Mailbag: Pressure on Oregon?

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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Welcome to the mailbag, the first with Pac-12 teams on the field getting ready for the 2014 season.

Yes, your team is destined for great things. But only if you follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Kevin from Columbus, Ohio, writes: How much pressure should be placed on Don Pellum at Oregon considering the Ducks have lost to Stanford two years straight? A third time would be a clear indication Oregon's defense can't stop the beef of Stanford and sends an even stronger message that Oregon won't be able to stop an SEC team if it makes it to the national title game.

Ted Miller: A third consecutive Oregon loss in the series might suggest that Stanford has the Ducks' number, but it has no relevance to the SEC. I can count on four fingers the number of SEC teams that wouldn't wilt on the line of scrimmage against Stanford -- or be multi-TD underdogs to the Ducks.

You might want to ask Tennessee fans about Oregon's defense, though some were rendered mute and blind by 59 unanswered points. Further, compare and contrast Oregon's defensive effort against Auburn and LSU with what other SEC defenses did to those teams in 2010 and 2011.

[+] EnlargeDon Pellum
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesDon Pellum and Oregon's defense will have some pressure based on high expectations.
But to take your general premise seriously, I don't think there's any particular pressure on new Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum. I think there's pressure on Oregon, period.

That's what happens when your program rises to the super-elite. Think about it: What would rate a successful season for the Ducks in 2014? Nothing less than the Pac-12 championship, and if that doesn't include an invitation to the first College Football Playoff, I'd bet more than a few Oregon fans would give the season a harrumph.

Oregon finished 11-2 last year with a final No. 9 ranking. From a long-term perspective, it was one of the best seasons in program history. From the perspective of the last five years, Mark Helfrich's first season after replacing Chip Kelly was a bit of a letdown.

Helfrich knew what he was getting into. The new reality is many Oregon fans now expect their Ducks to win the Pac-12 title and be in the national championship mix annually. (Oregon fans over 50 just slapped their foreheads.) Some might say Helfrich won't completely win over some fans until he wins the title, the one thing Kelly couldn't quite accomplish.

As for Pellum, he will encounter the same sort of pressure Helfrich is experiencing. He is replacing longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who quietly built a nationally ranked defense while laboring in the shadow of the Ducks high-powered, up-tempo offense. For some fans to completely buy in to Pellum, they'll need to see the Ducks continue to rank among the conference's statistical leaders. For an even pickier contingent, the defense will need to improve.

How can it improve? Ah, we now come to your point about "beef," but perhaps from a different angle. While Oregon's offensive struggles against A-list defenses over the past five years have tended to grab the headlines, the defense also has, at times, fallen short, though I'd assert it has mostly measured up in big games.

The key issues does appear to come down to "beef:" In six of the Ducks' eight defeats since 2009, they've been outrushed. Further, there's no question that Stanford controlled both lines of scrimmage in last year's victory. The Ducks defensive front seven couldn't get a stop in the first half. That's why one of the messages coming out of the offseason is Oregon's intention -- apparently realized -- to get bigger.

Just so everybody knows, by the way, it's no longer the SEC that worries coaches across the country. That conference faces a major talent drain this season, particularly behind center. It's Florida State. The Seminoles are stacked.


Costi from Phoenix writes: Ted, As an Arizona fan, Rich Rod's comments really troubled me to the Key Questions for Pac-12 South Coaches. Watching the UofA play ASU the past two years, it has seemed like Rich Rod has not taken this rivalry very seriously. On the other hand it is my belief that Todd Graham has probably made the Territorial Cup the most important game on the schedule. I am a strong believer in the idea that in this state there are two seasons, the regular season and the Territorial Cup. Do you think Rich Rod's job could potentially be in peril with a third loss to the Devils despite another successful bowl-eligible season? Or am I over-reacting? Is the rivalry game just going to be another game on our schedule if we continue to have winning seasons?

Ted Miller: Respectfully, Costi, you are overreacting. Rich Rodriguez takes every game seriously. Heck, the guy takes every play in practice seriously. He knows how important the Territorial Cup is. He's plenty aware of his being 0-2 against his good buddy Todd Graham. There won't be a person in the country who will want to win that game next year more than Rodriguez.

