Trojans seek heir to Leonard Williams

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
12:00
PM PT
Los Angeles -- With USC spring football practice looming, there is one position that could affect the way the entire defense performs. Perhaps you've forgotten that former All-America defensive lineman Leonard "Big Cat" Williams has left his cardinal and gold gridiron lair.

In case you were wondering what has become of old No. 94, Williams was busy last week wowing the NFL scouts to the point where one expert proclaimed Williams "Hall of Fame material" while another called him a "once in a generation player."

So what happens to a Trojans defense when the possible No. 1 overall NFL draft pick leaves after his junior season to play professionally? Well, if you’re a USC fan, you start sweating bullets or at the very least clutching and manipulating your favorite religious symbol or beads.

This spring practice, all Trojan eyes will be trained on a select number of potential defensive line candidates auditioning for the defensive end position. The complete complement of defensive line spring options will not be in play since there are four highly touted freshmen that won’t arrive until fall camp.

Last season, fans might have gotten a glimpse into the Trojans defense of the future when Williams wasn’t out there, and it certainly left many wearing USC attire feeling mighty queasy. Watching the Big Cat dominate against Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl was a reminder who defensive line coach Chris Wilson will be attempt to replace.

Please have some compassion for Wilson because he will be looking to replace a defensive linemen that that some have arguably called the greatest defensive lineman in Trojans history. If there’s a silver lining to the Big Cat’s departure, it’s that all the current candidates saw Williams’s work ethic both in practice and during games, which was also supplemented by his outstanding character and leadership skills.

As for the potential replacements?

It figures that the easy road map for coach Wilson this spring is to insert senior Delvon Simmons alongside starting senior nose tackle Antwaun Woods and senior defensive tackle Claude Pelon.

Another viable candidate could be sophomore Kenny Bigelow, although some think of him more as a nose tackle. A 6-foot-3, 310-pound talent, much has been expected from Bigelow since his arrival from the East Coast. Misfortune during a voluntary post-spring practice workout a month prior to the start of fall camp last season forced Bigelow to undergo surgery for torn knee ligaments.

Another legitimate possibility is senior Greg Townsend Jr., who flashed at times last season after having overcome what seems like a career of injuries. The son of former star Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman Greg Townsend Sr., it appears that Junior is ready to go.

Now if you’re really patient and the eternal optimistic, there are the rather large, extremely talented, yet inexperienced incoming freshmen. Those national recruits include Jacob Daniel (6-4, 325), Rasheem Green (6-5, 285), Noah Jefferson (6-6, 330), Christian Rector (6-5, 260), and Kevin Scott (6-5, 315), but they won’t arrive until the summer.

Of those incoming summer freshmen D-liners, keep an eye on Green. The Gardena (Calif.) Serra High All-American is coming off season-ending knee surgery, but if he is good to go by training camp, he could be an immediate option.

For now the process of replacing Williams will focus on the players at hand next week. Although the roar of the Big Cat has been silenced through the NFL draft, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another Lion King in waiting.

Mailbag: Beaming for Tom Bradley

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
7:00
PM PT
After a brief hiatus (literally, I did nothing but sit around in my briefs and binge watch "Bates Motel"), I’m back with a mailbag -- at least this personality is. Follow me on Twitter, it will make my mom happy.

To the notes!

Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: I am a happy Bruin after finding out that Jim Mora has hired a quality coach in Tom Bradley. The defense has definitely been the weakest link in the Jim Mora era. How big of an impact, if any, does this hire have on our team? How confident do you feel that UCLA, with the addition of Coach Bradley, is going to compete for the Pac-12 title, and ultimately grab a spot in the playoffs?

Kevin Gemmell: It’s never a bad thing to add quality and experience, which is exactly what Bradley brings to the table. And to get that kind of a coach in late February, after a lot of the staff changes have already happened across the country, is pretty significant.

As for the defense being the “weak link” of the Mora tenure, I guess it depends on what your definition of weak is. Looking at it year by year:
  • In 2012 UCLA ranked eighth in the league in scoring defense (27.6), eighth in total defense (415.9 ypg), third in sacks (47), fourth in third-down defense (32.8 percent) and fourth in turnover margin (plus-7).
  • In 2013 the Bruins were fifth in scoring defense (23.2), fifth in total defense (385.9), sixth in sacks (32), third in third-down defense (34.9), and third in turnover margin (plus-10).
  • Last year they were seventh in scoring defense (28.1), third in total defense (398.5), tied for eighth in sacks (29), eighth in third-down defense (39.9) and eighth in turnover margin (even).

Are those “weak” numbers? Scoring defense hasn’t broken the 30-point mark (the Bruins were over 30 points in the final two years of the Rick Neuheisel era). The third-down defense was in the 40 percent range prior to Mora’s arrival. The trend here is UCLA’s defense is better under Mora than it was previously.

Whether Bradley pushes the Bruins into the upper-echelon of the conference -- i.e., the top two or three spots in each of those categories -- remains to be seen. The drop-off in sacks last year makes sense when you take guys like Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh out of the equation and pair it with a new defensive coordinator.

