Got your four teams picked for the inaugural College Football Playoff?
Beware before you turn in your final list, because teams always come out of nowhere. For instance, Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri all finished in the top five of the final polls last season -- and weren't even ranked to start the season.
Conversely, the team starting the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll hasn't finished higher than No. 7 the past four years.
None of us has a crystal ball, but we do have a road map of sorts -- the games that will shape who gets in and who gets left out this season when the selection committee unveils the first football version of the Final Four.
Here are 10 games to mark on your calendar:
LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30
Right out of the gate, we get a game between two teams just outside the top 10 in the preseason polls who are talented enough to state their case come selection time for the College Football Playoff. And check out Wisconsin's schedule. If Melvin Gordon and the Badgers can get past the Tigers in the opener, the only other nationally ranked team (in the preseason) they face is Nebraska at home on Nov. 15. They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season.
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6
Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.
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But on the Pac-12 blog, we’re going to add a twist. Moving forward, I’ll be manning the links in a column format, tossing in some opinion and analysis of stories the Pac-12 community will be talking about. This is a work in progress, so tweet at me with what you’d like to see: quote of the day, tweet of the day, etc. Do you want me to keep the literary and pop culture quotes? Let me know your thoughts.
Without further ado, to the links:
The big news over the weekend was obviously the release of the preseason AP Top 25. Half of the teams in the league are ranked: Oregon (3), UCLA (7), Stanford (11), USC (15), ASU (19) and Washington (25).
The exact same six ended last season ranked: Oregon (9), Stanford (11), UCLA (16), USC (19), ASU (21) and Washington (25).
We all expected Oregon and UCLA to be in the top 10. And with the considerable hype Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley have received, the Pac-12 blog wouldn’t have been shocked if both were top five.
Washington should be pleased to be ranked, considering it lost its starting quarterback, running back and Mackey Award-winning tight end. That ranking is a clear reflection of Chris Petersen’s presence, because a Pac-12 team losing that much offensive firepower usually doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt with voters.
ASU should feel pretty good about being in the top 20 -- especially after the way it closed out last season and the departure of nine starters on defense.
Doug Haller offers an interesting perspective on the Sun Devils:
This marks the first time since 2008 that the Sun Devils have made the preseason poll.
Certainly, nothing stinks about that except ... This isn't always a good thing for the Sun Devils. The last six times they made the AP preseason poll -- a stretch dating to 1998 -- they didn't finish in the final AP Top 25 poll.
The Trojans should also feel pretty good about their spot at No. 15. Voters don’t appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the Steve Sarkisian era. Sounds like a lot of folks are buying in.
And as for the Cardinal, this is just more fodder for head coach David Shaw to play up the nobody-believes-in-us card, which his team often embraces.
- Christian Caple offers some thoughts on Washington’s scrimmage.
- Jeff Faraudo reports Sonny Dykes is feeling pretty good after Cal’s closed scrimmage. Some good player notes included as well.
- Lindsey Thiry quotes USC’s Josh Shaw, who says the Trojans aren’t ready “for a game quite yet.” No need to panic. The Trojans don’t have to play tomorrow. But after they dispatch Fresno State (yeah, we're going out on a limb), they better be ready for Stanford in Week 2. Love that two ranked Pac-12 teams are squaring off that early in the season. And by the way, Shaw looks yoked in the video.
- Tough news for the Buffs, who confirmed over the weekend that safety Jered Bell is done for the year.
- We've been talking about 10 starting quarterbacks coming back. But there seems to be some controversy in Salt Lake City.
- A good piece from Ryan Thorburn on Oregon running back Byron Marshall dedicating the season to his late grandfather.
- Daniel Berk explains how Arizona’s Terris Jones-Grigsby got his name.
- Michael Hiltzik asks if the NCAA really “lost” its antitrust suit.
- Chris Dufresne offers an interesting perspective on what Sark is trying to do offensively.
The Beavers closed out their scrimmage over the weekend with a little slip-and-slide action. Don’t see Mike Riley on the tarp. I’m guessing if there was a double-double at the other end, he’d be sliding.
And finally, for everyone who has been to San Bernardino or covered a UCLA camp, we can all relate to Ryan Kartje.
Fall camp in San Bernardino is officially over, and UCLA beat writers rejoice!— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) August 16, 2014
The Ducks received one first-place vote and were followed by No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington.
