The mailbag: Ranting about schedules

Welcome to the mailbag.

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We have a note from a not-so-special guest this week to lead off.

Ted Miller from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Hey, Ted! You and Kevin do a great job. Is it true that the Surgeon General found that reading the Pac-12 blog makes you smarter? Doesn't surprise me a bit!

Anyway. My question: What do you think about word that some Pac-12 schools are dragging their feet on scheduling games with Big Ten foes, per the Big Ten-Pac-12 alliance?

Ted Miller: You have reached a new low, Self, with this juvenile artifice. So apologies to all. (I just wanted to address this).

Are some Pac-12 teams not thrilled with the Big Ten-Pac-12 partnership? Maybe.

It was announced in December that the Rose Bowl partners and academically elite conferences would, starting in 2017, play an annual football series involving all 12 schools in both leagues. But Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett on Thursday that the partnership in football had not been finalized because "there are a couple of teams in the Pac-12 that are dragging their feet a little bit."

Both conference offices denied there were major issues. A Pac-12 spokesman emailed this statement: "Our schools are excited about the collaboration with the Big Ten, and we are continuing to work on sports scheduling details."

But the truth is, yes, some schools aren't thrilled, which goes along with scheduling issues that the Pac-12 blog has frequently -- redundantly? -- noted through the years.

Let's say you're Stanford.

  • You start with a nine-game Pac-12 schedule. The ACC, SEC and Big Ten play an eight-game conference schedule, which allows for four nonconference foes -- read: typically at least three scheduled patsies.

  • Then you add Stanford's (and California's) insistence on playing USC and UCLA every year. Hey, tradition!

  • Then you add Oregon's rise in the North Division as a national power.

  • Then you add an annual series with Notre Dame.

  • Then you add an annual game with the Big Ten.

That means Stanford could play 11 tough games every year against top AQ foes.

Here's Mark Schlabach's Way Too Early Top-25. Let's say the Cardinal next fall drew Michigan State as its Big Ten foe. That means Stanford would play: No. 2 USC, No. 4 Oregon, No. 9 Michigan State and No. 23 Notre Dame in 2012. Great fun. You could compute Cal's schedule much the same way.

The Pac-12 blog has some solutions. These solutions will be: 1. Best for the Pac-12; 2. Best for Cal and Stanford; 3. Controversial.

First, the Pac-12 needs to end the nine-game conference schedule. It might make athletic directors' lives easier in terms of scheduling and filling a stadium, but it hurts their teams and the conference as a whole. That's not an opinion. It's a mathematical fact.

Kill it. Please.

Second, Stanford and Cal need to end this silly "We must play USC and UCLA every year!" deal. Hey, I get it. Some fans enjoy the weekender. But -- come closer, because I want to whisper to you an embarrassing truth -- IT"S STUPID TO INSIST ON PLAYING USC EVERY YEAR! (Whoops... did I just yell that?) And, heck, UCLA should eventually get back into the top-25.

Insisting on playing USC every year is no different than if the ADs at Cal and Stanford said, "Hey, let's play Alabama... EVERY YEAR!"

Here is the realpolitik of college football: You can schedule success.

The Pac-12, instead, is scheduling failure. Its scheduling practices create a perception that makes the conference seem worse than it is, just as the SEC's scheduling practices accomplish the opposite.

I will not quote Cal coach Jeff Tedford and Stanford coach David Shaw on this matter. Both these guys are competitors who fear no team.

But neither one of them will hate me after reading this.

Nor will any other Pac-12 coach.

Big Ten-Pac-12 alliance? Great. Love big nonconference games. Second best thing in college football behind rivalry games.

But, first, kill the nine-game conference schedule. Then end the "designated games" between the California teams. Set up a pure rotating schedule between the North and South Divisions that will ensure the best scheduling equity possible.

Emtee Dubyew from Keizer, Ore., writes: I recently read an article on ESPN that Ohio State is installing a "Oregon style" no-huddle rapid paced offense. I seem to remember a segment Urban Meyer did when he worked for ESPN, he talked to Chip Kelly about Oregon's offense and practice methods. I mean with the PAC-12/Big10 relationship Oregon and Ohio State could do battle in the future. So would this lead to coaches being less willing to share their secrets and methods with the rest of us?

Ted Miller: Hmm... that name. You Ducks and Huskies never stop, do you? You mean this video, of course. Good stuff with Chip & Urban.

Less willing to do cool videos like this? I doubt it, and let's hope not.

First of all, coaches visit other teams all the time, though reasonably they don't allow visitors from teams they are scheduled to play. And more than a few times, it becomes a joke at a bowl game that one set of coaches met with the other set the previous spring. Still, the exchange of ideas doesn't yield details of a specific game plan. While Kelly and Meyer offer some nice insights during their chat, it's mostly superficial stuff that can be easily digested by a general audience.

