To the notes!
TrojanDaddy from Los Angeles writes: Ted, thought I was over USC's NCAA debacle, but now this [Todd] McNair stuff is killing me. Always thought we got [cheated], now we know it. Awaiting your take.
Ted Miller: I've talked about the release of NCAA documents, including private communications among committee members and NCAA staffers related to the investigation of USC's football program and former assistant Todd McNair, here and here.
If you want to review some of my past USC-NCAA oeuvre, see here and here and here and here. There are others, such as my take before the whole disaster was set in motion by a horribly unfair NCAA ruling.
First, a couple of declarative statements.
- Yes, these emails are as bad as they seem, betraying a compromised, unprofessional and unfair process, including aggressive involvement from folks who weren't supposed to be involved at all, according to the NCAA's own official procedures.
- What's more mind-blowing is there are still more documents, approximately 200 pages, according to the Los Angeles Times, which the NCAA continues to hide from public view. So the evidence against the NCAA, we can only assume, will only get worse.
- It's difficult to believe, no matter how long the NCAA tries to hide behind legal maneuvers, that McNair won't eventually get paid, likely through a substantial settlement instead of a jury trial.
What does this mean for USC? Will it sue the NCAA? Will there be an unprecedented "mea culpa" from the organization? (You can find its initial response here.) Can USC get some sort of retroactive relief, even a special dispensation that allows it to add scholarship players to get to the maximum of 85 as quickly as possible?
I honestly have no idea how that next chapter might turn out, but the scuttlebutt is USC is exploring its options, which might eventually placate in some way Trojans fans who believed the school has been too passive in accepting the NCAA's harsh treatment.
As for where things stand from a legal perspective with McNair's case, this is the best thing I've read, as it was written by someone with an actual law degree.
Now, three important names have been noted in news reports: Rodney Uphoff, Roscoe Howard and Shep Cooper. What you need to know about them is they were not voting members of the committee of infractions chaired by Paul Dee charged with ruling on USC's case. They were not supposed to participate in the deliberations.
First, understand this process. The committee on infractions (COI) is supposed to operate independently of NCAA administrators. The COI is, according to the NCAA's own language, "... comprised of individuals serving as volunteers from NCAA member institutions and conferences and individuals from the general public who have legal training."
Uphoff and Cooper work for the NCAA. So, by definition, they are not part of the COI process of deliberation and voting.
Start with Uphoff. He was the NCAA coordinator of appeals. He was in the room in an official capacity so he could be knowledgeable about the investigation and ruling in the event of an appeal. Not only did he have no voting rights, his job by definition was to suspend judgment -- as much as humanly possible -- so the institution in question could get a fair appeal of its ruling.
So, yeah, it's a massive ethical breach that he wrote to COI members that "USC has responded to its problems by bringing in Lane Kiffin. They need a wakeup call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences. In light of all of the problems at USC, a failure to send a serious message in this case undercuts efforts to help clean up NCAA sports."
Cooper's official title is "Director NCAA Infractions Committees," but that doesn't accurately describe his job. He's a liaison for the committee. His role is designed to be administrative, to assist the committee. His job pretty specifically doesn't include volunteering to the COI that McNair is "a lying morally bankrupt criminal, in my view, and a hypocrite of the highest order."
Then there's Howard. He was the author of a four-page -- single-spaced! -- tirade against USC and McNair, which is interesting because he officially was attending the meetings only as an observer so he could serve on a future COI. He was supposed to be learning, not teaching. He was not supposed to volunteer that “McNair should have all inferences negatively inferred against him."
Howard also wrote: "I don't think this committee should be chained to a (enforcement) staff that has seemed to have fallen short with this investigation or an Institution that has no intention of having us find out what actually happened here."
Think about that assertion. Howard is essentially saying the COI shouldn't be troubled by the lack of substantial evidence. Seriously, read it again.
Just think, we are headed into the 10th anniversary of Reggie Bush's final season and we are still talking about this raging trash fire -- Bush and his family, by the way, were certainly culpable -- of a case. Blows my mind.
Sam from Phoenix writes: Do you have any insight into ASU's defensive plan for the year? I get so frustrated watching them send seven guys after the quarterback only to give up a big play. Sure, it's nice to get more turnovers and sacks, but I don't think my blood pressure is low enough to deal with another season of Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" overaggressive defense.
Ted Miller: Ah, a football question! Sweet!
And yet isn't it funny that you typically hear rants about "read-and-react" defenses or vituperations against the three-man rush, yet now we have Sam being unhappy with Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" aggressiveness. Go figure.
