USC: Oregon State Beavers

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:00
PM PT
Well, that was interesting.

Remember how we talked about Utah-Washington State being a swing game? If the Cougars can somehow rally to find four more wins and the Utes can't find three, we're going to look back at the Cougs' 28-27 come-from-behind win as a tipping point.

The same could be said for Cal, which pulled off a double-overtime win against a feisty Colorado team to pick up win No. 3.

Let's begin with the Utes, who once again started hot in nonconference play, only to see things fall apart once league competition started. Can't blame this one on injured quarterbacks, because Utah had two opportunities in the fourth quarter with its starter to make something happen. The Pac-12 blog still thinks there are three wins out there for Utah. Of its eight remaining games, three of them are against unranked teams. The rub is that all three are on the road.

Cal also has five ranked teams still on the schedule, and the three remaining against unranked teams -- Washington State, Washington and Oregon State -- are critical. Two of the three are on the road. We're adding Cal to the projections this week. We like its moxie.

As for the Beavers, boy, that offense didn't look good. Given OSU's three unimpressive wins and one very bad loss, we're going to drop them from the projections for now, but as always reserve the right to change our minds.

We're down to just three undefeated teams left: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. And 10 teams are either halfway to a bowl game or beyond.

Here are the latest projections. As always, salt heavily.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
San Francisco Bowl: Arizona
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Washington
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State
Cactus Bowl: Utah
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: California

* at large

Top nonconference games of past 10 years

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
1:00
PM PT
With No. 7 Michigan State and No. 3 Oregon looming, the Pac-12 blog got to thinking about other games of similar magnitude over the past decade.

After taking a look back, there's only a few others that -- when they were played -- match the pedigree of Saturday's game. Dating back to the 2004 season, there have been just four other games involving a pair of teams ranked in the AP top-10.

In that same time period, there was a total of 21 games between top-25 teams. USC was involved in the most (7), followed by Oregon (3), Stanford (3), Cal (2), Oregon State (2) one each for Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington.

In chronological order, here are 10 of the most anticipated nonconference games of the past 10 years. The criteria for inclusion was simple: both teams had to be ranked and there could only be one matchup between the same teams. The second part eliminated No. 9 Cal vs. No. 23 Tennessee in 2006, No. 3 USC vs. No. 8 Ohio State in 2009 and Stanford vs. Notre Dame in 2011 and 2013 -- all of which would have been great choices, but would also have made for a less interesting look back.

Half the winners from these games finished the regular season undefeated.

(*-denotes ESPN's "College GameDay" was at the game)

2005 -- No. 5 LSU 35, No. 15 Arizona State 31: In Les Miles' first game as the coach at LSU, future No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell helped the Tigers erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win. LSU finished the year No. 6, while ASU fell out of the ranking for good in Week 6 after losing back-to-back games to No. 1 USC and No. 25 Oregon.

2005 -- No. 1 USC 34, No. 9 Notre Dame 31*: Remembered simply as the "Bush Push" game, USC quarterback Matt Leinart scored a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds thanks to a memorable shove from running back Reggie Bush. USC went undefeated the rest of the way until losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl; Notre Dame finished ranked No. 9.

2006 -- Oregon 34, No. 11 Oklahoma 33: Oregon QB Dennis Dixon scored a touchdown with 1:12 left, the Ducks recovered a controversial onside kick moments later and scored another quick touchdown take the lead. The game wasn't settled until Oregon blocked a 44-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. Oregon eventually fell from the rankings in Week 11 and Oklahoma finished the year ranked No. 11.

2007 -- No. 12 Cal 45, No. 15 Tennessee 31: A year after losing to the Vols in Knoxville, WR DeSean Jackson and RB Justin Forsett led Cal to a big win against Arian Foster and Tennessee in the season opener for both teams. Cal climbed as high as No. 2 in the rankings before finishing unranked and Tennessee finished No. 12.

2007 -- No. 1 USC 49, No. 14 Nebraska 31*: USC led 42-10 at one point and rushed for 313 yards as a team. Coincidentally, Nebraska Sam Keller was ASU's QB in the 2005 game against LSU. USC finished No. 3; Nebraska lost six of its final seven to finish 5-7.

2008 -- No. 1 USC 35, No. 5 Ohio State 3*: QB Mark Sanchez and the Trojans handed Ohio State its third-worst loss in 20 years. USC finished No. 3; Ohio State finished No. 6.

