The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline. Due to volume — and in some cases, the need for research — not all questions will be answered the week of submission. Thanks for your understanding.
Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What team is going to end up being much better than we thought after Week Three? — @HugoRighteous
Two come to mind: Oregon State and Utah.
Let’s start with the Beavers.
The narratives in the North thus far are Oregon’s apparent dominance, Washington’s woeful start, Nick Rolovich’s vaccine stance and Stanford’s climb out of the Week One gutter.
The Beavers are just churning along, off the radar, making adjustments, getting better.
Exactly what factors led to starting Sam Noyer at Purdue, we cannot say. But it’s clear Chance Nolan is the right quarterback for OSU’s scheme and personnel. He’s comfortable in the offense, he can make all the throws and, crucially, the roster has responded to him.
The Beavers are stout enough up front to run the ball effectively on a weekly basis and have enough playmakers to compete with any team in the conference. The defense doesn’t have to be airtight, but it cannot be a turnstile.
(Jonathan Smith’s deft use of the transfer portal has allowed OSU to close the talent gap; six or eight years ago, the process would have taken far longer.)
There might be a lane available to challenge Oregon for the division title — we’ll know much more after the Ducks visit Stanford next week — but second place is clearly wide open. Don’t discount the potential for OSU to fill that spot.
In the South, the major storylines are USC’s coaching change, UCLA’s ascent, Arizona State’s issues with penalties and the NCAA, and Arizona’s complete collapse.
Utah was in the news earlier this week for all the wrong — and right — reasons.
Wrong, because its starting quarterback for the first three games, Charlie Brewer, abruptly left the team.
Right, because the Utes made the necessary change at quarterback: Cam Rising gives them a chance to win the division.
It’s not all on Rising’s shoulders. The play on both lines of scrimmage must improve, and the offense needs to create an identity. But Rising could help on both fronts if he displays the accuracy and confidence we saw in the final minutes against San Diego State.
Utah typically excels at complementary football: The running game helps the passing game, and both set up the defense for success; the defense, usually well rested, provides the offense with advantageous field position and the security that comes from not feeling like it has to score every possession to win.
Remove one piece — efficient quarterback play, for example — and there’s a ripple effect.
Even though the Utes are 1-2, we aren’t counting them out just yet.
Who is the best team in the Pac-12 South? — @Ashleyrgsports
My hunch is UCLA, and we’ll have more insight Saturday after their date with Stanford. But I hesitate to eliminate any of four teams. USC, Utah and Arizona State could win the division title, as well.
Utah’s quarterback switch gives the offense a chance.
ASU needs to match a talented roster with better discipline.
And USC could swing in any number of directions after the coaching change.
The primary issue for UCLA, in our opinion, is Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s turnover count. If he stays under one per game, on average, over the nine conference games, the Bruins will be tough to beat.
But as we have seen from DTR over the years, ball control is an issue.
Why does (SEC commissioner) Greg Sankey do what’s in the best interest for his conference but then pretend that other conferences shouldn’t look out for themselves? — @bigAfromtheBrae
You know the old saying that all politics is local? Well, it’s the same at the commissioner level.
Every other commissioner, if placed in Sankey’s position, would have done exactly the same thing with Texas and Oklahoma.
Each conference has unique advantages, challenges and dynamics. And each commissioner is working in the best interest of his conference, regardless of whatever magnanimous public statements they might utter.
The only way to reach common ground on the CFP is for everyone to give up something. Who gives up what is the question.
How much of the Pac-12’s struggles come down to playing a limited 2020 schedule compared to other conferences? They all seem stuck in low gear. — @darvintwin
I think the COVID-shortened season is absolutely part of the explanation and addressed that issue earlier this week.
What do you think of players starting their own cryptocurrencies? — @LocustAutoX
I have no problem with it; crypto is a part of college athletics.
Schools are signing sponsorship deals with crypto exchanges.
Players are signing crypto deals under Name, Image and Likeness rules.
Heck, coaches are even using crypto to pay recruits under the table, according to our sources in the recruiting world.
It’s reality at every level of college athletics, unless or until someone says it isn’t. And that someone won’t be the NCAA. It would have to be the federal government.
Following up on your Pac-12 Stock Report, why doesn’t the Pac-12 Network release its viewer data? How does *not* sharing this data help? Do advertisers get viewer data? Could they share it if they wanted? — @BruinSharman
First, the networks do discuss relevant viewer data with their sponsorship and advertising partners; it would be difficult to agree on contract terms without some exchange of information.