The goal for every defense is to be able to get pressure with four guys, and Graham's is no exception. In 2013, with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, that was possible. In 2014, the Sun Devils didn't have a dominant pass-rusher or any defensive lineman, for that matter, who demanded a double-team. I'm not sold that they have one for 2015, either, particularly after the suspension of junior-college transfer Davon Durant, who was supposed to fill that Bradford-like role at the "Devil" linebacker spot.
Graham is as aware as anybody that a jailbreak pass rush is high-risk, high-reward. He took note of his defense giving up big plays last year during his pre-spring sit-down with reporters. He doesn't like it any more than you, though he really likes sacks and tackles for a loss, a staple of his aggressive scheme.
My guess is having nine starters returning instead of three, as he did in 2014, will solve some issues, as experience is always better than inexperience. Guys will be smarter and more physically prepared. I feel certain that the Sun Devils will be better on defense this fall.
Alex from Sweet 16 vs. Duke in Houston writes: Give me a buy/sell on Travis Wilson being the starting QB at Utah this fall.
Ted Miller: Buy.
I'm a happy-endings guy. I love Wilson's resilience and I think he'll have his best year as a fourth-year starter leading a team that has a shot to win the rugged South Division.
With nine spring practices in the books and six left to go, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what is being accomplished this spring.
On the positive side, the development of the secondary has been notable in terms of how many players have shown growth in their game. The results have been revealed with increased depth.
Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour are a very good set of starting cornerbacks with Jackson making a strong claim to being the best player on the field during spring drills and Seymour being an established veteran. John Plattenburg has really opened some eyes as one starting safety with his maturity and physical presence. One of the more interesting scenarios has involved the way the coaches have used Chris Hawkins and Jonathan Lockett, who came to USC as cornerbacks but have alternated between safety and cornerback this spring. Hawkins in particular is looking more and more comfortable in the role as the coaches have made it clear the abundance of passing attacks the Trojans face demands that the safeties are often involved in pass coverage, which requires corner-like skills. And don’t forget Leon McQuay, who needs to be more consistent but offers such a lanky physical presence that he definitely figures to be in the rotation. That is a solid six-deep group that only figures to get better in the fall when guys like Iman Marshall are added to the mix.
On the offensive side of the ball, the depth along the line is very promising. Not only do all five starters return from the lineup that ended the season, but there is a sixth starter, Chad Wheeler, who is expected to return in the fall. The group is led by senior awards candidate Max Tuerk at center, and he is surrounded by a lot of talent, including a reserve group that is much better than anything the Trojans have seen in recent years. The line must prove its progress on the field, especially with the presence of a new position coach, but if you are basing things on what we’re seeing this spring, there is genuine reason to be optimistic about where things are headed.
As always, there are areas of concern, though many can be attributed to the lack of available spring bodies, a situation that will ideally be rectified at fall camp.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the front seven. The Trojans are missing a pair of senior starters in Antwaun Woods (chest) and Anthony Sarao (foot), so getting them back in fall will make a big difference. But they are not the only players missing right now as Greg Townsend, Kenny Bigelow and Jabari Ruffin have all been limited. There are also several incoming freshman who could get in the mix. The good news for now is that Su'a Cravens is back and looking stronger than ever, and there have been encouraging performances from guys like Lamar Dawson and Scott Felix.
The situation at tight end has been well-documented, with the absence and uncertain status of Bryce Dixon. Without knowing the details of why he is not with the team, it’s hard to judge his potential to rejoin in the fall, but his talent as a pass-catcher is undeniable. The Trojans have been forced to work with only one scholarship tight end, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, and he has been up and down as he returns from a year off following an academic suspension. Connor Spears is a capable walk-on, and there is more help on the way this fall with incoming freshman Tyler Petite and transfer Taylor McNamara.
The depth worries are also present at tailback, with only one scholarship player (Justin Davis) available for full-time duty. The good news is Davis looks recovered from an ankle injury, and he’s shown a lot of progress as a receiving option. Tre Madden has been very limited because of rehab from his turf toe, but all signs point to him being ready in the fall. That has meant a lot of tailback work this spring for Soma Vainuku, and Jahleel Pinner to a lesser extent, and that could pose an interesting option as both fullbacks know what to do with the ball in their hands. Vainuku offers a 270-pound presence, and you get the sense the coaches are getting more comfortable with the thought of him playing a bigger role. There is also a good walk-on in James Toland, and a trio of incoming freshmen who will arrive in the fall.
LOS ANGELES -- Under the 90-degree heat of a Southern California afternoon last week, USC receivers cycled through routes against man coverage. Usually that would mean at least some one-on-one time against phenom Adoree' Jackson, but on this day the receivers were in luck -- Jackson was wearing a cardinal jersey, running with the offense.
That reprieve has come every other practice throughout the spring as Jackson readies for a more prominent offensive role next season. Like he was as a true freshman, Jackson figures to be primarily a corner -- where he has first-round talent -- but the plan is to up his workload on the other side to take advantage of what he can do with the ball in his hands.
