UCLA: Sonny Dykes

Pac-12's best nonconference games

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
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The Pac-12 typically plays a rugged nonconference schedule, but the 2014 slate is, well, only fair to middling.

There's a true marque national game -- Michigan State at Oregon -- and there are three matchups with Notre Dame. But there aren't a whole lot of ranked foes from other areas of the country on the slate.

Here's how we'd rank the Pac-12's best nonconference games in 2014.

1. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6): It's a top-10 -- perhaps even top-five -- matchup that looks like a Rose Bowl. Or a College Football Playoff semifinal. The Spartans shut down Stanford in the Rose Bowl in January and are eyeballing even bigger things this fall. Like the Ducks.

2. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4): This has become a strong, national rivalry. The last time the Cardinal was in South Bend, the ending was highly controversial -- the Fighting Irish wouldn't have played for the 2012 national title without a boost from the officials. This game likely reveals if one or the other is a CFP candidate.

3. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29): It remains the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports. It would be a good idea for first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian to win this one. A good way to win over his fan base.

4. Notre Dame at Arizona State (Nov. 8): The Fighting Irish tried to get out of this game. They also beat the Sun Devils last year. Arizona State should be plenty motivated in front of what is certain to be a packed house.

5. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas): Texas is breaking in new coach Charlie Strong in what is really a glorified home game. UCLA is only trying to announce itself as a national title contender. While the Longhorns are down, they won't lack talent.

6. Utah at Michigan (Sept. 20): Here's a good way for the Utes to announce their return to relevance -- a trip to the Big House. Utah certainly won't be intimidated. It won in Ann Arbor 25-23 in 2008 on its way to an undefeated season. It also lost 10-7 in 2002.

7. California at Northwestern (Aug. 30): Sonny Dykes wants to get his second season off with a bang. This is a good -- and winnable -- opportunity to do just that.

8. Rutgers vs. Washington State (Aug. 28, CenturyLink Field, Seattle): The Cougars are eyeballing a breakthrough season. It will be hard to do that with an opening loss to a Big Ten team. Yes, Rutgers is now a Big Ten team.

9. Illinois at Washington (Sept. 13): The Illini don't seem too scary, but they are a Big Ten team. They didn't make things too easy on the Huskies last year, either.

10. BYU at California (Nov. 29): We've already noted how nice it would be for Dykes to get his second season off to a fast start. What about a strong finish?

Summer Pac-12 power rankings

May, 27, 2014
May 27
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While summer is considered the "offseason," we all know there is no offseason. Every Pac-12 team is either gaining -- or losing -- ground right now due to its focus and effort at getting better, both on a team and individual level.

So how do things stand in advance of teams beginning preseason camp?

Glad you asked (and you can view the final 2013 power rankings here).

1. Oregon: I know. We always rank Oregon here, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the return of QB Marcus Mariota and a veteran offensive line is just too tantalizing. The Ducks look like the Pac-12's best bet for an entrant in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. UCLA: I know. We're dropping the two-time defending Pac-12 champions to No. 3, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the Pac-12 blog keeps reviewing the Bruins' depth chart and contemplating a trip to Vegas ... 20/1 ... hmm.

3. Stanford: The quandary with Stanford: Was the defensive front seven dominant this spring because it's going to again be among the best in the nation (probably)? Or was it because four new starters on the O-line means a step back on offense (maybe)? Two other issues: 1. Replacing D-coordinator Derek Mason; 2. Can QB Kevin Hogan improve enough on short and intermediate throws to take advantage of a strong crew of receivers?

4. USC: The Trojans enter the final season under NCAA scholarship reductions with a starting 22 good enough to win the Pac-12, but depth and health are issues. There is a lot to like on both sides of the ball, though the offensive line probably rates as the most critical question mark.

5. Arizona State: The defending South champions are going to be tough to stop on offense behind QB Taylor Kelly and WR Jaelen Strong, but replacing nine starters -- and just about all its star power -- on defense is not an issue you can write off with a "Hey, we've got lots of great JC transfers coming in."

6. Washington: The return of QB Cyler Miles from suspension provides a big boost and probably means that the Huskies can be a factor in the North race. The secondary is a concern, and that's not a good concern to have in the QB-laden conference this fall. And there is some mystery as to whether there will be growing pains during the transition to Chris Petersen from Steve Sarkisian.

7. Oregon State: We expect the Beavers defense to be better this fall compared to last season, so the big question is how do the 10 guys on offense complement QB Sean Mannion? The O-line -- again -- is a question, and it's not easy to replace the nation's best receiver. Still, we expect the 2014 Beavers to be better than the 2013 version. Perhaps much better.

8. Washington State: If you are looking for a true conference dark horse, it's the Cougars. There are questions on the O-line and on defense, but the passing game should be outstanding with third-year starter Connor Halliday and a deep, talented crew of receivers. Put it this way: What does this team look like if it improves as much in Mike Leach's third year as it did in Year 2?

9. Arizona: The Wildcats are outstanding at receiver, good on the offensive line and solid at safety. There are questions just about everywhere else, and the strange thing is that quarterback might be the least worrisome. Still, to show how we view the Pac-12's depth again this fall, the Wildcats over/under for wins is seven.

10. Utah: The Utes situation seems fairly simple. If the production at quarterback is consistent, this is a bowl team. The best bet is with a healthy Travis Wilson, though it really is about just starting the same guy all 12 games.