Don’t get too caught up in the odd-front vs. even-front argument either. This is an experienced staff that can adjust on the fly either way. Besides, few teams in the Pac-12 are married anymore to just one front. There is so much disguising and diversity because of the range of offenses that “base” defenses fluctuate.

That’s the long answer. Short answer, be excited to nab a quality defensive-minded coach this late in the game.


Travis in Truckee writes: Seeing as draft day is the next real big event that pertains to college football, I'm curious who the blog thinks has the biggest potential to be an under-the-radar steal (a late rounder who winds up contributing heavily over the long haul) out of the Pac-12 this year. Cheers.

Kevin Gemmell: I’d say spring ball is pretty significant. We’ll be ramping up our coverage on all of the teams in the next few weeks. So don’t just disappear until April 30. Hang out for a while.

As for sleepers, if I could say with any certainty, they probably wouldn’t be under the radar, now would they?

So much depends on where they go, who the coach is and what’s the system. I think of Brandin Cooks, for example, being a phenomenal fit for New Orleans. Had he gone somewhere else, he might have been good, but maybe he doesn’t break 50 catches in his first season.

Granted, he was a first-round pick, so not exactly under the radar. I’m just using him as an example of right place, right system, right teammates.

Then you have someone like Cameron Fleming, drafted late in the fourth, making a contribution on a Super Bowl-winning team.

I think a guy like Sean Mannion could end up making a general manager look really, really smart. I’ve seen him projected around the third round. Chances are he goes to a team where he can sit for a year or two, learn the game without the “win now” pressure that Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston -- or maybe even Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty -- are going to be facing.

He has all of the physical tools to be a very good pocket quarterback. He understands defenses and he spent his entire career learning from a former NFL coach. While the NFL is tinkering more with zone reads and athletic quarterbacks are en vogue, it’s still a game built on solid quarterback fundamentals. Mannion has those. Given the right situation, I think he could be a very nice sleeper.


Dale in Stockton, Calif., writes: What is the latest news on DT Kenny Bigelow.

Kevin Gemmell: I reached out to my super-duper secret sources at USC … OK, I emailed Garry Paskwietz from WeAreSC … and he gave me the scoop.

Sounds like Bigelow is participating fully in the conditioning sessions. Media isn’t allowed in those, but according to Paskwietz, Bigelow left the field this morning “drenched in sweat.” So either he’s been living it up in the steam room, or he’s grinding.

There’s no official word on how much he’ll be participating in spring ball. But I imagine as we get closer to the Trojans kicking off on March 3, we’ll start to get a little more info on his status. Sounds like he’s been pretty active. Which is a good sign.

Honorary USC degree for Pete Carroll

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
2:21
PM PT
[+] EnlargeSeattle coach Pete Carroll
Harry How/Getty ImagesSeahawks coach Pete Carroll is headed back to USC to receive an honorary degree.

LOS ANGELES -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is going back to Southern California to pick up an honorary degree.

The University of Southern California said Wednesday that Carroll will be among six recipients of honorary degrees at the May 15 graduation ceremony in Los Angeles. Mellody Hobson, a money management expert and the wife of filmmaker George Lucas, will deliver the commencement address.

Carroll returns to the campus where he restored the Trojans' football program to national prominence as coach from 2001-09. He helped the Trojans win a national championship before leaving to coach the Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl under him in 2014 and lost in this year's Super Bowl to New England.

He will be inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame the day after graduation.

Carroll founded A Better LA and A Better Seattle, gang-violence prevention and community organizations that empower inner-city youth.


(Read full post)


There is going to be a lot of opportunity coming up in USC spring ball beginning next week for several players who have been waiting for their chance to shine.

This is particularly true on the defensive side of the ball, with a pair of open starting spots at rush end and inside linebacker.

Scott Felix enters his fourth year in the program and had his most productive season in 2014 while appearing in all 13 games and recording 36 tackles, 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Felix started start five games at rush end when J.R. Tavai was out with an injury, so he has that valuable experience. But Felix is going to need to show the coaches he is ready for more if he wants to secure the full-time starting spot.

Felix is likely to face competition from a pair of veterans who are also looking for bigger roles. Jabari Ruffin has been an outside linebacker to this point in his USC career, and he missed the 2014 season due to a knee injury suffered in fall camp so it’s unclear how much he would be available in spring. But there is a lot of speculation about the possibility of Ruffin moving to rush end when he does return. It makes sense to consider, particularly if Su'a Cravens is entrenched in his outside linebacker spot, as Ruffin has a lot of the skill set to make the switch. Charles Burks is heading into his fifth year as a player who has seen limited action with the ability to rush the passer. Burks would definitely want to have a solid spring to get the coaches' attention before one of the true freshmen (Porter Gustin?) gets a look in the fall.

