Welcome to the mailbag.
To the notes!
Mike from Portland writes: Brett Bielema. Horrible human being without shame? Or unscrupulous opportunist who has the hubris to bend the rules of the game to fit his coaching style?
Ted Miller: "Horrible human being" is way too strong, but Bielema should be ashamed of himself, even after he tried -- and failed -- to explain himself more fully here.
First off, his "Death certificates" answer was simultaneously crass and groundless, a terrible combination. If you are going to offend people, you sure as heck should be tethered to some defensible reality.
That Bielema seemingly connected the tragic death of California's Ted Agu during a team workout with the need to slow down up-tempo offenses during games is nonsensical. And ugly.
Considering not a single defensive player -- I can't even believe I'm typing this -- has died of exhaustion due to playing against an up-tempo offense, we can only assume Bielema was making an illogical connection to Agu just for shock affect. It's mind-blowing.
Bielema should apologize, no question. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long also should yank Bielema into his office and tell him, "Bret, you went 3-9 last year and were winless in SEC play. This program hasn't been winless in conference play since 1942. Stop talking and start coaching."
There is exactly zero concern for player health among the coaches who want to slow down up-tempo offenses. Zero. It's 100 percent a con game designed to thwart a style of play that is giving these coaches trouble.
Consider this quote from Bielema:
"If one of those players is on the field for me, and I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game," Bielema said. "And he raises his hand to stop the game, and I can't do it. What am I supposed to do?
"What are we supposed to do when we have a player who tells us he's injured?"
Well, if a player is injured, he's injured. The game stops. Always has, always will. So that is not an issue.
In fact, fake injuries are the actual issue, when defenders play-act an injury in order to stop the game and then are required to sit out only one play before returning. That's the rule that should be changed. For the sake of player safety, a player who falls to the ground injured should have to sit out the rest of the series. You know: To make sure he's safe.
What Bielema is actually talking about is what if his 320-pound defensive tackle who typically dominates is a little winded and is no longer effective? He wants us to feel sorry for his exhausted, pork-and-potato-stuffed player.
Well, coach, get your fat guys in shape or make other schematic adjustments. Hey, how about forcing a three-and-out? That would help, wouldn't it? Your players won't get tired if they make third-down stops. Ask Stanford. The Cardinal defenders looked fresh, happy and healthy after they dismantled Oregon's up-tempo offense for a second consecutive season in November.
You know: Coach.
Rather, apologize, hush and then coach.
Jake from North Salt Lake City writes: What's the outside perception of Utah? Because right now it's terribly negative around here about the future. People are assuming this is [Kyle Whittingham’s] last year and there's not a lot of momentum. Pretty gloomy around here. I personally feel we are closer than it feels and have just had some bad luck. When you lack quality depth injuries are magnified. So are we closer than it feels or are we doomed?
Ted Miller: You're doomed. All is lost. Go read some Sylvia Plath or Samuel Beckett. Or go listen to some Radiohead.
Wait. You, Jake, do retain some optimism. Good.
My first thought is, as I've written before, Utah fans might want to slow down on pushing Kyle Whittingham out the door. He's a good coach with a proven track record. Many Utah fans probably had an overly optimistic expectations for the ease of transition to Pac-12 play.
For comparison's sake, consider the travails of TCU, another former Mountain West power that moved up to an AQ conference. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson was once viewed as a super-elite coach, but his team went 2-7 in the Big 12 last year, a down one for the conference.
What we're learning is Utah and TCU as MWC powers were able to beat quality AQ teams on any given day -- even in BCS bowl games (TCU over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Utah over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl) -- but it's not so easy to play, say, Stanford, Arizona, USC, Arizona State and Oregon over a stretch of six weeks.
Has Whittingham been flawless? No. His revolving door at offensive coordinator hasn't been a good thing, and the Utes lack of depth at quarterback has bitten them in the rear the past three seasons.
I don't really think you can get a good measure of Utah in the Pac-12 until it's gone through a full recruiting cycle in the conference -- four or five years of telling recruits they will be playing in the Pac-12.
As for next year, the Utes have a lot of questions, starting with the long-term health of QB Travis Wilson. It won't be easy to gain ground in an improved and deep South Division. It seems reasonable to hope for bowl eligibility, but it's also difficult to imagine a roof any higher than seven or eight wins.
While that might feel like doom and gloom to Utes fans right now, to me, it's more a matter of measured, realistic patience.
Pac-12 Fan from Reno, Nev., writes: You and Kevin keep fawning all over Arizona's "most improved defense," but apparently refuse to acknowledge that the "astounding" improvement was courtesy of one of the weakest non-conference schedules in college football. Of course they improved, their best non-conference opponent was ... UNLV? I think it is far more telling to look at how the defense performed against WSU (at home), UCLA (at home) and the beatdown administered by a mediocre ASU. Stinky. C'mon Ted, keep it real dude.
Ted Miller: Dude! I will keep it real for you.
