Pac-12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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The college football postseason will be very different this season, with the end of the BCS and the beginning of the four-team College Football Playoff. But there's more!

The CFP selection committee also will pick teams for the Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those are the major bowls not hosting this season's CFP semifinal games. The selections will be based on ... get ready to be shocked ... merit. Well, there are some other considerations, but there won't be any more ridiculous decisions made purely on potential ticket sales. (The national semifinals, by the way, are to be played out at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, 2015, with the winners to vie for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

There also is expected to be more flexibility in the bowl arrangements, with bowls working with conferences to put together the best matchups possible and avoid repeat visits. That seems to be another good thing, though we await its execution.

In any event, here are your Pac-12 bowl projections, made with all the certainty one can muster in advance of the season itself.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (vs. Big 12)
National University Holiday Bowl: USC (vs. Big Ten)
San Francisco Bowl: Washington (vs. Big Ten)
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (vs. ACC)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State (vs. Mountain West)
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State (vs. Big 12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Arizona

* at large

Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:21
PM ET


video

Mel Kiper Jr. discusses his inaugural Big Board for the 2015 NFL draft.
The 2014 Pac-12 season starts tonight, and that is unquestionably a righteous thing. The first week's slate of games? Well, it's not exactly going to awaken any echoes. Still, Confucius say he who casts a disrespectful glance at a season opener finds his beer warm and his prayers to the college football gods unanswered.

Yet with all due respect, the Pac-12 plays five games versus overmatched FCS foes and is double-digit favorites in four other games. The only underdog is California, which visits Northwestern.

Ah, but that second Saturday. That, my friends, is a biggie. Not entirely across the conference, but two games will attract beaucoup Pac-12 and national eyeballs and are decidedly meaningful in terms of setting up the first season of the College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanMarcus Mariota and Oregon can make a significant statement with a win over Michigan State in Week 2.
Start with No. 8 Michigan State's visit to No. 3 Oregon. This might be the biggest nonconference matchup of the season, and it's even bigger after the season-ending injury to Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. The Spartans are now the clear favorites in the Big Ten, as the Ducks are the popular preseason pick in the Pac-12. It might look like a Rose Bowl, but it probably ends up operating like a CFP elimination game. Or validation game.

It's an intriguing matchup, too: Celebrated offense versus celebrated defense, with the Ducks, led by preseason Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota, facing Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who might be the best in the business.

Meanwhile, No. 11 Stanford plays host to No. 15 USC. The Trojans used to feast on the Cardinal. Now this is a bitter and highly competitive rivalry. What makes this game fun is the rivalry is as much player-based as fan based. That bitterness ignited between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh -- "What's your deal?" -- and has maintained its burn over the past few years, with the teams exchanging major upsets the past two seasons.

It also won't cool things down, at least in terms of perception, that new Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford coach David Shaw were at public loggerheads last year over the Cardinal allegedly faking injuries in a tight victory over Sark's Washington team. While it might be responsible to note that Shaw and Sarkisian seem to get along well and chat amiably at coaching functions, that would de-sensationalize an angle the Pac-12 blog would prefer to jump up and down and point at next week.

It also has been established, though less publicly, that more than a few Stanford players were extremely unhappy with Sarkisian's accusation, most notably DE Ben Gardner, whose NFL career has already been waylaid by the shoulder issue that hampered him against the Huskies.

We also must add that the irreverent Stanford band surely is already clicking its collective heels over the possibilities the "Josh Shaw Tall Tale of Heroism" offers for a halftime snark.

Even if you cast aside the emotions, this is a big Pac-12 game. The winner figures to establish itself as a top-10 team and national contender. While they occupy different divisions, one will end up 0-1 in conference play and the other will be 1-0. In what figure to be tight races in both divisions, that one-game swing could prove critical.

A USC victory would be a significant event in the South Division. The Trojans don't play Oregon, as UCLA does. Arizona State doesn't, either. The Bruins and the Sun Devils both play Stanford. The Sun Devils visit USC. In other words, in terms of schedule strength among the contenders, a USC win over Stanford might change the perception of the South race.

Of course, from a coach's perspective we are getting ahead of ourselves. USC plays host to Fresno State on Saturday. While the Bulldogs don't look like the formidable foe the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl a year ago, they certainly have a pulse. Stanford plays UC Davis and Oregon plays South Dakota. Both will roll, though some Davis folks have pointed out the Aggies upset the Cardinal in 2005, one of the notable moments of Walt Harris' coaching tenure.

As you well know, sports teams play one game at a time.

"We approach this game, literally, exactly like every other one," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of South Dakota and, by extension, Michigan State. "To do anything else would be a conflict of our process, disrespectful to our opponent and to the game."