Further, Meyer is an offensive innovator much like Kelly, with both on the front lines of spread-option concepts. That Meyer is planning to adopt an up-tempo, no-huddle offense is no surprise.

David from San Diego writes: So the big word post-spring practice is that USC's secondary is for real this year. Now I'm a die heard USC fan, but how can this assessment be made when everyone and their mama knows that USC's offense consisted mainly of 2 young, backup QB's, a thin RB corp, the best WR in the PAC-12 or possibly the nation out of action, not too mention all of our TE's have been hurt and not practicing either. Would you agree that all the hoopla on the secondary is a tad bit premature?

Ted Miller: All hoopla in April is a tad premature, just as the hoopla over a recruiting class is premature. We in the sportswriting business spend a lot of time giving you premature judgments, just as fans on message boards do the same -- "No worries! We have a JC transfer coming in who will solve all our problems!"

Why are folks high on USC's secondary?

Well, for one, it welcomes back all four starters from a unit that yielded the fewest TD passes (17) in the Pac-12 last season. The Trojans ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Not only that, just about every guy on the two-deep is back. Oh, and Florida transfer Josh Shaw is eligible to play in 2012.

Cornerback Nickell Robey and safety T.J. McDonald were both first-team All-Pac-12. McDonald is an almost certain preseason All-American. He could be the first safety picked in the 2013 NFL draft.

And there's a hunch, and it's not unreasonable, that Year 3 under coordinator Monte Kiffin could yield strong improvement, just as it did in 2011 compared to 2010.

So, best I can tell, the hoopla is based on good players coming back from a good secondary that seems likely to be better in 2012.

Or, perhaps, the hoopla comes entirely from a counter-intelligence operation run by a cabal of Freemason USC boosters connected to the Trilateral Commission.

Don from Portland writes: While I agree with you that pot in Oregon is seen as a non issue, it seems that the Ducks willingness to speak candidly about smoking to a reporter bespeaks a complete disregard for the feelings of their coaches, fans, and those players who do not use drugs. Shouldn't Chip Kelley be more concerned about his players apparent lack of loyalty?

Ted Miller: Yes, based on the ESPN Magazine article, it's clear at least one Duck broke the locker room Omertà. Yes, that should annoy Kelly and other players. I doubt it will keep anybody up at night, but it's a concern.

But that also answers some of you who feel Oregon was singled out or targeted. Typically how it works for a reporter working a story is he gets a tip or a lead, then he has to get a source talking. That's what happened here. And let's be real. If we were ranking Pac-12 towns for a laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana smoking, it likely would go: 1. Eugene; 2. Berkeley; 3. Boulder; 4. Seattle; 5. LA. As the article noted, "... The Princeton Review and High Times both have ranked the University of Oregon among the most pot-friendly schools."

You probably have just as many, er, "enthusiasts" here in Arizona among the Wildcats and Sun Devils. But I would suggest that the political-legal attitudes here are a bit different, not to mention rules about random testing.

Also, I do want to point out to Ducks fans, Oregon wasn't really singled out that much. For one, there was also a general story on pot smoking in college football, the gist of which is "wow... just about everybody is doing it."

Also, from the article:

NEWS FLASH: COLLEGE kids smoke weed. That includes, according to an NCAA study released in January, 22.6 percent of athletes -- up 1.4 percentage points from the previous study in 2005. College football players (26.7 percent) ranked the highest among major sports. And the Oregon football program provides an interesting case study on the impact -- or lack thereof -- of marijuana use among players.

And this: "One senior NFL executive who interviewed players at the combine says about 70 percent confessed to smoking pot, likely on the advice of their agents."

There was no implication in any part of the story that Oregon is unique. It just ended up being the "case study," in large part because someone on the team was willing to be a source.

There also was this about Kelly: "The Oregon regime is also cracking down. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kelly has taken a hard stance in his three seasons as head coach. "I've heard weed was bigger before I got there," says one Kelly-era Duck, "but Chip cracked down on that. He'll actually attend classes with guys. If you miss a study hall, he'll drug-test you."

I got a lot of mail about this series. Most of you noted that the under-25 demographic has a much different vision about marijuana usage than the 50-and-overs. No doubt about that. Some of you were mad at ESPN, citing our desire to crush a West Coast power that threatens the SEC. Lots of folks communicated a general, "Neh." Some of you appeared to be partaking while typing.

My feeling, as I previously wrote, is this: Fret about this for 20 minutes. But that was on Wednesday, so it's time to move on. This article is unlikely to do any real harm to the university or the football program.

Ryan from Fairfield, Conn., writes: I am a former collegiate football player, and now I am inspiring to be a Director/ Producer. One of my best friends and myself created this mini-documentary, it is an emotional conversation with football players. Here is the Youtube link, check it out tell me what you think.

Ted Miller: I think it's pretty cool.