Pac-12 lunch links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
2:30
PM ET
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Our Pac-12 media poll ballots

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
1:00
PM ET
Every year, the Pac-12 polls media members on how they predict the season will turn out. Sometimes there is a pretty strong consensus. Sometimes there is not. The Pac-12 blog expects there to be strong unanimity this go-around, as our four ballots suggest.

All four of us picked Oregon and UCLA to win their respective divisions. All of us picked Oregon as the Pac-12 champion. Kevin's and Ted's ballots are exactly the same, which might be a good thing for Ted, considering that Kevin's 2013 ballot correctly predicted the finish of all 12 teams.

By the way, Kevin has never, ever, ever brought that up since the end of the 2013 season, notwithstanding his voicemail celebrating that fact, his copywriting "Mr. Pac-12 Perfect Predictor" and the giant billboards he erected in all Pac-12 towns and cities. To quote Uriah Heep, Kevin remains "the 'umblest person going."

For those believing the Pac-12 blog merely goes with the flow, recall that the 2013 Pac-12 media poll picked Oregon and UCLA as the division winners, while Kevin and Ted went with Stanford and Arizona State.

(Insert smug look).

There are some differences here between your Old Men and the New Blood, most notably the bottom two finishers in the South. There also are some differences in the placement of Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North, and USC and Arizona State in the South.

Here's Ted Miller's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Kevin Gemmell's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Chantel Jenning's (You can follow her on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. ASU
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

And here's Kyle Bonagura (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.




Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.




Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.




Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.




Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

OREGON

South Dakota Coyotes, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Joe Glenn (5-18), third year
  • 2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 Missouri Valley
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Trevor Bouma is back after rushing for 781 yards and three touchdowns on 164 attempts last season. He’ll be the offense's focal point.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Auston Johnson was one of the top tacklers last season, recording 69 stops, including 10.5 for a loss and seven sacks.
  • The skinny: Glenn, formerly of Wyoming, among other stops, was pulled out of retirement to coach his alma mater. After a one-win season in 2012 (winless in conference), the Coyotes upped their total wins to four. It’s still a rebuilding process, but there is some good athleticism with guys like Kevin Earl and Jasper Sanders, who have moved between several offensive skill positions as Glenn tries to put all of the pieces together.
Michigan State Spartans, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Mark Dantonio (64-29), eighth year
  • 2013 record: 13-1, 8-0 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Connor Cook burst on to the scene last year during Michigan State’s Rose Bowl run, tossing 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns to six interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun was the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year after posting 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. He also forced four fumbles and tied for the FBS lead with three defensive touchdowns.
  • The skinny: The Spartans' heralded defense from 2013 must replace two of their greatest linebackers: Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. Offensively, 99 percent of their 2013 rushing yards are back, including Jeremy Langford, who led the Big Ten with 18 rushing touchdowns. It’s not the same team from last year, but it’s still a very, very good one that should compete for the Big Ten title.
Wyoming Cowboys, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Craig Bohl, first year
  • 2013 record:5-7, 3-5 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Six offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Dominic Rufran is back after hauling in 75 catches for 960 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He posted four 100-yard receiving games last seasons.
  • Defensive headliner: Junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough was a first-team All-Conference pick last season after leading all Mountain West defensive linemen with an average of 7.4 tackles per game. He also tallied 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: The Pokes are starting anew with Bohl following two bowl appearances in five years under former coach Dave Christensen (now the Utah offensive coordinator). Bohl had tremendous success at the FCS level, leading North Dakota State to the last three consecutive FCS national championships and he was honored as national coach of the year in 2012 and 2013. His Bison teams were 7-3 against FBS teams and he was an assistant on Nebraska’s 1995 and 1997 national championship teams. No doubt, he’s got coaching chops. But it might take some time to build up the Cowboys.
Thoughts: With annual sky-high expectations, anything short of a 3-0 start to the year for the Oregon Ducks would be a major disappointment. Second year head coach Mark Helfrich has already been a victim of expectations after the Ducks failed to qualify for a BCS game last season. And with Marcus Mariota returning to lead the offense, the feeling in Eugene is playoff or bust. The Ducks get all three of these games at home, so that will help. There’s no real threat with South Dakota or Wyoming. If by some act of Zeus the Ducks do lose one of those games, then we’ve all seriously overestimated the Ducks and what they are capable of this year. The Michigan State game, obviously, is the big one. It’s being touted as the top nonconference game of the 2014 season with massive playoff implications. A 3-0 start for the Ducks means they are in the thick of the playoff hunt heading into the conference opener at Washington State. Anything less would be met with a hail of criticism.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.
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 5.

