USC: Chip Kelly

Pac-12 prognostication pratfalls of 2013

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
5:30
PM PT
Life is full of great joys. A child's smile. A roasting whole pig. A sunset at the beach. A sunset at the beach with a child's smile and a roasting whole pig. And a drink with an umbrella in it. Hitting a point at a Vegas craps table covered in chips.

Yet for some of you, there is no greater joy than the Pac-12 blog face planting. We imperiously prognosticate -- some might call it "doing our job" but let's not get bogged down in nuance -- and we often end up going rear-end-over-tea-kettle. Pointing that out in colorful ways is not unlike a second Christmas morning for some of you.

In 2012, the Pac-12 blog was practically the Walmart of bad predictions. You might recall our doe-eyed affection for Matt Barkley-led USC. We were exposed early and often.

So, as we start to formulate many of our preseason predictions for 2014, it seems worthwhile to look back the 2013 preseason in an effort to establish how often we were stupid and how often your favorite blind squirrels actually found nuts.

We'll start with our preseason list of the Pac-12's top-25 players. And here's our postseason list.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesHey, turns out we were right about Oregon's Marcus Mariota being the Pac-12's top player.
The postseason top 10:
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 3: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 4: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
No. 5:Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
No. 6: Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 8: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 9: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 10: Leonard Williams, DE, USC

The preseason top 10:
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
No. 5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 6. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 7. Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 8. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 9. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
No. 10. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

As noted here, there were plenty of changes between the two.
Who made the preseason list and missed the postseason list?
3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
11. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
14. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
17. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
19. Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
20. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
21. Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Notes: Injuries or getting the boot (Lyerla) was the biggest reason these guys fell off the postseason list. Reynolds' numbers fell off, and the Cardinal's pass defense slipped to the middle of the conference, but I'm sure David Shaw would tell us we blew it. Hogan had a good season but maybe didn't take as big a step forward as some of us thought he would. Bradford, as previously noted, had a good, but not great, season and was eclipsed by other players.

Still, there wasn't much to be embarrassed about with either list.

Here's how Kevin and I voted in the Pac-12 preseason media poll:
Kevin Gemmell's ballot

North

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. Washington
  4. Oregon State
  5. Washington State
  6. California
South

  1. Arizona State
  2. UCLA
  3. USC
  4. Arizona
  5. Utah
  6. Colorado
Pac-12 title game champion: Stanford

Ted Miller's ballot

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAnd yes, we nailed the Stanford-Arizona State title game matchup with Stanford heading to the Rose Bowl.
North

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. Washington
  4. Oregon State
  5. California
  6. Washington State
South

  1. Arizona State
  2. USC
  3. UCLA
  4. Arizona
  5. Utah
  6. Colorado
Pac-12 title game champion: Stanford

Hmm. It appears that we both picked the divisional winners and Pac-12 champion correctly. We, clearly, rock.

Did you notice anything about Kevin's ballot. It looks exactly like the final Pac-12 standings. He, by the way, never, ever mentions that.

How about the preseason power rankings versus the final version?

The top-six in both matches up precisely. Betting that's the first time that has happened since the Pac-12 blog began in 2008.

The bottom six is far less precise, though no team is more than two spots different in the final ranking than in the preseason version.

Then there were our self-proclaimed "Bold Predictions."

As more than a few of you have pointed out, these often are not so bold, but that doesn't stop them from being wrong. Further, because they were made in January of 2013, some of them actually ran counter to our late-summer predictions, such as picking Stanford as the Pac-12 leader. The switch from Oregon came after Chip Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles.

We made 19 predictions. Seven were correct or mostly so:

  • The Pac-12 will finish 2013 with six teams in the Top 25: That will be six of this seven: Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Oregon State.
  • The Washington renaissance will arrive: The Huskies will finish 9-3 in 2013, opening the new Husky Stadium in style.
  • Colorado will win four games in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre: And Buffs fans will be reasonably encouraged.
  • The sledding will be rough in Sonny Dykes' first season at California: The Bears don't have great talent coming back, but the schedule is the biggest problem. By my guess, Dykes will play eight ranked teams in his first season, including a strong Big Ten duo at home the first and third weekends of the season (Northwestern and Ohio State).
  • Arizona's offensive numbers will make everyone realize how good Matt Scott was: Arizona averaged 37 points and 522 yards per game last year because of QB Matt Scott, who ranked seventh in the nation in total offense with 338.5 per game. He was a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's K offense. We expect the Wildcats' offense to take a step back in 2013, whether B.J. Denker or JC transfer Jesse Scroggins wins the QB job. As good as national rushing champion Ka'Deem Carey is, he will find the holes a bit smaller without Scott, even with a solid offensive line coming back.
  • Defenses will continue to rise: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr will be first-team preseason All-Americans, and Stanford will again have one of the nation's top 10 defenses. But we also expect across-the-board improvement on defense.
  • But it will still be the Conference of QBs: Mariota will win the Heisman and again earn the first-team All-Pac-12 nod, but the battle for second-team will be hot between Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, UCLA's Brett Hundleyand Washington's Keith Price, who will be the conference's Comeback Player of the Year.
  • Breakout player: Junior Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks will earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors with Marqise Lee.

The last one was mostly about Cooks breaking out, as he did as the Biletnikof Award winner. The Huskies went 9-4, but it's certainly fair to term the season a "renaissance." Arizona's offensive numbers went down, but B.J. Denker, while limited, turned in a better season than most expected.

