Mailbag: Beavers and Cal's Barbour

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To the notes!

Eric from Terrebonne, Ore., writes: I have a prediction. Oregon State will be an improved team in the first year of the CFB playoff. Here is my justification:

1. With the return of Captain Doctor and the experience some of the underclassmen got last year in his absence, a strong LB corps can replace and improve upon the production of our front seven last year. Scott Crichton is a big loss, but I suspect we will see improved play from our front seven in run defense.

2. Steven Nelson is big time. In his first year in the Beavers' system, he had six interceptions (one for a TD). Under the tutelage of Rod Perry, I suspect he could improve on that number, and he appears to have the skill set to be a fantastic college cornerback.

3. The run game will improve. The Beavs have a great group of underclassmen on the offensive line. I foresee a couple of them stepping up, and doing great things for the run game. Sean Harlow showed that he can be dominant last year as a freshman, and if he can develop a bit more consistency, he could be an anchor up front. The bowl game showed that the potential is there for Oregon State to once again be a "pound the ground, and throw it over your head" offense. When the offense is balanced, Oregon State can beat anyone (and often does). I will be interested to see where Chris Brown fits into the run game, as I have really liked some of the stuff he has done.

John Garrett is a wild card to me. I will be interested in seeing what "tweaks" he brings to the offense. There will be a lot of new looks in the conference, next year, but I suspect we will see a return to an older style from Oregon State.

Ted Miller: There certainly are reasons to be optimistic about the Beavers in 2014, though there also are plenty of questions and the Pac-12 North Division isn't getting any easier.

The biggest reason for optimism is the return of QB Sean Mannion, who I suspect will take another step forward as a player and leader as a senior.You mention the linebackers, but the entire back seven on defense is going to be strong. Linebackers D.J. Alexander, Jabral Johnson and Michael Doctor will be an A-list starting three, and three starters are back in the secondary, topped by Nelson and freee safety Ryan Murphy. Those five are potential all-conference guys.

Tight end/H-back is also deep, and could compensate for some questions at receiver.

Ah, but receiver is a good place to start in terms of questions: How the heck do you replace Brandin Cooks? Richard Mullaney is a nice player, but there's not much proven production behind him. Sophomores Victor Bolden and Malik Gilmore top the spring depth chart, and they combined for 13 receptions last seas0n.

While the offensive line is replacing three starters, the potential replacements have experience. The biggest question is probably left tackle, where junior college transfer Bobby Keenan will be given first crack to replace Michael Philipp. If it stays healthy, this crew could be solid. That and questions with the receivers probably will boost the emphasis on the running game, which I view as a positive. You could see the Beavers tearing a page from Stanford's tight end-heavy playbook this year.

Finally, there's the defensive line, which is replacing three starters, including Scott Crichton. The situation at defensive tackle looks far better than it did a year ago. Most notable is 300-pound Miami transfer Jalen Grimble, who is being penciled in as an interior starter. But Crichton's end position opposite stalwart Dylan Wynn is a big question. Jaswha James tops the spring depth chart and he had just eight tackles last year. His backups, which include converted receiver Obum Gwacham, have no game experience.

The priorities for the Beavers in 2014 are the same on both sides of the ball: The run game.

The Beavers couldn't run the ball or stop the run last season. Kevin touched on the run offense here, but stopping the run was as big a problem. The Beavers yielded 5.1 yards per carry, which ranked last in the conference, and surrendered 28 rushing TDs, which ranked 10th.

The weak run defense last fall affected what should have been a good secondary, as the Beavers ranked only eighth in pass efficiency defense. One might recall some pass-defense problems in the 2013 season opener.

The Beavers certainly look like a bowl team. At present, I'd rate the over-under for their regular-season win total at seven. But if the receivers grow up quickly and both lines of scrimmage stay healthy, that number might inch up by one or two or even three wins.

Ashley from Louisville, Ky., writes: Cal football had the worst year in its history after spending millions of dollars on a new stadium (and several seasons of mediocrity). Cal basketball imploded and didn't make the tournament even after a brief moment of brilliance, beating Arizona (typical for Cal athletics to offer us hope before taking it away, it seems). When will Sandy Barbour finally take some heat for the underachievement of the big programs?

Ted Miller: Well, if Cal football posts a second consecutive dismal season under second-year coach Sonny Dykes in front of dwindling crowds at Memorial Stadium, I'd guess things would get pretty hot for Barbour, though I don't sense a great clamoring for her termination.

While basketball is muddling along and football has taken a downturn, Barbour has accomplished a lot after taking over a program that was mired in all sorts of financial troubles. For one, she substantially upgraded the football facilities and renovated the stadium, which is quite an accomplishment at a place like Berkeley, where lots of folks hold the odd notion that one of the world's great academic institutions should't spend hundreds of millions of dollars on sports. Imagine.

Moreover, non-revenue sports have done great under her (other than that a PR hiccup a few years back about cutting sports to save money).

My personal take is Berkeley is not an easy place to be an AD (I bet Barbour, if she's reading this, just said to herself, "You can bet your tuchus it isn't, Miller!"). If Dykes and the football program take a step forward this year, my guess is Barbour is more likely to sign an extension than get canned.

As with all hasty decisions about hiring and firing, I'd suggest you listen to Walter White.

Tread lightly.

This, to me, is a notably reasonable assessment of Barbour from a variety of Cal voices.

Ita from Layton, Utah writes: Ted, you are being paged to the ESPN Tournament Challenge page. I repeat, Ted Miller, please report to the Pac-12 Blog Tournament Challenge page.

Ted Miller: I'm always late to these things.

But I did notice that Kevin was kicking butt… in 41st place.

Biggeazy from Everett, Wash., writes: Just wanted to thank you and Kevin for this blog. I may disagree with you guys on different occasions, but you guys do a really good job. Just know that you have a lot of fans across Pac-12 country and your collective hard work is greatly appreciated. Please extend my greetings to all the blog regulars. I think I speak for all when I say I miss the banter a ton.

Ted Miller: Wait… you disagree with us on occasion?

Can't possibly be true.

But thanks.