Mailbag: Stats, cool cats (Katz?), USC whispers

Just one week to go until the first tailgate.

Follow me on Twitter. Already 12 followers have found a pot of gold under their laptops, which explains some sloppy typing.

To the notes:

Christofer from Santa Ana, Calif., writes: If Nate Costa is named the starting qb do you think that Kelly will open up the passing game (kinda like masoli and ed dixon did when they played cal in 09). im not saying that he will abandon the run because lets face it LaMicheal James is a possible Heisman candidate.

Ted Miller: I think Oregon will pass more whoever plays quarterback, Costa or Darron Thomas. Two reasons: Neither Costa nor Thomas will stress defenses on the spread-option like former QB He Who Shall Not Be Named did. Second, the Ducks are more experienced at receiver than they were last year, with Jeff Maehl looking like a potential all-conference target.

That said, the Ducks also have a veteran line and two great running backs. They still will average over 200 yards rushing per game.

Kyle from Santa Clara, Calif., writes: What do you think the chances are that the week 6 game between Stanford and USC will be a match up of undefeated teams? Also, will playing at home benefit Stanford? Looking at the past few years they seem to play much better at USC, and when I go to Stanford games (especially USC games) it sometimes seems like the other team has more fans.

Ted Miller: I think USC will be undefeated. Stanford plays at Oregon the week before. That's a toughie. (at UCLA, Wake Forest and at Notre Dame are hardly gimmes, too).

One of the next steps for Stanford as a program under Jim Harbaugh is building a homefield advantage, which means selling out its beautiful 50,000-seat stadium on a regular basis. I saw a homefield advantage when the Cardinal beat Oregon last year. But Cal fans have enjoyed informing me about their large contingent celebrating a Big Game victory on the Stanford field last fall.

Seems like a nice little rivalry is building between these two programs. My guess is USC's players will be reminded plenty about their spineless performance in last year's game in front of a stunned Coliseum crowd, not to mention the whole, "What's your deal," episode between Harbaugh and Pete Carroll.

Mike from Sacramento writes: In discussing the vacating of USC's 2004 national championship you state, "everyone knows that USC walked away from the 2004 season as the consensus national champion, at least in terms of the football part of football. Nothing it did wrong -- by any measure -- gave it a competitive advantage." You are being disingenuous when you state that USC's violations were off the field and didn't impact its success on the field. The constant presence of agents and runners around the program on top of the well-known fact that blue chip players could essentially operate with impunity as they compromise their amateur status, directly impacted how they performed on the field. This information has been whispered about for nearly a decade on the recruiting trail and it is well-known in NFL locker rooms. This conduct directly leads to recruiting success. By any measure, USC stockpiled talent through its recruiting which was the main reason for its run. So, yes the violations of USC directly impacted their success on the field.I get that you disagree with the NCAA's rulings but your attempts, at every opportunity, to color the violations of USC as anything but plain old cheating does a disservice to your readers.

Ted Miller: Mike, maybe you are right and I am wrong.

I'm sure that you're not saying that the NCAA was justified in hammering USC due to "whispers." So please send me the list of recruiting violations the NCAA found at USC. Further, beyond Reggie Bush, please list the "blue chip players [who] could essentially operate with impunity as they compromised their amateur status" as revealed in the NCAA report.

I will include your list in next week's mailbag.

Shane from Corvallis, Ore., writes: I have two different questions for you. First i know you say you can't actually tell from a scrimmage if offense/defense of a team looked good because the other was actually bad, but i've read several articles saying OSU's defense looks solid, and yet they got torched by the offense on Tuesday. Do you think our offense could just be that good or our defense struggling?and secondly as for the 9 game conference schedule i have read many posts complaining that it's holding us back, but it seems that the big ten is gonna add that extra conference game and same with big 12, so to me keeping the 9th game doesn't seem like it will be as much of a drawback anymore do you agree?

Ted Miller: As for your first question, I've had this conversation with many a beat writer: You watch a scrimmage and the offense makes a play. Is that good offense or bad defense?

It's almost a Rorschach test for pessimists and optimists: Our offense is awesome! Our defense stinks!

My take: If you've watched a lot of football, you just kind of get a feel for it. You know the overused football term "execution"? It's sort of football's version of "good form" in soccer.

I mentioned the Stanford-Oregon game above. In that game, Stanford's incredibly precise execution in the passing game beat mostly solid defense from Oregon. (Chip Kelly afterward basically told me: "Andrew Luck made multiple perfect deep throws into good coverage. What can you do?")

So if you see Ryan Katz thread a needle 37 yards down field to a well-covered James Rodgers, what you should take away is: Our offense is good.

But if you see Jacquizz Rodgers repeatedly run through multiple arm tackles from the Beavers' new middle linebackers, or you see receivers breaking free with a DB trailing five yards behind, you should be worried. Just as you should be worried if you see Katz missing open guys or the No. 2 defense repeatedly putting pressure on Katz.

As for the nine-game conference schedule: It only holds the Pac-10 back when other conferences don't do it -- it automatically adds five defeats to the conference's overall record. If everyone else does it, no worries. Wonder if the SEC plans to add a ninth game, too?

Captain Kevin from Twin Falls, Idaho writes: Can you settle an argument I am having with some friends about what the single most indicative stat is for defensive quality?*We realize no stat is 100% indicative of how good a defense is, like life, many factors play in, but we are just trying to get your opinion on the MOST important.Points Allowed vs Yards Per Play!My take:Yards per play is not skewed like PPG. PPG depends on where the opposing offense starts with the ball, how long your offense has the ball, how often they turn it over and where, etc etc.Those things do not matter nearly as much in yards per play, as it measures how well your actual defense does on each play, regardless of where they start from, etc etc.

Ted Miller: Most coaches would say points because stopping offenses, in the end, is what defense is all about.

And yards per play also can be skewed for a variety of reasons, starting with field position. Defenses stuck on a short field a lot due to an offense that makes a lot of turnovers and poor special teams play might do better in yards per play than one that consistently plays on a longer field.

To me, the best way to measure a defense is yards and points differential: How does a defense do vs. an opposing offense's averages? For example, if UCLA is averaging 42 points and 463 yards per game and only scores 24 and gains 310 against Oregon, then the Ducks' defense has turned in a good performance. But if UCLA averages 22 points and 300 yards per game, then those numbers aren't as impressive.

Obviously, the problem with that metric is sample size: It's not terribly useful until season's end.

Pedro from Eugene writes: I just finished "A Dirty Job" on your recommendation. Hilarious novel. Is that Moore's best book? Should I check out any more?

Ted Miller: I'm only a recent Christopher Moore convert. I've been told "A Dirty Job" is his best, but I'm sure some of our friends out there might have other ideas. Just bought "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal," but I don't have a lot of novel-reading time during the season.

Perhaps some of you folks out there can provide a pecking order on Moore novels?

Sam from West Linn, Ore., writes: Okay, so LaMichael James gets replaced by a cat. Specifically a Scottish Fold. Does Oregon still win the Pac-10?

Ted Miller: No.

But the chances are better if it's a Russian Blue.