Some were way off. Such as:
[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBut about that Lane Kiffin will quiet his critics thing ... um, did we mention that we did say USC would win 10 games and they did?
Lane Kiffin and USC will post a bounce-back season: We expect the Trojans to win 10 games -- that's with a highly favorable 13-game schedule, by the way -- and return to the national rankings. Although the Trojans won't return to dominance, they will play better all-around football in 2013, and it will be enough to quiet Kiffin's critics -- at least enough for him to return in 2014. We don't, however, expect USC to win the South Division.

He was fired before midseason, though the Trojans did win 10 games, including their bowl victory.

And, of course, our Oregon enthusiasm -- national champs! Marcus Mariota wins Heisman! -- didn't come to pass.

Then there were our week one bowl projections:

VIZIO BCS National Championship: Stanford vs. BCS
Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO: Oregon vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Washington vs. Big 12
Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: UCLA vs. ACC
Las Vegas: USC vs. MWC
Fight Hunger: Arizona vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico: Washington State vs. MWC

Four of those were correct -- the Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas and New Mexico.

Finally, there were our "Best case-worst case" flights of fancy. There is a strong possibility this series will be retired. It feels as if it might have jumped the proverbial shark.

(We typed the exact same thing last year, but this year we, unfortunately, mean it).

Mailbag: Next big Pac-12 thing?

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
2:45
PM PT
Happy Friday. Welcome to the Mailbag.

Following the Pac-12 blog on Twitter is the equivalent of eating a perfectly cooked bone-in ribeye, only with the caloric burn of a P90X workout.

To the notes.

Bellingham Duck from Bellingham, Wash., writes: I remember as kid sitting on my back porch listening to my Ducks get blown out by perennial powerhouse Oklahoma 62-7. I dreamed of what it what it would be like to ever be that good. Too ashamed to ask God to intervene, I accepted what seemed to be our fate. What Pac-12 program that is currently down is most unlikely but still destined to reach the top and stay a while?

Ted Miller: This question interested me because of my initial reaction: I see reasons for optimism for EVERY SINGLE PAC-12 TEAM.

That reaction made me grumpy. That much optimism doesn't sit well with me. The Pac-12 blog is not "Oprah." We aren't about uplifting folks. We aren't about fairy tales and happy endings. We are about being realistic. Objective. We want to tell it like it is. We're like Marlo Stanfield in "The Wire" whispering with understated but ineluctable menace, "You want it to be one way… but it's the other way."

And we are not embarrassed to admit we enjoy a bit of snark.

Yet here's what I see with the Pac-12 heading into the 2014 season: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Washington look like potential top-25 teams to me. Oregon State, Arizona, Washington State and Utah look like teams that could be dark horses if a couple of things fall into place and they stay healthy. And California and Colorado look like they will be much better in 2014 than they were last season.

The biggest potential backward step? Arizona State, because it's rebuilding its defense. But I see the Sun Devils as a team that could win nine games, so we're not talking about a tumble.

But none of this answers your question.

Part of that nonanswer is only Utah, Colorado and California could qualify as "down" after the 2013 season. Everyone else seemed to be maintaining a solid status or trending up.

So if you are asking me which program among those three should most decisively reverse course in the next five years, I'd go with Cal, mostly because of its recently -- and dramatically -- upgraded facilities and recruiting base.

If you're asking me which Pac-12 team is on the midst of making a major leap as a program, I'd go with UCLA in the South Division -- as long the Bruins retain Jim Mora -- and Washington in the North.

I also think the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry is going to get very interesting if both retain their present coaching staffs.


Brandon from Seattle writes: This isn't a new topic and relates more to my recent discovery of cfbstats.com (and my loss of productivity). I'm a die-hard Coug fan and after looking into some rushing statistics, I've got a small bone to pick with college football analysts. The last two seasons, much has been made about WSU's ineffectiveness running the football. This viewpoint comes around because of two archaic "truths" of college football: 1. Balance means a team is 50-50 rushing and passing; and 2. Sacks are counted as rush attempts. Without getting into why I believe those "truths" are archaic, I'll just state my point that WSU's rushing game isn't nearly as bad as it's made out to be. In fact, if you look just at rushes by running backs, WSU ranks sixth in yards per attempt at 4.97. That's better than Stanford at 4.96 and UCLA at 4.72. I?m definitely not downplaying those teams' abilities to run the ball, but instead I'd like to bring to light the fact that WSU's O-line and running backs are significantly more efficient in the run game than what we're led to believe by many media members. Just food for thought and a hope that analysts might eventually take a deeper dive than rushing and passing totals.

Ted Miller: This gets a yes and no.

Yes, Washington State was better running the ball than its paltry 53.4 yards per game suggests. Each of its top four running backs averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better. The poor rushing stats were mostly due to a lack of attempts and, as you note, losing 244 yards on 32 sacks. Further, as coach Mike Leach often points out, his short passing game using running backs isn't much different than handing off.

Yet, just as you've gone inside the numbers, you also can go a bit deeper.

Two stats stand out: Third-down conversions and red-zone offense. Both tend to be better for teams with reliable running games.

The Cougars ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions and 10th in red-zone offense. They were eighth in red-zone TD percentage (though it's a curiosity that said TD percentage was better than both Arizona State and Stanford, two good running teams).

Most notable: The Cougars turned the ball over in the red zone a conference-worst seven times. Hard to believe part of that isn't about the challenge of throwing the ball in a compressed space when defenses aren't worried about the run.

All this said, it's really about results. The Cougars ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring last year -- ninth in conference games -- and finished 6-7. If they finished in the top three in scoring and won eight or more games, nobody would care about the rushing statistics.