No, I don't think Rodriguez will be in trouble if he loses a third consecutive game to the Sun Devils after another winning season. I don't think that's even been whispered by any significant decision-maker associated directly or indirectly with the football program.

In 2012, the Wildcats pretty much threw up on themselves in the fourth quarter and the Sun Devils played a mentally tougher game on the road. In 2013, the Sun Devils were a lot more talented on both sides of the ball.

This year? It's a lot closer to a toss-up in terms of talent, though Arizona State has a third-year starting QB in Taylor Kelly who won't worry too much about playing in Tucson. Rodriguez's life would be much easier with a win. But another loss won't be catastrophic if the Wildcats have a good season, such as entering the game with eight or so wins.

Rodriguez's chief goal isn't just to post winning or even eight- or nine-win seasons. It's not even to consistently beat Arizona State. He wants to win the conference championship and get the Wildcats to their first Rose Bowl.


Joe Bruin from Westwood writes: Hey Ted... It's me, Joe! All of us Bruins fans should have listened to Coach Neuheisel when he said, "Punting is winning." Truer words were never spoken, and we all took it for ridicule. Now, anyone who enjoys, watches, or plays the game of football knows that field position is huge. How big (or small) will the loss of Sean Covington affect our season? Should Bruins fans be worried? I don't know how Matt Mengel is going to fare this season, but we are going to need good field position this year, especially against teams like Oregon, Stanford, and ASU. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Ted Miller: I'm sure glad that folks don't record my off-the-cuff comments for posterity.

Miller in 1985: "Folks, the mullet is here to stay. It's a haircut that best conveys masculinity."

Miller in 1991: "MC Hammer is certain to be remembered as the best rapper in history."

Miller in 1999: "Rarely would I recommend a stock based on a sock puppet, but Pets.com is a sure winner!"

Miller in 2001: "Why does Britney Spears date Justin Timberlake? She's so much more talented than him."

Miller in 2007: "You should buy real estate. That market will never crash."

Miller in 2008: "I think we've finally got a President and Congress that are going to work together!"

Miller in 2010: "At least we know Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver will be married forever!"

Miller in 2012: "Stanford beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium with a redshirt freshman QB? Ha!"

My wife has a much longer list, by the way.

As a freshman, Covington ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in punting and, perhaps more important, UCLA ranked second in the conference in net punting. So before he transferred, Bruins fans knew they had a A-list punter coming back, one who could significantly help the underrated field-position game.

Now the Bruins have uncertainty at the position. That's not a positive, though in terms of where uncertainty really worries you, punter is down the list. It might, in fact, be at the bottom of said list.

In a close game, you'd like to have a good punter. But you'd rather have Brett Hundley, Eric Kendricks, Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and Fabian Moreau.

Or you should simply expect Noel Mazzone's offense to never need to punt.


Gary from La Grande, Ore., writes: Which scratch-and-sniff ticket scent do you anticipate will be most popular? Locker Room Melange or Really Offensive Linemen?

Ted Miller: Time to musk up, eh? I hear "Really Offensive Lineman" is made with real bits of Hroniss Grasu and Tyler Johnstone, so you know it's good. Sixty percent of the time it works every time.

What would Ode to Chip Kelly smell like? Something that crossed sarcasm and a bacon cheeseburger?

I'll be honest. If Oregon made tickets that smelled like Pok Pok in Portland, I'd probably buy one even though I get a media pass.

Top Pac-12 players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
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Our list of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 concludes.

No. 5: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly

2013 stats: Completed 62.4 percent of his throws for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, giving him an adjusted QBR of 74.2, which ranked 24th nationally. He also rushed 173 times for 608 yards and nine touchdowns.

Why he's ranked here: There was some disagreement at the end of last season about who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback. Kelly won the official Pac-12 vote with the coaches, and that means a lot. It also helps that he is the quarterback of the defending South Division champion. Further, you have to love his story. Nothing has been given to Kelly. In the spring of 2012, he was little more than an afterthought, ranking third in the Sun Devils' quarterback competition. You have to be mentally tough to emerge from that sort of deficit. He has earned his spot by fighting like crazy to win the job, to lead his team well and, finally, to become an A-list quarterback worthy of national attention. He has a chance to play his way into a solid spot in the NFL draft too. As for this season, Kelly has a lot coming back on offense and, because of the Sun Devils' questionable defense, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell figures to set him free as a third-year starter.

