Happy Friday. That goes for you, too, Washington State.
Well, mostly. Hey, next round's on Gemmell? That help? Thought so.
Follow me on Twitter, where I wax and wane between sympathetic, antagonistic and sarcastic.
To the notes!
Devon from Mesa, Arizona, writes: When Todd Graham was hired at ASU, the national media focused only on his nomadic past and the admittedly less-than-ideal way he left Pitt. But since then, he's been nothing but extremely loyal and impressive as the Sun Devils' coach, improving the play on the field, the quality of recruiting, the discipline in the program, and the morale of the fan base. But even after winning the South and the conference coach of the year honors last year, most media picks ASU as no better than fifth in the Pac-12 this season. What more does he need to do to convince the national media to get past the one-year stint at Pitt and to start giving Graham some respect for the outstanding program he's building in Tempe?
Ted Miller: Well, fifth in the Pac-12 is good enough to be 19th in the preseason AP poll and 18th with the coaches, slightly ahead of their 2013 finish, so it's not exactly like the national media is hatin' them some Sun Devils. Further, fifth is only down two spots in the conference from last year, when ASU finished third in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and Oregon.
Why down two spots? Quick: Name four defensive starters. Ah ha! Yes, pretty much completely rebuilding your defense with unknown quantities is something the national media picked up on. It's not personal. It's business. The media goes all Missouri on you: You've got to show us. While Graham has recruited well, he's not in Alabama or Florida State territory, where he gets the benefit of the doubt with his true and redshirt freshmen and JC transfers.
Speaking of JC transfers, and I don't want to seem thin-skinned here, but the Pac-12 blog received gobs of "your an idiot" [sic] hate mail this offseason from maestros of the message boards fans telling us how stupid we were for not understanding how dominant front-seven stalwarts Dalvon Stuckey and Darrius Caldwell were going to be.
How's that working out? Not to be snide about academic non-qualifiers but we've written over and over again about the love affair folks seem to have with the idea of touted players who have yet to play a game or even practice. Previously we termed it, "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent." Or IDIOT. Yes, we just tittered at our own snarky joke. So sorry for that.
So the reason the Sun Devils slipped in the preseason projections is the defense looks suspect. It's nothing more complicated than that.
Did we learn anything about the Sun Devils -- defense or otherwise -- during their 45-14 stomping of Weber State on Thursday? Nope.
How can Arizona State improve its place in the national pecking order? Beat UCLA at home on Sept. 25, a Thursday night game that should have a significant national audience. A 4-0 start for Graham and the Sun Devils would earn them a top-10 ranking.
Ah, did you notice something about this answer, though? I didn't bring up Pittsburgh and all that muckety-muck. Know why? I've moved on and I think most writers have, too. Graham was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year last year and has shown no interest in moving out of Tempe. I think that narrative has seen its last whimper, at least until he seems to again show a wandering eye
Eric from Vallejo, California, writes: Hi, longtime Ducks fan here. Saw my first game at Autzen in 1970.The two biggest conference games for the Ducks are with UCLA on the road, and Stanford at home. I have noticed that nobody has commented on the fact that the Ducks get two extra days to prepare for UCLA and one extra day to prepare for Stanford. (UCLA's game before meeting the Ducks is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Thursday. Similarly, Stanford's previous game is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Friday.) It could be the difference-maker! The scheduling gods smiled on the Ducks this year. How significant do you think the extra days of rest and prep will be for the Ducks on their two most important conference games?
Ted Miller: Oregon's schedule is undoubtedly favorable. It starts with missing USC and Arizona State, a pair of top-25 teams from the South Division, and it includes having Michigan State, Washington and Stanford all come to Autzen Stadium.
And your point about extra days of preparation is entirely valid. I'm imagining UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone reading this and going, "Well that stinks," then telling Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, and that troika proceeding to trash the coaches' offices, throwing chairs out the window and kicking walls before they throw themselves on their knees and bellow in unison, "Why! WHY?! Oh, why doth thou forsake us, oh great scheduling gods?!"
It might not happen exactly like that, but it would be cool if it did.
There's no question extra preparation time, as well as extra rest/recovery time, is an advantage. While there's no obvious proof of a pro-Ducks scheduling conspiracy, you never know.
Jim from Los Angeles writes: I think Myles Jack is a much better linebacker than running back. I'd rather seem him play defense and only occasionally play offense. How do you think UCLA can best utilize Jack's talents?
Ted Miller: Jim... last name... Mora?
I think that's UCLA's plan, particularly with Jordan James back from injury. Recall that the reason Jack saw action at RB last year was because of injuries in the backfield, most notably to James, who ranked among the national rushing leaders early in the season.