While Helfrich and Shaw admit that they spent plenty of time this offseason reviewing Michigan State and USC/Washington film knowing about their big dates in Week 2, the nature of football is routine, and routine dictates you prepare for each game the same way.

Dangers of looking ahead this week? Unlikely. For one, it's the first game of the season. The opportunity to play a real game in front of a crowd after a long preseason camp is a reward in itself. Don't expect players to be blasÚ and unfocused.

And there are stakes for players in game one, no matter how undecorated the foe is, according to Shaw.

"We have a lot of guys still competing for things, for who's going to get more playing time," he said. "I'd feel bad for the guy who shows a sign of not focusing on the task at hand. He's going to meet with a not very happy Coach Shaw."

Pac-12 morning links

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Could it be? In a bizarre twist, a horse is abusing a jockey. Might this be the start of a terrifying planet of the horses? In this announcer's opinion, almost certainly yes. And away I go.

Leading off

While there are still plenty of questions swirling about the Josh Shaw situation, we at least have some confirmation that his original story was a lie. As a result, Shaw has been suspended indefinitely from the team and has retained counsel.

Here's a few of the stories that are out there: What a rush

Interesting little stat here courtesy of the Pac-12 Networks.



I like Oregon to continue their streak. The only argument against being that with three backs it's possible that we could see three guys in the 700- 800- 900-yard range. Plus you factor in injuries, assorted carries for whoever has the hot hand and a quarterback that's going to rush for about 700 yards and it's possible Oregon doesn't get a 1K rusher. Possible, but not probable.

Stanford is going to be really interesting to watch as they move back to a by-committee backfield. But even when they had that approach in previous years, they were still able to produce a 1,000-yard rusher. A lot of it will depend on who emerges as the 15-20 carry back (if there is one) and how quickly the four new offensive linemen come together. But if I had to bet, I'd like both of these schools to continue this streak.

Heisman love?

Chris Huston, who runs the site Heismanpundit.com released his preseason straw poll for 2014. It's a small sample -- only 10 Heisman voters from around the country -- but the results are slanted heavily toward the Pac-12, including a couple of names we haven't previously seen connected with the award. First, the results (first place votes in parentheses):

1. Marcus Mariota, Jr., QB, Oregon — 24 (6)
2. Jameis Winston, So., QB, Florida State — 19 (3)
3. Brett Hundley, Jr., QB, UCLA — 6
4. Bryce Petty, Sr., QB, Baylor — 5
5. Myles Jack, So., LB/RB, UCLA — 3 (1)
6. (tie) Leonard Williams, Jr., DT, USC — 1
Melvin Gordon, Jr., RB, Wisconsin — 1
Ty Montgomery, Sr., WR, Stanford — 1

Mariota, we expected. Same for Hundley. Even Jack we'd heard had been getting some Heisman love. (And in case you missed it, the Pac-12 blog talked with Jack about all of the preseason attention he's been getting). But it's interesting to see USC's Leonard Williams and Stanford's Ty Montgomery on the list.

Williams, we know, is an All-America defensive linemen and considered by many to be the best in the country and a top five pick in the 2015 draft. Chances are this is just some preseason posturing from voters. There's always talk in the preseason that a defensive player will break through and win. We saw it with Jadeveon Clowney and Ndamukong Suh. And while the Pac-12 blog would love to see the day that "the best" college football player wins the award (see this column from 2012, Huston is actually quoted), the odds of it happening are slim.

Even for a guy like Montgomery, who is expected to be a significant special teams contributor to go with his receiving stats. We'll see how this all shakes out in November and December. As the Pac-12 blog wrote last week, we've been fooled by preseason favorites before. Still, nice to know the rest of the country has its eyes on the West.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (LA themed)

Some new artwork in the Coliseum.



What say you, America?

Initially, when I sat down to write about the Oregon Ducks-South Dakota Coyotes game, a few things came to mind.
  1. Maybe I should compare South Dakota to the opening act and Michigan State to the main show. That's essentially what this is, right?
  2. "The best that Oregon fans can hope for is an injury-free game and a second half that calls for rosters to be pulled out of pockets so they can keep track of who's actually on the field."
  3. Lame. Lame. Lame. FCS. C'mon, bro.
  4. They're the Coyotes? Maybe I can do something clever with that.

And then I realized I've seen this before. I've seen a major power get cocky about an FCS opponent coming into their stadium to open the season. I've seen a team look ahead to Week 2 before handling its business in Week 1. I've seen fans in the position where most Oregon fans find themselves right about now.

And I've seen it all come crashing down, when a seemingly unstoppable machine screeches to a halt.

I saw the worst upset in college football. Ever.

My first football game as a student at the University of Michigan was Appalachian State, 2007. You remember that one, right? Everyone does.