But yes, there is a longstanding policy to not disclose the data to the public. For that reason, the games on the Pac-12 Networks never show up in college football ratings databases such as SportsMediaWatch.
Why that is, I cannot say for certain. But my strong suspicion is that had the numbers reflected well on the networks, former commissioner Larry Scott would have found a way to make them known.
What end-of-season record would it take for Washington coach Jimmy Lake to lose his job? — @LiveInHothAK
Lake isn’t losing his job, at least not at the end of this season.
He might have to make some staff changes, particularly on offense. But barring a scandal of some sort, his job is safe.
Remember, he won the division last year. Yes, it was a short season, but a division title is a division title. Also, most of his first year was swallowed whole by the pandemic. And he was the no-brainer choice to replace Chris Petersen.
As gloomy as the situation on the field and the recruiting trail might seem to UW fans, Lake’s job is safe for three or four seasons.
Has David Shaw ever considered having his offense ready to go when the season starts, instead of treating the first two weeks as NFL preseason games and letting position battles linger way beyond camp? McCaffrey vs. Northwestern, this QB battle, other QB battles, etc. — @WorkishFromHome
There sure have been some slow starts and offensive clunkers over the years:
— Stanford lost its first game against an FBS opponent in 2014, scoring a whopping 10 points against USC.
— A year later, we were treated to the 16-6 loss at Northwestern in Week One.
— In 2017, the Cardinal handled mighty Rice in the opener, then lost back-to-back games to USC and San Diego State.
— And in 2019, after an opening win over Northwestern, Stanford dropped three in a row.
The quarterback situation has been a frequent issue, with numerous in-season changes:
Ryan Burns to Keller Chryst … Chryst to KJ Costello … Costello to Mills … and now Jack West to Tanner McKee. Mills was the only member of that group who didn’t regress in his second or third season. (We’ll see how McKee holds up over time.)
The evidence suggests slow starts are a part of the program’s DNA, not an outlier. I assume Shaw has examined his offseason and training camp routines and attempted to rectify the situation — with sub-optimal results, it seems.
One thing is abundantly clear: Neither Shaw or his players responds well to 9 a.m. kickoffs.
Is Arizona going to win a game this year? Will Jedd Fisch be able to recruit? — @Jamieclemons1
A month ago, my answer would have been, “Of course, the Wildcats will win one game. They might even win two or three.”
A week ago, my answer would have been, “Sure, they’ll win at least one.”
Now, I’m skeptical. How can you not be?
The only team that looks fragile enough to lose to Arizona is Colorado, which has a six-win defense but a zero-win offense.
The Wildcats play CU in a few weeks. That’s the game to win, for both teams.
But regardless of Arizona’s record this season, I believe Fisch will recruit well enough over time — thank you, transfer portal — to compile a roster capable of winning four or five games. That’s a long way from seven or eight, but it’s a start.
Then again, recruiting success is only half the formula. You have to coach well, too.
What’s the buzz on Washington State coach Nick Rolovich getting vaccinated? And if he doesn’t, will he be fired? It’s obvious by now that he isn’t a Division I coach. — @Rip49814103
Rolovich was asked again this week about the vaccine and once again declined to offer an answer that will satisfy his critics.
Washington state employees in higher education are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 “as a condition of employment.”
Rolovich has missed the window for the Pfizer and Moderna shots but has said he will comply with the mandate. Which means he must get the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine by Oct. 4 or receive an exemption for religious or medical reasons … or be subject to termination.
Let’s assume for the moment that he doesn’t qualify for one of the exemptions. Would the Cougars actually fire him on or around Oct. 19?
Here are WSU president Kirk Schulz’s comments to his faculty, via Pullman radio: “Nobody’s getting a free pass here because of who they are or what job they do.”
At the same time, Schulz emphasized that every employee must be treated the same — that salary and position don’t shape the response.
Honestly, I have no idea how this will end.
Besides winning, what can Utah do to improve its brand both in conference and among other Power Fives? — @benwilkinson
That’s pretty much it.
The Utes have expanded their stadium; they have upgraded their training facilities and player amenities; they have a passionate fan base; and they have won — just not quite enough.
To take the brand to the next level, the Utes need to reach the next level: They need a conference championship and playoff or Rose Bowl appearance.
When will USC hire Urban Meyer? — @mytweets123413
When he is reincarnated as someone else.
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