But Jack also might offer a good change of pace to a more physical runner, particularly near the goal line. I expect him to get touches on offense in specific packages but I also don't think anyone has illusions about where his primary position is -- on defense, where he's got an NFL future.
Ted Miller: Yes.
They are different, but they both will be early draft picks -- perhaps both going in the first round this spring -- and I suspect both will have good NFL careers.
Both have NFL arms. Both are tall, which the NFL values. Both are smart enough to learn an NFL playbook. Mariota brings a run/scramble element, while Mannion is a traditional guy who stands tall in the pocket.
I've learned through the years that my skills predicting NFL careers are limited, not unlike NFL GMs. But I'd be surprised if both don't end up as NFL starters.
Fleecemonkey from San Carlos, California, writes: Did no one do any independent source verification before reporting the Josh Shaw story? Is that not the journalistic standard? I ask out of sincere curiosity. No snark intended. When I wrote a piece for the NY Times Sunday Review, I had to provide documentation for every fact. Does sports journalism adhere to different practices?
Ted Miller: While all forms of journalism should adhere to basic 101 standards, these are complicated times for the profession. Things move faster than they once did. As in immediate fast. You get information you believe is from a good source and you tend to go with it ASAP. It used to be you could double- and triple-source and provide depth and perspective on breaking news because your only time constraint was the deadline for the AM edition. Now, for better or worse, there's a battle for Twitter turf.
That's a different bird than what you did for the NY Times Sunday Review, which I'm guessing was a non-deadline feature or long-form story that can be thoroughly fact-checked because there's time to do so.
In this case, team captain Josh Shaw, a senior with a good reputation, told coaches and administrators at USC that he jumped off of a second-story balcony and hurt his ankles because he was trying to save his drowning 7-year-old nephew. There was no reason, at that point, to view Shaw with suspicion, to see him as someone who would manufacture an outrageous lie. He had no history of deceit or questionable conduct within the program, at least as far as we know.
How did USC get fooled? Read this. It does a good job of explaining.
Then USC, using its official website, published a story with quotes from Shaw and coach Steve Sarkisian. That put the seemingly legitimate information out there, and beat writers felt they needed to react for their publications as soon as possible, probably knowing it would be of national interest. At that point, just about everyone was planning a follow-up. That would be the deeper and more detailed -- and more sourced -- picture of an act of heroism and the young man who performed it. .
Things moved pretty quickly thereafter, though not before many of us were captivated -- hook, line and sinker. As it was, the feel-good story became a stinking pile of manure.
Costi from Phoenix writes: While a lot of optimism always inevitably floats around at the beginning of the season (which I love, of course). I want the pessimistic side of your analysis as well. I want to know what team or teams do you think is most likely to underwhelm, fall well short of expectations, or simply just surprise people with how thin or bad they are? I mean, sure, the Bears and Buffs are most likely to be the worst teams at the end of the season, but everyone expects that. Which Pac-12 team projected to contend is most likely to fall well short of expectations?
Ted Miller: After watching Washington State lose Thursday to a Rutgers team that I thought it would roll over, I think all the favorites have plenty of room to self-destruct. Heck, many Pac-12 teams are just a few injuries away from massively reduced capabilities -- see Oregon with QB Marcus Mariota last year.
What could go wrong? How about this.
Arizona: What if QB play is poor and the defense gets exposed?
Arizona State: What if the rebuilt defense is lousy?
California: What if the team starts slowly and quits on Sonny Dykes?
Colorado: What if the voids left behind by WR Paul Richardson and DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe prove too much?
Oregon: What if the receivers and secondary underwhelm?
Oregon State: That O-line is questionable, and Brandin Cooks is in the NFL.
Stanford: Losing four starting O-linemen and the biggest producers on defense could actually be a problem.
UCLA: Sophomore slumps on both lines, a loss to Texas and a team unprepared for disappointment.
USC: New systems and a lack of depth, as well as swirling preseason controversies.
Utah: Still not ready for prime time Pac-12 play.
Washington: New systems, new QB, new RB and a young secondary.
Washington State: No run defense; no running game.
The teams set up for the biggest falls are everyone's favorites: Oregon and UCLA. While I don't see either faltering in a massive way, it wouldn't shock me if one or the other ended up outside the top 10. Because both have such high expectations, that first defeat might include a hangover that causes loss No. 2. Or even No. 3.
Gary from La Grande, Oregon, writes: Ted, you've been catching a lot of heat for ending the best-case/worst-case scenarios. So, I thought you might feel better to know that I couldn't stand 'em.
Ted Miller: Yes, Gary, I now feel great. Thanks.