This is the fourth year in a row year the Ducks have been ranked in the preseason top five and seventh straight year they've appeared in the preseason AP poll.
The same six teams were also ranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll, in nearly the same places. The only differences being Oregon is one spot higher in the AP poll and Arizona State is one spot lower.
The College Football Playoff committee, responsible for selecting the four teams to play in this year's inaugural playoff, will release its first top-25 rankings Oct. 28 on ESPN.
The Seminoles will start the season No. 1 for the sixth time -- the first since 1999 when they became the first team to hold the top spot for the entire season.
Florida State received 57 of 60 first-place votes Sunday from the media panel. No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Oklahoma each received one first-place vote. Ohio State is No. 5 and Auburn is No. 6.
Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner last season as a redshirt freshman, led Florida State to a 34-31 victory against Auburn in the last BCS national championship game.
This season the Bowl Championship Series is being replaced by the College Football Playoff. A selection committee will pick the top four teams in the country for two national semifinals.
The rest of the top 10 is UCLA
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To the notes!
Spencer from Indianapolis writes: The media has said more then once that you can't judge Utah until its 4th season in the pac 12. Beacuse of recruits, Money, ect. With that being said where should Where should Utah finish this year to say they belong 4 years into the Pac 12. And some will say 6 and 6 is a good season with how they have finished the past 2 years. But i want to know 4 years ago where the Utes should be finishing this year.
Ted Miller: If we're going to dabble in the "Does Utah Belong?" question, we should ask the same of Colorado, California and Washington State, which have worse Pac-12 records over the past three seasons since the Utes joined the conference. Probably Arizona, too, as it's won one more Pac-12 game during that span than the Utes.
My point is that Utah belongs. It hasn't cracked the top half of the Pac-12 in three seasons, but that can be said for a lot of conference teams.
Of course, there has been a worrisome downward trend, going from 4-5 in 2011 to 3-6 in 2012 to 2-7 last fall, which is sort of the reverse of Arizona as the Wildcats have gained ground under Rich Rodriguez.
If I were a Utah fan, I'd look simply for improvement. A team that can go 4-5 in this league, as the Utes did in 2011 when the going was a bit easier, is going to be pretty darn good. If a 3-6 finish in the Pac-12 includes a perfect nonconference mark, which would mean a win at Michigan, I'd also rate that as a pretty strong showing.
In other words, if Utah earns bowl eligibility in 2014, I'd rate it as a successful season.
Steve from Menlo Park, California, writes: Ted, over the last 5 years, Stanford is 6-0 against UCLA. Yet you still put UCLA ahead of Stanford in your power rankings.
Ted Miller: We are just evil like that.
In our defense, we are not alone. The Coaches Poll and ESPN.com power rankings also had UCLA ahead of Stanford. Our guess is the AP poll will do the same.
Why? Many, including your humble #4pac (the witty hashtags we're going to use for our crew this year), believe UCLA is going to take a step forward and Stanford a step back this season. That said, many might be wrong on one or both counts. That happens.
One quick and under-noted observation: UCLA plays host to Stanford on the final weekend of the regular season -- Nov. 28, a Friday night no less. I am prepared to call that an intriguing season finale that might have a few eyes on it from across the nation.
Nick from Seattle writes: Is Thomas Duarte a WR or TE? ESPN has him listed as a WR. I run a PAC12 fantasy league and I need to know what position he is. Sounds like he is a TE.
Ted Miller: He is officially listed as a receiver, and UCLA doesn't list anyone as a tight end. Of course, he's 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- I recall thinking he looks bigger than that -- so he could easily be mistaken for a tight end. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone calls him his "Y" receiver, which is mostly where he dumps his big, tight end looking receivers.
All that said, he earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a true freshman and was listed as a tight end by the conference. So go figure.
As for a fantasy league, Duarte is a guy whose numbers should bounce up nicely this year. He might be the Bruins best red zone option.
Paul from San Carlos, California, writes: Indulge a pet peeve: Those who downgrade a team in rankings for having a tough schedule. Rankings should be solely about which team is better. Which team has the easiest path to a good record should play no role.
Ted Miller: Fair point. So do we need a distinction?
