The Pac-12 is blessed with an abundance of returning starting quarterbacks in 2014. With 10 starters coming back, many are wondering if the league is on pace for its best quarterback year ever. This week the Pac-12 blog will give you a snapshot of all 10.

Name: Cody Kessler

School: USC

Grade: Junior

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler finished with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions last fall.
2013 passing stats: Completed 236 of 361 passes (65.4 percent) for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Posted a raw QBR of 59 with an adjusted QBR of 66.1.

Career passing stats: Completed 238 of 363 passes (65.6 percent) for 2,977 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Posted a raw QBR of 59 with an adjusted QBR of 66.1.

2013 rushing stats: Rushed 42 times for minus-124 yards with one rushing touchdown.

Career rushing stats: Same as above.

Kessler on Twitter

What you need to know about Kessler: Kessler was locked in a quarterback competition with Max Wittek following the 2012 season and Matt Barkley's departure. That competition went from the winter into the spring and continued to spill over into the fall while then-coach Lane Kiffin flip-flopped the first few games. Kessler eventually won the job and -- under offensive coordinator Clay Helton’s direction and play-calling -- steadily improved during the Ed Orgeron era. When Steve Sarkisian was hired, Kessler proved himself all over again, beating out Max Browne in the spring to retain his spot. He has a firm grasp of the pro-style scheme and showed his smarts to Sarkisian and Co. by quickly picking up the up-tempo elements. So much so that Sarkisian named Kessler the starter in the 12th practice of the spring.

Career high point: From a team standpoint, without a question, it was the victory against Stanford last season. Kessler was an efficient 25 of 37 for 288 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. From a personal, statistical standpoint, he was outstanding in USC’s 45-20 win against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. He connected on 22 of 30 passes for a career high 345 yards and four touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP.

Career low point: Kessler had one multi-interception game last season, and it was in a 62-41 blowout loss to ASU. Not only was that a low point for him, but it was one of the darkest days in program history (or brightest, depending how you felt about Kiffin). That loss led to Kiffin’s infamous airport firing, but also united the Trojans under Orgeron and they went on to win seven of their final nine games. Still, that had to be a bad flight from Tempe to Los Angeles.

When he was a recruit: The No. 29 overall quarterback in the 2011 class, Kessler was 26 slots lower than Max Wittek, who also signed with USC that year and eventually transferred when Kessler earned the starting position. Despite lacking prototypical height for the position, Kessler earned offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Washington, among others. Fortuitous timing led to his commitment to USC. As Kessler was in his coach’s office, ready to make a phone call and commit to the Washington Huskies and then-head coach Steve Sarkisian, the phone rang. It was the USC coaches calling to offer a scholarship, which completely changed the trajectory of Kessler’s recruitment. Kessler jumped on board, even though the Trojans already held a commitment from Wittek. Kessler went on to grind his way to the top of the depth chart, which sounds fairly familiar. "Kessler is an impressive prospect that grows on you the more you watch him. He has a salty demeanor and swagger about him that makes you want to watch more of him," his ESPN Recruiting Nation profile read.

Opposing head coach's take: "Cody battled some early things. He didn’t play great early in the season. But we really saw him come on. Much like a Kevin Hogan, it’s not always the highlight plays. But you see a guy make a tough play to win a football games -- taking a hit in the pocket and standing in there to make a play down the field, pushing up in the pocket and escaping for a first down. You see him do all the things that good football players do."

What to expect in 2014: Kessler is accurate and he takes care of the football. Those are two extremely important keys to success, regardless of who your coach is or what kind of a scheme you run. Of the returning starters, only Marcus Mariota had fewer interceptions than Kessler. And it’s worth noting that after Kiffin was fired and Helton took over the play-calling, Kessler had just three interceptions over the final nine games. No other quarterback in the league can claim that type of ball security over that stretch. Sarkisian wisely retained Helton as his offensive coordinator, which Kessler has said several times was a big relief because those two work so well together. So you factor all of that, combined with the experience gained last season and an up-tempo twist (which certainly benefited Keith Price's efficiency last season when Sarkisian was at Washington), and you have the potential for a very efficient and dangerous quarterback. Oh yeah, it also helps to have Nelson Agholor and a healthy George Farmer at receiver.

