USC: David Shaw

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 23, 2014
May 23
11:30
AM PT
Happy Friday!
 

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 13, 2014
May 13
11:30
AM PT
How is it that the ultimate prize in the most macho sport invented is a piece of jewelry?

Lunch links: Post-spring answers

May, 2, 2014
May 2
11:30
AM PT
Happy Friday!

Defensive questions abound in Pac-12

May, 2, 2014
May 2
11:30
AM PT

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
5:45
PM PT
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.

Athlon ranks the Pac-12 coaches

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
7:00
PM PT
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
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: USC can't again dominate?

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
5:30
PM PT
Welcome to the mailbag, the best gateway to Friday happy hour.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. We keep typing that because it's for your own good.

To the notes.

Ben from Los Angeles writes: Ted, I agree that parity has changed the Pac-12. The differences are negligible among the top recruiting schools. I think it's unlikely that the differences will account for the conference champion. When Pete Carroll coached at USC, it had a big talent advantage almost every week. No more, and I'm not sure it will return. USC couldn't fill 19 slots with top-150 players, so how will six more slots deliver superiority? Practice players, but not superiority. All the schools have money, all the CA schools are good schools (UW, too); the coaching has spiked. Who wants to be third team when you can start at another good school, with a good coach?

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 has reached a perhaps unprecedented state of quality depth, but parity probably isn't the right word. The last time a team other than Oregon or Stanford won the Pac-12/10 was USC in 2008, which at that time was riding a streak of six consecutive conference titles.

(Washington State fans: Which was the last team to win the conference not named USC, Oregon or Stanford? Anyone? Anyone?)

But I understand your general point, which concerns USC returning to the dominance of the Pete Carroll Era. Yet even there I don't completely agree.

Simple question: If Nick Saban were named USC's coach tomorrow, what would be the over-under for national titles over the next 10 years? Five? The potential for another USC dynasty is there, and it would be easier to build one at USC than any other Pac-12 school.

While the Pac-12 is unquestionably deeper than it has traditionally been, I do not think that guarantees that USC, the conference's biggest national brand, can't again become, at the very least, first among equals -- see Alabama in the SEC.

It certainly won't be easy, in large part because the conference has upgraded its coaching quality across the board. But the Trojans' late run in recruiting under Steve Sarkisian suggests the USC brand retains allure among young athletes, and not only in Southern California. UCLA coach Jim Mora said as much in an interview with Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports.

"We're still fighting the years and years of great teams that Southern Cal had," Mora said. "A lot of these kids in the area grew up watching Reggie Bush and the other greats. What we're trying to do is turn the tide as quickly as we can, but sometimes it's a little slower than you want, but it all starts with winning the game. I am so excited with the local kids that we signed."

(Notice how he said "Southern Cal." USC folks don't like to be called that, so much so that it's noted in the football media guide and weekly game notes).

How much difference would it have made for USC to have a full array of 25 scholarships, which it will next February? I think a lot -- as in top-five class a lot.

Sarkisian and his staff are relentless and enthusiastic recruiters. They have a chance to perennially sign classes that are in the battle for best in the nation, just like Carroll.

Of course, it's the job of the other 11 Pac-12 coaches, starting with Mora, to make sure that doesn't happen.

And, by the way, there's also the larger question of whether Sark and his staff can coach those Trojans players up as well as Carroll and his staff, which included Sarkisian, once did.


Josh from Lake Stevens, Wash., writes: Big IF here, but if Cyler Miles is suspended or dismissed, who is more likely to take over for him, Jeff Lindquist, Troy Williams (my vote) or KJ Carta-Samuels?

Ted Miller: I have no idea. No one does. New year. New coaching staff. New offense. And none of those guys has any significant experience.

Lindquist, a rising sophomore, would have a slight advantage just by being the most senior guy. I have heard good things about Williams. I think Carta-Samuels, an incoming freshman, would be a huge long shot.

But this is pure speculation. For one, we should wait and see how the investigation plays out. If I were a betting man, I'd wager Miles doesn't get kicked off the team.


Peter from Calgary, Alberta writes: Stanford has been a run-first, power running football team for a number of years now. They've lost 80 percent of their starting offensive line and don't have a proven running back going into the 2014 season. Discuss.

Ted Miller: Stanford loses RB Tyler Gaffney and four outstanding offensive linemen, but Stanford won't lose its identity in 2014. The Cardinal offense will be a run-first, smashmouth team.

