Tuesday mailbag: Disgruntled Utah fans

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Pheezie in Cali writes: Given O's problematic ability to deal with the meat in the trenches, and now that the conference race is wide open, are we looking at the true P12 game of the year this week in the Coliseum? A lot more is riding on this game than ever it was given credit for, and suddenly, this is looking like a truly fantastic matchup, SC is definitely looking more game than anybody thought.

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, the magnitude of this game is amplified considerably. Is it game of the year status? Maybe. But then again every game in November is the game of the year. UCLA-Arizona State could be the game of the year. Washington-Washington State could be the game of the year. So much is riding on these next three weeks that simply pinpointing one game and calling it the game of the year doesn't seem to give credit to the rest of the games around the league.

However, given how California has played, this seems like the last big hurdle for the Cardinal to get over to advance to the Pac-12 title game for the second straight year. Don't ever want to assume anything -- especially in a rivalry game. And I know the Cardinal would love nothing more than to lock up the North Division with a win over the rival Bears. Just as I know nothing would please Cal more than to deny Stanford the division with an upset.

But first things first. Stanford has dominated the USC series of late, winning four in a row and five of the last six. While they have dominated the series, they haven't dominated the games. They have been tight. Four of the last six have been determined by a touchdown or less -- including the last three. The Cardinal won by a touchdown last year, there was the triple-overtime thriller in 2011 and the last-second field goal by Nate Whitaker in 2010.

Given Stanford's penchant for high drama, this game certainly qualifies as must-see.

As for the Trojans, the power running game has been clicking. One back goes down, another takes his place. Say what you want about USC's depth issues, they have tailbacks out the wazoo.

Such is the nature of a league like the Pac-12. What we think we see coming in Week 4 is drastically different in Week 12. And if the Trojans can pull off this win, they are right in the thick of the South Division with a couple of games left. This is the game of the year if you're a USC or Stanford fan. But so is next week's.

Nick in LaLa Land writes: Hey Kevin! Two unrelated things:1) If Stanford runs the table for the rest of the season, and with a little help from FSU, is there a chance that they remain ahead of OSU in the BCS and play #1 in the title game? 2) Was listening to the USC-Cal game and Pete Arbogast was bringing up the point that, APPARENTLY, the referee is supposed to restart the game clock once the first down marker has been placed, and only then. Not before. Not during the move. Apparently, on more than one occasion, this was the case today. IF THE REF HANDBOOK DOES, IN FACT, STATE THIS RULE--how are refs getting away with this? We all know the Pac-12 officiating is shady at best but seems like in recent years clock "management" has been an issue. And thanks for picking Oregon State last week--the curse is broken!

Kevin Gemmell: Unless two of those three undefeated teams lose, I just don't see how Stanford jumps into the national championship game. And if Baylor runs the table, I think its possible for them to jump the Cardinal, because they have more games against teams ranked in the BCS top 25. Stanford conceivably only has one ... and that's the Pac-12 championship game against UCLA or ASU.

To the second question, my understanding of the rule is that the clock starts once the official has placed the ball and given the signal for the clock to start. It goes off the official, not when the marker actually touches the ground. That's how I've always understood it. If there is an official out there who wants to shed some light on it, by all means.

And I don't think the Pac-12 officials are shady. That implies some sort of maleficence or deliberate disregarding of the rules. And I don't think that's the case at all. But the league has certainly had its share of officiating hiccups. Here's a thought ...

They talk about officiating at the NFL level being so difficult because of the speed of the game. Would anyone argue that the Pac-12 is the fastest conference in college football top to bottom? This league is all about speed. Having watched many games from the sidelines, I can attest to that. I'm not defending the history of poor officiating. But maybe there is something to the fact that the Pac-12 is moving faster than the game can be officiated. And if that's the case, some offseason re-training should be in order.

Charlie up on the hill in Utah writes: I've lost all faith in Utah's coaching staff after that choke job vs. ASU. The conservative play calling (play not to lose, not to win) was deplorable. It seems to have become a hallmark under Whittingham. Is it time for him to go (along with his under-qualified coaching staff - which includes a former personal injury attorney)?

Kevin Gemmell: I hear you. But I also think if you can't effectively throw the football and/or protect your quarterback, the smart money says to run the football and run the clock. So I don't really have any issue with how they managed the fourth quarter.

One of my favorite David Shaw quotes of all time is: "We don't run plays we don't think aren't going to work."

Obviously the Utah coaching staff ran the plays they thought were best given the situation.

No, it's not time for coach Kyle Whittingham to go. And it won't be next year or the year after that. And his staff is fine. The talent is there, and the experience is there.

I've written this many times, and I'll write it again. Utah needs at least one full recruiting cycle in the Pac-12 before we can officially start judging them. Next year the Utes will start getting a full share of the television money. They have been at a disadvantage the first couple of seasons. They just built their new facilities. Let that money trickle down. Let them get familiar with how to appropriate it. By the way, hiring Dennis Erickson was a great start.

If the Utes have gone four straight years without a postseason berth, then we'll talk.

Am I the only one who sees improvement in this team from last year to this year? Am I the only one who saw them beat Stanford and take an ASU team that absolutely spanked them last year and push them to the brink?

Life in the Pac-12 isn't easy. Whittingham and Co. knew that coming in. Give them four to five years as a major conference team before we start talking coaching change.

Denise in Palo Alto writes: Do you ever pick anything but favorites?

Kevin Gemmell: As a matter of fact, I do take the occasional gamble on underdogs. And since you're writing from Palo Alto, I'm assuming this is a passive-aggressive way of saying nice call on picking Oregon.

I'm 61-12 on the year -- and not all 12 of the misses have been favorites losing to underdogs. Utah was an underdog when I picked it to beat BYU. Stanford was either a very slight favorite or a very slight underdog going into Oregon State, and I picked the Cardinal. I actually picked three road dogs in week eight and got smacked but good with Utah losing to Arizona, Washington losing to ASU and USC losing to Notre Dame. I whiffed on Washington State-Oregon State back in Week 7. Though that one looked solid through three quarters. Ted and I are now tied on the year after I picked UCLA over Arizona -- the Bruins were underdogs, by the way.

The predictions are fun, but that's all they really are. I'm not exactly pulling back the curtain by saying there is no crystal ball. I try to take the best data I have available and make an educated guess. And the fact that Stanford's offense had struggled and they were going to be without Ben Gardner gave me pause.

True, Ted and I both picked Stanford to win the Pac-12 North and the Pac-12 championship game. That still could come to fruition. But there is certainly an asterisks next to it, since we both also backed the Ducks last week.

But if you feel the need to gloat a tad, Denise, you go right ahead. You've earned it.

S. Skov writes: Kevin, What are your thoughts about the eye glasses sported by us in the post-game interview? Over-the-top? Silly? Best joke you've seen in a while? Fashion-forward since you have the exact pair?

Kevin Gemmell: Loved it. The bulk of the college football community was betting against the Cardinal -- both halves of the Pac-12 blog included -- so I have zero issue with them having a little fun in the postgame celebration. I know fans were rocking the glasses too, and John Elway had a pair with him.

Stanford embraces the nerd nation mantra. I'd much rather see that in a postgame news conference than some of the other childish antics I've seen in my career.

Speaking of fashion, fix your eyes on the far left of the picture. You'll see a crushingly handsome half a torso in a sharp navy blue suit and blue tie. The tie says "I'm here for work." The suit says "Drinks are on me."