UCLA: Jordan Zumwalt
LOS ANGELES – UCLA’s much-ballyhooed dual-threat threat Myles Jack -- the first player in league history to win the Pac-12’s defensive and offensive freshman of the year -- has zero carries this spring.
None. Nada. A 230-pound donut of spring offensive production. And the reason is obvious to the man pulling the strings in Westwood.
“He is a defensive player -- period -- who maybe will have some offensive packages,” stressed UCLA coach Jim Mora. “He hasn’t taken a single offensive snap this spring, nor will he. In training camp, either. He plays defense for us. The important thing is to help us maximize his abilities at linebacker. He’s phenomenal on either side of the ball. But in his mind and the reason he came here is to play linebacker. I’m not going to take that away from him. It would hurt our football team.”
In a whirlwind 2013, Jack went from heralded recruit to starting linebacker to overnight social media/SportsCenter sensation. Six carries, 120 yards and one rushing touchdown later against Arizona, the “Jack of all trades” puns were as viral as the common cold.
This spring the UCLA coaching staff has reminded Jack that he is, above all else, a linebacker. They’ve kept him strictly on one side of the ball, but haven’t ruled out that we might see him get some carries when the leaves start to turn. For now, the emphasis is on making him the best linebacker he can be.
And he was pretty good last season, posting the second highest number of tackles in school history for a true freshman with 75. That was enough to earn him second-team All-Pac-12 honors and placement on several freshman All-America teams. He was good, but not great. And he knows it.
Too often last season, Jack would rely on his athleticism rather than trusting in his still-developing technique. He’d guess. When he guessed right, the result would be a tackle for a loss or a highlight play. When he guessed wrong, what could have been a sack turned into a 3-yard gain. He was athletic enough to compensate. But the coaching staff is confident that when he reaches that sweet spot between athleticism and technique, well, look out.
“I’m not even close to where I need to be yet,” Jack said. “In high school I carried the ball and played defensive end. I was in a four-point stance and I’d just run around the other guys. But in the Pac-12, these offensive linemen are big and fast. I need to do a better job with my hands and shedding blocks and reading my keys.”
His collegiate offensive exploits speak for themselves. His 66-yard touchdown run against the Wildcats thrust him into the national spotlight and he ended the season with 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He set a UCLA true freshman record with four rushing touchdowns against Washington, and on the other side of the ball, he led the Bruins with 11 passes defended and added a two interceptions with a pick-six in the bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Mora was quick to note that Jack isn’t the only dual-threat the Bruins have on their roster. Last season defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes rushed for a touchdown and had an 18-yard reception. Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt had a 12-yard catch and defensive lineman Cassius Marsh had a 2-yard touchdown reception.
“If they can help us on either side of the ball, we’re going to continue to use them,” Mora said. “We’re going to continue to use Myles on offense and in packages. We’re going to continue to use Eddie Vanderdoes. We’re going to continue to use Kenny Clark. We’re going to find a guy that can replace Cassius. We’ve got guys like Ishmael Adams that we can play on both sides of the ball. But we have to make sure they are full entrenched at one position before we ask them to branch out. Otherwise you hurt their ability to grow.”
So we have UCLA as it transitions from an underachieving program (1999-2011) to a good one (2012-2013) to one that has the makings of a national contender in 2014.
Further, it's reasonable to project that those 20 or so freshmen and sophomores who saw significant playing time last year will physically and mentally mature into their primes.
There simply aren't any worrisome voids on this team.
- All-American outside linebacker Anthony Barr off the NFL? Few seem worried that between Kenny Orjioke, Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins, a more than adequate replacement will be found.
- Leading receiver Shaq Evans' departure means quarterback Brett Hundley needs to find a new first option? Most teams in the nation would eagerly trade their lead receiving troika for Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien, and they don't even know about Eldridge Massington.
- All-Pac-12 offensive guard Xavier Su'a-Filo off to the NFL, offensive tackle Torian White dismissed from the team and offensive tackle Simon Goines still recovering from a broken leg? No worries. Four linemen with starting experience are practicing, and that doesn't yet include Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche, a likely starter.
- Promising sophomore Isaac Savaiinaea is the leading candidate to replace Jordan Zumwalt at inside linebacker, so if he's beaten out by true freshman and early enrollee Zach Whitley, that only means Whitley is really good.
- What's the pecking order at running back? The Bruins rushed for nearly 200 yards per game a year ago with injuries and uncertainty at the position, so here's a strong hunch that between Jordan James, Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and Craig Lee, there will be quality production at the position.
There are, of course, important questions.
Is defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa fully healthy? He told reporters Tuesday that he is. So then is the former A-list recruit ready to break through as a senior?
What does LB/RB Myles Jack do for an encore after one of the best true freshman seasons in recent memory?