The departure of Hayes Pullard in the middle of the linebacker group leaves a hole that isn’t clear in terms of who will take over. Michael Hutchings has spent two years as the primary reserve to Pullard and would seemingly get the first shot, but I don’t think you can say Hutchings has shown enough so far to think he is definitely ready for the role. Lamar Dawson could get a look here in spring; he missed the 2014 season with injury, but he has the size and experience to warrant giving him a shot. Olajuwon Tucker, who saw time in seven games last season as a freshman, is another spring option, as is early enrollee Cameron Smith. And you can be sure that all three freshman linebackers arriving in the fall (John Houston, Osa Masina and Gustin) could be in the mix as well.

On the offensive side of the ball, it’s a pair of pass-catching options who stand out, as Darreus Rogers and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will both head into spring as the favorites to land starting spots.

For Rogers, he was also the heavy favorite to get a starting spot last fall opposite Nelson Agholor, but JuJu Smith steamrolled past him and became that second option in the passing game. With Agholor (and George Farmer) gone and Smith now established as the No. 1 guy, Rogers has a real chance to solidify his role with a steady spring. He will face competition in the spring from early enrollee juco transfer Isaac Whitney, with another talented juco receiver arriving in the fall in De’Quan Hampton.

Cope-Fitzpatrick could be one of the more valuable additions to the USC roster this spring after missing the 2014 season due to academic reasons. Depth is an issue at tight end, even though Bryce Dixon does offer one of the more talented receiving options you are going to find at the position after a promising freshman season. What Cope-Fitzpatrick can offer, in addition to some solid hands, is a more physical presence as a blocking option, and you have to imagine he is highly motivated after being forced to sit out a year.

There are certainly other examples of players who are anxious to show they are capable of doing more. How about Justin Davis? There is opportunity at tailback, as it’s unclear how Tre Madden will return from his toe injury. Is this the time for Quinton Powell to make a move? USC coach Steve Sarkisian made it clear he wanted Powell to add bulk to be more of a physical factor, so it will be interesting to see where Powell is at in the spring. And we haven’t even mentioned Max Browne, the former No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation who has spent two years progressing and learning, and this spring should be a great chance to judge how far he has come.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

ARIZONA WILDCATS:
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
CALIFORNIA BEARS:

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
COLORADO BUFFALOES:

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
OREGON DUCKS:

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
OREGON STATE BEAVERS:

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
STANFORD CARDINAL:

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
UCLA BRUINS:

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
USC TROJANS:

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
UTAH UTES:

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
NOTES/OBSERVATIONS:

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.

Ranking the Pac-12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
AM PT
Our task today is a subjective one: Rank the head-coaching jobs in the Pac-12. Note: jobs, not individual coaches.

For me, this is like ranking my children. I love them all equally, however different they might be.

Let's take a gander at it.

1. USC: USC is arguably the nation's preeminent football program in terms of national and conference titles, award winners, All-Americans and NFL Hall of Famers. It's a big-stadium team, and its new football building is pretty freaking cool. Moreover, while there are great national programs with comparable -- or perhaps even superior -- traditions such as Alabama or Notre Dame, USC is in Los Angeles, which is infinitely cooler than Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and South Bend, Indiana.

2. Oregon: The Ducks rank No. 2 based on their steady rise to national prominence, as well as a seven-year run that ranks the program among the super-elite. Oh, and their facilities are sparkly.

3. UCLA: Nos. 1 and 2 are pretty obvious here. After that, things get pretty bunched up, but UCLA emerges in the coveted No. 3 spot because of its recent success under coach Jim Mora, which includes three consecutive wins over the Trojans. While the Rose Bowl is off campus, it's still the Rose Bowl, and its recent renovation gave it a considerable upgrade. It also appears that the school is finally investing in the program -- see a new football building on the way -- so it can debunk the notion it's a basketball school (the basketball team also is contributing to that cause). Further, Southern California's A-list prep talent means the Bruins can sustain success under the right coach -- read: Mora.

4. Arizona State: Todd Graham appears to have awoken a program that has long been termed a "sleeping giant." The school is in the process of upgrading Sun Devil Stadium, which is long overdue. There is also potential to continue to upgrade recruiting with a nice combination of location, weather and admission standards.

5. Washington: Obviously, we feel the Washington job has room to move up, as the program has just about everything, other than a recent run of success, to help it. There was a temptation to put Washington higher just because of the magisterial renovation of Husky Stadium.

6. Stanford: Ah, the subjectivity of this list. The Cardinal sit here in the middle of the pack in large part because of academic standards that most coaches would feel are highly unfavorable. David Shaw, a Stanford graduate, doesn't feel that way and has found ways to make it a recruiting benefit instead of a bane. Still, when a program can't even consider most of the ESPN 300 due to academics, that's a challenge for a coach.

7. California: While Berkeley is arguably the nation's best state university, it has been able to get "special admits" to the football program through the years, which was particularly a boon to former coach Jeff Tedford. It appears things are a bit tougher for third-year coach Sonny Dykes. Still, there's good talent available in Northern California and the facilities are A-list. No reason the Golden Bears can't regain the traction they once had under Tedford.

