Opening the mailbag: Does the Pac-10 have a national title contender?

Howdy. Still on vacation, but the mailbag is not.

To the notes.

Josh from Lynden, Wash., writes: There is a lot being made of the Pac 10 not having a national title contender. Did you see anything in spring ball that would lead you to believe that USC, Oregon or Oregon State could get on a roll this season and be a player in the national picture?

Ted Miller: Couple of things to understand: First, watching one or two practices doesn't typically yield profound insights about a team's ultimate standing. Consider what I wrote about USC last spring. D'oh. Heck, watching every spring practice actually can lead to a false perception inflation or deflation. As in: That defense might look dominant because the O-line is struggling. Or vice versa. Or all those dropped passes or wayward throws might just be a momentary loss of concentration. During practices, success of one unit means a failure on the other. Things on fall Saturdays could look very different.

Second, just because it doesn't look like the Pac-10 has a national title contender right now doesn't mean that will be the case in December. What if USC reverts to its pre-2009 self? Or what if Chip Kelly clicks his heels three times and Nate Costa (or Darron Thomas) seamlessly replaces Jeremiah Masoli as the Oregon QB? And what if Oregon State starts 3-0 with two wins over top-10 teams?

My hunch is the Pac-10 will not contend for a national title this season. But, as many of you enjoy noting, I've been wrong before.

I'm still mad about that one time, by the way.

Sean from Pullman, Wash., writes: If Paul Wulff has another abysmal with the Cougars, and he is ultimately replaced, who do you think they would hire? According to the CBSSports Hot Seat rankings, it seems as though UTEP's Mike Price might be looking for work somewhere else if he doesn't put up. Do you think Bill Moos would go down that road again or would he want to make a bigger splash with his first big hire as AD?

Ted Miller: My first response is that new athletic director Bill Moos, who played a role in Wulff's hiring, is going to try his best to be patient. If the Cougars are consistently more competitive in 2010; if they show clear improvement -- even if that doesn't mean more than three or so wins -- I think Wulff will get a fourth year. At least, that seems like the wise course to me. Moos isn't the "look-at-me!" sort who is eager to make a big splash just for the heck of it. He wants to do what's best for the program.

But to entertain your negative scenario: Price? I'm not sure that (re-)hiring a coach who just turned 64 is the solution.

Also, as a Pac-10 blog principle, I avoid speculating on whom a program might hire if a sitting coach is fired (unless it's an obvious case of "dead man walking"). I would suggest to Cougars fans your best course is to get behind Wulff and his team with a frenzied, unquestioning optimism. No sense worrying until you absolutely have to.

Nate from Houston writes: When it comes to USC's non-conference schedule, you believe the Trojans will go 4-0. Virginia at home seems to be the biggest gimme, but between Hawaii, Minn., and ND, which team do you think will be the biggest challenge for the Trojans and why?

Ted Miller: I think USC will win all four by double-figures. Biggest challenge? Probably Notre Dame because the Fighting Irish, who welcome back 17 starters, are the most talented team among the four. The game is in the Coliseum and the Irish haven't beaten the Trojans since 2001. That weighs heavily in USC's favor. On the other hand, I think Brian Kelly is an outstanding coach and by Nov. 27 his players should know him and his system far better than they would in September.

Sweatervested from Mobile, Ala., writes: Good day to you sir! In your conference rankings you had the SEC 1st (of course.) However, being the wise guy that you are, you said "I have a hunch the SEC won't be on top at season's end." Who are you? Sister Cleo? Who is going to challenge us? Lets see! Texas? Oklahoma? Ohio St.(please)? USC? Oregon (at the very least, you will be able to brag that the best team in the LAC-10 beat a bottom tier SEC team.) Don't you just love us fans of SEC teams?

Ted Miller: It's possible the SEC will take a step back next year, though the conference has earned the benefit of the doubt. The depth is questionable while all the top teams have significant questions, including Alabama (eight defensive starters gone) and Florida (Tim Tebow and eight other guys off to the NFL).

Which conference might prove better? Big 12 for one: Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Missouri look like top-25 teams. My darkhorse is the ACC, which nonetheless I ranked fifth at this point. I think Miami is close to a breakthrough and Florida State will move up under Jimbo Fisher, while Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina look like top-25 teams. Further, Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest are solid teams that give the conference depth.

And what if Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa all end up in the top-10? Pac-10? It's as deep as any league.

And, yes, I do love you SEC fans.

Kim from Seattle writes: You may find interest in my Spring Stats blog which displays team losses by position, expressed via percentage of stats lost.

Ted Miller: You stat-heads will enjoy Kim's page -- go here.

Ken from Seattle writes: Love the "Dirty Job" line drop! That was one of the best lines from a book full chock full of 'em."Don't be ridiculous, Charlie, people love the parents who beat their kids in department stores. It's the ones who just let their kids wreak havoc that everybody hates. "

Ted Miller: You can see my summer reading has started, eh? That was my first Christopher Moore experience and it won't be my last. Hilarious and a page-turning yarn. Seems to me it would make a great movie. A studio should give Moore a wheelbarrow full of money and let him write up a screen play.

Azhar from Berkeley writes: I liked your old picture better. Make it come back!

Ted Miller: The best way to take in my mug shot is with closed eyes.

But here's a link for the old one if you miss it.