Are we making predictions with rankings? If so, then schedule plays a role. If you were looking for a reason to worry about UCLA, schedule would be a good place to start. Conversely then, I'd rate Iowa a top-15 team.
Or are we ranking teams only based on how good we believe they are? If so, that methodology shouldn't consider the schedule ahead, arduous or easy.
That said, most folks who do top-25 rankings based on their perception of how good a team is and what it has accomplished wouldn't take their list to Vegas and use it religiously. Sometimes a team "deserves" a ranking, even if you wouldn't bet your hard earned money that it would beat a team you rank a few notches lower.
Ed from Los Angeles writes: Ted - I see that the Lunchtime Links daily feature is coming much less frequently these days. I find that it is informative because it usually has a link to every team in the PAC-12. Please consider restoring it in the future.
Ted Miller: Our links feature will continue to appear five days a week, only we've moved it to the morning hours -- 8 am ET, 5 am PT, specifically.
We also aren't going to be as assiduous about getting a link for every team.
If you want to blame someone for that, it's on folks who don't support their local newspapers. There just aren't as many professional beat writers as there used to be. With daily newspapers going out of business or charging for subscriptions, and other sources not reliably providing professional material, it's often too difficult to produce a link for every team, every day.
Jeremy from Scottsdale, Arizona, writes: I demand to know who the masterminds are at ESPN that created these college football Power Rankings. Somehow, Arizona State is ranked 5th in the PAC-12 Power Rankings ahead of Washington in the 6th spot. At the same time, Washington is ranked 20th in the overall college football top 25 Power Ranking and Arizona State is nowhere to be found? I freely admit that I'm not a genius, but how is this possible?
Ted Miller: Easy answer.
The ESPN.com top-25 was produced by 13 people, none of whom participated in the compiling of the Pac-12 power rankings. So you have two different crews producing two different types or rankings.
Eric from Petaluma, California, writes: Ted, the position of many an Oregon State fan is a little more nuanced than you claim in your recent article regarding the OSU UO rivalry, though I'm confident with more than a small paragraph allowed per team what you would have said was something like this:I am fine with Duck fans rooting for OSU, as long as it is genuine. I do the same and generally root for the Ducks. What is irksome is when duck fans in one breath call Oregon State the much more patronizing "little brother" and then say "I root for OSU when they are not playing Oregon, I don't understand why you can't do the same" in the next, and in a tone that is ripe with moral indignation. As soon as one insults with patronizing language that translates to "I am better than you because my football team is better", one loses the moral high ground all together, and resentment is justified. Therefore, while I don't mind rooting for Ducks, I don't blame my fellow beavers for not doing so, nor should any other reasonable person.
Ted Miller: I could see Eric sitting at a conference table with a gaggle of other Oregon State fans, each of them sitting opposite an Oregon fan. He makes this point, and then Greg from Hillsboro, Oregon, and his Ducks cohorts go, "Oh, I never understood your feelings on this. So sorry."
Then everybody hugs it out and agrees their rivals will be their second favorite team. They sing "Kumbaya" and "Lean on me," and then go out for dinner at Beast in Portland.
Kris from Seattle writes: When is the best/case worst case coming out! Those are great!
Ted Miller: Thanks for your thoughts but, unfortunately, as previously noted, that series has been retired.
You can read last year's versions here for the sake of nostalgia.
In a pair of letters sent this week to the heads of the University of California and California State University systems, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed concern in how he thinks academics are not being prioritized to the correct standard in athletic programs throughout the state.
To change this, Newsom believes contracts for every athletic director at the universities in both systems should "stipulate aggressive benchmarks for improvement in graduation and academic progress rates of face termination, period."
In a letter addressed to Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system, which includes Cal, UCLA and six other NCAA-affiliated schools, Newsom cited the poor graduation success rate of the Golden Bears football team -- 48 percent in 2012, and 44 percent in '13 - as examples that show change is needed.
"We have some of the lowest graduation rates in all of college sports and we're talking arguably the finest public university in the world, not just the United States, and it's a disgrace," Newsom said.
Fresno State and Sacramento State, which are part of the CSU system, and Cal are all in the process of finding new athletic directors, which is where Newsom believes reform can begin.
"I'm going to be very aggressive on these contracts," Newsom said. "There should be penalties, not just bonuses attached to academic success. We have it backwards right now.