Erik McKinney contributed reporting.
Pick a word, any word.

That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.

Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesStanford's David Shaw describes his team as 'underappreciated.'
Of the 65 coaches, “hungry” was the most common description. Nine coaches went with it, making a “hungry” team the modern-day equivalent of the “taking it one game at a time” cliché. Four coaches used “unproven,” another four “experienced” and three said “young.” Two coaches each used “redemption,” “committed,” “improved” or “youthful."

In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.

Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.

Pac-12

Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez: Hungry
Arizona State’s Todd Graham: Character
Cal’s Sonny Dykes: Hungry
Colorado’s Mike MacIntryre: More confident
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich: Redemption
Oregon State’s Mike Riley: Leadership
Stanford’s David Shaw: Underappreciated
UCLA’s Jim Mora: Determined
USC’s Steve Sarkisian: Tough
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham: Warriors
Washington’s Chris Petersen: Unknown
Washington State’s Mike Leach: Improving

Florida connection boosting USC football 

August, 21, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- When the USC Trojans host the Fresno State Bulldogs in their season opener Aug. 30 at the Coliseum, there will likely be five athletes from the talent-rich state of Florida in the Trojans starting lineup -- all of whom could make their mark for any of the elite teams in the SEC region.

Check it out, Dixieland.

In All-America defensive tackle Leonard Williams (Daytona Beach), preseason All-America wide receiver Nelson Agholor (Tampa), and running back Javorius Allen (Tallahassee) -- the 2013 team MVP -- the Men of Troy have three acknowledged all-star Sunshine State starters in the junior class.

Timing right for USC, Sark marriage

August, 21, 2014
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USC safety Taylor Mays didn't exactly grin from ear to ear at the question back in 2008, but his face did acknowledge that the reporter had offered him an underhanded pitch that he could belt out of the L.A. Coliseum in any direction he wished.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIn his second stint as a college football head coach, Steve Sarkisian faces the pressure of guiding a national powerhouse program in USC.
Mays and the top-ranked USC Trojans had just made No. 5 Ohio State look like a high school team in a 35-3 whipping that wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggested. The question was whether the Buckeyes had been shocked by just how much better the Trojans were. Mays paused, seeming to savor the question as he coolly assessed the contents of his locker, before delivering a response.

"Many teams wonder what this SC thing is about -- why have we been so successful these past years," he said. "We came out there and showed them. They're Ohio State and that means something. But we prepare so well that we just do what we do."

There was a time under Pete Carroll when USC pretty much won games when they got off the bus. They simply looked a whole lot better -- bigger, faster, more confident -- than anyone else in college football. Reporters and fans would encircle the Trojans' open scrimmages, particularly during Competition Tuesdays, and marvel at the talent level and intensity.

New USC coach Steve Sarkisian was Carroll's top offensive assistant for much of that run from 2002 to '08 before heading off to Washington. He missed the 2004 BCS national title season while spending an unhappy year with the Oakland Raiders, as well as the start of the program's decline in 2009, a 9-4 finish after the Trojans had lost just nine games in the previous seven seasons. Then Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks.

So Sarkisian knows what things were like during the Trojans' most recent dynastic run. He was there for its creation. A Southern California native, he knows the area, the program's traditions and how quickly expectations can become stratospheric. He knows what he is taking over. And getting himself into.

He knows USC is one of the most powerful brands in college sports, one whose name and logo have impact in South Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as in its home territory.

"When you have that SC interlock on your chest and you walk into a school [to recruit], whether it's in Southern California or anywhere else, this talks about 11 national championships, six Heisman Trophies, more NFL draft picks, more All-Americans, more All-Pros, more Hall of Famers than any other school," Sarkisian said. "So it's a powerful brand."

