USC Trojans: Johnny Manziel

Mailbag: Did USC or Washington win?

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
5:30
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Welcome to the mailbag, Pac-12 championship and coaching carousel edition.

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To the notes.

Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?

Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?

The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.

Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.

Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.

As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.

Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.

Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.

So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.

Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.


Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?

Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.

A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.

Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.

The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.

But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.

In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.

Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.

But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.


Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?

Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.

That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.

Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.

And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.


Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.

Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.

The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.

Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.

The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.


Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?

Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.

Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.

I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
5:30
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Happy Friday.

First of all, a big thank you to all Kansas State fans who contributed ideas for my "flip" visit to Manhattan, Kan. My mailbag overfloweth with perspective and suggestions. Dinner at CoCo Bolos last night was solid, as was breakfast at The Chef. If you see me in "Aggieville" tonight, don't hesitate to say "hello."

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To the notes.

Ian from Salt Lake City: Why has Marcus Mariota dropped nigh completely from the Heisman radar? I understand the loss to Stanford and playing poorly is a huge portion of that, but it seems to me that people, especially the media (not you or Kevin obviously), have fallen in love so much with Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel that they brush aside Mariota like a fly. Both Mariota and Manziel lost games to their biggest competition, Mariota is putting up pretty comparable numbers to Winston with less interceptions, and Mariota is a proven winner, so why no, relatively speaking, love?

Ted Miller: There are three types of overreaction in college football. There's media overreaction, there's fan overreaction and, third, there's fan overreaction to media overreaction.

Do you define "dropped completely from the Heisman Trophy radar" as falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in media polls? Or also here. Do you define Mariota getting brushed aside "like a fly" after he posts his worst game of the season in a loss that knocks his team -- apparently -- out of the national title hunt?

Have I fallen in love with Jameis Winston? Yes. I'm man enough to admit that I am in love with Winston. I swoon at his stratospheric potential. I love the way he taken a program known for its NFL talent and mercurial performances and made it the nation's most consistently dominating team. Clemson's overwhelming performance against a very good Georgia Tech team on Thursday reminded us just how impressive the Seminoles' win in Death Valley was.

That said, if Mariota plays appreciably better than Winston and Manziel over the final three games, he still might win the Heisman. At the very least, the sophomore will get invited to New York for the ceremony.

There was an understandable and justifiable demotion of Mariota in every Heisman poll after the Ducks offense sputtered against Stanford. Three big performances, however, will background that. And if Stanford loses to USC, three big performances likely would give him another shot in the Pac-12 title game.

Those games will give him space to be evaluated over the totality of the season. They will also his toughness, which I think is being overlooked or played down after the Stanford game, to shine. Mariota should be saluted for even being out there because he was clearly playing on one good leg, and Stanford realized early on that he was not going to be a factor on designed runs or even scrambles.

By the way, Mariota still is the nation's No. 1 rated QB and has yet to throw an interception. (Throwing that in, Ian, to quell some media overreaction so your fan overreaction to media overreaction might re-react toward a more realistic place).




Paul from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Ted I am a very loyal Oregon Duck fan and was very disappointed with our loss at Stanford. That being said I think a few different bounces of the ball and the end could have played out differently. Regardless, true champions find a way to deal with adversity and we, the Ducks, did not adapt and overcome. My comment/question is this. I agree Stanford has a good team but I think there overall offensive balance is questionable. The ground game is awesome but there passing attack is average at best and tends to be liability. If Stanford gets put behind in a game and has to abandon their ground and pound game plan, they struggle, which is what happened against Utah. I believe in a game against a team that can play with them physically that Stanford will have issues due to their lack of a decent passing attack.

Ted Miller: I hear you. In fact, I think both Kevin and I have questioned Stanford at times about its middling passing game, which has shown flashes but not advanced as much this season as we anticipated it would in August. The Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 183 yards per game.

And yet.

Even though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not putting up big numbers, he ranks 17th in ESPN Stats & Information's total quarterback rating. Hogan is running the Cardinal offense efficiently, even if he only ranks fifth in the conference by the old school pass efficiency measure.

Coach David Shaw has said he would never throw if he knew he'd gain four yards every run. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per run.

Hogan has thrown well at times, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranks third in the conference. He's accounted for 15 touchdowns -- 13 passing -- and protects the football.

And there's always this annoying tidbit: Shaw is 31-5. His Stone Age, antiquated, hopelessly conservative, 1970s football has Stanford winning 86 percent of his games.

Is Stanford the sort of team that makes a 14-point deficit look like nothing? No. Did Utah mute the Cardinal for three quarters? Yes, though I think the Utes success on offense was a bigger story in that game.

Could a team like, say, Alabama thwart Stanford because it is as big and physical as the Cardinal? Maybe.

One of the things I really wanted to see this season was for them to try.