But heading into that week, no one was talking about the Appalachian State game. Everyone wanted the Week 2 opponent, Oregon. That -- the big, bad Mike Bellotti Ducks -- would be the real measuring stick for the Wolverines, who went into that season ranked No. 6.

Chad Henne. Jake Long. Mike Hart. Lloyd Carr -- this was all anyone talked about through Michigan's annual Welcome Week (on the first school day of the year, the student newspaper would turn that into its headline: "Welcome WEAK" with a photo of a dejected Henne walking off the field after the 34-32 loss).

All the talk entering the season was that this was the year. If Michigan was going to win another national title, the time was now.

In the week leading up to the game, posts on the then-newish Facebook linked to a scene from “The Longest Yard.” In it Adam Sandler's character tells Burt Reynolds' character: "In college, we'd start every season against Appalachian State or some slack Division-II team, kick the living s--- out of them, get their confidence up."

Reynolds laughs.

So did Michigan fans.

The only time that clip became more famous was after Michigan lost to Appalachian State and suddenly it was being passed around the Internet with the caption "LOLOLOL Michigan" or "Yep, they deserve this."

And maybe they did. Pride does come before the fall. And while App State was an FCS national champion and South Dakota is ... well ... not, the lesson still applies: There's a difference between confidence and cockiness.

But right now? Take it from Michigan, Oregon fans, this isn't the time to be cocky. Sure, be confident. You have Marcus Mariota and three running backs who apparently are going to set the world on fire and an All-American cornerback. And you've got one heck of an opponent in Week 2 ... but that comes seven days after Week 1.

And you can guarantee that if this game somehow goes south, those seven days are going to feel terrible and that feeling will last a lifetime.

Because last time I checked, they'll have 11 players on the field and so will Oregon. And just remember: David beat Goliath; "Shakespeare in Love" beat out "Saving Private Ryan" for Best Picture; Harry Truman beat Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential election.

Oh, how the mighty fall. And fall hard at that.

I didn't see Michigan in action against Oregon in Week 2 in 2007. I sold my ticket. The Wolverines lost that one, too, I heard. And suddenly, at 0-2 Michigan was nowhere near the national champion conversation. Despite all the talent they had returning on the offensive side of the ball (sound familiar?) they were bunk.

And who remembers that season most? Appalachian State and the rest of the world. Who knows what App State did the rest of the season, because they beat Michigan in Week 1. That's all that matters.

Earlier this week, South Dakota coach Joe Glenn told The Oregonian's John Canzano that this game is going to be the "stuff our kids will tell their grandchildren."

And I promise you that if Oregon somehow manages to lose this one, those grandchildren -- when they find out you went to Oregon or are/were an Oregon fan -- will say, "Hey, remember that time..." Every time. Every. Freaking. Time.

It happens to me, sometimes. I smile politely, nod and say, "Yep, I was there in the southwest corner of the stadium."

And, like Reynolds did in "The Longest Yard," they will shake their heads and laugh.

It'll be somewhere between sympathy and hilarity for them.

And for Oregon fans? It'll taste like humble pie.

It's terrible. Just ask Michigan fans.
The talk of Pac-12 town this season is the quarterbacks. Yes, yes, we know.

But don’t forget the talent the league has at running back, too. The run game, after all, is what opens up the passing lanes for the signal-callers.

The 1,000-yard mark has acted as a benchmark for backs for years, so, how many Pac-12 rushers (for fun, let's include QBs) will hit the mark in 2014?

SportsNation

How many 1,000-yard rushers will the Pac-12 have in 2014?

  •  
    11%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    28%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,133)

In 2013 there were four 1,000-yard rushers: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (1,885), Washington’s Bishop Sankey (1,869), Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney (1,709) and Oregon’s Byron Marshall (1,038). Only one of those guys, Marshall, returns in 2014, and even he is listed in a three-way battle for the starting RB spot at Oregon with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.

In 2012 and 2010 there were six 1,000-yard rushers, and in 2011 there were seven. So what exactly will 2014 bring us?

Oregon has its three-headed monster (in addition to quarterback Marcus Mariota, who rushed for 715 yards last season). Will one or two emerge and become 1,000-yard backs? Or will they split carries, gain major yardage together and not have a single guy hit that mark? Could go either way.

USC has Buck Allen and Justin Davis and Tre Madden. ASU has D.J. Foster. Utah has Bubba Poole. Could Stanford’s Barry Sanders follow in his dad’s footsteps? Or will it be Kelsey Young who steals the show at Stanford? UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley accounted for 748 rushing yards last season. Could he add a few more long runs and hit the mark? What about one of his backs, such as Jordon James or Paul Perkins?

Colorado is pretty deep, Washington has options, and Oregon State says its run game is much improved.

With all those guys, how many 1,000-yard rushers will we actually see? History says it can range greatly. But what say you?