8. Arizona: Arizona has upgraded its facilities and is on an uptick under Rich Rodriguez. Still, most view Arizona as a basketball-first school, and the historical success of both programs supports that perception. Of course, if Rodriguez gets the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl for the first time and eclipses rival Arizona State on the field on a consistent basis, Arizona would move up.

9. Utah: The teams from here and down on this list find themselves hit for at least one of two reasons: (1) stadium size/attendance; (2) winning. Utah is on the uptick on the latter, which is why it ranks ahead of the others. It has also experienced the most recent national relevance, though not as a member of the Pac-12.

10. Oregon State: The Beavers typically found a way to win under Mike Riley, but the program -- other than a charmed 2000 season under Dennis Erickson -- has not been able to take substantial and consistent steps toward national relevance. We do take note that when Riley bolted for Nebraska, the Beavers were able to impressively lure Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin. If Andersen makes Oregon State a nine- or 10-win team, the Beavers will move up.

11. Colorado: Though its time in the Pac-12 has been miserable, Colorado has solid tradition -- highlighted by a split national championship in 1990 -- and Boulder, Colorado, is among the nation's very best college towns. That said, the facilities and administrative commitment have lagged behind other programs in college football's arms race. The losing is an issue as well.

12. Washington State: The Cougars have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997 -- how many other programs can say that? So it's a fact that the right coach can win at Washington State. Still, when the wins aren't coming, it becomes relevant to note the size of Martin Stadium and the isolation of Pullman, Washington. As noted by alumnus Kyle Bonagura, Washington State is the Pac-12's most challenging job.

USC NFL scouting combine recap

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
2:17
PM PT
Here's a review of the USC Trojans who took part in the NFL combine last weekend in Indianapolis.

DL Leonard Williams (6-foot-5, 302)

Leonard went into the combine with the highest draft stock of any USC player and he did pretty much everything he could have done to maintain that ranking. Not only did he measure in with excellent size but he was the first defensive player in a decade to be that tall and weigh more than 300 pounds to run under 5.0 in the 40-yard dash (Williams ran 4.97). In the drills he looked agile and strong, and is virtually guaranteed to be off the draft board within the first few picks of the opening round. Don't expect to see Leonard do much at the USC Pro Day, his pre-draft work is complete.

WR Nelson Agholor (6-foot, 198)

The event was definitely a success for Agholor, even if he finished early due to a dislocated finger on his left hand. Nelson had done plenty before the injury to show that he deserves mention within a very good group of receivers, maybe not enough to be one of the top names but definitely worthy of being an early-round selection. He ran a very respectable 4.42 in the 40 and his 10-yard split time of 1.53 tied for the fastest of all receivers, something that is worthy to mention for a potential slot receiver. NFL Network analyst and Super Bowl winning coach Brian Billick said “After this morning I'm going back and doing more homework on Nelson Agholor.”

DB Josh Shaw (6-foot, 201)

There might not have been a USC player who did more for himself at the combine than Shaw. After missing most of his senior year this was a critical opportunity for Shaw to remind the NFL personnel of his natural tools, and he did that by running a 4.44 in the 40 (tied for No. 3 mark at CB) while also putting up 26 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press (the top number among corners and one that would have been in the upper half for OL). The 40 time is what really stood out as not a lot of people expected Josh to run a time like that. Now it will be important for him to build upon that performance at the USC Pro Day, when there figures to be a lot more attention paid to him now.

RB Buck Allen (6-foot, 221)

Allen kind of slid under the radar, at least in relation to some of the other Trojans, but he did what he needed to do in order to maintain his position as a mid-round selection or even better. It's a good group of running backs in this class and it says something that Buck ran the No. 6 40-time among all backs at 4.53 while also showing his good hands in drills. His bench number of 11 reps seemed a little low for a back of his size but that's not something that is going to be a huge concern.

LB Hayes Pullard (6-foot, 240)

It was the kind of steady performance that you would expect to see from Pullard. His 4.78 time in the 40 isn't going to wow you but it will be enough to keep him in consideration for a Day 3 draft pick, especially when teams start to factor in his career production and the fact that he started 51 games for the Trojans.

OLB J.R. Tavai (6-foot-2, 249)

Tavai didn't shine in any of the drills, in large part because he has never been a full-time outside linebacker, which is where he took part at the event. It's not that he can't play the position but it's probably where he saw the least production at USC, he was much more effective grappling at the line and getting after the quarterback. The fact that he is getting a look show the NFL people understand his versatility, and the hope is they see enough potential at OLB to give him a long look.

TE Randall Telfer (6-foot-4, 250)

Telfer chose to take part only in the interview portion of the event, along with the bench press testing where his mark of 20 reps tied for No. 5 at the tight end spot. His plan is to do the on-field drills and workout as part of the USC pro day on March 11.

College football's top 24 jobs

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
11:10
AM PT

We've reached the final day of our project ranking each of the 65 college football jobs at the Power 5 level.

The central question to file away: If every Power 5 job came open tomorrow, which would be the most desirable? On the other side, which would be least appealing? (And everything in between.)