Let's kick nonconference games to the curb.
In 2012 Pac-12 games, Arizona yielded 520 yards per game, which ranked last in the conference. In 2013 Pac-12 games, Arizona gave up 439.9 yards per game, which ranked eighth.
In 2012 Pac-12 games, Arizona yielded 6.32 yards per play, which ranked 11th in the conference. In 2013 Pac-12 games, Arizona gave up 5.59 yards per play, which ranked seventh in the conference.
In 2012 Pac-12 games, Arizona yielded 39.6 points per game, which ranked 11th in the conference. In 2013 Pac-12 games, Arizona gave up 30.0 points per game, which ranked seventh in the conference.
Haggmeez from Cincinnati writes: I've been seeing a really interesting mixture of predictions for Oregon in 2014. Vegas seems to think Oregon has a 7 to 1 chance to play for a title, while ESPN's Will Harris seems to think that Oregon's ship has sailed and will finish the season unranked. What is your prediction for Oregon's 2014 and why?
Ted Miller: Here's Harris' take on Oregon:
Oregon still has supporters at the betting window, but the Ducks are no longer a contender. This coaching staff is unlikely ever to win even a division crown, and our bet is that this team ends the season unranked. The Pac-12 North is still the stronger division, but Stanford and Washington will be the league's top powers for the next few years and the biggest challenge from the Pac-12 South may eventually come from Arizona. The whole league is improving rapidly, and Oregon won't be regaining its dominant status any time soon.
Harris also thinks the Big Ten is the No. 2 conference behind the SEC.
[Inserts pause into mailbag answer for readers to recover their poise].
Everybody has opinions. That I think Harris' is, well, a little quirky here doesn't in any way suggest he doesn't have a right to it.
As for me, Oregon is a decided favorite in the North Division, in large part because of the return of QB Marcus Mariota. Stanford, the two-time defending North champion, takes significant hits on both sides of the ball. There's no way you can count the Cardinal out, but the Ducks will be the consensus pick in the North by writers who cover the Pac-12.
Washington has uncertainty at QB and a new coach. I expect there to be a bit of an adjustment period. And both Stanford and Washington visit Autzen Stadium in 2014.
Oregon ends the season unranked? I doubt that's Harris' real "bet." That feels like he wants some attention from Oregon fans.
Oregon will end the 2014 season ranked. That's a 94.9 percent lock. Cut it out. Hang it on your wall. It's more likely to snow here in Scottsdale this month than for the Ducks to finish the 2014 season unranked.
If anyone would like to "bet" me that -- for entertainment purposes only, of course -- I'd be glad to.
The Big Ten? Really?
Rob from Seattle writes: I recall you have a particular affinity for NoLa cuisine but a Google search does not turn up any recommendations of yours. I am going for a wedding in April and the wife and I are budgeting for one irresponsibly great meal. If price is no object, where would you eat in New Orleans? Appreciations in advance and enjoy the Chris Petersen era!
Ted Miller: My wife and I got married in New Orleans and we spent a lot of time there while we were dating, but I've only been back there a handful times since I moved to the West Coast in 1999, and just once since Katrina.
Typing that just made me depressed. Sigh.
The great thing about New Orleans food is the quality of old and new, high and low. You will get nearly as much pleasure out of breakfast near the quarter and a Po-boy on Bourbon street as a highfaluting dinner at one of the highly rated restaurants.
When my wife and I were dating, we ate at Palace Cafe on Canal -- brunch, lunch and dinner -- typically at least once during our visits. It just always felt very New Orleans-y. It's a Brennan's restaurant, the grand old family of New Orleans.
There are a lot of new-school, post-Katrina restaurants that have received national acclaim. You can find those after spending some time on Google. Also, you might want to check out Bravo's Top Chef's most recent season. It was set in New Orleans, and featured plenty of local color.
I always tell people you have to eat at Commander's Palace at least once. It's a special place. And where Emeril Lagasse became Emeril Lagasse.
You will not starve. Or lose weight.
Tanner from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: One of the bright spots in my day today was seeing a link on Twitter to an article written by ESPN's Pac-12 blog about the "Top five Pac-12 student sections." I didn't even necessarily want to read the article, I just knew I had send a message of congratulations. Just bravo. Just yes. Oh, and of course I ended up reading the article. ASU should be number 1 for all these excellent reasons: heck who cares. Over 1,000 Facebook shares in several hours (more than previous "15 articles combined) was all I needed. I love it. You guys always produce great work, and I NEED the occasional silly article like this (from excellent writers who have never sat in any of the referenced student sections) to make me smile. Thanks again for the great work. I can't stop typing because I can't stop smiling. But really, Arizona State should be No. 1. Just trust me.
Ted Miller: The very idea that we would do a post just to stir things up! Tanner, I'm hurt.
As for the ASU fan section: You might be right. There's always next year, right?
(It's always fun to get notes from fans who seem to "get" the Pac-12 blog and its humble raison d'etre).