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Mailbag: USC hopes? Pac-12 scheduling? Kicker gripes

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the questions!

John writes: I remember when USC was playing at Auburn to start the season in 2003. Maybe it was because I was in my early 20s but that game seemed to have waaay more hype than this time. Is it really a foregone conclusion that Alabama wins this game? I understand the d-line issues for USC, but they have some young LB talent that is moving to DE in Clancy Pendergast defense. Alabama is strong, and has recruited well (save for the defections of the 2015 class, I think), but the USC o-line against the 'Bama d- line might be the biggest driver of who wins this .... and USC should have a great o-line. I can't wait.

Ted Miller: John, first of all, I salute your optimism and enthusiasm. For one, it helps pay the bills at Chez Ted.

While some Pac-12 folks gripe about USC arrogance, it feels as if the past seven or so years of struggle and abortive hopes have beaten that down a bit, and I miss that sense of entitlement. There's a USC fan who plays that game in the comments section and it feels as if folks mostly just pat him on the head and find him amusing.

While I don't recall the Auburn-USC game having more hype surrounding it, if it did there were a few good reasons. For one, back then a matchup of top-10 foes -- Auburn was ranked No. 6, USC eighth -- in a nonconference game was as rare as an Asian Crested Ibis, which Google just told me is very rare indeed. Even rarer was an SEC team playing a home-and-home with a Pac-10 team, which tended to mean the SEC team was gonna get a whipping.

(Before you get made SEC folks, just look it up -- Pac-10 vs. SEC, home-and-home).

If it seems as if there's less hype for USC-Alabama, part of the reason is the opening weekend is so laden with great matchups. The Trojans and Crimson Tide are sharing the stage.

But, yes, another part of the game not scintillating as much as perhaps it should is the seeming certainty that top-ranked Alabama, the defending national champion, will prevail. While you note the strength-on-strength matchup of the USC O-line versus the Alabama defensive front, the line matchup going the other way seems a huge mismatch in favor of the Tide.

Of course, USC is talented enough to win, it just feels unlikely. To me, two numbers should stand out: rushing yards and turnovers. If USC beats Alabama in both, we could have a huge upset on our hands.

Craig writes: You (and others) have written a fair amount about the Pac12's rigorous 9-game conference schedule and how it negatively impacts the conference's chance to send a team to the CFP, but something that's been mostly ignored is how the Pac12's own interconference scheduling with regards to the California schools isn't doing those programs any favors. Specifically, when the conference expanded and created the North/South divisions, the Pac12 agreed to preserve the California rivalries so that both Stanford and Cal would continue to play both UCLA and USC every season. The result, of course, is an unbalanced conference schedule with regard to the other eight members of the conference. For example, this season Stanford plays all of its North division foes (including Oregon, Washington, and Washington State) as well as UCLA and USC, and "misses" Utah and Arizona State. As a Stanford alum and season ticket holder, I'll admit I was one of those who favored maintaining the California rivalries at the time of expansion, but now I'm not so sure the value outweighs the detriment.

Ted Miller: Craig, I actually feel like I bring this up fairly often: Without question, the California schools' desire to play one another every year hurts them and helps the rest of the conference.

The reason the California schools do this is their fans love their weekenders. Fans in L.A. love to go north, and fans in the Bay Area love to go south. It's about tradition and fun more than strategic scheduling.

Typically, when I've written about this as a not very smart thing in the big picture, fans have written back telling me to stick it where the sun don't shine. How ingrained is this attitude in the old guard? Consider this quote from former USC AD Pat Haden when the Pac-12 was in its pre-divisions infancy:

"The alignment that got 7 votes was one that puts USC/UCLA, the Arizona schools and Col/Utah in the same division. I told them my alumni will kill me if we don't play the Northern California schools and have the weekender every year. I proposed a 5-2-2 model that has us playing the five schools (UCLA, AZ schools and Col/Utah) every year and then have the Northern California schools as part of our regular two and then rotate the other two. We need to play Stanford and Cal."

The coaches for the California schools, by the way, are not big fans, though they are reluctant to complain too much because they might alienate fans or just sound whiny.

Still, in the North Division, it's clear that Stanford and Cal always playing USC and UCLA means fewer games with USC and UCLA for the other four teams, which tends to make their schedules easier. In the South, missing Stanford certainly has made life a bit easier since expansion.

As for ending this tradition, it would be easy. If the four school presidents/athletic directors at the California schools told the Pac-12 offices that they were done with it, the Pac-12 office would go, "OK."

Phil from San Luis Obispo, California, writes: How is it that Andy Phillips is the preseason all American but not the pre-season all PAC 12 kicker? How does that make any sense? The only reason I can think of is that the Utes already had four other all PAC 12 candidates and if you gave them five that would put them above everyone else. Of course this wouldn't fit the narrative of over hyping the LA schools that the media loves to do so you thought you'd throw Oregon a bone. Seriously though, please explain

Ted Miller: OK.

Last year, Oregon's Aidan Schneider was the first-team All-Pac-12 kicker, as voted by the conference coaches. He led the conference in scoring. He connected on 22 of 24 field goal attempts with a long of 47 yards, and made all 67 of his extra point attempts.

Andy Phillips was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014 and was brilliant, but he was only honorable mention last year -- UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbaim was second team, in large part because he booted a 60-yard field goal.

Phillips made 23 of 27 field goal attempts with a long of 53 yards and also didn't miss any of his 47 PATs. Also great numbers but slightly less great than Schneider.

It's not an easy call because Phillips is outstanding, but it also feels like the right call. At least in the preseason.