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.
video

Paul Finebaum answers fans' questions about college football, including which four teams will make the College Football Playoff and Florida State QB Jameis Winston's chances of winning another Heisman Trophy.
video

Cary Chow and Heather Dinich look at the Pac-12 this season. Loaded with quarterbacks, has the Pac-12 closed the gap with the SEC?

Pac-12 fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Ivan Maisel offered up some bold national predictions for the 2014 season. Here's some we're calling in the Pac-12:

1. A Pac-12 team will win the national championship: As the Pac-12 continues to gain ground on the SEC in conversations about the toughest conference in college football, there's really only one more step to take: win a national title. It has been 10 years since USC hoisted the Waterford Crystal football, but the conference's title drought will end this year. Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and USC are all preseason top-15 teams and one of them will be the last team standing in the first year of the College Football Playoff.

2. A Pac-12 player will win the Heisman Trophy: The drought will end! The Pac-12 has not one, but two A-list quarterbacks who enter the season as front-runners. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley have plenty of hype and the talent to match. Both play for preseason top-10 teams (and the more they win, the more voters will gravitate toward them) and both are going to put up premium dual-threat numbers. Both fit the current Heisman blueprint.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesChances are good that QB Sefo Liufau and Colorado could upset one of the five preseason-ranked teams the Buffaloes will face in 2014.
3. No Pac-12 coach will be fired at season's end: The coaching carousel will hit the skids for at least one season. There are really only two Pac-12 coaches with seats above frosty -- Cal's Sonny Dykes and Utah's Kyle Whittingham -- and their temperature is tepid at best. If neither coach shows significant improvement in 2014 (that probably means a bowl game for Utah and at least a few FBS wins for Cal), then we won't make this declaration for 2015. But unless either really, really bombs, they'll be given another shot next season. And the Pac-12 blog doesn't think either will really, really bomb.

4. Cal and Colorado will be good enough to deliver a major upset this fall: There won't be many wins between the Buffs and Bears, but between the two, there will be at least one that no one sees coming. Utah set the precedent last season when it went 2-7 in conference play with one of those wins against conference champion Stanford. We like Colorado's chances better, but weirder things have happened.

5. The USC-UCLA game will be a battle of top-10 teams: We're almost there already. The Bruins are at No. 7 and the Trojans are at No. 15. Win or lose in Week 2 at Stanford, the Trojans probably wouldn't fall out of the Top 25. If they beat No. 19 ASU, the schedule is there for them to run off seven or eight wins in advance of the UCLA game Nov. 22. UCLA's showdown with No. 3 Oregon on Oct. 11 could bolster or bust UCLA's rankings. But with four games between the time it faces the Ducks and the Trojans -- including a trip to Washington -- UCLA could get back in the top 10 win or lose against Oregon. If the Bruins win, they'll be one of the top three teams in the country.

6. Oregon will cover the spread against Michigan State in Week 2: While the conventional thinking might be Michigan State beat the team that beat Oregon, as the Spartans slipped by Stanford, the Ducks' Pac-12 conqueror, in the Rose Bowl, that doesn't apply here. For one, Stanford was a familiar team to the Spartans. The Cardinal are built more like a typical Big Ten power team than most Big Ten power teams. The Ducks are a different matter. Michigan State hasn't seen anything like the Oregon offense, and you can't duplicate it in practice. Further, Oregon is playing in Autzen Stadium with a healthy Mariota. The Spartans are tough, but the Ducks should roll by at least two touchdowns.

7. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame: Last season, Notre Dame went 2-1 against the Pac-12, beating Arizona State and USC and losing to Stanford. This year, the Pac-12 will take revenge. The Sun Devils and Trojans will roll at home, while Stanford wants its vengeance set at Notre Dame, site of its grand jobbing in 2012, when the Cardinal twice scored a tying touchdown in overtime that the referees just couldn't manage to notice. (This is when Notre Dame fans chime in with their reflexive counter. Easy response: The video evidence is UNQUESTIONABLE.) Part of this is all three Pac-12 teams are better than Notre Dame in any event. The other part is the Fighting Irish are dealing with suspensions and scandal that could lead to season-long distraction.

8. Whoever starts at quarterback for Arizona will pass for more than 3,000 yards: Rich Rodriguez announced that Anu Solomon will be starting for the Wildcats against UNLV, but after that, we'll see. The Pac-12 blog believes that by the fourth week of the season, Arizona will be settled on a starter. It could be Solomon. It could be someone else. Whichever quarterback it is, he'll pass for 3,000 yards. With Nate Phillips, Austin Hill, Cayleb Jones and Davonte' Neal (among others), he'll have targets downfield who are more than capable of turning the passer into a 3,000-yard guy.

9. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan will be the Pac-12's most improved player: Hogan has proved he's a winner -- two seasons, two Pac-12 titles -- but he didn't have the individual season many were expecting in 2013. Look for him to deliver in 2014 as he returns for a third season, along with a talented group of receivers and not much in the way of experienced rushers.

10. Six teams will be ranked in the final Top 25 at the end of the season: Six Pac-12 teams started the season in the Top 25 and guess what, six Pac-12 teams will end in the Top 25 as well. No promises that it'll be the same six, but there will be six.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
8:00
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At first, I thought prohibition was a good thing. People were drinking more and having a lot more fun. Without beer, prohibition doesn't work!

Leading off

Ahhhh, the honeymoon phase. It’s that first year when a new head coach adjusts to his new surroundings (or in the case of Mark Helfrich, a new office). There is joy and excitement leading up to that first game.

And then reality hits. That joy and excitement turns to second-guessing and not-so-subtle whispers about whether this is the right guy.

The Pac-12 has a trio of second-year coaches: the aforementioned Helfrich, Sonny Dykes at Cal and Mike MacIntyre at Colorado. And Athlon Sports decided to take a look at the expectations for all of the second-year coaches in college football.

Here are their thoughts on Colorado:
But as the 2014 season approaches, it’s easy to see why Colorado is probably a year away from contending for a bowl. The Buffaloes catch Oregon and Washington in crossover play with the North and must replace standout receiver Paul Richardson. Sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau is promising, and the depth on defense is getting better. An upset or two wouldn’t be a surprise in Pac-12 games. However, a 4-8 final record with a more competitive team in conference action is very likely for MacIntyre.

The key word is in the final sentence: competitive. Two of the Buffs wins were against FCS teams last season (one of which was scheduled, the other one was a result of the disastrous flooding and cancelation of the Fresno State game). This year there are no FCS teams on the schedule, so while he Buffs will likely still hover in the 3-4 win range, those would be considered of a greater quality. And while the Pac-12 blog is yet to meet a coach who can stomach morale victories, there is something to be said for being more competitive. And we too expect the Buffs to be a tougher team in 2014.

For Helfrich, it’s business as usual. We all knew, and I’m sure he did too, that he would be judged by a different jury than MacIntyre or Dykes. All he did was win 11 games, win a bowl game and do it with a quarterback limping through the second half of the season. There’s no question the Ducks are primed for a serious run. But if that run doesn’t end in a playoff berth, is this season a bust? Curious to hear your thoughts. Tweet them at me.

As for Dykes, we’ve spent months rehashing all of the problems Cal went through last year, from the system changes to the youth to the onslaught of injuries. The tide will turn once (if?) the Bears start winning some games.

Who’s all sneaky?

CBS’s Jeremy Fowler took a look at 10 teams that could be “sneaky contenders” in 2014. Among his 10 are Arizona State and Washington.

His thoughts on the Sun Devils:
Arizona State wins 10 games and is still considered the fifth- or sixth-best team Pac-12 team on national scale. Well, don't be confused if the Sun Devils mess around and win the Pac-12 South for a second straight year. If Todd Graham gets a young defense ready, the potent offense will handle the rest.

Definitely not ready to count out the Sun Devils. We know about the losses to the defense – nine starters gone – but we also know how good that offense can be this year. If the offense can out-sprint some teams early in the season and give the defense time to get its footing, the Sun Devils will certainly be in the hunt for the South title. The timing of that UCLA game in Week 4 is very interesting.

Getting deep

Monday was depth chart day. Months of speculation has all been settled with one piece of paper. Unless you see an "or" in between players. Then the debate rages.

Because the Pac-12 blog likes you so much, we dug up all the depth charts that were available online. Some weren't. We'll try to update throughout the day. On the air

Your Pac-12 reporters have been making the rounds on multiple platforms. Here are a couple of links. News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The entire Oregon cheer squad takes the ice bucket challenge.

Washington's Psalm Wooching is cooler than you.



And finally, if you want to learn how to Haka, Arizona has you covered.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today's offerings: Five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is closing ranks and instead of focusing on the more than 50 schools that have offered him scholarships, he's zeroing in on four schools leading up to his late September decision. Plus, Oregon fans can rest a little easier knowing the Ducks' star running back recruit didn't suffer major damage in his first game of the season, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 1

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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All 12 Pac-12 teams are in action this week, which means we can soon wave goodbye to preseason hype and focus on things that actually matter. To tide you over between now and Thursday, when three teams begin their seasons, here are five random stats or notes relating to each game.

Want another hard-to-find stat looked up? I take requests on Twitter.

