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Mailbag: Fiesta Bowl edition

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Who will be the best player on the field tomorrow? And where is Brad?

Oregon State v Washington
Will Vita Vea be the best player on the field at the Fiesta Bowl?
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Yes, I’m still here. And, yes, that means no fun facts.

The good news is that I imagine that Brad will return to his duties one of these days. I’m estimating sometime between tomorrow and the return of the Oregon Ducks to football prominence.

Speaking of which, how about them Cougs?

Let’s get this show started.

jega

What is your Fiesta Bowl final prediction and MVP? Mine's Washington over Penn State 59-22. MVP Award to Myles Gaskin.

Chris:

Here is my prediction for the game.

Tpero1

Let’s assume that Hunter Bryant plays and he contributes to the game with a couple catches for about 50 yards. Would you say that UW would stay with the run for most of the game or try and air it out down the field more? Also, could we see taller receivers like Ty Jones, Will Dissly and Brayden Lenius have more of a role if they tried to get the passing game going?

Chris: The presence of Hunter Bryant would do little, if anything, to change the nature of the offensive gameplan for UW in the Fiesta Bowl. At this point in his tenure, we know what Chris Petersen wants to do with his offense. The presence of any particular personnel over another simply creates options within that scheme.

Fresno State v Washington
Hunter Bryant returning to health is a wild card for UW in the Fiesta Bowl.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

There are a couple of wildcards that do get on the table when you have a guy like Bryant available. The first is that the Jake Browning is going to have an increased chance of finding an open option on some of the plays called that are designed to generate an explosive. To the fan’s eye, this might look like more plays of “airing it out” when, in truth, it is just a couple of less plays in which Browning took the check down.

The other is the element of the trick play. We saw Dante Pettis a few times a year ago become a passer in the UW offense (4 attempts including a TD pass). He’s had just one attempt this year (a completion for 36 yards against Fresno State) which can be partially explained by the fact that he wouldn’t have many options to throw to were he to chuck it. Practically speaking, he can’t pass it to himself. Bryant’s presence puts the option pass back on the table.

As to the taller receivers, I think you might see more out of Ty Jones in the game. Not because of any tactical advantage over Penn State but because the bowl practices might have allowed him more time to strike up a rapport with Browning.

ATotalWimp

Does it surprise you that the Fiesta Bowl will feature the two best coaching hires from the 2013-2014 (off)season? I went over the list (https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2014/1/30/5357306/college-football-coaching-carousel-grades-2013-2014) and Franklin and Petersen definitely look like the toast of the class.

Chris: Not at all. It’s also not surprising that these two teams look like the next two in line to break into that CFB aristocracy of programs expected to be in contention for the NY6 ever season. And thanks for the link.

Anon

Compare UW penalties for summer jobs vs Penn State penalties?

Chris: I get that some fans want to bludgeon Penn State the 2017 football program over the sins committed by coaches, administrators and school officials with whom they’ve never corresponded or interacted. After all, the crimes were among the most heinous we’ve seen not just in college athletics but in society.

But this isn’t that program. I’d no sooner associate Franklin with Paterno than I would Angela Merkel with Adolph Hitler.

Let’s let this go and appreciate the path that our opponent’s program is traversing back to respectability.

Anon

Assistant coaches. What happens?

Chris: I assume that they will show up to the game, take their respective positions either on the sideline or in the pressbox, put on their headsets and, you know, coach.

Anon

19 signed so far. Who starts or gets in the two deeps next year?

Chris: If you are asking me if there are any players signed as of right now that look like locks to get into the two deeps, I think that there are a couple of possibilities.

The three wide receivers, in my opinion, are all strong candidates to play. I’d be shocked, in fact, if any one of Marquis Spiker, Austin Osbourne and Trey Lowe were redshirted.

On the defensive side, DT Sam Taimani may have to play out of necessity. LB Ale Kaho looks too good to keep off the field. Both the CBs, Dom Hamption and Kyler Gordon, may also be ready to contribute and might be needed based on depth.

Fan

What are your thoughts on an all SEC final?

Chris: I have a philosophical difference with the committee and the principle of the “four best” getting into the playoff. My general attitude is that if the idea is to make sure that the regular season games matter, than they should, you know, matter.

Thus, if a team like Alabama can’t even be the best team in its conference based on regular season results, it hasn’t earned, in my book, a place in the college football playoff. This concept should apply even if based on the “eyeball test” that team does look like one of the four best.