For one, I expect LT Andrus Peat, a rising true junior, to develop into an All-American next year. So QB Kevin Hogan's blind side should be well-covered. Further, the offensive line won't be as inexperienced as it appears because the Cardinal's "jumbo" packages have allowed guys such as guards Josh Garnett and Johnny Caspers and OT Kyle Murphy to get plenty of experience the past two seasons.

There might be some growing pains, but this will be a good line. If it stays healthy, it probably will be as good as any Pac-12 line by season's end.

As for running back, that's more a question mark. Remound Wright, Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders all have skills, but none of them had more than 20 carries last year. Heck, incoming freshman Christian McCaffrey might even get into the mix.

Still, even with Hogan and all his receivers coming back, I don't think you'll see the Cardinal throw the ball 40 times a game. They might throw more, but David Shaw isn't going to abandon a style that has paved the way for consecutive Pac-12 titles.


Gerald from Atlanta writes: SEC fan here. You might remember me. I am the SEC fan from Norcross, Ga., who has been harassing you for years on this SEC/Pac-10/Pac-12 debate. Watching this Super Bowl, I have no choice but to eat crow and recant. I was wrong. You West Coast guys were right. Pete Carroll is an outstanding coach and would have massacred any SEC team during their run, even one led by Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. It took a loaded Mack Brown (who I still say was somewhat underrated as a coach) Texas team led by Vince Young (whose NFL failure was due to a head coach and fan base in Nashville who didn't want him, long story) to just barely eke by Carroll and USC, and now I see why. So I apologize, mea culpa, sorry that USC was treated unfairly by the BCS, glad that the BCS is ending, so on and so forth. P.S. Go Auburn Tigers. And 2010 was awesome no matter what the rest of the country thinks. At the very least it was revenge for 2004.

Ted Miller: Someone needs to go down to hell and see if it's frozen over. Oh, never mind -- I'll just call Nick Saban and ask.

Kidding!

This might not mean much to many of you, but Gerald has been a longtime Pac-12 blog and mailbag gadfly. Not sure what to make of this note.

Perhaps someone has stolen his mailbag handle and the real Gerald will read this and his head will explode.

Perhaps Gerald has joined a 12-step program for trolling.

Perhaps Gerald had a good weekend in Vegas, which included taking the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

Perhaps he's just trying to soften us up before launching a counterattack to our unguarded flank.

Or perhaps this will start a trend, and all of the Pac-12's blog myriad and often profane critics will suddenly see the error of their ways and profess only love for your kindly Pac-12 insiders.

Wait. That would be incredibly boring. Let's not let that happen.

Pac-12's lunch links

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
11:30
AM PT
A huge earthquake happens, who do they rescue first? They'll rescue Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me. If there's room, you guys will come.

Pac-12 lunch links: Mora dismisses UT talk

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
11:30
AM PT
He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought ... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps ... means a little bit more!

Lunch links: Shaw counters critics

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
11:30
AM PT
You all know exactly who I am. Say my name.

Mailbag: Ed Orgeron, coach of the year?

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
9:00
AM PT
Mail+bag= fun, fun, fun.

Many questions from many people: (My team) has a bowl scenario that involves (this team) (that team) (the other team) and if (the other team) beats (that team) and (my team) wins out, what will happen?

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDavid Shaw and Stanford could be on the outside looking in when it comes to BCS bowl games.
Kevin Gemmell: Lots, and lots of these types of questions. First and foremost is the Stanford to a BCS game question. Stanford’s chances aren’t shot by any means. If they close out the year with two losses, they’ll still be ranked in the top 10.

The question is, will there be a spot available to them? You have to worry about a UCF or Fresno State taking an at-large spot away from a BCS conference team – which isn’t to say they didn’t earn it, that’s just the reality of the system.

I think a Stanford team with two losses and a strong resume would be appealing. The only problem is both of those losses came against unranked teams. They were on the road, which eases the pain a little – but they are unranked nevertheless.

But the Cardinal put themselves in the position David Shaw didn’t want to be in – someone else deciding their fate for them. If they sneak into one of the BCS bowls, it would be a nice boost for the conference. If not, the Alamo is always pretty this time of year.

As for all of the other scenarios, let’s just wait and see how everything plays out. Three weeks ago we were convinced Oregon was going to the national championship game. Two weeks ago we were confident there were going to be two BCS bowl teams with Stanford and Oregon. Last week we had written USC out of the South.

Crazy things have been known to happen around Thanksgiving. We’ll see if this year follows suit.