No. 4: Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

2013 stats: Ekpre-Olomu was second on the Ducks with 84 tackles. He had five tackles for a loss to go with three interceptions and nine passes defended. He also forced a fumble.

Why he's ranked here: Ekpre-Olomu might be the best cornerback in the nation. He earned All-American honors last season and is pretty much a unanimous 2014 preseason All-American. He is not expected to last too far into the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, and truth be told, it was a bit of a surprise he stuck around for another season because he likely would have been a first-round pick last spring. It will be interesting to see if he sees much action on his side of the field this season, considering he is the lone returning starter in the Ducks' secondary. His numbers might not wow you, but opposing coaches will start their Monday meetings by drawing a line down one third of the field and saying, "Ifo is here, so we're throwing over here."

No. 3: UCLA QB Brett Hundley

2013 stats: Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 748 yards and 11 scores.

Why he's ranked here: Kelly-Hundley, Hundley-Kelly -- based on last season, Kelly should nip his buddy from UCLA. But Hundley ends up at No. 3 because of projection. He is simply overbrimming with talent. He's big, strong, smart, charismatic, etc. Outside of Johnny Manziel, no one has more scramble yards in the past two seasons than Hundley (per ESPN Stats & Information). Though there are parts of his game that didn't completely arrive in 2013 -- still more feared as a runner than downfield passer and still takes too many sacks -- those were delays, not cancellations. Hundley also has a stacked supporting cast. The Bruins are the favorite in the Pac-12 South, a preseason top-10 team and a dark horse national title contender. If UCLA surges, Hundley almost certainly will become a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

No. 2: USC DT Leonard Williams

2013 stats: Williams was second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, tied with Devon Kennard for the team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.

Why he's ranked here: Williams, a 2013 first-team ESPN.com All-American, is the consensus pick as the nation's best returning defensive lineman. He could be the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and he's almost certainly not going to last past the top 10 picks. Former USC coach Ed Orgeron called him the best defensive lineman he's ever coached, and Orgeron's defensive line résumé is deep. Williams has great length and athleticism and surprising power. He is the centerpiece of what might be the Pac-12's best defense. Last season, he was the lone sophomore semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player, and he is likely to be a finalist for just about every award for which he is eligible.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota

2013 stats: Mariota completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also rushed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns.

Why he's ranked here: Surprise! Bet you didn't see this coming, considering Mariota finished No. 1 on this list in 2012 and 2013. This was the easiest spot to fill on this list, perhaps the only easy spot by the way. Why? Mariota might be the best quarterback and player in the nation. In the 2014 Heisman Trophy race, he is option 1A besides Florida State's Jameis Winston, who won it last year but has significant character issues. Mariota opted to return and get his degree -- yes, he is taking a light class load this fall because he doesn't need any more credits -- and instantly made the Ducks (again) the Pac-12 favorite and a national title contender. The biggest question of the 2013 season was what might have happened if Mariota didn't suffer a knee injury before playing at Stanford. Pre-injury, he had 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions; post-injury, 11 touchdowns and four picks. All nine of his rushing touchdowns came before he partially tore his MCL. Despite that injury, Mariota led an offense that averaged 45.5 points per game last season -- tops in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation -- in a very good defensive conference. While his speed and production as a runner is impossible to ignore, what separates him is his passing ability. He was No. 1 in the Pac-12 in efficiency and No. 1 in the nation in ESPN’s adjusted QBR rating. He set an Oregon single-season record with 4,380 total yards. He also set a Pac-12 record by attempting 353 consecutive passes without an interception. Though character isn't much of a factor on this list -- the Pac-12 is fortunate that it didn't see much of that weigh down the offseason -- Mariota's is difficult to ignore. St. Marcus of Eugene seems likely to be in New York in December.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Imagesnull

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 31, 2014
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Heavy on poll links today in honor of the coaches poll being released.

Coaches pick Florida State as No. 1

July, 31, 2014
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The Florida State Seminoles aren't going anywhere, as the defending national champions are the No. 1 team in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, which was released Thursday.

FSU, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, got 56 of the 62 first-place votes.

"We're very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told USA Today. "That's going to be our objective. We're proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football."

Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Auburn, which lost to FSU in the final BCS title game last season, round out the top five. Ohio State starts at No. 6, and is followed by UCLA, Michigan State, South Carolina and Baylor.

Overall, the SEC leads the way with seven teams in the poll. The Pac-12 is represented by six teams, and the Big 12 and Big Ten each have four teams in the poll.


(Read full post)


In another sign of the Pac-12’s rise, half the conference is ranked in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, released Thursday.

Oregon, unsurprisingly, leads the way at No. 4, followed by No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 18 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington. Oregon State (four votes) and Arizona (one) also received some love from the coaches.

Defending national champion Florida State is an overwhelming No. 1, receiving 56 of the 62 first-place votes. Oregon was one of four other teams to receive at least one first-place vote, along with No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 South Carolina.

With seven teams in the poll, the SEC leads all conferences, but it should also be noted the Pac-12 and SEC both had the same percentage of teams from their respective conferences included.

As a result of the Pac-12’s depth, five of the six most difficult schedules in the country, according to ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index (FPI) belong to teams in the conference: No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Utah, No. 3 Cal, No. 5 Washington State and No. 6 USC.

The way things stand, there are 12 games during the Pac-12 conference schedule that will feature two ranked teams.


Pac-12 coaches Mike Leach, Mike MacIntyre, Chris Petersen, Mike Riley, Rich Rodriguez and Steve Sarkisian are among the voters.

 
In case you’ve ever walked to a football stadium on a Saturday and thought to yourself, “Man, I’m really excited for the football game and spending time with friends, but I’m disappointed that my game ticket smells like a ticket” … then Oregon has the ticket for you.

On Wednesday night, the Ducks’ ticket Twitter handle tweeted a photo of a scratch-and-sniff ticket that will be available this fall for season-ticket holders. And what exactly will Oregon football tickets smell like? Carl’s Jr. burgers.
A few thoughts:

1. Is making a Ducks ticket smell like cow/beef a little sacrilegious? Or no?

2. It took eight years to go from a foil ticket to a textured ticket but just two years to go from a hologram to a scented ticket? What does that say about science?

3. Where does one possibly go with tickets after venturing into scratch-and-sniff?

What are your thoughts? If your Pac-12 school were to do something similar, what restaurant or company do you think it should (or would) use? Comment on the story or tweet the #4pac here to let us know.

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Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

SportsNation

Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    41%
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    22%
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    10%
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    6%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,935)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 12.

Thursday, Nov. 13
Saturday, Nov. 15
My choice: Free pass

Why: Only two-thirds of the league is active this week, so rather than force-feeding a game down you’re throat, we’re going to leave you to your own devices and pick the game that is best for you. The Pac-12 blog isn’t copping out by not picking one. But rather all four have their own element of interest that it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong. So Sean Hein, go to Tucson with a clear conscious and enjoy the game.

For starters, you have the Bears visiting the Coliseum. I’m just as curious as everyone else to see what both teams are going to look like this late in the season. Has Cal found its footing with Sonny Dykes and are all of those yards the offenses is gaining translating into points? Or is his seat hotter? And we’re nearing the end of Steve Sarkisian’s first season as USC’s head coach. With a big game against UCLA looming next week, it’s going to be interesting to see exactly where the Trojans are at this late in the game.

The last time Washington went to Tucson, the Huskies got whipped 52-17 behind four Matt Scott touchdown passes. Last year they returned the favor with a win at home -- though it’s safe to say those trips to the desert haven’t treated the Huskies well the last couple of seasons. By this point in the season, chances are these two teams will be jockeying for bowl placement, adding an extra element of excitement for both fan bases.

The same can be said for ASU’s trip to Oregon State. Unless there has been catastrophic setbacks, both of these teams will likely be bowl eligible by this point in the season (or will need this game to become bowl eligible) so any game down the stretch takes a sense of urgency. And when you combine two of the top quarterbacks in the league in Sean Mannion and Taylor Kelly, you have the makings of an exciting offensive showdown.

And finally there is a rematch of one of the biggest upsets in the Pac-12 last season. If Arizona over Oregon was No. 1, then Utah over Stanford was 1A. Yet despite getting that “signature” win they’d been looking for since joining the league, the Utes weren’t able to capitalize on it as they were plagued (again) with quarterback injuries. The Pac-12 blog was extremely impressed with the game plan then-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson cooked up for the Cardinal. It will be interesting to see if Dave Christensen takes a similar tack.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

Top Pac-12 players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
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Our list of the Top 25 players in the Pac-12 continues.