And speaking of what's next, is it reasonable to project Hundley taking a strong step forward as a third-year starter? Of course, that's why the program has already launched a Heisman Trophy campaign.
A lot of variables beyond personnel go into a special season -- a Rose Bowl-, College Football Playoff-type season. A team needs a great offseason. It needs positive chemistry and leadership. It needs to avoid injuries. It needs to stay hungry. It needs laser-like focus every week.
Returning starters do not guarantee anything. National champion Florida State only had 11 of them last year.
But on paper, UCLA appears to be the most likely candidate to break the five-year Stanford-Oregon Pac-12 hegemony atop the Pac-12. The Bruins might even be a team that catches the notice of the CFP selection committee in December.
- DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State: No. 4 (Kiper), No. 5 (McShay)
- DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: No. 8 (Kiper), No. 10 (McShay)
If you've been following along since the end of the season, Sutton's spot isn't all too surprising. He didn't have a good showing at the combine and has taken heat about his physical condition, dating to before last season. Even with the concerns, it's hard to imagine he won't eventually find his way in the NFL. After all, he's only the second player in conference history to be a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Washington's Steve Emtman (1990-91) was the other. That's not by accident.
Coincidentally, the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, isn't ranked in the top 10 by either. See the list here.
Other Pac-12 defensive linemen who figure to be in the mix in the draft are Cassius Marsh (UCLA), Taylor Hart (Oregon), Deandre Coleman (Cal), George Uko (USC), Tenny Palepoi (Utah), Morgan Breslin (USC), Ben Gardner (Stanford) and Josh Mauro (Stanford).
- OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: No. 2 (both)[+] EnlargeKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFormer UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr could be the first Pac-12 player to be drafted this year.
- OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford: No. 6 (Kiper), No. 9 (McShay)
- ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford: No. 3 (both)
- ILB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: No. 8 (Kiper)
Barr is widely considered the Pac-12's best hope at landing in the first 10 picks, but if McShay was drafting, that wouldn't be the case. On drafting Barr, McShay wrote:
[Barr] of UCLA is a speed-rusher who stalls out when attempting to convert speed to power, and there is too much finesse to his game for me to pay a top-15 price for him. He looks like he's on skates when he attempts to set the edge.
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the same player Stanford coach David Shaw compared to Jevon Kearse. Shaw called Barr called the best (defensive) player the conference has had in the "last few years."
Murphy is in a similar boat to Sutton in that his college production isn't necessarily being viewed as a lock to translate to the NFL. He still figures to be a good fit for a 3-4 team and should be expected to contribute right away.
Outside of the four listed, it wasn't a very deep year for linebackers in the conference. Utah's Trevor Reilly, who can play both OLB and DE, Arizona State OLB Carl Bradford and USC's Devon Kennard headline the rest of the NFL hopefuls.
- CB Keith McGill, Utah: No. 7 (Kiper)
- S Deone Bucannon, Washington State: No. 5 (Kiper), No. 3 (McShay)
- S Dion Bailey, USC: No. 7 (Kiper)
McGill should send a thank you card in Pete Carroll's direction. It's largely because of Seattle's use of big-bodied corners en route to a Super Bowl victory that the league appears to be trending in that direction. At 6-foot-4, McGill's size -- in addition to his solid showing at the combine -- is a rare asset among the group of corners.
Bucannon looks like he'll be the first defensive back off the board, but will he be a first-round pick? That's unlikely, but it would be a surprise if he lasts into the third round.
Another storyline to watch is where the three defensive backs who left early -- safety Ed Reynolds (Stanford), cornerback Terrance Mitchell (Oregon) and cornerback Kameron Jackson (Cal) -- wind up.
See the lists for linebackers and defensive backs here.
In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at UCLA.
Biggest shoes: OLB Anthony Barr
A two-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection, Barr was one of the most feared linebackers in the nation. He totaled 65 tackles last season, but did most of his damage in the backfield, where he tallied 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He also forced five fumbles (recovering four of them). He ranked second in the league in tackles for a loss and third in sacks.
Stepping in: Kenny Orjioke (maybe)
The junior-to-be has a ton of upside and potential. He’s built like Barr (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and possesses similar natural athleticism that made Barr such a productive edge rusher. Orjioke produced 11 stops last year, including two tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. But he’s not the only one in the mix. Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins should also get looks. Wallace appeared in 13 games last year and had five tackles, while Hollins appeared in 11 with seven stops and a tackle for a loss. UCLA’s linebacker corps is solid, despite the departure of Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. Myles Jack is a gifted playmaker and Eric Kendricks has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league the last couple of years. Those two will occupy plenty of attention, leaving Barr’s replacement room to work on the edge.
Previous big shoes
- A photo montage of rising Arizona star linebacker Scooby Wright.
- Will Sutton's draft stock might be heading in the wrong direction.
