Opening the mailbag: In Oregon's defense

Not sure if you guys have joined this club, but it's what all the cool kids are doing.

To the notes.

Jason from Columbus writes: Defense wins championships. Oregon's defense stinks. Do the Buckeyes have to kill them again to prove this?

Ted Miller: First of all, I'm curious: Do Ohio State fans really view the Buckeyes 26-17 Rose Bowl victory as a "kill"? Or is this just a fringe interpretation or a bit of trash talk? In terms of being an actual assessment, it's ridiculous.

Anyway. Oregon may not have a great defense but it has a good defense. It's hard to explain this to people because, well, it requires explaining.

Most folks look at the 339 yards per game the Ducks have surrendered and say, "Neh!"

The first approach for the defense (ha!) is to point out that Oregon's fast-paced offense -- the nation's No. 1 offense in total yards and scoring -- ranks 98th in time of possession and therefore forces its defense to see a lot of plays. That's when a Ducks defender points to yards per play. Oregon gives up 4.58 yards per play, which is better than Penn State, Alabama and Florida, which are each top-20 defenses. But that number isn't really exceptional.

But this number is: 370. That's how many plays the Ducks defense has faced this year. Know how many defenses have faced more? Seven. And all of them rank 82nd or below in total defense, and five are in the 100s. Oregon ranks 52nd in total defense.

So what? It's the Ducks own fault for seeing so many plays. Just make a stop and they wouldn't see 370 plays, right?

Eureka! The Ducks do get stops. They rank ninth in the country in third-down defense. Ohio State, by the way, is 16th.

Oh, and by the way, Oregon's scoring defense ranks 15th in the nation (15 ppg). Keeping teams from scoring is good, right?

Qualifier: All these statistics -- good and bad -- are skewed. We are only five games into the season. And Oregon's defense dominated some terrible teams and hasn't looked great against Pac-10 offenses (557.5 yards per game in two games, including 6.3 yards per play).

Still, the fact that those two Pac-10 foes -- Arizona State and Stanford -- who rank in the top-17 in the nation in total offense could only score one total TD in the second half between them is pretty exceptional.

Arne from A_fop writes: According to the same logic that west coast fans and and the national media used against LSU and Auburn in 03 and 04 (which successfully deprived LSU of the AP title and kept Auburn out of the title picture altogether), Oregon, who played FCS Sacramento State, winless New Mexico, and a lousy Tennessee team, should be excluded from the national title picture because of their terrible nonconference schedule. It isn't their fault that Tennessee has fallen on hard times? Well, the same was true of LSU and Arizona in 03. And if playing an FCS team was supposed to be this horror for a national title contender when it was Auburn in 04, well UO knew that they were going to be very good this year and kept Sacramento State on their schedule anyway. And don't peddle the "UO plays 9 conference games" line. USC only played 8 conference games in 03 and 04, where Auburn and LSU played 9 thanks to the SEC title game. In order to be consistent and not hypocritical, you should take the position that Ohio State is more deserving of the national title game than is Oregon because of the Buckeyes' much tougher OOC slate. And yes, I recall your column from back in the day when you stated that Utah was more deserving of the national title than Auburn in 04 because of their tougher OOC schedule, so the hypocrite would be you personally.

Ted Miller: Wow, there's a lot here. Many tangled strands of argumentation that seemed to be strongly against the Pac-10 blog! What fun. Arne, as many of you know, is a frequent contributor to the comments section. He's not much of a Pac-10 fan, but we welcome all opinions to the Pac-10 blog. And he's clearly a bright, knowledgeable guy.

First of all, Oregon played Portland State, not Sacramento State.

Second, there are two layers to nonconference scheduling: Reality and intention. The reality is scheduling Tennessee or Georgia this year means you got an easy win if you're a decent team. Only no team that scheduled the Volunteers or Bulldogs thought that would be the case. The intention when the game was scheduled was to play a challenging foe. That should be rewarded, just as cowardly scheduling should be penalized. And, by the way, the Vols certainly didn't look lousy at LSU.

In 2003, Auburn was ranked sixth in the preseason poll. Many thought it would be a national title contender, starting with The Sporting News. USC, with quarterback making his first career start, went into frenzied Jordan-Hare Stadium and whipped the Tigers 23-zip. Auburn's SEC offense had 164 yards playing a Pac-10 defense, by the way. The next weekend, the Tigers lost at Georgia Tech. An exposed team thereafter played inconsistently throughout the rest of the season.