Anonymous Husky fan writes: Husky fan here... I'm fully disappointed with this season and will consider it a failure even if we win our next two games and bowl game to finish 9-4. That's not good enough.

Kevin Gemmell: That’s fair. Though I think eight regular season wins and a potential ninth win in a bowl game would be considered a step forward for the program. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have high hopes. Because you should.

I felt coming into the season that Washington was anywhere from an eight- to 10-win team. They could have gotten to 10 wins if some of those 50-50 road games went their way. As it stands, they lost a pair of those to Arizona State and UCLA. Two very good teams, mind you.

Essentially they have won the games they are supposed to win, lost the games we figured they’d lose, and went 0-for-2 on a couple of the toss ups. Ted and I both tabbed Washington as the No. 3 team in the North. The next two weeks will go a long way toward finalizing that pecking order.

As for your final sentence – not good enough – I guess the question is what is good enough? 10 wins? A conference championship? A national championship? All of those things would be fan-diddly-tastic, but as Oregon and Stanford will tell you, that’s all kinds of tough to accomplish when you play in the Pac-12 and play a nine-game conference schedule.

I’m not saying this season has been a massive success for the Huskies. That ending is yet to be written. But if they close the year with nine wins, I don’t think you can call it a failure.

Jeremy in Seattle writes: Hi kev, do you happen to know if the bowls will be crowded this year? Is it possible a 6-6 Pac 12 team, whether it be Arizona, Utah, Oregon state, Washington state, Colorado, or, god forbid, Washington, not get to a bowl?

Kevin Gemmell: The bowls are almost always crowded. There are plenty of teams capable of six wins.

I think we first need to see what happens with the BCS. A second BCS team pulls everyone up one spot, which is obviously beneficial for the bottom of the conference.

By my count, there are 66 bowl eligible teams heading into this week for 70 spots. However, all of those teams you mentioned have the simple fact that they are in the Pac-12 going for them. Bowl organizers that are looking for replacement teams are going to look favorably on major conference teams – especially major conference teams that travel well.

By the way, you can see where Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards are projecting teams.

For the Utahs and Washington States of the world, my best advice involves a cart and a horse. Get there first, then worry about where there actually is.

00006shy in Los Angeles writes: kevin, on the day of kiffin's firing, i was excited about the opportunity to get a "big name" coach. today, i think we should keep coach o. and it looks like more and more usc fans are starting to agree. at this point, if haden doesn't hire coach o, how big a name does he need to get in order to avoid a revolt? will anything less than snatching gruden or returning vince lombardi from the dead cut it?

Kevin Gemmell: Let’s see how they finish out the year before throwing a contract Ed Orgeron’s way. Will you be singing the same tune if they stumble at Colorado and/or get smacked down by UCLA?

I think Pat Haden has played this perfectly. He said from the beginning he’s going to give the job its due diligence and not going to rush to any decisions.

The more Orgeron wins, the more he pads his resume. But he also makes the program that much more attractive should an NFLer swoop in and take the gig. Six weeks ago, it was a USC team in shambles. Now it’s a top 25 program that chops down trees and can win in the clutch. In establishing his own credentials for the job, Orgeron may have piqued the interest of bigger names on the fence about taking over a sub.-500 team that smelled like Traveler’s backside.

I absolutely think Orgeron should continue to be considered for the job. We know he can recruit nationally. And right now it’s a heck of a story. These guys will eat glass for him, so long as they get cookies, burgers and shakes afterwards. They are playing inspired defense and efficient offense. From a selfish, media standpoint, I love talking to the guy, so I hope he stays in the running.

But I wouldn’t stamp it yet, and Haden shouldn’t either. Let’s see how these next two weeks play out. But if he doesn’t get the job, whoever the new guy is, his first order of business should be locking Orgeron in for a very long time.

The CEO at the McKay Center writes: Kevin, should I clear a spot on my mantel for the "Pac 12 Coach of the Year" trophy?

Kevin Gemmell: Interesting. Very, very interesting. He’s undefeated against the Pac-12. If they close the year 7-0 against the Pac-12 with Orgeron as the head coach – which includes wins over ranked Stanford and UCLA, maybe? It honestly hadn’t crossed my mind until you brought it up. I just didn’t think about it because five games were already in the books.

Let’s think about this for a second. Obvious choices: Mark Helfrich, Todd Graham or Jim Mora. Helfrich has the Stanford loss, but his team has the best chance of going on to win the conference. I think if Graham goes on to win the South and is competitive in the title game, or wins the conference, he should be a lock. Same for Mora, who I believe has done phenomenal work considering the off-the-field tragedy his team has had to deal with.

