Tuesday mailbag: Week 1 upsets?

Happy Friday!

Wait … what the … it’s 6 a.m. on Tuesday and there’s a mailbag. What gives?

As promised, during the season we’ll be running two mailbags a week. I’ll do mine on Tuesdays -- with an emphasis on looking back over the weekend -- and Ted will do his during the standard time on Fridays with the focus looking ahead. It’s going to be too early for me to field complaints, so those are best reserved for Ted’s Friday mailbag.

However, if Saturday night or Sunday morning you can’t wait to thump your chest about your team or simply need a virtual shoulder to cry on, fire off a note to the mailbag.

To the notes!

Andy in Los Angeles writers: Any Week 1 upsets on your radar?

Kevin Gemmell: Pac-12 teams being upset? Or Pac-12 teams upsetting others? Because I could see a couple going either way.

The one that jumps out immediately is Utah State at Utah. If you recall, that game last year set the downward trajectory for Utah’s season. The Aggies welcome back 18 starters from a team that went 11-2, including their quarterback and their entire offensive line. Anytime you have that combination, there has to be cause for concern. Just as we’ve been saying the Boise State game is a tone-setter for Washington, this too is a big one for the Utes.

Nevada is a team that gave the Pac-12 fits last year, but I don’t see UCLA losing that one and the rest of the favorites should win.

I think Washington State could make a little noise in Auburn. Am I going to pick them (13.5 point underdogs)? Not sure yet. I rolled the dice on the Cougs in last year’s season opener and got scorched.

Technically, Washington is a favorite, despite playing a ranked team. So if Boise wins, that might be an upset if you’re betting M&Ms and chewing gum. But I think if the Huskies win that one, it will be viewed as an upset in the national media and a huge confidence boost to start the season. And that's an upset that is entirely possible.

Jeff in Boston writes: Hi Kevin, First and foremost, thank GOD football is back, and thanks for the blog! You and Ted have ASU, UCLA, and USC ranked 3, 4, 5 in your most recent power rankings. Those are based on where you see them ending the season, right? I know you have mentioned UCLA is being ranked lower because of their tough schedule. Would it be possible to get your opinion on where you would rank them if the teams were playing this weekend (would you take SC over UCLA and ASU neutral site, making USC 3rd best, etc.)? In other words, who would win the games between those three if they played now?

Kevin Gemmell: The power rankings are actually based on where we think the teams are this week, not necessarily where we think they’ll end up. Though, since it’s the first one of the year and there haven’t been any games played yet, Ted and I basically went with our preseason Media Day ballots to fill it out. Expect the power rankings to fluctuate quite a bit from week to week.

Interesting question – if these teams were to play each other on neutral fields this week, who would win.

USC is the great unknown right now because they would be playing two quarterbacks -- which is the plan for Hawaii. So I would give UCLA and ASU the nod over USC this week simply because of the quarterback question mark for the Trojans. I’m also excited to see what USC’s defense looks like, but until we actually see it in action, that too is an unknown.

ASU vs. UCLA this week on a neutral field would be a fascinating game. Though much like USC has question marks, so do the Bruins – particularly in the defensive secondary and at running back. I think the Nevada game provides a nice tune-up for the Bruins. It’s a winnable game, though tough enough that Nevada will bite back.

ASU has the fewest question marks, so as of today, my best guess is ASU would beat either team on a neutral field given the experience they have coming back.

Uh oh Chongo in Danger Island writes: Who will be the head football coach at USC for the 2014 season?

Kevin Gemmell: We at the Pac-12 blog certainly never wish ill will upon someone. And we tend to consume our beverages from the glass that is half full.

So I’m going to say that Lane Kiffin’s seat will cool off after a season of marked improvement on both sides of the ball. The Trojans will likely start the year 4-0, setting the stage for a fun matchup in the desert against ASU with Pac-12 South title implications. Winning one of their two big rivalry games – at Notre Dame or home to UCLA – would certainly go a long way toward reuniting the fanbase. But so long as the Trojans win at least eight games, knock off one of those two rivals and we don’t have any off-the-field issues (deflated balls, number swapping, poll deception, etc.) then I think he'll be safe. Anything less than that, however, and it starts to get dicey.

Ryan in Tempe writes: Which teams according to their schedules do you believe will get off to the hottest start in the PAC-12?

Kevin Gemmell: I’ve said that I think Oregon State has a really good shot at starting the year 7-0. Of those first seven, I think Utah and San Diego State present the toughest challenges – especially because both are on the road – but the Beavers should be considerable favorites in the rest of their games before they host Stanford on Oct. 26.

Arizona can take the first three weeks to get its quarterback situated and Marcus Mariota might not see a second half until the Ducks travel to Washington on Oct. 12. USC, as noted above, should also have a good start.

Eric from nowhere writes: Hey Kevin, I just wanted to hear why you picked Ohio State as your number one team. They struggled through quite a bit of games last year and will only be returning 4 starters on D.Thanks,Eric

Kevin Gemmell: Fair question. As Ted noted, we submitted those several weeks back – I think around the end of June or early July, and if memory serves, I was pretty torn between Ohio State, Alabama, Stanford or Oregon. But here’s what stuck out to me. Obviously, having Braxton Miller back is huge. I think he’s comparable to a Marcus Mariota or Brett Hundley in terms of athleticism – though I think the two Pac-12 guys are superior passers. But he has four of his offensive linemen returning – which is huge. I put a lot of stock into how many starters are back on the offensive line. More often than not, it’s a good predictor for success.

Second, Urban Meyer can coach. Just ask our friends at Utah. And yes – they did play in some tight games last year – but they also went undefeated, which is incredibly difficult to do. Especially when there was little to no motivation to do so because of their bowl ban.

It was also their first year with a new head coach. Those who are back (nine on offense) are almost certain to be stronger in their second season under Meyer.

Losing their starting four up front certainly gave me pause. But their secondary might be the second best in the country only to Oregon’s.

While I certainly put effort into researching my ballot, I also realize that preseason polls aren’t worth much. We’re working off of defunct data and speculation. The preseason poll is one of the most arbitrary exercises in all of sports. I understand the need for it, though I think the better system would be to start polling around Week 5 or 6. That’s just me.

I think Ohio State is capable of running the table and getting to the national championship game – just as I think Alabama could, Oregon could and Stanford could. It’s a four-sided coin in my mind, right now. It’s also entirely possible that Ohio State is this year’s USC – coming off of sanctions and the Buckeyes completely tank. By Week 5 or 6 we’ll have a clearer picture.

Paul in Renton, Wash. writes: Kevin, Buddy, pal, co-host of the best blog in the biz: it's been 201 days since your last chat. I look forward to your chats almost as much as I look forward to the start of college football season. When's the next chat? Your readers demand it! Thanks, Paul

Kevin Gemmell: Paul, chum, compatriot, cohort. Thanks for doing the math on that. Glad you asked. Chats start back up tomorrow with me and then Ted on Thursday. As always, we’ll send out a reminder.