Mitch from Tucson writes: Hey Ted, longtime reader, first-time writer. What was your reasoning for leaving Austin Hill off the "2014 challengers" list? If I remember correctly, that guy was pretty good. ... Maybe even All-American good: "The sophomore looked like a potential All-American in 2013 after catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards -- 16.8 yards per reception -- with 11 touchdowns. " - Ted Miller

Ted Miller: Considering the receiving depth in the Pac-12 next year, if I listed all the potential challengers to lead the Pac-12 in receiving yards, there would be 20 names.

There are two reasons I left out Hill. First, he's coming back from a knee injury that killed his 2013 season and he wasn't 100 percent himself this spring. I want to see how he reacts when the lights come on and the games are for real. I do suspect we're going to see a guy who is even better than he was in 2012.

But the biggest reason is this: Arizona is as deep as any team in the country at receiver. It's much deeper than it was in 2012, when Hill put up huge numbers, and 2013, when Hill was out. I could see multiple 1,000-yard receivers for Arizona -- or four guys with over 800 yards -- but not one guy with, say, 1,500 yards.

Also, based on how Texas transfer Cayleb Jones looked this spring, he might actually be the favorite to lead the Wildcats in receiving yards.


Kurt from Corvallis writes: Naming the starting QB? Simple: When the coach knows, he announces.

Ted Miller: Maybe for some, but plenty of coaches subscribe to the notion that they want to prolong the competition as long as possible.

For example, it was pretty obvious that B.J. Denker was going to be Arizona's starting quarterback early in fall camp last year, but Rich Rodriguez opted not to announce it until the week of the first game. Why? He didn't want Denker to become comfortable. He told me specifically that he wanted to cultivate as much mental toughness as possible in Denker because he knew Denker's lackluster arm would not be widely celebrated among the Wildcats' fan base and there would be growing pains. As there were -- see his game at Washington.

Chip Kelly also wasn't a big fan of showing his cards early. Think about what we know about Marcus Mariota now. But he wasn't revealed as the Ducks starter as a freshman until after 22 fall camp practices, one week before the opener.

Again, some coaches like to anoint a QB as soon as possible in order to allow him to take up a defined leadership role. Others like to wait as long as possible, believing a lengthy, stressful competition creates mental toughness.


Matt from Carrollton, Texas, writes: Hi, Ted. I'm a longtime fan of USC and the Pac-12 blog, which means it would take something I consider especially momentous to write in (given that I value Kevin and your opinions so much). Anyways, I also happen to be an avid NCAA football gamer on Xbox 360 (read in: nerd), and I hit a milestone this past weekend with a resounding 252-0 win as USC over Wazzu (the first game in my 21st Dynasty season, and first over 250 points). I figured I'd send you this in the hopes that it warrants some space on your next mailbag, especially since it probably took me roughly 340-plus hours of gameplay to accomplish this. P.S.: Before you ask, those 340 hours took place over the course of the past 21 months, and yes, this was on "freshman" difficulty, but in my defense I do play only six-minute quarters and use an accelerated play clock. That's gotta count for something right?

Ted Miller: The Nobel committee has been alerted.

Now, Matt, please go read a book.

Looking at each Pac-12 coach's best team

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
12:00
PM PT
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.

Mailbag: Christmas Eve edition

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
5:30
PM PT
T’was the night before Christmas and the Pac-12 blog crew;
Was still smarting and miffed at the fall of Wazzu.

Dressed in an opulent red and green sweater;
Ted furiously hoped that the Beavs would do better.

The Trojans exploded and won one for ‘O;’
Only to learn Dion Bailey would go.

Utes, Bears and Buffs are home for the bowls;
Leaving their fans little reason to troll.

Two teams from the desert are still yet to play;
With RichRod and Graham hoping things go their way.

One last run for Price in his prime;
Plus he gets to Fight Hunger at the same time.

The Alamo will be Mack Brown’s last stand;
Even if the year didn’t go as the Ducks planned.

Barr’s last game will be played in The Sun;
We’re also wondering: Is Brett Hundley done?

Last but not least is the Tree vs. Sparty;
In the backfield the Cardinal hope they will party.

So enjoy Christmas Eve with your best pint of ale;
Sit back and relax to this bag of mail.

(I know, it's not as good as Chongo's).

Dylan in Boston writes: Hi Kevin, In all the reporting/speculation about Justin Wilcox following Sarkisian to Troy, it seems like everybody's overlooking the fact that the Trojans already have an A-list coordinator in Clancy Pendergast. Am I the only one confused by this? In the years Pendergast was at Cal, he did more with less than Wilcox has had at Washington (at the least the talent was comparable), particularly against my Ducks. Has Wilcox really shown enough for people to assume that he has the advantage over Pendergast?

Kevin Gemmell: Has he shown enough? I think so. I think Wilcox is an outstanding coordinator and defensive-minded coach. But you’re right, you can’t overlook the job that Pendergast did at USC this year.

The move to an odd front was a fantastic one for the Trojans. Say this for Lane Kiffin, he recognized that the Trojans needed a scheme that was going to be able to account for all of the edge speed in the league and he adjusted accordingly by bringing in Pendergast. Obviously, things didn’t work out so well on the offensive side of the ball for Kiffin. But let’s give the credit where credit is due.

The numbers for both coaches suggest major improvements since their arrival. First, Washington:

In the two seasons since Wilcox arrived, the Huskies have improved in scoring defense each year. They were giving up 35.9 points per game in 2011, followed by 24.2 in 2012 and 23.4 in 2011. They have also improved turnover margin and rushing yards allowed each of the last two years.

