Pac-12: Washington Huskies

I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
And I said "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?" … Well, that's the one thing we've got.
SEATTLE -- If all had gone to plan, Deontae Cooper would’ve been getting ready for the NFL draft right now.

Instead, the redshirt junior running back -- who has suffered three season-ending knee injuries in three separate seasons at Washington -- is going through just the second spring season of his college career.

He knows the ins and outs of the Washington rehabilitation staff better than nearly anyone. That is, after all, where he spent his last three spring seasons -- rehabbing knee injuries.

[+] EnlargeDeontae Cooper
Jesse Beals/ Icon SMIDeontae Cooper has a shot to be Washington's featured back this season.
Cooper entered this spring as one of the oldest players on the team and one of the least experienced when it comes to the type of practices and routines the team goes through during this period.

“It is kind of weird,” Cooper said. “But the way I look at it is … the past is behind me and it’s good that I have a fresh start with a fresh new staff.”

The last spring season Cooper went through was with then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. It was 2010 and the early enrollee, who should’ve still been in high school, going to math classes and prom, impressed the coaching staff. Now, four years later, he’s doing the same under Chris Petersen.

With the way that Cooper has performed this spring, his past ACL injuries haven’t even crossed Petersen’s mind as he has watched him run and cut.

“Oh no, I don’t even think about it,” Petersen said.

Last season, Bishop Sankey (20 TDs, 327 carries, 1,870 yards) took the majority of the carries for the Huskies. Cooper, who had actually enrolled more than a year before Sankey, was listed as a redshirt freshman on that roster, despite the fact that he was taking his senior classes.

But, it was his first time in uniform at Washington. Cooper appeared in seven games, accounting for three touchdowns and 270 yards on just 43 attempts. And in this offseason -- the first true collegiate offseason of his career -- Cooper got the good news that the NCAA would be granting him two extra seasons of eligibility, giving him three more seasons with the University of Washington.

With that kind of a relief and thoughts of “what if” out of his head, he let himself really look into the future and focus on what he can accomplish at Washington.

At Boise State, Petersen ran a very balanced offense. Of the 1,029 plays the Broncos ran last season, 563 were run plays, while 466 were pass attempts. On average, Boise State accounted for more passing yardage than rushing yardage, but Boise State running back Jay Ajayi accounted for 109 rushing yards per game and Petersen is certainly going to look for a back to carry the load in a similar way at Washington.

And with Sankey gone, Cooper is in the thick of it, battling sophomore Dwayne Washington, among others, to be the featured running back.

Cooper certainly has a maturity advantage that comes with being a senior, but he also has a tenacity from watching so many spring practices from the sideline as well as a gratitude for the opportunity to even put a jersey on. He knows too well what it feels like to not have one.

Mostly, there might be no one on the roster who’s more excited for the daunting and exhausting grind of the offseason and spring practices than Cooper.

“I’ve been looking forward to this -- just a healthy offseason,” Cooper said. “No hiccups, no setbacks. I just wanted a clean slate, just a nice smooth offseason and I’m finally getting it.”

And with that healthy offseason, he has a healthy relationship with a new staff that doesn’t necessarily look at him as “the comeback kid” or “the injured one.” Cooper is just another running back in the group, even if he has a few more scars on his knees.

Cooper said that Petersen has never once brought up the injuries and that’s exactly what Cooper wanted.

“We knew he had some knee injuries, but that’s in the past,” Petersen said. “He’s healthy so we don’t even talk about it.”

“It feels good just to be [seen as]: ‘Deontae, he’s ready to go. I don’t know about what he did in the past or what happened to him in the past,’ ” Cooper added. “That’s good for anybody. A fresh slate like that, I can’t complain.”

This spring, most of his 2010 class is graduating, though there are a few redshirts staying behind with him. And if he fulfills each extra season of eligibility granted to him, he’ll end up graduating with the class that came in this past fall.

