Hotline Mailbag – Breaking down Utah-Florida and Oregon-Georgia, Shaw’s job security and more

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)

The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to 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.

Oregon over Georgia and/or Utah over Florida in Week One? — @spadilly

There are 148 days until Sept. 3, the first Saturday of the football season. It features two momentous games for the Pac-12, both against the SEC and both on hostile ground.

We expect a split, with Utah winning at Florida and Oregon losing to Georgia.

Let’s take a deeper dive …

— Oregon vs. Georgia (in Atlanta)

If continuity matters in season openers, the Ducks face an immense challenge.

They are effectively playing a road game against the defending national champions and doing so with a rookie head coach, new offense, new quarterback, and new starters at key positions on both sides of scrimmage.

Sure, the Bulldogs lost a slew of mega-talents off the nation’s best defense, and Ducks coach Dan Lanning, who coordinated the unit last season, undoubtedly will have a smart plan of attack against his former players.

But Georgia is replacing blue-chip prospects with blue-chip prospects. The ’22 lineup will include the best defensive tackle in the land (Jalen Carter), an elite edge rusher (Nolan Smith), and a future first-round pick at cornerback (Kelee Ringo).

Offensively, the Bulldogs have the best tight end in the sport (Brock Bowers) and a veteran quarterback who carved up Michigan and Alabama in the playoff (Stetson Bennett).

And let’s not forget, coach Kirby Smart and play-caller Todd Monken will have a keen sense for attacking Lanning’s defense given that Lanning’s defense was essentially Smart’s defense.

If we cross-match the lineups, the following outlook results:

Oregon’s revamped offense should struggle against another loaded Georgia defense; while Oregon’s stout front seven will hold its own against a Georgia offense that suffered significant attrition at the skill positions and lost two all-SEC offensive linemen (Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer).

In other words, there’s a better chance it’s low scoring than high scoring and more likely the Bulldogs win than lose.

Our call: Georgia 27, Oregon 17

— Utah at Florida

The reverse of Oregon-Georgia in every respect save the geography.

Florida has a new head coach (Billy Napier, hired away from Louisiana), along with new offensive and defensive coordinators and a new quarterback. Emory Jones, who started down the stretch in 2021, recently entered the transfer portal.

In other words, the Gators have experienced immense turnover since their 6-7 season.

And unlike Georgia, they don’t have elite recruiting classes stacked one upon another — the biggest criticism of former coach Dan Mullen was his indifferent approach to recruiting.

Meanwhile, Utah is the epitome of stability with coach Kyle Whittingham and Co. returning for another year and a veteran quarterback, Cam Rising, who led the Utes to their first Pac-12 championship.

Utah must establish playmakers on the perimeter but is well set at tailback, tight end and along the offensive line.

The defense should be stout, especially with the defensive backs — and we’d argue that with the exception of quarterback, continuity in the secondary is the best predictor of early-season success.

A single miscommunication by inexperienced players on the back line can lead to the game-turning touchdown.

The kickoff time hasn’t been set, but Utah assuredly wants the latest possible start in order to avoid a steam bath in The Swamp.

But I’m not sure weather is reason enough to favor Florida given all the personnel advantages Utah possesses. And it’s worth noting that several Utes are from SEC country, including presumptive starting linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, who transferred in three months ago after starting 10 games last season for … Florida.

Our call: Utah 31, Florida 20

What should I think about Washington State’s new offensive coaching staff? Eric Morris seems like the exact kind of offensive coordinator that should succeed in Pullman. — @SirCharles_OG

You should be cautiously optimistic.

WSU’s broad strategy is to mix the best of the Mike Leach era with the best of the post-Mike Leach era.

On defense, the Cougars will use the system coach Jake Dickert deployed successfully last year as the coordinator and interim head coach. (The Cougars were fifth in the conference in points allowed per game.)

On offense, the Cougars will use a version of the Air Raid, which was so successful under Leach and plays to WSU’s recruiting strength (receivers).

Morris knows the Air Raid well, having played for Leach at Texas Tech and coached under Leach in Pullman for a season.

Morris also knows his quarterback well: Transfer Cameron Ward spent the past two seasons playing for Morris at Incarnate Word.

Given the meshing of playcaller, playbook and quarterback, the Cougars should have a fairly seamless transition.