- California continuing to eyeball quarterbacks.
- Some snapshots of Colorado's first practice.
- Mark Helfrich talks about what it means to have Marcus Mariota back.
- Is Brandin Cooks the No. 3 WR in the NFL draft?
- Andrew Luck is the No. 2 all-time Pac-12 quarterback of the BCS era, per Athlon. Debate.
- Jordan Zumwalt chats about his draft stock, among other topics.
- Day 1 of USC's spring practice is in the books.
- Utes in the NFL are on the move in free agency.
- Shaq Thompson had a big day for Washington's first practice in pads.
- WSU's Daquawn Brown is in some legal trouble.
- Athlon ranks all 128 coaching jobs.
Five of the six were defensive players, with Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt (3 carries, 11 yards) the lone offensive player from the conference.
Utah cornerback Keith McGill, who drew rave reviews throughout the week, capped his solid trip to Alabama with a good performance that included a game-sealing interception of Miami's Stephen Morris. McGill measured in at 6-3, 214 pounds and has drawn comparisons to former Stanford star Richard Sherman.
Reviews for two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton of Arizona State were mixed, but his production in the game was there. Sutton was tied with Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy for a conference-high four tackles, including one for a 3-yard loss.
Washington State safety Deone Bucannon recorded three tackles, and Cal's Deandre Coleman followed up a well-reviewed week of practice with a pair of tackles.
Oregon receiver Josh Huff and UCLA's duo of linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and receiver Shaquelle Evans (undisclosed injury) practiced throughout the week, but did not play.
In a Scouts Inc. list of superlatives from the week, only Huff was included . However, Todd McShay mentions McGill in the accompanying video:
I'm not playing today for precautionary reasons— ChosenOne1_ (@Huff_Era_1) January 25, 2014
Best vertical speed: Josh Huff, Oregon. We were surprised by Huff's quick start and extra gear when tracking the ball down vertically.
Here is the official box score from the game.
- Ryan Hewitt, Stanford: 3 carries, 11 yards.
- Will Sutton, Arizona State: 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
- Trent Murphy, Stanford: 4 tackles
- Deone Bucannon, Washington State: 3 tackles
- Deandre Coleman, Cal: 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
- Keith McGill, Utah: 1 tackle, 1 interception
- Josh Huff, Oregon: "precautionary reasons"
- Shaquelle Evans, UCLA: undisclosed injury
- Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: groin injury
UCLA receiver Shaquelle Evans, who had been impressive throughout the week, will not play in the game due to a minor undisclosed injury. His teammate with the Bruins, LB Jordan Zumwalt, is doubtful with a groin strain.
And now, to some observations.
According to the official Baltimore Ravens website, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon has stood out.
Buchannon passes the eye test. He’s cut up and looks like he’s in phenomenal shape. He’s got the right mentality too, talking about how he’ll play anywhere and wants to prove himself on special teams. He’s projected as a possible second-round pick.
Zumwalt, Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy and Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton were all included on a list of winners and losers. It was good news for Zumwalt, not for Murphy and Sutton.
Zumwalt: Zumwalt showed great instincts and an ability to cover sideline to sideline. He was all over the field and, despite a wiry frame (6-foot-4, 231 pounds) flashed impressive power as a pass rusher.
Murphy: Maybe it was because he was going against Martin most of the time, but Murphy couldn't beat his man off the edge and failed to showed dominant power. There will definitely be some teams that question whether the nation's sack leader can transition over to the NFL.
Sutton: Sutton dropped 10 pounds to 315 for the Senior Bowl and never seemed comfortable. He looked slow and without great explosion.
Best agility at the Senior Bowl? Possibly Oregon receiver Josh Huff.
Huff may be the most fluid athlete at the Senior Bowl. He shakes past, slips around and jumps over defenders, spinning, twisting and dashing with ease. While Mike Davis of Texas, Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt and several other receivers stood out, I talked to several scouts who thought Huff was the most impressive of the bunch.
Cal defensive tackle Deandre Coleman was mentioned as a player that improved his draft stock by the NFL Network.
The Detroit Lions are keeping a close watch on Utah corner Keith McGill, who is drawing interest because of his size.
DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: At 6-foot, 315 pounds, he isn’t going to win any Mr. Universe contests, and his body type will likely be a concern for NFL teams. Even if he loses some weight between now and the draft, his height could be an issue, as it will for Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. But teams can’t forget about how well he performs on the field. He has a quick first step for his size and he can disrupt running plays in the backfield, plus his girth and low center of gravity make it tougher for taller offensive linemen to get under him and move him off the ball, as we’ve seen in practices this week.
If NFL teams looking for a 3-technique defensive tackle can throw out his measurements and just watch the tape, they’ll see a guy who can make an impact early.
USA Today gave Oregon WR Josh Huff a "rising" grade from his week of practice.
