Post-vacation mailbag: Oregon finishes second in SEC

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Digging deep into some old mail that thought it might escape while I was on vacation.

Aaron from Parts Unknown wrote: Saying that Oregon would have finished #2 in the SEC is untenable. Alabama had a better record, and the two teams that beat Alabama - Utah and Florida - would have beaten Oregon as well.

UGA finished with the same record as did Oregon, and it is impossible to claim that UGA benefited from an easier schedule when Oregon played Utah State, Purdue, Washington, and Washington State... Sorry, but this bashing the SEC nonconference schedules can only take you so far. At some point the Pac-10 teams have to start beating people, and who was the best team Oregon beat in 2008? Whether you say it was 9-4 Oregon State or 9-4 Oklahoma State, it doesn't matter: neither was any better than teams that Alabama and UGA beat. It is one thing to throw things out there, but it is quite another to back it up with evidence.

Ted Miller: It's actually really tenable.

I don't like using the transitive property to make a football point, but this one is a slam dunk.

Utah outclassed Alabama, which finished second in the SEC, in the Sugar Bowl 31-17, despite the Tide playing what amounted to a home game. There was nothing about that game that suggested Alabama just had a bad day. Utah outgained Alabama 337 yards to 214. The Tide got whupped.

Oregon State lost 31-28 at Utah, the Utes rallying for 11 points in the final 90 seconds. It was an inspired effort by the Utes, but getting outgained 405 to 337 at home suggests that the Beavers were physically superior, or at least a physical match.

The Beavers then played Oregon. They lost 65-38 at home. The Ducks offense gained 694 yards that evening.

And Oregon State's defense still finished in a dead heat with Georgia in the national rankings. Of course, the Bulldogs were hurt by giving up 405 yards rushing in a loss to Georgia Tech, which almost had as good a rushing offense as the Ducks, though Oregon also can throw the ball.

Further, Georgia and Oregon had a common opponent: Arizona State.

The Bulldogs beat the Sun Devils 27-10. The Ducks, also playing on the road, beat the Sun Devils 54-20, rushing for 304 yards in the process.

Aaron wrote: "At some point the Pac-10 teams have to start beating people, and who was the best team Oregon beat in 2008? Whether you say it was 9-4 Oregon State or 9-4 Oklahoma State, it doesn't matter: neither was any better than teams that Alabama and UGA beat. It is one thing to throw things out there, but it is quite another to back it up with evidence."


Er, actually, Oklahoma State finished ranked 16th, which is higher than any team Georgia beat. Alabama's best win came over No. 13 Georgia.

Toss in No. 18 Oregon State, and the Ducks beat two top-20 teams. Just like Alabama.

That's evidence. And it's tenable.

Logan from Tucson writes: It seems that Pac 10 fans and the Pac 10 blog always seem to put Arizona in the category of: Better than the worst, but not even close to the best. What does Arizona have to do this season to move into the discussions of being a top 3 Pac 10 team and how many wins do you think they will get this season?

Ted Miller: My guess is your perception is based on how folks -- fans and media -- have reacted to Arizona finishing fifth, sixth, fifth, eighth, eighth, 10th, ninth, eighth and fifth in the conference since 2000.

As far as what Arizona needs to do to move into the top-three: the Wildcats should aim to compile a conference record that is eclipsed by no more than two teams. The best way to do that is to earn a winning record vs. a pool of teams including USC, California, Oregon and Oregon State.

Ah... and to your most meaty question: I think Arizona is a bowl team in 2009. I'm not ready to say just yet whether the Wildcats will be a BOWL TEAM! or a bowl team. You'll just have to be patient while my crystal ball gets its summer tune-up.

Michael from Phoenix wrote: I was looking at the SC roster before the spring scrimmage a few weeks ago to see who was returning kicks and punts, it didn't say on the sheet so i thought i would find out during the game, but then they didn't have any punts. So i was wondering if you knew who might get the job for the Trojans this year, Mcknight and Stafon Johnson both had good moments returning punts but they seem to fumble more often then they get 10 yards, and gable returned kicks last year but he's had fumbling problems as well. Also, do you think Pete would ever let Mays return some punts.

Ted Miller: I doubt Mays will return kicks or punts, though it is intriguing to imagine a 235-pound guy who runs a 4.3 getting a head of steam on a kick return.

The return game, however, is based on elusiveness and running instincts as much as pure speed.

Considering that everyone who returned kicks and punts last year -- Ronald Johnson and C.J. Gable with kicks and Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and Brandon Carswell with punts -- is back in 2009, my guess is those guys are the front-runners.

A potential wildcard: Redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal, who was a breakout guy this past spring.

Mike from Eugene, Ore., writes: What do you think Oregon's chances are of finishing in the the top three in the pac-10 next year with out Roper? I don't think we well be able to unless God smiles on us and we have no injuries next year at the QB position. But it seems like we have at least one QB injury every year.

Ted Miller: Oregon's chances for a special season were not hurt by Justin Roper's decision to transfer. If starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli went down, Roper would not have led the Ducks to a top-10 finish. He's a solid drop-back quarterback, but he's not a prototype for what Chip Kelly wants from his QB in the Ducks spread-option offense.

And if Nate Costa proves healthy this fall, he might have ended up the No. 2 guy in any event. Recall he beat Roper out for the starting job last year before going down with another knee injury. And Darron Thomas is no slouch, either.

If any team loses its starting quarterback, it almost always suffers. And every team would love to have experienced depth at quarterback.

But Roper's departure isn't a big deal.

Andy from Spokane, Wash., writes: As a lifelong WSU fan I was wondering what you think about this team next year. I do not really expect much this year and have always thought Paul Wulff was the wrong choice for coach (I do not think any coach should go from the Big Sky conference to the Pac-10). Of course I would love my team to go 12-0 - but I would be happy with 6-
6 after last years disaster (and even that might be a stretch), but if the Cougars do end up going something like 2-10 or 3-9 do you think they will fire him after the season? What do you think they will have to do this year for him to keep his job?

Ted Miller: Andy, if the Cougars win six games next year... well, that would truly shock me. This is a program undergoing a major rebuilding.

Paul Wulff inherited a team with HUGE talent problems. I also think the team culture declined in the final few season under Bill Doba. And then epidemic injuries hit in 2008 and didn't abate this spring.

I would hope Coug fans won't judge Wulff on next year's record. This will be a young team that may not take many steps forward from its 2-11 finish in 2008.

The Cougs need to be more competitive. They need to fight into the fourth quarter. And Wulff and his staff need to recruit like crazy.

Still, Wulff needs at least four years to turn this thing around. I'd suggest fans be patient.