Thursday

Idaho State at Utah
  • Utah is 6-0 against Idaho State and 36-0 against teams currently in the Big Sky Conference.
  • Coach Kyle Whittingham was the Utes' defensive line coach the last time Utah played Idaho State ... a 66-0 win in 1994. It was his second game on the staff.
  • Dating back to its win at Michigan in 2008, the Utes have won their last six season openers.
  • Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has the conference's third-best winning percentage in nonconference games at 90 percent (9-1). During those games, it has outscored opponents by an average of 18.7 point per game -- also the third-best mark in the conference.
  • In their 10 nonconference games over the past three years, the Utes have only committed a total of six turnovers and are plus-17 in that span.
Rutgers vs. Washington State, in Seattle
  • The Cougars are 5-6 when playing at CenturyLink Field, dating back to the first-ever football game played in the stadium -- a win against Nevada in 2002.
  • Breakdown of where WSU QB Connor Halliday threw the ball last year: Left of the hashmarks: 31.2 percent. Between the hashmarks: 19.3 percent. Right of the hashmarks 49.4 percent.
  • Combined record of teams Rutgers beat last year: 17-54. Of those wins, only 11 were against FBS teams.
  • The last time WSU hosted a Big Ten team in Seattle, it lost 42-7 to Ohio State in 1974 -- the first Heisman-winning season for Buckeyes running back Archie Griffin.
  • Bob Robertson is set to begin his 48th season in the radio booth for WSU football games -- the longest streak in the country -- but will shift from play-by-play to analyst duties.
Weber State at No. 19 Arizona State
  • Since coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell arrived in 2012, Arizona State has averaged 41.8 points per game in nonconference games.
  • In both games it played against FBS teams last year -- Utah and Utah State -- Weber State allowed 70 points.
  • In 195 career carries, running back D.J. Foster has never lost a fumble.
  • QB Taylor Kelly's passes averaged 8.6 yards in the air last season, the second-most in the Pac-12 behind Stanford's Kevin Hogan (10.52).
  • Kicker Zane Gonzalez made more field goals (25) than anyone in the country last year.
Friday

Colorado State vs. Colorado
  • The Buffaloes are 7-3 vs their in-state rivals since 2004 and have scored on 35 percent of their 124 drives in that span.
  • How important was wide receiver Paul Richardson to the Colorado offense? He had the highest percent of his team's receptions (35.3) and touchdown catches (47.6) in the conference last year.
  • Only Oregon State (24) had more first downs from penalties last year than Colorado (24) in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado ranked last in the Pac-12 in drives of 60-plus yards last year (30).
  • Only 10 FBS teams in the country committed fewer penalties than Colorado (50) last year.
UNLV at Arizona
  • Arizona is 2-0 against UNLV all-time after a 58-13 win last season.
  • In two years at Arizona, coach Rich Rodriguez has yet to lose against a team outside the Pac-12 (8-0). In those games, the Wildcats' average margin of victory (26.6) is second-best in the conference behind Oregon (35.9).
  • Freshly-minted starting QB Anu Solomon, a redshirt freshman, was a rare four-year varsity starter in high school at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas. He led the Gaels to state titles all four years.
  • Worth pointing out (again): Ka'Deem Carey led the nation with 3,814 yards rushing over the past two seasons and Terris Jones-Grigsby, who is now atop the Arizona depth chart, is a redshirt senior without a carry in his career.
  • The Wildcats have rushed for at least 185 yards as a team in eight straight games, the fourth-longest active streak in the country.
Saturday