So who's it going to be? Which program will be deemed our No. 1 gig? Alabama? Texas? USC? Another school?

Though every coach weighs things differently -- that's why it's such a subjective, hot-button topic for debate -- the criteria are roughly the same.

The list includes factors such as location, administrative stability, support from those bosses, facilities, recruiting base, path to conference titles/playoff, sense of tradition, fervor of fan base, too much fervor from a fan base, etc.

We hope and believe we have provided an intelligent and accurate overview of the jobs in college football, from worst to best. We've also received feedback from various coaches and industry sources to help shape these rankings.

Previous rankings: The bottom of the barrel | The middle of the road

Tier 4: The Not-quites

Established brands in their respective leagues -- but is there a certain ceiling that will stop these programs from reaching the top shelf?

24. Wisconsin
Just a couple of months ago, this job might have been a tick or two higher. But Gary Andersen bolting for Oregon State -- the No. 50 program on this list -- shined a light on potential administrative woes in Madison. Andersen complained that assistants were not being paid market value and that an unnecessary admission standard was hampering his ability to get in even marginal academic risks. "We have no speed," Andersen told me in late November. "Our fastest players are walk-ons -- and Melvin Gordon. Thank God for Melvin Gordon." His successor, Paul Chryst, was at Wisconsin previously as an assistant, so he surely understands the pluses and minuses of being the Badgers' head man. He's not entering as blindly as Andersen, coming from Utah State, had. Could the situation be better? Probably. Is it as dire as Andersen made it seem? No, probably not. Look at the teams Wisconsin is being asked to compete against in the Big Ten West. Do Iowa or Nebraska have an inherent competitive advantage, really? Even last season, despite all the "adversity," Wisconsin still won the division. (Thank God for Melvin Gordon?)

The program has a solid reputation nationally, built up for years thanks in large part to the work of former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez. There were some questions about whether Alvarez's larger-than-life presence was part of the reason for Andersen's departure, but Andersen told me point-blank in November that Alvarez had been a good boss. Camp Randall Stadium is one of the better home environments in the Big Ten. Now nearly 100 years old, it has held up well; a $100 million project completed in 2005 has helped keep it modern. The coaches' and players' facilities have seen some upgrades in recent years. Last but not least: Madison is one of the better college towns in the country, so long as it's warm. If the administration proves to be a bit more flexible, understanding that it needs to keep with the times in college football, this could easily move back toward being a top-15 job.

LOS ANGELES -- If the NCAA really wanted to destroy the USC Trojans' football program through sanctions, they should have included a true freshmen ineligibility addendum. Now that really would have been the lethal kryptonite to the Superman program built by former head coach Pete Carroll.

Imagine how an NCAA freshmen ineligibility sanction would have crippled the Trojans in recruiting. Unless a blue-chip recruit always wanted to play for the Men of Troy, it's a safe bet that the Trojans would have lost out on a number of high-valued players that helped keep the program afloat and winning during those sanctioned seasons.

Now let's fast-forward to last season, Steve Sarkisian's first at the helm of the Trojans' storied program. Ask yourself, where would the Trojans have been in 2014 if there had been a freshmen ineligibility rule as part of the general college football landscape?

Apparently what the NCAA never did during the Trojans' sanctions -- freshmen ineligibility -- has now become a hot item in college football. The Big Ten appears to be spearheading a potentially seismic shift in the way college sports do business. The Big Ten wants to consider freshmen ineligibility, and it's getting positive support from both the Pac-12 and the Big 12.

And the powerful SEC?

Are you really surprised the SEC hasn't shown public support of the Big Ten's freshmen ineligibility concept? In theory, consider Sarkisian recruiting nationally against Alabama's Nick Saban, and Sark's Pac-12 has freshmen ineligibility and Saban's SEC doesn't. It would be the recruiting theatre of the absurd, and you know which university the high school phenom would likely select.

In all likelihood, a freshmen ineligibility rule won't pass because all stakeholders invested into the College Football Playoff would need to be on the same recruiting playing field. Of course, the SEC would be more than happy if the other conferences went to a freshmen ineligibility rule and they didn't.

From a USC football program point of view, had a freshmen ineligibility rule been in effect last season, it might have been disastrous even after finally being set free from NCAA sanctions.

Given the limited numbers and depth issues, imagine if the Trojans couldn't have had the 2014 services of those three true freshmen prodigies that started along the offensive line -- namely Freshman All-American left tackle Toa Lobendahn and physical guards Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama.

Picture, if you will, the Trojans being unable to play with sensational true freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith and talented strong safety John Plattenburg?

The crème de la crème of the true freshmen, of course, was Freshman All-America corner/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson, whose sensational 98-yard kickoff touchdown return and electrifying 71-yard TD catch-and-run ignited the Trojans to a 45-42 victory against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Speaking of the Trojans' Holiday Bowl win in San Diego, the Cardinal and Gold started six true freshmen -- four on offense and two on defense and also received support from two additional true freshmen talents in tight end Bryce Dixon and corner Jonathan Lockett.