Bruins coach Jim Mora was visibly concerned about Lucien after the afternoon practice at training camp in San Bernardino.
"As always, we're going to be overly cautious with anything that has to do with the head, neck or spine," Mora said. "That's not a toughness issue, but we're praying for him and thinking about him. He's in good hands."
The Los Angeles Times reported Lucien hit his head on the ground during a drill, was taken to the hospital and released later Tuesday. A source in the football program told the Times that Lucien is expected to rejoin the team for Wednesday's session.
Lucien started three games as a sophomore last season, catching 19 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. He is a strong candidate to be a starting receiver for quarterback Brett Hundley this season opposite Jordan Payton.
Lucien is an athletic junior known for acrobatic catches in practices and games.
"I believe it was when he was making one of his rather spectacular, but sometimes typical, Devin Lucien catches that we've kind of grown accustomed to seeing," Mora said. "It shook him up a little, so we'll find out the extent of it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Commits: 22 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
OT Keenan Walker (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral); OG Cody Creason (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); RB Orlando Bradford (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy); WR Cedric Peterson (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); OT Harper Sherman (New Westminster, BC, Can./New Westminster Secondary); CB Anthony Mariscal (Bakersfield, Calif./Liberty); CB Samuel Morrison (Washington, DC/Gonzaga College); ATH Antonio Parks (Reserve, La./East Saint John); ILB Kendrick Jackson (Haynesville, La./Haynesville); OG Alex Kosinski (Larkspur, Calif./Redwood); DE Kendal Franklin (New Orleans, Warren Easton); RB Darick Holmes Jr. (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); DT Finton Connolly (Gilbert, Ariz./Campo Verde); TE Ricky McCoy (Fresno, Calif./Bullard); TE Jamie Nunley (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta); ATH Brion Anduze (Silverdale, Wash./Central Kitsap); S Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (Tucson, Ariz./Tucson); OG Nathan Eldrige (Anthem, Ariz./Boulder Creek); RB Dami Ayoola (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Arizona Western College); S Paul Magloire (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College); RB Kendall Williams (North Little Rock, Ark./Butte College); Dane Cruikshank (Chino Hills, Calif./Citrus College)
Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
QB Brady White (Newhall, Calif./William S. Hart); ATH Morie Evans (Huntsville, Tex./Huntsville); ATH Tony Nicholson (Grand Prairie, Tex./South Grand Prairie); QB Bryce Perkins (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler); OT Mason Walter (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); TE Tommy Hudson (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty); ATH Alfred Smith (Destrehan, Calif./Destrehan); OG Cade Cote (Gilbert, Ariz./Williams Field); OT Steve Miller (Gilbert, Ariz./Gilbert); OLB Malik Lawal (Murrieta, Calif./Chaparral); RB Nick Ralston (Argyle, Tex./Argyle); TE Raymond Epps (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College)
Commits: 10 | ESPN 300 commits: 0
QB Ross Bowers (Bothell, Wash./Bothell); WR Greyson Bankhead (Corona, Calif./Centennial); CB Malik Psalms (Chino Hills, Calif./Ayala); RB Lonny Powell (Sacramento, Calif./Sacramento); OG Ryan Gibson (Bay Saint Louis, Miss./Saint Stanislaus); OT Johnny Capra (Auburn, Calif./Placer); WR Austin Aaron (Napa, Calif./Napa); DT Luc Bequette (Little Rock, Ark./Catholic High School For Boys); TE Zeandae Johnson (Fresno, Calif./Central); DE Trevor Howard (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian)
Commits: 8 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
OG Tim Lynott (Aurora, Col./Regis Jesuit); QB Steven Montez (Del Valle, Tex./Del Valle); DE T.J. Fehoko (Salt Lake City/Cottonwood); OG Dillon Middlemiss (Arvada, Col./Pomona); K Alex Kinney (Fort Collins, Col./Rocky Mountain); OLB N.J. Falo (Sacramento, Calif./Inderkum); DT Brett Tonz (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial); WR Josiah Blandin (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach City College)
Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 4
WR Alex Ofodile (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge); RB Taj Griffin (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Travis Waller (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); OG Zach Okun (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); OT Jake Hanson (Eureka, Calif./Eureka); WR Jake Breeland (Mission Viejo, Calif./Trabuco Hills); S P.J. Locke (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OT Shane Lemieux (Yakima, Wash./West Valley); OT Brady Aiello (Lafayette, Calif./Acalanes); CB Jihree Stewart (Corona, Calif./Centennial); OT Calvin Throckmorton (Bellevue, Wash./Newport); S Dylan Kane (Honolulu/Kamehameha Schools)
Commits: 11 | ESPN 300 commits: 0