Sarkisian also knows timing. He knows it's better not to be the "man after the man," as his friend Lane Kiffin was with Carroll. Sarkisian was Carroll's personal preference to replace him, and then-athletic director Mike Garrett made a play for Sarkisian before offering the job to Kiffin. Sarkisian was then heading into his second season at Washington and felt it wouldn't be the right time to bail out on the Huskies.

Oh, and he also knew NCAA sanctions were on the horizon, though there was little indication at the time that they would be as severe as they ended up being.

Good timing? As of June, USC is no longer yoked with those sanctions that included the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. After signing a highly rated class in February, despite limits, Sarkisian could have the Trojans at around 80 scholarship players next fall, according to ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz, not far below the limit of 85, and substantially better than the numbers that have made depth the team's most worrisome issue since 2010. The Trojans presently rank 14th in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in the ESPN.com recruiting rankings.

Timing? Even during Carroll's run, USC's facilities were second-rate. No longer. After putting $120 million toward new and renovated buildings, including the 110,000-square foot John McKay Center, USC matches up with the most elite teams.

Timing? Sarkisian inherits 18 returning starters from a team that won 10 games in 2013. The Trojans should be contenders in the South Division this fall, emerging from so-called crippling sanctions in pretty good shape after averaging "only" 8.8 wins per season from 2009 through last year.

Of course, his timing isn't that perfect. He's got a UCLA problem that Carroll didn't have to contend with. The Bruins are surging under Jim Mora and are hardly quaking at the prospect of USC again being whole. It's notable that Sarkisian and Mora have long had a cordial relationship, though that might be difficult to sustain going forward.

"I think [hiring Sarkisian] has given them a shot of energy that I wish they didn't get," Mora quipped at Pac-12 media days. "I have great respect for Sark, and I like him as a person and as a coach. I just know he's going to make my job harder."

While USC can again sign a full recruiting class of 25, which should make the going tougher for all 11 other Pac-12 teams, there's also some undercurrent of smugness within the conference from coaches and fans that Sarkisian hasn't truly earned a job like USC and that he isn't much different from Kiffin. His critics dubbed him "Seven-Win Steve" after he led Washington to three consecutive 7-6 seasons, a rut that had some Huskies fans putting him on the hot seat heading into the 2013 season.

The Huskies improved to 9-4 last season, finishing with a Top 25 ranking for the first time since 2001. Some also seemed to forget that Sarkisian inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008. While there's been an odd effort to rewrite the history of how down the program was back then, it was outscored 463-159 that season and hadn't posted a winning record since 2002. Washington went 1-10 in 2004 and 2-9 in 2005. Further, majestic Husky Stadium was falling apart.

Chris Petersen has inherited a team from Sarkisian that's played in four consecutive bowl games, is ranked in the preseason, and is playing in a beautifully renovated stadium.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsUSC Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian was optimistic at Pac-12 media days, saying: "I think we have a chance to do something special this year."
This is not to say Sarkisian did a perfect job at Washington. He made mistakes like most first-time head coaches, including sticking with overmatched defensive coordinator Nick Holt for too long. Yet the feeling among USC insiders is that the Trojans are getting Sark 2.0, and he's surrounded himself with a staff that is touted for its X's and O's acumen (most notably defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox) as well as its recruiting savvy. Sarkisian retained receivers coach Tee Martin, one of the most quietly important coups of the transition.

Sarkisian isn't necessarily bringing back Carroll's "Win Forever" rhetoric and culture. For one, he runs an up-tempo offense, not Carroll's pro style, and a 3-4 hybrid defense, not Carroll's 4-3. That could be seen as part of Sarkisian's maturation, of finding his own way. When Sarkisian took the Washington job after the 2009 Rose Bowl, Carroll actually told him that he needed to be his own man, not mimic Carroll.

"His final words to me walking out was, 'Go be you, because when adversity strikes, the real you is going to come out anyway,'" Sarkisian said.

For USC fans, adversity has already struck and stuck hard. Sarkisian's charge is to make sure those adverse days are done. Adversity going forward is losing more than two Pac-12 games.