11. Colorado: The Buffaloes should take another step forward in Year 2 under Mike MacIntyre, but the real issue is whom can they crawl over to rise in the conference pecking order? With about six or seven projected senior starters this fall, the Buffs might not make a move up until 2015.

12. California: If the bet were to pick who finishes last in the Pac-12 in 2014, Cal or the field, I'd be reluctant to tap Cal. I'd much rather go with the field because I think the Bears were awful in Year 1 under Sonny Dykes because of an epidemic of injuries and a poorly-coached defense. The latter should be solved by the hiring of coordinator Art Kaufman, and I can't foresee the injury situation being nearly as bad.

Defensive questions abound in Pac-12

May, 2, 2014
May 2
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The Pac-12 entered spring practices with more clarity and quality at quarterback than any conference in the nation by a wide margin. It exits with even more clarity at the position.

With new USC coach Steve Sarkisian announcing that Cody Kessler retained his starting job, and Utah's Travis Wilson's apparently successful return from a career-threatening medical condition (an intracranial artery injury diagnosed in November), the Pac-12 welcomes back 10 returning starters heading into the fall, with a handful -- such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion -- who are candidates for All-America honors and national awards.

Further, it became clear this spring that the Pac-12 is overflowing with quality receivers, with several teams combining depth, talent and experience at the position. So things figure to be pass happy in the fall.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams is one of the few Pac-12 defensive stars returning this season.
But what about defense? After all, they say, defense wins championships, and Woody Hayes told us, "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad," an optimistic take that leaves out the quarterback sack.

While conference teams average 6.4 returning starters on defense, and just three -- Arizona State (3), Oregon (5) and Utah (5) -- welcome back fewer than six starters on that side of the ball, the loss of star power is notable.

Just two first-team All-Pac-12 defenders return in 2014: USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Only four from the second team return.

Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha and Oregon outside linebacker Tony Washington are the only returning defenders who ranked among the conference's top 12 in sacks last season. The same is true in the secondary: Only two of the top eight interception leaders are back in 2014.

So, without marquee guys chasing them or trying to steal their passes, life seems good at quarterback heading into the offseason. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, few teams seem to be fretting their situation on the mean side of the ball.

Take Stanford, owner of the Pac-12's best defense in 2013. While the Cardinal appeared more settled on offense than defense entering spring practices, the defense mostly ruled when the ball was snapped.

"No question," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "If you look at our defensive front, it's a bunch of fourth-year and fifth-year seniors ... we've got a lot of guys coming back who've played a lot of football for us."

While Stanford lost some big names, such as linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, it also welcomes back a strong foundation of seven returning starters and experienced backups. Shaw noted that Aziz Shittu is only non-fourth- or fifth-year guy in the mix for playing time in the front seven. He lauded defensive end Henry Anderson, an athletic 6-foot-6, 295 pounder, this spring as a potential breakout star this season, with an NFL future.

Over at Oregon, the Ducks are not only replacing two of three defensive linemen and three starters in the secondary, they also are breaking in a new defensive coordinator, as Don Pellum moved up from linebackers coach to replace the retiring Nick Aliotti.

Yet even when matched against Mariota and a potent and experienced Ducks offense, the defense held its own.

"I think we've had a great give and take as far as who's had the upper hand," Ducks coach Mark Helfrich said. "Marcus is obviously a difference-maker and a special guy. Defensively, we're building where we need to be. It was good give and take overall."

In the South Division, UCLA and USC both look strong on defense despite losing some marquee players. Both welcome back eight starters from accomplished units. Defending champion Arizona State lost almost all of its star power, but Sun Devils coach Todd Graham was almost defiant all spring about his expectations for his defense.

Of course, he's also counting on a number of newcomers playing key roles, which often is a matter of keeping the ole fingers crossed.

“People come here to play defense, that’s what we’re known for," he said. "We’re known for defense, so I don’t expect anything less than last year.”

While there might be some defensive questions among the teams thought to be competing for division championships, the defenses that finished on the bottom in 2013 could be much improved.

Oregon State, Colorado and California, the Nos. 9, 11 and 12 scoring defenses last season, each welcome back eight starters. The Golden Bears and Beavers, in particular, could dramatically improve if injury woes from 2013 reverse themselves.

"I think our team is tougher and better conditioned and our players are in a much better place than they were last year," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "I think that's something players noticed. We have some experience coming back. It's the second year in the system. So, yeah, I think everybody feels like we're a lot better football team than we were a year ago."

It seems certain that Pac-12 offenses will again be high-flying and potent in 2014. But the conference teams that have earned BCS bowl berths the past decade or so also have played good defense. As we exit spring and head into the offseason, there is hope -- but not nearly as much certainty -- there.

Pac-12 notebook from conference call

May, 1, 2014
May 1
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The Pac-12 coaches chatted about spring practices with reporters Thursday afternoon. The biggest news was Stanford coach David Shaw laying into the SEC for continuing to play eight conference games instead of nine, but there were some other worthy notes.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw, along with Oregon State's Mike Riley, was critical of the SEC's decision to stick with the 8-game conference schedule.
Here are a few.

  • Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said it's possible he'll use a receiver, where the Wildcats are deep, as a cornerback, where they are not. He also offered no further insight on what his pecking order might be at quarterback.
  • Arizona State coach Todd Graham said S Jordan Simone, a Washington State transfer, had a great spring. "He's been a blessing for us -- tremendous passion," Graham said. "One of the things that surprised me is how fast he was." Graham said he's in the mix to be the starting "bandit" safety. There was an "Or" between him and Marcus Ball on the post-spring depth chart.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, California coach Sonny Dykes mentioned CB Darius Allensworth, LB Ray Davison and safety Griffin Piatt. He also lauded his redshirt freshmen offensive linemen as well as WR transfer Trevor Davis.
  • Colorado Mike MacIntyre said that defensive linemen Samson Kafovalu and Justin Solis, who missed spring due to academics, are on track to rejoin the team this summer, pending exams.
  • Oregon took a bit hit when receiver Bralon Addison suffered a knee injury, but coach Mark Helfrich noted that a pair of redshirt freshman receivers, Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, have "both shown flashes of what we thought they were in recruiting." On defense, he took note of defensive back Tyree Robinson.
  • While Oregon State coach Mike Riley is typically mild-mannered in his opinions, he does share Shaw's strong view that the SEC is gaming the system by playing one fewer conference game in the regular season. He said, "I don't think it's right. There's got to be some equity here."
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Stanford coach David Shaw said outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi. "He had a great spring game, great spring session completely," Shaw said. "He's shown speed and size and on top of all that has shown a great understand of what to do."
  • When asked about young standouts this spring, UCLA coach Jim Mora cited defensive lineman Eli Ankou, offensive tackles Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy and receiver Eldridge Massington.
  • USC coach Steve Sarkisian said frosh offensive linemen Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao will play in the interior at guard or center and not at tackle, where the Trojans are more questionable. He also lauded redshirt freshman CB Chris Hawkins.
  • It appears that Utah's moving of Marcus Sanders-Willams from running back to linebacker is permanent. Said Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, "We're only a couple of weeks into the evaluation process of it but it looks like a natural move for Marcus. He's got a lot of basic instincts."
  • Washington coach Chris Petersen said he had no update on the status of suspended QB Cyler Miles. He said the QB competition remained wide open. When asked about redshirt freshmen who performed well this spring, he cited RB Lavon Coleman, CB Jermaine Kelly, LB Keishawn Bierria and QB Troy Williams.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Washington State coach Mike Leach mentioned right offensive tackle Cole Madison and a pair of defensive linemen, Daniel Ekuale and Emmitt Su'a-Kalio. He also lauded the play of CB Daquawn Brown.

Mailbag: Can Cal get to .500?

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
5:30
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Last mailbag from me for a couple weeks. Enjoy. And follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

Lawrence in Inglewood, Calif., writes: Each week, I scroll through the mailbag, hoping to see a Cal logo, and alas, nothing. So here's this: Sonny Dykes didn't get stupid overnight, and we all know about the injuries. Art "Not Andy" Kaufman has a history of taking abysmal D's and turning them into mid-30s-ranked Ds. Add that there's been quite a bit of addition by subtraction (players who were athletically gifted, but not necessarily tough football players) and can't you see Cal being the surprise team in the Pac-12? I know that Uncle Ted curses us every year, but I have a feeling that the points are going up to the mid- to high-30s, and the points against, are going to be in the mid- to low-30s, meaning a W-L of around .500. What say you all?

Kevin Gemmell: All you have to do is ask.

Can Cal be a .500 team? Sure. It’s possible. Will they be? Not sure. You’re right, not everything falls on Dykes. Remember, he was one of the most sought-after head coaches in the country when Cal hired him. But as you mentioned, the injuries sustained last year would be apocalyptic to almost any program.

Here’s what Cal has working for it: A quarterback who has a year of experience and a really, really good receiving corps. Recall, the issue wasn’t moving the ball last year; it was turning that movement into points. The Bears ranked sixth in the conference in total offense, but had just 32 touchdowns. Only Colorado had fewer, with 31. And the Bears ranked last in the league in scoring averaging with just 23 points per game. So where was the breakdown?

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Eric RisbergInjuries made Sonny Dykes' first season at Cal a tough one, but there is reason for optimism this fall.
You can start with third-down conversions, where Cal was last in the league, converting at just 33.6 percent. So they had trouble keeping drives alive. Conversely, the defense allowed teams to convert at 41.4 percent -- also worst in the league. So you have a team unable to sustain drives while the opponent is sustaining drives. Not a particularly strong recipe for success.

Cal was also at minus-15 in turnovers, gaining just 13 takeaways while giving it away 28 times. And if the Bears did get into the red zone, they came away with points only 72.1 percent of the time.

So you see a trend. But within that trend is hope. Cal has the kind of offense that can move the football. They have talented players returning who can move the football. The next step is moving the football into the zone at the end of the field that’s 10 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide.

Defensively, there’s a lot of work. But also a lot of talent coming back from injury. The Pac-12 blog is excited to see what a healthy Brennan Scarlett can do for a pass rush that produced just 18 sacks last year.

You have to think it’s unlikely that the Bears go winless against an FBS opponent for the second straight year. There has to be one or two of those games where it all comes together and they surprise someone. Can they do that enough to get to .500? Probably not this year.

I’m willing to give Dykes the benefit of the doubt since last season’s rash of injuries was so unprecedented. And he has been pro-active in shuffling the staff. Let’s see if they can get a couple of FBS wins this year, and then maybe in 2015 start eyeballing six wins.


Multiple questions from folks on the eight-game vs. nine-game conference schedule, including submissions from 0006shy in Los Angeles, DC in Newport Beach, Wildcat Andy in Phoenix and Jim in Salem, Ore. All with various degrees of inquisitiveness and/or anger.