10. Oregon C Hroniss Grasu

Why he's ranked here: Grasu is one of three players in the conference -- all from Oregon -- to have been named first-team All-Pac-12 the last two seasons. As a junior in 2013, he was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's best center, and the undoubted leader of the Ducks' offensive line that blocked for the conference's No. 1 rushing attack. Grasu enters his final year in Eugene having started all 40 games of his career with a chance to leave his mark as one of the Ducks' all-time greats. And as good as Grasu and the line were a year ago, they should be better this year with all five starters back and some talented players behind them who could push for playing time in training camp.

9. Stanford WR Ty Montgomery

2013 stats: Caught 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns, and ranked second nationally averaging 30.3 yards per kickoff return.

Why he's ranked here: When Montgomery is on the field for Stanford, he's the team's best player. Whether that's as a receiver or kick returner, he's the one guy who has consistently proved he can change a game on any given snap. There's minimal concern he won't be 100 percent for the start of the season due to an arm injury, but Montgomery said Wednesday he's not limited when it comes to running, catching or lifting weights. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, with just 4 percent body fat, Montgomery certainly didn't look injured. "When he comes back, he might be the most explosive player in college football, and he's going to touch the ball in every single way possible," Stanford coach David Shaw said at Pac-12 media days. It remains to be seen whether we should take Shaw literally and add punt return duties to Montgomery's other responsibilities, but there have been discussion about that as well. When comparing Montgomery as a receiver to the other two receivers listed below, there's really not much separation -- a solid case can be made to have each of them in front of the other.

8. Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong

2013 stats: Caught 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year with ASU.

Why he's ranked here: Perhaps no one in the conference made as strong an immediate impact as Strong did last year after arriving at ASU from Pierce College in Los Angeles. He eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in five of his first six games and finished fourth in the Pac-12 with 1,122 receiving yards. The three players who finished ahead of him -- Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff -- are all off to the NFL. Like Montgomery, Strong is physically imposing and at 6-4, 212 pounds makes a dangerous red zone target for quarterback Taylor Kelly. Of the 25 players the Pac-12 blog has deemed the conference's best, Kelly-Strong is the only quarterback-receiver tandem to be included together on the list (you'll see where Kelly lands Friday morning). They're the main reason ASU coach Todd Graham proclaimed at Pac-12 media days that "This will be the best offensive football team that I've ever coached." If Strong makes the kind of jump Cooks made from 2012 to 2013, it shouldn't surprise anyone.

7. USC WR Nelson Agholor

2013 stats: Caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns and also returned kicks (17.5 avg) and punts (19.1 avg)

Why he's ranked here: On a team that featured 2012 Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee, Agholor was simply the better receiver in 2013 and his value to the Trojans stretched further than that because of how he could impact games as a return man. What Montgomery was to Stanford on kickoff returns, Agholor was for the Trojans on punt returns. He returned two for touchdowns, and his 19.1 average was a new school record and ranked second nationally. With Lee off to the NFL, a second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Agholor figures to see his receiving numbers improve -- even if that means more attention from opposing defenses. Agholor has developed a reputation for being an NFL-caliber route runner and is among the nation's most dangerous receivers after the catch. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Agholor as the No. 3 receiver on his Way-Too-Early Big Board (one spot behind Strong).

6. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion

2013 stats: Threw for a Pac-12 record 4,662 yards with 35 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Why he's ranked here: By the time the NFL draft rolls around, Mannion might just end up being the top quarterback on some teams' boards. He's that talented. With 10,436 career passing yards, Mannion already sits at No. 10 on the conference's all-time passing list and, assuming he stays healthy, should have no problem passing Matt Barkley's record of 12,327. Mannion admits he had a great relationship with former offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who left to become the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants, but he has already grown under the tutelage of Langsdorf's replacement, John Garrett. "It has been good to get another perspective, another coach to learn from," Mannion said at Pac-12 media days. "It was tough to see [Langsdorf] go, but I think it'll end up being beneficial." Mannion is also the first Oregon State player to be selected team captain three times. Kiper ranked him as the No. 2 senior NFL quarterback prospect in the country.

