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Opening the mailbag: Chip Kelly's QB magic

Happy Friday.

Here's where you go if you've been wondering, "I wonder what it would be like to follow that Pac-12 blogger dude on Twitter?"

To the notes!

SBrooks from Portland writes: I'd like to read your take on Chip's history of "coaching up" quarterbacks, and getting the most from their individual talents. (For ex., there was lots of chatter before the 2010 season regarding a likely drop-off from Masoli, which never happened, largely because the coaches worked DT into the system so well.)

Ted Miller: I don't want to sound fawning but I'm not sure any coach in the nation has been better with quarterbacks since 2007 than Chip Kelly. USC, obviously, does very well with quarterbacks, but that can be attributed to talent: John David Booty, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley were super-elite recruits.

Here are Kelly's quarterbacks since he was hired away from New Hampshire in 2007: Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas. Dixon and Thomas were good but not great prospects as recruits. Masoli was a summer junior college addition, basically a nobody.

Recall that in 2006 Dixon was poor-to-middling, and some Ducks fans wanted him benched. He threw 14 interceptions and 12 touchdown passes. Then Kelly shows up: poof. Dixon looked like he'd lead Oregon to the national title game as the Heisman Trophy winner before blowing out his knee in Game 10. He still finished ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions.

In other words, Kelly totally transformed him.

Of course, the Ducks went on a three-game losing streak after Dixon went down and got poor quarterback play in the process. Ah, but then, with a little bit of extra time to get ready for the Sun Bowl, old Justin Roper goes out and completes 16-of-29 passes for 175 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-31 whipping of South Florida.

Someone deserves credit for that. If it's not going to the Pac-12 blog, we might as well give it to Kelly.

Then comes 2008. Nate Costa was supposed to be the quintessential Kelly quarterback -- a dual threat with a big brain. Only his knees. Man, his knees just couldn't hold up. Things were a bit messy then. There was a little Roper. A little Masoli. Even a little from a freshman named Darron Thomas. And remember that Chris Harper guy?

But somehow Masoli, who could look so freaking awful at times, pulled it together as a spread-option quarterback. The Ducks averaged 485 yards and 42 points per game. And in 2009 Masoli led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl, even though he only ranked 56th in the nation in passing efficiency.

Then Masoli gets the boot, and the Ducks were back to square one. Most thought Costa and his big brain and bad knees would get his shot. But he got beaten out by Thomas. Say what you want about Thomas' throwing motion and fits of inaccuracy, the bottom line is:

  1. He led the Ducks to the national title game and a Rose Bowl victory.

  2. He ranked 17th and 11th in the nation in passing efficiency.

  3. He threw 63 touchdown passes with just 16 interceptions the past two seasons.

I know this is a lot of words and numbers. But I'm getting to the reason SBrooks sent in this question.

Oregon again faces uncertainty at the position heading into the 2012 season. While Bryan Bennett looked good in his relief appearances last season, and there's a lot of hype surrounding redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, some are going to downgrade the Ducks in the Pac-12 and the national polls because Thomas surprisingly decided to enter the NFL draft a year early.

That is as it should be. You have to take into account unknowns, even if Kelly's track record with quarterbacks is practically unblemished. That's why its reasonable to drop Oregon in a preseason top-25 from where it would have been with Thomas.

Yet, you'll also note that the Ducks only slipped from No. 4 to 6 in the ESPN.com top-25. That's, in part, a tribute to Kelly's ability to get consistent production out of his quarterbacks since 2007, even when they were green around the gills.

By the way, at some point, you've also got to give some credit to quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich, too. I know Kelly does.


Jay from Cambridge, Mass., writes: In college football world this last year, it was presumed totally reasonable that we had an all-SEC National Championship Game--in part because the two teams had the best records and because supposedly the SEC was *that good.* But what if the year prior Auburn had goofed during SEC play? Would anyone ever have allowed there to be an Oregon-Stanford natty? (Or does disregard for the Pac-12 run that deep?)

Ted Miller: The BCS standings determine who plays for the national title. If Oregon and Stanford were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings in 2010, then they would have had a rematch.

Here are the final BCS standings from 2010. If Auburn had lost, Oregon likely would have played unbeaten TCU. If TCU had lost, then Stanford was next in line.

Of course, there would have been the same debate about a rematch as there was this year. And, yes, I think there would have been some poll activism that prevented an Oregon-Stanford rematch. (And who knows what might have happened with the computers). Perhaps the one-loss SEC champion? Perhaps one-loss Wisconsin?

And there would have been grounds for that. LSU's regular season win over Alabama was an overtime nailbiter, with the Crimson Tide mostly losing because they couldn't kick a field goal. As good as Stanford was by the end of 2010, they got rolled in Eugene 52-31 after leading 21-3 in the first half. That was a decisive win, and many pollsters would have angled against a rematch.

And not without justification.

This past season was sort of a perfect storm of reasons for a rematch. I was sympathetic to the camp that wanted to see Oklahoma State get a crack at LSU, but there was no way around a strong feeling that Alabama was substantially better than the Cowboys.


Matt from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: Do you think the obvious disapproval among media members about the way Todd Graham left Pittsburgh is going to affect the way the media covers ASU the next year or two?

Ted Miller: Not if he starts winning immediately. And, of course, doesn't leave.

You know the saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder"? It works the opposite in the short term with many reporters. Reporters tend to be harsh on guys who are walking out the door. You know, guys they no longer cover.

A coach leaving gets pounded. A coach arriving gets mostly celebrated.

Folks hated Nick Saban in Miami. Folks loved him in Alabama. Tennessee hated Lane Kiffin. Folks loved him at USC. Etc, etc.

Graham has a chance to re-write the nasty narrative. He just needs to prove this really is his dream job and then make Sun Devils fans dreams come true with a Rose Bowl.


Ryan from Monterey, Calif., writes: Stanford really made a statement to the college football community with the Top-10 class they just inked. But the bigger statement may have been the school's they beat out for these top-notch recruits. Traditional powerhouses like USC, Florida, and Nebraska were outdone by Stanford's unique ability to offer an Top-5 education while playing for a Top-10 ranked team. Amazing that what used to be their greatest obstacle in recruiting has now become Stanford's greatest asset. But my question is- do you expect this trend to continue? Sure, Stanford's academic prowess isn't going anywhere. But next year, they are expected to take a considerable step back on the football field. Was this latest class the culmination of Stanford at the peak of it's recent success or a sign of things to come?

Ted Miller: I don't see Stanford taking a huge step back in 2012. If they win fewer than seven or eight games, I'd be surprised. Nine seems perfectly reasonable.

As for recruiting, there are specific sorts of recruits who will always give Stanford a look. More than a few coaches have told me the right recruiting approach at Stanford can consistently lure in top-25 classes. Recruiting for Stanford?

Let me give it a try:

Awesome Recruit and Mr. & Mrs. Awesome Recruit: Stanford is the premier academic institution playing major college football. We have played in consecutive BSC bowl games. We've produced the Heisman Trophy runner-up three consecutive years. We are about to produce the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick as well as two or three other first-round picks. The median salary of a new Stanford graduate is $58,200. That means if he doesn't make the NFL or gets hurt, he'll still make enough money that he won't need to move back in with you and expect you to do his laundry. I can't tell you how important that last bit of information was.

My feeling is David Shaw and his staff have tapped into that. Shaw, as a Stanford graduate, probably has a particularly good feel for recruiting to his alma mater. My money is on Stanford remaining a top-25 program that, on occasion, pushes into the top 10.

And I'm not just typing that so Stanford, 15 years from now, accepts my son.

Not completely, at least.