Mailbag: No. 2 coaches; loads of disrespect

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To the notes!

Sam from Eugene, Ore., writes: I'm a Duck and have always been a Duck but how can you not have Mike Riley on the poll for 2nd best Pac 12 coach?

Ted Miller: More than a few of you -- unhappy Oregon State fans mostly -- have called me a Mike Riley apologist, speculating that I don't criticize the Beavers' coach as much as a should because I like him.

Maybe. I do like him. Don't know anyone who doesn't, other than a former San Diego Chargers quarterback who will not be named in order to spare me a Cougars backlash.

But the reason Riley wasn't included in our poll asking who the No. 2 coach is in the Pac-12 (behind the obvious No. 1, Oregon's Chip Kelly) is that Riley has coached consecutive losing seasons -- 8-16 record, in fact. It would appear he enters the season on the hot seat.

I think Riley is a good coach. I think the Beavers have a solid shot of turning things around this fall. So he could end up on a postseason list asking who the No. 2 coach is.

But in a fluid ranking of coaches, Riley wouldn't be many folks' choice for No.2 in March of 2012.

Phillip from West Lafayette, Ind., writes: Why no Sark in your second best coach of the Pac-12 poll? If Leach, who hasn't coached in a couple of years and hasn't coached in a conference with defenses is on the list (which I have no problem with) why can't Sark be on the list? He inherited a disaster and has one of the best Offenses in the country. He fired a close friend, pillaged other schools defensive and recruiting minds and seems to have addressed the Defensive issues fairly well. If UW had a Top 75 D last year they are a Top 25 team. So, again, why no Sark?

Ted Miller: I think Steve Sarkisian is a talented coach who did a great job rebuilding a team that went 0-12 in 2008 to competitive almost immediately. He's upgraded the talent in Seattle with good recruiting, and he upgraded his staff this offseason, particularly with the hiring of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

But he's only been a head coach three years, and he's gone 19-19. The Huskies lost five of their final seven games last season.

Mike Leach went 84-43 at Texas Tech, and was the 2008 Big 12 Coach of the Year. He's also is considered one of the great offensive innovators in college football.

Waiting for November from Eastern Daylight Time writes: two part question re: UO/USC:1) IF both teams are undefeated heading into the showdown in LA, what do you think a victory would mean for either team in the larger picture/narrative (BCS implications aside)? Return to elite status for USC? Confirmed elite status for Ducks?? Or neither? Seems to be the first year in many where bos and conference teams who have dominated conference in last decade will have serious talent, no sanctions, and conf. leadership on the line all at once. 2) You seem to have alluded to UO's strength of schedule and its implications for BCS standings when comparing UO/USC. Weak schedules have not hurt other teams rankings previously, as you have touched on before. Do the Ducks face a different narrative vis a vis strength of schedule TODAY because USC is the (for many) assumed favorite in the PAC-12?

Ted Miller: 1. If USC and Oregon are undefeated when they play on Nov. 3, I think the winner will end up ranked, at worst, No. 2. 2. USC returned to elite status with a final top-five ranking last season. Oregon became elite with its third consecutive Pac-10/12 title and its Rose Bowl victory.

As for Oregon's schedule: I've only questioned the nonconference slate, which is decidedly weak (and, yes, I know Kansas State finked out of a game). If the Pac-12 produces a handful of ranked teams, other than the Ducks and Trojans, the schedule toughness will take care of itself, particularly if other conference teams the Ducks are beating win big nonconference games.

Also, the Ducks and Trojans will start high enough in the national rankings that a weak schedule won't be a big deal. That wouldn't be true if they started ranked, say, 21st.

Mike from Palo Alto writes: Why do people continue to ignore and overlook Stanford in conversations about Pac-12 contenders (or even dark horses) next year? Sure they're losing the best QB in a generation, but they've got a hefty portion of returning starters, and the QBs competing to replace luck are a couple of 4-stars who've spent a few years learning under Luck, Harbaugh and Shaw.

Ted Miller: First, I don't think anyone is overlooking Stanford. The Cardinal is likely to be the third Pac-12 team -- after USC and Oregon -- ranked in the preseason top-25. Stanford could be a factor in the North race, though road games at Oregon, California and Washington won't help. And playing USC in Week 3, though at home, isn't ideal with a new quarterback.

But, just as I often pointed out that Stanford in 2011 wasn't just Andrew Luck, the voids in 2012 aren't just about Luck either.

Start with two offensive linemen who likely will be first round NFL draft picks. Yes, the Cardinal replaced three offensive linemen in 2011 and did fine, but the reason many thought the line would be fine last fall was the fact that the two coming back, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin were, yes, future first-round NFL draft picks.

Then there's the losses of the top three receivers, including tight end Coby Fleener (another potential first-round pick), a pair of multi-year starters at safety, and underrated defensive end Matt Masifilo.

Does this mean Stanford won't play in a third-consecutive BCS bowl game? No. But these are big enough losses that it's reasonable to be skeptical. That's why I'd set the Cardinal's over-under with wins at eight.

And it's meaningful that doing so will ruffle some feathers -- among fans and inside the locker room. That shows how far the program has come.

Sean from Berkeley, Calif., writes: Looking at Oregon's schedule. Easiest 8-0 start ever? Guaranteed 10 win season? Only teams that will challenge will be @USC and @Cal? Washington or Stanford can't beat the Ducks in Eugene.

