Pac-12 mailbag: Oregon disrespect, Washington worries

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the questions!

Bill from Seattle writes: The too early rankings and predictions seem to be all over the place on the Ducks. Why? Are they that hard to figure out? Comparing last year's team to this year's team, the Running Backs and Receivers look stronger, the defense can only get better, and QB play looks to have lower peaks but much more stability overall. The key question seems to be the O-line, but Oregon has generally done well transitions here lately. All-in-all, how is this team not a step up over last year?

Michael from Olympia, Washington, writes: Seems like there is a weekly question about the hype regarding UDUB, but less has been written about the lack of hype coming from Eugene. No major publication has them winning the North, and major publications like don't even have them in the Top 25. How do you anticipate the year going for the ducks with a new QB, rebuilt OL, rebuilt front 7, and new OC and DC?

Ted Miller: It does seem, my Washington-living Ducks, that your team is getting marginalized, though you are overstating things just a bit. It wasn't too long ago that a preseason No. 19 ranking would seem at the very least solid.

So why are folks down on Oregon? Some of it is as superficial as end-of-season momentum. If Oregon hadn't completely collapsed in the second half of the Valero Alamo Bowl against TCU, the Ducks wouldn't be so widely seen as a team on a potential downtick.

That loss, particularly the way it went down, dropped the Ducks from a final position near the top 10 to No. 19, thereby again provoking hand-wringing over whether coach Mark Helfrich, one year removed from leading his team to the national title game, could maintain the program's recently acquired elite status.

Yes, it's pretty stupid. But stupid has a lot of traction these days, if you've noticed.

Less stupid are depth chart questions: (1) QB; (2) O-line; (3) Defense. That's pretty much three places where you'd least like to have questions.

On the plus side, as you noted, few teams can match the Ducks' talent at running back and receiver. Betting against the Ducks being at least "good" on offense seems foolish.

But the defense is an issue, even with the hiring of Brady Hoke. While he gets deserved credit for the dramatic improvement of Michigan's defense while he was head coach, he wasn't the coordinator, and Oregon is his first coordinating gig. A scheme switch from 3-4 to 4-3 also might include growing pains.

Oregon welcomes back just five starters on defense, four of whom played in a much-maligned secondary. The Ducks' defense was bad last year, and it's replacing one of the program's all-time best players in end DeForest Buckner.

So BIG questions.

That said, one of the lessons of college football is that when everyone says one thing, the opposite is going to be true. While Oregon has tough early road games at Nebraska and Washington State, it's not unreasonable to project the Ducks will be 5-0 when Washington comes to town Oct. 8.

If they improve to 6-0 that day, thereby extending their winning streak against the Huskies to the century mark (plus or minus), they will immediately become not only a Pac-12 North and Pac-12 contender, but a College Football Playoff contender.

So, yeah, winning answers doubters.

Luke writes: The last time UW had a season of national relevance (2000) they also had something they haven't had since, an all conference offensive lineman (Chad Ward). Among all the reasons for UW optimism this off-season I'm convinced that a season that delivers on the hype (let's say 10-3 or better) won't have any chance of occurring unless they land at least one offensive lineman on the all conference list. Teams that want to win the Pac-12 North have been incredibly stout in the offensive trenches. I'm just wondering if you think UW truly has the horses and coaching to produce and offensive line that is top third of the conference-worthy.

Ted Miller: That 2000 Washington O-line was a brutal bunch of biscuit eaters, wasn't it? While it didn't produce any NFL stars, it was five physical dudes who were nasty.

The 2016 Huskies O-line will be young and promising and fairly experienced, with four returning starters and backups with experience. It, however, won't include any player who earned even honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Junior center Coleman Shelton and sophomore OT Trey Adams could end up all-conference in December, but the unit probably will peak in 2017, not this fall.

What this Huskies team has that the 2000 team didn't is defense. Based on what's coming back, this crew should repeat as the Pac-12's best defense.

Go back through the list of Pac-12 champions through the years. You might notice how often the champs have an A-list defense.

Sierra writes: Please, define for me a "good" nonconference schedule?

Ted Miller: There was more to this question -- call it 250 words of statement -- but one sentence gets to the gist.

A good nonconference schedule to me is simple: It includes one A-list foe, whether that's for a team that plays eight or nine conference games. Just make a substantial gesture to prove yourself out of conference against a quality foe.

For example, I don't care that Alabama plays Western Kentucky, Kent State and Chattanooga. It opens with USC, a scintillating matchup on myriad levels, even if the Trojans are far from peak, Pete Carroll era form.

By the way, I even give teams a pass for effort. California finishes up a home-and-home with Texas this year. The Bears had no idea that the Longhorns were going to be struggling when the game contract was signed. So, to me, it's a Power 5 matchup of substance.

Many schools follow an A, B, C formula: one Power 5 foe, one solid Group of 5 foe and one sure win.

But when a team doesn't play any other Power 5 foes and is obviously avoiding any challenge -- hello Baylor -- that represents something that needs to act as a substantial deduction when a team is evaluated, particularly by the College Football Playoff selection committee.

And, based on how there's a dramatic increase in quality nonconference games this year, starting with an epic Week 1, the CFP is having a positive effect on scheduling.