2009 -- No. 14 Boise State 19, No. 16 Oregon 8: Chip Kelly's first game as the Oregon head coach was remembered mostly for LeGarrette Blount's postgame punch, but it also doubled as the first game in an undefeated season for Chris Petersen's Broncos. Both teams actually improved their rankings by the season's end: Oregon finished No. 13 and Boise State No. 4.

2010 -- No. 6 TCU 30, No. 24 Oregon State 21: A year after narrowly missing out on a berth in the Rose Bowl, Oregon State opened the year with a tough loss to Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs in the second Cowboys Classic. TCU finished undefeated and ranked No. 3; Oregon State went 5-7.

2011 -- No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27*: One of just two meetings between top-5 teams on this list, Oregon's mistakes proved costly against LSU in the third Cowboys Classic. LSU went on to play for the national title and finished ranked No. 2 and Oregon won the Pac-12 and finished No. 4.

2012 -- No. 7 Notre Dame 20, No. 17 Stanford 13*: As previously noted, any of the Stanford-Notre Dame games over the past three years would have qualified, but this one was played with the most on the line. If Stanford had won, the Cardinal would have finished the year a solid candidate to play for the national title. Instead, Notre Dame finished undefeated before losing that title game to Alabama. Stanford went on to win the Pac-12 and finished ranked No. 7.

Week 1 rivalries? Coaches say no thanks

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
3:00
PM PT
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:00
PM PT
Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

Top Pac-12 players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
9:00
AM PT
Our list of the Top 25 players in the Pac-12 continues.

10. Oregon C Hroniss Grasu

Why he's ranked here: Grasu is one of three players in the conference -- all from Oregon -- to have been named first-team All-Pac-12 the last two seasons. As a junior in 2013, he was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's best center, and the undoubted leader of the Ducks' offensive line that blocked for the conference's No. 1 rushing attack. Grasu enters his final year in Eugene having started all 40 games of his career with a chance to leave his mark as one of the Ducks' all-time greats. And as good as Grasu and the line were a year ago, they should be better this year with all five starters back and some talented players behind them who could push for playing time in training camp.

9. Stanford WR Ty Montgomery

2013 stats: Caught 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns, and ranked second nationally averaging 30.3 yards per kickoff return.

Why he's ranked here: When Montgomery is on the field for Stanford, he's the team's best player. Whether that's as a receiver or kick returner, he's the one guy who has consistently proved he can change a game on any given snap. There's minimal concern he won't be 100 percent for the start of the season due to an arm injury, but Montgomery said Wednesday he's not limited when it comes to running, catching or lifting weights. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, with just 4 percent body fat, Montgomery certainly didn't look injured. "When he comes back, he might be the most explosive player in college football, and he's going to touch the ball in every single way possible," Stanford coach David Shaw said at Pac-12 media days. It remains to be seen whether we should take Shaw literally and add punt return duties to Montgomery's other responsibilities, but there have been discussion about that as well. When comparing Montgomery as a receiver to the other two receivers listed below, there's really not much separation -- a solid case can be made to have each of them in front of the other.

8. Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong

2013 stats: Caught 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year with ASU.

Why he's ranked here: Perhaps no one in the conference made as strong an immediate impact as Strong did last year after arriving at ASU from Pierce College in Los Angeles. He eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in five of his first six games and finished fourth in the Pac-12 with 1,122 receiving yards. The three players who finished ahead of him -- Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff -- are all off to the NFL. Like Montgomery, Strong is physically imposing and at 6-4, 212 pounds makes a dangerous red zone target for quarterback Taylor Kelly. Of the 25 players the Pac-12 blog has deemed the conference's best, Kelly-Strong is the only quarterback-receiver tandem to be included together on the list (you'll see where Kelly lands Friday morning). They're the main reason ASU coach Todd Graham proclaimed at Pac-12 media days that "This will be the best offensive football team that I've ever coached." If Strong makes the kind of jump Cooks made from 2012 to 2013, it shouldn't surprise anyone.

7. USC WR Nelson Agholor

2013 stats: Caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns and also returned kicks (17.5 avg) and punts (19.1 avg)

Why he's ranked here: On a team that featured 2012 Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee, Agholor was simply the better receiver in 2013 and his value to the Trojans stretched further than that because of how he could impact games as a return man. What Montgomery was to Stanford on kickoff returns, Agholor was for the Trojans on punt returns. He returned two for touchdowns, and his 19.1 average was a new school record and ranked second nationally. With Lee off to the NFL, a second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Agholor figures to see his receiving numbers improve -- even if that means more attention from opposing defenses. Agholor has developed a reputation for being an NFL-caliber route runner and is among the nation's most dangerous receivers after the catch. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Agholor as the No. 3 receiver on his Way-Too-Early Big Board (one spot behind Strong).

6. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion

2013 stats: Threw for a Pac-12 record 4,662 yards with 35 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Why he's ranked here: By the time the NFL draft rolls around, Mannion might just end up being the top quarterback on some teams' boards. He's that talented. With 10,436 career passing yards, Mannion already sits at No. 10 on the conference's all-time passing list and, assuming he stays healthy, should have no problem passing Matt Barkley's record of 12,327. Mannion admits he had a great relationship with former offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who left to become the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants, but he has already grown under the tutelage of Langsdorf's replacement, John Garrett. "It has been good to get another perspective, another coach to learn from," Mannion said at Pac-12 media days. "It was tough to see [Langsdorf] go, but I think it'll end up being beneficial." Mannion is also the first Oregon State player to be selected team captain three times. Kiper ranked him as the No. 2 senior NFL quarterback prospect in the country.

Check out the rest of the rankings here: Nos. 25-21, Nos. 20-16, Nos. 16-11

Preseason position reviews: Tight end

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
9:00
AM PT
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Tight end, typically a strength, is a position in transition in the conference. It feels a bit like we are grading on a curve here because there's a lot more "We'll sees" than A-list returning players, in some part because a handful of teams employ a big wide receiver instead of a true tight end.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon State: Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith are the best returning tight end tandem in the conference. Hamlett had 40 catches for 364 yards last season and Smith added 25 for 343 yards. Further, Kellen Clute hauled in 19 passes for 159 yards. Of course, the Beavers use both a tight end and an H-back, so they need numbers at the position. Those were reduced when fifth-year senior Tyler Perry, a solid run blocker, retired due to injuries, as did Hayden Craig, and incoming freshman Jake Knight opted out of football in favor of track. California transfer Jacob Wark, a part-time starter as a Bear, should work his way into the rotation, and incoming freshman Ryan Nall also might get a look.

Oregon: The Ducks seem certain to get good production at the position with some combination of Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis. Each has experience and has flashed potential, and the position should be more important now with questions at receiver due to Bralon Addison's knee injury. Brown started five games last year, Mundt had a 121-yard receiving game against Tennessee and Baylis started in the Civil War game against Oregon State.

GOOD SHAPE

USC: The Trojans lost Xavier Grimble early to the NFL draft, but Randall Telfer saw plenty of action -- though he caught only six passes last year -- and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick has plenty of upside. Incoming freshman Bryce Dixon was a highly rated recruit.

Washington: John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins is gone, and that's a big hit, but the Huskies have talent and experience returning at the position. Senior Michael Hartvigson, who has labored in Seferian-Jenkins' considerable shadow, and Josh Perkins are a good combo, while promising youngsters Darrell Daniels and David Ajamu are competing for playing time.

Utah: The Utes lost starter Jake Murphy and big WR Anthony Denham to the NFL, but they get the promising Westlee Tonga back after he missed all but four games in 2013 due to injury. Tonga has seven career receptions for 79 yards and a TD. Siale Fakailoatonga, a former walk-on, was Murphy's primary backup as a true freshman after Tonga went down, and he caught two passes for 18 yards in 2013. Harrison Handley redshirted last season after enrolling early last spring and is a candidate to compete for playing time, as is Evan Moeai.

Stanford: With Stanford's quality and depth at receiver, it will be interesting to see if tight end returns as a top offensive option, which it wasn't in 2013. The potential for the Cardinal to use multiple tight ends again in the passing and running games is certainly there. Official returning starter Charlie Hopkins is back, as are a trio of redshirts -- Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper. Stanford signed No. 1-ranked TE-Y Dalton Schultz, and he should compete for playing time immediately.

UCLA: The Bruins use a "Y" or "big" receiver instead of a traditional tight end, and Thomas Duarte is a heck of a big WR. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound true sophomore appeared in all 13 games last season and tied a school freshman record with three touchdown receptions.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost the productive Chris Coyle as well as his primary backup, Darwin Rogers. De'Marieya Nelson is an athletic option with a diverse skill set -- he's more a big receiver than a tight end at 224 pounds -- while redshirt freshman Grant Martinez ended up No. 2 on the spring depth chart.

Colorado: Senior Kyle Slavin caught nine passes in 2013. Sean Irwin saw the field as a freshman and is the top backup candidate. Freshman Connor Center played baseball, not football, in high school, but his 6-7 frame at least makes him intriguing.