"Whether it's defense, offense -- we fight over him every day," USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. "I've been fortunate enough to be around here and in other years it's, 'There's Robert Woods, there's Marqise Lee, there's Nelson Agholor.' Who is the next superstar? This guy is. He's an ultra-special talent and I don't care if it's wideout, running back, corner. He's just really special."
Before Jackson arrived on campus last summer, it wasn't obvious where he would play, but coach Steve Sarkisian said Jackson's preference was corner -- a position of need -- so that's where his career began. And after being named the Pac-12's Defensive Freshman of the Year and honored by just about every freshman All-America team, it's clear the choice was justified. His presence alone had a tendency to affect play calling and decision-making. A rare quality for any player, even more so for a player as young as Jackson.
"He's one of those guys in practice where [quarterback Cody Kessler] sees, 'OK, Adoree' is over there, I better work the other side,'" Helton said.
With his responsibilities at corner taking priority last season, Jackson wasn't allotted much time to learn the nuances of the USC offense. So despite possessing all the natural ability, his opportunities on offense were limited during the regular season in which he finished with seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdown receptions. However, with a full complement of practices leading up to the National University Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, the staff was able to further integrate Jackson as a receiver.
The results were intriguing. In addition to his 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- capped with a salute to Reggie Bush in the form of a flip into the end zone -- Jackson caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown that demonstrated why he's expected to be one of the most exciting players in college football for at least the next two years.
"Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath because he can take it 80 [yards]," Helton said. "He's such an offensive weapon that I'm glad we're allowed to borrow him at times."
His exploits aren't limited to football, either. In fact, if Jackson had his way, he wouldn't be practicing with the football team at all this spring. He said he would rather devote the season to track and field, where he participates in the long jump and sprints, but has come to a compromise.
"I did talk to [the coaches] about doing track in the spring and they said I could,” Jackson said. "But [coach Sarkisian] said he wanted me out there to learn everything that we're doing new. So I listened to him and am doing the new stuff. My preference would be to go out here and run track and compete and try to be an All-American in another sport."
In the Trojan Invitational on March 21, Jackson anchored the 4x100-meter relay team to a first-place finish with an NCAA-leading time of 39.74, won the long jump (24 feet, 4.25 inches) and helped the 4x400-meter relay team to a second-place finish. He will be part of the USC contingent at the Florida Relays in Gainesville later this week.
"I don't know if [track] helps physically for football, but mentally to go out there and focus and compete is a good thing," USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said. "He's going against really, really good athletes that don't play football and just do that. It's a testament to the type of athlete he is and his abilities. Some people just have it.
"That's the kind of guy we like. We want somebody that wants to be great. You have to have that competitive edge and that winning attitude to be relentless toward your goals."
Because of the NCAA's restrictions on the amount of hours an athlete is allowed to practice each week, Jackson's time with the track team is limited. He said he picks a day -- usually Monday, Wednesday or Friday -- based on which one allows him to maximize his time with the track team the best. It may seem overwhelming, but for Jackson it's all he knows.
Many FBS programs around the country have reached the midpoint of spring practice, including defending national champion Ohio State, where coach Urban Meyer still hasn't picked from among three really good quarterbacks.
Michigan and Syracuse will play their spring games Saturday (we haven't confirmed whether the winning team in Ann Arbor will have to run extra stadium steps), and then glorified scrimmages will begin en masse in the coming weeks.
What have we learned so far? Georgia, Notre Dame and Ohio State have really interesting quarterback competitions. Texas is going to play faster (and hopefully better) on offense, and "Coach Boom" is already laying the boom on the Plains. New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is really popular at his alma mater (but not popular enough to be elected student body president), and USC might have identified another star receiver.
Here's a look at some of the biggest developments in spring practice so far:
1. Meyer is losing sleep
Meyer has a dilemma that a lot of coaches would love to have: He has to choose from among three quarterbacks who have won big in college.
Ask Lobendahn where he’ll line up this fall and he becomes pragmatic and philosophical.
Here are the top spring developments in the Pac-12 (Kyle Bonagura and David Lombardi contributed as noted below):
1. Starting quarterbacks out for the spring
The conference lost many of its best quarterbacks after last season to early entry or graduation, but this spring it lost a couple more. Washington’s Cyler Miles decided to take a voluntary leave of absence from Huskies football this spring for personal reasons, according to the university. It was stressed that Miles, who missed last spring due to a disciplinary suspension, chose to take this leave on his own and that it had nothing to do with school or team rules. He remains enrolled at Washington, but his absence on the football field is opening up reps for a handful of untested quarterbacks.