TE Matt Pistone (Yuma, Ariz./Yuma Catholic); OG Beau Hott (Plano, Tex./Plano Senior); S Solomon Matautia (Ewa Beach, Hi./Campbell); QB James Pensyl (Land O'Lakes, Fla./Land O. Lakes); OLB Tyrin Ferguson (New Orleans/Edna Karr); S Omar Hicks-Onu (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); OG Miki Fifita (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy); DE Hunter Mattox (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); OG Jacob Jimenez (Pflugerville, Tex./Pflugerville); OLB Angelo Garbutt (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); CB Treshon Broughton (Tustin, Calif./Los Angeles Harbor College)
Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 3
OG Nick Wilson (Milton, Ga./Milton); S Arrington Farrar (College Park, Ga./Woodward Academy); C Brian Chaffin (Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian); ILB Christian Folau (Salt Lake City/East); WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Roebuck, SC/Dorman); K Jake Bailey (Solana Beach, Calif./Santa Fe Christian); DT Rex Manu (Mililani, Hi./Mililani); ILB Reagan Williams (Jackson, Ohio/Jackson); OLB Casey Toohill (San Diego, Calif./Cathedral Catholic)
Commits: 14 | ESPN 300 commits: 5
QB Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./Saint John Bosco); TE Alize Jones (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman); OG Fred Ulu-Perry Jr. (Honolulu/Saint Louis); OT Andre James (Herriman, Utah/Herriman); OG Tevita Halalilo (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); WR L.J. Reed (Elk Grove, Calif./Cosumnes Oaks); DT Bryce English (DeSoto, Tex./DeSoto); ATH Stephen Johnson (San Leandro, Calif./San Leandro); CB Will Lockett (Manvel, Tex./Manvel); ILB Victor Alexander (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian Academy); RB T.J. Simmons (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland Christian); DE Rick Wade (Rancho Sant Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic); RB Bolu Olorunfunmi (Clovis, Calif./Clovis North); OLB Josh Woods (Upland, Calif./Upland)
Commits: 15 | ESPN 300 commits: 7
OT Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente); QB Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./Saint Bonaventure); DT Jacob Daniel (Fresno, Calif./Clovis North); WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast); ATH Isaiah Langley (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill); ILB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay); WR Desean Holmes (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); DT Noah Jefferson (Las Vegas/Liberty); RB Aca'Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, Tex./Cedar Hill); CB Taeon Mason (Pasadena, Calif./John Muir); OT Clayton Johnston (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); DE Christian Rector (Los Angeles/Loyola); OT Roy Hemsley (Los Angeles/Windward); WR De'Quan Hampton (Compton, Calif./Long Beach City College)
Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 0
WR Donzale Roddie (Paramount, Calif./Paramount); OT Jake Grant (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon); WR Justice Murphy (Vancouver, Wash./Evergreen); K Chayden Johnston (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham); ATH Tuli Wily-Matagi (Kahuku, Hi./Kahuku); WR George Wilson (Tustin, Calif./Tustin); QB Michael Jacquet III (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OLB Cody Barton (Salt Lake City/Brighton); OT Zach Lindsay (Kaysville, Utah/Snow College)
Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
QB Jake Browning (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); OT Trey Adams (Wenatchee, Wash./Wenatchee); WR Isaiah Renfro (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); WR Andre Baccellia (Westlake Village, Calif./Westlake); RB Myles Gaskin (Seattle/O'Dea); TE Michaeal Neal (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Etiwanda); OT Jared Hilbers (Beaverton, Ore./Beaverton); CB Jordan Miller (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); LS A.J. Carty (Anaheim, Calif./Servite)
Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 2
DT Thomas Toki (Mountain View, Calif./Saint Francis); RB Austin Joyner (Marysville, Wash./Marysville-Pilchuck); CB Darrien Molton (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); WR Deontay Burnett (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra); RB James Williams (Burbank, Calif./Burbank); S Kameron Powell (Upland, Calif./Upland); QB Tyler Hilinski (Upland, Calif./Upland); S Dominic Davis (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); K Matt Abramo (Petaluma, Calif./Casa Grande); OG Cedric Bigge-Duren (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); OG Noah Myers (Walnut Creek, Calif./Las Lomas); ILB Aaron Porter (Norwalk, Calif./Cerritos College)
- These classes are already beginning to fill up pretty well, some better than others (cough, Arizona). And looking forward, the coaches are getting in early on some younger guys, too. Throughout the conference there are already three 2016 commits and two 2017 commits. The three 2016 commits are running back Trevor Speights (Arizona), safety Brady Breeze (Oregon) and athlete Daelin Hayes (USC). The 2017 commits are defensive end Loren Mundy (Arizona State) and quarterback Tathan Martell (Washington).
