Column: College football mailbag: L.A. teams face the heat, rankings roulette, SEC home cooking

UCLA Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins get ready to take the field against Arizona on Saturday night in Tucson.

UCLA Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins get ready to take the field against Arizona on Saturday night in Tucson.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Each week during the college football season, national analyst Chris Dufresne will burn a timeout to answer questions and exchange opinions. You can email him at and reach him at @DufresneLATimes on Twitter.

Imagine how big the scores would be on the Arizona teams if the L.A. schools weren’t affected by the Arizona heat.

Sam Valley


I credit UCLA Coach Jim Mora for holding training camp in miserably hot San Bernardino, which is historically connected to Arizona. San Bernardino was once the home of Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman of Tombstone, Ariz., who participated in the Shootout at the O.K. Corral.

I’m not sure why USC played so well at Arizona State, other than to note Steve Sarkisian had been taking considerable heat all summer.


When was the last time all four California teams (UCLA, USC, Cal, Stanford) were ranked in the same week — by the Associated Press and Dufresne?

Skip Nicholson

I took this on as a challenge and painstakingly went back, week-by-week, in the Associated Press archives to find the answer.

It took me about an hour, so I hope my dedication will lead to your sending me a fruitcake for Christmas.

I came up with the week of Oct. 6, 1992: UCLA (19), USC (20), Cal (24) and Stanford (11).

For what it’s worth, Washington was No. 1 that week.

The Dufresne (Rankman) poll dates back only to 1996 and all of his files, unfortunately, were sold a few years ago to a bird-cage lining company.

It has been a good year so far for Pac-12 Conference schools from California, but here’s a cautionary note: Utah defeated USC, UCLA and Stanford last season, and probably would have defeated Cal had the teams played.

Utah gets its chance against Cal on Oct. 10, in Salt Lake City.


Will the SEC sanction LSU for playing a road game? Aren’t there rules to prevent things like this?

Eric van der Burght

Let’s not lump all Southeastern Conference schools into the same nonconference pile. Louisiana State deserves credit for playing at Syracuse last week and came out with a hard-fought win. LSU has played at Wisconsin and Oregon in previous years and, in 2009, even played a nonconference game at Washington.

Florida has also played a nonconference game at Syracuse. The date was Sept. 21, 1991. The Gators came out on the short end, 38-21.

Here’s the other interesting thing about that game: It was the last time Florida left the state for a regular-season nonconference game.

Some Gators will say the criticism is a croc because the school plays Florida State and Miami so often in nonconference. Well, sort of. While Florida has maintained its annual game against Florida State, the Gators have played Miami only four times in the regular season since 1990.


At this point Oregon should be focused on just winning games and getting bowl eligible. That being said, I take umbrage with your assessment that its College Football Playoff chances are none when the Ducks have losses to Michigan State and a cross-division team in Utah.

Aaron Dinsdale

Oregon is as cooked as duck a l’orange. I don’t see any path back to the playoff. I think a two-loss Pac-12 team could possibly make the playoff, but not if it’s Oregon. I can’t imagine the Ducks recovering from a 42-point home loss. Their only outside shot would be getting a second chance against Utah in the Pac-12 title game.

Ohio State overcame a home loss to Virginia Tech last season, but that was the Buckeyes’ only defeat. Even with that, Ohio State barely sneaked into the No. 4 playoff spot, and it was controversial until the Buckeyes beat No. 1 and No. 2 to win the championship.

Florida won the 2008 title despite losing at home to Mississippi, but that was a close defeat (31-30) and also the Gators’ only loss that season.


Do you think there was ANYBODY reading you today who got the significance of “How Green WAS my Valley?”

Dick Bank

The cultural war is over and we lost. Microwave news and smartphones have outsmarted us all.

There are grown adults today who have never read Jim Murray, or seen “Casablanca.” My goal each week is to drop in an old movie, song or book reference — if only to make one reader under age 30 do a Google search.

Oregon is an easy mark because it is so closely associated with the color green.

That opens up all sorts of possibilities: “Green Berets,” “Green Acres,” “Green Eggs and Ham.”

And, when Oregon isn’t playing well, there’s always “Soylent Green.”

“How Green Was My Valley” is a classic book and 1941 movie directed by John Ford about a turn-of-the-century Welsh mining family.

The title refers to happier times and greener pastures and the way things once were. You know, the way Oregon football was before Utah came to town.


When USC was in the top 10, The Times used to publish the weekly AP college football poll in a large, prominent spot in the sports page. Now that UCLA is in the top 10, I have to put on my reading glasses to find the rankings, buried next to cycling winners and preseason NHL scores.

Don Geller

It’s all part of anti-UCLA football policy at the paper that dates back to Red Sanders.

Our lean toward USC has nothing to do with the fact that the Trojans have won seven national titles since UCLA claimed its last in 1954, a half-share. Or the fact USC has won more Rose Bowls than any school, with four victories since UCLA last appeared in the Jan. 1 bowl at the stadium it calls home.

Generally, teams or schools that perform better, over time, get better news play. I’ve been on staff only since 1981, but I think we go out of our way to provide fairly equal coverage of UCLA and USC, knowing fans of each school are tallying the daily newspaper word counts.

To your question, running the AP poll in smaller type on Mondays is not a product of bias against UCLA. It has been done to save space, in part to provide more original content on UCLA and USC.

I hope that helps explain it.


I do not begrudge UCLA’s lofty ranking (you have them No. 2, national polls have them No. 7), but if UCLA is that good, and that highly ranked, then Michigan should not be as far behind as you and the national polls have them.

Bob O’Connor

That’s a fair point, but if you’ve noticed, I’ve dedicated my rankings this year to the Keystone Kops. I’ve had four different No. 1 teams — Texas Christian, Ohio State, Michigan and Utah. I dropped TCU, Ohio State and Michigan from No. 1 after they won. Utah better have a good bye week, or it could get dumped.

I’ve been short on patience, yes, but high on Michigan. I had the Wolverines ranked in my preseason top 25 while they received only two points in the preseason AP poll and one in the USA Today coaches’ rankings.

I also have Michigan at No. 20 this week, higher than either AP or the coaches.


Any early thoughts on Notre Dame at Clemson?

Brian Clark

I hope the weather holds so we can get a clean, dry look at two top-15 teams. There is a threat of heavy rain due to an approaching storm, Hurricane Joaquin. As of this time, the game is being played as scheduled Saturday night.

This is a huge test for Notre Dame, which has held firm despite losing five players to season-ending injuries. This is quarterback DeShone Kizer’s first road start as he fills in for the injured Malik Zaire.

Under Coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame is only 2-5 on the road against ranked opponents. But Clemson has consistently struggled in big-moment situations. The term “pulling a Clemson,” or “Clemson-ing,” has become part of the college football vernacular.

Coach Dabo Swinney has poked fun at Notre Dame all week, claiming, “I do think it’s a little unfair that they brought the pope into town just in time for the Clemson game.”

Pope Francis wrapped up his U.S. visit days ago. It is probably safe to think, though, that he is pulling for Notre Dame.