Utah’s Kendal Thompson, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Utes’ loss to Oregon, hasn’t been cleared for contact this spring, so the main focus for him is timing with receivers, footwork and technique. He’s still technically competing for the starting job, but with Travis Wilson finishing out last season and being the top guy this spring, it seems Wilson is inching closer to cementing the spot. At this point, every inch matters, and any player who can take even a small step forward would be welcomed as a starter just for the sake of consistency for the offense.
2. Oregon gets boost at QB
Speaking of quarterbacks, Oregon got a major boost this spring when Vernon Adams Jr. announced his transfer from Eastern Washington. The dual-threat quarterback has thrived at the FCS level for the Eagles, and with the departure of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, there are certainly FBS shoes that need to be filled in Eugene. Adams won’t be able to enroll at the school until this summer due to Eastern Washington’s academic schedule and because the Ducks open next season with EWU, so Adams has been forced to work out on his own this spring until he arrives at Oregon. He’s certainly the most experienced (from a game perspective) quarterback the Ducks have on their roster, and his abilities with his arm and his feet make him an intriguing prospect as Oregon maneuvers through life after Mariota.
3. USC’s first spring sans sanctions
As USC becomes whole again, the Trojans will be infused with an impressive collection of talented players -- arguably the most in the country. Of their recent signing class, ranked No. 3 in the country by ESPN.com, five players enrolled in time for spring practice; receiver Isaac Whitney, a junior college transfer, and linebacker Cameron Smith are the most likely candidates to make an impact in 2015. The others -- QB Ricky Town, OT Chuma Edoga and OL Roy Hemsley -- have the talent to play right away, but have a longer climb up the depth chart. With RB Buck Allen off to the NFL, USC has a good starting place with Justin Davis, but also expect Tre Madden back to go along with a diverse trio of freshmen added in the signing class. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton said all three -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware -- likely will factor into the Trojans’ plans in 2015. Jones was the top-ranked back in the Class of 2015 and is the most complete of the group, but Davis’ speed and Ware’s power should give USC the ability to vary its looks. -- Kyle Bonagura
4. Cal’s loss is Stanford’s gain
For the past three seasons, sturdy line play has anchored Stanford’s conference-best defense. But graduation -- the Cardinal lost all three 2014 starters up front -- and a rash of injuries made the once-mighty unit look awfully fragile early in spring. At one point, only three defensive linemen dressed for practice, leaving the team literally devoid of depth at the position. The trio was forced to huff and puff throughout the entire session without any relief, and the defense leaked big runs as a result.
Two weeks ago, former Cal defensive end Brennan Scarlett announced his intentions to cross the Bay Bridge and enroll at Stanford as a graduate transfer. Assuming Scarlett is able to stay healthy (he's coming off an ACL tear that derailed his 2014 season), this transfer gives the Cardinal's starved defensive line a significant boost. With Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas also expected back from injury soon, the unit's prospects suddenly look manageable. This is still expected to be a major rebuilding year for the Stanford defense -- eight starters have departed -- but Scarlett's addition gives coordinator Lance Anderson a much-needed veteran presence at a critical position. A transfer between the archrivals also provides a potentially juicy 2015 storyline. -- David Lombardi
5. Cameron Smith undergoes surgery, is out for 2015 season
After Cameron Smith sat out the latter part of last season with knee pain, the Arizona State staff hoped rest would be the answer to his recovery. But early in spring practices, coach Todd Graham announced that Smith had undergone surgery and would be lost not only for the spring but also for the 2015 season. It was a huge blow to the Sun Devils, who were already trying to replace the Pac-12’s fourth-leading receiver, Jaelen Strong. D.J. Foster’s move to wide receiver figures to help alleviate some of that, but for Arizona State to lose its No. 3 receiver from a year ago and its best downfield threat for next season certainly is a major development for the Sun Devils and for the South Division/conference as a whole.
6. Rich Rodriguez loves him some Arizona basketball
Did any Pac-12 football coach have as much hoops fun as Rodriguez this year? The Pac-12 Blog thinks not.
If he wasn’t tossing chicken sandwiches to students attending Wildcats basketball games, he was sitting courtside at the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament.
— Pacific Takes (@PacificTakes) January 21, 2015
7. Oregon State makes offensive moves
When Gary Andersen was hired at Oregon State, it was obvious that the Beavers would look pretty different as they moved on from the Mike Riley era. But how different? And how quickly? And who would step into QB Sean Mannion’s shoes?
Andersen told the Pac-12 Blog in February that he wanted the Oregon State offense to be “wide open” and that “there will be carryover, but I would say it will be limited.”
