Mailbag: Oregon losing ground?

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
6:00
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Welcome to the mailbag.

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And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Mailbag.

Bishop from Eugene, Ore., writes: Let's assume that Marc Helfrich takes over as head coach, and the upcoming NCAA sanctions don't include a post season ban, How do you feel about those "Way to early" predictions you made. Can Oregon still chase the ever so elusive National Championship bid? Or is "RoseBowl or Bust" the best we can hope for now?

Ted Miller: Chip Kelly's departure puts a big question mark by Oregon. No way around it. If I were redoing the first 2013 Pac-12 power rankings, I'd do a reversal at the top and rate Stanford No. 1 and Oregon No. 2 for that reason alone.

Does that mean I don't think Oregon can win the national or Pac-12 championship in 2013 without Kelly? No. It merely means uncertainly has been introduced into the equation that wasn't there before. We have to account for that. We can suspect that Helfrich will do fine -- as good or maybe even better than Kelly -- but he's never been a head coach before.

Heck, the Ducks could run the table even if Helfrich doesn't turn out to be the long-term answer. There's enough talent and leadership left behind for the team to run itself. For a precedent for that, recall when offensive coordinator Larry Coker took over for Butch Davis at Miami in 2001 and went unbeaten and won a national title his first season, but was fired five years later. The Ducks aren't as talented as that epically good crew of Hurricanes, but it's a reasonable parallel.

As I've noted before with personnel issues when evaluating teams for the season to come: When there's an obvious void to fill, and the individual filling it is unproven, projecting everything turning out peachy isn't sound reasoning. It's optimism.

The truth is, it will take a few years to get a good measure of Helfrich as a head coach. We need to see him recruit an entire team and put his stamp on the Ducks in terms of the totality of the program before passing an educated judgment.




Sorael from Illinois writes: Hey Ted, Am I the only person who thinks the media and fan negativity around the USC program will actually help them? If Kiffin is a decent coach at all(it's debatable), he can use this to foster an us-against-the-world, no-believes-in-us type of mentality. I could see this being, just the right type of motivation to get the USC players from a me-first to a team-first focus. A focused USC TEAM would be scary for the rest of the conference.

Ted Miller: No, there's a guy in Des Moines who thinks the same thing.

Your thinking is reasonable. It's clear the Trojans didn't do as well as the front-runners in 2012, which was notably different than their going 10-2 in 2011 with just about the same personnel, when they were feeling forgotten and disrespected.

"Us against the world" or "no respect" can help a locker room remain focused and motivated. Stanford coach David Shaw is clearly a believer in that. Many athletes respond to outside doubt, particularly when a coach repeatedly points it out. In contrast, Chip Kelly actively avoided that -- at least he claimed to when speaking to reporters.

So maybe that will help the Trojans. Many of them were celebrated prep athletes who'd never encountered adversity before, so maybe they will grow after getting their lips bloodied.

But motivational ploys only go so far, just like the overrated pregame speech.

What wins games is a constant attention to detail and an obsession with getting better, which includes all aspects of the game -- mental, physical and emotional.

Lane Kiffin can point to all the negativity at the start of spring practices. He can talk about how folks are writing off the Trojans. He may have his players' rapt attention while he speaks. But the real issue for Kiffin is the consistent quality of the day-to-day process of running his football team.

And, yes, I've been reading too many Nick Saban quotes.




Peter from Tempe, Ariz., writes: What can you tell me about Arizona State's chances thus far against Notre Dame next year? Clearly we have a lot of time between now and the game but if you were Todd Graham and staff looking ahead what's your biggest worry? They obviously have a very good defense but I don't think many people were impressed offensively. It seems like we have a great opportunity to pull an upset considering who we have coming back defense-wise. Assuming our JC WR recruits pan out we could have a very potent offense too.

Ted Miller: I think Arizona State has a good chance to win that game if it ignores a crowd that will be heavily in favor of Notre Dame inside Cowboys Stadium and plays to its potential.

That, to me, is the biggest issue: the environment. Notre Dame will not be athletically superior to the Sun Devils.

Notre Dame welcomes back 14 position player starters, and QB Everett Golson should take another step forward. Further, the Fighting Irish have been recruiting well under Brian Kelly. Still, the program is a few players away from being super-elite. I suspect several teams would have bested the Irish in the national title game, including Oregon and Stanford (recall that Stanford nearly won at Notre Dame before it switched to Kevin Hogan at QB).

I think the Pac-12 is fully capable of going 3-0 against Notre Dame next year, with Stanford and USC also getting their annual shots at the Irish.




John from El Dorado Hill, Calif., writes: Ted, if you were a Las Vegas handicapper and Team A had an extra week to prepare for Team B (who did not have an extra week to prepare for Team A), how many points would that be worth for Team A when you set the opening line?

Ted Miller: 4.378 points.

There are too many variables to your question, though I'm sure someone could pencil out the math by reviewing historical results. I'm just not sure how much you can trust an average number when you're dealing with specific teams that introduce myriad variables.

How good are Team A and Team B? Is one or the other about overwhelming you with talent (like LSU), or is it scheme-heavy (like Boise State)? What about injuries? Does the extra week provide critical extra time for one team to get healthy, while not doing so for the other? Is one of the teams coached by Nick Saban and the other by, say, Tyrone Willingham?

I think a mediocre team with a mediocre coach won't get much benefit from an extra week of preparation against a good team with a good coach. And the opposite is also true.

I will say I think extra prep time is a demonstrable an advantage. Just consider this season in the Pac-12:
  • Oregon State 27, UCLA 20.
  • Arizona 52, Washington 17
  • Oregon 43, Arizona State 21
  • UCLA 45, Arizona State 43.

In each case the winning team had extra time, though it wasn't always an extra week.

Ted Miller | email

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