Mailbag: Credit to Washington or discredit to USC's Steve Sarkisian?

USC's issues all on Sarkisian

Desmond Howard and David Pollack blame Steve Sarkisian for USC's slow start to the season.

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To the notes!

Jackson from Tacoma, Wash., writes: Of course you haven't and won't give any credit to superior Coach Petersen and his players but what does USC's loss to the Huskies mean for Seven-Win Steve?

Ted Miller: Washington and Chris Petersen deserve lots of credit for upsetting USC. They seem to be getting it, particularly Petersen, who is seen as winning the coaching duel by a wide margin because his team is younger and, yes, less talented than the Trojans.

Of course, the schizophrenia of Huskies fans here is understandable. They want to take shots at Sarkisian but they also want the win to be about their team. Sorry. It's not, at least not outside the fanbase. Enjoy the win in Seattle, but college football fans in Topeka and Savannah, Ga., will be seeing this one through a USC prism.

When an unranked team with two defeats in its four previous games -- a 17-point underdog -- beats a ranked perennial power that might be falling apart instead of making a move toward the College Football Playoff, as it was projected to do in the preseason when it was picked to win the Pac-12, the national post-game narrative is going to be about the stumbling power.

While Washington's defense is clearly exceeding modest preseason expectations, it's still difficult to look at the schedule ahead and project more than seven wins. Huskies fans certainly should start to rub their hands together speculating about the future, which figures to better manifest its promise in 2016, but the story coming out of this game, the one that will engender more media cogitating, is the state of USC under Sarkisian, whose seat is now officially hot.

Ricky from Abu Dhabi, UAE by way of the U.S. Navy and Tempe, Ariz., writes: My question is whether there is a more meaningless and annoying metric used to determine a team’s strength than what they did against a team that was “ranked at the time?” Early season wins against top-10 teams aren’t much of a measuring stick if that team ends up unranked in January. I’ve seen this employed by media types in the SEC when talking about quality SEC losses i.e.. “their only loss was to so&so who was ranked at the time” or “they defeated 5 teams who were ranked at the time they played”. In my opinion it’s even worse and more worthless than the transitive property argument.

Ted Miller: Well, I don't think most folks who rank teams in any important format -- national polls, etc. -- put too much weight on a "ranked at the time" measure. A team that started off ranked, say, No. 6 that ends up unranked won't be widely viewed as a marquee victory at season's end.

I know when I did joined a crew to put together a mock rankings this past week, sitting in for the College Football Playoff selection committee, the information made available to the committee only focused on present ranking.

That said, there is something to be said for "ranked at the time," though its weight should be kept in perspective. There is no doubt that more than a few teams loose their "stinger" after a dispiriting loss. There also are injury issues -- a team that was ranked No. 5 until it lost its starting QB needs to be looked at differently in terms of a before and after.

So, Ricky, I understand your point, but I don't think it's a huge issue with important rankings, particularly with the CFP.

Derek from Salt Lake City writes: Is Utah’s low AP ranking an artifact of starting off the season at the bottom of the poll? Let’s remove the loss to Utah and reanalyze who we have beaten. There is an undefeated team with arguably the best (and highest paid) coach in college football. There is a one loss defending PAC-12 champion with that loss coming to a top five outfit that we massacred on the road. There is a team that should tear through the Mountain West on their way to a bowl game and there is Fresno, who at least isn’t an FCS team. What has Ohio done to deserve a higher ranking? They barely squeaked by patsies while starting at the top...

Ted Miller: So.... you're complaining about a No. 5 ranking -- seven No. 1 votes! -- just one game into Pac-12 play? You might want to relax. If Utah keeps winning, it's going to be in the College Football playoff. Winning the Pac-12 is a pretty good "Get Into the CFP" card.

But I know what you're saying. Teams ranked ahead of Utah have less impressive resumes. Michigan State barely beat Oregon at home. It, in fact, only won because Vernon Adams missed a wide-open receiver for a potentially game-winning TD. On the other hand, you could say the Ducks were far more unsettled at QB against the Utes.

And what exactly have Ohio State, TCU and Baylor done to be ahead of Utah, other than begin the season there? That falls to many voters tendency to not demote teams if they keep winning, a not completely unreasonable devaluation of style points.

It's notable that Utah's resume earned it the top spot in the ESPN.com power rankings. Obviously, we value what has actually transpired on the field.

Still, this will not be a problem as the season wears on if the Utes keep winning. Ohio State and Michigan State play each other, and TCU and Baylor also play. There will be opportunities for the Utes to move up, and they will as an unbeaten or one-loss Pac-12 champ.

Pete writes: I have been encouraged this year by the Beavers play. They lack experience, but it seems like Gary Andersen and his staff have them playing hard and competing. To me winning a couple games in conference and staying competitive in the others would be a successful year. How would you grade Gary Andersen so far? Also what do you make of the slow start for Mike Riley at Nebraska?

Ted Miller: Riley is obviously off to a rough start, and some of that is coaching-inflicted, so that's inspired some rumbling about his hiring. Still, we're not even halfway through his first season when he's making significant changes to a previously stagnating program. An iota of patience might be worthwhile.

As for Andersen and Oregon State, I see plenty of reasons for optimism, starting with hints of potential from true freshman QB Seth Collins. He seems like a nice fit for the up-tempo spread Andersen wants to run, and he figures to settle in as a leader of a youth movement.

In the preseason, it was clear the Beavers would be rebuilding this year. So far, however, they've been slightly more competitive than I thought they'd be. I don't anticipate them becoming bowl eligible and they still are a good bet to finish in the North basement, but there certainly are grounds for hope that will be a temporary condition.

VM from Yorba Linda, Calif., writes: While I am excited about the game this weekend and Jared Goff getting some deserved national exposure, please do not project Cal in the Rose Bowl until it's a done deal. Bear fans have believed before and had their hopes dashed. I am expecting Goff to put together a performance like Aaron Rodgers did against USC in 2004. It should be a fun game.

Ted Miller: I will not project Cal to the Rose Bowl until it happens.


I will project that Cal is going to win the College Football Playoff, Jared Goff will win the Heisman and Stanford is going to fall into a sink hole, with all its students crying as they tumble into the dark, bottomless depths that the always knew Berkeley was way cooler.

I kid.