Mailbag: Shaw's tactic a sneaky 'long play'?

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Brian from Denver writes: Like other Stanford fans, I was a little freaked out by the second half performance last Saturday evening - sullied the first night of my long Telluride weekend, for crying out loud! With time I've come to think of it as less of a "conservative fail" and more as part of Coach Shaw's long play. With the win already in hand, get some backups playing time against a ranked conference foe, and continue the early-season sandbagging, so that more of the playbook remains unavailable for film review. And use the dismal late performance to help the team focus. Make sense to you? Oh, and please keep printing the Duck fans' "Which SEC team will we play in the title game?" questions. That hubris will make 11-7 all the more enjoyable.

Ted Miller: What Brian's not saying is he was forced to break the seal on his Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve to un-sully things.

Before I engage this question, let me tell you a story that I might have used before. After another blowout Oregon victory -- I don't remember which one -- several local reporters quizzed Chip Kelly on why the running game struggled in the second quarter. He found this amusing. And perhaps a bit annoying. The Ducks had won by 40-something, yet the media focus was only on what didn't go well, and only for a couple of series at that.

He brought this up to me later during a casual conversation, and I told him that reporters needed something to write about, an angle. They can't just write "Oregon was again awesome today. The end." They needed to find something to distinguish one blowout win from another. I don't think he got my point, just as David Shaw was probably more defensive than he needed to be after Stanford beat a ranked team by two touchdowns but had a bad fourth quarter.

Coaches think differently than sports writers. Just as fans often do, too. I don't think any less of Stanford -- or Shaw -- because of that bad fourth quarter, but it certainly was worth writing about.

If Stanford had just hummed along at a steady pace and won 42-28, the victory would have been viewed as a solid win, with perhaps some folks questioning the defense. But the Cardinal led 39-7 after three quarters and looked completely dominant getting there, so the fourth quarter became an unexpected plot twist.

It reminded me a bit of USC's win over Penn State in the 2009 Rose Bowl, when the Trojans led 31-7 at the break but only won 38-24 when the Nittany Lions gamely scored 17 fourth quarter points. At halftime, I was wondering if AP pollsters might go ahead and vote with their brains and rank USC No. 1. Some might have if the Trojans had won 50-10.

As for the "long play," I understand what you are saying, but I think Shaw's hope was that his backups, many of whom see regular action, would be able to maintain the game's status quo. Still, there, indeed, may be a more valuable longterm payoff.

The Cardinal was able to make a statement with a decisive victory and, because of the poor fourth quarter, maintain a sense of having a chip on its shoulder. That Shaw and many of the players seemed a little chippy afterward might prove to be a good thing. I'm guessing it helped them focus on Washington State this week.

Michael from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Not to say that I am a USC fan, in fact watching them lose and struggle might be my second to watching the Sun Devils win...when we do win that is. But I do have to ask how do you feel about Penn States penalties being reduced and the NCAA rejecting USC's appeal? Quotes from the article here on ESPN "There is no comparison between USC and Penn State," and "USC's appeal was denied and there is no further consideration being given." I do love watching them lose, but I do know what a disadvantage they are at because of this, and I wonder how you and the media feel about this. Is it fair? Who regulates the regulators?

Ted Miller: No, nothing has been fair about the NCAA's handling of the USC case. It was distinguished by buffoonery in both the investigative and punitive phases, as well as questionable motives from the members of the Committee on Infractions.

There isn't an objective person in the world -- in the UNIVERSE -- who is familiar with the details of the case who doesn't believe USC was treated unfairly, and that position has been strengthened through the years as the NCAA has handed down toothless punishments for far more serious violations than what Reggie Bush and his ethically challenged parents did.

The problem is the regulators are the regulated -- the COI was made up of representatives of other institutions -- a couple of whom represented schools that had been whipped by USC. At some point in their heads they decided to ignore the facts of the case as well as past precedent and just hammer USC. It required a massive rationalization -- "We're doing wrong for the greater good!" -- with a strong spice of Machiavellian impulse -- "We can't beat USC without trumping up charges!"

But I've written about this so, so many times. I am relieved that this might be the very last time.

Matt from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Ted, Is WSU uniquely positioned to play physical with Furd? I said it in the preseason as strange as it is to say a Mike Leach teams strength is their Defensive front 7. Through 4 games they have done nothing to disprove that.

Ted Miller: I think Washington State's strong front seven -- cough, cough -- gives the Cougars a chance against Stanford, particularly with the Cardinal O-line missing All-American guard David Yankey, who is dealing with a personal, family matter.