So while it might take him seven full years to get four seasons of football in, he isn’t complaining about every extra step -- even when it was on a wobbly knee.

“As far as playing, those three years I sat out, those are three lost years so you can’t get that back,” Cooper said. “But just being much more mature, understanding the game, watching guys leave here … it has helped me.”

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
If I owned the Twins, I wouldn't even show up here. I'd just hire a bunch of scientists to do my homework. I mean, if you're rich you don't have to be smart. That's the whole beauty of this country.

The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
SEATTLE -- As if there weren’t enough changes at Washington this offseason between the Steve Sarkisian era ending and the Chris Petersen era beginning, the team graduated three-year starter Keith Price and then began spring football without his heir apparent Cyler Miles, who was being investigated for a post-Super Bowl incident.

Last week it was decided that Miles wouldn’t be charged in the incident. However, he still wasn’t back practicing with the team and Petersen wouldn’t give a timeline or ultimate decision on when -- or if -- Miles will return to the team.

“We haven’t really decided on that whole situation,” Petersen said. “It’s kind of one day, one week at a time and there’s no reason to rush anything. We’re always going to do the right thing. … We have to do the right thing by the school, this program and by the kids as well.”

Without Miles as a part of the equation the Huskies are running spring practice with just two quarterbacks, sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. Between the two, Lindquist is the only one with game experience, though he has only appeared in three games. Miles, on the other hand, appeared in eight games last season for the Huskies, completing 37 of 61 pass attempts for four touchdowns, 418 yards and two interceptions.

Not having Miles this spring puts the Huskies at a disadvantage for next season. But it’s not just the fact that they’re missing their best QB this spring -- they’re also missing any kind of veteran player in the quarterback meeting room, which is a first for offensive coordinator and QB coach Jonathan Smith. It adds yet another wrinkle in the challenges Smith is facing as a coordinator installing a new offense with the Huskies.

“How young we are, and especially you add in the piece of a new offense, so that’s new to us,” Smith said.

But the youth isn’t a complete bad situation for Washington. With younger players it’s easier to mold them into the type of players who better fit into a newer offense and that’s what’s happening with Lindquist and Williams this spring.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lindquist
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJeff Lindquist is splitting quarterback reps with Troy Williams this spring for the Huskies.
“In some ways they might not be as ingrained in what [Sarkisian had] done,” Smith said. “But I would definitely take a veteran, though, a guy who has seen a lot of plays.”

So far the Huskies have split first-team reps equally with Lindquist and Williams.

Lindquist said that because everything is so new and because both players are inexperienced, this spring has been less about the competition between the two and more about trying to help one another with the offense and playbook.

“Obviously, we’re competing against each other,” Lindquist said. “But I think right now for the two of us it’s more about getting a good grasp of the concepts and how to operate the offense.”

Creating a learning environment with competition between Lindquist and Williams will be crucial for the Huskies whether or not Miles comes back next week, next fall or not at all.

Like every coach, Petersen will rely heavily on his QB, but he’s accustomed to a lot of production out of that position. He’s coming off a season with terrific quarterback play at Boise State. The Broncos finished the 2013-14 season second in QB completion percentage (70.6) while averaging 36 pass attempts per game as opposed to Washington, which attempted only 32 passes per game.

Through 10 practices Petersen has been relatively happy with what he has seen out of his young quarterbacks. Certainly they’re not close to where they want to be, but all things considered -- a coaching change, the quarterback graduation and suspension, new verbiage, new wrinkles -- the transition is running fairly smooth in Seattle.

“I think both guys are making progress, I really do,” Petersen said. “I think both guys are truly improving.”
Happy Friday!
Last week, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay updated their top-10 lists at each position for the upcoming NFL draft.

Here's a look at how the Pac-12 offensive players stack up:


Marcus Mariota might have been taken No. 1 overall if he decided to leave Oregon, but without him the Pac-12 doesn't have any top-10 representation. Washington's Keith Price, who was not invited to the NFL combine, has a big day on Wednesday when the Huskies hold their pro day. Barring a team taking a flyer on him in the draft, Price is probably going to have to take the undrafted route to forge a NFL career.