For USC, in one season under Pendergast, the Trojans cut their points allowed by more than a field goal, made huge strides in rush defense (167 yards allowed in 2012 compared to 120.3 in 2013) and were on the plus side of turnover margin after going minus-2 in 2012 and minus-1 in 2011 (they were plus-6 this year).

So the morale of the story is this: If you’re a Washington fan, you want Wilcox to stay in Washington. If you’re a USC fan, you’re going to be happy either way.

Peter in NorCal writes: One thing that Sark going to SC won't hurt: The Stanford-USC rivalry. It seems like David and Steve get along about as well as Jim and Pete did. Fair statement? What are your observations about the two of them (both generally, and specifically the snippiness that ensued after the Stanford/Washington game this year).

Kevin Gemmell: It’s funny that you bring that up. Every year Ted and I go to the Pac-12 spring meetings in Arizona. Basically, it’s Ted and I sitting outside of meeting rooms, waiting for the coaches to emerge, and then grabbing them for interviews. Then we sit outside, watch the coaches eat lunch, and then grab them again for more interviews.

One thing Ted and I were commenting on this year was how well all of the Pac-12 coaches get along. The Big 12 coaches meeting was going on at the same time and there was little to no interaction between those guys. But the Pac-12 coaches were all sitting together and chatting each other up after meetings.

Now, we’re not in the meetings with the coaches, so I can’t speak to how they interact. But from what I’ve seen, Sarkisian and David Shaw got along just fine.

Of course, that was last May and a lot has happened since then, including the aforementioned post-game war of words.

We don’t need to rehash all of the details, but I know Shaw objected to having his assistant and his players called out by name. And whether you agree with him retaliating with a Tuesday tirade is your personal business. Sark was ticked and probably broke a couple of unwritten rules. It happens. Shaw kept the story alive an extra couple of days by using the coaches' teleconference and his Tuesday roundtable as a pulpit to respond.

Neither coach "won" the public relations battle. And I don't think either cares. But it certainly spices things up for when the Cardinal and Trojans meet again. That -- and the fact that it's come down to the last play three of the last four meetings.

Curt in Las Vegas writes: Hey Kevin, Chip Kelly left the Oregon Ducks firmly entrenched with quality players. In 2013 going 10 and 2 and playing in the Alamo bowl to us Duck fans is a letdown! Do you think Mark Helfrich is planted at Oregon with the year he had?

Kevin Gemmell: Did Chip Kelly hurt Marcus Mariota’s knee? I think we can all agree that things took a turn for the worst for Oregon when he started coming up gimpy.

I think Helfrich is a very good coach who encountered a lot of the Year 1 obstacles every coach faces. But because it’s Oregon, a perennial top-5 program, those obstacles are magnified. When you’ve sat in a coordinator’s chair for so long and then make the jump, there is some transition and self-evaluation that is required. Ted and I took a lot of guff for picking Stanford to win the conference over Oregon for this very reason.

The Alamo Bowl is a letdown, sure. A 10-2 team playing in the deepest conference in college football deserves a shot at a BCS bowl game. But as the players have said, they need only look at themselves for where they are at.

Helfrich is going to be just fine, and Oregon is going to be just fine. He has a chance to get an 11th win -- something Kelly didn’t do in his first year. And win a bowl game. Also something Kelly didn’t accomplish. We have to see how the new College Football Playoff pans out, but I don’t see any reason why a Helfrich-led Oregon won’t be in the hunt annually.

Scott in London, England writes: Hi Kevin, I've read twice in the blog today about you mentioning how scary Arizona can be next year and it got me thinking. I know we have a lot of great transfers and recruits coming in, but I'm a bit unsure as to who exactly are supposed to be immediate impact players and how many returning starters there wil be, etc.I was wondering if you and Ted plan on doing a run down of next year's potential for each Pac team that consolidates all this into one easy blog post per team:* Transfers/JuCos and why they are good/meh* Recruits and why they are good/meh* Returners and why they are good/meh* Coaching changes and why they are good/meh (assistants too)* Schedule goods and bads* Will there be an El Nino, etc...I would say I'm an above-avg fan but I really don't have the Google-Fu skills or time to compile all this and I think every Pac fan would appreciate it a series like that.Maybe you guys already do that during the offseason or preseason, but I think it could also be good after bowl season.You can think of it as your first chance to be the, "We told you so" guys. Thanks for reading, always enjoy your stuff. Keep up the good work.

Kevin Gemmell: I can assure you there will be plenty of time in the offseason for all sorts of schedule analysis, roster breakdowns etc. etc. Ted and I are happy to fill the void during the offseason, as we do every year.

Just a heads up on Arizona. Among some of the key players who will be coming off the scout team are Cayleb Jones, Davonte’ Neal and Connor Brewer. They will all be eligible in 2014 after transferring.

Jones is a wide receiver who is transferring from Texas, and he’s reunited with Brewer, a former Longhorns quarterback. Neal, from Scottsdale, is a transfer receiver from Notre Dame who made a push to become eligible in 2013, but the NCAA denied his hardship waiver. You put him in with Austin Hill, who should be fully recovered from his knee injury and should be high on the Belitnikoff watchlist, along with David Richards, Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant and you have a receiver corps that is as good as any in the conference -- probably the country.

Quarterback will be an issue and Anu Solomon is one to watch. I had this in Lunch Links today. It’s a good read from Anthony Gimino breaking down Arizona’s QB prospects for next year.

Essentially, the Wildcats have a bunch of really exciting skill players that will make the South that much more exciting. They do lose three seniors on the defensive line, so guys like Luca Bruno, Calvin Allen and Jack Banda will have to step up.

But Arizona does indeed have some scary potential next year.

