USC idle; Lane Kiffin still center of attention

Chris Dufresne takes time out (he gets 3 per half) each Friday during college football season to answer questions. Topics include Lane Kiffin's future, Ohio State's ranking and the Heisman hopefuls.

Unbuckling the mailbag:

Question: The temptation to cheat grows in proportion to Lane Kiffin's failures. Why does Pat Haden plan on keeping him?

Matt McKillop

Answer: Kiffin doesn't need to cheat to win. Players are not USC's problem. The Trojans had top-five talent this year but the coaching didn't crack the top 25. In fact, it wasn't even listed as "others receiving votes."

Haden is in a tough spot. He loves Kiffin's work ethic and there is no doubt he can recruit. Kiffin's game management skills left much to be desired and the defense was mostly horrible.

The first necessary step took place Thursday when Kiffin's dad, Monte, announced he was retiring after the bowl game. This had to happen — and did.

Firing Lane Kiffin now would only appease an angry fan base but may not solve the longer-term problem. With the weight of NCAA sanctions yet to come, no one knows when or where the program will hit bottom.

What top-shelf coach would want this job right now?

Q: Are you trying to get Lane Kiffin fired?

William Barnes

A: Actually, I think the man most responsible for getting Lane Kiffin fired will end up being Lane Kiffin.

Q: How's that Lane Kiffin working out?

Dale Moss

A: Based on his physique and general physical condition, I would estimate Kiffin is working out at least five or six days a week.

Q: I always enjoy reading your articles. Today, you ranked Ohio State No. 2. Do you really believe that?

Galyn Cagle

A: This is an old parlor trick I like to play with Southeastern Conference fans that really is inconsequential in the big picture.

In 2009, I tortured Alabama fans just for fun by purposely low-balling the Crimson Tide all season. It drove Crimson Tide fans nuts, which is Article Three in the mission statement governing my weekly rankings.

Alabama Nation couldn't figure out I was moving the Tide up one spot every week and that if it won all its games it would be in my national title game, which is exactly what happened.

I'm doing the same thing here. I can put Ohio State at No. 2 because it does not matter. The Buckeyes' season is over at 12-0. Notre Dame is No. 1 and will win the national title if it wins the Bowl Championship Series title game.

Saturday's Alabama-Georgia winner in the SEC title game will play Notre Dame for the national title.

If my top SEC team wins its conference and then beats Notre Dame, there's a good chance it might jump over idle Ohio State.

Q: Can you imagine the chaos if the undefeated Buckeyes — had they been eligible — were not invited to the title game?

Brad Davis

Carol Stream, Ill.

A: I don't need to imagine chaos in the BCS — I've lived it for 14 years. I think voters would have taken a much harder look at Ohio State had the Buckeyes been eligible this year. Ohio State also would have had a chance to play, and win, the Big Ten championship game.

The argument over undefeated Ohio State and one-loss Alabama or Georgia, though, would have been something.

Q: Regarding your Rankman (emphasis on "rank"): Every time I read this column I hear crickets — and I Iive at the beach, not in the country.

I have no idea why any sportswriter would want to emulate Scott Ostler.

Dave Perkin

Redondo Beach

A: You are entitled to your opinion but, if I might, let's first break down your comedy act. You say you have a question regarding Rankman (emphasis on "rank"). The only thing missing from that gem was "insert rim-shot."

And your "I hear crickets and I live at the beach" line, well, that one had me in stitches. You should really quit your job and get this material out to a larger audience.

FWIW: Ostler, a former L.A. Times columnist who now writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, has 13 times been named California Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Assn.

Why would anyone want to emulate him?

Q: Curious why SDSU is ahead of FS and SJSU in the rankings.

Eddie Hughes

A: Is this a question or an eye chart? (Insert rim shot … see how it works, Dave Perkin?)

For Rankman, it all came down to San Diego State defeating Boise State in Boise, something only two schools have done in the last decade (Boston College, Texas Christian).

Plus, San Diego has better Mexican food than either Fresno or San Jose.

Q: Do you really believe that USC would lose to SJSU, SDSU or Fresno State? Get serious.

Bruce Jaffe

A: Fresno State already defeated USC once in the 1992 Freedom Bowl, don't you remember?

Mal Florence, my late, great colleague, was a USC grad who once covered the Trojans (sometimes wearing his USC sweater).

Asked whether he was going to attend the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium, Florence gave a quick and firm reply.

"No," Mal said.

Why not?

"Someone might see me."

So don't give me this guff about state schools not being able to compete with almighty USC.

On Nov. 17, 2005, one of USC's best teams ever found itself in a Fresno State fist-fight at the Coliseum. The final score was 50-42. Had Reggie Bush been ruled ineligible that week instead of five years later, USC would have lost.

Q: If you had a Heisman ballot (maybe you do), what is your top three?

Jonathan Bates

A: It was with tears streaming down my cheeks that I reluctantly surrendered my Heisman vote a few years ago after The Times instituted a policy that forbids reporters from participating in awards.

If I did vote, my top three would be Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and USC receiver Marqise Lee. However, I would not turn in my ballot without taking a final look at Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein on Saturday against Texas.

I think Manziel will win. He's put up amazing numbers as a freshman and had a signature win at No. 1 Alabama. I really would have been torn, though, had Oregon defeated Stanford, because then I would have strongly considered Ducks freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Bottom line is, Manziel won the game everyone was watching and Mariota lost his national TV tryout.

Watch out for Mariota in 2013.

Q: What division did Notre Dame win?

Josh Smiser

A: Oh, I see, you are needling me for having Notre Dame at No. 1 but not being sympathetic to one-loss Florida or Oregon because those schools did not even win their conference divisions.

How dare you make an interesting point!

Well, for one, you could argue that independent Notre Dame is in America's Division, although that probably won't wash with Domer haters.

I could also point out that Notre Dame plays a pretty good schedule that has never included a I-AA opponent but always includes USC.

The Irish have impressive wins this year over Oklahoma and Stanford, and also defeated the same Michigan team that Alabama defeated.

Notre Dame might not play in a conference, but when it gets down to divisions the school has always been divisive.

Q: If you could name one name for Auburn to interview, who would you suggest?

Dan Peck

A: Nick Saban.

Q: Someone figure a bowl matchup between Oregon and Texas A&M already. Can't one lousy bowl game be fun?

David Cohen

A: We could have made that game happen if Texas A&M had stayed in the Big 12 and not left for the SEC.

Oregon is almost certainly headed to the Fiesta Bowl to play the Big 12 champion this year — Kansas State or Oklahoma.

With those two quarterbacks, it wouldn't be a shock to see Oregon vs. Texas A&M next year in the Rose Bowl … for the BCS championship.

Q: Why be such a curmudgeon? Why not celebrate the season?

Bob Ghidotti

A: Being a curmudgeon pays better than being a Cal Pollyanna.

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