- So far, there are five special team commits in the Pac-12, keeping with the national trend of placing higher importance on special teams players. Stanford, Utah, Colorado and Washington State have all picked up commitments from kickers while Washington has a verbal from a long snapper.
- The conference has 11 commits who are within the top five nationally in their respective position groups. UCLA leads the way with three top-5 commits (Rosen - No. 1 QB, Jones - No. 1 TE-Y, Ulu-Perry Jr. - No. 4 OG). Behind the Bruins are USC (Edoga - No. 3 OT, Darnold - No. 3 QB-PP), Oregon (Ofodile - No. 5 WR, Griffin - No. 4 RB) and Stanford (Chaffin - No. 3 C, Bailey - No. 4 K) with two apiece. Arizona has Walker, the No. 4 OT, and Washington has Browning, the No. 5 QB-PP.
- There are 10 juco players already committed to Pac-12 schools. Arizona, which leads the league with 22 commits, has four verbal commitments from junior college players. There are six other schools with commitments from junior college players -- Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington State.
- Stanford is doing a tremendous job recruiting nationally. Its nine commitments hail from seven different states ranging from Georgia to Ohio to California to Hawaii. But Arizona is doing the best internationally with a commit from British Columbia.
- Early front runner for best name in the Pac-12 is UCLA running back Bolu Olorunfunmi. C'mon Olo-RUN-FUN-mi. He's going to have so much FUN being a RUNning back. And writers (and editors who write headlines) are going to have a lot of fun, too.
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Previewing the 2014 season for the UCLA Bruins.
2013 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac-12; Beat Virginia Tech 42-12 in Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Final grade for 2013: B-plus. UCLA finished ranked No. 16 in the country and won five of its last six games, including a second-straight win against USC to build momentum into this year.
Key losses: OG Xavier Su'a-Fila, LB Anthony Barr, LB Jordan Zumwalt, DL Cassius Marsh, WR Shaq Evans.
Instant impact newcomer: LB Kenny Young, RB Adarius Pickett.
Projected winning percentage (ESPN Stats & Information): .734
Chances to win the conference (ESPN Stats & Information): 20.2 percent
Best-case scenario: 15-0
Worst-case scenario: 8-5
Over-under win total (Bovada): 9.5
Biggest question mark: Running back. It was a patchwork effort to replace Jonathan Franklin last season with Jack, Paul Perkins and Jordon James all mixing in. This year, UCLA will aim for more certainty at the position.
Most important game: Oct. 11 versus Oregon. The Bruins get the Ducks at home in what could be a preview of the Pac-12 title game later in the year at Levi's Stadium.
Upset special: ASU fans might not call it an upset if the Sun Devils beat the Bruins in Tempe on Sept. 25, but everyone else would. If there's a chance UCLA could trip up before Oregon, that's the best bet.
They said it: "I never was going to leave UCLA. [Athletic director] Dan Guerrero went out on a limb when he hired me. Let's not kid anybody. I wasn't the most popular hire in the history of college sports, I can promise you that." -- UCLA coach Jim Mora
Whatever negative perceptions formerly were held about the Pac-12 -- finesse, pass-first, defense-optional league with half-full stadiums -- are mostly dead. Though there always will be trolling mouth-breathers with tired insults, Pac-12 folks now can show up to the verbal brawl with facts and numbers and game scores and commence to deliver a dose of frenzied verbal MMA that leaves said trolls whimpering for mercy.
