Opening the mailbag: Fretting about Matt Barkley

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

We are less than a week away.

So we've got that going for us.

What's on your mind?

Nick from Portland writes: Is the Pac 10 blog experiencing technical difficulties today? I'm looking to get my fix of news for August 28th but it only goes as recent as the 24th.

Ted Miller: Yes, but a lot of smart people are working very hard to get things fixed.

Israel from El Paso, Tex., writes: So, as a USC fan I'm not completely sold on Matt Barkley being named the starter for USC. Far be it for me to question Pete Carroll's eye for talent, but sometimes does it seem like Coach Carroll will play inconsistent guys with flashes of greatness at the cost of winning (i.e. Joe Mcknight @ Oregon St. or Everson Griffen @ pick a time). What's your take on this, is Pete sacrificing this season for the next few seasons or is Barkley the guy to take USC back to the national title game right now? Your choice Ted, soothe me or terrify me.

Ted Miller: Let's understand the bedrock of this decision first: Aaron Corp is injured. It is unlikely he will be full speed by the opener against San Jose State on Sept. 5.

If Corp never got hurt, despite the gist of what the USC coaches are saying, he probably would have started the opener.

Now, the Trojans coaches have a couple of strategic issues at work here within their locker room: 1. They don't want it to seem they are going with a stop-gap solution; 2. They want Matt Barkley to go into the season feeling as confident as possible -- and his teammates to feel the same.

So Pete Carroll anointed Barkley. For now. Unless he doesn't play well.

This is not to say that Barkley isn't special. It's been clear for a while that Barkley's refined talent, poise and intelligence have intrigued Carroll and his staff.

My sense is that the USC coaches believe Barkley might actually go out and kick butt, first against San Jose State and then at Ohio State. And, if so, that means "away we go" with the next big thing in college football.

And if he doesn't? Corp's leg should be ready to go -- or at least a lot better -- before the Sept. 12 visit to the Horseshoe.

Jess from North Bend: Do you think voters are weighing team's schedules when they fill out their ballots? For instance, teams like Ole Miss and Boise St. are being picked very high. They are both very good football teams without a doubt. However, it seems people are giving them even more love since they play very soft schedules. Why should a team be ranked higher because they have a better chance of success with an easier schedule? Doesn't it give them an advantage on top of an advantage?

Ted Miller: Jess, I hope this annoys you because then we can share our annoyance, which always makes it better.

Yes, people do that. And it's wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The rankings, as the AP expressly states when a writer is asked to vote, are not about predicting a team's finish based on how they will do vs. their schedule. It's about how good you think a team is relative to others.

Now, I don't want to sound like I always follow the ranking rules. I punish teams for weak schedules. For example, while Texas Tech improved to 4-0 after playing Eastern Washington, Nevada, SMU and Massachusetts last year, I dropped them each week. I thought the Red Raiders were a good team, but I jumped teams over them based on what had actually happened during the season -- even teams I thought they'd whip.

Some might not like that. I call it holding programs accountable when coaches and ADs conspire to hide from competition. If more voters did the same, we'd have less cowardly scheduling.

I ranked Ole Miss No. 13 in my vote for ESPN.com's preseason Power Rankings. I think the 12 teams I ranked in front of Ole Miss would -- or will, in the case of Alabama and LSU -- beat them.

I could be wrong, of course.

And the Rebels, whose nonconference schedule includes Memphis, SE Louisiana, UAB and Northern Arizona -- for shame! -- will not move up until Sept. 24 when a visit to South Carolina figures to provide something of a true measuring stick. They won't have a shot at pushing into the top-10 of my poll until they play Alabama on Oct. 10.

If the Rebels believe they are special, they should have found a tough nonconference foe to prove it against. It seems like it's not a coincidence that the Rebels lost to their one tough nonconference foe last year: Wake Forest.

I had Boise State 18th. The Broncos have a chance to climb based on what happens Sept. 3.

Finnster fro Bothell, Wash., writes: What's up with the NCAA Clearinghouse this year? In the past, I only remember hearing about it when players had particular issues; this year it seems like they are coming up alot.