Wide receivers are often overlooked in Oregon’s offense due to the Ducks’ explosive running game. He’s not being overlooked during Senior Bowl practices.
The Atlanta Falcons coaching staff made sure Day 1 to get the ball in Huff’s hands. The 5-11, 201 wide receiver continually gets separation and is an available target. He caught a pair of passes in the end zone during Wednesday’s practice. The first, he was falling backwards but still had the wherewithal to come down with the reception. Huff was able to high-point the second catch over the cornerback.
If it weren’t for a diving attempt for a third touchdown reception which went through Huff’s outstretched arms, the wide receiver may have gotten top billing.
But Huff hasn't, apparently, been perfect.
Oregon wideout Josh Huff might be the gifted of the North's receivers but he showed the same frustrating struggles with consistency which characterized his career with the Ducks. Possessing broad shoulders, strength and toughness, Huff is capable of fighting through safeties to gain position, as well as the quickness and speed to separate from cornerbacks. Unfortunately, the tendency to lose focus on the details -- like exploding through his routes or securing the football through the entire catch process -- again came into play during Wednesday's practice. Huff can make the spectacular play, demonstrating the ability to track the ball over his shoulder on vertical routes as well as twirling to make acrobatic catches against tight coverage. He also dropped a beautiful deep ball down late in practice down the right sideline and too often was knocked off his feet by aggressive cornerbacks.
One of the things you start to realize reading a lot of Senior Bowl notes packages is that you can pretty much get folks saying the opposite of each other ... over and over. Welcome to the draft process, which is really little more than a beauty contest.
More positive reviews for UCLA WR Shaquelle Evans:
Shaquelle Evans/WR/UCLA: Evans, 6-foot-1, 210, built a lot of momentum throughout the week and by Wednesday was one of the better receivers at the Senior Bowl. He's a physical wideout with a strong build and soft hands. Evans consistently separated from opponents by running good routes and fought hard to come away with the reception. He's a terrific possession receiver with the ability to help any NFL team as a rookie.Here's a take on Washington State S Deone Bucannon, Stanford OLB Trent Murphy and UCLA LB Jordan Zumwalt:
Deone Buccanon, SAF, Washington State – Finally showed up a bit today with some very strong coverage on the TE. Stayed tight to the hip on a jerk route, out-muscled the TE and made a play on the ball. Is going to have trouble turning and running in coverage, because he’s not real fluid. In the box, covering the TE, and bringing the edge type of Safety.
Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford – While he can beat OL with his effort, motor, and power, his concerns have been reinforced this week. Lack of explosion and speed are major concerns. Can bend some, but it looks like it takes some effort. Tall, linear frame for defenders to target.
Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA – Once again set the physical tone. Was embarrassing RB in blitz pick up drills. Displayed excellent coverage on David Fluellen in downfield coverage, completely blanketing him and forcing the QB to pull down and run.
And, again, here are the Pac-12 players in Mobile:
- Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA
- Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
- Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
- Ryan Hewitt, FB, Stanford
- Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
- Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
Throughout, Zumwalt, 6-foot-4, 231, played with nonstop intensity, so much so that coaches politely asked him to dial it down a bit. Zumwalt presented himself as second-round material, something which could come to fruition if the competitive linebacker turns in good workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine.
I'm shocked to hear Zumwalt's dial goes up to 11. And he wasn't the only UCLA player noted for his physical play.
Another receiver that has caught my eye is Shaq Evans of UCLA. A corner came up to press Evans, and Evans just put him on the ground. Very physical play. He also showed good long speed on a deep ball, and he has decent size at 6'1, 210.
Jim Mora has talked about changing UCLA's culture. Winning 19 games over the past two seasons is proof enough, but reading about former players getting edgy at a college all-star game has to warm the cockles of Bruins fans' hearts.
Here's a pretty thorough look at Utah DB Keith McGill:
He needs to improve his press technique, but he has the tools to do it. McGill's size will be tempting for teams. He’s 6-3, 214 pounds, which is slightly bigger than Richard Sherman when he was coming out of school (6-2, 205) and roughly the same size as [Brandon] Browner when he was coming out (6-3, 221). For teams in the middle rounds looking to add size at cornerback, particularly one who can hold his own in press coverage, McGill could be an intriguing option.
And another on McGill:
The corner with the highest ceiling looks like Utah’s Keith McGill. At 6-3, 214 pounds, he moves with tremendous fluidly through transitions and impressed during T-step redirect drills. He’s not a natural hands guy and continued to drop interception opportunities. Nevertheless, the length to affect the catch point is still overwhelming for some of the South receivers he faced. When lined up in press man, he flashed the ability to mirror and wall receivers to the sideline, but will require further development with his hand usage through the release.
