Pac-12 mailbag

Ted's back next week. I'll be off. And then we'll both be in Los Angeles for Pac-12 media day. Start thinking of some questions.

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To the notes!

Terry in West Linn, Ore. writes: Where would Marqise Lee be in a list of Trojan greats if you could only pick one football season in each player's career? Who is your ''Greatest Trojan ever?" I've never seen a better receiver.

Kevin Gemmell: We're looking at one season only? Yikes. Hard to overlook Marcus Allen and his 2,427 yards and 22 touchdowns in 1981. He had 433 carries in 12 games. That's a crazy amount. Consider last year's league leader in carries was Stanford's Stepfan Taylor who had 322 in 14 games. Allen set or tied 16 NCAA records during his time at USC and was the first player to ever break 2000 yards (2,342, technically bowl games didn't count back then).

In 2005, Reggie Bush averaged 8-point-freaking-7 yards per carry. That's a pretty good season, also.

If you're talking just wide receivers, then yes, Lee is at the top of the conversation with his 2012 numbers (118 catches, 1,721 yards, 14 touchdowns). There have only been two other USC receivers to have at least 100 catches in a season, Keyshawn Johnson in 1995 and Robert Woods in 2011. Lee was prolific last season and he should have been -- at the very least -- a Heisman finalist if not the winner. Something I've previously railed about.

But if I were drafting No. 1 overall, like the WeAreSC folks did earlier this week, I'd probably go with Allen.

Denny in Seattle writes: On several occasions over the last few months, I've seen you use the phrase "non-traditional rivalries" when referring to Oregon-Washington. What does that mean?

Kevin Gemmell: You're not the first to ask, and I'm a little surprised by all of the blowback that comment gets. It's one of those things that you write and don't really think it's a big deal, but I guess to a lot of people it is.

Let me say, first off, that I'm in no way trying to downgrade the rivalry between Oregon and Washington or Stanford and USC or USC and Notre Dame by using the phrase non-traditional rivalries. I just think of "traditional" rivalries as the ones that are traditionally played at the end of the season: Cal-Stanford, USC-UCLA, Arizona-Arizona State, Oregon-Oregon State, Washington-Washington State.

Ask most Stanford fans would you rather beat USC or Cal, they'd say Cal. Or, let me re-phrase that: Who would they rather lose to? USC or Cal?

Ask Washington fans who they'd rather lose to, Oregon or Washington State? I'm sure the Oregon loss hurt last year. Since you're writing from Seattle, I assume you're a Washington fan -- you can't tell me the Oregon loss tasted worse than the Washington State loss.

All of those games are great rivalries -- and it's OK to have more than one rival. Oregon-Stanford is certainly a rivalry game these days and I think UCLA and ASU is blossoming into one. The Utah-Colorado "rivalry" seems forced. Maybe it will develop into one. Maybe not.

I'm just using the term "traditional" in regards to the teams that typically play at the end of the season. I guess from now on I could get into semantics and say "regional" rivalries. But I think those games I mentioned mean just a little bit more than that.

By the way, I love that people get passionate over semantics. That's what makes college football so great.

Raj in Bear Territory writes: Fact or fiction, Sonny Dykes has the Bears in the top 25 by 2017. And continuing off that, what do you think is his ceiling as well as what you expect from the Bears? National title contender and mainstay at the Rose Bowl, occasional Rose Bowl while usually at the Alamo/Holiday/Kraft, middle of the Pac, or worse than that? In regards to my last comment where I used the $ for SC and the U for Stanford, you wouldn't expect a Michigan fan to say anything but Ohio or an OSU fan to say anything but That School Up North, would you? Rivalries are year round affairs!

Kevin Gemmell: Raj is a good sport. I poked fun at him in the future power rankings post, so kudos to him for having a sense of humor about it and firing off another mailbag question. I like that he can roll with the punches. And yes, having covered Brady Hoke for two seasons -- even when he was at San Diego State -- he always referred to Ohio State as "that school in Ohio."

To answer the question, I think the top 25 is a very real possibility by 2017, if not sooner. Cal is never hurting for good athletes. Will they be able to out-recruit USC or Oregon (and now UCLA and Stanford) on a yearly basis? Probably not. But they have a pretty good history of making the most of what they have to work with -- save the last couple of seasons.

I would expect in the next three years to see Cal regularly back in bowl contention and possibly in the mix for those upper-tier bowls you mentioned. Their biggest issue is playing in the North. It doesn't look like Oregon or Stanford are going anywhere. Washington and Oregon State are on the upswing and Washington State is going to get better. This is division is going to be brutal for years to come.

Cougarbrian in Stumptown: We all know how most of the media predictions are going for the Pac-12, do you see any surprises in there possibly? Any team or teams that you think will outperform those expectations, and anyone you think will not live up to them?

Kevin Gemmell: Really? You know how the media is going to vote? I have to submit my preseason ballot this weekend and I have no clue how I'm going to vote. Honestly, I'm going back and forth on Stanford and Oregon for the North. I think Stanford's offense has some question marks, but the offensive line they have is so ridiculous they'll be able to compensate for any holes until they get the kinks worked out. And defensively, Stanford is simply lights out.

Oregon on the other hand is, well, Oregon. So many playmakers. Dizzying pace. I'm torn!

And the South? Equally challenging to rank them. Actually it's tougher because there are three teams that could legitimately win it. I think the three-way battle between USC, UCLA and ASU is going to be fierce.

As for teams that could outperform expectations ... are you asking me if Washington State is going to go to a bowl game? I'm going to temper my expectations a bit on the Cougars this year. Last year I got caught up in the Mike Leach hype. I think they'll be better and there will be progress. I really like the receivers. I think they are more likely to be in bowl contention next year rather than this year.

I'm intrigued by Cal this year and the talent they have at wide receiver and running back. But the schedule is so darn tough that whatever progress they make might not come through in the win column.

Oregon State concerns me a bit simply because of how their schedule plays out. As noted a few times previously, I think they will be 7-0 before heading into that tough stretch at the end of the year. I don't think we're truly going to know much about this team until later in the season. And because of that, I'm leaning toward putting Washington third. Not sure yet, though.

All I know is that -- maybe more than any other year -- predictions are going to be brutal to make and one way or another, Ted and I will probably end up with substantial egg on our faces. But I know you guys wouldn't want it any other way.

Enjoy the weekend.