There is little argument that true freshmen need time to adjust to college life academically, athletically, and socially. However, this isn't the 1970s. Priorities and professional career paths have changed dramatically, and players and their parents more than ever see the riches of playing in the NFL and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.

For those that cry academics are hurt by true freshmen eligibility, after high school graduation many incoming freshmen players immediately enrolled by their university into summer school classes, thus getting a jump-start on a college degree, academics, social life, and immersion into their sports' pathway.

Yes, times have changed.

Just this January at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, which features many of the nation's premier senior high school football players, two-way star Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly) declared on national television that he was taking his talents to the University of Southern California for "the next three years."

Naturally, Ross's "next three years" declaration as opposed to "next four years" brought forth a lot of discussion, but the teenager was just echoing what most incoming freshman football players of today are thinking, and that's heading to the NFL immediately after their junior season.

Yes, times have changed.

The Trojans already have four of Ross's true freshmen teammates (offensive linemen Chuma Edoga and Roy Hemsley, linebacker Cameron Smith, and quarterback Ricky Town) enrolled in USC's spring semester. All four wanted to forego their spring senior semester at their respective high schools and begin their college careers early -- to not only adjust to college life but to participate in spring practice, which begins March 3.

There is very little debate that freshmen ineligibility was once a noble and admirable transition from high school to college, but there are way too many variables and options in today's college football world to go back in time.

And if any university can attest to the values and benefits of freshmen eligibility, the Trojans' football program can because they have lived it in more ways than one.
Congratulations consumers of Pac-12 football, you now know what you already knew you knew: Marcus Mariota is fast.

At Day 2 of the NFL combine's on-field activities, quarterbacks, receivers and running backs were on display. Here's how those from the Pac-12 fared:

Quarterbacks

Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Since 2006, only five quarterbacks have run a faster 40 time than Mariota's 4.52: Reggie McNeal 4.35 (Texas A&M, 2006); Robert Griffin III 4.41 (Baylor, 2012); Marcus Vick 4.42 (Virginia Tech, 2006); Brad Smith 4.46 (Missouri, 2006); Tyrod Taylor 4.51 (Virginia Tech, 2011). It was in no way surprising that Mariota's other numbers measured up well, but probably more important, he drew good reviews as a passer.

40-yard dash: 4.52 seconds (1 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 121 inches (3 of 13)

Brett Hundley, UCLA: Hundley might be the most interesting prospect among the group simply because he was asked to a lot of different things in college and is tough to project where he'll go in the draft. He confirmed he's one of the best athletes among quarterbacks.

40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds (5 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 120 inches (5 of 13)

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: USA Track and Field won't be calling anytime soon, but Mannion's lack of speed isn't a new revelation. As a pocket passer, he showed what he needed to by delivering accurate, catchable balls.

40-yard dash: 5.14 seconds (13 of 13)
Vertical jump: 31.0 inches (9 of 13)
Broad jump: 105 inches (10 of 13)

Bryan Bennett, Southeastern Louisiana (transferred from Oregon): Bennett might have been talked about as one of the draft's best quarterbacks if not for a certain Hawaiian's decision to attend Oregon. After two years in the FCS, he's a relative unknown, but the combine showed he matches up favorably from a physical standpoint.

40-yard dash: 4.81 seconds (7 of 13)
Vertical jump: 37.0 (2 of 13)
Broad jump: 125.0 inches (1 of 13)

Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday met with teams, but is still not ready to workout as he continues to rehab from the broken ankle that ended his senior season prematurely.

Wide receivers

Nelson Agholor, USC: Agholor tested well, but suffered a minor setback with a dislocated finger that ended his day early.

40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds (t-7 of 39)
Bench press: 12 (t-20 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a Broad jump: n/a


Dres Anderson, Utah: Not fully recovered from a season-ending knee injury, Anderson met with teams and participated in the bench press.

40-yard dash: n/a
Bench press: 13 (t-14 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a
Broad jump: n/a

Kaelin Clay, Utah: Put simply, it was a rough day for Clay. As a guy who figures to have a shot to make a team as a potential return specialist, the raw numbers might be more important than for others. However, after watching how dangerous he is all year, I'm comfortable saying he's more athletic than the numbers indicate.

40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds (t-20 of 39)
Bench press: 10 (t-25 of 30)
Vertical jump: 33.0 inches (t-32 of 38)
Broad jump: 113 inches (36 of 38)

Vince Mayle, Washington State: Mayle is at risk of being labeled a system receiver after testing well below average -- at least compared to the other receivers -- in Indy. After a quiet Senior Bowl, Mayle hasn't helped his stock after a brilliant senior year.

40-yard dash: 4.67 (37 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches (t-22 of 38)
Broad jump: 117 inches (30 of 38)

Ty Montgomery, Stanford: As was the case during the season, Montgomery's hands were called into question during the combine.