Mike in Maple Valley, Wash. writes: Your definition of "Coug" was pretty spot on. You said it has been an effective term since 2005. The origin may actually go back to the 1975 Apple Cup. To "Coug it" is a ceremonial act hand down from one generation to another.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, Maple Valley sounds like the most delicious place on earth.

Second, that was a phrase pulled straight from the Urban Dictionary, and the submission was entered in 2005, so unfortunately I can’t take credit for it. I didn’t put the link in though because Urban Dictionary has a lot of non-blog-friendly expressions and sayings. You’re free to Google it yourself.

I called no joy in writing that piece. But I do think Washington State is moving in the right direction under Mike Leach. Speaking of that column ...

Andy in Fort Collins Colo. writes: You’re Washington State take was so one-sided and arrogant. How about giving the Rams a little credit instead of making excuses. (And Merry Christmas).

Kevin Gemmell: Ah, thanks Andy. Merry Christmas to you.

It was a Washington State-centric story because I’m the Pac-12 reporter and I cover the Pac-12 and Washington State is a Pac-12 team and it appeared on the Pac-12 blog. See the trend?

Did you email all of the beat writers in Pullman and Spokane and the surrounding areas and chastise them for their coverage? The folks at CougCenter do a heck of a job. And their stuff was a bit one-sided.

I don’t think it’s arrogant to say the Pac-12 is a better conference. I’ve covered both, so I feel like I’m qualified to weigh in on this. In the 12 games the two conferences have played so far, the Pac-12 has gone 11-1 and outscored the Mountain West, on average, 38.5 to 20.

Arizona should beat UNLV. And it did. Colorado should beat Colorado State. And it did. Oregon State and USC should beat Hawaii. And they did. Oregon State should beat San Diego State. And it did. UCLA should beat Nevada. And it did. Stanford should beat San Jose State. And it did. USC and Utah should beat Utah State. And they did. USC should beat Fresno State and Washington should beat Boise State. And they did.

For what it’s worth, I did include in the piece that Colorado State deserved the win for not quitting. And anything is possible (especially in Albuquerque, it seems) when you have two weeks to prepare.

That goes for tonight’s matchup between Oregon State and Boise State. The Broncos certainly aren’t the same team they were a month ago. And I’m not totally sure which Oregon State team we’re going to get. If it’s the explosive Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection, the Beavs should be fine. If it’s not, then Boise State certainly could win.

Such is the nature of bowl season.

Merry Christmas from the Pac-12 blog.

Following Lee's lead could be best approach

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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Marqise LeeRobert Laberge/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee continues to put up Heisman-worthy numbers at receiver for the Trojans.

LOS ANGELES -- Lane Kiffin brought a pen into his postgame news conference Saturday night following his USC Trojans' 62-51 loss to the Oregon Ducks at the Coliseum.

While Matt Barkley was answering a question to his left, Kiffin quickly scanned the box score in front of him and, grabbing the pen, underlined something. Then he quietly passed the sheet to his right, getting Marqise Lee's attention and pointing.

Lee laughed, starting a chain reaction: Robert Woods, sitting next to him, wanted to know what he was laughing about, and then Kiffin had to quietly shush the two when Lee leaned over to tell his teammate.

Well, what did Kiffin underline? Just Lee's statistics for the night: 12 receptions, 157 yards and two touchdowns.

"That's Lane for you," Lee said in a quiet moment after the game. "He's always making sure we're happy."

Kiffin was happy with the Trojans' offensive production Saturday, despite the final score. He said he was "proud of the production" outside of a couple of series.

Lee was not, although he did allow that he was proud of Robert Woods' fourth-down catch-and-run on the Trojans' penultimate play, when he fought down all the way to the three-yard line and set up Lee's last touchdown.

"You got a lot of players out there who are like, 'Well, we already lost, so I'm gonna just catch the ball and go down,' " Lee said. "He just showed you that he's gonna keep working for it."

Lee kept working at it, too. His numbers over the last two games, against quality opponents, have made him a legitimate candidate for an invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

And, in a change that seemed impossible three months ago, he has become far and away USC's most intriguing player in the greater college football landscape. More people are talking about him than Barkley.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly said after Saturday's game that Lee may be the best receiver he has ever coached against.

"You can't say enough about Marqise Lee," Kelly said. "He's impressive on film and even more impressive when you watch him in person."

(Read full post)

Oregon's Chip Kelly scouts USC

November, 1, 2012
11/01/12
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LOS ANGELES -- Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly doesn't exactly exude patience when speaking to the media.

"Does that bother you?" he asked one reporter Tuesday when questioned about his team treating all opponents the same way.

Kelly keeps things concise whenever possible and almost seems to enjoy answering in the negative. But he also often displays an abundance of knowledge, such as when he was asked about the USC Trojans during a news conference this week.

At this level, all coaches know their opponents. But Kelly seemed to know everything about the Trojans, offering a player-by-player scouting report of the entire starting lineup.

T.J. McDonald is a "great safety." Nickell Robey is "probably one of the top corners in the country." Lamar Dawson, Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey -- the Trojans' three linebackers -- are all fast and capable tacklers, and the defensive line is collectively "very athletic."

Kelly went through the Trojans' offense in the same manner, too, mentioning all three "pretty good" backs, both tight ends, and, obviously, the quarterback and receivers.

Then he concluded: "There's a good player at each position at USC."

Kelly also praised the versatility of his USC counterpart, Lane Kiffin. He said Kiffin has constructed the Trojans to be able to succeed in many different ways.

"They're not a team that's just built to do one thing," Kelly said. "Lane does such a good job of making sure that you have to defend the entire field. They do a lot of things to try to confuse you at the snap."