Tony Jones from Chandler, Ariz. writes: Ted, I've been keeping an eye on the Jeff Sagarin rankings the last couple of weeks, waiting for verbal pitchforks to be hurled from Sun Devils fans ranting about how ASU is barely getting a sniff in the AP (21st), USA Today (22nd) and BCS (19th) polls while hanging out in the Top 10 in Sagarin's metrics (currently 9th). So when I saw your piece discussing the Championship Drive Ratings and Football Power Index, I was curious to see where ASU ranked. The Sun Devils rank higher in both the CDR (6th) and FPI (7th) than in Sagarin's wizardry. I'm an Arizona alum, so it makes little difference to me, but should ASU fans be Michael Crowing about where they are in the BCS and going all in with their disrespect cards? BTW, I think it's also interesting that the Wildcats are ranked 24th by Sagarin and 28th in the FPI, but are 44th in the CDR. Much bigger disparity than the Sun Devils.

Ted Miller: Kevin has Arizona State 18th and I have them 19th. And both of us have noticed how the Sun Devils rank higher with the computers, most notably the Championship Drive Rating, ESPN Stats & Information's complex metric that measures a team's resume.

But I also know why the Sun Devils are being held back due to purely human reasons.

No. 1: The controversial ending against Wisconsin. No. 2: The loss to Notre Dame.

Those are not "bad" losses. But those two results tie the Sun Devils to the wagons of the Badgers and Fighting Irish, and both provide drag.

The officiating implosion at the end of Arizona State's win over the Badgers means voters don't feel comfortable elevating the Sun Devils decisively over the Badgers, who in fact rank ahead of ASU in both polls. Voters feel further justified doing so because the Sun Devils lost to the Fighting Irish, who are presently unranked after losing to Pittsburgh.

This is a case of Arizona State's marquee win -- Wisconsin -- not earning them the poll respect it typically would, and that is understandable to a certain degree. The Badgers feel like they might miss out on an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game because of that loss, one that they put an asterisk beside.

Yet, as I typically think when reading questions like this: Just keep winning. If the Sun Devils win the rest of their regular season games, including a Nov. 23 date at UCLA, they would jump into the top 10. And if they win the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl, they might finish in the top-five.




Ron from Maricopa, Ariz., writes: This article I believe is incorrect. Colorado received a waiver for playing two FCS games and theoretically they can go to a bowl if they win out. Two games are doable: Cal and Utah. USC is probably too much. But Buffs should be motivated this week for at least the possibility of a bowl.

Ted Miller: Correct. If Colorado wins its final three games -- California, USC and at Utah -- it will become bowl eligible.

And that certainly would be an amazing accomplishment for the Buffaloes in their first season under Mike MacIntyre.




Kevin from Oklahoma City writes: I know there is still plenty of season left and lots can change but out of curiosity if ASU were to win out and Stanford suffers an upset somewhere along the way, allowing Oregon to take the north...who would host the title game? Would Oregon get to host based on overall record?

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon. (Answer is the same from last week!)

Thoughts from around college football

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
11:44
AM PT
They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

• My guess is that USC athletic director Pat Haden’s stance on Ed Orgeron’s status is to let the season play out. The results in the next four games are likely to speak for themselves.

• Considering Haden reportedly has hired an executive search firm to help identify the next head coach, it would take something extraordinary, like Orgeron going 4-0 with huge wins over Stanford and UCLA, to allow Coach O to be seriously considered.

• Whatever happens, you have to love the way Orgeron is so emotionally engaged with his players. And don’t think the kids haven’t noticed.

• The UCLA team that looked so flat in the early stages against Colorado will be in big trouble if it comes out that way in Arizona on Saturday. This one is a real litmus test for Jim Mora’s 6-2 Bruins.

• Wide receiver Devin Fuller looks like the real thing for UCLA. He gives Brett Hundley the legitimate deep threat that was missing in the Bruins’ offense.

• If Arizona State loses at Utah, and that’s certainly possible, the race in the Pac-12 South really becomes interesting.

• This just in: Heisman Trophy incumbent Johnny Manziel is still the most entertaining player in America. The kid is just fun to watch.

• Is it just me, or is it a little overwhelming now to see the list of televised games on an average Saturday? I don’t want to say we’ve reached the saturation point yet, but we’re getting close.

• Here’s an interesting question: If, as many believe, Alabama coach Nick Saban is actively considering the Texas job, who would be the leading candidate at ‘Bama? All I know is it would take someone very brave to follow that act.

• Are you reading, Les Miles? Seriously, how funny would it be if Miles jumped from LSU to ‘Bama? Talk about the entire SEC going into shock.

• Injuries have prevented him from staying in the Heisman conversation, but Georgia’s Todd Gurley, with his rare combination of power and speed, is as impressive as any running back in the country.

• Michigan State’s defense is obviously one of the better units in the country. Maybe we’ll get a chance to see just how good it is in a match with Ohio State in the Big 10 title game.

• Auburn is 8-1 and already dreaming about its date with Alabama. But no matter what happens in that game, the Tigers’ Gus Malzahn is a strong candidate for national Coach of the Year.

• Illinois has lost 18 consecutive games in the Big 10? Really? Considering the caliber of high school talent in Chicago and the heart of the Midwest, it’s difficult to believe the Illini can be that bad.

• Did you catch the tipped, Hail Mary pass Nebraska pulled off to beat Northwestern with no time left on the clock? That, friends, is the definition of a tough loss.