Kevin Gemmell: My co-writer hates it. I see both sides. Those who really know college football, I believe, knew that the Pac-12 was the deepest conference in the country last year. And had the league played an eight-game schedule, we probably would have seen Utah in the postseason as well, giving the league 10 of 12 teams in the postseason. Yes, that would have helped perception.

The new College Football Playoff, however, puts a fresh spin on things. Because right now the playing field isn’t even. Sure, the SEC has vowed to up its strength of schedule by adding at least one team a year from a power conference. But, come on. Are we really going to see the mythical Oregon-Alabama matchup in the regular season? We hope. But we won’t.

I’ve always enjoyed the fact that when you win the Pac-12, you have really, really earned it. There’s something to be said for that.

The Pac-12 has always been aggressive with its scheduling: whether it’s USC-Ohio State in Week 2 of 2008 and 2009, the league’s regular tie-in with Notre Dame, UCLA’s upcoming game with Texas and Oregon’s upcoming matchup with Michigan State, etc., etc. It goes on. Are there some Pac-12 teams that have had softer schedules than others? Of course. But even Arizona, which has been criticized for hosting a Hostess nonconference schedule the last couple of years, scheduled Oklahoma State in 2011 and ’12. Heck, Washington State went into Auburn last year and almost knocked off the team that played in the national championship.

So should the league switch? With the SEC’s latest gambit, it’s clear that the playing field is not going to be as even as we had hoped as we move into the playoff era. That’s unfortunate. I think the Pac-12 has to do what it believes will best protect its interests -- on the field and in the wallet.

Colleague Adam Rittenberg, of B1G blog fame, and my better half Ted Miller, debated this very point yesterday -- with an emphasis on the inequity of the system. And, per usual, they did a fine job.

From Miller:
The only thing that matters is the SEC's massive con that games the system as we move toward the College Football Playoff: The SEC will maintain its eight-game conference schedule when other major conferences are -- or are planning to -- play nine conference games.

That is the only thing that matters, and this is nothing more than the SEC giving itself an annual advantage by deciding that it will eliminate seven losses from its standings.

Honestly, when you get right down to it, all I really care about is equity. I think we can all get on board with that. But with the SEC’s latest move, it’s clear we’re not going to get it.


Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, You would be crazy not to vote UCLA as the pick in the South. They return a top-notch QB and most of their defense. ASU lost too much on defense, and SC has a new coach and scheme. It's going to be fun to see how it plays out. Keep up the good work. All joking aside, I really enjoy reading you and your sidekick, Teddy -- and the new folks, too. Peace out.

Kevin Gemmell: Crazy, huh? Vote for UCLA? No … that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do …

Honestly, we still have a couple of months before we submit our preseason ballots for the media poll. Those are tough to gauge. It’s not like anyone ever goes 12-for-12 in picking the teams. Oh wait …

There’s a lot to like about UCLA. But there’s also a lot to like about USC, ASU and Arizona. Even Utah, assuming it gets Travis Wilson back, was on the verge of beating UCLA and ASU last year. Playing in SLC is not easy.

As you noted, the Bruins have a tremendous amount of talent returning on both sides of the ball. But one thing you can never account for is injury. And if something happens to Brett Hundley that slows him down even 25 percent (like what happened, say, to Marcus Mariota last year), it could put a damper on the Bruins. Hundley is remarkably durable, but he’s taken more hits over the last two years than any other quarterback in FBS football. The backup plan has to be a concern.

With USC, I’m excited about the defense. Justin Wilcox did wonders in just two years in Washington with three- and four-star players. Now he’s sinking his claws into four- and five-star guys. USC had the No. 3 scoring defense in the league last year. I’d be surprised if that drops off.

ASU, tons of offense. But the defensive youth gives me pause. Arizona, tons of skill players. But the lack of separation among quarterbacks is also a concern.

So yes, UCLA has the fewest question marks of the South teams. And chances are I will vote them No. 1 in the South when I fill out my media ballot. However, 2-4 is awfully interesting.

Athlon ranks the Pac-12 coaches

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
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Athlon Sports is big on lists. And we’re big on bringing you their lists because, well, it's the offseason, and it’s fun.

One annual list in particular always seems to get folks all hot and bothered, and that’s their annual ranking of the Pac-12 coaches.

Before people go all crazy on Twitter, remember, THIS IS NOT A PAC-12 BLOG LIST. We are simply sharing it because we think it’s interesting. Your thoughts are always welcomed in the mailbag.

Here’s the 2014 list that Steven Lassan put together:

  1. David Shaw, Stanford
  2. Chris Petersen, Washington
  3. Todd Graham, Arizona State
  4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State
  6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  7. Jim Mora, UCLA
  8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
  9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
  10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
  11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
  12. Sonny Dykes, California

Some thoughts:
    [+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez (right) is ranked sixth on the Pac-12 coaching list by Athlon.

