Mailbag: Tosh & Thomas reactions

It is Friday. Can we get some emergency college football tomorrow? How about a USC-Alabama scrimmage? Anyone? Anyone?

No. Drat.

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To the notes!

Shawn from Albany, Ore., writes: You recently stated, "USC just became the strong front-runner in the Pac-12."... Why? You can't tell me you really think that just because Thomas is bolting for the NFL, that its going to make the Ducks any less competitive in the PAC-12 next year... Apparently you didn't pay much attention when True Freshman Bryan Bennett played this last year... Yes it will be his first year as our starter, but if you recall, Thomas took us to the National Championship game his FIRST year as starter... And if you ask me, Bennett's not only faster than Thomas, but has a better arm... That kid can sling a pigskin! Anyway... I'd be careful about stating anything that has to do with USC being somehow more dominant than us based simply on the fact we'll no longer have Thomas at the helm... It's time for a new era of Oregon Football... The Bennett Era!

Ted Miller: Well, I had USC as a slight front-runner in the Pac-12 in any event based largely on the fact that Oregon must play at USC on Nov. 3 and not vice versa. The Ducks' loss of Thomas just makes the Trojans front-runner status clearer.

With or without Thomas, Oregon is the clear front-runner in the North Division. I will be shocked if the Ducks don't play in the 2012 Pac-12 championship game. And I'd be more than a little surprised if they have more than two losses when they do so.

And yet the loss of Thomas does change things, whether Oregon fans want to admit it or not. Thomas is a given. You know what you will get from him. And, more important, so does Chip Kelly. When a coach really knows his quarterback, particularly a Dr. Strange offensive savant like Chip Kelly, it helps him engineer the offense to suit him in every detail. Kelly knows what Thomas likes and dislikes. He knows how he will react to just about every situation. He won't know that about Bryan Bennett.

Heck, we don't even know that Bennett will be the starter, though I feel strongly he will be. It seems some are intrigued by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Bennett played well coming off the bench when Thomas got hurt against Arizona State. And he did a good job in his start at Colorado. But, well, the Buffs' defense wasn't exactly LSU.

How will Bennett -- or whoever starts -- react to adversity? Or prosperity even? Will he be durable? Will he protect the football? Will he be able to make consistent reads? Will he get overwhelmed by the spotlight? Can he digest the entire offense? Will be be able to counterpunch on his own when defensive coordinators start to get a feel for him?

How will be react to 94,000 fans at the Coliseum on Nov. 3?

These are questions Thomas already answered. Sure, he wasn't the perfect quarterback. But he was 23-3 as a starter, including 1-1 in BCS bowl games. If he started in the Coliseum on Nov. 3, he'd be smirking and eyeballing Matt Barkley thinking, "I'm better than him."

It's perfectly reasonable to have high expectations for Bennett. My hunch is he'll play well, perhaps even match or exceed Thomas' numbers. He, particularly, looks like a better runner.

Still, when you remove a starter who was 23-3, you insert unknowns. There's no way around that.

To Chip Kelly this: Bennett is a hypothetical. And we don't do hypotheticals.

Ken from Portland writes: Ted First off, I think Mike Leach is going to be a fantastic coach in Pullman. I think he is just what the Cougs need, and I don't really look forward to playing them in the future. My question though is this: Pullman does not have all that different of weather than the Midwest. Every analyst and their mom, it seems like, always points to the "weather" as the reason a pass heavy offense wouldn't work in the Big10 (and Big 10 fan's #1 excuse for losing to teams from the South, "well hey buddy, come try that offense in Ohio in November!") But everyone loves the Leach hire in Pullman? Would they be saying the same thing if he were hired at say, Indiana?

Ted Miller: Pullman's weather has never stopped the Cougars from being pass-heavy before, why would it be different for Leach's offense? The Cougars, with a long tradition of elite quarterbacks who fling the ball all over the place, ranked ninth in the nation in passing last season. If you look at this list of top passing offenses, you'll see plenty of teams that play in the snow and cold.

There are two reasons the Big Ten hasn't become more pass-heavy through the years. The first does involve geography: It seems like there are more big-time athletes -- offensive playmakers -- in the Southeast, Southwest and West Coast than in the Midwest. Recruiting lists tend to bear that out.

But, just as important: A deeply ingrained Midwest football culture. Michigan and Ohio State, the two flagships of the Big Ten, have long traditions of playing great defense and running the ball. You could say the same for their "new" flagships, Penn State and Nebraska. And that was Barry Alvarez's blueprint for building Wisconsin into a Big Ten power.

By the way, it's also notable that when Wisconsin signed up quarterback Russell Wilson, a highly capable passer transferring from N.C. State, it became a very good passing team, which helped it become an even better running team.