Running back/fullback

The surprise here is how little both analysts think of Carey, who was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards. Sure, his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine (4.70) didn't do him any favors, but this feels like a situation where the film isn't speaking as loudly as it does for others.

The love for Thomas was a bit surprising as well, but it's also tough to compare him to the rest of the group because he doesn't project as a true running back in the NFL. His versatility undoubtedly scored him points, but it also should be noted that 10 other running backs clocked faster 40 times at the combine -- including Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. See the whole list here Insider.

Receiver/tight end

Cooks and Lee, a pair of Biletnikoff Award winners, will both expect to hear their name called in the first round. After that, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the pass-catchers fall into place.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOregon State wideout Brandin Cooks could be a first-round pick.
Notably absent is Colorado WR Paul Richardson, who ran a 4.40 40 at the combine and caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Buffaloes. He still figures to have a shot to go in the second-round to third-round range.

McShay lists Lyerla as the pass-catcher with the biggest risk:
Lyerla has some significant behavioral and emotional issues (leaving the Oregon program at midseason in 2013 and being arrested for cocaine possession weeks later) that just aren't worth dealing with, even for the potential reward his talent promises, were he to straighten things out.

See the whole list here Insider.

Offensive line

If they were quarterbacks, Yankey and Su'a-Filo would be forever linked. Widely regarded as two of the best offensive guards in the country, it will be interesting to see who goes off the board first. Su'a-Filo was the players' choice as the best offensive lineman in the conference in 2013, but Yankey was given the honor in 2012.

Martin is one of eight players Kiper and McShay agree is the best player at his position. See the whole list here Insider.
That was a crazy game of poker.

Biggest shoes to fill: Washington

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Monday, we look at Washington.

Biggest shoes: QB Keith Price

While some might believe it will be more difficult to replace stellar running back Bishop Sankey, the Huskies boast three experienced and capable backs who combined to rush for 815 yards and 10 TDs last season. When you toss in a strong, veteran offensive line, it seems a good bet that among Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier the Huskies will produce a 1,000-yard rusher again. Yet, we still might have gone with Sankey if not for QB Cyler Miles getting into off-field trouble that presently has him not participating in spring practices and his longterm status in limbo (he has yet to be charged). While not a sure thing, Miles had shown enough under stress in games -- not just throwaway time -- to suggest he could be a more-than-capable Pac-12 QB. Recall that a year ago, some thought he might unseat Price, who struggled in 2012. But this isn't just about uncertainty with Price's departure, it's also a tip of the cap to Price, who is on the short list of best Huskies QBs. He completed 66 percent of his passes last fall for 2,966 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 20th in the nation in passing efficiency. He also rushed for five touchdowns. And he became the school's all-time leader in touchdown passes with 75, completion percentage (64 percent) and passing efficiency. He played through injuries throughout his career and showed mental toughness with his bounce-back in 2013. Moreover, if you polled the 2013 Huskies on who the best-liked guy on the team was, I'd wager it would be Price, whose nickname, "Teeth," was based on his bright and constant smile.

Stepping in: TBA
If Miles can settle his legal problems, which also involve top receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, then he still seems like the frontrunner, even if he's suspended for a game or two or three. But maybe not. We don't know much of new coach Chris Petersen's thinking on this one. Miles might find himself irrevocably entrenched in Petersen's doghouse. Or he might just get booted from the team entirely. There is another option: Sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams simply plays great and outright wins the job. The problem with that is neither has thrown a pass in college. Miles beat Lindquist out for the backup job last season, but there's a new coaching staff and offensive system, so the slate is mostly clean along those lines. Neither Lindquist nor Williams has produced any obvious separation during the first portion of spring practices, which resume on Tuesday. Finally, uncertainty at QB is not a good thing in the Pac-12 in 2014, with 10 conference teams owning a fair degree of certainty at the game's most important position this spring. Only Arizona and the Huskies are looking for new starters.