No. 7 UCLA at Virginia
  • Since 2004, current Pac-12 teams are 16-4 against ACC teams and 3-2 on the road. Average margin in those 20 games: plus-17.5.
  • Virginia had just one win against an FBS team last year (beat BYU 19-16) and has the nation's fourth-longest losing streak (9 games).
  • Since Jim Mora has been at UCLA, the Bruins are 7-1 in nonconference games.
  • Brett Hundley's odds to win the Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada: 10-to-1.
  • UCLA was the second-most penalized team in the nation last year at 8.15 per game, behind only Baylor.
Cal at Northwestern
  • Cal QB Jared Goff led the nation in yards passing per nonconference game last year (435.3).
  • The last time Cal had a second-half lead against an FBS team came against Northwestern in the season opener last year. The Bears led 24-20 early in the third before losing 44-30.
  • Cal and Miami (Ohio) share the nation's longest losing streak against FBS teams (16).
  • The Bears have allowed at least 30 points in 14-straight games, the longest streak in the country.
  • Dating back to 2004, Pac-12 teams are a combined 29-18 against Big Ten teams.
Portland State at Oregon State
  • Three Portland State players (receiver Stevie Coury, punter Kyle Loomis and defensive tackle Joe Lopez) transferred from Oregon State and a total of eight Vikings transferred from Pac-12 schools.
  • Oregon State has finished ranked in the final AP poll in four of the last eight seasons.
  • Oregon State went 3-and-out on just 16.6 percent of its drives last season, the second-lowest rate in the Pac-12.
  • Where Sean Mannion ranked nationally last year: completions (3), attempts (3), passing yards (2), touchdown passes (t4), completions of 20-plus yards (t3).
  • Mannion's Heisman odds are 50-to-1, according to Bovada.
UC Davis at Stanford
  • In 2005, Davis' last trip to Stanford, the Aggies won 20-17.
  • Stanford rushing yards by direction in 2013: outside left tackle (824), toward left guard (380), up the middle (736), toward right guard (361), outside right tackle (681).
  • On average, passes travelled 14.6 yards in the air when targeting receiver Devon Cajuste last year -- the highest in the Pac-12.
  • On passing plays, Stanford targeted its tight ends at a 3.5-percent clip last year. In 2012, that number was 38.1.
  • In games played before November since David Shaw took over, the Cardinal is 21-3.
Fresno State at No. 15 USC
  • Since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011, the conference is 19-7 against the Mountain West.
  • Despite their relative proximity, USC and Fresno State have met just three times in history with the Trojans holding a 2-1 advantage following last year's 45-20 win.
  • USC's all-time record with Steve Sarkisian on the coaching staff: 75-15.
  • USC is one of seven teams in the country -- and only school in the Pac-12 -- that hasn't lost to a non-AQ school in the past 10 years.
  • Among players with at lest 15 punt returns last year, Nelson Agholor ranked second in the country averaging 19.1 yards per return.
No. 25 Washington at Hawaii
  • New coach Chris Petersen's record in eight seasons at Boise State: 92-12.
  • Hawaii was 0-2 against the Pac-12 last year and lost its first 11 games before winning the season-finale against Army.
  • Washington ranked second in the Pac-12 averaging 499.3 yards per game last season.
  • The Huskies held opponents to a Pac-12 best 34.6-percent conversion rate on fourth down last year.
  • Cornerback Josh Shaw leads the nation in children saved from drowning.
South Dakota at No. 3 Oregon
  • Oregon ranked second in the country in yards per play (7.6) last year, behind Florida State (7.7).
  • QB Marcus Mariota owns the Pac-12 record for consecutive passes without an interception (327).
  • Since Chip Kelly installed his offense in 2007, Oregon's average margin per game is plus-20.5 -- the best among Power-Five teams.
  • South Dakota's last game against a ranked FBS team came in 2011, a 59-10 loss to No. 6 Wisconsin.
  • No team in the country attempted more 2-point conversions last year than the Ducks (6).
Statistics via ESPN TruMedia
Some notes and quotes from Oregon Ducks 's media access on Monday. Feel free to turn on the theme to Duck Tales if you feel so inclined.

DEPTH CHART NOTES
  • Obvious note: Marcus Mariota is the starting quarterback. His knees looked fine today. No word on whether he has received his letter from Hogwarts. Onto more serious things.
  • The running backs are listed as an "OR" situation between Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman. Each is pretty similar but brings something different to the table according to running back coach Gary Campbell. You can read more about the running back situation here.
  • Other "OR" situations -- WR: Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington, RG: Jake Pisarcik and Cameron Hunt, TE: Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis, No. 2 DE: T.J. Daniel and Stetzon Bair, S: Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels, No. 2 PR: Keanon Lowe or Carrington.
  • As far as wide receivers go, chances are both Stanford and Carrington are going to get good reps. "It's tough to decide because both deserve to play. … We're going to play a bunch of receivers just because we run so much and play so much." Frost said that Carrington has come a long way and that Stanford is really consistent. He also said the top three guys on the outside are going to play about equal and that this wide receiver group is the most depth they've ever had.
  • Devon Allen is listed as one of the starting wide receivers. According to Frost, Allen did "everything right. ... The best thing that we can hope for is that his best days have been in scrimmages and games when the competition is hot so I hope that carries over to the football field for him." He's definitely one of the players that I'm most intrigued to see this spring. I watched him win the 110-meter hurdle race at the NCAA Track & Field Championships and then follow that up with his "Yep, football is still No. 1" talk. If he wins national and world titles in track, what is he going to be able to do on the field?
  • Cornerback Dior Mathis got the nod in the spring game, it seemed but the depth chart lists Troy Hill as the starting CB opposite Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
OFFENSIVE LINE SHUFFLE
  • With Tyler Johnstone's injury, it was unsure where exactly the Duck O-line would go from here. Andre Yruretagoyena had emerged as the front runner initially, just because he had taken many of Johnstone's reps in the spring while Johnstone was still rehabbing. However, the depth chart now lists Jake Fisher as the starting left tackle (in the spring he was at right tackle). Yruretagoyena is listed as the starting right tackle. Hamani Stevens and Hroniss Grasu are still listed as starting left guard and center, respectively. And then -- as stated earlier -- the right guard spot is listed as an "OR" battle. This shuffling definitely leaves some question marks. Coming into the fall the O-line was thought to be a huge strength with five returning starters. Now, there are position battles with a week to go and new starters on both sides of the line.
ON HOW MUCH THE OFFENSE HAS CHANGED
  • Frost said that the offense has evolved a bit, by necessity. "We definitely have some new wrinkles and we've evolved. We've done a good job around here that we've had enough things in that we could keep other people guessing a little bit and we've definitely tried to make a few changes this year to do the same thing." He said that they have looked outside the program for a few wrinkles, but that a lot of the ideas have come from coach Mark Helfrich.
MARIOTA SPEAKS
  • His thoughts on the three running backs: "Any one of those guys could come in and play for us right away. We have all the confidence in the world in each of those guys and each of them are preparing as if they are the starter, so whoever it may be, we have all the confidence in them."
  • On what he wants to know about the team after Saturday's game: "I want to be able -- as an offense -- execute it to the best of our abilities. Go out there and start fast. We had a tendency last year to kind of start off a little slow, including myself."
  • On the national publicity. Does he like it? "Not at all. To be honest, for me I like to keep my personal life private. With more media, bigger media coming in, that's getting tougher. But at the same time, I just like to keep myself low-key, out of the spotlight. This is a team sport."
  • Oregon doesn't start classes until Sept. 29 whereas many of the Ducks opponents will begin shortly or are already in session. Mariota said that it's a "huge" advantage because it allowed the Ducks to spend much of the first month of the season just focusing on football. "It gives us an opportunity, like right now, right when we're done with practice, to go watch practice film. You can lay low and relax a little bit."
EUGENE, Ore. -- It can be tricky to make too many assumptions during fall camp, especially when all the practices happen behind closed doors.

