Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.
To the questions!
David from Washington D.C. writes: As I have ties to both programs (grew up Oregon fan and undergrad at Berkeley) and root for both, it's concerning to me that both Oregon and Cal needed to fire/hire new coaches this year. What should be the minimum expectations for Cal fans and I have the same question for Oregon? While I'm no roster expert, the Ducks seem like they might not be that far away and I think from what you've written you agree. So does that mean we could regain our dominance against the Fuskies? And is there any chance the Golden Bears get invited to a bowl game?
Ted Miller: First a quibble.
Whenever someone does the "I root for two teams" deal, they must -- in terms of Mailbag etiquette -- announce which team they root for when those two teams play. One must be, at the very least, a "1A" in the pecking order or some here might question your seriousness. And, by the way, you'll be sent to fan jail if you say that you root for the team that's doing better, dubiously leaving your options open on an annual basis.
If someone said the over-under on wins for Oregon were seven, I'd take the over. If someone said that the over-under for California was five, I'd take the under.
California's second biggest issue is its schedule, which includes a trip to North Carolina to open the season and a visit from Ole Miss. The only gimme is in Week 2 against Weber State. Otherwise, the Bears might be underdogs in their other 11 games. It's difficult to not project a 1-6 start for the Justin Wilcox Era in Berkeley.
The first issue is a roster chocked full of questions, which start on defense -- Wilcox's specialty -- but extend to uncertainty at quarterback. The Bears will need to score a lot to win, which doesn't sound like an ideal situation for a young QB learning a new system.
As for Oregon, it, too, has huge issues on defense, but its nine returning starters seem superior to what the Bears have coming back. The Ducks offense almost feels like a sure thing with four returning starters coming back on the O-line to block for running back Royce Freeman and to protect promising sophomore QB Justin Herbert.
Further, this is not coach Willie Taggart's first rodeo. He's rebuilt two programs from awful to pretty darn good. He understands this process. Wilcox has hired an impressive staff, but he's a first-time head coach, so he'll be learning a job on the go that has plenty of unexpected nuances.
And budget and administrative priorities will sometimes challenge him at Cal. That is not an issue at Oregon.
So, Cal fans should root for their team to improve throughout the season. They should hope the defense knocks at least a touchdown off the 42.6 points per game it yielded a year ago. They should hope for someone establishing himself behind center. They should hope for four or five wins but recognize that actually might be optimistic.
Oregon fans will have justifiably higher expectations, though many already seem to be assuming an immediate return to the top of the North Division, which is probably a mistake. The Ducks will be back in the mix, but the North is thick with quality teams.
Still, maybe I'm drinking the Taggart Kool-Aid too quickly, but I suspect the Ducks are going to end up in the final top-25 in January.
Alex writes: Per "How would this year's Sweet 16 have played out in football?" what are you smoking? Arizona? Over West Virginia and Wisconsin? In FOOTBALL? Please tell me this is a joke and your not this stupid. I couldn't care less about West Virginia but the Badgers would manhandle Arizona. Explain this dumpster fire of an article.
Ted Miller: Thanks. You're probably right to rip me. Your note has made clear that you didn't like my hard-hitting exposé, which I viewed until this very moment as pure, unadulterated Pulitzer catnip. I'm just glad you're not as stupid as me.
Fully shamed though I am, I will humbly volunteer that My Dumpster Fire of an Article was intended to be flippant and whimsical. Hoping like a lonely puppy at the dog pound, I aimed for amusing, not a retreat into the 2016 season for wonkish speculation on what might transpire if, say, UCLA and Kentucky had played a football game.
I specifically wrote that Arizona beating West Virginia would be an upset. I also wrote this after announcing that -- somehow, some way -- Arizona had beaten Wisconsin in fictional football: "And in no way should this unlikely result telegraph the potential drama we want to orchestrate for the fictitious national championship game."
To be honest and to reveal the inner-machinations of my artistic process, within 45 seconds of looking at the Sweet 16 matchups and seeing Arizona, West Virginia and Michigan, I concluded that a "Tour de Rich Rod" was my best hook. Xs and Os and the football side of football played no part.
And for that I will never forgive myself, Alex.