I guess what I’m saying is that there should be some element of meritocracy in the process. If there isn’t, then teams with unmatchable recruiting prowess like Alabama and Clemson will simply always get a pass. We should just pencil them in to every upcoming playoff from here through eternity.

Fan

Assess the PAC-12 bowl performance. Consider all of the implications for the yet to be played games.

Chris: Before last night, the PAC 12 has one win - Utah dominating over West Virginia - and three pretty ugly losses by Oregon (vs Boise State), UCLA (vs Kansas State) and Arizona (vs Purdue).

Let’s just say that those three losses don’t do much for the public perception of the PAC. But, they probably didn’t hurt too much either. Nobody pays much attention to those lower tier games and, even if they did, there isn’t a mad rush to characterize the conference based on them. Did anybody’s perception of the ACC change after Virginia got destroyed by Navy?

The two games last night hurt. WSU got crushed by Michigan State in their second straight Holiday Bowl defeat. Shortly thereafter, Stanford derps up the game against TCU that they had firmly in control going into the fourth quarter. That was the second time in three seasons that TCU has embarrassed a PAC 12 team.

The two games ahead can still change perceptions. USC vs Ohio State (Friday) and UW vs Penn State (Sat) are certain to draw attention to the relative strength of the Big Ten versus the PAC 12. If the P12 does well in both, I think all this talk about conference perception will be muted.

Fan

Does a 10 & 3 Army team finish ranked?

Chris: Does Dubs like bones?

ProsserDawg With the issues Azeem Victor has gone through do you think he's possibly a perfect candidate for the Hawks as an UDFA?? I know people will say there is more than just off field issues, he has on field ones as well but maybe Seattle could unlock some of that potential we had all seen in the past

Chris: Thanks to the reporting of Adam Jude and others, we know that Azeem Victor has been away from the team since his suspension. He’s been in San Diego preparing for the NFL Draft and possibly a combine invite.

At this point, I think it is fair to consider Victor as likely to not get drafted. I don’t think this has much to do with “off-the-field” issues as was the case with a guy like Vontaze Burfict a few years ago. The reality is that the play Victor put on tape this season wasn’t good.

The good news is that Victor has three other seasons worth of tape that he has produced that appear to support the idea that he is an NFL caliber middle linebacker.

I’ve looked at some of the scouting reports on Victor. Most seem to note that he plays strong for his size, is tough to block and is disciplined in assignments. They also note that he might not yet be big enough, doesn’t have great top end speed and needs to finish of tackles more reliably.

If his post season workouts indicate that his strengths are still there and / or that he has closed any of those gaps, I expect Azeem will be get a shot and might possibly be a late round draft pick.

ProsserDawg

Does Pete showcase Gaskin early and often like usual? Or will this be a tad different playing against a national powerhouse ?? I truly think Gaskin can and will outshine Barkley and help us secure the W!!! Go Dawgs

Chris: As I noted earlier, I think UW will play the same kind of offense that they’ve played all season. That would certainly involve a heavy dose of Myles Gaskin.

Washington State v Washington
Myles Gaskin is one of the most efficient RBs in the nation.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Whether or not Gaskin outshines Barkley remains to be seen. In truth, Gaskin is the kind of back that tends to go underappreciated by the media and the casual observer. His strength is in running efficiency. He rarely takes tackles for loss, he plays ahead of the chains more so than any other back not named Royce Freeman in the PAC and he is excellent in ball protection.

Barkley, on the other hand, is much more flashy though just as effective in ball security. He is much more dangerous in breaking off big plays and he is more of a threat as a receiver. That said, he does take more negative plays than does Gaskin.

Given all of that, I think what we’ll really be watching here is the relative effectiveness of each offensive line. UW’s has been stronger in the rushing attack than pass protection since Trey Adams was lost to injury. Penn State has had offensive line struggles all season. If either back outshines the other, I expect it will be more about the offensive line play than any particular heroics of either rusher.

Rhaego

Will Murphy shut down a receiver on Saturday? Do any of the freshmen take time from Bryant? Will that help?

Chris: At this point, I think that the roles of the defensive backs are pretty well set. The corner rotation begins with Austin Joyner, Byron Murphy on the outside and Bryant in the slot. After that, you’ll see some rotation of Taylor Rapp, Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor in coverage.