One coach’s thoughts might be to ramp up the attention for a less-prominent guy, someone who has shown flashes but likely won’t get consistent playing time during the season. With the media unable to see anything, it has to go off the coach’s word, so why not give some pub to a guy who won’t get it later?

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
AP Photo/Eric GayCan Royce Freeman go from starring in high school last season to starting at Oregon?
And other coaches might downplay a younger, less-experienced player. Why put the limelight on him before he even takes one significant snap as a college player? Could that harm his overall development if he gets too big of a head?

But if depth charts are to be believed, then Oregon running back Royce Freeman is in neither of those categories. All fall the freshman was talked up by players and coaches, and on Monday, the Ducks’ depth chart backed that up. He’s listed in a three-way battle for the top running back position for the Ducks, alongside sophomore Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall.

“We don’t plan on redshirting anybody -- every guy we bring in here we’re preparing to be a starter,” Oregon running back coach Gary Campbell said. “And he came in with that attitude.”

Marshall rushed for 1,000 yards last season. Tyner was right there, improving consistently through the season and finishing with 711 yards.

And Freeman? Well, he rushed for 2,824 yards and 41 touchdowns … but it was against high school competition.

Try searching for Freeman on Google. The first handful of links go to recruiting profiles. The images that pop up of Freeman are him in his red and white Imperial High School (Calif.) Tigers uniform.

Even in the past when the Ducks have had abundant talent in the backfield, they’ve listed it out as a first, second and third string. In 2011, on Oregon’s fall camp depth chart, La’Michael James was listed as the top back, Kenjon Barner was next and De’Anthony Thomas came in third.

And that’s exactly how the season played out. James led the way with 1,805 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. Barner finished second with 939 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, and Thomas concluded the season with 595 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.

Last year, Thomas was listed as the first-string back, Marshall was listed as second and Tyner was third. It played out that way as well.

Now, just five days from the Ducks’ season opener against South Dakota, the Ducks have a freshman, sophomore and junior all on an even playing field. The word “or” is acting as the public equalizer of all three.

The one starting Saturday will be the one who’s practicing best and from there on out, game production will weigh more heavily. Campbell said the players can tell who’s making progress and who’s not, so presumably the practices this week are going to be heated for the backs.

He said all three players are pretty similar but that Marshall has the advantage of experience, Tyner has the advantage of speed and Freeman has the advantage of strength.

Put all three of those together and the Ducks would have the best singular running back in the nation by far. Instead, they have a three-headed monster.

Is that a good problem to have?

“It’s a great one,” Campbell said.

The depth chart has backed up the fall talk. Now, it’s the waiting game until Saturday to see if the on-field play backs up the depth chart, and if this freshman -- who has been the talk of the town -- is as good as we’ve heard and seen (on paper).

“We never are sure what we’re going to get with our freshmen until they get here,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “You can look great in high school but if you don’t come in mature it just takes longer for you to pick it up. … You never know what you’re going to get with freshmen, but you can tell the guys who can do it almost from day one because they come in in-shape with the right attitude and they start learning right away.”

Could Freeman be that guy? Saturday will reveal at least some of the answer.

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