Arizona: Terrence Miller operated as a big receiver/tight end last year, catching 40 passes for 467 yards, but he's gone. Former QB Josh Kern was his backup. While the position hasn't been a focal point of Rich Rodriguez's offense, it's notable that he signed two touted tight end-type players in his 2014 recruiting class. While the Wildcats are exceptionally deep at WR, the youngsters could become options in the passing game.

Washington State: Nick Begg, a 6-5, 246-pound incoming freshman, is the only player listed as a tight end on the Cougars roster, and Mike Leach has not traditionally used a tight end. Wonder if Begg said he'd sign if Leach agreed to call him a tight end and Leach said, "Sure, whatever."

California: As previously noted this spring, there is no tight end position in Cal's offense, which was probably a factor in Richard Rodgers' early jump to the NFL and Wark's decision to transfer to Oregon State. Rodgers was switched from tight end to wide receiver last season upon coach Sonny Dykes' arrival.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Lunch links: Hawaii Bowl blues

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
11:30
AM PT
Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Lunch links: Stanford's tough road

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
2:30
PM PT
You're not a wartime consigliere, Tom.

Preseason position reviews: Quarterback

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
9:00
AM PT
It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.

Links: Graham buys 'Poison' home

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
11:30
AM PT
It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

Pac-12 recruiting roundup

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
9:00
AM PT
Things might slow down a bit in the coming weeks on the recruiting trail. Coaches are probably getting in their last-minute calls before the dead period goes into effect at the end of this month.

For now, here is where the Pac-12 schools stand in the recruiting game.

As always, you can view the ESPN 300 here and the current class rankings here.

Arizona

2015 commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 1
ESPN 300 players: Keenan Walker, OT, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Arizona State

2015 commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 1
ESPN 300 players: Brady White, QB-PP, Newhall, California.

California

2015 commits: 5
ESPN 300 commits: 0

Colorado

2015 commits: 4
ESPN 300 commits: 0

Oregon

2015 commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 2
ESPN 300 players: Taj Griffin, RB, Powder Springs, Georgia; Zach Okun, OG, Newbury Park, California.

Oregon State

2015 commits: 4
ESPN 300 commits: 0

Stanford

2015 commits: 4
ESPN 300 commits: 2
ESPN 300 players: Arrington Farrar, S, College Park Georgia.; Brian Chaffin, OC, Charlotte, North Carolina.

UCLA

2015 commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN 300 players: Josh Rosen, QB-PP, Bellflower, California; Alize Jones, TE-Y, Las Vegas; Tevita Halalilo, OG, Moreno Valley, California.

USC

2015 commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 4
ESPN 300 players: Chuma Edoga, OT, Powder Springs, Georgia; Ricky Town, QB-PP, Ventura, California; Jacob Daniel, DT, Fresno, California; Cameron Smith, ILB, Granite Bay, California; Noah Jefferson, DT, Las Vegas.

Utah

2015 commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 0

Washington

2015 commits: 5
ESPN 300 commits: 1
ESPN 300 players: Jake Browning, QB-PP, Folsom, California.

Washington State

2015 commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 2
ESPN 300 players: Thomas Toki, DT, Mountain View, California; Austin Joyner, RB, Marysville, Washington.

Official Pac-12 returners

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
5:30
PM PT
The Pac-12 Media Day prospectus is out and online. It’s what I like to call a good summer beach read -- rivaling anything Dan Brown or E.L. James has ever put out.

If you’re a Pac-12 football fan, it’s your 50 Shades of Awesome!

I’ve already got mine printed out and spiral bound. It’s chock-full of good notes and stats and details about each team -- one of the most important being the “official” returning starters.

Up until now, returning starters have been mostly speculative. Things change over the course of the offseason and spring ball. Until the start of the season, assuming there are no injuries or off-field issues, the chart is the official list that we'll be working with.

Of those many returners, eight are first-team all-league performers from last season. And as you might have heard already (and if you haven't, you'll see it in every preseason Pac-12 publication), the league has quite a bit of quarterback talent coming back -- including a pair of Heisman hopefuls in Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.

The league lost a lot of it's statistical offensive giants -- including running backs Bishop Sankey and Ka'Deem Carey and wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Paul Richardson and Marqise Lee. But backs Byron Marshall of Oregon, Buck Allen of USC and receivers such as USC's Nelson Agholor, ASU's Jaelen Strong, Stanford's Ty Montgomery and Utah's Dres Anderson should provide the league with plenty of pop.