  • I went back to their 2013 and 2012 rankings and noticed a few interesting moves. Rich Rodriguez was No. 3 last year and is No. 6 this year. I find that interesting since he won the same amount of games last season as in 2012 (8-5), scored a signature win last season by topping No. 5 Oregon and did it without his 2012 quarterback. Granted, Arizona had a light nonconference schedule last fall, but does that warrant being dropped a quarter of the way down?
  • Two years ago, Shaw was No. 9 on their list, despite being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2011. Last year, he bounced up to No. 1 and is in the top spot again. For having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, I see no problem with him being No. 1 again.
  • My first thought was that Petersen was way too high, considering he has never coached a single game in the conference. Then I pushed that silliness out of my mind. He has coached against this conference, going 5-2 during his stint with Boise (not counting games against Utah when it was in the Mountain West or the bowl loss to Oregon State last season when he wasn’t the head coach). Plus, he’s a two-time national coach of the year. That’s a better résumé than anyone else in the league. I’ll buy him at No. 2.
  • My biggest gripe with the list is Mora at No. 7. He was No. 11 on the 2012 list and No. 8 on the 2013 list. All he has done is go 19-8, win the South title one of those two years and beat USC twice. Doesn’t that get you a statue on campus? He has bolstered the national reputation of the program and was given a nice contract extension for his work. I would slot him in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot with Todd Graham. Both have nearly identical résumés so far. Both are 2-0 against their rival. Both have won the Pac-12 South. They have split their head-to-head games with each winning once on the road. Both have had one blowout bowl win and one bad bowl loss. The only reason I’d probably put Graham ahead is that he was named coach of the year. But Mora belongs in the upper third.
  • Sarkisian is interesting. People are quick to rip his hire at USC, but recall the coaching job he did at Washington when he first got there. He turned a winless team into a pretty good program. Petersen is coming into a much more advantageous position than when Sark first got there. How that translates to USC remains to be seen.
  • Helfrich was No. 12 in 2013. For winning 11 games in 2013, he gets that big boost all the way up to No. 11. I get the sentiment -- that the Ducks were “supposed” to go to the BCS title game last season. He can’t control an injury to his quarterback. Don’t be shocked if he’s in the top five when Athlon releases its 2015 list.
  • Whittingham has stumbled from the No. 4 spot he occupied in 2012. Like Helfrich, he can’t control the unfortunate rash of injuries that have plagued his quarterbacks since coming into the league. I know this, there aren’t many defensive-minded coaches I’d take over Whittingham.
  • Riley continues to be in the upper half of the list. Which is completely fair. He’s done more in that setting than most people could. Oregon State fans seem to clamor annually about what’s on the other side of the fence. When the day comes that Riley does step down (and I have to imagine it will be on his own terms), those complaining about change will miss him.

You get the idea. Lists are hard to put together, because everyone has a bias and an opinion. I think MacIntyre has done some great things at Colorado, and I think Washington State’s progress under Leach has been outstanding. As for Dykes, well, let’s give it another year and see what he can do with a healthy roster.

So we once again salute Athlon for making the list. Even if we don’t always agree with it.

Looking at each Pac-12 coach's best team

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
12:00
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Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.

Spring position breakdowns: TE

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
7:00
PM PT
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: Terrence Miller was listed on the team's depth chart as a tight end, but he wasn't a traditional tight end. After catching 40 passes for 467 yards in 2013, he's out of eligibility. Former quarterback Josh Kern backed up Miller and is one of four tight ends listed on the roster.

Arizona State: Chris Coyle (29 catches, 423 yards, 4 TD) is a big loss for the Sun Devils and his primary backup, Darwin Rogers, also is out of eligibility. De'Marieya Nelson and Marcus Washington are the most experienced of the four tight ends on the roster, which will grow by one with the addition of recent signee Brendan Landman. Landman is expected to redshirt after playing left tackle during his senior year in high school.

California: There is no tight end position in Cal's offense, which was a factor in Richard Rodgers' early jump to the NFL. Rodgers was switched from tight end to wide receiver last season upon coach Sonny Dykes' arrival.

Colorado: Senior Kyle Slavin is atop the depth chart after catching nine passes in 2013. Sean Irwin played minimally as a freshman, but his role is set to increase. Three other tight ends are on the roster, including Connor Center, who did not play football in high school.

[+] EnlargePharaoh Brown
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesOregon's Pharoah Brown made 10 catches, two for touchdowns, in 2013.
Oregon: The Ducks have a trio of players who gained significant experience in 2013 in Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis. Brown started five games, Mundt had a 121-yard receiving game and Baylis started in the Civil War game against Oregon State. Koa Ka'ai and Davaysia Hagger will provide depth, but they don't appear on track to make much of an impact on the depth chart.

Oregon State: With Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith both returning, the Beavers arguably have the best tight end tandem in the conference. Hamlett had 40 catches for 364 yards and Smith added 25 for 343 yards. Kellen Clute (19 catches, 159 yards) also contributed to the passing game and Tyler Perry, who will be a fifth-year senior, is an important run-blocker.

Stanford: A one-time strength of the Cardinal, tight ends weren't a significant factor in Stanford's offense in 2013, but the staff is hopeful that an influx of new players will change that. Stanford signed No. 1-ranked TE-Y Dalton Schultz, and he'll compete for playing time immediately. Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper -- all well-regarded tight end recruits -- are coming off redshirts and will compete with Charlie Hopkins, who started three games last season.

UCLA: There is no traditional tight end at UCLA, but Y receiver Thomas Duarte, who was recruited as a tight end, is coming off an exceptional freshman season. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Orange County native appeared in all 13 games and tied a school freshman record with three touchdown receptions.

USC: Losing Xavier Grimble early to the NFL is a blow and just two other scholarship tight ends remain from last season: Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. One of the nation's top tight ends, Bryce Dixon, signed with USC, but he wasn't among the group of four early enrollees.

Utah: The Utes were the only school in the country to send two tight ends -- Jake Murphy and Anthony Denham -- to the NFL combine, though Utah listed Denham at receiver. Siale Fakailoatonga, a former walk-on, was Murphy's primary backup on the final depth chart, and he caught two passes for 18 yards in 2013. Harrison Handley redshirted last season after enrolling early last spring and is a candidate to compete for playing time.

