Fischer's Tuesday Mailbag: Signing Day, Hoops and more

It's Tuesday, so that means it is time to fire up the Mailbag (or, in this case, Tweetbag) and tackle the burning topics that are being talked about around the Pac-12. I'm here to answer questions tweeted to me, so make sure you follow me on Twitter at @BryanDFischer. Without further ado, let the smorgasbord of questions commence.

"Has UCLA officially passed USC in football supremacy in LA, or do the Bruins need to prove it one more season?" - @KevinOnCFB

With Twitter and other forms of social media around nowadays, it's sometimes hard to forget to take the long view on things to gain perspective on what is happening. There's no doubt that the Trojans fell off significantly from their preseason No. 1 ranking last year, and that was coupled with a remarkable rise over in Westwood in Jim Mora's first season. That momentum has carried over to the recruiting trail as of late, where UCLA is surging and USC is falling back. It's good to be a UCLA fan right now to say the least, while those wearing the cardinal and gold are fretting a bit about their program.

First of all, I think it's way too early to say that UCLA has "passed" USC for football supremacy in Los Angeles. Remember, it was just a year ago that USC finished No. 6 in the country and was the toast of college football despite their NCAA sanctions holding them back (which obviously contributed to overrating them for 2012). The blue and gold have won the past two Pac-12 South titles, which is notable, but the last year was the first time the Bruins held a better record than their crosstown rivals since 2001.

While UCLA is trending in the right direction and is doing great things on and off the football field, it's still too early to say the Bruins reign supreme in the city. However, it looks as though - as a notorious ad once suggested - the football monopoly is over and the two programs are very competitive.

[Related: Pac-12 National Signing Day story lines]

"Why does Oregon consistently sign low-ranked recruiting classes despite their on-field success?" - @MachinistDuck

I always love when fans complain about recruiting rankings. Yes, it's something everybody - from the coaches to the fans to the boosters - gets riled up about around Signing Day. But in the end it's not about where your class finishes up but where the team does at the end of the season. The fact of the matter is, the Ducks have been getting better athletes than ever before thanks to their success on the field, even if they haven't been getting as many of them as other peer programs have. For example, Colt Lyerla and De'Anthony Thomas were both impact players early and highly ranked out of high school. At the same time, LaMichael James was ranked as the 12th-best running back coming out of high school and Kyle Long was a three-star Juco recruit.

Oregon has been one of the teams that has consistently stuck to its guns about finding kids that are the right fit for the offensive and defensive systems. It's obviously worked and there's no reason to change things now. It may not translate when team rankings are done Wednesday, but it does show up when they take the field at Autzen.

"Why doesn’t Arizona (basketball) get more national attention?!? Top 10 ranking, wins over 3 current top 25 and 2 top 10 teams" - @BD97

It's funny that my former colleague at CBSSports.com, Gary Parrish, was just mentioning the exact same thing in his regular Poll Attacks blog the other day. Come tournament time, it's likely that the Wildcats will be treated better than they have been in the polls. The win over Miami looks better by the day and Florida is playing better than anybody in the nation. The lone sticking point with Arizona thus far has been its two losses to the other top teams in the Pac-12.

They're still playing well and are still in the running for the conference title, but it seems as though they are a tad overlooked on the national scene. Perhaps that's because people are not yet convinced that they can make a deep run in March. Perhaps it's because they see those two losses more than they see those terrific wins. Whatever it is, I'm not sure Sean Miller and company care.

"I'd be interested in your take on Ben Howland's job security and which players on the Bruins you think will return next year." - @DavesDime

It didn't take much to hear the Howland/hot seat talk resurface when the Bruins suffered three losses in their past four games, including an overtime game against rival USC at home. The team has been through quite a bit this season, from the Shabazz Muhammad NCAA mess to a number of transfers to the surprising loss to Cal Poly at home. I think in adjusting to suit his personnel and push the tempo offensively, Howland has actually done a terrific job coaching since December and has the team in position for a low single-digit seed come NCAA tournament time.

I know the upset at the hands of the Trojans wasn't a great look, but this team still has what it takes (two big-time scorers in Muhammad and Jordan Adams, good glue guy in Kyle Anderson and a veteran presence in the Wear twins) to make a dent in March. I think Howland is safe in Westwood pending a complete collapse in the second half of Pac-12 play.

"With the Pac-12 standings being so close, does that help or hurt the conference's chances at getting more teams..." - @negah_J

It gets to be that time of year where teams are starting to get upset at the hands of conference foes and the NCAA field is narrowed down as teams take bad losses most don't expect. This is simply life in college basketball nowadays with few truly dominant teams.  Fact of the matter is, most are fairly close to each other in terms of talent, all things considered, and with conference foes knowing opposing coaches and players better than anybody, upsets are bound to happen when January and February roll around.

At this point in the Pac-12, it's clear the league is much, much improved from last year's version. Many mock brackets project anywhere from three to five teams in the NCAA tournament, which sounds about right. It seems as though Arizona and Oregon are locks with UCLA close to being in for sure. Arizona State, Colorado, Stanford and Washington have a chance depending on what they do in the second half of the season. It's going to be a tough road, however, as Pac-12 teams pull upsets and hurt other Pac-12 teams' chances. Such is life in a major conference.

"Who do you like to win the Pac-12 baseball title?" - @kevinmclark

It should be a fun year on the diamond with six Pac-12 teams ranked in the preseason top 25 (four of whom are in the top 10). UCLA and Stanford, with two of the best pitching staffs in the country figure to be the two teams that most will pick to win the league. But with so much depth it will be a tough test for whoever makes it through the gauntlet that is the conference this year. One can't leave out the defending College World Series winners in Arizona either, who may not have the most talent in the Pac-12 in 2013, but that's not something that has stopped them from winning in the past. Toss in the Oregon schools and it's quite the party. I'll lean the Cardinal's way to win the Pac-12 this season with Mark Appel on the mound, but it's very much a toss-up.

"Any indications as to who will be USC's next Basketball coach?" - @sndjabbari

There's not much movement on the coaching search front in the middle of the season, but expect Pat Haden to try and move quickly to find a top-notch candidate to take over at the Galen Center. It seems as though money is not a limitation for the Trojans in hiring a good coach, and the access to talent in Southern California along with very nice facilities should make it an attractive job.

"We saw how much Bama spends on recruiting...can we compare that to the Pac? Would love to see a breakdown" - @JasonAClairmont

Jason is referring to this article, which states that Alabama spent nearly $1 million on football recruiting last year. While I doubt any Pac-12 program spends close to that amount, the two private schools that recruit across the country - USC and Stanford - probably lead the way in the conference in terms of football expenses related to recruiting. I'm guessing that Washington, UCLA and a few others aren't too far behind either. With the influx of new television money, this is one area where all schools across the Pac-12 are looking to beef up the budget and have been doing so as of late.

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