Mailbag: Questioning Oregon's 'decline'

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To the questions!

Ed from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Oregon in decline? Because it went 9-4 and lost to an 11-win TCU team in a bowl game when its quarterbacks and center got hurt? Please explain.

Ted Miller: Is it just me or is the mailbag being dominated by Oregon and Washington fans this summer?

Oregon fans are: 1. Fretting a potential Ducks decline; 2. Irritated at the media suggestion of a Ducks decline (while fretting it on message boards); 3. Enraged by all the preseason hype about Washington.

Washington fans are: 1.Eubullient and already talking trash to Oregon fans before much winning has actually taken place; 2. Cautiously optimistic; 3. Struggling to recalibrate their emotions after years of bitter focus on Oregon -- "That 'O'? Stands for how many national titles Oregon has... naaaaa naaaa naaa!" -- while their Huskies meandered through extended mediocrity.

Oregon in decline? It's not an invalid subject to speculate over. Before last season, the Ducks hadn't lost four games since 2007, no matter how often they lost four or more games throughout program history -- read: way more often than not. Recruiting seemed to be on a downtick. There was staff upheaval and QB questions and a historically bad defense. More than a few are uncertain whether Mark Helfrich is the long-term answer after Chip Kelly.

On the other hand, Oregon had played for a national title the previous season, despite significant injury issues in what amounted to a brilliant coaching job by Helfrich and his staff. Oh, and as previously (albeit sarcastically) noted, Helfrich is 33-8 overall and 22-5 in Pac-12 play in three seasons, which just so happens to be best among Pac-12 coaches during that span.

One might recall the previous Pac-12 power in decline: Stanford. The Cardinal went 8-5 in 2014 -- while Oregon played for a national title -- and then lost the 2015 opener to Northwestern. Panic in the streets of Palo Alto! I, in fact, was taken hostage by some of these high-tech loonies and forced to write this story, wondering if David Shaw calling his own offensive plays might be a problem.

Things turned out OK for Stanford. It won the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl, finished ranked No. 3 and averaged nearly 38 points per game.

Every season has angles, both among media and fans. Media will pick up on fan sentiments, and that will invite a backlash from those who disagree. It's part of the process, and by the way, part of what makes this whole sports fan thing fun and distracting.

That said, it does make nuance difficult. Measured thinking and wanting more data before making sweeping statements isn't the stuff of Twitter and hot takes.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Let's all roll our eyes at a Princeton graduate not understanding Power 5 football.

College football fandom takes over a person's brain, even if he or she owns a "first-rate intelligence" in general. That means the correct answer to a query about Oregon's potential decline -- "It's too early to tell if Oregon is in a decline" -- disappears into a dew amid the clamor of competing fan and media opining.

Vlad from Dubrovnik, Croatia writes: It’s obvious that Cal has had the best offseason. OBVIOUS I SAY! With Davis Webb and Demetris Robertson joining forces to SHOCK THE WORLD in the Pac-12 North. With the Bears a given, what other teams do you think have improved between now and spring practices?

Ted Miller: "Vlad from Dubrovnik" -- that's one way to get a question answered.

You are correct -- you seem to know this -- that Cal, perhaps more than any team in the nation, made offseason personnel gains that suggest the Bears need to be viewed differently than they were in March. While I am not ready to jump them over Stanford, Oregon, Washington and Washington State in the North, they are now at least in the picture, worthy of an eyebrow raise.

USC’s addition of 320-pound defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a graduate transfer from Utah, also rates as a huge gain. The Trojans' most critical and vexing question is its completely rebuilt D-line. Tu’ikolovatu, at the very least, is a big, experienced body who will provide depth to a young rotation.

If USC is at least solid and reliable on the defensive line this year -- and there is intriguing young talent there that could even eclipse that modest qualifier -- then the Trojans will be squarely in the Pac-12 hunt. I see a tight troika in the South with USC, UCLA and Utah, and my mood can favor one or the other depending on the day of the week.

Josh writes: Brexit ramifications for the Pac-12?

Ted Miller: Not going to speculate until Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh stake out their respective positions.