Mailbag: No wimpy scheduling

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Mitchell from Boston writes: The first round of the NFL draft should answer you pac fans about which conference is the best. But here's my question. What do you mean with this "Wimpy scheduling needs to be addressed, including finding ways to circumvent misleading measures of "strength of schedule." There is nothing "wimpy" about playing in the SEC. It's big-boy football. The SEC doesn't need to play a tough schedule because it already plays an SEC schedule.

Ted Miller: Glad to explain, Mitchell, because it's important to understand what I am saying and what I am not saying.

The SEC is the nation's best football conference. Six consecutive national titles leave little doubt, particularly with five different teams claiming at least one in the BCS era. And the draft numbers for Thursday were impressive. There is a gap between the SEC and every other conference, and my belief is that gap has widened over the past 10 years -- from being mostly perception to become (self-fulfilling?) reality.

So what am I saying about scheduling? Well, dagnabit, I'm going to pick on Mississippi State again. Apologies in advance, lovely Starkville.

Last year, the Bulldogs' nonconference schedule featured Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tennessee-Martin. This is hard to believe, but the 2012 slate is even more embarrassing: Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee.

Our new system for determining a four-team playoff needs to make it nearly impossible to play for the national title with a nonconference record like that, even if lightning struck and the Bulldogs went undefeated. There needs to be an evaluative component that specifically analyzes nonconference competition separate from conference competition, one that gives a team points for aggressively scheduling and deducts points for hiding like a quaking kitten from a challenge.

Further, the new system needs to find a way to spread this deduction throughout a conference. Why? Because Mississippi State starts the 2012 season 4-0. You can't say that about any Pac-12 team. Or Big 12 team, for that matter, because the Big 12 also plays a nine-game conference schedule.

Look at it this way. The worst record imaginable for the Bulldogs in 2012 is 4-8. There is only one sure-thing on Oregon State's schedule -- Nicholls State (I won't mention the Sacramento State debacle in 2011). The Beavers play Wisconsin and at BYU in their other two nonconference games. The Beavers conceivably could end up 1-11 and still be significantly better than Mississippi State. But that wouldn't show up in a typical strength of schedule measure.

Then there is that nine- vs. eight-game conference schedule issue. That almost automatically decreases the strength of schedule ranking for the Pac-12 because it guarantees six more losses annually in the conference. Further, there's this: Guess which three teams Georgia didn't play in the 2011 regular season? Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.

When you have three conference misses a year, it can skew things more than if you have two.

While we can certainly acknowledge the SEC has taken the lead in college football, the SEC can't expect a "just because" perception to be superimposed on the future. It can't be allowed to insist that just because it plays an SEC schedule that it doesn't have to play quality nonconference games -- and on the road, too.

Now let's give credit where credit is due. LSU posted perhaps the most impressive regular season in college football history last year, in large part due to nonconference wins over Oregon and West Virginia, which both ended up winning BCS bowl games. And Alabama deserves credit for playing Virginia Tech and Penn State in recent years and opening against Michigan in 2012. So, Alabama and LSU fans can take a bow and know we're not writing about you. Not directly.

There is no way to completely remove a substantial subjective element from determining a four-team playoff in college football. But if we're going to create a four-team playoff with mega-millions as the reward for earning a berth -- and a major revenue downer for not -- then we need to insist that our process of evaluation requires in advance certain standards for every conference.

Bob from Raleigh, N.C., writes: If the Pac decides to join the rest of CFB and go to 8 conference games, will they still have the provision of the Bay Schools playing SoCal schools every year? I realize sometimes to get a deal, some schools have to be bought (see Staples Center in basketball), but to be more equatable, they would have to break that up, right?

Ted Miller: If we do, indeed, end up with a four-team playoff in 2014, then the Pac-12 needs to end the nine-game conference schedule if the Big Ten and SEC are still playing an eight-game schedule. To not do so would simply be negligent. Too much money will be at stake to give those other conference an annual head start in the rankings.