Previous big shoes

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
Whether it's rock and roll or old soul, it don't matter.
This week the Pac-12 blog had an opportunity to chat with new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and new Washington coach Chris Petersen, the man who replaced Sark in Seattle.


Which new head coach has the most pressure heading into the 2014 season?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,482)

Both schools present a different set of challenges and varying degrees of pressure and expectation. But which coach has the most pressure on him? Sarkisian’s and Petersen’s coaching careers from here on out will be closely intertwined, especially because Petersen was considered a candidate for the vacant USC job before withdrawing his name.

This has all the makings of a great Take 2. And maybe your Pac-12 reporters will tackle that one sooner rather than later. But for now, we thought we’d put it to a vote. Which head coach, Petersen or Sarkisian, has more pressure heading into the 2014 season?

Petersen: He comes to Seattle with a gleaming résumé. The name value alone means folks are expecting Petersen to do great things almost immediately. Whenever a big-time coaching job opened up, Petersen’s name was at the top of the list. But he chose Seattle because he felt the timing and the situation were right. But for all of the hype and expectation surrounding his hire, the simple fact remains that he has to replace quarterback Keith Price, who was the smiling backbone of the program; a Doak Walker finalist running back in Bishop Sankey; and the 2013 John Mackey Award winner in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. There is some good talent at Washington, but that trio isn’t easily replaced. Sark did a good job pulling the program from the cellar, but many are expecting Petersen to get this team into the 10-win neighborhood.

Sarkisian: It’s USC -- one of the most desirable coaching jobs in the country. And with that comes nearly unparalleled scrutiny. Sarkisian took an important first step toward winning some credibility when he locked down an A-list recruiting class. But there are still those concerned that Sark isn’t the home-run hire befitting a season-long coaching search. Winning would change that, but a slow start would only amplify it. Not only does he have to prove he’s the right guy for the job, but he has to win back a fan base that’s grown weary of losing to Notre Dame and UCLA in consecutive seasons. The Trojans will soon be off sanctions, which should help in recruiting. However, if he doesn’t win right away, you have to question whether he'll be given enough time to fully implement his vision.
UCLA will make its first visit to Texas A&M's Kyle Field on Sept. 3, 2016, and the Aggies will return the favor with a visit to the Rose Bowl on Sept. 2, 2017, giving the nation a marquee Pac-12-SEC showdown many fans want to see.

The Bruins also announced a home-and-home series with San Diego State and a shifting of a scheduled series with new Big Ten member Rutgers.

UCLA will now play Rutgers in 2020 and 2021, the first game in the Rose Bowl, the second in Piscataway, N.J. The Bruins will host Mountain West Conference foe San Diego State at the Rose Bowl on Aug. 31, 2019 and will travel to San Diego to face the Aztecs on Sept. 19, 2020.

Meanwhile, Rutgers has contracted a home-and-home series with Washington. The Scarlet Knights will travel to Seattle to face the Huskies on Sept. 3, 2016 to begin the season. The Huskies will travel to High Point Solutions Stadium on Sept. 2 to open the 2017 season. The two schools have never met in football.

Within the last six months, UCLA has also announced a home-and-home series with Texas A&M, Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019 and with Michigan in 2022 and 2023.

"Facing tough nonconference competition is a necessity with the new playoff system beginning this year,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. “We are excited to add home-and-home series with both Texas A&M and San Diego State to a future schedule that already includes a traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 series with Rutgers.”

UCLA and Texas A&M have met four previous times, with each team winning twice. The Bruins won the most recent matchup in the 1998 Cotton Bowl, 29-23, coming back from a 16-0 deficit to defeat the Aggies behind the play of quarterback Cade McNown. The other three matchups between the two teams have all taken place in California. UCLA won the most recent one, 21-0, at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1955, and Texas A&M won the first two in the series, 7-0 in 1940 and 21-14 in 1951.