In 2004, Auburn tried a different approach to its nonconference scheduling. It played Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech. That worked wonders. With a clear intention of avoiding tough nonconference foes, Auburn went undefeated.

Connect the dots. It's not difficult. Lots of teams in the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten have done so and adopted what we should all starting calling the "Auburn in 2004 -- certainly not 2003! -- Approach to Nonconference Scheduling."

Oregon's intentions this year were far different than Auburn's in 2004. Further, Arne, you need to incorporate location into your analysis. The Ducks traveled across the country to a 100,000-plus seat stadium to win at Tennessee. Auburn played all of its nonconference games in 2004 safely at home.

In other words, it's disingenuous to compare the two schedules. Heck, New Mexico went 9-4 in 2007. The Ducks didn't know the Lobos would become an FBS bottom-feeder when the schedule was made.

You compare LSU's trip to Arizona in 2003 to Oregon's trip to Tennessee. Really, Arne? Tennessee won the SEC East in 2007. It went to a bowl game last year. In 2003, the Wildcats were five years removed from their last winning season. They'd won six Pac-10 games over the previous three seasons.

Further, you write: "And don't peddle the 'UO plays 9 conference games' line. USC only played 8 conference games in 03 and 04, where Auburn and LSU played 9 thanks to the SEC title game. In order to be consistent and not hypocritical, you should take the position that Ohio State is more deserving of the national title game than is Oregon because of the Buckeyes' much tougher OOC slate."

I don't get the logic here. Oregon's nine conference games this year shouldn't count in comparison to Ohio State's eight this year because USC played eight conference games in 2003 and 2004? Why would I not peddle that? It's an incredibly strong fact in the Ducks favor, one that the computers in the BCS rankings will certainly recognize.

Despite all this, the Ducks don't automatically jump the Buckeyes in my or any other final poll. If Miami, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin are all highly ranked at season's end, despite losses to Ohio State, and the Pac-10 ends up with just a couple of ranked teams, then that will be a huge factor in making a distinction between the potentially unbeaten Buckeyes and Ducks. And the computers also will take note in the BCS standings.

One final question: Please e-mail me the column where I wrote, "Utah was more deserving of the national title than Auburn in 04 because of their tougher OOC schedule." Not sure I understand what you're saying I wrote.

Chuck from Clayton, Calif., writes: Saturday is homecoming for Cal. To Cal fans it's the Joe Roth game. Please mention the website: joeroth12.com. It has everything one would need to know about Joe Roth & why Cal honors him every year. Go Bears!

Ted Miller: Worth a look, whether you are a Cal fan or not. Roth was an exceptional person. It's a sad story that is also inspiring.

Chris from Oregon writes: Every time I open your predictions and see that you've picked the Beavers to upset yet another highly ranked team, my heart sinks. I immediately get out my pool of games for the week and mark the Beavers opposition to win. So far this year I'm 2 for 2. So please Ted, for the sake of all Beaver fans, I beg of you to stop. I don't know how much more our hearts can withstand.

Trevor from Salem, Ore, writes: Ted, can you make me a promise? If UA beats OSU this weekend will you please NEVER pick the Beavs to win a game again? Thanks.

Mike from Milwaukie, Ore., writes: As an Oregon State fan, I am BEGGING you reconsider your picking us over Arizona.BEGGING.PLEADING.It's not too late to say it was a typo and your editor screwed up.

Ted Miller: I remember in 2008 when I darn near got the Beavers to the Rose Bowl by picking against them (almost) every week. But so many Oregon State fans got on my case, I was forced to explain my mystical ways.

Of course, some caught on. But it was too late. The karmic forces rebelled.

I picked Oregon State to beat TCU. Wrong. Boise State. Wrong.

But I got a good feeling this week about the Beavers in Tucson!

So relax.

E-dogg from Bend, Ore., writes: Yo Ted! Good times talking shop with you out in Eugene last Friday night. You made about 10 obsessed college football fans nights..... Most famous celebrity I have seen since I bagged Drew Bledsoe's groceries back in 2005. Oh yea, Go Beavs.....I see you picked them to win again......Thanks a lot for the jinx bro.

Ted Miller: I showed this note to my wife, using my finger to underline "most famous celebrity."

She told me to take out the garbage.