40-yard dash: 4.55 seconds (t-26 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 40.5 inches (6 of 38)
Broad jump: 121 inches (t-17 of 38)

Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: If we were handing out a Pac-12 blog award for the day's best performance, it would go to Strong. After measuring in at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, his 4.44-second 40 and 42-inch vertical jump make him a rare combination of size and athleticism. Which is basically a confirmation of everything Arizona State fans have known for awhile.

40-yard dash: 4.44 (t-13 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 42.o inches (2 of 38)
Broad jump: 123 inches (9 of 38)

Running back

Buck Allen, USC: Good speed for a running back, but was tied for the fewest reps on the bench press.

40-yard dash: 4.53 (t-6 of 31)
Bench press: 11 (t-29 of 30)

Pac-12 at the combine -- Friday recap

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
10:30
PM PT
A large chunk of my day was spent watching large human beings run 40 yards in spandex. I'd call the whole exercise pointless, but that would require me to come to grips with the fact that I woke up earlier than I would have otherwise to watch something that is pointless and I'm just not ready for that.

Six Pac-12 players were expected to participate in the NFL combine's first day of on-field activities. Here's how they fared:

Offensive linemen

OG Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: Nothing popped out about Douglas' day, but he did turn in an impressive 10-yard split in his 40-yard dash -- which is actually more applicable for a lineman.

40-yard dash: 5.25 seconds (21 of 40)
Bench press: 28 reps (t-10 of 37)
Vertical jump: 29 inches (t-19 of 38)
Broad jump: 99 inches (t-21 of 36)
3 cone drill: 7.99 seconds (19 of 37)
20-yard shuttle: n/a

OT Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher had the most notable day of the Pac-12 contingent, coming in with the fastest times in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle and second-best marks in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump.

40-yard dash: 5.01 seconds (2 of 40)
Bench press: 25 reps (t-20 of 37)
Vertical jump: 32.5 inches (t-2 of 38)
Broad jump: n/a
3 cone drill: 7.25 seconds (1 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.33 seconds (1 of 37)

OT Andrus Peat, Stanford: Peat elected not participate in the bench press and was good enough in the other events. There wasn't anything about his day that should alter any preconceived notions about him.

40-yard dash: 5.18 second (12 of 40)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 31 inches (t-8 of 38)
Broad jump: 105 inches (13 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.01 (21 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.62 (t-10 of 37)

OG Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah: Poutasi's decision to declare for the draft was surprising and he didn't help his cause with a below-average performance Friday. Other than in the bench press, he ranked near the bottom in nearly every category.

40-yard dash: 5.32 seconds (24 of 40)
Bench press: 26 reps (t-13 of 37)
Vertical jump: 26.5 inches (t-29 of 38)
Broad jump: 95 inches (32 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.09 seconds (t-24 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.89 (33 of 37)

C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: Considered one of the draft's top center prospects, Grasu was at the combine but did not participate in on-field drills.

Tight End

Randall Telfer, USC: Telfer only participated in the bench press (20 reps).

The NFL Combine kicks off on Friday.

Here’s a breakdown of which Pac-12 players will be appearing on which days.

FRIDAY, FEB. 20 | Specialists, offensive linemen, tight ends

Offensive linemen:
Tight ends: SATURDAY, FEB. 21 | Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Quarterbacks:
Running backs:
Wide receivers: SUNDAY, FEB. 22 | Defensive linemen, linebackers

Defensive linemen:
Linebackers: MONDAY, FEB. 23 | Defensive backs
This week in the Pac-12 Blog's poll we asked readers whom they thought would be the Player of the Year in the Pac-12 in 2015.

The readers were pretty split among players (and as of 5:30 p.m. PT Wednesday) as USC QB Cody Kessler and "Someone else" tied for first with 30 percent of the votes. In second was Oregon running back Royce Freeman (22 percent); he was followed by UCLA's Paul Perkins (11 percent) and Arizona's Scooby Wright (7 percent).

Ted Miller: The good news is the Pac-12 crowns an offensive and defensive player of the year, so each side of the ball gets its due. But what if we're trying to predict who will be the conference's true MVP -- like Oregon QB Marcus Mariota clearly was this year?

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsWith a year of development under his belt, the stars are aligned for Cody Kessler and USC to have a standout season.
I could see that being a lot of folks, but we tend to reward the best player on the best team and I suspect that will end up being Cody Kessler.

Kessler ended up 11th in the nation and second in the Pac-12 in Total QBR last year after throwing for 39 touchdowns with just five interceptions. While it's true he feasted on the bad teams and often struggled against the good teams, he showed plenty of development as a second-year starter. I expect him to take another step forward in 2015 and become one of the nation's elite QBs.

Players who earn awards often say they see their individual recognition as something shared by their team. That will be the case with Kessler. He's going to have an experienced offensive line in front of him and plenty of young playmakers around him, even after losing RB Javorius Allen and WR Nelson Agholor. The Trojans' offense, which averaged 36 points per game in 2014, is going to take a step forward next fall, and the predominant credit will go to Kessler.

It doesn't hurt either that USC looks like a Pac-12 and national title contender.