I wouldn’t characterize Murphy as a “shut down” corner. I see him as more a playmaking corner who other teams will test. He is still a freshman and he isn’t exactly the tallest guy out there. If I were an OC, I’d want to test him against my taller receivers and see if he is up to the challenge.

Fan

Top 5 players on the field Saturday, regardless of team?

Chris: Ok. I’ll bite.

Let’s do this from a “potential at the next level” point of view given that relative value to a team is really hard to judge.

Temple v Penn State
Mike Gesicki looks like an NFL tight end right now.
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

I’ll go: UW DT Vita Vea, PSU RB Saquon Barkley, PSU TE Mike Gesicki, UW LT Trey Adams and PSU S Marcus Allen (and, yes, I know that Trey Adams is injured, but he’ll technically be on the field).

I’d give honorable mentions to UW S Taylor Rapp, Penn State LB Jason Cabinda and UW WR/PR Dante Pettis.

Brad vs Chris

What does the Mailbag look like going forward?

Chris: I have a confession. It’s not exactly a real mailbag. It’s more like a Google form and a spreadsheet that we cut and paste into the SB Nation editing tool.

I imagine that it will continue to look the same for the foreseeable future, whether or not it is Brad or I behind the keyboard.

JoeinWSea

What makes you so certain that you're brilliant? I'm calling for an investigation into this fake news.

Chris: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Brilliance is more of an objective fact. That I can see it and you cannot is the answer to your question.

JoeinWSea

Does the Sandusky/Paterno stuff that Washington Post reported on today (Thursday) distract Penn State or is it just a sideshow that won't affect the players/fans?

Chris: It is a fair question and one that is a bit different than the one posed above (and, here is the link to the story for anybody interested)

I do not believe that the story itself is a distraction. The issues probably most difficult for James Franklin and his program center more on both the authentic need to heal and the ongoing (and somewhat distasteful) eruption of politics that have overwhelmed the entire state since the scandal broke.

The truth of the matter is that what happened at Penn State was a criminal issue that affected society and needed to be dealt with by society. The NCAA way overstepped its bounds with the idea that they could levy an exorbitant fine on a public institution funded in large part by state taxpayer money and not keep those funds serving the people who provided them.

In advancing this flawed agenda, they actually perpetuated the situation and created more problems for those trying to clean up the mess.

Therein lies the real distraction, if you ask me.

NFL McGee

A lot has been made of the characterizations of Chris Petersen going to other CFB teams, but what do you make of the talk of him going to the NFL?

Chris: Well, Matt, let me just say this:

I think I fall in the camp of Husky fans who don’t see Petersen ever being motivated by an NFL job. This notion might be based in bias. However, you don’t have to look too hard to see what aspects of being a coach really motivate the UW head man: influencing the lives of young people, developing skills, serving student athletes. None of these things translate into the NFL.

Now, do I think UW is Peteresen’s last job? That I’m not so sure of. It could be. But he’s still a young guy and, let’s face it, fanbases can be fickle when what is familiar to them fails to meet expectations (even the lofty kind). I hope it never comes to it, but I don’t think that we’ve reached the point where we can say Petersen has absolute job security in perpetuity.

UW FRESHY

How many yards does Barkley have on the day? How many times does Vita Vea take him down for a loss?

Chris: I cannot tell if you really want me to make a wild ass guess on something that is inherently impossible to predict or if you are looking for some comfort.

If it is the latter, I totally get it. Even matchups like this that happen in such visible venues like the Fiesta Bowl have a way of causing fan anxiety.

Let’s just say that I expect both Barkley and Vea to have big games for their respective teams.

BigDawg

When are we going to see a Reggie Williams type receiver recruited?

Chris: Reggie Williams was a rare kind of recruit for any program. It is rare to find a capable receiver with the kind of size and speed combination that he has in high school.

Still, I think UW has had some shots at some of those kinds of players since Petersen took over. The problem was that we swung and missed at guys like N’Keal Harry before Bush Hamdan and Matt Lubick came into town.

Now UW has guys in the mix that at least present a facsimile of the attributes that Williams brought to the table. Ty Jones is a legit 6’4” and 215 lbs. Hunter Bryant is really more of a receiver sitting in the tight end room. Incoming recruits Marquis Spiker and Austin Osbourne are both in the range of 6’3” and 185-190 pounds with skills to boot.

I’m not sure that there is a real “Reggie” in there, but these are multi-dimensional young players who will significantly affect the UW offense over the next few seasons.