Mailbag: What is tradition? And what's going to happen this season?

Happy Friday. Next Friday will be Day 2 of Pac-12 media days.

The season is creeping closer... and closer.

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To the notes.

Oscar writes: The word “tradition” gets thrown around college football to define specific programs. But what does “tradition” actually mean to a program? And what can a program actually do breaking from the so-called “tradition” to make a winning program. Yes, I understand a uniform in some eyes is what the school stands for, but if USC or Alabama decided to change them up dramatically and still win, will the “tradition” still be there?

Ted Miller: "Tradition" means a lot of different things in college football, and every school has its cherished traditions.

There are fight songs, rivalry games, pregame and postgame rituals, uniforms, stadiums and indelible moments of success. Traditions range from dotting the "i" at Ohio State, to cowbells at Mississippi State, to the Sooner Schooner, to rolling Toomer's Corner, to Tightwad Hill, to to jumping around at Wisconsin, to Howard's Rock, to Traveler , to the Florida State's "War Chant," to Ralphie's Run, to Paul Bunyan's Ax, to pregame video of Kenny Wheaton going yard against Washington.

Of course, the most important tradition is winning. At least it's the way to get your team's traditions nationally known and, if begrudgingly, celebrated. Alabama, Notre Dame and USC are national traditions because between them they've spent nearly 1,500 weeks ranked in the AP top 10 and won a heap of national titles. Universities such as Kansas, Virginia, Oregon State, Kentucky and Indiana are good schools and solid athletic programs who have had spot success in football, but nonetheless they've combined for 127 weeks in the AP top 10. Ergo, less tradition.

My guess is your question in some way circles back to Oregon, a program that overcame a lack of tradition to become a national power, something that is incredibly rare and difficult to accomplish, though a few still try to dismiss the Ducks' rise as being all about Nike boss Phil Knight's megabucks handouts.

What does tradition mean to a program, beyond straight history and unvarnished sentimentality? Well, if there's a tradition of winning, it means it happened before; so, if figures, it can happen again. The sense is the right coach at Alabama or USC -- or Michigan or Florida, for that matter -- is going to win. Even a great coach might not be successful at, say, Kansas.

On the other hand, a great coach figured out how to be successful -- twice, even -- at Kansas State.

USC and Alabama aren't going to drastically change their iconic uniforms. That's not their thing. They might experiment with some "alternatives," but they would do so carefully as the alumni from those schools with the most impressive bank accounts tend to favor traditional looks.

Other programs, however, aren't as tied to their history. They can be a bit louder and more "Now!" And they should. They are looking for an edge to counter a lack of tradition, something to distinguish themselves that looks to the present and future not the past. Sometimes you generate buzz, then start winning.

Oregon, in fact, has based its national brand on being different. And, of course, winning while doing so.

Chris from Oakland writes: It is almost time for college football, 42 days -- give or take a day! What is the thing you are most looking forward to this season? And what is it about this game that makes us talk about it so incessantly for the 7½ months that it is not being played? Also, have the bloggers delivered their Pac-12 predictions on where each team will be at the end of the season?

Ted Miller: Most looking forward to?

Well, right now it's: Oregon at Michigan State, Michigan at Utah, Arizona State vs. Texas A&M, Washington at Boise State, Nebraska at Miami, Alabama vs. Wisconsin and Texas at Notre Dame.

I love the anticipation and intrigue of strong nonconference matchups.

I'm looking forward to the Oregon quarterback competition and seeing how the ridiculously deep Pac-12 South plays out. I'm curious about UCLA's super-frosh QB Josh Rosen, and whether Jared Goff leads Cal back to Pac-12 and national relevance. I'm wondering if USC is again a national title contender, and whether Colorado and Washington State can crawl out of the bottom of their divisions. I want to see what happens when Rich Rodriguez gets his starting QB back for a second year.

I could blather like a sports-centric Hamlet about why we freaking love this game, talk endlessly about it with flowery locutions and pine for those celestial Saturdays that go on and on, but what it really comes down to is that college football, for all it's faults, connects big-time pageantry at a human level in a unique way. It's local and national and it retains a glimmer of innocence -- these are after all, cough, cough, still student-athletes! -- and that makes the experience different than pro sports in a difficult to define, but satisfying way.

As for our predictions, those will be delivered next week in advance of Pac-12 media days. Here's a hint on mine: I picked UCLA to win the Pac-12.

Wait... what?

Douglas writes: You have Arizona State listed as the sixth-best offense and the fifth-best defense this year. Does this mean you believe ASU is the sixth-best team in the conference?

Ted Miller: No.

In fact, earning a spot on both lists, from my perspective, would indicate a pretty high esteem for a team overall. UCLA, Oregon, USC and Arizona State did that. So one might construe that I'd rate the Sun Devils among the top four teams in the Pac-12. Which I do.

Scott writes: I was wondering if the toughest three-game stretch for Utah has been posted on the blog. I tried searching for it and found every other team except Utah. Did I miss it? Or is there a chance it hasn't been posted yet?

Ted Miller: Utah has a brutal schedule but it doesn't have an obvious "toughest three-game stretch."

My vote, however, would go to this:

Nov. 7 at Washington

Nov. 14 at Arizona

Nov. 21 UCLA

I know expectations for the Huskies aren't high this year, but a November visit to Seattle is not easy. Husky Stadium is a tough venue and the elements -- windy, rainy -- could be a factor.

Oh, and Utah is 0-8 all-time against Washington, losing its two games with the Huskies as a Pac-12 member by a combined count of 65-29.

No need to explain the road trip to Arizona, which whipped the Utes 42-10 last year in Salt Lake, and the date with UCLA. One would imagine those two games will have significant meaning in the South Division race.

Odds for success? From my perspective now, I don't see 3-0, but 2-1 is pretty plausible and might be good enough to keep the Utes in the South race as they play host to Colorado the final weekend of the regular season.