Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.
To the questions!
Echo Chamberman writes: OK, we all know Washington is the most overhyped team in the Pac-12. Huskies gonna win it all after going 7-6, blah blah blah. So who is the most under-hyped team? I will hang up and listen.
Ted Miller: Echo is vying for the Mailbag All-Name Team.
The Utes should be very good at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and I think they've got a puncher's shot to answer questions at QB and linebacker. Washington State has 14 position-player starters back from a nine-win team, including most of the key pieces for a potent passing attack. It wouldn't shock me if one or both ended up in the Pac-12 championship game.
I picked Utah to win the South, but recently had second thoughts when coach Kyle Whittingham told me my favorite Salt Lake restaurant, Forage, was closing.
While some might judge that as unrelated to college football, such a heartbreaking gastronomic loss could provoke organ failure in the Salt Lake karmic continuum. I am being totally serious.
Daniel writes: Ted, i was rather shocked when I saw the Pac-12 writers' predictions. Not one writer placed WSU higher than No. 2 in the North Division. We have one of the most explosive offenses in the country; we could very well win the North. If I recall correctly, you had Wazzu finishing fourth in the North Division. Could you explain why you placed the Cougars there when you look at the fact that Stanford and Oregon are breaking in new QBs?
Ted Miller: As just noted, Washington State certainly could win the North and it probably wouldn't shock anyone, at least not anyone who follows the Pac-12.
That said, four of the five of us voting in the Pac-12 media poll had the Cougars fourth. Kyle Bonagura, who probably has a plaque up in "The Coug" commemorating his epic carousing in Pullman as a student, picked Washington State second. Phil Steele and Athlon also had the Cougs fourth. So we're not being wacky about this.
So why is Washington State fourth?
I started typing some deep personnel analysis here but, honestly, the two biggest culprits are habit and skepticism. Washington State is behind Stanford and Oregon because Stanford and Oregon have ruled the North Division since it was created. The Cougars are behind their good buddies from Seattle because the Huskies took the Apple Cup by a 45-10 count last year and have 15 position player starters back. And how often have the Cougs been picked ahead of the Huskies in the preseason media poll?
Skepticism? That's simply a natural reaction to envisioning something new happening, particularly with a program that is viewed as a perennial underdog.
Are those lame reasons? Absolutely. But they speak to the random crap shooting that are preseason predictions and rankings.
Finally, my picking the Cougars fourth in the North doesn't prevent me from believing they should be a top-25 team in the preseason.
Andrew writes: Is it just me or does this offseason remind you a lot of Arizona State’s lead-in to Graham's first year in 2012? The team was coming off of a massively disappointing 2011, with many expecting them to compete for the conference title, but finished 6-7. There was a lot of turnover in the coaching staff and on the field with a very senior-heavy class. The outlook around Tempe, in the Vegas back rooms, and amongst the Pac-12 media was bleak (you picked them 11th in the conference). The only perceived strength was at running back, with three or four moderately productive returners on defense, and then a whole bunch of question marks. There was a three-way QB competition between inexperienced players with contrasting styles that came down to the last week before the season. Sounds a lot like this year, right? Here's the other thing that looks similar: favorable schedule.
Ted Miller: Not a ridiculous comparison. Here's the 2012 preseason media poll, which predicted USC to win the conference -- it finished 7-6 -- and dumped Arizona State into fifth place in the South, just like the Sun Devils are rated this preseason. They'd perk up to third by season's end.
Here's what I wrote about that team in January of 2012 after, indeed, dumping them into 11th in the Power Rankings.
11. Arizona State: The Sun Devils tumbled in these rankings when quarterback Brock Osweiler, curiously, opted to enter the NFL draft. With just 10 starters back, a quarterback with no real game experience -- whoever wins the job -- and a challenging locker room, new coach Todd Graham might find the going rough in Year 1.
At that point, we didn't know that DT Will Sutton would break through and earn Defensive Player of the Year honors, or that Taylor Kelly would come from nowhere to be an A-list QB. At present, there are a number of players on the Sun Devils 2016 defense who might break through, and the QB competition includes a troika of seemingly capable passers.
Two things, though. For one, the parallels are notable but probably don't mean much. Circumstances are different. The coaching that got Dennis Erickson's players to up their game for Graham in 2012 won't be the same for Graham as he tries to reinvigorate players he recruited.
As for the schedule, not sure I'm buying it. For one, Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes is going to seriously test a rebuilding secondary in week two. As for the conference schedule, it's always nice to miss Stanford, but not playing Oregon State eliminates -- sorry Beavers -- probably the Pac-12's only gimme game.
That said, if the Sun Devils got solid play at QB and from a rebuilt offensive line, they certainly have a shot at matching 2012's 8-5 finish.
Rian writes: My question: why no more pop-culture quotes to start off the mailbag?
Ted Miller: And like that they are gone. Underground. Nobody has ever seen them since. They becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. 'Rat on your pop, and Pop Culture Quotes from ESPN.com will get you.' And no one ever really believes.