I don't know if I'd say "uniquely positioned," as there are a lot of good front sevens in the Pac-12. But I think the Cougs are good enough to potentially contain the Cardinal's bread-and-butter power running game and force QB Kevin Hogan to pass.

The bigger question might be how the Washington State offensive line matches up with the Stanford front seven, which is one of the best crews in the nation. The Cougs still have no running game, so can that line protect Connor Halliday and give him time to throw downfield?

South Park from San Francisco writes: Best defense in the Pac-12 based on the eyeball test? Oregon, Stanford, or USC.

Ted Miller: USC and Oregon have been more impressive thus far, but I suspect at season's end Stanford will have the Pac-12's highest rated defense. All three appear to be among the best in the nation.

Tai from Klamath Falls, Ore., writes: Hi Ted, Every time you address the idea of paying players, including in today's chat, you emphasize the need to abide by Title IX, and suggest that any system of pay must be equitable across all sports. Wouldn't it be possible to bypass all of that, while still allowing star athletes in revenue sports to get a share of the massive amount of money their performance generates, by simply removing the restrictions on their ability to profit from their own likeness? You don't have to directly pay them, which of course does run afoul of equity concerns. Just let them go out and get sponsorships. All athletes, equally. If an athletic equipment company wants to hire a member of the crew team to be in an ad, they can, and if a fan wants to pay for the autograph of a softballer, that's okay too. I mean if someone decides that a member of the marching band is super skilled, and thinks they might be the next Yo Yo Ma, and wants to buy their autograph, there's no cry of outrage over lost "amateurism" there, right? So let a football player do the same. Let the market determine how much each athlete deserves to earn beyond their scholarship (if anything).

Ted Miller: That is a reasonable idea. But, as with anything when it comes to the paying-college-athletes conundrum, it has the potential for myriad, negative unintended consequences.

Starting with this: What if it becomes standard at Oregon that all Ducks get Nike endorsements, and that star players get as much as $1 million?

How many schools could match that?

The rich ones could, of course, the Alabamas, Ohio States, Texases and USCs. It then would become such a massive recruiting advantage that many programs that are presently competitive on a national level would be forced to simply drop out of the game.

Maybe that's what's eventually going to happen anyway. But I'm rooting against that outcome. I don't want college football to be reduced to, say, 30 or so superpowers competing for the national title, NFL style. That's not the game I grew up loving. Call me old fashioned.

Perhaps there could be limits, rules and regulations to even things out. But then you'd just have more limits, rules and regulations that programs try to circumvent. So ... new ways to cheat!

Your idea sounds like a simple, equitable, free-market solution. Unfortunately, I doubt it would play out that way.

Tony from Clackamas, Ore., writes: Feel free to put this question in your Getting-Way-Ahead-of-Ourselves file, but I am curious if you think Oregon could surpass Alabama in the rankings if both teams finished the year undefeated. On one hand it really doesn't matter (as a Ducks fan) provided the Ducks finish 1st or 2nd in the BCS at the end of the year. On the other hand, there seems to be a ton of sentiment that the PAC12 might be the best conference this year and Alabama has lost a few first-place votes to Oregon. As of today, each would finish the season with three wins against ranked foes. Would voters recognize the depth of the PAC12 and reward Oregon? I could see Oregon cutting into the #1 votes over the next 9 weeks considering they play a tougher schedule and face Stanford on the road.

Ted Miller: If the Pac-12 ends up with five or six ranked teams on Dec. 8, with, say, UCLA's and Stanford's only losses coming to Oregon (and each other), and the SEC isn't as strong top-to-bottom, it's possible the undefeated Ducks would eclipse the undefeated Crimson Tide, at least in the BCS standings, if not the human polls.

But Alabama will get a significant benefit of the doubt, particularly if it's clear that Oregon and Alabama will play for the title in any event. The sentiment will be that the two-time defending champions are No. 1 until someone proves otherwise, particularly when the SEC has won seven titles in a row.

And that doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

Jeff from Portland writes: Ted you need to read and post this story in your lunch links. It is extremely well done. It detail Josh Huff and some life obstacles.

Ted Miller: An excellent story. Heartwarming. Kudos to Huff for his resilience.

And, by the way, Oregon fans, you guys often squawk about the coverage in The Oregonian. Why not write a nice note to Jason Quick, who obviously put a lot of effort into telling you guys Huff's story?