Or is that losing more than one game, period?
Iman Marshall hasn't said much when it comes to recruiting, constantly maintaining that he is wide open to the process and without any favorites. On Thursday, the No. 8 overall prospect and No.1 player in the West region took a significant step toward shedding some light on his recruiting situation, tweeting out the schools he will officially visit before making his decision. Of course, as always with recruiting, Marshall still provided for some grey area.

After announcing that he'd be listing his five official visits, Marshall tweeted six schools, as Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Texas all made the list. The five-star prospect offered a little clarity, saying he is town between Oklahoma and Texas, then asked the fan bases of those two schools to help him decide which to see for his fifth visit.
video

Cary Chow and Chris Low look at the preseason All-American receivers and point out a couple of wide outs that aren't on the list now, but might be by the of the season.

Preseason All-Pac-12 team

August, 21, 2014
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The kickoff to the 2014 season is fast approaching, so it's time to unveil the Pac-12 blog's preseason all-conference team. We're doing it a bit differently. In order to account for varying schemes in the conference, we've selected three wide receivers and one tight end on offense and four defensive lineman and four linebackers on defense (so each unit has 12 preseason selections). And we have opted to choose the five best offensive linemen in the conference, in our estimation, rather than select by position.

Here it is:

Offense

QB: Marcus Mariota, Oregon: A leading Heisman Trophy candidate and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, he accounted for 40 touchdowns last season, rushing for 715 yards and passing for 3,665. The Ducks' offense led the Pac-12 with 45.5 points per game.

RB: Byron Marshall, Oregon: Marshall is the conference’s only returning 1,000-yard back after rushing for 1,038 yards last season. However, he will face stiff competition in his own backfield from Thomas Tyner and freshman Royce Freeman.

RB: D.J. Foster, Arizona State: After working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster is now the headliner. That doesn’t mean he won’t still catch passes. The coaching staff loves to split him out in the slot.

WR: Nelson Agholor, USC: He caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns last season and also returned kicks (17.5 average) and punts (19.1 average). With Marqise Lee off to the NFL, Agholor will be the Trojans’ top offensive target.

WR: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: In his first season with the Sun Devils, Strong burst onto the scene with 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the conference’s best and a future pro.

WR: Ty Montgomery, Stanford: Montgomery’s totals (61 catches, 958 yards, 10 touchdowns) don’t adequately compare him to the country’s other elite receivers. In a run-heavy offense, he was responsible for 32.1 percent of the Cardinal’s receptions, which was second-most in the Pac-12 behind Colorado’s Paul Richardson (35.3).

TE: Connor Hamlett, Oregon State: After catching 40 balls for 364 yards and five touchdowns, he is widely regarded as the top tight end in a league that has produced some great ones of late. Look for him to be a popular target as QB Sean Mannion and the Beavers adjust to life without star receiver Brandin Cooks.

OL: Alex Redmond, UCLA: A freshman All-American last season, he helped an injury-riddled Bruins offensive line maintain elite offensive numbers, including nearly 40 points per game. Expect a big step forward as a sophomore with a year of seasoning.

OL: Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: A rare four-year starter with 40 starts to his credit, he is a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection. A favorite for the Rimington Trophy, he was the centerpiece of the Pac-12’s No. 1 rushing offense.

OL: Andrus Peat, Stanford: When your head coach is comparing you to Jonathan Ogden, you must be doing something right. If Peat comes out, the junior will be in the running to be the first offensive lineman taken in next year’s NFL draft.

OL: Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: A second-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, Douglas has started every game over the past two seasons and appeared in every game during the 2011 season.

OL: Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Though he has excelled at center the previous two years, the coaching staff might move him around this season to fill some holes on the line. A foot injury might limit his playing time early in the season.

Defense

DL: Leonard Williams, USC: An All-American and Bednarik semifinalist last season, Williams returns after leading the Trojans with 13.5 tackles for loss. He projects to be a top-5 pick in the 2015 NFL draft and is regarded as the top defensive lineman in the country.

DL: Danny Shelton, Washington: Shelton’s frame (6-foot-2, 339 pounds) and his athleticism make him a potential first-round NFL pick next spring. He had 59 tackles, two sacks and two blocked kicks last season while often facing more than one blocker.