In early March, he took one big step in that direction as he cut Oregon State’s quarterback competition from the seven QBs on the spring roster to just three. No surprises here: It’s the three signal-callers who are also the most talented with their feet -- Luke Del Rio, Nick Mitchell and Seth Collins. The latter two are the better runners of the trio, though all three are considerably more mobile than Mannion. The move is an early indicator of how different the Beavs will look come fall with a new offense, new staff and new quarterback.
It's probably not surprising the hullabaloo last week over the NCAA's dubious conduct during its judging of USC's football program didn't escape current Trojans.
USC players told the LA Times that they were aware of the reaction that was ignited last week when inflammatory emails and memos written by members of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions were unsealed in the Todd McNair defamation lawsuit against the NCAA. But, hey, what can they do other than try to get better at football?
"Turns out maybe we didn't deserve as much punishment as we got," linebacker Su'a Cravens told the Times.
As for the football part of football, USC's do-everything athlete, Adorre Jackson, is trying to keep on track because, of course, he's running track as well as going both ways.
And here are some observations from Week 3 of spring practices.
And nothing makes for better footage than watching a dominating defensive lineman go to work. Fortunately, high profile prospects like Alabama commitment Raekwon Davis and Edward Oliver did not disappoint at Saturday’s camp.
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Spring ball is often a time of teaching, for coaches to work with players on installing the playbook or mastering fundamentals, but what happens when a player is an experienced veteran such as Cody Kessler who has 27 career starts under his belt?
USC offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton has been through the situation before in 2012 when Matt Barkley was entering his senior year, and now he gets to go through it with Kessler, the Bakersfield, California, native who has already set numerous USC records and will -- like Barkley -- enter his final season as a strong Heisman Trophy contender.
"Sometimes it's an even bigger challenge when you're a vet going into your fifth year because you have to be really mentally focused to take each opportunity to get better and not just go through the motions," Helton said. "That's what I really appreciate about Cody. He goes out and competes in every practice like it's a game."
It helps that Kessler is one of the hardest workers on the team, a trait that Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian has referenced many times as setting a strong example for the team's younger players. Kessler talked earlier in the spring about how he got a chance to watch guys like Barkley and others in terms of how they handled their senior years, and it showed him how to handle it the right way.
"His approach to getting better shows the young guys how you do it," Helton said. "And we've got a couple young bucks out here watching him every day, guys like Jalen Greene and Ricky Town, and they learn from him just like he learned from Matt [Barkley].
"We always talk about being the older brother and looking out for the younger brother, Cody is in that older brother role now, and he's doing a great job of setting the example. He and Max (Tuerk) are our rocks on offense and the other guys lean on them so much because of what they've been through."
It certainly makes for a nice situation for a coach like Helton, who gets the opportunity to coach a position, the USC quarterback, which has produced one of the best lineages of any position in college sports over the last 15 years and which is set up well for years to come.
"It's always a fun experience as a coach when you get a chance to 'raise' the kids and see them develop," Helton said. "We were fortunate to have Matt [Barkley] for three years and now we have Cody, who got to learn from Matt for two years before getting his opportunity. Now we've got some more guys who are learning and waiting for their chance, guys like Max Browne who is having a very good spring. It's a great situation for us, we've got a lot of talent at the position."
Of course, just because Kessler is a veteran who has been through a lot doesn't mean that there isn't anything to work on. There are definite advances in his game that will be looking to take place this spring which can build off his performance from last season when he completed 315-of-452 passes (69.7 percent) for 3,826 yards with 39 TDs and just 5 interceptions. It was the most efficient year ever for a quarterback at USC and one in which he set or tied six school-season records, and for good measure he also set a Notre Dame opponent record with six passing touchdowns in the victory over the Irish.
"Our goal last year was to have Cody compete to be the best quarterback in the league and I feel that by the end of the year he was as good as anyone, performance-wise," Helton said. "He progressed so much with his ability to move in the pocket, to re-establish his base and make an accurate throw. To be at a 70 percent completion rate means you're doing some really good things.
"Now there is the opportunity to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football and to lead your team to a championship. That's a big jump but it's one he is ready for and our approach as we prepare to propel his game for next year is to be a good athlete in the pocket and to anticipate plays even more. We grade on three things; decision-making, timing and accuracy and he's doing all those things pretty well right now."
- One of the most improved position groups through the first half of spring has been the secondary. Adoree' Jackson, Kevon Seymour and John Plattenburg have stood out the most so far, but there is also more depth than we've seen in the past, led by Chris Hawkins and Jonathan Lockett who have been splitting time between safety and cornerback.
- Sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith has all but wrapped up the No. 1 receiver spot that was open after the early NFL departure of Nelson Agholor. Smith, who turned 18 last November, has noticeably bulked up in the offseason and appears more than ready for his new role. "Becoming the go-to guy can be a challenge for some players but I don't think it will be for JuJu," Sarkisian said. "He's so accustomed to it, I think quite honestly he wanted to be that guy last year."
