Mailbag: What's with toddler scholarships?

It is a happy, happy Friday. I will be on vacation next week, but Kevin will be back after winning $4.7 million in Vegas playing blackjack.

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To the mail!

Alex from Corvallis writes: Have you heard about the 8th grader that got offered a scholarship to play football at UCLA? I've noticed that this is starting to become a trend in college football (Look at USC, Alabama, etc.). Why do you think teams are starting to become so interested in recruiting football players that have yet to play a snap of high school football? I understand that these players must have a ton of upside and a bright future ahead of them, but don't you think that offering a college scholarship to a middle school athlete is a little too much?

Ted Miller: Yes, I have heard about it.

I've made it pretty clear how I stand on this. I don't like it. I think it's a bad thing for the child.

If my son ends up being very good as an eighth grader in football and then gets offered a scholarship by a program, I would tell the coach "thanks," tell my son about the offer so he could feel proud, and then request that the offer not be made public.

There is nothing positive for the young man in this becoming a national story. Nothing.

The attention and ripple of fame? It's just north of the Honey Boo Boo variety. It's almost entirely a negative. Further, it has no value for him in the recruiting process. None.

For the team? Sure, there are potential payoffs.

The biggest one: The team gets its hooks into the young man. If he continues to progress and, indeed, becomes an elite prospect, then any advantage, however slight, is a positive for the team.

And, from the team's perspective, there are no drawbacks to any recruiting advantage, however slight.

Understand this, however: A player who gets an offer as an eighth grader has received NOTHING. There is no obligation, either way. But that mostly favors the team.

If the young man's senior year rolls around, and the program believes there are better available prospects, they will go after them without hesitation. The program will tell the player, "It's not us, it's you, goodbye and good luck."

That's not an issue for the program, which has the singular goal of signing the best recruiting class possible, even if feelings get hurt along the way.

But for the young man? He becomes an amusing footnote, relegated to the "Where are they now file?"

For example, on signing day, one of the items in the ESPN national recruiting notebook would look like this:

MILLER LEFT IN THE LURCH: Remember when eighth grade QB phenom Ted Miller became a national story when he committed to Michigan in 2009?

At the time, everyone called Miller "Robo QB." He started studying with QB gurus Sammy Baugh and Chevy Chase in kindergarten. His father created his own school so he could surround his child with 100s of people whose sole task was making his son a college QB.

For a while, it seemed like they might rename YouTube "MillerTube," after his father paid NFL Films to document his games.

Well, Miller is going to play college football, only he's headed to William & Mary after the University of Richmond ran out of scholarships.

Miller had a nice high school career, but the best eighth-grade quarterbacks are not always the best senior quarterbacks.

"William & Mary has a great Pac-12 blogger program," Miller said. "When it comes down to it, that's a lot better than being a big-time college quarterback and getting a shot at the NFL."

Bill from Eugene, Ore., writes: Read the story on Mark Banker. It always seem funny to me how outsiders take every opportunity to castigate supporters of a program for calling for something other than mediocrity. Banker's defenses for years have been inept against spread offenses. That is a case of schemes and Banker clearly cannot scheme against spreads. I see no reason to believe that this year will be any different. Look at OSU's record over the last 5-6 years and tell me how many times they have beat a team that runs a predominantly spread offense. Then you will know why supporters are not on the Banker bandwagon.

Ted Miller: I'll look back one year, because it answers your question.

The Beavers played five spread teams last year:

  • UCLA runs a spread. It averaged 34.4 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Bruins to 20 points on the road.

  • Arizona runs a spread. It averaged 38 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Wildcats to 35 points on the road.

  • Washington State runs a spread. It averaged 20.4 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Cougars to six points.

  • Arizona State runs a spread. It averaged 38 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Sun Devils to 26 points.

All wins.

By the way, the Sun Devils averaged 464 yards last year. They had 303 versus the Beavers.

Of course, your question's false premise emerges from being being blinded by one team: Oregon. Oregon runs a spread and Banker has had little luck slowing down the Ducks' offense since Chip Kelly came to town.

You know: Just like everyone else, other than Stanford last year, California in 2010, LSU in 2011 and Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

You have a right to call Banker a "mediocre" coordinator. But it would run counter with what football people think.

Chez Bear Panisse from San Francisco writes: Cal will have some trying times this year: new everything and a ridiculous schedule. But in 2014 they return almost everything (assuming health), and the schedule is much more "manageable." Do you believe Dykes will have things rolling by then?