UCLA holds a 21-0-1 overall record against San Diego State, with 19 consecutive victories. The teams last played in 2009, with UCLA winning at the Rose Bowl, 33-14.
There are those who subscribe to the theory that a coach making the leap from a mid-major conference to one of the big five will need some time to adjust.

Then again, few coaches have the résumé that Chris Petersen brings from Boise State to Washington. Among his accolades: 92 wins, a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories and five conference titles. Oh yeah, he’s also the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award.

So if Petersen is fending off any challenges by way of transition, he isn’t letting on.

“The job is exactly the same,” Petersen said. “There hasn’t been one thing that has surprised me. It’s exactly the same. Our recruiting process is the same. When we were recruiting at Boise, we were recruiting against the Pac-12. We were in the same footprint. It was the same battles. All of that is the same. Everybody is regulated by the NCAA on how much time you can lift weights, so it really comes down to implementing your systems and your schemes.”

No question, Petersen has the coaching chops. And Huskies fans are universally proclaiming that they got the better end of the deal when Steve Sarkisian left Washington for USC after five seasons and a 34-29 record.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen's first spring at Washington involves finding replacements for three of the most important players from the Huskies offense.
“It’s a case of be careful what you wish for,” he said. “But nothing has surprised us. We knew for the most part what we’re getting into.”

So the biggest challenge facing the new Washington skipper isn’t transition, but replacing departed personnel. When Sarkisian left, he didn’t exactly leave a barren cupboard. But a talented trio will be noticeably absent in 2014: three-year starting quarterback Keith Price, 2013 Mackey Award-winning tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Doak Walker-finalist running back Bishop Sankey. All are expected to either be drafted or land on an NFL roster.

“That makes things really tough,” Petersen said. “When you lose a quarterback who has been a three-year starter and was as productive as Keith was, that’s hard. Everything on offense, no matter what style you run, is run through that guy. If he’s successful, your team is going to be successful.

“Bishop Sankey was tremendous. You put that tape on and study him, it’s like, ‘wow.’ He has tremendous vision. We played against him twice and we thought the world of him.”

Petersen has already had to deal with a little adversity when one of the quarterbacks vying to replace Price was suspended indefinitely. Cyler Miles, along with wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, remain suspended after allegedly assaulting a Seahawks fan after the Super Bowl last month. Obviously, Petersen doesn’t ever want to have to deal with discipline issues. On the flip side, he has an opportunity early in his tenure to establish himself as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, which he’s done.

Now it’s a matter of filling holes -- knowing full well that most of them probably won’t be filled during the spring session.

“Aside from getting your systems in place, so much of it comes down to how much talent you have,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. So much of this is just recruiting and how much talent you have.”

That and an awareness that he isn’t going to have any easy weeks in the Pac-12. For a while, the Mountain West was considered the strongest of the non-AQ conferences. But even in its heyday, there were always weak sisters. That's not the case in the Pac-12 -- especially in the top-heavy North Division.

“I’ve known about the Pac-12 forever,” Petersen said. “I think it’s extremely competitive conference. The parity from top to bottom is as good as it’s ever been. The coaches are fabulous. It’s as good as any in the country. I thought that before I got here, and now it’s confirmed.”

Expectations are high for Petersen and his staff. While Sarkisian did a fine job turning an 0-12 program into a consistent winner with four straight bowl appearances, the Huskies never ascended to the upper echelon of the league in his tenure.

Petersen brings a big name and track record of success matched by few. Now he has to get the Huskies to buy into what he’s selling.