DL: Henry Anderson, Stanford: An All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection last year despite battling injuries, Anderson is expected to fill the void left by the departures of Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.

DL: Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: He was second in the conference last season with 13 sacks (second-most in school history) and seventh with 15.5 tackles for loss. Also on the Bednarik watch list, he was second-team all-conference last year after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.

LB: Myles Jack, UCLA: One of the biggest names in college football, Jack was the conference’s Defensive (and Offensive) Freshman of the Year last season. He recovered two fumbles, had two interceptions and recorded 75 tackles, seven for loss.

LB: Hayes Pullard, USC: He has led the Trojans in tackles for two of the past three seasons, including 94 last season with 5.5 tackles for loss. A second-team All-Conference performer in 2013, he is a veteran of 39 starts and a mainstay on what might be the conference’s best defense.

LB: Shaq Thompson, Washington: Like Jack, Thompson has the potential to be among the most versatile players in college football, as new coach Chris Petersen also plans to use Thompson on offense. He was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection last year and is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award.

LB: Eric Kendricks, UCLA: No one has more tackles in the Pac-12 over the past three seasons. He doesn’t get the premium tackles-for-loss stats or sack stats that some of the lauded outside linebackers in the conference get. But he is as good a run-stopper as there is in the country.

CB: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon: Perhaps the best cornerback in the country, Ekpre-Olomu has twice been named first-team All-Pac-12. He led the Ducks with 53 unassisted tackles last season, recorded three interceptions and broke up six passes.

CB: Marcus Peters, Washington: A second-team all-conference performer, he tied for third in the league last season in passes defended (14) and had five interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He projects to be a high draft pick in 2015.

S: Jordan Richards, Stanford: One of the more unique athletes in the conference, Richards is effective against the run and in coverage. He has started every game the past two years and recorded 168 tackles and six interceptions the past three.

S: Su'a Cravens, USC: He earned freshman All-America honors after an outstanding rookie campaign that included 52 stops and four interceptions. Has All-America potential as a sophomore.

Special teams

K: Andy Phillips, Utah: Phillips was a Lou Groza semifinalist last year when he connected on 17 of 20 field goal attempts. Not bad for a former competitive alpine skier who had never kicked before walking on in 2012.

P: Tom Hackett, Utah: The All-Pac-12 first-team punter last season, Hackett averaged 43.4 yards per punt and downed 27 of 76 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 21, 2014
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Cogito ergo sum.

Leading off

As we hit the one-week countdown for the start of the Pac-12 season, it never hurts to go back and see where things stand with your head coach.

As the Pac-12 blog wrote a few months back, it’s possible that we might make it through 2014 without a coaching change. Maybe. Since 10 of the 12 teams have changed coaches since the start of the 2011 season, nothing is for certain.

A key determining factor is always how coaches stack up against top competition. And the Wall Street Journal Online released an interesting chart of every coach in the Power 5 (plus Notre Dame) and their record against AP Top 25 teams.



They also had some flattering things to say about Stanford coach David Shaw:
The best winning percentage (.778). Granted, it is a relatively small sample size—Shaw has been a head coach for only three seasons, and he took over a strong program — but 18 ranked opponents in three years is a ton. Urban Meyer has faced seven in two years at Ohio State. (Also, two of Shaw's four losses were in overtime.)

Here’s how the Pac-12 coaches shake out (career/at current school), plus I tossed in what I think was the biggest win. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong:
  • Rich Rodriguez 16-26 and 3-7 (beating No. 5 Oregon in 2013)
  • Todd Graham 6-12 and 3-5 (beating No. 14 UCLA in 2013)
  • Sonny Dykes 0-9 and 0-5 (N/A)
  • Mike MacIntyre 0-10 and 0-3 (N/A)
  • Mark Helfrich 2-1 and 2-1 (Beating No. 16 Washington in 2013)
  • Mike Riley 13-39 and 13-39 (Beating USC in 2006)
  • David Shaw 14-4 and 14-4 (Beating Oregon in 2012)
  • Jim Mora 5-5 and 5-5 (Beating USC in 2012)
  • Steve Sarkisian 8-18 and 0-0 (Beating USC in 2009)
  • Kyle Whittingham 9-13 and 9-13 (Beating No. 4 Alabama in the 2008 season/2009 Sugar Bowl).
  • Chris Petersen 8-4 and 0-0 (Beating No. 11 Oklahoma in the 2006 season/2007 Fiesta Bowl).
  • Mike Leach 13-38 and 1-7 (Beating No. 1 Texas in 2008).