Ultimately, their success offensively will depend on health and the play of the offensive line, which makes WSU’s situation not the slightest bit unique.

Is David Shaw’s job in jeopardy if he doesn’t propel Stanford to a bowl? — @BrianLa03961570

Absolutely not.

We could list a handful of reasons that are specific to Shaw. Instead, think about this:

Stanford didn’t fire basketball coach Jerod Haase after his sixth season without an NCAA Tournament bid or Pac-12 regular season or tournament championship.

How could the university justify keeping Haase while dismissing the winningest football coach in school history who has had just two losing seasons in a decade?

Those optics would be ghastly.

Many of the reasons for keeping Haase, including the challenges Stanford’s admissions process poses in the transfer portal era, also apply to football. The Cardinal can lose players anytime, but replacing them is extremely difficult.

We’re not suggesting the immediate future is bright for the Cardinal, which has lost its edge on the line of scrimmage and doesn’t appear to have the personnel needed for a run at the division title.

But Shaw is essentially a tenured professor. He’ll leave when he wants to leave, whether that’s in a year or three years or whenever.

Any truth to the rumors that USC contacted the Big Ten last week and is currently talking with that conference on the possibility of joining the Big Ten? — @TerryTerry79

Not that we are aware, but let’s step back for a moment and offer a qualifier.

Is it possible that representatives of USC’s interests (either sanctioned or unsanctioned) have been in contact with representatives of the Big Ten? Of course.

The Big Ten is currently negotiating its next media rights deal. It would only make sense for back-channel conversations to occur and for the people having those conversations to babble about it.

That doesn’t mean USC’s administration — in particular: president Carol Folt, athletic director Mike Bohn and board chair Rick Caruso — is actively looking to leave the Pac-12.

We believe USC’s strong preference is to remain in the conference. If anything, the change in commissioners helped solidify the situation.

Did I miss something? Isn’t it time for (the Hotline to publish) Pac-12 basketball report cards? And the results aren’t good. Arizona gets an A+ for far exceeding expectations, but there are a lot of Cs and Ds. — @boscpenn83

You haven’t missed anything; the Hotline simply didn’t publish a report card for Pac-12 basketball teams.

Why? Your assessment — “a lot of Cs and Ds” — is the primary reason.

When considering all the components that would make up a report card (regular season and postseason, injuries, non-conference results, expectations vs. record), it was a fair-to-middlin’ season for everyone except Arizona (good) and Oregon State (bad).

However, we’re planning to publish a Hot Seat assessment next week. Looking ahead to the 2022-23 season, at least five coaches will be under significant pressure to win.

Please explain Cal’s decision not to fire Mark Fox. — @thomas_ob

There are two levels to the decision, in our opinion:

From a practical standpoint, Fox spent his first season cleaning up the giant mess inherited from Wyking Jones and his second and third seasons dealing with COVID and the accompanying restrictions, which were more stringent in Berkeley than anywhere else.

One could credibly argue that Fox deserves at least one normal coaching cycle (including offseason workouts) before judgment is rendered.

Beyond that, there’s the personal piece: Athletic director Jim Knowlton hired Fox and surely wants to give his head coach every opportunity to succeed. In that regard, Knowlton is hardly alone. Extreme circumstances are required for an athletic director to fire his/her head coach after just a few seasons.

That said, it’s difficult to see a path to success for the Bears. Fox simply isn’t recruiting at the level necessary to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth.

But there again, context is required. Fox is dealing with more than COVID: The transfer portal is a challenge — both Bay Area schools are struggling with it — and Cal’s resources are substandard, especially with the lack of a dedicated basketball practice facility.

I’d argue that Cal is the toughest coaching job in the Pac-12 as currently structured, with the possible exception of Oregon State.

Transfer portal winners and losers? Rank the teams of the Pac-12. — @AlexAvelarPW

To date, USC is the clear No. 1 within the conference and arguably in the country.

But — and this might be difficult to believe — it’s too early for a comprehensive assessment of the transfer classes.

We expect more movement at the close of spring practice after returning players have assessed their status on the depth chart and first-year coaches have seen the talent in person.

The deadline for players to transfer is May 1 in order to be eligible in the fall.

The Hotline will publish a full breakdown after that point.

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