Ted Miller: You probably have a player you are following, that's why the Clearinghouse seems so prominent.

This happens every season -- a backlog of players who need clearance to be eligible and a bureaucracy that moves at a glacial pace.

Want to know why it's so slow? The same reason rules enforcement is so slow and inconsistent. There's no money in it. Now, the NCAA (self-) promotions budget! That's special!

No offense to the NCAA Clearinghouse but I hate the NCAA Clearinghouse.

It's the bane of coaches, fans and beat writers (Repeat this exchange 50 times: Reporter: Any word from the Clearinghouse? Coach: No.)

Pete from Denver writes: You seem to think Oregon State is lacking at the skill positions with ranking the Receivers 7th and the Running backs 5th. With reports saying both Catchings and McCants will be back by the Cincinnati game would you rank the Beavers a little higher in both categories?

Ted Miller: Yes.

But injuries are tricky. I think you're looking at best-case-scenarios for both McCants and Catchings.

And both those positions still have questions for the Beavers that won't be answered until the season starts, no matter how intriguing the young talent.

Let's not forget the departed Jeremy Francis might have been Jacquizz Rodgers No. 1 backup this fall, and that Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales combined for 124 receptions for 1,800 yards and 15 TDs in 2008.

Mr. Quackers from Portland writes: As a Duck fan I'd love to see the pass defense be better this year but I'm not convinced this stat is as important as some would have you believe. Pass defense is far below many other stats as far as telling the story of how good a team is, I prefer wins and losses personally :). Top ten last year for pass defense was USC, South Carolina, New Mexico State, Tennessee, N. Illinois, FSU, Miami, UCLA, UCONN, and San Jose State. Not exactly telling as far as overall success goes.My question: What do you think the most telling stats are for a teams overall performance?

Ted Miller: My first response was turnover margin.

But, after the first two, this isn't terribly compelling.

So let's go with scoring defense

And... yet... in the Pac-10, scoring offense might be more accurate.

Kyle from Tempe, Ariz., writes: I'm a little confused about the Vontaze Burfict situation. He is awaiting the results from the NCAA clearinghouse, but he is cleared to take classes at ASU. It says he had the grades and met all the requirements for admission to the university, which I thought was what the clearinghouse was all about. So my question is what else is the clearinghouse looking at, since he had the grades apparently to get into ASU shouldn't he be allowed to play?

Ted Miller: You've stated it exactly.

Burfict has qualified by Arizona State's standards.

But the NCAA Clearinghouse has yet to complete its review of his transcripts.

ASU worked faster.

It's obvious that ASU believes he will be admitted. But the Clearinghouse, as previously noted, works at it's own pace.

Luc from Eugene writes: What's your input on Masoli going pro? Do you think he is, as everyone says, too vertically challenged? Also, is it me, or does it seem like Blount isn't getting enough respect. I mean the guy has probably the best shot out of anyone of going to play on Sundays. HE'S A BEAST!

Ted Miller: The NFL won't like Masoli's height, but if he puts up big numbers the next two seasons, he's sure to at least get a shot. Drew Brees has done OK despite only being 6-feet tall.

As for LeGarrette Blount, are you talking NFL or college?

He's a great talent who could be a first-round NFL draft pick. But he was a backup last year so he's not front-and-center.

The questions about Blount are not physical. He needs to show he's focused and disciplined. The off-season suspension and weight gain created questions. He can answer them by posting a huge season.

David from Vancouver, Wash., writes: With a kick-off time around 7:45 PST for the LSU/UW game, that would put the second half starting around 11:30p Louisiana time with the 4th quarter starting after midnight Tiger time. What kind of impact can that have, especially on a defense.

Ted Miller: Maybe LSU's players will take a nap during the game and Jake Locker will get three unopposed possessions.

I don't think it will have much affect. I assume that the LSU coaches will change their team's patterns to account for the late kickoff, for one. And it's not like the average 18-23-year-old isn't lively at midnight.

If the Huskies were to keep things close or -- holy cow! -- notch a monumental upset, then my guess is the late start will become a HUGE issue in post-game analysis.

I will say, again, that this one has a chance to be a truly epic tailgate.