In digging up some of these old games, I had to go back through and watch some highlights of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. So, so awesome.

All-Americans

ESPN.com will be releasing its preseason All-America team later today. CBS Sports released its Wednesday. I’m not going to give out any spoilers on ours, but we have more Pac-12 players. And thus, ours is superior, said the Pac-12 writer.

Oregon center Hroniss Grasu is the only Pac-12 player on offense, while the defense has a trio of Pac-12 players in USC defensive end Leonard Williams, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery is the selection at kick return.

Keep an eye out

The Senior Bowl Watch list is out, and of the 350 players, 40 are from the Pac-12. All of the names you’d expect are on it. You can see the complete list (sortable by school, conference and position) here.

More must-see TV (Take 2)

On Wednesday, we brought you a couple of links with must-see games in the league. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News also popped up his can’t-miss games in the league this year. They are what you’d expect. Stanford, Oregon, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, a dash of USC. However, Wilner opted to list his chronologically, rather than ranking them. Shrewd, Mr. Wilner. Very shrewd indeed.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

A fun little story from Chris Foster of the LA Times on a trio of teams experiencing Rose Bowl droughts. The premise is that UCLA has a good shot at the Rose Bowl this year. But they haven’t been there since ’99. But that’s not as long as Cal, Oregon State or Arizona State. Any post that can weave in Frankie Avalon, The Beatles and Bill Clinton is worth five minutes of your time.

Always cool to see walk-on players getting signing their scholarships. Five Sun Devils got theirs yesterday.

And finally, the Bruins had a guest speaker at practice yesterday ... Den-freaking-zel. King Kong ain’t got (horse pucky) on him.

Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to the first installment of what'll be a regular feature here on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question, one topic or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet and all contribute our thoughts.

Sometimes, like today, we'll be playing Devil's advocate for a specific team, player or idea.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Our first topic is centered on wide receiver depth. Specifically, which team in the conference has the most? As a group, we selected the four schools below -- something that was not clear cut -- and then divvied them up between the four of us.

Arizona

Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: Arizona would rate near the top of the Pac-12 just on what it's got coming back from 2013, starting with leading receiver Nate Phillips, who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a true freshman. Toss in the water-bug quick Samajie Grant and 6-foot-4 David Richards, who combined for 29 receptions last season, as well as the surging Trey Griffey -- son of Kenny Griffey Jr. -- who hauled in two TD passes in the bowl game, and you have a talented, experienced unit.

Yet, the receivers that didn't play in 2013 have the Wildcats among the nation's best at receiver this fall.

First, there's Austin Hill, a 6-foot-3, 212-pounder who was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 with 81 receptions for 1,364 yards. He would have been a Biletnikoff contender in 2013 if he didn't miss the season with a blown-out knee. Then there are a pair of marquee transfers, Cayleb Jones (Texas) and Davonte' Neal (Notre Dame) who had to sit last season due to NCAA rules. Jones is another big, athletic target, while Neal is a dangerous runner with the ball in his hands out of the slot.

The list of intriguing athletes doesn't end there, but that is enough to establish Arizona as the Pac-12's deepest receiving unit. It will be interesting to see who ends up leading the unit in receptions, as Hill, Phillips and Jones are legit possibilities. The only issue? Who the heck is going to deliver the ball?