Former California defensive tackle Deandre Coleman is also playing well:
DT Deandre Coleman, California: Coleman isn’t a big-name D-lineman like Ford or Arizona State’s Will Sutton, but he has played really well both days here. He looked very strong against the double-team on Tuesday, using his hands effectively and playing really hard. He plowed through Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard during one session.
And, yes, Cal fans, there were some folks who wondered where this beastly version of Coleman was this season:
Powerful and surprisingly athletic, the 6-foot-5, 315 pounder is position and scheme versatile, though scouts are left to question where this passionate play was throughout a disappointing senior season in the Pac-12.
There seem to be some questions about where Stanford OLB Trent Murphy will fit in with an NFL defense. At present, he's playing defensive end and having mixed results.
Murphy, a playmaking outside linebacker for a highly physical Stanford squad, is also having a tough time adjusting as the Falcons are asking him to play defensive end. While known for his toughness and physicality with the Cardinal, Murphy looked surprisingly lean during Monday's weigh-ins, showing little upper body development on his 6-foot-5, 253-pound frame. He has strong, active hands to knock away blockers' attempts to latch on and accelerates around the edge in a controlled, efficient manner. He isn't an explosive athlete in any way, however, leading to questions about where he'll fit at the next level as he does not possess great burst nor the strength teams are looking for in an end capable of setting the edge.
Former Oregon WR Josh Huff continues to play well.
On Monday, while most observers were buzzing about Oregon receiver Josh Huff, I wrote about Wyoming receiver Robert Herron and even slapped a TY Hilton comparison on him. Tuesday’s practice did not reaffirm my observation. Huff continued to stand out in his position group and Herron struggled with a few drops and at times looked uncomfortable settling under the ball.
Arizona State DT Will Sutton's weight is still a big question, and it appears he plans to drop some pounds after the Senior Bowl.
Will Sutton of Arizona State is still working to lower his weight during this draft season after playing the year at 325 pounds because his coaches asked him to. His goal is to get back down to 300 pounds by the NFL Combine, which could further help his quickness after his first rush. He uses his hands well, attacking guards and centers with quick, decisive movements and generating pressure initially with high frequency. However, when he didn’t win initially, he struggled to recover.
Finally, I thought this was interesting: an inside look at a team interviewing a player at the Senior Bowl.
And, again, here are the Pac-12 players in Mobile:
Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA
Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
Ryan Hewitt, FB, Stanford
Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
Deandre Coleman, DT, California
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Keith McGill, S, Utah
Jack in Boulder, Colo. writes: Pretty harsh with some of your grades, weren’t you?
Kevin Gemmell: I don’t think so. Did anyone in the league deserve an A? No national champions. No BCS bowl game victories. I didn’t do the Stanford review, that one was all Ted. But I thought a B-plus was fair, considering how the season ended and the fact that the Cardinal did lose to an unranked team that didn’t make the postseason along the way. I did do the Oregon review and thought a B was also a fair grade -- considering what the expectations were for the Ducks in 2013 compared to how they finished.
Outside of that, who deserves a better grade than they received? Some people thought Arizona’s B was a little too generous, given the schedule they played (see the question below, by the way). But they knocked off Oregon, won their bowl game and made huge strides defensively.
Others have said Cal’s F grade was too harsh. But I’m of the opinion that if you don’t beat an FBS team, that’s a fail.
Oregon State’s C-minus feels right, considering what the expectations were.
UCLA’s B-plus was fair from Ted and my B-minus for USC was pretty reflective of the ups and downs of the season.
I thought Ted’s C-minus for Utah was probably generous, but upsetting Stanford warrants something in the average range.
The Washington schools both got Bs because the Cougs exceeded expectations and the Huskies got over the seven-win hump and won their bowl game.
As always, happy to hear arguments in favor for or against changing grades.
Pac-12 Fan in Reno writes: C'mon, Kevin. Arizona at No. 25 in your final poll? It is now becoming apparent that you have some repressed "feelings" for [RichRod] and Arizona. How can you put AU at No. 25 after the way they were so thoroughly humiliated at the hands of relatively pedestrian ASU (No. 20)? AU beat Oregon and ... whom exactly? Their wins came over the likes of UNLV and UTSA. Wow. Impressive. AU will win 8-9 games again next year because they play a bunch of [weak teams]. You really need to admit your bias/obsession and try to move past it. You are better than this.
Kevin Gemmell: Consider the alternative. Who would you put at No. 25? Washington is there in the AP poll at No. 25, but I had the Huskies higher because I thought they finished strong and deserved a higher ranking.
So let’s look at the options, including all of the teams that finished in the final AP rankings or received votes.
Vanderbilt? The Commodores beat an injury-depleted No. 15 Georgia, but the rest of their schedule sets up much like Arizona with sub-.500 competition.
Nebraska? Its signature win was also over No. 22 Georgia. (And yes, Ryan in New York, I know you are going to chime in about UCLA’s win over Nebraska, but you still won’t convince me that wasn’t an amazing win for the Bruins given all that had happened).