That deeply ingrained culture was a big reason Rich Rodriguez failed at Michigan. Many Michigan insiders -- most specifically former coach Lloyd Carr -- couldn't stand Rodriguez's spread offense, and that motivated them to undermine him at every turn.

Think about the Northwest: Rain, not cold, is the most difficult condition for passing the football. But Northwest teams have strong traditions of throwing the football. The culture of West Coast football wins out over the weather.

I'm not sure if anyone can build a consistent winner at Indiana. But if Mike Leach were hired at Michigan State -- or Penn State or Michigan -- and fans and administrators were 100 percent supportive, he'd build a highly successful passing offense. For better or worse, the Big Ten continues to play old-school, run-first offense mostly by choice.

Will from Novato, Calif., writes: I just saw the video you posted on Tosh's departure from Cal. You nailed it on the head. You will probably be lambasted on our fan boards, but oh well. You state it correctly when you say that it is a business. It's deeply painful for Cal fans. We haven't gone to the Rose Bowl for what now seems like forever and a day. What's more, these past few seasons have, well, been less than hopeful. Whatever hope we had when Tedford first came on the scene has started to dissipate, and fast. With Chip Kelly and Oregon on the rise; with USC seemingly always having our number, and with Stanfurd suddenly looking rock solid, the hope is diminishing. EXCEPT, we had Tosh. With Tosh, we felt that we were finally going to get the kind of recruiting studs that would help propel us forward. With a front four of Moala, Jalil, Armstead and McCarthy, I don't think opposing OL's would know what to do. So hope emerged...and then was squashed. You've followed the sport longer than I, but yes, all of the rancor that's out there is perhaps explained though this. Anyway, thought compelled to shoot you this comment. Thanks for laying things out with a unbiased view. I'm sure you get enough hate mail from angry fans, perhaps a "good job" email would be nice evey so often.

Bret from Washington D.C., writes: If Cal's recruiting class falls apart due to Lupoi's departure, how much blame does Jeff Tedford shoulder? Shouldn't the recruits want to play for him, not the D-Line coach? After all he is the head coach and is responsible for the health of his program. I wonder how Cal fans will treat him if we turn in another sporadic 7-5 season and a disgraceful bowl performance on National TV. I was a freshman for the 1-10 Holmoe season, and sat through every blow out. But I have to admit I'm starting to turn on Tedford, who can't seem to take the team to the next level

Ted Miller: Cal fans, meet Chicken Little.

Chicken Little: The sky is falling.

Cal fan: I know. Tosh just left for Washington. WAAAAAAA!

Chicken Little: Are you going to eat that seed?

Cal fan: Only if it's a Prozac. We're DOOOOOOOOMED.

Chicken Little: I think you might be overreacting.

First off, as of today, Cal is still ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 in recruiting, and the only recruit who decommitted after Lupoi left said his decision had nothing to do with Lupoi. We might want to hold off on the mass harakiri until, you know, signing day on Feb. 1.

Further, Tedford has long felt the intense celebration of Lupoi as a recruiter was overblown. That might explain that ridiculously low -- by industry standards -- $164,000 salary. Now that will be tested. If the Bears finish strong and maintain a top-20 class, you'd have to give credit to Tedford and his staff. Of course, next year will probably be a bigger measure of the Lupoi Effect.

As for the big picture with Cal, as we've previously stated, this is a big season for Tedford. Scattered pockets of impatience the past few years have solidified. He's officially on the hot seat. And losing two coaches to Washington, including one who fans celebrate -- rightly or wrongly -- such as Lupoi, doesn't help the mood around the program.

Erick from Seattle writes: I recall hearing a few months ago that the UW game at LSU was going to be a night game in Death Valley. Any truth to this? I can't find anything online about the game time being announced.

Ted Miller: While it's still a "TBA," my guess is it will be a night game. Night games in Tiger Stadium are fun for two reasons: 1. Incredible, intense atmosphere; 2. That incredible, intense atmosphere is brought on by perhaps the nation's best tailgate.

Yes, there's a good deal of lubrication, but the food at an LSU tailgate rates as good as any in the nation.

Here's one for any LSU fans reading this: The last game I covered in Tiger Stadium was the Cecil "The Diesel" Collins vs. Dameyune Craig showdown. Great game.

Champ from California writes: Your hatred and prejudice of Stanford is not hidden in your writing. Typical jealous sportswriter... hates people with the courage to have brains.

Ted Miller: I just included this because, with this note, I have now received hate mail from all 12 Pac-12 teams.

Of course, Champ, if you are referring to this, then I might be taking credit for something from my colleague, Kevin Gemmell.