I think David Shaw’s streak of two in a row comes to an end with losses to unranked teams.

But, sure, why not Ed? I don’t have a vote. But I’d think long and hard about that one.

ESPN Commentator, Head in the Clouds: Hello, fellow ESPN employee! Did you see Myles Jack on Friday! I did and it was a spiritual experience. He's like the second coming of Jesus combined with Bo Jackson! He's the best player ever! I mean, his 59 yards SHATTERED the NCAA record for rushing in a game, and his TD runs of 8, 1, 1, and 2 yards represent the BEST running work of any player since the invention of the forward pass. The football season is no longer important as we have seen the effort for the ages. Nothing any player, especially, Manziel, Mariota, or Winston has put up this year compares the Jack's Quintuple Heisman-worthy performance! Jack for President, 2016!

Kevin Gemmell: I don’t want to speculate who sent in this particular email. But I think I have an idea based on the language, tone etc. After two and a half years, I’ve learned a little something about you guys.

I get your point. Yes, I did see the game Friday night from a bar in Columbia, South Carolina. Strangely enough, I was the only one watching.

No, I don’t think Myles Jack should be getting Heisman buzz. But yes, I do believe the excitement level is warranted.

In the last two weeks he’s turned in two of the most spectacular iron man performances in recent memory. From a pure athleticism standpoint, it’s remarkably impressive.

He’s now tied for second on the team with rushing touchdowns with five and among Bruins with at least 17 carries, he leads the team with 9.4 yards per rush.

And he’s a pretty freaking good linebacker to boot. I get that the commentary might have seemed over the top. But at the same time, dude, did you see the game?

Nick in LaLaLand writes: Hello again Kevin! I hope your stay in SEC country was filled with biscuits and gravy, polite Southern folk, and fun football. A couple of weeks ago i wrote about Pac-12 refs and how many times obvious calls seem to be missed, inexplicably. You responded with a valid point: the speed of the game in the conference can make it difficult for refs to keep up sometimes. One call at the USC-Stanford game the other night though seemed like a no brainer, and the speed of the game is no excuse in this case. The phantom first down call--what gives? It's a moot point now, but this isn't the first time, in general, I’ve seen this in football. Is the end of the chain the first down or does the ball have to completely go past the pole? But goodness heck of a game. Glad this is a mailbag and not an answering machine since I have no voice!

Kevin Gemmell: My time at USC was awesome. (Yes, they made me call it USC, while referring to our USC as Southern Cal). Great people. Great hospitality. Chicken-fried everything. I even tried fried gator (it's like a chicken and calamari consummated their union in a vat of boiling oil). We’ll be stringing together all sorts of fun experiences from our trips abroad in the next few weeks, so keep an eye on the blogs.

I DVR’d all the Pac-12 games and have spent the last 24 hours playing catchup. I have no explanation for the first-down measurement. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.


USC hopes to match Cardinal's "bullies" 

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
10:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Like a metaphorical chicken bone stuck in their collective cardinal and gold throats, USC fans just can’t get over the fact that the No. 5 Stanford team invading the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday is perceived as more physical.

Although Stanford’s talented, veteran defense gets exceptional kudos for its manliness, it’s its physically dominant offensive line that controls games. Even Trojans interim head coach Ed Orgeron -- who hopes his own defensive line can withstand the brute onslaught of the Cardinal’s offensive front -- admits that Saturday’s game against the Bay Area Bullies will be won at the line of scrimmage.

More drama for USC, Stanford rivalry?

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
9:00
AM PT


One kick. One fumble. One stop on fourth down. Those are three different endings that led to three different white-knuckle victories for the Stanford Cardinal over USC in the last three years.

The Cardinal have dominated the series with USC of late, having won four in a row and five of the last six. But the scoreboard tells a different tale. The scoreboard shows that one missed kick, or a little more ball security, or one converted fourth down could swing the wins in favor of the Trojans.

[+] EnlargeOrgeron
AP Photo/Don RyanThe Trojans are 4-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron and a win over Stanford could go a long way towards removing that interim label.
“We expect a barn burner,” said Stanford coach David Shaw.

“It’s going to be a dog fight,” countered USC interim coach Ed Orgeron.

Stanford comes into Saturday’s game at the Coliseum teeming with confidence following last week’s 26-20 over then-No. 3 Oregon. The win moved the Cardinal into the No. 4 spot in the BCS rankings and made them the clear-cut favorites in the North Division. If the Cardinal win this weekend and next week against California in the Big Game, they’ll wrap up the division and advance to the Pac-12 title game for the second straight year.