- At 6-foot-9, 350 pounds, Trojans right tackle Zach Banner poses a formidable frame on the offensive line, but his size was also put to good use on Thursday during the Trojans' practice session when he blocked a pair of field goal attempts by walk-on kicker Wyatt Schmidt.
USC continued spring practice in scorching 91-degree weather Thursday, and optimism continued to emanate from the Trojan camp. For weeks, the national media has focused primarily on USC's stockpile of skill position talent, but Damien Mama -- who has shed nearly 40 pounds -- spoke about the offensive line's chance to be special in 2015.
USC is also excited about incoming tight end Taylor McNamara, who is transferring from Oklahoma to fortify a thin position group. One current member is walk-on Connor Spears, whose interesting story is documented here.
Much USC press has been focused on off-field issues this week. This Bruce Feldman podcast contends that the NCAA completely botched the Todd McNair case, leaving the Trojans holding the short end of the stick. Former coach Pete Carroll reacted to the recently released documents in the case, while athletic director Pat Haden penned some strong words in response to the unsealing.
In the 2015 class, ESPN 300 quarterbacks littered the California landscape and few Pac-12 programs even thought about venturing outside of the West region for their quarterback targets.
This year, the region hasn’t been especially kind to the conference at the quarterback position in the early going, despite No. 40 overall prospect K.J. Costello announcing his commitment to Stanford on Thursday afternoon.
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Costello, the nation's No. 40 overall prospect, had narrowed his choices to Michigan, Stanford and USC in recent weeks, and had been close to making a commitment since the beginning of the month, finally feeling comfortable enough with his final choice to do it Thursday.
This is a significant recruiting win for Stanford, as the Cardinal elected not to take a scholarship quarterback in the 2015 class after missing on top targets Ricky Town and Brandon Wimbush. In the 2016 class, the Cardinal focused all their attention at the position on Costello and did not make an offer to any other signal-caller.
Costello broke onto the scene as a sophomore, throwing for 1,478 yards and 13 touchdowns for Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Coto de Caza, California. His first offer came the following April as Florida State came calling. Costello then raised his game as a junior, passing for 3,123 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Grabbing a commitment from Costello means David Shaw and staff don't have to regroup and begin recruiting other quarterbacks in earnest, and it should give the Cardinal an in-state recruiting bump. Costello is the biggest name at the position in state, and is good friends with ESPN Junior 300 wide receiver and teammate Dylan Crawford, who also holds a Stanford offer.
Cardinal coaches also earn some recruiting bragging rights with the commitment, as Costello's mother attended USC and the 6-foot-4, 216-pound quarterback has said he grew up very familiar with the Trojans' program. Stanford also beat out Michigan, where coach Jim Harbaugh undoubtedly used his success with the Cardinal as a recruiting pitch for the Wolverines.
Costello is commitment No. 2 in the 2016 class for Stanford, joining defensive tackle Bo Peek
He has had to learn to cope with academics, which were shaky enough to keep him ineligible last year. And now, with a meager three catches for 16 yards in his college career, he has had to learn to cope with the sudden idea of being one of the pivotal players in USC’s upcoming football season.
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We're in the midst of the NCAA tournament, that time of the year when upset wins (and losses, depending on one's perspective) define the month's sporting calendar. To mark the occasion, Ted Miller ranked the top 10 Pac-12 football bracket busters since the turn of the century.
Stanford's 24-23 shocker at USC was technically the biggest upset of them all -- the Cardinal were 41-point underdogs -- but which surprise was the most memorable?
Kevin Gemmell: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 2 Oregon 14, 2012
Of the “Pac-12” era, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more memorable upset than Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win over Oregon in Eugene in 2012.
You had the Zach Ertz touchdown catch (or non-catch … talk amongst yourselves). You had a Stanford team adjusting to life after Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan making his first career road start and just his second start overall. You had an Oregon team that had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games. You had Jordan Williamson’s Fiesta Bowl redemption and you had a Stanford defense that was downright brilliant.
Oh, did we mention that Oregon was ranked No. 1 in the country (coaches' poll)?
Stanford’s win busted the two-team BCS bracket wide open. And depending which lines you looked at, Oregon was favored by as many as 21.5 with an over-under of 64.5. The Cardinal couldn’t beat the Ducks the year before … at home … with Luck! … so why on earth would they do it on the road with a green quarterback?
Not only was the outcome surprising, but the way the game played out was equally unexpected. The previous three years, the winner had scored at least 50 points and the loser at least 30. In 2009, Stanford won 51-42. The next two years, Oregon won 52-31 and 53-30, respectively. The 2012 edition rewrote the playbook for how teams attacked Oregon.
