Pac-12 mailbag: What makes a great game experience?

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the questions!

Bryan from Salem, Ore., writes: Since it's March Madness already, if you could choose 5 Pac-12 football players to put in a basketball starting lineup, who would you pick?

Ted Miller: Washington State QB Luke Falk is my point guard, of course. Not only because he a master distributor, but his 6-foot-4 frame means he can grab a few rebounds.

Also, with Falk's size in my backcourt, I could put Washington CB Sidney Jones at the two, making him an on-ball defensive stopper. He led the Pac-12 in passes defended last year, so he'd surely be a pest with the full-court press I'd use regularly.

My center would be USC OT Zach Banner. Why? He's 6-foot-9 and 360 pounds with long arms. You going to challenge him in the paint? No, you are not.

Oregon State tight end Noah Togiai would be the three. He recently decided not to play both football and basketball for the Beavers, but we're throwing him back onto the hardwood, where he was once a bigger prospect.

At power forward, I'm going with Arizona OG Freddie Tagaloa. For one, at 6-8, 316, he's got plenty of power to go forward. Also, he plays football at Arizona, which is notoriously called "a basketball school," so maybe some of Sean Miller's mojo rubbed off on the big guy.

Touted incoming Arizona State receiver N'Keal Harry would be my sixth man, mostly because he did this. Also, providing depth would be Colorado DE/OLB Jimmie Gilbert, a four-year starter at small forward in high school whose father, Jimmie Gilbert Sr., was an all-conference player at Texas A&M and was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, and UCLA offensive lineman Conor McDermott, who was an all-state player in Tennessee in 2011.

And, you know, UCLA used to be a basketball school. So I've heard.

Costing writes: The point you made about Colorado a better job than USC really got me thinking about makes a football school for the fans. Specifically it made me wonder which football program is best from the fan perspective? I mean sure most people might jump up and say Stanford, USC or Oregon because who doesn't like winning? In your time traveling around the Pac 12, what characteristics or elements have you seen that seem to make coming to games appealing even when the team is struggling? Is it the opponent, tailgating, stadium atmosphere, history, comfortable seats, kiss cams, or is it just plain hope that they might win?

Ted Miller: First, I didn't write that Colorado was a better job than USC. I wrote that USC was the best job in the Pac-12, without question, but for me PERSONALLY -- I'd prefer to be coaching in Boulder. It was pointed out to me by several readers that picking a football job based on the scenery, traffic, easy access to skiing and a great restaurant scene is not really what most elite, Power 5 coaches would do.

This is a better question for fans because you are asking about the fan experience. The closest I came to that in the past two decades was when I went to Kansas State specifically to check out the scene of a non-Pac-12 venue a few years ago and had a blast. Back in my Seattle Post-Intelligencer days, I may have been sucked into a spirited tailgate at Lambeau Field, but stories about me eating a bunch of sausages and sampling some home brew that would have made Belgian monks cry were greatly exaggerated.

That said, I think several factors contribute to fans -- home and away -- showing up consistently to certain venues.

  • Tradition. Many folks inherit their teams. If mom and dad are lifelong Cal fans, you will probably also root for the Bears. And some teams have bigger traditions and more loyal fans.

  • Venue. It's always more fun to go to a cool stadium, whether that's about modern convenience or awakening the echoes.

  • Tailgate: A festive atmosphere outside the stadium either augments or compensates for what happens inside the stadium.

  • Scene: Many fans are not local, or not entirely so. That means that going to a game is enhanced by what one might do the Friday night before or Saturday after the game. Some might enjoy returning to their favorite watering hole from their college days. Others might want to sample something more sophisticated.

  • Opponent: Fans are going to show up to watching Notre Dame or Ohio State or a highly ranked conference foe more than a winless one or a nonconference patsy.

  • Hospitality: Some schools are better than others at making sure all types of fans' needs are met. That could range from the quality of stadium food and parking access to hitting the right notes with in-game music and promotions.

  • Owning the market: This is one reason Pac-12 fans aren't as "loyal" as, say, SEC fans. Pac-12 teams are mostly urban, so there are many entertainment alternatives, including pro sports. If you live in Alabama, Mississippi or Arkansas, that's not the case.

Truth is, the battle for attendance is more challenging than ever before. With giant screen, HD television with DVR functions, the home experience watching a game is pretty darn enjoyable, with plenty of reasons to recommend it over attending a live game -- most notably being able to choose the people who surround you. Line to the bathroom also is typically shorter.

Still, there is nothing like the communal experience of witnessing a great game live, knowing immediately you will be able to say, "I was there. I saw that in person. With my Dad/Mom/Son/Daughter/Grandchild/Best bud. And it was magic."