Happy Friday. Welcome to the Week 4 mailbag.
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To the notes!
Jeff from New York writes: As a Stanford fan I couldn't help but be offended by the newest rankings. In the polls USC is 19/18 AP/Coaches while Stanford is 21/24. Both teams have one loss to a currently ranked team. The former has two wins over patsies while the latter has a win over a patsy and a win over a ranked Power 5 team. It seems pretty clear which one of these should be ranked over the other, but that's not even the big question... my question is "can you convince me that either should be ranked at all right now?" Stanford is only ranked at all right now because we beat a team that 4 months ago looked like it could be really good. USC is ranked right now because 4 months ago it looked like they had the potential to be really good. Is it fair to give that preseason opinion the same weight as we give one quarter of their actual season? Right now I feel bad for teams like Iowa, and (dare I say it) Cal who have scheduled properly and won, but are held out of the rankings by the memories of Leinart, Barkley and Luck.
Ted Miller: Putting together rankings in a logical way sounds a lot easier than it is. It's a constant back-and-forth of what a team has accomplished and the old "sight test" -- as in how good do you really think a team is?
One of the best ways to understand this is to do your own rankings week-to-week. If you try to play it straight -- and not just elevate your favorite teams -- you'll find it difficult to maintain a 100 percent defensible logic and honor the idea of "reality" -- such as the conflict over ranking an unbeaten Group of 5 team with no quality wins over a Big 12 or Pac-12 team with two losses but also multiple quality wins.
As for Stanford-USC, it does seem absurd in some ways to rank the Trojans ahead of the Cardinal fresh off a head-to-head meeting, particularly when USC was at home. Obviously, there's some notice being paid to preseason expectations as well as Stanford having looked spectacularly bad at Northwestern.
Logically, Northwestern should be ranked ahead of Stanford and Stanford ahead of USC. But would anyone out there pick Northwestern to beat USC if they played tomorrow? No.
Some might chatter that they would, but if Mr. Magic College Football Matchmaker then pulled up in his new Tesla and made the game happen while insisting said chatterer must now bet one month's pay on Northwestern, you'd see a backtrack that would rival a Michael Jackson moonwalk.
The good news is rankings now and for the next several weeks are mostly academic, particularly when the selection committee from the College Football Playoff isn't yet participating. No one remembers how the rankings looked in mid-September to mid-November, other than as a source of amusement at how differently things turned out.
Allen writes: Just read your “mailbag” column today and as always, thanks for the great read. You made one comment that particularly intrigued me so I thought that I would ask about it: Why do you feel that the UCLA/AZ matchup is more interesting than the USC/ASU battle? It’s almost as though you expect Stanford to have beaten USC? There’s obviously no right or wrong here though I am curious.
Ted Miller: Well, I didn't pick Stanford to beat USC so I can't act smart. Drat.
UCLA-Arizona was slightly more interesting to me because both teams were unbeaten (as of that writing and still today). No matter what happened with USC-Arizona State, a game with as much meaning in the Pac-12, it carried less weight nationally because of the Sun Devils opening loss to Texas A&M.
Of course, with USC now facing the prospect of tumbling from national title contender to out of the rankings, that game in Tempe takes on added gravity, though from the negative sense of what it might end up meaning for Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans.
Steve writes: I'm amazed that I have yet to read anything about the fact that the Pac 12, after week 3, is the only conference where every team has a winning record. Every team, except USC who fell to Stanford in the only conference game, won on Saturday. And after week 4 the Pac 12 will be the only conference where none of it's teams will have a losing record.
Ted Miller: Now that is a factoid worthy of a celebratory Tweet! I will launch one in your honor Steve on Saturday morning, calling it the "Steve Special."
That factoid would get more attention nationally if the Pac-12 had won more of its marquee nonconference games. While California over Texas and Utah over Michigan would sound impressive most years, they don't this season. Nor does UCLA over BYU carry as much weight as it probably should.
What many in the national media see is Stanford losing at Northwestern, Arizona State losing to Texas A&M, Oregon losing to Michigan State and Washington losing to Boise State. Those were measuring stick games, particularly ASU-A&M and Oregon-MSU.
What now becomes interesting is whether a Pac-12 team can emerge from the conference fray with only one loss. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that's unlikely, which could put the Pac-12 in a worrisome spot with the College Football Playoff.
So start to prep your most outraged expression for use in December.
Patrick from Utah writes: I don't do this often but I gotta ask, with you being 1/10th of the vote for Heisman Watch, how has Devontae Booker managed to stay off the radar? Even Tyler "The Prayer" Mangum made it on last week, and we can't get Devontae on the list? (in-state rivalries die hard) Let's make that change this week.
Ted Miller: For one, just like the national rankings at this point, the Heisman Watch is mostly an academic exercise. A lot of football left.
As for how Devontae Booker gets on the list, it's easy: He has a big game Saturday at Oregon, particularly in an upset victory.
If Booker rushes for, say, 150 yards and two touchdowns and catches a couple of passes -- you know, does his thing -- he will make the Heisman Watch list next week. Guaranteed.
Failing that, he's still in the running. If five or six weeks from now, he leads the Pac-12 in rushing and TDs, I'm certain he'd make the list.