Everything about that game was thrilling. And Oregon fans are probably still left wondering what would have been if De'Anthony Thomas had just thrown a block?
Ted Miller: Washington 29, No. 3 Washington State 26, 2002
I covered four of our top-10 upsets but for a myriad of reasons none left a bigger impression than Washington’s shocking 29-26 victory over third-ranked Washington State in the 2002 Apple Cup.
First of all, 2002 was an interesting year. For one, check out the preseason AP poll. Colorado is No. 7, Washington is No. 9 and Washington State is No. 11. Oregon and USC are Nos. 15 and 20. Yeah, that seems a bit weird. The Huskies imploded at Michigan in the season opener, tearing defeat from the jaws of victory, and never really recovered. Washington State bounced back from a loss at Ohio State to roll through the Pac-10, the signature victory over USC punctuated by a sliding Drew Dunning after he kicked the game-winning field goal. You might recall the Pete Carroll era at USC picked up after that.
Oh, and the Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price eras ended at Washington and Washington State after this season for very different reasons, though both would end up in a sort of coaching purgatory by the beginning of 2003.
As for the game, it was a remarkable back-and-forth affair, with a talented Huskies team finally playing to its potential against a Washington State team that was obviously much better. Yet you could feel Martin Stadium gasp with worry when Cougars QB Jason Gesser got hurt. If Gesser didn’t get hurt, the Cougs would have coasted home, but if wishes were fishes then cows would fly.
While the game was exciting for all four-plus hours, which included three overtimes, the ending and aftermath was most remarkable (here’s my column from after the game). It was decided by a controversial call that required referee Gordon Riese to explain himself on the field. That didn’t go well. Cougars fans started pelting the field with bottles and anything else they could get their hands on. It was an ugly scene.
That said, I still talk about this game with Huskies and Cougars alike. Everyone who witnessed has a take on it. Some Cougs tell me they still aren’t over it. And Huskies know that their program pretty much fell into an extended spiral down the toilet after this season. Their next winning campaign didn't come until 2010.
Chantel Jennings: Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24, 2014
This was a pretty easy choice for me for two reasons.
First, it’s the only upset on the list that I saw in person. And let’s be honest: As great as it is to watch games from the comfort of your living room with friends, it doesn’t come close to being able to see the thing in real life.
Second, it was the second straight year this happened. It’s like the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" adage. Only it’s “Upset a team once, it’s surprising; upset a team in back-to-back years, and it doesn’t seem like much of an upset anymore.”
Would we even be having a debate like this if any of the other upsets had happened twice in a row? Can you imagine the chaos that would’ve broken loose if Stanford had beaten USC again in 2008? (Instead, the Cardinal lost by 22.) Or, what if the Beavers came back in 2009 and beat up on the then-fourth-ranked Trojans again? (They almost did, only losing by six.)
Hands down, those would be memorable, right? Because there’s something so great about that moment in which an upset or a second upset spurns a rivalry and the game is never the same. Every junior on Oregon’s roster this season is going to be telling the freshmen and sophomores about how they’ve never beaten the Wildcats in the regular season. Every senior is going to be telling the underclassmen how they want to leave Eugene without the stigma of allowing Arizona to be a stumbling block in the regular season. The difference between avenging a loss and making the same “mistake” twice is something that never leaves these players.
If Oregon had come back and smacked Arizona last year during the regular season, that wouldn’t be the case.
David Lombardi: Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23, 2007
This was my first foray to the Coliseum, and it happened to feature the largest point spread (41) ever overcome in college football history.
I spoke with only one optimistic Stanford supporter before the game, and that happened to be Jim Harbaugh's fiancée (now wife), Sarah.
The USC dynasty was flying high -- the Trojans still had two more Rose Bowl championships on the way, including one later that season. It seemed as if Stanford hadn't advanced past its 1-11 nadir the year prior. In fact, a week before their trip to Los Angeles, the Cardinal had been blown out 41-3 at home by Arizona State. To further stretch out a long injury list, starting quarterback T.C. Ostrander had suffered a seizure during the week. So Stanford threw skinny sophomore backup Tavita Pritchard to the lions of the Coliseum for his first career start.
Just a few months earlier, Harbaugh had already verbally chest-bumped Pete Carroll, who was then the bully on the Pac-10 block. "We bow to no man, we bow to no program here at Stanford University," the Cardinal's new coach had said to conclude a war of words between the two men, which began when Harbaugh publicly speculated on Carroll's future at USC.
In short, all context suggested that the Trojans would administer a beatdown to put Harbaugh and his overmatched squad in its place.
At halftime, though, USC only led 9-0, and the crowd booed the home team off the field after Stanford had stuffed a fourth-down attempt at the goal line. That was the first in a series of dominoes that fell the Cardinal's way.