Washington: John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins' departure for the NFL was expected, and how the Huskies replace him will be an interesting process. Clearly, there's not a one-man solution for what they'll lose with Seferian-Jenkins, but the combination that the returning players provide is a nice mix of different talents. Michael Hartvigson and Josh Perkins have the most experience at tight end, but they should receive a push from Darrell Daniels and David Ajamu. Daniels, a highly-regarded receiver recruit who switched to tight end, was a special-teams standout in 2013 as a freshman, while Ajamu redshirted.

Washington State: Washington State didn't list any tight ends on the roster last season, but early enrollee Nick Begg will start his career listed there. The long-term plan for Begg is likely elsewhere.

Previous positions
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line

Lunch links: Rich Rod talks spring

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
2:30
PM PT
If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course ... would be to tread lightly.

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
7:15
PM PT
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions

Quarterback

Mailbag: Top 25 and Hundley vs. Kelly

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
7:00
PM PT
May the mailbag be ever in your favor.

Peter writes: With regards to Pac-12 guys in the Super Bowl, I think you missed Sione Fua, Stanford. DT for the Broncos. Got picked up in November after getting cut by Carolina. I don't think he played Sunday, but I believe he was active.

Kevin Gemmell: The article stipulated that there are other players on the rosters who aren't mentioned because they were inactive. Fua was inactive, per the final stat book.


Sam in Wyoming writes: Will Sutton at 7? Seriously? What makes Kevin and Ted more knowledgeable than the Pac-12 coaches? Do you know something they didn't know? Are you basing this on NFL potential? I just don't see how the player voted No. 1 on defense by the coaches can fall so low.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinJust because we didn't have Arizona State DT Will Sutton higher doesn't mean we didn't think he had a great year. No. 7 is a pretty good ranking.
Kevin Gemmell: What makes us more knowledgeable? Absolutely nothing. We’re a couple of guys throwing up our opinions. Do with them what you want.

We’re not privy to the coaches’ voting process. From what I understand, it takes place in the bowels of the Pac-12 headquarters and the coaches sit in conclave for days coming up with the list. When they finally do, white smoke is released so the whole world knows that the all-conference team is complete. Here’s what it looks like.

Sutton was a consensus All-American, and everyone ahead of him was either a consensus All-American, a unanimous All-American, a finalist for a national award or the winner of a national award. There are two other defensive players ahead of him. Trent Murphy led the Pac-12 with 15 sacks. Barr was third in the league with 10. Sutton wasn’t in the top 20. Murphy and Barr were first and second, respectively, in tackles for a loss. Murphy had 23.5, Barr had 20. Sutton was 12th with 13.5.

Sutton’s role was different in 2013 than it was in 2012. He put on the extra weight and was asked to be more of a double-team eater than the backfield wrecking ball that he was last year. And his drop-off in stats were a reflection of that.

Further, the ASU defense had 12 fewer sacks in 2013 than it did in 2012 (52 vs. 40) and the scoring defense went up from 24.3 points per game in 2012 to 26.6 points per game in 2013.

Sutton is an outstanding player and was the best defensive lineman in the league. And he was ranked accordingly. But all six players in front him, in the opinion of the Pac-12 blog, deserved to be ahead of him.

Yes, we use the all-conference teams, as voted on by the coaches, as a gauge. But if we went with that, Sutton or Carey would be either No. 1 or No. 2 (interchangeable) and Mariota would be No. 3. and Jack would be in the top 10 for winning offensive and defense freshman of the year.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins was second-team all-conference, but won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.

No list is ever going to be perfect, especially when you have two strong-willed reporters butting heads on a couple of things. But it’s pretty tough to complain when the players ahead of Sutton consist of two Doak Walker finalists, the Biletnikoff winner, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and two outside linebackers who put up monster stats.


Ken in Clearlake, Calif., writes: Hey Kevin: In an article you wrote about Myles Jack, you mentioned he was the first freshman to score four touchdowns in a game for UCLA. What about Eric Ball (freshman running back) in the 1986 Rose Bowl: He scored four touchdowns against Iowa in relief of Gaston Greene for UCLA.

Kevin Gemmell: That is a fine question, Ken. And I did not have the answer to it. So I submitted it to the good folks at UCLA’s sports information department for clarification last night and Steve Rourke, SID extraordinaire, came back with this:
Ball played in one game in 1984 before getting injured and was a redshirt frosh in 1985 season.

So I guess the clarification required was redshirt vs. true. I bow to your historical knowledge of UCLA football and appreciate the question.


Inert1 in Bothell, Wash., writes: I think you pretty much nailed the top 25, to the extent that such a thing is possible. The problem with endeavors like this is that there are important positions on the field whose contributions can't be quantified easily, and they tend to get left in the dust. There are some amazing players in the Pac 12.

Kevin Gemmell: Couldn’t agree more. And that is often the problem with making lists like this. How do you gauge an offensive lineman vs. a 20-touchdown running back? How do you grade a lockdown cornerback who doesn’t get the stats because teams don’t throw at him vs. an outside linebacker who has more tangible numbers?

As Ted and I have always said in the past when making this list, we tend to favor quarterbacks. As we wrote in our Take 2 this morning, I think that came back to bite us in the tush a little bit this year with Marcus Mariota over Ka'Deem Carey.

But these lists are obviously subjective. That’s why we give you guys the opportunity to make your own lists. Hope you’ll put one together.

But we can all agree on your last point. There are indeed some amazing players in the Pac-12.