And, if the Pac-12 goes to eight conference games, it almost certainly would end the guaranteed annual meetings between the Bay Area vs. Southern California schools.

Some fans would huff and puff, but the longterm benefit to the conference as a whole is too valuable. And, by the way, neither Bay Area coach would frown at such a change.

Miller from Aloha, Ore., writes: I do wonder what the rest of the country thinks/feels about Larry Scott. I'm obviously a huge fan due to what he has done for the Pac-12, but I think that many in the country might not like him because he has been too successful too quickly. And is there a chance this might make the other 11 Conference Commissioners (and the Domer representative) ignore his input due to jealousy, etc?

Ted Miller: Larry Scott is a likable guy. He's gracious and accessible. And he's the least imperious of the major conference commissioners, at least since Dan Beebe was forced out of the Big 12.

If anyone dislikes Scott, it's because he's smart and effective and ambitious. And, yes, I get the feeling that some commissioners don't count themselves as fans because of that. This a competitive business, and Scott has been winning too much for some folks liking. It's easier to like a competitor who is easy pickings.

But there also are no stupid men in the room. "Like" isn't as important as "respect," in any event. They all know that Scott, perhaps more than any other commissioner, knows how to grow revenue in our present age of advancing technology. Within a few months of his hiring, his consistent theme was how undervalued not only the then-Pac-10 was but also how undervalued college football was. His vision is big-picture. And it's clear he sees more of the field than many of the folks yammering in Florida this week.

So, no, they won't ignore Scott. He knows where the money is hiding.

Tim from Winston-Salem, N.C., writes: So far through the spring practices, Washington's defense seems to consistently be getting the better of the offense, with the secondary earning seemingly endless praise from the coaching staff. While I understand that the O-line is in shambles right now, do you think that the defense really is making big strides under Wilcox, or is it just the offense getting use to new looks from the D?

Ted Miller: First, I think Justin Wilcox is pretty much a sure-thing. He will make the Huskies defense better because he's never failed as a defensive coordinator. The biggest concern for Husky fans should be how long before he leaves to become a head coach.

That said: Spring practices won't reveal much of anything about the Huskies defense, particularly with them working against a patchwork offensive line. It muddies things further that the the Huskies are replacing their top skill guys, too.

But there are things you can notice. You bring up the secondary. How many times over the past three years did you go: How did he get so open? Where the heck is the safety? If you watched the Huskies scrimmage this spring, and you saw few if any clearly broken coverages, that suggests that guys understand where they are supposed to be. Being in the right place, properly in position to complete an assignment, is step two for a defense. It's one-third the battle. It's the difference between being sound and unsound, and the Huskies were too often unsound under Nick Holt.

What's the first step? Well, that's something else you can get a feel for after watching a few practices. The first step is playing hard every play. If you watch enough football -- and enough different teams -- you can start to see a difference in how teams play and practice. Is everybody running to the ball? Is there constant chatter and enthusiasm? Are pads popping all over the field? Way back when Chip Kelly used to let reporters watch practice, you could see that Oregon practiced hard. That might be a part of their recent success.

The third step? Being good enough to make the play when you're doing your best and know your assignment. That could be the area where Wilcox is most challenged this year. The Huskies still aren't where they need to be in terms of talent and depth on all three levels.

Ryan from Salt Lake City writes: So what is one supposed to do to pass the time until fall camp? Other than read the PAC 12 blog religiously.

Ted Miller: Well, you certainly hit the chief pass time. The Pac-12 blog NEVER GOES AWAY... even if college football does for a few months.

Other choices?

Read a book. Talk to your wife or kids. Perhaps both.

Watch the all five seasons of "The Wire." Go to the beach. Fix up your back yard. Fix up my backyard. Read -- or re-read -- two literary classics. Learn to cook a heavenly spaghetti carbonara. Train for a triathlon. Develop your own cocktail. Actually become informed on political issues instead of only blathering boilerplate ideological rants. Decide to definitively find out which restaurant makes the best hamburger within 20 miles of your home. Watch baseball. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Expand your musical horizons.


Any other suggestions?