Chantel Jennings: That's totally fair, Ted. And yes, normally the best player on the best team is given the award ... except when there's someone who's so undeniably better than everyone else.

Like ... Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright.

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsUnless there is a Heisman winner on offense in the Pac-12 next season, there is no reason to believe that anyone but Scooby Wright will be the league's best player.
Honestly, I'm floored that more people didn't vote for Wright. I think there's probably a pretty good consensus that he'll win the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year but to think that whichever offensive player wins the other side of the award is going to be better than Wright is downright ridiculous.

May I remind you that in 2014 he was awarded the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's best defensive player. The NATION'S best defensive player. Unless that offensive Pac-12 player is winning the Heisman (for example, this season), there's no reason why Wright isn't far and away the best player in the league.

His Two-Star-Scoob status is going to put another chip on his shoulders and I think he's going to make big strides this offseason, being an even bigger force in 2015. Wright led the league in tackles this past year, I'm guessing he leads the nation next season.

Typically, offensive skill players win these awards more than the defensive, blue-collar workhorses. But I'm in Wright's camp.

I went to the University of Michigan which is the only school in the country that has had a primarily defensive player win the Heisman (Charles Woodson). So it has been done. Defensive players have thrown their hats in the ring and walked out the winner. If Wright plays better than he did this year I don't see a single offensive player in the league who deserves the honor more than him.

Kyle Bonagura: I'm with you guys in that the MVP generally goes to the best player on the best team -- and probably should -- but that train of thought doesn't take me to Southern California, Ted. My final destination is Eugene, where Oregon's Royce Freeman is primed for an All-American season and the Ducks stand as my pick to repeat as conference champs.

As a general rule, I don't read much into the hype of any true freshman making a significant impact from Day 1. Especially running backs, who all look like future stars as a function of highlight tapes being the only way to develop somewhat of a first-hand opinion. Freeman wasn't an exception. I saw him run around, over and through hapless high school tacklers in clips, but wasn't quite ready to buy into him having a key role for the Ducks as others (correctly) predicted.

While I started the season firmly in the let's-see-him-play-a-few-games camp, it took about a game and a half (probably less) before I was ready to offer him up to the Oakland Raiders as the first pick in the 2017 NFL draft. An overreaction, absolutely. But not that much of an overreaction because from a pure talent perspective, I think he's the most naturally-gifted skill player in the Pac-12.

After he ran for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, I'm having a hard time forecasting anything less than 1,500 and 20 in 2015. The big caveat here, of course, is Thomas Tyner. The Ducks' other back with star potential could conceivably earn more carries (see: College Football Playoff), but just about every coach will tell you a player usually makes his biggest jump from his first year to second year on campus -- which bodes well for Freeman.

That's what my gut tells me, however, I reserve the right to change my mind as early as tomorrow. I'm just going to have to accept I'm a flip-flopper like that.
Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
When asked to select my three favorite Pac-12 players from the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300, it became a far tougher assignment than Tuesday's five surprises or Wednesday's five intriguing recruitments.

Quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley authored so many standout moments that it was difficult to separate any of them. Stanford maulers such as David Yankey, David DeCastro and Andrus Peat, along with super tailback Toby Gerhart, helped Stanford become one of the most physically impressive teams in the nation. Pass-catchers such as Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen and USC's duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee could each be the subject of feature-length highlight films.

But when it came down to it, turns out I'm just a sucker for two- (and sometimes three-) way football.

Adoree' Jackson

After a strong true freshman season, Jackson is already No. 38 in the Ultimate 300 and the No. 4 USC Trojan on the list. Jackson was USC's best cornerback in 2014, turned three of his 10 receptions into touchdowns and brought back two kickoffs for scores. Jackson's signature plays in 2014 came in the Trojans' bowl game against Nebraska, when he put USC's first points on the board with a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown, then scored the first touchdown of the second half by turning a short pass into a 71-yard score.

Shaq Thompson

Thompson was a star on both sides of the ball for Washington in 2014 and has the Paul Hornung Award -- given to the nation's most versatile player -- to prove it. Any number of plays from this past season come up when Thompson's name is mentioned, including his 100-yard fumble return against Cal, his performance against Illinois when he scored two defensive touchdowns, and his back-to-back 100-yard rushing games against Colorado and UCLA. During his junior year, Thompson rushed for 456 yards and two touchdowns, and totaled 81 tackles, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles, as he rocketed up from No. 231 to No. 87 in the newest Ultimate 300.

Myles Jack

As a true freshman, Jack was inserted as a tailback against Arizona, and almost immediately everything changed for Jack and the Bruins. He rushed six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard scoring run against the Wildcats, as the legend of Myles Jack was born. He tallied four rushing touchdowns against Washington and was named the Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12 in 2013. In 2014, Jack took a step back from the offensive side of the ball, but still rushed for three touchdowns. He was great again on defense, racking up 88 tackles and an interception. He checks in at No. 238 on the Ultimate 300, and like the other two listed above, he's capable of adding to his highlight tape in any number of ways.

SPONSORED HEADLINES