Thursday, Sept. 25
  • UCLA at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 27
  • Oregon State at USC
  • Colorado at California
  • Washington State at Utah
  • Stanford at Washington
  • Byes: Arizona, Oregon
My choice: UCLA at Arizona State and Stanford at Washington

Why: For the first time this year, we have a full set of just conference games. And that’s exciting, because there are some good ones. And because of the Thursday-Saturday scheduling, we’ve got ourselves a 2-fer.

Oregon State at USC is going to be fun with Manning Academy quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler squaring off. Colorado at Cal is intriguing for power ranking purposes, as is Washington State at Utah.

But on the first leg of our two-game Week 5 trip, we’re making our first stop in Tempe to see the game that has essentially determined the Pac-12 South division the last couple of years. And it might be the swing game again this season.

The Sun Devils are the defending South champs after taking it from UCLA, which won the division in 2012. The Bruins are the likely favorites this year and looking to take it back.

And the last two meetings have been thrillers. In 2012, it was Taylor Kelly who drove the Sun Devils 56 yards in six plays to give ASU a 43-42 edge with 1:33 left to play. Then Brett Hundley returned the favor, moving UCLA 60 yards in 12 plays to set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 33-yard field goal that lifted the Bruins to a 45-43 win as time expired.

Last year, with the Bruins trailing 38-33 and 3:21 left, Hundley wasn’t able to duplicate the magic as the Sun Devils defense stifled him on the final drive. Of course, that was after ASU had built up a 35-13 lead at halftime and almost gave it up in the second half. But a win is a win.

When the preseason media poll is revealed next week, chances are UCLA will be picked to win the South, most likely followed by USC and then ASU. The Sun Devils aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight.

And speaking of critical intra-division games, we’re going to hop on a flight Friday morning up to Seattle, grab dinner at El Gaucho, and then watch Washington host the Cardinal on Saturday. (Or you could drive it … 1,428 miles from stadium to stadium).

Recent history isn’t always great precedent, but given how the last two games have gone, this one could be equally thrilling. The 2012 showdown at the CLink was one of the most deafening games I’ve ever covered -- pro or college. And it was the game that launched Bishop Sankey from backup-turned-starter into a bona fide playmaker.

And of course there were the controversies of last year’s game -- the allegations of fake injuries, a critical replay, Austin Seferian-Jenkins' dropped pass on third down, Ty Montgomery’s monster returns etc. And though Washington’s coaching staff has changed, this meeting has turned into a stellar North matchup the last couple of seasons and worthy of a spot on the road trip.

You can catch the rest of the road trip here.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:30
PM ET
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
It's possible that your team's backup quarterback will be completely irrelevant this season. It's also possible he will become your team's most important player.

Just like the vice president isn't that important until he is, so is the backup quarterback. He could rescue or ruin your season.

So how do Pac-12 teams stand at backup quarterback? Let's take a look. We started with the South Division on Wednesday. Today, it's the North.

(Obviously, if your team hasn't yet named a starting quarterback, this is a bit of an either/or exercise.)

California: With Zach Kline leaving the program, which further established sophomore Jared Goff as the starter, Austin Hinder is the backup. He's a senior with limited experience.

Oregon: The battle behind Marcus Mariota didn't produce decisive results this spring, but Jake Rodrigues' decision to transfer established sophomore Jeff Lockie as the heavy favorite to be the backup. He was ahead of Rodrigues last year, though Rodrigues was a bigger physical talent. Morgan Mahalak is a touted incoming freshman, and the competition figures to be heated to replace Mariota in 2015.