California

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: With apologies to Stanford, which was tough to leave off this list, Cal is the Bay Area team with the most receiver depth this season. If we’re talking top 3, maybe things are different, but considering Cal uses four receivers on just about every play and doesn’t even list a tight end, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

By returning Chris Harper (70 catches, 853 yards) and Bryce Treggs (77 catches, 751 yards), Cal is the only school in the conference that has a pair of 700-yard receivers from last season. Treggs played primarily on the inside, but the coaching staff plans to take advantage of his varied skill set by using him on the outside this season.

Interestingly, Harper wasn’t even listed with the starters on Cal’s preseason depth chart. He was behind Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis, who sat out last season after catching 45 passes for 601 and five touchdowns in two seasons with the Warriors. That shouldn’t matter too much because Cal will rotate receivers heavily, but still worth noting.

Along with Treggs and Davis, Cal listed Kenny Lawler (37 catches, 347 yards) and Stephen Anderson (14 catches, 125 yards) as the other two starting receivers. There's plenty of depth behind them too with Darius Powe (25 catches, 231 yards), Maurice Harris and Bryce McGovern.

USC

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: I’m not going to spew out a couple hundred words and pretend that the Trojans have the deepest wide receiver corps in the conference. Because they don’t -- at least not at first glance. The other schools on this list -- Arizona, Cal and Washington State -- are heavy at receiver because they run spread offenses contingent on a deep wide receiving corps.

But what the Trojans do have is Nelson Agholor, who is widely regarded as the best receiver in the conference and one of the top five in the country. And that has to count for something. I know what the counter argument is -- what if USC loses Agholor? Well, then it's in trouble. You could say that for any team’s No. 1 receiver. But there is also some talented potential behind Agholor that could be getting overlooked.

Remember George Farmer? He’s finally healthy and appears on track to start opposite Agholor after rave reviews this fall. Sports Illustrated even tapped him as one of its top players set to have a bounce-back year. Darreus Rogers (22 catches last season), Steven Mitchell, Victor Blackwell and five-star recruit JuJu Smith are also waiting in the wings. Another five-star recruit, Adoree' Jackson, could see work at receiver.

Agholor’s presence automatically makes USC relevant to this conversation. And with explosive potential behind him, it would be unwise to disregard USC’s receiving corps.

Washington State

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I don’t know how anyone is going to make an argument for any team other than Washington State. The Cougars throw the ball more than any other team in the conference, thus they need more receivers than any other team in the conference.

They return their top seven receivers from last season. Each of those players caught at least 35 passes, and the top five receivers averaged at least 40 yards per game. What other team can say that? Yes, other teams might have a player who averages 100 or 120 receiving yards per game but the Cougars have weapons everywhere on the field. Though they might contribute in smaller amounts, the end total is greater.

Senior Vince Mayle had a huge spring for the Cougars and is continuing to impress in the fall, becoming Connor Halliday's go-to guy. Look for him and junior Gabe Marks to lead the pack. But, there’s a pretty deep group behind those two headliners.

Warning: here comes a long (very long) list of names ... but that’s what you get with the deepest receiver group in the Pac-12.

There are the guys who most will remember from last season -- senior Kristoff Williams, sophomore River Cracraft, junior Dom Williams, senior Rickey Galvin and senior Isiah Myers. And that’s just the guys who played last year. Two freshmen could contribute this season -- redshirt freshman Robert Lewis and true freshman Calvin Green.

WeAreSC Roundtable: Fall storylines 

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
11:30
AM PT
Give three under-the-radar storylines from fall camp that aren't getting a lot of attention but will be very important to the USC Trojans.


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WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
8:44
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the Publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
When the USC Trojans scrimmaged in the Coliseum last week, there was a notable sideline visitor in highly ranked cornerback Iman “Biggie” Marshall.


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Pac-12 morning links

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
8:00
AM PT
And I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I'd probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.

Leading off

Previews, previews, previews. Lots of them hit the web yesterday. Fox, SI and Athlon all had major Pac-12 pieces.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel, who picked the Washington Huskies to win the North Division and Oregon to finish third.

