridiron greats of the '50s would say about this "limited contact" policy.

Kevin Gemmell: "Don't know what to think of this limited contact policy, but boy I sure wish there was a vaccination for polio."

Progress is going to happen with each generation. Some is good. Some is bad. This is good progress.

John in Los Angeles writes: First, I realize position and the quality of your depth plays a BIG part in what I'm about to ask, but all things being equal: Except for QB, how many plays would a position coach PREFER to play their starters during a game? Just curious.

Kevin Gemmell: All things being equal, including the quality of competition? Obviously you want your best players on the field to give you the best chance to win. I think that goes without saying. But I think most coaches would prefer the Oregon approach -- build a 49-0 lead by snack time and let your starters rest in the second half to stay fresh for the season and avoid injury. Not everyone is blessed with such scenarios.

It really depends on the team. I'll use Oregon again as an example. Some guys who weren't necessarily starters last season got a ton of playing time and experience because the Ducks were able to rest a lot of their starters in games. That bodes well for the future. And when you're able to get youngsters quality snaps against first-team competition, it bolsters the overall health of the program. Byron Marshall steps into a situation already having experienced 87 carries. Not bad for a backup.

Coaches with bell-cow running backs usually like their guy to touch the ball 20-25 times per game. Stepfan Taylor, the very definition of a workhorse back, averaged 23 carries per game. It depends on the coach, the philosophy and the system.

Jake in Los Angeles writes: Out of curiosity, can you post your (and Ted's) media poll ballots from last year as well?

Kevin Gemmell: I went back through the blog archives and couldn't find a post about it ... guessing we didn't write one up. If memory serves, Ted picked USC to win the national championship, and I picked Stanford to finish 12-2 and win the Rose Bowl. Pretty sure I also had BYU rolling Washington State.

At least that's how I remember it.