Opening the mailbag: Best Pac-10 games and conference rankings

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

You are all notable to me.

To the mail.

Vizzle from Eugene, Ore., writes: Give me your top five games to watch this season in the PAC which ones you are going to attend, and where you will be dining before and after you watch them? Another thought... your Eugene dining experience really needs to be enriched by somebody who actually knows how to eat in Eugene.

Ted Miller: My boss, Keyser Söze, keeps it a secret where he's going to send me until the Sunday before the game, so I don't know where I'm going yet.

But my top-five Pac-10 games?

How about: 1. USC at Cal; 2. USC at Oregon; 3. Cal at Oregon; 4. Oregon State at Oregon; 5. Oregon State at USC.

As for restaurant recommendations, feel free to give me suggestions.

Jerome from Oakland writes: My question is in regards to the USC defense. How come sports writers say that USC only has 2 returning starters on defense? Correct me if I am wrong, but E. Griffen, C. Tupou, A. Spicer M. Morgan, T. Mays, J. Pinkard, S. Wright, W. Harris and K. Thomas all started 1 game or more or saw significant playing time (That's 9 players). So why the huge concern over losing the talent, when technically the talent is still there on defense just as much as it is on offense

Ted Miller: It's three starters back: Taylor Mays, Christian Tupou and Josh Pinkard. Those three started at least six games, the general definition of a returning starter.

Everson Griffen started three games -- he lost his job after the Oregon State game; as did Averell Spicer. Feel free to connect the dots there. Michael Morgan has one career start. Shareece Wright started the first two games last year before getting hurt. Nick Holt told me last fall he was the Trojans' best cover corner, so feel free to upgrade his status. Safety Will Harris started five games last year, but he'll likely back Pinkard at strong safety. Cornerback Kevin Thomas started two games last year and two games in 2006.

I get your drift, though. USC is not going to send out a bunch of clueless guys on defense. But when you look at the list of guys who are gone, it's hard to imagine a completely seamless transition.

Matt from Missoula, Mont., writes: You've said that you think Oregon would have been 2nd in the SEC last year (a claim that, as an Oregon fan, I find dubious unless you're only looking at the last third of the season), and the Pac-10 went 5-0 in bowl games last year. Yet your colleague ACC blogger Heather Dinich posted that the Pac-10 was the fourth best conference in the nation last year--after the ACC, and presumably the SEC and Big-12. I'm hoping to start a fight a between you and Heather. Can I count on you to avenge this outrageous case of east coast bias?

Ted Miller: Good point about the final third of the season. Did you, however, watch the SEC's official No. 2 team in the Sugar Bowl?

As for Heather: She runs marathons. She doesn't ramble on TV like I do. She has a margarita machine in her home. I will not mess with Heather.

Debating conference rankings is mostly an exercise in PR, selective statistics and trash talk. It's not an exact science. I'd rank the Pac-10 No. 3 in 2008, but I think ACC football also is underrated -- see the NFL draft numbers -- in large part because of this peculiar period when both Miami and Florida State are still working to regain their traction.

But please don't tell Heather I ranked the Pac-10 ahead of the ACC in 2008. She might make me ... go jogging or something.

Michael from Los Angeles writes: After reading the article about USC not winning it all last year, you must admit that this is said year in and year out. Recently history suggests USC will lose 1 game. That is rather a safe assumption - even coming from a USC alum like me. However, there is a rather intriguing factor that I believe USC will be the 8th in a row Pac-10 champions of 2009: Other teams cannot follow through in the Pac-10

Ted Miller: First, I didn't say USC won't win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 title this year. In fact, I admitted that I'd picked USC to win the title again.

What I did say -- and believe -- is that USC is more vulnerable than past years, based on a number of factors, including player and coach turnover and scheduling.

Marcus from Eugene, Ore., writes: I was watching SportsNation today, and I was completely blown away when they ranked the conferences according to strength. The Nation put the PAC 10 4th, behind the Big 10, Big 12, and SEC respectively. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the two powerhouses of the Big 10 last year (OSU, Penn State) met up with USC and got destroyed, the PAC 10 went 5-0 in their bowl games and finished with 3 teams in the top 25 (USC, Oregon, Oregon State) and two others received votes (Cal, Arizona). The Big 10 went 1-5 in bowls I believe, and finished with 4 teams in the top 25 (PSU OSU Iowa and MSU) and no one else EVEN CLOSE. What are your thoughts on this topic?

Ted Miller: I'd rank the Pac-10 third behind the SEC and the Big 12, but I think the Pac-10, Big Ten and ACC are comparable and really not that far behind the SEC and Big 12.

Jeff from Tucson writes: Reading about [Arizona] is one of my favorite forms of procrastination and in the off-season the pickings can get pretty slim. One thing I've noticed on a lot of non-PAC10-blog sites is that the Cats are regarded pretty lowly. A lot of preseason rankings have the Cats somewhere between 60-80 nationally and finishing somewhere between 7-9 in the Pac-10, often with no more than 4 wins. Those numbers seem very low to me. So my question for you is this: how much do you think long-term perceptions of a program effect preseason and even in-season rankings?I can't think of any other reason for Arizona to be ranked that low with the talent that is coming back, unless I'm really missing something there.