D.J. in Berkeley, Calif. writes: Do you think there is any chance we will see (Luke) Rubenzer starting for the Bears this fall? As talented as (Jared) Goff is, he wasn't able to get the ball in the end zone last season despite a group of prolific receivers. I think Goff will develop into a very good quarterback, but I'm curious if Rubenzer might have the spark that was missing from the offense last season.

Kevin Gemmell: My question to you is this: How is Goff going to develop into a very good quarterback if he’s sitting on the bench?

Sonny Dykes obviously isn’t afraid to start a true freshman quarterback. So I don’t think we can completely rule out the possibility of Rubenzer pressing Goff.

At the same time, you threw that true freshman into the fire last year and you’ve got to give him an opportunity to prove himself. He already set a Cal passing record with 3,508 passing yards in a season. I think you have to give Goff a good, healthy chunk of the season to show some progress when it comes to finding points. Because you’re right. For as much as the Bears were able to move the ball, they were last in the league in scoring offense (23 points per game). Let’s not also forget that they were last in scoring defense as well (45.9 points per game), so the problems weren’t just on the offensive side of the ball.

There are a lot of issues that need to get fixed with Cal. It might not specifically be the quarterback. But rather quarterback efficiency and seeing if Goff can take the next step. If he hasn’t by midseason -- or if he completely regresses during spring and fall camp -- then we might see another youngster step up.


Alex in Sacramento writes: With very similar 2013 stats and similar playing styles, I think an argument could be made for either Brett Hundley or Taylor Kelly as the second-best quarterback in the Pac-12. As a huge UCLA fan, I'd argue for Hundley, though I admit it's a tough call. What I don't understand is why Kelly was the second-team All-Pac-12 QB, but Hundley finished six spots in front of Kelly in the Top 25. Could you comment on the differences between these two quarterbacks and why you ranked Hundley higher while the coaches picked Kelly for the second-team all-conference?

Kevin Gemmell: I think Kelly being the second-team guy had as much to do with the Sun Devils winning the South and posting the best overall record in the conference as much as anything.

Our reasoning for putting Hundley ahead was multifold. First, he had better overall numbers in the stats that matter. He had a higher completion percentage, fewer interceptions, he took fewer sacks (granted, Kelly played in one more game) and had a higher QBR, both raw and adjusted. Hundley’s raw QBR was 77.6 vs. Kelly’s 61.5. When you factor adjusted QBR, Hundley’s was 84.8 to Kelly’s 74.3. Hundley’s adjusted QBR puts him seventh nationally; Kelly is 24th.

Kelly had more total touchdowns with 37 (28 passing, nine rushing) to Hundley’s 35 (24 passing, 11 rushing). Hundley rushed for 140 more yards in one fewer game.

Both are outstanding quarterbacks, but I think you could argue that Kelly had a stronger supporting cast with Jaelen Strong and Marion Grice at his disposal. Hundley didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver or a running back who scored 20 times.

When we added all of that up and took it all into consideration, we believed Hundley should be the higher ranked of the two.


Scott writes: Wow you guys did not put De'Anthony Thomas on the top 25? Not that I care, but I would suggest you and Ted do not go to OR for a while; you know how those duck fans are.

Kevin Gemmell: I do know how Oregon fans are. They are like every other fan base that cares passionately about their team and its players. But like every other fan base, they are (usually) capable of accepting reality.

And the reality is Thomas, while spectacular when healthy and playing within his niche, didn’t have the kind of season that warrants being on the top 25. And you know what? I haven’t received a single complaint from an Oregon fan. Because they recognize that his limited performance this year didn’t warrant it.

So bravo, Oregon fans. You just went up a notch in my book. Ted, however, I believe, still hates your team.

Final Pac-12 Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
1:00
PM PT
If you don't like where you ended up in the Power Rankings, you should have played better.

Click here for Week 15's Power Rankings. Note that these rankings reflect the totality of the season.

1. Stanford (11-3, 7-2): Oregon finished higher in the final polls, but Stanford is the Pac-12 champion. And everyone out West remembers what happened Nov. 7.

2. Oregon (11-2, 7-2): The Ducks spent most of the season as a national title contender, but the regular season ended with a thud. The bowl victory over Texas was nice, and when you think about it, 11-2 and a final No. 9 ranking is, well, not too bad for Mark Helfrich's debut season.

3. Arizona State (10-4, 8-1): If the Sun Devils had taken care of business in the National University Holiday Bowl and grabbed an 11th win, this would have been a special season. As it turned out, it was merely a very good one.

4. UCLA (10-3, 6-3): The Bruins fell short of the South Division title because of a loss to Arizona State, but a 10-3 finish with a final No. 16 ranking tells the ultimate story: UCLA is trending up. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, there also was that second consecutive victory over USC for coach Jim Mora. Did anyone forget? Anyone? Bueller?

5. USC (10-4, 6-3): The Trojans had two seasons: the miserable start under Lane Kiffin and the strong second half under interim coaches Ed Orgeron and, in the bowl game, Clay Helton. Going 10-4 and finishing ranked 19th, particularly under the trying circumstances, is about the best that could have been hoped. Other than losses to UCLA and Notre Dame. That part could have been better.

6. Washington (9-4, 5-4): After three consecutive 7-6 seasons, the Huskies broke through in 2013, finishing 9-4 and ranked 25th. Credit goes to Steve Sarkisian for turning around a program that went winless the year before he arrived. He leaves behind a team with plenty of potential for new coach Chris Petersen.