OK, perhaps that's going overboard. But the Pac-12 deserves credit for two things: (1) Its rating as the nation's No. 2 conference (2) Making things tougher on itself than any other conference.
The overwhelming national consensus is the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC. As ESPN Stats & Information noted in January, "Overall, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and five teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's Football Power Index. As a result of its strength in the computers, the Pac-12 was the clear No. 2 conference in the Power Rankings."
Another vote in the Pac-12's favor comes from an unquestionably unbiased -- cough, cough -- constituency: Pac-12 coaches.
"[The SEC] should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But to go through the Pac-12 and win a national championship may be the most difficult thing to do because of our schedule."
Ah, that's the worrisome rub. No other conference rides the scheduling tricycle like the Pac-12: 1. Challenging nonconference slate; 2. Nine-game conference schedule; 3. Conference championship game.
While some conferences have improved their nonconference scheduling, they don't play nine conference games. The Big 12 does play nine conference games, but it doesn't play a championship game. Pac-12 coaches aren't shy about noting that a conference team, in almost all cases, will have to play at least 11 quality games -- one tough nonconference foe, nine conference games and the Pac-12 title game -- to earn a spot in the CFP. No other conference can claim that.
There is a big reason the other conferences can't: They don't want to.
"Fair or unfair, whatever the words you want to use, we play a nine-game schedule and a conference championship game and other conferences don't on purpose," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "There is obviously a reason for that."
That's the big issue for the Pac-12 heading into the season. There is no longer a worry about respect or the perception of the Pac-12. Rather, it's about how unscathed a conference champ can hope to be against such a demanding schedule, and whether the committee will stick to its stated insistence that strength of schedule will be paramount. When a conference plays eight of the nation's 13 toughest schedules, as the Pac-12 did in 2013, the challenge to go unbeaten or even to lose just one game is far greater.
Of course, this issue won't be solved today, or even in the next couple months. The ultimate answers will be delivered in January when four semifinalists are picked and seeded.
So then, how did the Pac-12 gain ground in the perception battle -- one that has the conference starting with six teams ranked in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, including three in the top 11 with two others receiving votes?
The easy answer: money. The $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and Fox was a game-changer. That money has flowed into facilities improvements and more aggressive investments in coaching -- head coaches and assistants. A concomitant influx of A-list coaches, most notably Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Chris Petersen, has boosted the conference's Q-rating. Those coaches also have been able to hire and -- critically -- retain key assistants with competitive salaries, such as Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell ($700,000), UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm ($650,000), Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave'a ($275,000) and USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (north of the $800,000 he made at Washington), among others.
No team has had a better, and perhaps more unfortunate, seat while watching the Pac-12 improve than Utah. The Utes joined the conference in 2011 as a program that had posted two unbeaten seasons and won two BCS bowl games as a member of the respected Mountain West Conference. Though they went a solid 4-5 in conference play in 2011, they slipped to 3-6 in 2012 and 2-7 in 2013, with lineups that might have been better than the 2011 squad.
What separates the Pac-12 this season -- and could make it a legitimate threat for the No. 1 conference -- is behind center. Not only does the conference welcome back 10 starting quarterbacks, a majority of those are NFL prospects.
"I've never seen anything like this," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You have multiple guys that you could say could be the No. 1 pick overall in the draft. You have multiple guys in the conference that could be All-Americans and lead the nation in quarterback rating or lead the nation in passing."
The most notable quarterbacks are Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley, Heisman Trophy candidates blinking brightly on NFL radars who lead teams favored to win their respective divisions. Hundley will get an early showcase game against Texas, and Mariota and the Ducks play host to Michigan State, the Big Ten favorite, in Week 2. And the Ducks and Bruins could meet each other twice this season.
But they also must contend with Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, USC's Cody Kessler, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Washington State's Connor Halliday, Utah's Travis Wilson, California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau, each capable of posting a spectacular individual performance that could spawn an upset.
The Pac-12 is plenty hyped heading into the 2014 season. There is no perception problem. There might, however, end up being a reality problem. If the Pac-12 champion ends up with two losses, and the selection committee has a handful of Power Five conference teams with one or fewer defeats, the Pac-12 could get a respectful tip of the cap but end up out of luck in the inaugural College Football Playoff.