Fresno State? Played one ranked team all year (USC) and got blasted by them in the bowl game.
Northern Illinois? Zero ranked teams on the schedule.
North Dakota State? I’ll actually listen to that argument.
Texas Tech? Never beat a top-10 team.
Georgia? See above.
Iowa? Never beat a ranked team.
Ole Miss? It beat LSU, but won just three games in conference. Thank goodness for the eight-game conference schedule. (I can already feel a retort coming on from Chris Low.)
Kansas State? The Wildcats beat a reeling No. 25 Texas Tech team, but had no other victories over ranked opponents.
That brings us to Arizona. It only beat one ranked team all season. But of all the teams listed above, it was the highest-ranked team in No. 5 Oregon.
There are no repressed feelings. But all things being equal -- and I think you can make a case that all of these teams I’ve just listed pretty much being equal -- I’m going to go with the one that showed the greatest improvement on defense from 2012 to 2013 and has one of the country’s most dynamic playmakers. And Arizona beat a team from a BCS conference in its bowl game.
The Wildcats played in “arguably” the toughest, deepest league in college football, had a comparable record and had the best win of all those teams listed above. On a neutral field, I’ll put the Arizona team that played against Boston College against any one of those teams.
Henry in San Juan Capistrano writes: Your colleague Chris Low stated today that the three "marquee" QB's in the P-12 are Hundley, Marcus and Mannion when we all know that it's Kelly, not Mannion, that rounds out that group. Can you set him straight, Kev? You would be doing all P-12 fans a huge favor.
Kevin Gemmell: Can’t it be both? Mannion had the superior passing numbers, a better completion percentage with 1,000 more passing yards and nine more passing touchdowns. He also finished with a higher raw QBR.
Kelly had fewer interceptions and a higher adjusted QBR. He also rushed for 608 yards and had nine rushing touchdowns while Mannion had minus-223 yards rushing and zero rushing touchdowns.
So when push comes to shove, they had an equal amount of total touchdowns accounted for. Mannion had more turnovers (including seven fumbles).
Both quarterbacks are asked to do very different things. Mannion is a pure drop-back passer. That’s not to say that Kelly can’t chuck it. He was fifth in the league 3,635 passing yards and third in passing touchdowns. But he has more zone-read responsibilities than Mannion does.
When Mannion isn’t going through one of his interception spells, he can be one of the top pure passers in college football, but he has his moments of inefficiency. And Kelly, too, has the occasional bad game, when things aren’t clicking. But both are very good at what they are asked to do.
Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Excellent article on the Pac-12 defenses. But how could you forget perhaps the nation's best interior defensive lineman next year -- Lenny Williams -- when discussing the best defenders in the Pac?
Kevin Gemmell: *Slaps head with palm and shouts “D’oh!”* Yep, Williams is up there as well. Was thinking of younger guys, but he absolutely should be a preseason All-American.
The point of the column wasn’t to say that there are no good defensive players coming back. There are. USC has some. UCLA has some. Stanford and Oregon have some. Pretty much every school has a player or two who is going to get some looks on a preseason all-conference squad.
But given the amount of talented defensive players across the conference that are leaving, combined with coordinators from the top five defensive schools in the conference in 2013, I felt it warranted a column. UCLA fans got after me on Twitter, reminding me of all the young talent the Bruins have coming back. And I agree with all of it. I expect UCLA to be strong defensively. But stronger without Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt? We’ll have to see.
But from a league-wide perspective, the Pac-12 loses a bunch of veteran defenders. When you combine that with the offensive firepower coming back, it makes for an intriguing 2014.
Bob in Menlo Park writes: Kevin, I read your Todd Graham question. I thought I read on the Pac-12 Blog that [athletic director Steve] Patterson signed an agreement with Arizona State not to poach personnel when he went to Texas. Enjoyed your writing and the blog.
Kevin Gemmell: As a matter of fact, you did read that on the blog. Here’s the link.
It’s obviously moot with Charlie Strong landing the job at Texas. If Patterson really wanted Todd Graham, I’m sure there would have been a way to make it work. As Ted points in his piece from November, there isn’t much that can’t be fixed with motivation and money. Contracts can be torn up in lieu of checks.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. But if Graham continues at this current pace -- winning division championships and posting outstanding conference records, he’s going to start getting phone calls. What’s an acceptable time frame for a coach to move on? Three years? Five? Seven?
This is going to be an interesting year for Graham. He’s losing a ton of defensive stars and he spends the majority of his time on that side of the football. It’s not unreasonable to think the Sun Devils might take a step back defensively in 2014, but if they can come close to matching some of their 2013 defensive production after that kind of a talent drain, we’ll know just how good of a coach Graham really is.
