Opening the Mailbag: Why does everyone love Oregon?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

By the way, thanks for all the valentines. Oh, wait. I didn't get any. Sniff.

Dan from Bend Oregon writes: In your latest preseason projection you have Oregon ranked third in conference, knowing that their defensive and offensive lines have been gutted and their receivers and secondary are not as experienced as last years corp.So my question is what makes you believe that after losing all those starters ,in addition to firing some assistant coaches and putting everyone in limbo on the issue of next year's head coach how will the Ducks be able to hold a top three spot in the conference?

Ted Miller: There seems to be a significant amount of backlash to the national love Oregon is getting, notably from Oregon State fans -- for obvious reasons -- and California fans, who believe the Bears are the best threat to end USC's seven-season run atop the Pac-10.

The biggest reason for the love is the Holiday Bowl beatdown of Oklahoma State, led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who's coming back in 2009, which capped a 10-win season.

At the Rose Bowl, I got a lot of: "Is Oregon really that good?" To which I replied, "Either that or Oklahoma State was way overrated."

A lot of it is Masoli: Good quarterbacks get attention, particularly good quarterbacks who run over defenders.

Sure, the Ducks lose a lot of good players, particularly on defense. But, Dan, you overstate the offensive losses. The line is hardly gutted: It welcomes back four players with starting experience.

As far as the coaching situation with the vague transition from Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly and the staff changes that includes, I'm reserving judgment until after spring practices.

Might I -- and others -- revise our take on Oregon before the season begins? Possibly. But right now I like the Ducks at No. 3 in the conference and among the top-15 in the nation.

E Well from Parts Unknown writes: I know you probably looked at the Stanford roster and saw Ekom Udofia listed as a 3 year player going into 2008, but that is an error. He redshirted in 2005 due to the leg fracture and rehab. He played in '06, '07, and '08. One year to go at DT. He'll start alongside Fua, barring a major surprise.

Ted Miller: Thanks E -- how's Vince?

You are correct. That was an oversight on my part, which I corrected after reading your note.

Part of the challenge of covering Stanford is the athletic department -- pointlessly -- refuses to acknowledge redshirt years. So a fourth-year player who sat out his freshman season is listed as a senior, even though he has remaining eligibility.

What that means is the official roster is useless when trying to figure out remaining eligibility.

Still, just because an athletic department adopts of obtuse policy doesn't mean I shouldn't get something like that correct. My bad.

Derek from Scottsdale wrote: Ted, Wasn't Oregon St. going to play Penn St. in a Home/Home series? Am I mistaken, or did one of the schools back out?

Ted Miller: Unfortunately, teams like Penn State, with stadiums that seat more than 100,000, don't often play nonconference road games, particularly with teams with 46,000-seat stadiums. It's a one-way series.

The Beavers, meanwhile, were willing to take on the challenging road game because they earned about $1.1 million for their trouble -- $800,000 of which came directly from Penn State.

Tom from San Luis Obispo writes: Come on, you really think there is a tight end better than Jermaine Gresham at Oklahoma? Gronkowski is, at best, a distant second.
Ted Miller: I'd rate them neck-and-neck, and remember Gronkowski is a year younger.

Rick from Piedmont, Calif., writes: Do you think Cal has what it takes to dethrone USC next year. They have the returning talent to do it plus they get SC early so whoever the new QB is will still be adjusting to his new responsibilities. But I think it will eventually come down to consistent play from Riley and overall team poise.

Ted Miller: First, I'm still picking USC, now and into the preseason, to win the conference.

Why? USC has the best players.

Now, if you are asking me if Cal is capable of taking down the Trojans, I'd say yes. And I'd also say that USC appears more vulnerable heading into 2009 than it has been in years.

Further, I agree with you on Riley: If he breaks through and plays consistently -- and his receiving corps grows up after an indifferent season -- the Bears should be a top-10 team.

And, yes, that would include a legitimate shot at dethroning USC and going to the program's first Rose Bowl since 1959.

Sam from Los Angeles writes: What makes you think UCLA "will improve significantly" next season?

Ted Miller: The quarterback and offensive line play can't get any worse, so the Bruins will surely improve.


The Bruins have a good collection of players coming back next year and you'd think the odds would favor them having fewer injury problems than they did in 2008.

Rick Neuheisel has now collected two consecutive top-rated recruiting classes, and he and offensive coordinator Norm Chow will have a better understanding of their team and the rest of the Pac-10.

The Bruins should win six or seven games while playing a lot better than they did in 2008.