Oregon State: With Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio -- he was a walk-on for the Crimson Tide, not a touted recruit -- immediately eligible, he will join the battle between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt to back up Sean Mannion, a senior. Obviously, the winner becomes the front-runner to win the starting job in 2015. None of the three has played in a college game.

Stanford: Evan Crower, a redshirt junior, was Kevin Hogan's backup last season and might be the favorite to hold onto that perch behind the third-year starter again this fall. That said, redshirt freshman Ryan Burns and incoming freshman Keller Chryst are both touted recruits. Crower completed 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown last year.

Washington: If sophomore Cyler Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse and becomes the starter -- he certainly looked the part in limited work last year, which included a winning effort in a start at Oregon State -- then the battle to back him up is between sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. They were the only two quarterbacks throwing passes during spring drills, but neither asserted himself.

Washington State: The Cougars backup QB situation has gone from good to worrisome since the end of the 2013 season. First, Austin Apodaca opted to transfer, probably because he heard footsteps from redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman. Then Bruggman also bolted, perhaps because he didn't like getting outplayed by walk-on Luke Falk during spring practices. As it is, the Cougs would prefer for Connor Halliday to stay healthy.
It's possible that your team's backup quarterback will be completely irrelevant this season. It's also possible he will become your team's most important player.

Just like the vice president isn't that important until he is, so is the backup QB. He could rescue or ruin your season.

So how do Pac-12 teams stand at backup QB? Let's take a look, starting with the South Division.

(Obviously, if your team hasn't yet named a starting QB, this is a bit of an either-or exercise).

Arizona: The above disclaimer was written for the Wildcats, who have a wide-open competition heading into fall camp between four guys: senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Anu Solomon, junior Jerrard Randall and sophomore Connor Brewer. The good news is all four flashed capability during spring practices, so there's little worry on Rich Rodriguez's staff whether he can find at least two guys with whom he can win. Further, the backup situation sets up things for next year (if Scroggins prevails, and he's a slight frontrunner, then it will be competition-on again).

Arizona State: Starter Taylor Kelly is one of the nation's best returning QBs. His big-armed backup, Mike Bercovici, is likely one of the nation's best backup QBs. While Kelly is the clear starter, there isn't a Sun Devil player or coach who'd panic if Bercovici were forced into action. During spring practices, he looked like a co-starter, though he's not the runner Kelly is. The redshirt junior could have transferred searching for playing time when he lost out to Kelly in 2012, but he'll get his shot in 2015 while owning a strong knowledge of Mike Norvell's offense.

Colorado: When you asked coach Mike MacIntyre to list things that pleased him this past spring, he was quick to note how Jordan Gehrke played, establishing himself as Sefo Liufau's backup. That's good because, due to attrition, backup QB was a big concern entering spring practices. No QB on the roster besides Liufau, a true sophomore, has taken a snap in an FBS game.

UCLA: The Bruins have very few questions, but backup QB is one of them. That is a significant concern for two reasons: 1. The drop-off from Brett Hundley appears steep; 2. Hundley likes to run, which puts him at greater risk for injury (Hundley needs to remember to slide -- just because he's built like a linebacker doesn't mean he needs to try to run over one). The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Some obscure QB recruit has committed, but he won't be around until 2015.

USC: New coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starter during spring practices, but there's no question redshirt freshman Max Browne is talented. While he's seen no game action, he's got an NFL arm and flashed a nice touch during spring practices. It's probably good the Trojans have a clear pecking order. And it's good they have a guy like Brown waiting in the wings.

Utah: Whether you're a bird in the hand person -- Travis Wilson is healthy, experienced and ready to rock a third year as a starter! -- or a two-in-the-bush sort -- Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson was once a touted recruit! -- Utes fans surely are breathing easier about their QB situation. If Thompson -- or Conner Manning or Adam Schulz -- is good enough to beat out Wilson, then that means the Utes should be solid at QB this fall.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
2:30
PM ET
This is Butkus, Klahn's bodyguard. He is tough and ruthless. This is Kwong, Klahn's chauffeur. He is rough and toothless.
 