Bryce in San Franciso writes: I'm happy to see Kyle Bonagura getting on board with the lunch link quotes. I don't see an inbox for him, so hoping you can pass this note along.
Kevin Gemmell: I’ll let him know. He started strong with a quote from “The Sandlot.” When it comes to the lunch links quotes, we try to have fun with them … but sometimes they can be a bit obscure. Last year, on the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I posted a stanza from “The Mighty K.C.” a one-hit wonder song by For Squirrels from 1995. Didn’t think anyone would get the reference, and they didn’t. On the day Ray Bradbury died, Ted quoted “Fahrenheit 451.” Sometimes, it’s just a movie or song or book that’s stuck in my head. They aren’t always gems, but we try to make it fun.
And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.
That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.
But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.
Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.
In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.
The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.
Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).
But a lot more is gone than is coming back.
That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.
The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.
Struggling with the death of a teammate early in the year, UCLA coach Jim Mora kept his team poised but always compassionate to the situation. They went 2-3 against ranked teams but dominated Virginia Tech in their bowl game. Mora and his key coaches have been locked up, Brett Hundley is coming back for another year and things are definitely looking up in Westwood.
Oh yeah, UCLA is 2-0 against USC under Mora. That in itself is reason for Bruins fans to feel pretty good.
You can read our graded review of UCLA here.
Offensive MVP: Without question, it’s Hundley, who threw for 24 touchdowns (to nine interceptions) and also lead the team in rushing with 748 yards and 11 touchdowns. Not to be forgotten is that he also caught a touchdown. I think he also punted, once. He’s an electric athlete who should get considerable Heisman buzz next season. In fact, UCLA has already kicked off his campaign with a #Hundley4Heisman push.
Defensive MVP: On a team loaded with a lot of good defenders, which way do you go? Is it tackling machine Eric Kendricks and his 106 stops? Jordan Zumwalt and his understated 93 tackles and three forced fumbles? Cassius Marsh and his 10.5 tackles for a loss? All are good options. But every offensive coordinator feared Anthony Barr, who had 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He also forced five fumbles and recovered four of them.
Best moment: Watching the final 30 minutes of the Nebraska game. When you consider the emotional strain the team had been under, it was hard not to get a little choked up as the Bruins erased a 21-10 halftime deficit en route to a 41-21 victory. Then again, I know UCLA fans also enjoyed the 35-14 win over USC at the Coliseum. The best moment of all, however, might have been this.
Worst moment: Off the field, the answer is obvious. And the Pac-12 blog can’t give Mora & Co. enough credit for the job they did. On the field, you have to look at the failed comeback and subsequent loss at home against Arizona State. The Bruins trailed 35-13 at the half and made a game of it in the 38-33 loss. But the final drive was marred with holding penalties and sacks.
It was over when: Sensational true freshman linebacker Myles Jack of UCLA intercepted a Mark Leal pass and pranced 24 yards for a pick-six with 13:22 to play in the fourth quarter to give the Bruins a 28-10 lead. It came on the heels of 12-play, 85-yard drive that provided breathing room for UCLA and turned up the heat on Leal, the Virginia Tech backup who replaced Logan Thomas after the senior took a big hit from linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the second quarter.
Game ball goes to: Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley of UCLA, who rushed for touchdowns of 7 and 86 yards in the first half. Hundley then completed 6 of 6 throws for 80 yards on the Bruins’ 85-yard drive that ended early in the fourth quarter after the Hokies cut the lead to 14-10. Hundley rushed for 161 yards and two scores on 10 carries and completed 16 of 27 passes for 226 and a pair of touchdowns.
Stat of the game: 28. That’s the Bruins’ point total in a span of less than nine minutes in the fourth quarter to bust open a close contest.
Unsung hero: Zumwalt, the senior man in the middle of the UCLA defense. The rookie Jack, who also plays running back, and senior Anthony Barr get most of the publicity among a stellar group of UCLA linebackers. But Zumwalt on Tuesday made an impact as significant as any defender with 10 tackles, an interception in the fourth quarter and the big hit on Thomas.
What UCLA learned: The Bruins continue to progress under second-year coach Jim Mora, reaching 10 wins for the first time since 2005. If Hundley returns for a third season at the helm, UCLA has a potential Heisman candidate next year.
What Virginia Tech learned: The athleticism needs to improve. The Hokies, even if Thomas had remained upright, likely would have succumbed to UCLA’s speed and playmaking ability in the second half.
Last year, the Bruins represented the Pac-12 South Division based on a technicality. This year, UCLA won the division based on technical superiority.
Yes, UCLA is back in the conference title game and the Bruins (9-3) will meet Stanford (10-2) Friday night in Palo Alto. Unlike last year when UCLA fell, 49-31, at Oregon, however, the Bruins feel like they belong.