“The culture is changing. And how quickly those guys buy in is the bottom line,” Petersen said. “It can be tough for the older guys who have been here for four or five years and are used to doing things a different way. We have to get everyone moving and believing in what we do as quickly as possible."
Welcome to the mailbag. Hope you are having an auspicious Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Rob from Northern Oregon writes: Ted, the up-tempo offenses have been targeted by [Nick] Saban because he cannot beat them in an even odds situation. Rather than meet the fight head-on, Mr. Saban (I use Mr. loosely here) has attempted to circumvent the situation by enacting a rule change, based upon player safety. I pose this: Has anyone looked into the health and safety issues related to being over 300 pounds and maintaining that mass throughout a college career? I suspect that even the most rudimentary study would show decreased lifespan, increased health problems and overall reduction in the quality of life that results from being fed and manipulated like a stockyard cow while in college. Player safety advocates might want to adopt a maximum BMI rule for college players if safety is such a concern. Lean and mean … It takes a lean horse for a long ride.

Ted Miller: "Cannot beat?" Well, Nick Saban has been pretty successful winning games. We probably should grant him that.

And there have been plenty of studies about BMI [Body Mass Index] and lifespan. People who are obese have more health problems. Generally, we can say weighing 300 pounds is not healthy. But adopting a maximum BMI sounds like it might be legally complicated, and I'd guess most 300-pound college football players are more physically fit than an average U.S. citizen.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinJudging by this week's mailbag, Pac-12 fans aren't real big on Nick Saban right now.
Still, I hear you. You could do all sorts of things to improve player safety. Most, of course, would dramatically change the game.

You could remove face masks, which would increase the number of broken noses but might reduce the number of concussions because players would be forced to form tackle instead of leading with their head/helmet.

You could eliminate blitzes and zone defenses. If defenses were forced to be more predictable, then you'd have fewer blow-up shots on offensive players.

You could reduce the number of players on the field. You could reduce the size of the field.

You could make the game two-handed touch. Or use flags. Or have a player from each team debate what should happen on each play and then have a judge rewards or subtracts yards based on the merits of their arguments. The Ivy League might like that.

What's most interesting about this debate about so-called player safety is that the folks who want to slow down the up-tempo teams are simply saying this: Football is dangerous.

And that, unfortunately, is true.

Saban, one of the leaders of the slow-down movement, this week compared football to smoking cigarettes. Seriously. I will include the quote so we can all slap our foreheads in unison.

Said Saban, "The fastball guys (up-tempo coaches) say there's no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic. What's the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there's no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, 'Yeah, there probably is.'"


The slow-down folks are saying, "Because football is dangerous, and up-tempo teams run more plays, and plays are football and are therefore dangerous, we should try to reduce the number of plays in a game. For safety's sake."

Heck, why not shorten the game instead? Play eight-minute quarters. That would reduce the number of plays and reduce the number of injuries and no one would have to change their scheme.

(Shortly I will get an email from the TV side of ESPN saying, "Hush.")

The point here is simple: The slow-down folks want to slow the game down because they play slow-down football. They believe slow-down football gives them an advantage, and up-tempo teams are being mean and taking away that advantage. So, they scheme, let's change the rules and force folks to play the slow way, which means slow-down teams will win more.

Saban's Alabama team has become like USC was from 2002-2008 -- it's physically superior to just about any other team in the nation. Because his players can consistently win one-on-one battles, he wants to minimize strategy. He wants to line up and run a play. Wait 25 seconds, run another play. And see what happens.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Saban and Alabama's bitter rival, Auburn, is now coached by up-tempo maestro Gus Malzahn, owner of a gigantic football brain, one that might be even as big as Saban's. That matchup is on track to become one of the great annual stories in college football -- the Iron Bowl as essentially a national playoff game on a regular basis.

That's not what Saban wants, though. He's not happy with all these spunky teams with all their brainy football. He wants them to behave, get out of the way and let him win national championships.

JohnV8r from El Dorado Hills, Calif., writes: Which is more likely to happen: The SEC is penalized by the playoff selection committee for only playing an eight-game conference schedule, or the other power conferences move to an eight-game conference schedule because the SEC does not end up being penalized by the selection committee for their eight-game conference schedule?