Here’s Mandel’s take on the Ducks:
The string of 11- and 12-win seasons can’t go on forever, and despite the return of star quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ once-unstoppable offense showed cracks last year following Chip Kelly’s departure. Oregon’s defense may miss retired coordinator Nick Aliotti.

There’s a couple of ways to interpret this. First, Mandel -- a good friend who knows college football as well as anyone in the country -- is brilliant. And when the Huskies are walking away with the North title, he’s going to have a satisfied grin on his face for the entire offseason. Or, he could be wrong. Nothing wrong with putting yourself out there.

The country seems high on the No. 25 Huskies. For the national voters to place them in the Top 25 after losing their starting quarterback, a Doak Walker finalist running back and a Mackey Award winning tight end speaks to how highly Chris Petersen is regarded as a head coach. And maybe, just maybe those East of the Rockies are starting to pay the Pac-12 a little more national respect.

But as the Pac-12 blog is fond of saying (and so is every single coach in America), the final rankings are the only ones that matter. So a tip of the cap to Mandel for by far the boldest prediction of this preseason.

Some other previews:

SI’s Lindsey Schnell has Oregon and UCLA playing in the Pac-12 title game -- a common pick among most media, including the Pac-12 blog -- UCLA’s Myles Jack as the league’s defensive MVP. That’s another fairly bold prediction considering the quality of players like Leonard Williams, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Shaq Thompson, Hau'oli Kikaha and Jack’s teammate, Eric Kendricks. That’s going to be a fun award to keep an eye on throughout the season.

NFL.com’s college football blog pays homage to the quarterback depth in the Pac-12, and Bryan Fischer taps Kevin Hogan as the league’s breakout player in 2014.

Schedule accordingly

A couple different posts have come out over the last two days about must-see games. Let’s put it this way – if you plan on watching Oregon, Stanford or UCLA, you’re covered.

First up, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports has his annual list of the 25 most intriguing games of the 2014 season and five of the 25 involve Pac-12 teams. From his list:
  • No. 2 Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
  • No. 4 UCLA at Texas (Sept. 13)
  • No. 7 Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
  • No. 14 Oregon at UCLA (Oct. 11)
  • No. 17 USC at Stanford (Sept. 6)

Next up is Athlon Sports, which posted 25 must-see games specific to the Pac-12. Here’s their top 5:
  • No. 1 Stanford at Oregon
  • No. 2 Oregon at UCLA
  • No. 3 Michigan State at Oregon
  • No. 4 USC at UCLA
  • No. 5. Stanford at UCLA

You can see some interesting opinions in terms of placement. But for the most part all of the major games are covered.

Rank’em

Athlon also came out with its rankings of the top 37 players in the Pac-12.

Here’s what their top 10 looks like:
  1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
  2. Leonard Williams, DE, USC
  3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
  4. Ifo-Ekpre Olomu, CB, Oregon
  5. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
  6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
  7. Taylor Kelly, QB, ASU
  8. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
  9. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
  10. Jaelen Strong, WR, ASU

The top four are identical to what the Pac-12 blog had for its Top 25 players. Though we lumped a trio of receivers in our 5-10 and gave the nod to Agholor over Strong for his special teams contributions.

Also, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News released his all-conference projections for 2014. Not a lot of surprises, though it’s interesting to see UCLA’s Jordon James get the nod over Oregon’s Byron Marshall.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

One member of the Stanford coaching staff told me he believes center Graham Shuler could be better than both of the guys who preceded him.

 

And speaking of reunions, these guys are back together. This could get interesting.

 
video

Highlighted by the top ten matchup between Oregon and Michigan State in week two, Chris Low and Cary Chow look at the best of the best games to start the college football season.
The USC Trojans held a full live scrimmage on Monday night at the Coliseum and came away with the kind of positive impressions you want from the final scrimmage of fall camp.

The opening part of the session featured the first-team offense against the second-team defense and the first-team defense against the second-team offense. The first-team offense scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, one each by Tre Madden and Buck Allen, who had help from a long Randall Telfer run after a catch on a pass from Cody Kessler. Allen added a second touchdown on a pass reception from Kessler and Jalen Greene also ran for a score.


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