And the Trojans' defense has a "pretty good scheme too," according to the Ducks' coach. So, given all that, is Kelly surprised the Trojans have already lost two games this season?

"I'm not surprised at anything that happens in college football," he said. "It's very difficult to stay unscathed."

His team has managed to do so, so far. But USC will be Oregon's biggest test yet.

Lee and Thomas are similar players

November, 1, 2012
11/01/12
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LOS ANGELES -- Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and USC's Marqise Lee, two of the most electrifying college athletes in the country, are both sophomores, grew up in South L.A., were recruited by many schools as defensive backs and currently play on offense in the Pac-12 Conference.

And the similarities don't end there, USC coach Lane Kiffin said. Thomas, the running back/receiver/returner, and Lee, the receiver/returner, are "very similar players" in "a lot of ways," Kiffin said this week.

Kiffin noted the two players have very different body types -- Lee is listed at 6 feet and 195 pounds and Thomas 5-9 and 176. But their agility indeed appears to be in the same stratosphere, with both players making the straight-ahead running approach a thing of the past in favor of the stop-start-and-wind-around mentality.

Thomas' remarkable punt return against Colorado last week -- during which he ran backward for several seconds -- bore similarities to several of Lee's biggest catches and returns in a USC uniform.

Kiffin said Thomas is basically the same player he was last season, when he ran back a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against the Trojans and caught a 29-yard scoring pass.

"Last year he was as explosive as anybody in the country," Kiffin said. "He's maybe a little bit more confident, by the way that he goes after the punts and goes after it no matter where it is, but he plays with a lot of confidence."

In the Trojans' 38-35 win over the Ducks last season, Lee actually outgained Thomas, 325 yards to 214 yards, but also had 15 touches to Thomas' nine.

In an added twist to Saturday's game, both Thomas and Lee seriously considered attending the opposite school. Thomas memorably was the cornerstone of USC's 2011 class until the final weeks of the recruiting season, and Lee had the Ducks in his final three choices until a month before signing day.

"We knew he was a really good player," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said this week of Lee. "But I don't think anybody could've predicted as a sophomore he would have this type of impact."

And that's where the similarities end. Thomas hasn't been a disappointment, by any stretch, but numbers like these were expected of him from many observers.

Out of Lee? Not so much.

But both players will be their teams' top big-play threats Saturday.

Why does USC resist the spread?

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
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Flipping between a USC game and an Oregon game feels a little bit like fast-forwarding five decades.

If you squint real hard while watching USC, you can mistake Matt Barkley's cardinal jersey for Joe Naimath's crimson Alabama jersey. In fact, if you were to watch some grainy, flickering film from the 1960s, you'd see the basic USC offense: a running back, often a fullback and a quarterback under center.

So, why can't the Trojans be more like Oregon? Why can't they blur the line between grass-and-mud football and Tron? And more to the point in this disappointing season for the Trojans, should they? Will they have to one day?

It seems worth asking these questions this week, sandwiched around that loss against one spread team (Arizona) and this Saturday's meeting with the Ducks, who probably have the best spread offense in the country.

The Trojans are increasingly isolated by the spread of the spread. Ole Miss is now running it under first-year coach Hugh Freeze and, when a team with "Ole" in its name runs a system, it might be time to adjust. The movement's waters have moved particularly aggressively on the West Coast. The newest coaches in the Pac-12, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Mike Leach at Washington State, are two gurus of the spread.

Even Lane Kiffin, who literally grew up around the NFL, has learned to appreciate its explosive potential and, he says, universal applicability in the college game.

"I would disagree that it didn't work at Michigan," Kiffin said. "They didn't stop anybody. That wasn't because of the offense. Rich-Rod put up a ton of points and yards. I don't know them offhand, I just remember seeing scores like 52-48 and stuff like that.

"I think you can definitely run a spread offense at a national, storied program. I don't think it makes any difference."

So, why is USC stubbornly clinging to antiquated notions such as: keep your quarterback upright, take your time in the huddle and, at least occasionally, hand the ball off? Because the minute USC changes -- if it ever changes -- it could squander its biggest edge. Because, while spread elements have increasingly infiltrated the NFL, a system like Oregon's might never fly there.

Why? In short, it's the cost of insurance. Five of the nine highest-paid players in the NFL are quarterbacks and all of them are making more than $12 million. The average NFL quarterback makes roughly $2 million and the average starter makes several times that. If you're an NFL owner, the last thing you're willing to do is send a $15 million investment racing along at the mercy of rampaging safeties.

(Read full post)

USC looks to rebound against Oregon

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
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There is a lot on the line as USC gets ready to take on Oregon on Saturday at the Coliseum. The game may not have national title implications for both sides, but there is still plenty at stake in terms of the Pac-12 title and a potential Rose Bowl berth.

Chip Kelly
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA USC win over Chip Kelly's high-powered Ducks will go a long way toward easing the pain from last week's Arizona loss.

As much as the loss to Arizona stung the Trojans last weekend, the reality is that USC still controls its destiny for a berth in the conference title game. Right now, the Trojans are one of three teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses, and it just so happens the other two teams (Arizona State and UCLA) are on the USC schedule following Oregon.

If the Trojans can get by the Ducks -- and then get wins over the Sun Devils and Bruins -- it would possibly give USC home-field advantage for the conference title game. A victory in that game would then propel USC into a New Year’s Day berth at the Trojans’ home away from home, the Rose Bowl.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, of course, it isn’t. Not by a long shot. But just because it isn’t simple doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, it would represent one of the best finishes in USC history, especially if it also included a victory over unbeaten Notre Dame at the Coliseum.