“Last year didn’t feel right,” safety Tevin McDonald said. “We were happy to be in the game but we couldn’t really go into the game confident with our chest out and chin up. We earned it this year.”
There is no doubt about that. The Bruins had the best record in the South Division and defeated division favorite USC along the way. Last year UCLA stumbled into the title game with a 6-6 record a week after getting thrashed, 50-0, but USC.
Not only that, but coach Rick Neuheisel had already been served his walking papers by the time he led the Bruins into that game at Autzen Stadium. The school allowed Neuheisel to remain on and coach that game, but he was gone as soon as it ended.
USC finished two games ahead of the Bruins, but could not go to the title game because the Trojans were serving a post-season ban so UCLA went to Oregon and played a game that was closer than expected but many felt was a disappointment because it didn’t match the best teams from each division.
This year, UCLA survived a tough second half schedule, posting victories over Utah, Arizona State, Arizona and USC to clinch the division title and that gives the team confidence as they prepare for to play for a spot in the Rose Bowl.
“I feel like we’ve won enough games to be in it this year,” linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said. “We beat SC, we won the games necessary to come in and deserve the title. We’re very excited and we feel like we belong in this game. “
Clearly, the results on the field say so. There will be no asterisk attached to this UCLA appearance. The Bruins placed three players on the All Pac-12 first team after having none last year. They had four more on the second team after having only one last season.
And this year, UCLA got in the championship game without having to slip in the back door. Last year, it took Colorado pulling an unlikely upset against Utah in the final week of the regular season to give UCLA second place in the conference and the spot in the game against Oregon.
The Pac-12 allowed UCLA to call themselves South Division champions, but deep down, they knew they really weren’t.
“Last year we were hoping for other teams to lose, hoping for other teams to win, hoping for the sun to rise and set at a certain time,” tight end Joseph Fauria said. “This year there is no doubt.”
It may have been just as unexpected, though. USC began the season as the No. 1 team in the nation and UCLA was picked to finish third in the division. But infused by a new attitude brought in by first-year coach Jim Mora, the Bruins made everything about this season feel different and that includes their appearance in the title game.
“Last year, we all knew that USC couldn’t play and how it was going to work out and we got in, but it didn’t feel right,” McDonald said. “This year, all 12 teams in the Pac-12 were able to get in and we did it. We were not the ones expected to get in but we did it through the front door, so that feels good.”
And in that name is the word ‘championship.’
The Cardinal defeated the Bruins, 35-17, Saturday in a regular-season finale that carried significance only for Stanford. When they meet again Friday at Stanford it will be the same teams, the same players and the same coaches, but they will be playing in the Pac-12 Championship game and the winner gets a Rose Bowl berth.
“We know what’s at stake,” UCLA safety Tevin McDonald said. “We know how big the opportunity is. We know how hard it is to get to the Rose Bowl game and we have this opportunity so we’re going to bring it all out there and leave it all on the field. Not that we didn’t last week, but you put the name on the game and the urgency is higher.”
Last week, Stanford had to win to clinch the Pac-12 North Division and set up a rematch while UCLA had already secured its spot by winning the South Division a week earlier. The Bruins say they gave it their all, but couldn’t quite match the emotional intensity of Stanford.
This week, the circumstances will be different.
“I think it’ll just juice up the adrenaline,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “I know it will for our team. They have a chance to realize a dream on Friday night and that’s to become a champion.”
The psychological edge would seem to favor the Cardinal, which will face a team only six days after dominating it in an 18-point victory. But the Bruins say there is something to losing that puts a chip on your shoulder.
“We all feel like we could have won the game even thought the score was what it was,” linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said. “When you lose to somebody, you always think ‘oh, he got lucky. I’m going to come back swinging harder next time.’ It’s actually an extra edge. It’s like losing to your pops or your friend. You’re like ‘I’m going to get you next time.’ It’s that kind of mentality.”
Luckily for the Bruins, the score on Friday will not pick up where last week’s left off. Each team will start with zero and that makes this game an entirely different entity that will develop a life of its own. Offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo said it’s best for the Bruins to treat it as such while remembering how the blowout loss made them feel.
“When you lose like that, it hurts,” he said. “You get bitter. What we have to do is realize that we have an opportunity to turn right around and play the exact same team again and redeem ourselves. That’s not an opportunity that comes along very often in this game.”
UCLA has lost two other games this season and rebounded for a win both times. They trounced Colorado, 42-14, a week after losing to Oregon State and won hard-fought 21-14 victory over Utah a week after getting blown out at California.
Mora said showing that type of resiliency will help his team stay confident despite the lopsided loss last week.
“I think one thing about being a young man like these guys are is that you get over things quick,” Mora said. “I haven’t seen confidence be a problem with us because we’ve had some success this year. I don’t think it’ll be an issue. I think they are amped up and ready to go.”