Ted Miller: While others might disagree, I think the SEC is going to face pressure to play a nine-game conference schedule AND at least one high quality nonconference game a year, or it will be penalized.

That's at least if the selection committee has guts and wants to be fair. It can't be swayed by the "just trust us" justification we heard so often during the BCS era.

How would this go? Well, let's look at 2014 in the SEC East.

Let's say both South Carolina and Missouri finish 11-1, but Missouri's loss is on Sept. 27 in Columbia, S.C., so the Gamecocks win the East tiebreaker due to the head-to-head victory. South Carolina then goes on to the SEC championship game, and Steve Spurrier wins the press conference but loses to Alabama.

So Alabama is in the four-team playoff.

Then the SEC apologists would chime in: There is no WAY you can keep a one-loss SEC team out of the playoff! No matter that Missouri wouldn't have played Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Paired with a weak nonconference schedule, the Tigers set up as a team that shouldn't get the automatic benefit of the doubt when comparing them to other one-loss AQ conference teams.

For example, in this 2014 scenario, there is no way in Hades that Missouri should be able to slip in ahead of Stanford, which plays an exponentially tougher schedule next year. And there is no way in Hades that the Tigers should get into the playoff over an unbeaten team from an AQ conference, such as an Ohio State or Oklahoma State.

The very idea that a 14-team conference wants to play fewer conference games than 12- and 10-team conferences is beyond competitive reason. Isn't the conference schedule about figuring who the best teams in said conference are? How can you even compare Missouri's schedule with East rival Florida's? The Gators play Alabama and LSU (and, by the way, Florida State)?

The ONLY reason for playing eight conference games instead of nine is to rig the system.

I mean, just imagine if someone tried to force up-tempo teams to slow down by rigging the system with a new rule. But no one would ever do that, right?

Michael from Fairbanks, Alaska, writes: How long will it take for coach Chris Petersen to turn the Dawgs into a Pac-12 powerhouse and beat Oregon on a consistent basis?

Ted Miller: 426 days. Plus or minus.

I don't think Washington fans should expect the Huskies to immediately eclipse Oregon -- and Stanford -- in the North pecking order. I suspect Petersen will need to get the lay of the Pac-12 land for a couple of years and also get at least a few recruiting classes with "his" guys.

My impression during the 2013 Oregon-Washington game is that the rivalry is narrowing after a decade of Ducks dominance, despite the Huskies’ fourth-quarter meltdown. While some Huskies fans seem eager to cast aspersions at what Steve Sarkisian accomplished, he rebuilt a staggering program and left a top-25 team behind when he bolted to USC.

I don't see any reason for the Huskies to fall out of the Top 25 the next couple of years. The question is, do they move into the top 10 with Oregon and Stanford? They aren't alone, by the way, in wanting to get there.

There is, however, a back door, at least with the Ducks. What if Mark Helfrich is not able to maintain what Mike Bellotti/Chip Kelly built? What if the Ducks end up missing Nick Aliotti more than some expect? Washington could move past Oregon because Oregon might not remain a top-10 team. I'm not saying I think that will happen, only that it's a reasonable possibility.

I talked to a Pac-12 coach the other day who said Petersen is going to get things going quickly. He termed him one of the nation's truly elite coaches. Which is nice, if you're a UW fan.

Many of us suspect the same. But it's now up to Petersen to justify the plaudits that have been flung his way for years while playing in a major conference.

aztr81 from Phoenix writes: I've grown tired hearing the debate on the 10-second rule (i.e., the "Saban Rule"). If a coach doesn't like the pace of the game, CALL A TIMEOUT!!! Out of timeouts? Then keep control of the football and keep the other team's offense off the field! (Example, Stanford vs. Oregon, or Notre Dame vs. Arizona State.) Goodness, gracious, it really is a joke that certain individuals or organizations are trying to fundamentally change the game we love. End of rant. Thank you.

Ted Miller: You're welcome.