Let’s face it: Very little about this season has been easy. The Trojans were expected to be a smooth-running machine with so many starters returning from a team that was on the rise at the end of last season. Through the first two months of 2012, however, there have been an unexpected number of sputtering moments mixed in with some bouts of inspired play. There have also been penalties and mental lapses fans just didn’t see coming from such a veteran group.

Even with all that, the Trojans still have a chance. And the scheduling gods didn’t mess around either, as the Ducks are next up and they have been as good as advertised.

Oregon has taken the Trojans’ spot atop the Pac-12 mountain in recent years, but there were legitimate questions coming into the season. The Ducks had lost stars at quarterback and running back -- players who had seen a lot of success -- and there was uncertainty about their replacements.

It’s a tribute to Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s system that the Ducks haven’t skipped a beat with the new starters. When you add a defense as good as any Oregon has put on the field in recent years, you have a team that has emerged as one of the favorites to reach the national title game. How perfectly did the stars align to have the Ducks visit the Coliseum at a time when the Trojans need a really big win?

Last year, USC’s victory over the Ducks was a huge step for a program looking to reclaim a place among the nation’s elite. This year, the result could make an even bigger statement on the direction of the program.

A victory for the Trojans would be a special start to a November march toward a Rose Bowl berth that would be a fitting ending for this team. A loss? Well, a loss puts this season in a place that no USC fan wants it to go. This much we know: The Ducks are coming to town on Saturday and the Trojans are going to need to be ready.

Oregon poised to remove USC as top power

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
1:02
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Getty ImagesA win this weekend for Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota over USC and QB Matt Barkley could represent a power shift in the Pac-12.

Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?

The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.

USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.

But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.

Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.

Au contraire.

Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.

USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.

Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.

And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.

So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?

USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.

Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."

While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.

But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.

So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.

Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.

Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.

It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.

Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.

And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.

Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"

Pac-12 coaches: Best 'bang for the buck'

July, 11, 2012
7/11/12
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ESPN.com's series on FBS coaches continues today with this question: Which coach in the Pac-12 provides the biggest bang for the buck?

That's tough to answer for a number of reasons.

  1. There are four new coaches in the Pac-12 this season.
  2. There were two new coaches last year.
  3. USC and Stanford, as private schools, don't provide salary information for their coaches, though USA Today reported that Lane Kiffin made $2.4 million in 2010, way less than had been widely reported.

Two years ago, it would have been easy to say that Oregon State's Mike Riley provided the most bang for buck. Riley won 36 games from 2006-2009 before the Beavers tumbled to consecutive losing seasons. And he did that with a fairly modest salary.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezChip Kelly may be the Pac-12's highest-paid coach, but he's worth the money.
Here are the latest numbers.
Chip Kelly, Oregon, $2,800,000

Lane Kiffin, USC, $2,400,000*

Jim Mora, UCLA, $2,400,00 million**

Jeff Tedford, California, $2,300,000

Steve Sarkisian, Washington, $2,250,000

Mike Leach, Washington State, $2,250,000

Todd Graham, Arizona State, $2,000,000

Kyle Whittingham, Utah, $2,000,000

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona, $1,910,000

Mike Riley, Oregon State, $1,313,471

Jon Embree, Colorado, $725,000
*It's perfectly reasonable to posit that Kiffin made more than this in 2011 and also will in 2012.

**Mora's number is an average of his five-year, $12 million contract. He'll likely make less than this figure this season.

By the way, David Shaw's salary at Stanford has been estimated at $1.75 million. It seems, in any event, that it's too early to rate Shaw or Colorado's Jon Embree as second-year coaches. And it makes no sense to look at the track record of the four new coaches because the past doesn't mean anything for the new schools, though you could say that Arizona got Rodriguez at below market value.

So who provides the most bang for the buck? I've got two answers: Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Oregon's Chip Kelly.

Why? Well, name the two coaches on the above list who have won BCS bowl game at their present job.

Whittingham is 66-25 (.725) at Utah, including double-digit wins in three of the past four seasons. His worst season in seven years is 7-5 in 2005. After an 0-4 start in Pac-12 play last fall, he rallied his team behind a backup QB who'd transferred from Nebraska-Omaha, and the Utes nearly won the South Division. Oh, and he's 7-1 in bowl games.

Further, Whittingham has been loyal to Utah. He's had opportunities to leave but he's stuck around.

Kelly is the Pac-12's highest paid coach by a fairly wide margin. He was guaranteed $2.8 million in 2011 and will make $3.5 million this season, according to USA Today. So why does he rate highly in terms of bang for the buck? Well, there's a 34-6 (.850) record, including a 25-2 mark in Pac-12 games (.926). And there's three consecutive conference titles. And an undefeated regular season in 2010 when the Ducks fell just short of beating Auburn for the national title. And there's the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin last January.

Kelly has delivered a super-elite level of performance in his three seasons. If you were to name the nation's best coaches, you wouldn't have to wait long after Nick Saban and Urban Meyer to get to Kelly.

He gets big bucks, yes, but he's delivered unprecedented bang to the Ducks program.

Any Oregon fans think he's overpaid?

Barkley and Kelly, working on unfinished business

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
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Sunday evening was all about Chip Kelly, as the Oregon coach was reported to be close to accepting the head coaching job for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Such a move this late in the recruiting season would've shaken up the entire Pac-12 and given USC an immediate and serious advantage for the 2012 season. But that's not to say that every Trojan wanted him gone -- in fact, a number of USC players on Twitter expressed emotions far different than what one might expect.