Check out the rest of the rankings here: Nos. 25-21, Nos. 20-16, Nos. 16-11
For all those people fretting that a playoff in college football would somehow water down the regular season, I offer up the blockbuster weekend of Sept. 3. 2016.

Yes, it’s still a couple of years away and we’re supposed to be focusing on what’s right in front of us. But, geez, that Saturday to open the 2016 season could very well provide the most attractive lineup of nonconference games on one day that we’ve ever seen.

For that, at least in large part, we all have the College Football Playoff to thank.

Some of the matchups were already set or in the process of being set. But the real impetus in beefing up all these nonconference schedules was that a playoff was coming.

And, now, with a selection committee holding the keys to those coveted four playoff spots, we’re going to be in store for some terrific nonconference showdowns in the regular season for years to come. Simply, teams that don’t play and win those types of games are going to be on the outside looking in, which makes the regular season as important as ever.

My only knock on that weekend to kick off the 2016 season is that there are too many good games. I want to watch them all.

We’ve all been clamoring for an Alabama-USCmatchup. Well, we’re finally going to get it in Arlington, Texas to open that season.

And if you like your football Southern style, Clemson at Auburn has a nice ring to it. Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist, once said that Clemson was Auburn with a lake. In a lot of ways, they’re virtual clones of each other right down to their break-neck style of offense. Even more enticing, this is a home-and-home series with Auburn traveling to Clemson the next year.

There won’t be a more unique game that weekend than LSU facing Wisconsin in historic Lambeau Field. Perhaps we’ll get to see Les Miles perform the “Lambeau Leap” if the Tigers win.

Have the remote control ready because we also get UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas and BYU Cougars at Arizona (in Glendale, Ariz.).

That’s just the first weekend, too.

A week later, Tennessee and Virginia Tech will “trade paint” at Bristol Motor Speedway. And two weeks later, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and Oregon visits Nebraska.

So much for opening the college football season with a tune-up … or two.
video Josh Sweat, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, has lined up all five of his official visits. Sweat said he turned down more than 50 scholarship offers to focus on Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Virginia Tech. He also said Texas A&M and Auburn are also still under consideration.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 30, 2014
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There's a place up ahead and I'm goin'. Just as fast as my feet can fly. Come away, come away if you're goin'. Leave the sinkin' ship behind.
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While one recruit will never truly make or break a recruiting class, some come closer than others. Every Pac-12 program has a must-get recruit in mind, whether it's a national standout whose commitment would rock the recruiting landscape, a star at a position where that program simply cannot miss, or a local prospect who can't be allowed to leave the area.


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In advance of media day last week, we told you what questions Pac-12 coaches would be asked and what they should be asked. Well, that sort of tied us in to asking those "should" questions.

So we did, at least some variety of the suggested inquiries, And here's what we got, finishing with the North Division.

California

Are there things you view as mistakes, things that you would do differently in retrospect from last year?

Sonny Dykes: Oh, sure. There are always things you’d do differently. When we were on that winning streak at Louisiana Tech, there were things I would have done differently. That’s part of coaching. You are always self-evaluating. When you don’t have success, you tend to listen to that self-evaluation more than you would if you were winning. The biggest mistake I made as a coach was probably my last year at Louisiana Tech. We were 9-1 and I think we were 16th in the country and we were really tired. We were worn out. I probably should have given our guys a day off just to get away for a day. But we had won 16 out of 17 and you talk yourself out of it because what we had been doing had been successful. So if I had to do that over again I’d do it differently. A lot of stuff last year.

Can you give me an example?

Dykes: I don’t want to say. I have a bunch of notebooks I’ll give you one of these days.

Oregon

What’s the biggest lesson you learned about being a head coach last year?

Mark Helfrich: I don’t know if there was any one in particular, but there were thousands. It’s something like, as a player, you don’t think you’ve ever made it, thinking I don’t have to improve anymore. Certainly as a coach it’s the same way. There are so many things that go into it that you deal with that you couldn’t have prepared for. Not even if you talked about it. From that standpoint, I know what we stand for. I know what our program stands for. Working for that and toward that every day, good things will happen.

