Opening the mailbag: USC is overrated!

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Jeff from Austin, Texas, writes: Part of me (or rather, most of me) is wondering how much of the USC hype is coming from them being named "USC." Yes, they ended the season strong, but they only had a win over one ranked team all season (Oregon) which they nearly choked away in the fourth quarter. Sure they're good, but preseason #1 or 2?

Ted Miller: USC isn't a perfect team, as noted here. Part of the reason the Trojans are being talked about as preseason No. 1 is the lack of an obvious No. 1 (though, to me, LSU should start at No. 1, based on what the Tigers have coming back from a pretty darn good 2011 team).

But USC's résumé is pretty impressive. Let's start with last season. The Trojans were sort of "neh" through a 4-1 start. But they were outstanding over the second half of the season.

  • They won at Oregon, which won the Pac-12, won the Rose Bowl over a good Wisconsin team and ended up ranked No. 4. Say what you want about how it went down, but the Trojans ended the Ducks 21-game home winning streak.

  • Their other five wins over the second half of the season came by at least 14 points. They posted dominant wins over California, Notre Dame and Washington and concluded the season with a 50-0 stomping of rival UCLA.

  • The lone loss was in triple-overtime to Stanford, which ended up ranked seventh and would have beaten No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl if it could kick a field goal.

That leads into what's coming back from that 10-2 team that finished ranked No. 5: 19 starters, including QB Matt Barkley, a sure top-10 NFL draft pick if he'd opted to leave, the best receiving tandem in the nation -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- a 1,000-yard rusher in Curtis McNeal and their entire defensive back seven. Heck, it's worth noting that both specialists also are back, including first-team All-Pac-12 kicker Andre Heidari.

The issues are obvious: Questions on the defensive line and overall depth issues. (Man, could the Trojans use a couple of LSU's surfeit of future NFL D-linemen).

To me the top-two heading to 2012 are fairly obvious: 1. LSU; 2. USC.

And that would be a heck of a final game, if it held.

LSU would get a chance for revenge over the fact that no one really thinks of it as the true 2003 national champion.

Brian from Liberty Lake, Wash., writes: My question is have we seen the last of [Kevin] Prince as UCLA's QB? I think I speak for most UCLA fans when I say I hope so. Prince is a good guy but not the answer UCLA needs at QB.

Ted Miller: If I were a betting man -- giggle, giggle -- I'd lay my money on redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. He's a true dual-threat QB with tons of upside. And he is the future (though the Bruins signed two very good QBs in this recruiting class).

That said, the situation is as simple as this: Whoever plays the best in spring practice and fall camp is going to win the job. Jim Mora doesn't strike me as a guy who coaches by hypotheticals. He wants to win now, and if Kevin Prince makes it clear in advance of the season that he's the best guy to run the Bruins offense, then Prince will start at Rice on Sept. 1.

I also like that you pointed out that Prince is a "good guy." He is. And he's been a stand-up guy under difficult circumstances, whether you are talking about injuries or changing offensive coordinators on a near-annual basis -- Noel Mazzone will be his third. He's run a pro-style offense, a pistol and now will (probably) be asked to run a spread, mostly out of a traditional shotgun formation.

By the way, just because I'm a lean for Hundley doesn't mean I see it as anything close to a done deal. He clearly wasn't ready to start last spring when he looked overwhelmed, and he's yet to see action when the lights are on. Meanwhile, Prince has 26 career starts and is among the top-10 in Bruins history in passing yards and total offense.

Nik from Portland writes: With the new rules about kick offs, that are suppose to help protect players by having more touchbacks, do you feel that the some of the games excitement is going to be lost? as in less 40+ kick returns or even a repeat something like THE PLAY (Cal Vs Stanford). Or do you think more of them will happen?

Ted Miller: The new rule is this: Kickoffs will be moved up from the 30 to the 35-yard line next season. Players will also be limited to a 5-yard running head start. The reason? Fewer kickoff returns mean fewer injuries. At least, that's the -- reasonable -- theory. (The NFL moved up kickoffs up 5 yards this past season and touchbacks increased dramatically, according to the AP story).

Will excitement be lost? Sure. If there are more touchbacks, there will then be fewer exciting kickoff returns. Taking the ball away from guys like De'Anthony Thomas, Jamal Miles or Robert Woods means fewer oh-no-he-didn't! moments.

But you'd assume this wasn't a half-cocked decision: There is evidence that this new rule will yield fewer injuries, particularly concussions. So you want hear me whine about that.

It also will create a bit of new strategy. If you have a big-footed kicker, do you always want him to blast it into the endzone? Or might you try to get more hangtime and see if your kick team can pin your opponent inside the 20? Might we see a few more on-side kicks? And, if kickoff returns decrease in importance, will player like Thomas, Miles or Woods become less likely to be used for them?

This is a move that chips away at some excitement but with the intention of improving player safety. Hard to get too bent about that.

Pittsburgh from Pittsburgh writes: Not cool to denigrate places where people live. When you put something out there like that, life has a funny way of humbling you.

Ted Miller: I agree it's not cool to denigrate places where people live. And also that life has a way of humbling you. Try writing a high volume of stories for public consumption for a living.

But I don't think I denigrated any place where people live when I wrote about new Arizona State coach Todd Graham this week.

I wrote:

Graham took a lot of heat from a pandering, sanctimonious media and a whiny Pittsburgh fan base for how he left the Panthers. "He didn't even say goodbye," they collectively sobbed. "Waaah." Of course, Graham does have an unfortunate habit of describing every job as his "dream job." All that stuff is mostly hogwash, though. What matters is winning, and if Graham does that, the media will all come down en masse to Tempe pretending they didn't trash Graham's character for taking a better job, in a better conference, in a better place to live while making his family happy in the process.

Am I making fun of the reaction to Graham leaving Pittsburgh for Arizona State? Absolutely. I think it was ridiculous. Predictable, but nonetheless overblown.

Did I say anything bad about the city of Pittsburgh? No, I called Tempe "a better place to live." Obviously, that pure opinion. But Graham made that a centerpiece of why he bolted, and I'd wager that if you polled 100 random people across the country, more would choose to live in the Phoenix area rather than Pittsburgh.

People vacation here. People retire here. Spring training will shortly start. There's a reason for all that. It was chilly and rainy today in Pittsburgh. Over here in Scottsdale, I'll be grilling tonight in my bare feet.

By the way, I've been to Pittsburgh a few times. I like Pittsburgh. I'm, in fact, on record lauding it -- see this travel piece I did before the 2006 Super Bowl. (And, yes, I felt bad I left out Primanti Brothers).

By the way II, not to pander to Panthers fans, but you might find this interesting: It seems I'm a big fan of your new head coach.