Ted Miller: You reopen on June 24!

I think Cal fans should cross their fingers and root for six wins and bowl eligibility this fall. This is a rebuilding team with a new coaching staff and a brutal schedule. But I agree. Things should be brighter in 2014.

You are correct about almost everybody coming back in 2014. Just two of the 12 offensive starters listed on the post spring depth chart are seniors -- RT Bill Tyndall and Y receiver Jackson Bouza -- and just two of the 11 starters on defense are seniors -- NT Deandre Coleman and safety Alex Logan.

Moreover, in 2014, you'll have a second-year starter at QB, whoever it is, RB Brendan Bigelow and what should be a strong crew of receivers.

It's also true the schedule should be more manageable. While Cal opens at Northwestern, there's no date with Ohio State, and Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Stanford all come to Berkeley.

It also figures to help that everyone will be familiar with new schemes on both sides of the ball in Sonny Dykes, Year 2.

So I agree: I think Cal sets up well for a nice jump in its second season under Dykes.

Tim from Salt Lake City writes: In seeing all of these metrics proclaiming Utah's inexperience due to returning starters I've been trying to see a silver lining. I see this as potentially more of an "out with the old, in with the new". After a couple of years of PAC-12 recruiting, shouldn't we start seeing those players moving in to occupy starting roles? Sure, we've lost a few key players (Lotulelei, White, and Kruger) but I think we're starting to look much more solid across the board.

Ted Miller: Returning starters is a sometimes misleading measure of a team in the preseason. If 20 guys who lost 10 games the year before are coming back, why should that be a good thing?

(With bad teams welcoming back lots of starters, my general feeling is if a lot of those returning starters were first and second-year players -- guys who have room to improve -- it's probably a better thing than if they are upperclassmen, who mostly have revealed who they are as players).

Coach Kyle Whittingham has talked about an uptick in recruiting due to Pac-12 membership. The one thing teams could use against Utah before 2011 -- not in an AQ conference -- is gone. So the Utes' across-the-board talent should be improving, though I don't think you'll be able to take a full measure of that until you're five years down the road and the entire roster was recruited to play in the Pac-12.

All this said: I think the Utes' first two seasons of Pac-12 play would have been much better if only Jordan Wynn's shoulders had remained healthy. If the guy who beat California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl had become the standard behind center, I think the Utes would have been around .500 in Pac-12 play. At least.

It's hard to win in this league with 191 yards passing per game.

Bryan from Phoenix writes: I'm a Ohio State fan who just recently moved from Columbus to Phoenix, so I think it's time for me to start following PAC football. I actually just got a ticket bundle for 3 ASU games, one against Wisconsin. I couldn't be more excited. I was just curious to see what you thought of Arizona State this year, and how likely they are to win the Pac-12 South. It doesn't seem out of reach.

Ted Miller: It doesn't seem like an opportune time to be leaving Columbus. The Buckeyes seem to be on a decided uptick under Urban Meyer.

I see the Pac-12 South Division as a three-horse race: Arizona State, UCLA and USC.

You can find advocates for all three teams. The Sun Devils and Bruins have experience at quarterback, which I see as an edge, but the recent success of first-year starters -- such as Brett Hundley at UCLA and Taylor Kelly at Arizona State -- indicates that's not an insurmountable issue.

I'm a slight lean to the Sun Devils at this point, in large part because UCLA has a tougher conference schedule (the Sun Devils don't play Oregon). Of course, USC doesn't play Oregon either.

I view all three as top-25 teams.

John from Los Angeles writes: Hey Ted! Hope your holding up well despite that low-life Kevin bailing on you for a couple of weeks. (FYI - when you take your vacation, I will simply replace "Kevin" with "Ted" ala your piece on UCLA and USC offering toddlers.) Question re: list of players attending Pac-12 media day. I would add the omission of Brett Hundley for UCLA. I know OL need all the love they can get, but IMHO not including Hundley also raises a question. Take care.

Ted Miller: Fair enough. I do wish Hundley was going to be at media day.

But offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 and is an All-American candidate this year. He's actually more decorated than Hundley, at least at this point. So my feeling was it was more justifiable, though media sorts typically want to chat with star QBs instead of star O-lineman, right or wrong.

I tweaked Arizona and Arizona State because RB Ka'Deem Carey and DT Will Sutton are 2012 consensus All-Americans and the guys going in their steads, while nice players, aren't likely to be first-team All-Pac-12 this fall.