Chip Kelly told me the advice he gave you and the best advice any coach could give is to be yourself. Do you think you’ll be able to be more yourself this year compared to last year?

Helfrich: 17 percent more (laughs). I think the product of being around each other, the players, the coaches, the culture, things like that, certainly. The comfort of doing it the second time. Hopefully, if it’s more comfortable, it’s better. That’s certainly the angle I’m going for.

Oregon State

Your fans really want to keep up with Oregon. How difficult is it for Oregon State to keep up when Oregon has a booster [Nike founder Phil Knight] who pays $68 million dollars for a new football building. How can Oregon State keep up when it doesn’t have a similar situation?

Mike Riley: I think we just have to keep fighting like crazy to improve what we do. [Oregon] is the team that’s been the best team in the league over the last five years. That’s a general statement that’s probably right. They just happen to be in our state, which is obviously difficult. But we’ve still got to fight every way we can to beat them on the field. That’s our job. The other part, to give them credit, is this league has taken jumps because of things Oregon has done. It started back when Pete Carroll was at USC. They started their run of national-caliber play and everybody had to step it up or you would get left in the dust. They set the standard. Everybody had to rise up. Oregon has done that. They’ve done that football-wise. They’ve done it facility-wise. Everybody has to push to do that. We take care of the football part of it. We have to do everything we can to beat them. One of your goals is always to beat your rival and win the championship and we haven’t done that in a while.

How much does money play a role? What could you guys do if someone said, "Mike, here’s $68 million. Do what you need to do."

Riley: (laughs) I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say. There’s no doubt it’s helpful in a university setting to have money to build facilities. There’s no doubt that is helpful from a marketing standpoint nationally. No doubt about that. But the other part is we can continue to try to do what we can to match some of that. But, to me, once that is said and done, we’ve got to get to the football. We’ve got to do a great job with evaluating players and making sure we do a great job at Oregon State. We’ve got to win games. We’ve got to be on top of recruiting, right on top of football and on top of any other way we can grow our university, grow our football program. We have to continue to fight. We can’t sit and worry about what other people have.

Stanford

You’ve won the Pac-12 two years in a row and beaten Oregon two years in a row: How do you feel about not being picked No. 1?

David Shaw: I don’t think we’ve ever been picked No. 1. It’s par for the course. I don’t really look at those things at all. They don’t affect me one way or the other. I don’t get motivated by them. You could pick us last and I still wouldn’t be upset by it. What matters is what happens when you start playing games. Hopefully we will win more than we lose and hopefully we will find a way to be towards the top of the conference.

Do you even shake your head and say, "Really? What does it take?"

Shaw: I would be shocked if someone picked us over Oregon, to be honest. I don’t mind it one bit. They’ve got a lot of guys coming back as we do. My assertion, which I said last year, which I hold to this year, is they have the best quarterback in the nation in Marcus Mariota. I think he was the best quarterback in the nation last year also. There is nothing like him in college football. I don’t mind that at all. The bottom line is you’ve got to play the games. We’re going to have to go up to Autzen Stadium in a tough environment and they’ll be gunning for us. That’s going to be a tough game to win. But we’ll give it a shot.

Washington

What did QB Cyler Miles tell you about the incident [his altercation after the Super Bowl]? Was there anything that was presented incorrectly in the media?

Chris Petersen: I don’t know what was presented in the media. I just know he made a mistake. He owned up to it. He did everything right as we’ve moved forward. He’s going to get a second chance.

Did he have to sell you a little bit? When you heard about it, it was pretty odd. Were you angry about it?

Petersen: I would say the fact that he didn’t have one day in spring football or one meeting probably sent a pretty strong message to him. But throughout that process, moving forward, he’ll get everything corrected. So we’re just hoping ... and I think he will. I think he will be a better person, a better teammate, a better everything for going through it. Guys make mistakes. Most important thing is to do right moving forward.

Washington State

Does Washington hiring Chris Petersen change the dynamic of the rivalry with Washington and Washington State?

Mike Leach: I don’t think so. No disrespect to him, but that thing has been amped up for a long time. It would be hard to ramp it up any more. I don’t think I had anything to do with amping it up either. I think it’s been at a high level and it’s been a meaningful game to both schools for a long time. Both schools have quality players and quality staffs. I think it will be an exciting one this year. The last two games have been real exciting.

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