Ted Miller: I agree those rankings are low. I see Arizona as earning another bowl berth in 2009.

Part of this is an underestimating of Mike Stoops. Stoops made some mistakes his first couple of years and is an emotional guy who didn't always look great on the sideline, gesticulating and looking like his head was about to explode. But while fans and some sportswriters take shots at him, I've noticed a healthy amount of respect from other coaches. Moreover, he's surrounded himself with a good staff, including one of the nation's best offensive coordinators in Sonny Dykes.

I think Arizona's patience with Stoops as he grew into the job is going to pay off, and the ensuing success will change the national perception.

Cathy from Menlo Park, Calif., writes: My question is: what have you seen that I haven't?I love my Cal Bears. I think Tedford is awesome, and I optimistically keep my new years plans open each year, just in case. I went to the spring open practice this year, hoping to see improvement in our passing game, and I came away worried. Riley was still telegraphing his throws (If I knew who he was throwing to, you can bet are awesome secondary did!), getting rattled, and even bumbling snaps. There was some improvement at receiver, but not orders of magnitude. What have you seen that leads to your bullish predictions for the Bears next season? I want to believe, but I didn't see it!

Ted Miller: Cathy, judge not by a single practice! Or even two or thr
ee. I caught two this spring and thought Kevin Riley looked sharp, but I'm not going to start calling him Carson Palmer just yet.

No matter. My touting of Cal is rooted in this: If the passing game is solid, this is a top-15 team. If the passing game is above average, well, things could get pretty fancy.

Cal has 17 starters returning from a nine-win team. It has eight starters back from a very good defense. It has six or seven guys with all-conference skills.

The reason I'm bullish on the Bears is because they are one of the nation's most talented teams.

Scott from Monterey, Calif., writes: Is there anyway that another school besides USC in the pac-ten could make the national championship game if a Big 12 and an SEC school also go undefeated?? Lets say Oregon or Cal go undefeated but so does Florida and Texas or Oklahoma does as well, who gets in and who gets left out?

Ted Miller: It all depends on the BCS formula. But, yes, it could happen, though it is unlikely.

Florida is the overwhelming preseason No. 1, and deservedly so. The Gators are playing for history this year. If they are undefeated, they deserve to play for the title. Period. End of story.

As for Oklahoma, the Sooners play an ambitious, gutsy schedule -- BYU, Tulsa, Miami and, er, Idaho State are the nonconference games. Barring a collapse in the middle of the Big 12, I don't think an undefeated Cal or Oregon could eclipse the undefeated Sooners in the BCS rankings -- the Sooners almost certainly would be No. 2 in both polls if both they and the Gators are undefeated.

Texas, on the other hand, should be punished in the rankings for its cowardly slate: Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida. For shame!

Still, an undefeated Oregon or California would need help to jump over the Longhorns in the polls. It would need the rest of the Pac-10 to hold up, with six or seven winning records and four or so Top 25 teams.

But if, say, Oregon went undefeated with wins over Top 25 teams Boise State, Utah and Oregon State and top 15 teams Cal and USC, then it would have a solid shot to eclipse an undefeated Texas team.

Dean from Portland writes: Ted, your performance regarding how the PAC 10 would do against the SEC was pathetic. So, bad, in fact, that I've decided to coach you up since you're a pro who gets paid to write a PAC 10 blog rather than let you off with a free pass. Here goes: Both leagues have dominate bowl records during the BCS era; Both leagues play each other about even; both leagues each have one of the two most dominant programs in CFB. Moreover, each leagues next three best teams would be favored at home over the other (Cal, Ore, OSU. vs. Ala, LSU, Georgia). After that, Ole Miss and Arkansas would have their hands full with Stanford and Arizona. From there, you have ASU, UW, WSU vs. S. Car, Kent, Vandy, Miss.St. Without a playoff to answer this issue on-the-field, the least you could do was respond to Ivan with some facts rather than your weak appeal for "respect" from the SEC. As a paid media analyst, you have a responsibility to reject the media created mythology of the SEC/Big 12 supposed CFB supremacy.Facts are stubborn things.

Ted Miller: Just wanted to give Dean an opportunity to show what an SEC homer I am.

Greg from Hillsboro, Ore., writes: "Chicks dig me because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it's usually something unusual. But now I know why I have always lost women to guys like you. I mean, it's not just the uniform. It's the stories that you tell. So much fun and imagination." Why are you quoting the movie "Stripes"?

Ted Miller: Greg, I think the better question is why are you not?!

Paul from Tampa writes: Dude, please answer this in your mail bag segment......Why are you so awesome?

Ted Miller: Just 'cause.