Maty Mauk sounds more like a hip-hop artist than a college quarterback, but he’s starting to live up to his high school hype with some big performances for Missouri.

• If both are left out of the BCS title mess, a Florida State-Ohio State bowl matchup would easily be the second-most enticing game out there.

Adding a name to USC coaching derby

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

-- What this week’s Miami ruling proved is that the only organization in America more dysfunctional than Congress is the NCAA.

-- Losing nine scholarships compared to USC’s 30? Really? What would the penalty have been if the Hurricanes’ entire squad had admitted to accepting illegal benefits? Ten scholarships?

[+] EnlargeSteve Mariucci
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty ImagesShould Steve Mariucci's name be in the mix at USC?
-- Here’s a name no one has mentioned in the USC coaching derby: Steve Mariucci. Once one of the hot, young coaches in America, he was Brett Favre’s quarterback coach with the Packers, the head coach one year at Cal, then moved on to the NFL and had some good years in San Francisco, where he beat out Pete Carroll, among others, for the head job. Currently a broadcaster for the NFL Network, he has the style and the look and was strongly considered for the Trojans’ position before Mike Garrett opted for Lane Kiffin.

-- One of the main reasons USC’s secondary is struggling is because of the early departure of Nickell Robey, the terrific cornerback whom you might have seen returning an interception for a touchdown for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

-- Maybe it’s just a freshman thing now. Certainly, Florida State’s “Famous Jameis” Winston has vaulted right up near the top of the Heisman Trophy rankings with that spectacular performance against Clemson. First Johnny Manziel and now Winston? It’s possible, although Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is still No. 1 on most lists.

-- How tough is the transition from college football to the NFL? Just ask Matt Barkley. I’m sure that ugly, three interception afternoon on Sunday wasn’t the way the former USC star dreamed his debut would go.

-- For all his unquestioned athletic ability, I thought UCLA’s Brett Hundley showed for the first time against Stanford that he’d probably be wise to stick around another year before becoming a first-round draft pick. Mechanically, there are still some things he needs to refine.

-- By the way, that jaw-dropping, one-handed catch by Stanford’s Kodi Whitfield against the Bruins wasn’t just the play of the week. It was the college football play of the year.

-- OK, I agree. It is time to start taking Baylor seriously. You keep dropping 70 points on other people and you have to be pretty good.

-- For all those who admire the late Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson, it’s difficult to believe what has happened to the program at Grambling State.

-- I’m still trying to digest the fact that Washington State’s Connor Halliday put the ball in the air 89 times against Oregon. I remember when some quarterbacks barely threw the ball 89 times in a season.

-- How quickly things change in the Pac-12. A week ago, UCLA was being mentioned as a top five BCS bowl candidate and a possible national title contender. This week, the Bruins are 22-point underdogs at Oregon.

-- Talk about contrast in styles. This week’s Stanford at Oregon State matchup is a duel between the Cardinal’s old-fashioned power game and the Beavers’ Sean Mannion, throw –it-all-over-the-yard philosophy. The surprise is that Mike Riley’s pass-crazy team is the one with the undefeated conference record.

-- Wonder what the late Bo Schembechler would have thought of Michigan’s 63-47 victory over Indiana? The two teams combined for 63 first downs and 1,323 yards of offense. Come to think of it, I know what Bo would have thought and you couldn’t repeat it on a family website.

-- Back when running backs were still considered serious Heisman candidates, Wisconsin’s young bull of a tailback, Melvin Gordon, would have been right up there in the polls.

-- It is a little early to start talking Coach of the Year, but whenever the conversation begins, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn should be included.

-- Jack Nicklaus’s grandson, Nick O’Leary, is one powerful, impressive-looking tight end for Florida State. Wonder what the kid can do with a driver in his hands?

Notre Dame a must-win for Orgeron 

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
8:00
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They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

• If popular Ed Orgeron hopes to build a groundswell of support to retain his current job as USC’s head coach, he has to beat Notre Dame. It’s that simple.


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Just how good is the USC defense? 

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
6:00
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They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

This is the week we begin to find out about USC’s defense. Has it really improved as much as it has appeared so far? Or has it just looked good against inferior competition? Utah State’s high-powered offense should provide the first clues …

The oddsmakers know. Even with all the Trojans’ gaudy defensive stats, they opened as only 6 1/2-point favorites at home …

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Kessler provides hope for USC fans 

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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LOS ANGELES - - USC sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler might not be Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel at the moment, but his impressive performance in a critical 35-7 victory over Boston College brought much-needed hope, if not temporary sanity, to the legions of Trojans fans.

After the previous week’s Washington State disaster, the Trojans, thanks to Kessler -- who was supported by standout performances from his tailbacks and an impregnable defense -- looked more like the USC Trojans of yesteryear.

But will it last?


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Sharing his opinions 

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
5:00
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They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

• Everyone has his own list of possible 2014 USC coaching candidates if the Trojans’ season continues in its current sad direction. Mine would be: 1. Chris Petersen, Boise State. 2. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern. 3. Gary Patterson, TCU. My wild card, and maybe most intriguing choice of all, would be Jon Gruden, if he’d somehow consider it …

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