Ted Miller: If I were predicting, I would predict an 8-0 start for the Ducks.

But, man, such giddy confidence -- overconfidence? -- strikes me as a dangerous thing. Ever heard of karma?

You might need to make a sacrifice at the altar of the College Football Gods for that one.

Matt from Cupertino, Calif., writes: Ted, how likely is it that Cal goes into The Shoe on September 15th and pulls out a victory against Urban's Buckeyes? Curious to see how you think each team matches up, even this far away from the game.

Ted Miller: My initial feeling: Not likely.

Cal isn't typically good on the road, particularly when it goes east. Then you've got the Horseshoe and new coach Urban Meyer, two college football landmarks. Further, I think there should be a strong "buy" rating on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who did an admirable job in a bad situation as a freshman in 2011.

That said, there are a couple of things in Cal's favor, not the least of which is the Buckeyes playing with a postseason ban due to NCAA sanctions.

First, the Bears should have a big athletic advantage with their young-but-talented defense against what is a highly questionable Buckeyes offensive line, one that welcomes back just two starters from a unit that yielded 46 sacks. Second, the Buckeyes' defense should be good, but still doesn't look like one of the dominant units of the Jim Tressel era.

After a tumultuous offseason, Ohio State went 6-7 last season and lost its last four games. I'll likely pick the Buckeyes to beat the Bears -- in large part because I never pick Cal games right anyway -- but this is far from a mismatch.

Nate from Houston writes: First of all, I refuse to vote in your 2nd best coach poll because the USC staff is #1. Not #2, #1. Second, what do you think the odds are that Marquis Lee has a better year than Robert Woods? Lee is really blossoming with a season under him and his track participation is a giant help in conditioning, conditioning that Woods is missing out on due to his ankle....

Ted Miller: This shows how good the Trojans are at receiver. It's legit to ask if Lee might be better than Woods, who was an All-American in 2011.

I think Lee is very good. I think both will be early round NFL draft picks. But let's not forget how good Woods is when he's healthy, which he wasn't much late in the season.

If I were projecting, I'd still guess that Woods ends up with more yards and TDs than Lee. But it should be close enough that both are in the All-American conversation.

uc2k3 from Huskyville, Wash., writes: I came across an interesting suggestion by Dabo Swinney and one I've been thinking of and meaning to ask you for some time now. It's in regards to setting up scrimmages with other schools in the offseason. Just one scrimmage vs a nearby school. I've always thought that this would make the spring more interesting for players and fans and also give coaches a better assessment tool when trying to evaluate different position groups. Your thoughts?

Ted Miller: Well, uc2k3 -- are you buddies with R2D2? -- you won't ever hear me say (or write): "We need less college football."

So count me in. Just imagine what fun a scrimmage between state rivals might be. Heck, you could give half the gate away to charity, and we'd all feel good about ourselves.

The downside? Well, injuries for one. And what's the set-up? Do you keep score? Does that force you to care about winning? And what worries are there about giving away info -- about players, about schemes -- that could be used against you, by future regular-season opponents, as well as the team you scrimmage.

Still, if, say, Arizona and Arizona State sent me an email announcing a scrimmage, I'd show up with a big grin (and then both sets of fans would say I favor the other).

SEC fan from Fayetteville, Ark., writes: I know you grew up in SEC country and followed it for a while before moving off west, but why do you constantly write trash trying to make other conferences than the PAC10+2 hate on your articles? You constantly talk crap, mainly on the SEC but the BIG 10 and BIG 12-2 too? Your articles sound like everything happening back in the PAC is doing everything right while everyone else is doing everything wrong! I know your writing for a fan base that wants you to take their side and I honestly have no idea what your true point of view on college football is but how about trying to write how everyone wants a playoff in football but the PAC commish is keeping it from that? Start writing truth instead of trying to rowdy up the fan base your writing for and maybe honest people like me would take your writing seriously.

Ted Miller: Hmm.

One of the realities of my business is there is often a curiously wide distance between an accusation from a reader and what you actually have written. Or at least tried to write. When you work in the media, folks often insist, "You wrote this!" when you didn't, "You're biased!" when you work hard not to be, and "You don't know what you're talking about!" when you're actually parroting exactly what either a coach or player told you.

In this instance, let's start with this: "how about trying to write how everyone wants a playoff in football but the PAC commish is keeping it from that."

If I wrote that, it would be not only untrue, it would be the 180 degree opposite of true. The disconnect here is perhaps "SEC Fan" forgetting that Tom Hansen is no longer the Pac-10 commissioner. Larry Scott started talking about postseason models almost as soon as he was hired.

Then there's this: "why do you constantly write trash trying to make other conferences than the PAC10+2 hate on your articles? You constantly talk crap, mainly on the SEC but the BIG 10 and BIG 12-2 too? Your articles sound like everything happening back in the PAC is doing everything right while everyone else is doing everything wrong!"

Er, some examples? I get more blowback from Pac-12 fans who insist I coddle the SEC.

If this is just about my debate with SEC blogger Chris Low, well, the nature of that assignment -- "How would USC QB Matt Barkley do in the SEC?" -- was, in part, to trash talk each other.

Of course, I did write this: "And the reality of this debate is this: Barkley would be more challenged on a weekly basis by SEC defenses than by Pac-12 defenses -- which I believe are underrated but still a step behind the SEC for the reasons the Inimitable Low mentioned above."

Just don't start taking my writing too seriously. That would make me cry.