7. Arizona (8-5, 4-5): The Wildcats had an interesting season. In part, their eight wins were because of a pillow-soft nonconference schedule that was a guaranteed 3-0 start. But they also beat Oregon and won a bowl game, dominating Boston College on both sides of the ball. On the downside is a second consecutive defeat to their friends in Tempe.

8. Oregon State (7-6, 4-5): The Beavers started horribly with a loss to Eastern Washington then rolled off six consecutive wins. Then, with the schedule ramping up considerably, they lost five in a row to finish the regular season. The strong performance in the Hawaii Bowl against Boise State took some of the sting out of the losing streak. But only some.

9. Washington State (6-7, 4-5): If the Cougars had won their bowl game, they would have been seventh here. Losing to Colorado State is bad under any circumstances, but the way the Cougs wilted at the end was horrid and should operate as fuel to motivate the team this offseason. Still, despite losing their final two games and finishing with a losing record, getting back to a bowl game was a big deal in the second season under Mike Leach.

10. Utah (5-7, 2-7): A second consecutive losing season is not what Utes fans have come to expect, even with a red-letter win over Stanford. Further, they are 5-13 in Pac-12 play in the past two seasons. There were major injury issues, most notably to QB Travis Wilson, but Utah can't be happy with its early performance in the conference. On the plus side, beating BYU and Utah State means state rivals don't have much room to rib the Utes.

11. Colorado (4-8, 1-8): There wasn't anywhere to go but up for Colorado after going 1-11 in 2012, and the Buffaloes went up this season under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre. They were still mostly outclassed in Pac-12 play, but there were signs of taking a step forward. The question now becomes, can they move up in the South Division?

12. California (1-11, 0-9): It was perhaps the most miserable season in Cal history in the first year under Sonny Dykes. The injuries were so epidemic it almost became comical -- almost -- but the effort and execution from the healthy players wasn't so hot either. The Bears need to show improvement next fall or the going could be tough for Dykes.

Pac-12 lunch links

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
11:30
AM PT
It's Christmas Eve! It's... it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we ... we ... we smile a little easier, we ... w-w-we ... we ... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!

Pac-12's lunch links

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
11:30
AM PT
This wasn't the person he'd thought he was, or would have chosen to be if he'd been free to choose, but there was something comforting and liberating about being an actual definite someone, rather than a collection of contradictory potential someones.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
9:00
AM PT
If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

Click here for last week's Power Rankings.

1. Stanford: With the win over Notre Dame, Stanford defeated its sixth ranked opponent in a single season for the first time in school history. It also clinched its fourth straight 10-win season. The Cardinal had just three 10-win seasons all time before this streak. They have a chance to secure a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth on Saturday at Arizona State.

2. Arizona State: After blowing out Arizona, the Sun Devils have won seven in a row and are 7-0 at home this season with an average margin of victory of 28 points. If Stanford thinks the Pac-12 title game will be anything like the Sept. 21 game in Palo Alto, it will be in for a long night in Tempe on Saturday.

3. Oregon: The Ducks showed grit winning in the fourth quarter against Oregon State, but it's also fair to say that performance didn't look anything like the September-October squad that dominated on both sides of the ball during an 8-0 start. It seems likely Oregon will eclipse the loser of the Pac-12 title game for the Valero Alamo Bowl slot because of its national brand.

4. UCLA: UCLA's second consecutive win over USC means just what the Bruins and coach Jim Mora said afterward: They own L.A. It's also meaningful that they bounced back strong after the disappointing loss to Arizona State. Next challenge -- other than the bowl game -- is to dominate recruiting in Southern California.

5. USC: Here's a guess that the loss to UCLA likely leaves interim Ed Orgeron outside looking in as far as becoming the Trojans' next coach. Losing to both Notre Dame and the Bruins weighs down a résumé, no matter how much better the product was post-Lane Kiffin.

6. Washington: Steve Sarkisian and the Huskies got over the 7-6 hump with an eighth win in the Apple Cup. Win a bowl game and Sark and company will face a much more positive offseason compared to last year.

7. Washington State: Despite losing the Apple Cup, the Cougars are clearly on an uptick under Mike Leach. A bowl win, of course, would accelerate the upticker.

8. Arizona: It seemed as though the Wildcats used up their A-game in the upset win over Oregon. Rich Rodriguez has posted two solid seasons in Tucson, but going 0-2 versus the hated Sun Devils prevents Wildcats fans from feeling satisfied.

9. Oregon State: The Beavers' preseason worst-case scenario was the possibility of a major second-half slide. That came true, see five consecutive losses. This team needs a bowl game -- to win a bowl game -- just to wash the bad taste out of its mouth.

10. Utah: Lots of offseason questions for the Utes after a second-consecutive bowl-less season, but the chief one is at quarterback. Getting back to a bowl game in 2014 depends on it.

11. Colorado: Even while losing at Utah, it was clear that this team took a big step forward in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre. The Buffaloes darn near notched a huge comeback on the road, showing fight until the very end. A 4-8 season and 1-8 finish in Pac-12 play might not feel very good overall, but this team is much improved compared to 2012. Now, can it take a big step forward in 2014?

12. California: There is no where to go but up, and Sonny Dykes needs to make some tough calls on his staff. The Bears could energize their fan base with some recruiting wins, seeing that none of those came in Pac-12 play.

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley368259301921
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
P. Perkins23013786.07
B. Hundley1485483.78
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
J. Payton6389614.27
D. Fuller574287.51
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense199.4268.5467.9
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring32.927.55.4