There are also plenty of defensive headliners coming back, such as defensive linemen Leonard Williams (USC), Henry Anderson (Stanford) and Hau'oli Kikaha; linebackers Eric Kendricks (UCLA), A.J. Tarpley (Stanford) and Hayes Pullard (USC); and defensive backs Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Su'a Cravens (USC) and Jordan Richards (Stanford).

We're not going to name every single player. But you get the idea. For as much as was lost, there's still a lot to be excited about for each team coming back.

Pac-12 Media Days lineup

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
7:00
PM PT
Media Days (yes, it's two days this year!) are a little more than a month away, and schools have announced who will be the face of their programs at the event, also known as Kevin and Ted’s super-fun happy place.

The festivities kick off on Wednesday, July 23 at the Paramount Theatre in Hollywood. Here’s the lineup for each school:
First thought, lots of quarterbacks. And that’s to be expected given the talent coming back in the league this year at that position. The Pac-12 blog has speculated that this might be the greatest assembly of signal-callers in league history.

I also think it’s interesting that Arizona State is the only program bringing two offensive players. With only two regular starters returning from last year’s defense, that figures to be a point of concern for the Sun Devils as they try to repeat as South Division champs. The league doesn't have any specific policies about what combination of players a school can bring.

We’ll have more posts and details as the event draws closer. Start getting your hopes up. Football is just around the corner.

Lunch links: Eagles heavy on Pac-12 QBs

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
11:30
AM PT
In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.
Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. One word: Nirvana. And I'm not talking about the band, though they would sound pretty good just about now.

To the notes!

Grant from Seattle writes: Ted, what are the odds that someone other than Cyler Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year? And who would it be -- Lindquist or Williams? I've heard some really good things about Lindquist.

Ted Miller: The Huskies QB situation will be intriguing to watch this August.

While the overwhelming sentiment is Miles is the most ready to take over for Keith Price, there are no guarantees. You, of course, start with his off-field incident after the Super Bowl. While Miles wasn't charged, there is no question that he didn't conduct himself well. Even if it was all on wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, which I find dubious, Miles' proper response would have been to grab his enraged teammate by his collar and say, "You need to shut up and chill out."

(Funny fact: I have a good buddy who might be reading this who was the captain of my high school football team and did that exact thing to me when I was acting like an imbecile. Perhaps more than once. Gemmell now has that job).

The reason I bring that up is that coach Chris Petersen has made a big deal out of OKGs -- "Our Kind of Guys." When I say big deal, I mean it's actually written in big letters beside his picture on the Huskies official website.

It's fair to ask how quickly Miles might earn OKG status, whether he's the most game-ready guy or not. My feeling with Petersen is he probably isn't going to make things easy for Miles, at least in the early going.

As for a pecking order between Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, I haven't noted an appreciable separation, at least nothing that can't be quickly overcome in fall camp.

So, to answer your question, I'd rate it a 39-percent chance that someone other than Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year.




0006shy from Los Angeles writes: hey ted, do you think the lack of conference championship games for the Big 12 and Notre Dame will hurt them when it comes to being selected for the playoff? Generally speaking won't teams that play thirteen games have stronger schedules?

Ted Miller: Yes and no.

A strong 12-game schedule will trump a weak 13-game one. An undefeated Notre Dame or undefeated Big 12 team is a very good bet for the four-team College Football Playoff because they will, more often than not, play a strong schedule.

On the other hand, it could hurt if the selection committee is comparing an array of one-loss teams, including Notre Dame and the Big 12 champion, and the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12's one-loss champs are coming off impressive victories over ranked teams just days before. There is an unavoidable what-have-you-done-for-me-lately psychology there that might be difficult to overlook.

And an "extra" quality game would bolster a team's strength of schedule of metrics.

On the other hand, Notre Dame and the Big 12 also know that a conference title game means said conference's lead team is vulnerable to a season-ruining upset.

In the end, you are hitting on a point -- one of many -- that folks will be paying attention to when the committee starts making tough distinctions.




Ed from Placentia, Calif., writes: Why is your non-important article on kendricks on a Trojan website? As a Trojan fan, I don't care what he thinks or does to prepare for this season. Write and publish articles that are important to Trojan fans? Was this an error? I really don't want to read any more bRUIN articles. I paid money to read info regarding USC.

Ted Miller: I've received more of these sorts of notes from USC fans over the past year than any previous season. The meaning is simple. USC fans are officially concerned about UCLA's rise under Jim Mora.

In 2008, this was the sort of note a UCLA fan would write.