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 3

Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Wyoming at Oregon
  • Illinois at Washington
  • Army at Stanford
  • Portland State at Washington State
  • USC at Boston College
  • UCLA vs. Texas (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
  • Arizona State at Colorado
  • Nevada at Arizona
  • Byes: Cal, Oregon State, Utah
My choice: UCLA vs. Texas

Why: What an incredible Week 2 that was. Oregon made a national statement with its convincing win against Michigan State and I can’t believe Stanford-USC ended in another last-minute field goal! That had to be one happy team from the state of California.

For Week 3, let’s take a step out of our comfort zone and travel to a place not normally frequented by the Pac-12 faithful during the regular season -- Texas.

Let’s be honest. Texas isn’t what it used to be. The Longhorns are trying to get back there under new head coach Charlie Strong. But it might take a while.

However, the Texas brand still carries a ton of name value. And a win against the Longhorns at a neutral site (only by name), would be a huge boost for a UCLA program trying to make a splash on the national stage. The Bruins will likely be a top 10 team to start the season. And barring an unbelievable mishap at Virginia or home against Memphis, they will be a team the playoff committee is keeping an eye on when this game rolls around.

From an individual standpoint, this game could also be a big boost for quarterback Brett Hundley and his Heisman candidacy. Voters were already eyeing Marcus Mariota and his five-touchdown performance against Michigan State last week (three in the air, two on the ground). They aren’t going to care much what Hundley does against Virginia or Memphis. But if he goes into Texas and has a huge game, that will definitely give him a boost.

There are also, of course, the rumors that circulated about UCLA head coach Jim Mora when the Texas job became available. Whether those were substantiated or legitimate are irrelevant. They were out there -- and that adds an element of intriguing to this game.

This is a game UCLA should win, thus making it a must-win. If the Bruins want to go to where they hope they will, they have to win this game convincingly. If they do, they will get the benefit of beating a brand-name team, even if the Longhorns are currently re-branding.

Nevada at Arizona has some intrigue because it’s a rematch of the thrilling 2012 New Mexico Bowl. And Illinois’ trip to Washington is another Pac-12-Big Ten showdown. But as far as national interest goes, UCLA-Texas is the game to see this week.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

Special teams review: Punter

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
5:30
PM ET
We conclude our position reviews with punter, where nine starters return.

Here's how they stack up.

GREAT SHAPE

Tom Hackett, Utah: Utah led the Pac-12 in net punting and Hackett led the conference with an average of 43.4 yards per punt, burying 27 kicks inside the 20. He won first-team All-PAC-12 honors and is an All-American candidate.

[+] EnlargeDarragh O'Neill
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiDarragh O'Neill was a consistent performer for the Buffaloes in 2013, averaging 40.5 yards per punt.
Ben Rhyne, Stanford: Rhyne ranked second in the conference with 42.9 yards per punt. He had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards and put 15 inside the 20.

Sean Covington, UCLA: As a freshman, Covington ranked fourth in the conference with an average of 42.6 yards per punt, but the Bruins also ranked second in the league in net punting.

Darragh O'Neill, Colorado: O'Neill averaged 40.5 yards per punt last year and pinned 22 of 56 boots inside the 20.

Keith Kostol, Oregon State: Kostol averaged 40.5 yards per punt -- same as O'Neill -- and pinned 23 of 67 boots inside the 20.

Cole Leininger, California: Leininger tied for second in the conference with a 42.9-yard average, and his 14 punts of more than 50 yards ranked second in the conference. The Bears, however, did rank 10th in the league in net punting.

GOOD SHAPE

Kris Albarado, USC: While Albarado ranked 12th in the conference with a meager 37.1 yards per punt average, he did kill 27 of 64 inside opponent's 20 yard line, a better rate than Hackett. He doesn't have a big leg -- just four punts over 50 yards -- and the Trojans still ended up 11th in net punting.