And the most visible Trojan of all, quarterback Matt Barkley, had an interesting reaction when Kelly officially revealed Monday morning that he was choosing to stay with the Ducks to pursue "unfinished business."

Barkley re-tweeted ESPN's Joe Schad and added on a bit of his own commentary to Kelly's reasoning: "Looks like we both do."

The tweet went viral as it brought people back to Barkley's December news conference in which he announced he was staying for his senior season. That day, in front of a crush of reporters at Heritage Hall, Barkley cited "unfinished business" on more than one occasion as the biggest reason why he decided to come back to USC.

Well, on Nov. 3, Barkley and Kelly with go head-to-head at the Coliseum in what will probably be hyped as the unfinished business bowl.

Five questions for the New Year, No. 5

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
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We've looked at the USC Trojans' top 10 moments from 2011 and the top 10 performers as well. Now, with the final days of the year approaching, we take a look at the five most pressing questions surrounding Lane Kiffin's Trojans in 2012. We'll unveil one each day this week, counting down from No. 5 today to No. 1 on Friday.

It's also worth looking back at our five questions for 2011 from this time last year. Most of them were answered definitively in one direction or the other. Here are No. 5, No. 4, No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1.

Here, then, is No. 5: Where will USC rank in the 2012 Associated Press preseason top 25?

The Trojans finished their 2011 regular season ranked fifth in the country by the AP -- in a definite surprise to those not following the team. It was a quick rise, to be sure, as USC had been ranked 18th just three weeks earlier and unranked a month before that.

But the 10-2 Trojans were deserving. Only two teams with fewer losses were below them in the top 25, and one of those was a Houston team that had just been markedly upset.

So, with this season now out of the way, where is USC going to start next year? It's important to note that the previous season's end-of-year rankings consistently play a large role in each preseason edition. Each of the top-five teams this year, for example, finished last year in the top 10.

Let's pencil in the winner of the upcoming national championship game, then, as the likely No. 1 -- especially if it's LSU, who returns a large portion of its lineup. Even if Alabama pulls off the win, the Tigers will be hard to overtake, actually.

But the other top teams all lose a lot, including No. 3 Oklahoma State (likely Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon) and No. 4 Stanford (Andrew Luck). No. 6 Oregon returns plenty, but LaMichael James may not be returning, and it's somewhat unlikely voters would place the Ducks over the Trojans to start the year -- even if Chip Kelly's squad does beat Wisconsin in next week's Rose Bowl.

The Badgers also lose their quarterback -- and potentially their running back, as Montee Ball has said he'll determine whether to declare for the draft based on the draft grade he receives from the NFL.

There just aren't too many more teams to compete with. Ohio State was a possibility under Urban Meyer, but they'll see a drop-off because of NCAA sanctions. Georgia has a lot of 2012 potential, but not enough to jump a 10-2 team returning its best player in Matt Barkley.

The short answer, then, is this: Expect USC to be ranked either second or third in the country next August, behind LSU and maybe Alabama, depending on what happens in next month's national championship game between LSU and Alabama, who returns at Alabama and Oregon and spring practices at USC and those schools.

Check back Tuesday for question No. 4, which deals with NCAA-sanctioned scholarship limits and how they'll affect USC next year.

Pac-12 coaches weigh in on Barkley for Heisman

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
9:35
PM PT
As USC quarterback Matt Barkley's Heisman Trophy campaign heats up this week with the Trojans days away from concluding their 2011 regular season, it's interesting to see where he stands with a number of college football figures who don't have a vote but have plenty of opinions.

USC coach Lane Kiffin has already said he'd vote for Barkley to win the Heisman.

And a number of Pac-12 coaches said Tuesday on the conference's weekly conference call they would vote for him as at least a finalist. All who answered said he at least deserved consideration for the award.

Colorado coach Jon Embree, Oregon State coach Mike Riley, Arizona interim coach Tim Kish and California coach Jeff Tedford gave him glowing endorsements. Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, Washington State coach Paul Wulff, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and Stanford coach David Shaw said he undoubtedly deserved to be in the conversation.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and Oregon coach Chip Kelly said they'd need to look into the other candidates more to properly comment but continued to speak highly of him. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wasn't available for comment.

"I'm one of those guys that doesn't think the Heisman goes to the best player on the best team," Embree said Tuesday. "I think it goes to the best player. And he definitely needs to be in that conversation. He's put that team on his back and has taken them to a very good year. What he has done and how he has matured through this season and career says a lot about the kid.

"He's one of those guys that has always been overshadowed. He doesn't go away."

(Read full post)

Barkley's Heisman campaign begins

November, 21, 2011
11/21/11
3:13
PM PT
USC released an official promotional video for quarterback Matt Barkley's fledgling Heisman Trophy campaign Monday following the signal-caller's impressive performance in a weekend win over Oregon.

The minute-long video highlights a number of Barkley's touchdown passes this season, including the record-breaking sixth scoring throw to running back Amir Carlisle in the Colorado game earlier this month. It also contains commentary from broadcasters Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Pete Arbogast talking up his postseason award candidacy and NFL readiness.

Barkley's 2011 numbers -- 67.6 completion percentage, 3,105 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions -- are displayed, as is his status as a semifinalist for the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Walter Camp postseason awards and a Pac-12 all-academic honoree.

Video of Barkley's offseason trip to Nigeria is also included, and the video concludes with comments from local media relating to his Heisman campaign and Oregon coach Chip Kelly's comments that Barkley was the best quarterback the Ducks faced this year.

The Heisman presentation in New York City is scheduled for Dec. 10. Five finalists are invited to the ceremony each season.

The full Barkley video is available here.

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C. Kessler100718468
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