Every single break proved instrumental in the upset. Trojan quarterback John David Booty, who remained in the game despite breaking his finger, threw four critical interceptions. Richard Sherman (yes, that Richard Sherman, still a wide receiver playing for Harbaugh and not Carroll back then) converted a do-or-die fourth-and-20 by a millimeter or two.
That set the table for the decisive fourth-and-goal fade, in which Pritchard found Mark Bradford -- whose father had recently passed away -- for the score that pushed Stanford to a 24-23 victory. The Cardinal had sucked the air out of the Coliseum in a shocker that might have cost USC a national title shot in 2007 and ignited the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry.
LOS ANGELES -- At the midway point of spring practice, talented USC Trojans sophomore quarterback Max Browne still waits patiently in the background, as all eyes are focused on senior starter Cody Kessler, who is being promoted as a strong Heisman Trophy candidate for 2015.
Having once been the 2012 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year out of Skyline High in Sammamish, Washington, Browne has shown remarkable patience, class and dignity waiting in line to hopefully take his turn at Quarterback U., which has produced the likes of Heisman Trophy-winning QBs Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, as well as NFL passers Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Barkley.
So how has Browne, a communications major with a 3.28 GPA, been able to maintain such patience?
“It’s the people I have around me,” said Browne, who saw limited action in 2014 by appearing in just six games and completing 3-of-7 passes for 30 yards and no touchdowns.
“I have great parents and a great family to look to advice for, and that’s been huge, and I have had great teammates also,” Browne added. “I am making sure I am ready when that time comes.”
For the 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback with the pleasantly extroverted personality, could his patience also be tied to the reality that he is just one Kessler misfortune away from coming out of the Trojans bullpen this season, along with visions of being the starter against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2016 season opener in Dallas?
“I think so,” said Brown without a hint of arrogance. “You definitely hear the phrase, ‘I am one hit away or one snap away.’ I am definitely preparing with that mindset.
“Cody has one more year, and that game (Alabama) is kind of off in the distance. If I need that motivation, it’s definitely there. I am just focusing on this season, and the saying that ‘I am only one hit way’ is very evident in this game, as bad as it may seem to say in this kind of thing.”
Browne’s approach to this spring hasn’t gone unnoticed. Quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who was the Trojans' lead recruiter during Browne’s recruitment, gives No. 4 high praise on how Browne has handled his business thus far.
“I’m unbelievably proud of Max,” Helton said after Tuesday’s practice. “What he’s done in spring is exactly what you expect from him entering his third year. We challenged him by letting him know that he isn’t stepping on Cody’s toes when he goes onto the field.
“When he’s on the field, it’s his team and we want him to run it that way. I think this is the first time since he’s been here that he has that confidence about him and he knows that it’s his group. I think he’s performing at his highest level since he’s been here.”
Despite his quarterback coach’s praise, Browne believes there are areas of his game that need improvement, although he is also comfortable with where he is at this stage of his development.
So what does he hope to accomplish by the end of spring ball?
“Well, the next level of recognition such as recognizing blitzes, recognizing coverages and who’s coming,” Browne said. “I’ve got the playbook down, and it’s been huge having [coach Steve Sarkisian] here for two years now. It’s that next level of diagnosing defenses and making sure I am working on the consistency and timing of my accuracy, which is huge, too.”
Like the great Trojans quarterbacks before him, Browne is grateful for the fact that he’s tossing the pigskin around to some of the most highly recruited receivers in the nation, and he isn’t shy to also praise some of those under-publicized yet deserving walk-ons.
“Obviously there’s JuJu (Smith) and Darreus (Rogers) and Steven (Mitchell), who kind of highlight the top, but me working with the '2s' such as Christian Tober, Robby Kolanz, Aaron Minor and David Mellstrom, they’re kind of my bunch,” Browne said of his second-unit fraternity.
“I hope I didn’t forget anyone," Browne added. "Ajene Harris when he’s healthy is huge. They’re a good group and we’re getting older, which is nice. Isaac (Whitney) is learning. A lot of those older walk-on guys have helped and have been huge for sure.”
The national hype for the 2015 Trojans has already begun, but USC fans well remember the disappointment of the 2012 team, which was a preseason No. 1 and then faltered badly as the season later unraveled.
So how does Browne see this team handling the oncoming expectations?
“I think a lot of guys probably learned from that year and making sure they’re staying grounded and taking it one practice at a time,” Browne said. “I think it’s a great job that Sark and his staff have done making it a one-period mentality, one-practice mentality. I think that’s the mindset we’ve got to take.”
And if anybody on the current Trojans roster knows about mindsets, it’s Max Browne.
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