Drew Riggleman, Arizona: Riggleman ranked eighth in the conference with a 40.1 yard average. He did rank tied for third with 12 punts of 50 or more yards and killed 18 inside the 20. The Wildcats ranked sixth in net punting. There could be a challenge from the incoming Josh Pollack.

WE'LL SEE

Matt Haack, Arizona State: The Sun Devils struggled in the punt game last year, and Alex Garoutte lost his job to Haack, who was strong during spring practices. Both, however, averaged under 39 yards per kick, and the Sun Devils were last in the conference in net punting.

Washington: Korey Durkee has some experience, averaging 36.9 yards on 15 punts in 2012 as a true freshman, so he's the frontrunner to replace the valuable Travis Coons. Incoming kicker/punter Tristan Vizcaino could be a factor.

Washington State: Wes Concepcion took over the job last year from Michael Bowlin and averaged just 36.2 yards per punt.

Oregon: Matt Wogan is expected to handle both the punting and kicking duties after just kicking last year. He was solid punting during the spring.

Other position reviews:
My name is John Johnson. But everyone here calls me Vicki.
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 2:

Thursday, Sept. 4
  • Arizona at UTSA
Friday, Sept. 5
  • Washington State at Nevada
Saurday, Sept. 6
  • Sacramento State at California
  • Fresno State at Utah
  • Eastern Washington at Washington
  • USC at Stanford
  • Michigan State at Oregon
  • Arizona State at New Mexico
  • Memphis at UCLA
  • Oregon State at Hawaii
  • Colorado at UMass (at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts)
My choice: Michigan State at Oregon

Why: After a rather uneventful Week 1, which saw the conference go 11-1 (with Cal taking Northwestern to nonuple overtime but coming up short) Week 2 ramps up with two of the best games in the country -- making it nearly impossible for the Pac-12 blog to make a compelling case for one over the other.

On one hand, you've got the Rose Bowl Champions, Michigan State, coming into Autzen for a clash of what should be top-10 teams (we’re giving Oregon and Michigan State the benefit of the doubt over South Dakota and Jacksonville State, respectively). On the other, the first Pac-12 game of the season that will feature two top-25 teams in Stanford and USC.

Literally, I flipped a coin.

Both games will likely have significant ramifications as we look ahead to the College Football Playoff. All four teams feel they have a good shot at one of those four spots. Yet two of those four will have some work to do by the end of Week 2.

The Stanford-USC games the past few years have been epic, from last-minute field goals and triple overtimes to shocking upsets. Last year was no exception as the Trojans snapped a four-game skid to the Cardinal on the strength of Andre Heidari's last-minute field goal. And while the Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw verbal jousting over faking injuries seems to be water under the bridge from last year’s Stanford-Washington game, it still adds a sprinkle of thermite to an already heated rivalry.

And yet, the Oregon-Michigan State matchup has huge national appeal because of its potential impact on the postseason. It's been deemed by many as the top nonconference game in college football in 2014. This is one of those games that can make or break a season in Week 2. The winning coach will say “it’s just another game.” But we know it’s not. The losing coach will say “it’s just another game.” But we know it’s not. Of course, the winner won’t get an automatic bid to the playoff with a win in Week 2. But it will surely strengthen their resume. Just as the losing team won’t completely be eliminated. But it will be a stain on theirs.

Couple all of that with the sheer difference in style and personality of the two teams, their approaches to the game and the Pac-12-Big Ten connection and you have a thrilling matchup that should play just as well in Week 2 as it would on New Year's Day.

But if you told me you were going to Palo Alto instead, I wouldn’t hold it against you.

You can catch the rest of the road trip here.
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After reviewing performances at The Opening last week, here are a few quick hits on how each Elite 11 quarterback performed:

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Darnold talks on Day 2 at the Elite 11
Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) took time out to talk to WeAreSC on Day 2 of the Elite 11 Finals about what the experience has been like so far, and what he believes he brings to the table at the quarterback position.
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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30