“Honestly, in the seven years I’ve been here now, I think five of them have gone down to the wire,” Shaw said. “We expect the same thing. I don’t think anybody in our conference is surprised at how well they are playing. Good schemes, good coaches, they are healthy and they are dangerous.”

USC also has divisional hopes. Since Lane Kiffin was fired and Orgeron took over, the Trojans have gone 4-1 and are still very much in the hunt for the South Division.

This is more than just a league game for the Trojans. A victory gets a tree-sized monkey off of USC’s collective back, keeps them in the race for the South title with Arizona State and UCLA and likely will have folks in Troy asking, “Why not Coach O?”

Consider the change in attitude and production since Lane Kiffin was fired following USC’s 62-41 loss at ASU. The Trojans have beaten a pair of bowl eligible teams in Arizona and Oregon State and taken down a dangerous Utah team.

Under Orgeron the Trojans are averaging 181.2 rushing yards per game. That’s not a huge swing from the Kiffin era. The difference is they are getting better production on first down. Per ESPN Stats and Info, USC is running the ball 70 percent of the time on first down, up from 62 percent under Kiffin. The result is more yards per rush (5.8), more touchdowns (8) and more rushes of 10-plus yards (23).

That increased production on first down has led to, not shockingly, better efficiency on third down. Through their first five games, the Trojans converted on just 28 percent of their third downs. In the Orgeron era, they are up to a 36-percent conversion rate on third down, including a 52-percent conversion rate the last two games.

“I think they are just playing better,” Shaw said. “I’ll throw on top of that I think they are healthy. When Marqise Lee is banged up and so is Nelson Agholor, you take the top two fastest guys off any team and you’re not going to have the same production, not to mention they were going back and forth at quarterback … the quarterback is settled and your two big threats are back and healthy and making plays and the defense has been playing really well all year.”

The increased production of the running game has also trickled down to the quarterbacks. Under Orgeron, USC’s quarterbacks are completing 64.7 percent of their throws with six touchdowns to two interceptions.

Rumors and speculation about the USC job will continue to circulate for at least the next four to six weeks. But Orgeron has proven that the Trojans will play for him. And snapping a losing streak against the Cardinal would go a long way toward making the case for dropping “interim” from his title.

The Cardinal, however, have their own aspirations. Still in the national championship conversation, though needing some help, Stanford needs to keep winning to stay ahead of Oregon in the North Division.

Recall after beating Oregon last year, the Cardinal buckled down and topped the Bruins in back-to-back games to lock up the division and the Pac-12 title. Shaw said he’s looking for a similar back-to-business effort this weekend. Euphoric hangovers are not on the agenda.

“We don’t have time for that,” Shaw said. “The conference is too tough and going down to play at the Coliseum against USC on national TV, that’s enough to get your attention. We can’t afford to dwell on any of the things that happened last week. There’s still enough negative from last week to make sure that we carry forward and improve.”

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
6:00
AM PT
So who deserves a helmet sticker for a job well done?

Stanford: We could give a helmet sticker to RB Tyler Gaffney for his 45 carries for 157 yards. We could give it to his offensive line. We could give it to LB Shayne Skov, who led a stout defense with nine tackles, two for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Or the entire defense, which shut down the Ducks' offense. Or we could give it to David Shaw, defensive coordinator Derek Mason and the entire Stanford staff. But it's our freaking blog, so we're giving this extra large helmet sticker to the entire program.

Nelson Agholor, WR/PR, USC: Agholor caught only five passes for 35 yards, but he left little doubt about the special teams player of the week. He returned punts 75 and 93 yards for TDs in the Trojans 62-28 beatdown of California.

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: With the Sun Devils high-powerd offense stuck in second gear, Sutton led a stout defensive effort with nine tackles, a tackle for a loss and an interception, which clinched a 20-19 victory at Utah. The Utes had just 247 total yards.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: In a 59-7 win over Colorado, Price completed 21 of 29 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 29 yards and a score as the Huskies became the conference's eighth bowl-eligible team. Oh, and Price didn't throw a pass in the second half.

Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: The Bruins true freshman had eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery on defense, and he rushed for a team-high 120 yards on just six carries, including a 66-yard touchdown that gave the Bruins their final TD in a 31-26 win at Arizona.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler361236296820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense174.2218.1392.3
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring28.521.37.2