One of the unmistakable fan psychoses I've witnessed over the years is RUNT -- Rivalry Ululation from Niggling Team -- the often irrational petulance of fans whose team is struggling while their rival is thriving. (Kevin and I have been talking about this, and Chantel may take over the Pac-12 Blog's Department of Complaints this fall).

Ed, you are a fan of USC, perhaps college football's preeminent program. Act accordingly.

But feel free to worry privately about the Bruins' rise. That is completely rational.




Matt from Oakland writes: After losing one of the Robinson twins and Jake Rodriguez recently, should Oregon be concerned at the number of good players transferring away from the program?

Ted Miller: Absolutely. You should panic. That should be your perpetual state.

It sure seems as though a gaggle of Ducks fans love to cuddle with anxiety, obsessively wringing their hands over every single negative blip for the program.

Matt, you and Keith Dennis, who also asked this question, should band together for a trip to consult with the Oracle at Delphi. Only she can provide you the knowledge you seek!

Obviously, we've been here before.

Short answer: No.

Remember all the other sorts of offseason tribulations you've been through during the Ducks greatest run in program history? The departure of a few nonstarters is not something that should ruffle your feathers.

A loss to Michigan State, now that would be time to really panic.




Jake from MTL writes: Hey Ted. Whats your prediction for Arizona starting QB?

Ted Miller: Prediction? Paaaaaaaaainnnn.

Sorry, Clubber Lang took over the mailbag for a moment. He said to tell you he "pities the fool who thinks he knows what Rich Rodriguez is thinking."

Before spring practices began, I saw senior Jesse Scroggins as a long shot. Though I'd probably still take the field over him, I'd rate him a slight frontrunner, at least based on spring practices.




Tom from Portland writes: Inexperience. Reminds me of a secondary textbook I had in Economics 201: "Lying With Numbers".Having most of your lettermen back can sometimes be a very bad thing if, for example, those same guys went 1-8 in your own conference the year before.

Ted Miller: Yes, if your returning players are uninterested bloated zombies who drank beer and played video games all summer then their experience doesn't matter.

Another thing I've learned through the years -- so much wisdom today! -- is that folks who uproot Benjamin Disraeli's quote, "Lies, damned lies and statistics," often are having an emotional reaction to statistics that don't fall in their favor.

Getting a lot of this from Arizona State fans at present. Their offseason story is to judge it irrelevant that their team lost nine defensive starters and will be relying on a bevy of players on that side of the ball this season who haven't seen a Pac-12 snap.

Leaps of faith are great. Heroic even. But the available evidence suggests reasonable people should be skeptical about the Sun Devils defense this fall. Or any other unit on any other team in which inexperienced or generally unknown players will be taking over starting roles.

Folks, returning starters is simply one way we judge teams in the preseason. It's a straightforward measure of the known. It also takes the not unreasonable position that a freshman will be better as a sophomore and sophomore will advance as a junior, etc. Doesn't always work that way, but it's perfectly logical as a predictive model.

Consider this before/after photo of Washington State safety Deone Bucannon.

He kept getting better as a returning starter, no?

Sure, some teams seem to operate in a realm where returning experience doesn't matter, most notably during dynastic runs when top recruiting rankings are piling on top of each other -- see Alabama at present and USC from 2002 to 2008.

Again, noting returning starters and lettermen isn't the end-all of analysis, but it unquestionably is a useful piece of information.




Eric from Somerset, via Boulder writes: Ted, the best-case/worst-case cannot die. Not only are they hilarious, and well written -- even the ones you probably don't like after writing them, but more importantly, What will happen to Jon Embree's daughter's bike? I have a solution. Don't worry that it may mean more work for you. You no doubt have ample free time to fill anyway, writing and rewriting pieces you don't like. Have us -- we humble Pac 12 Blog fans -- submit them. Your time "could" be cut in half, just reviewing, editing and posting, vs. writing, reviewing, editing and posting. It might even end up not sucking. Just an idea. ... Long live the Pac-12 Blog, and hopefully the best-case/worst-case scenarios. Go Buffs.

Andy from Austin, Texas writes: Ted, I have a suggestion to appease folks asking for the best/worst case series to continue, hopefully without adding to your work load too much: Why not ask for fan submissions? As an avid UW fan I would love to spend a few days perfecting a 1000-word piece about my beloved Huskies going 12-1, dropping one on the road to the frequently pesky Arizona, followed by winning the Pac-12 championship game before losing a heartbreaker to FSU in the first round of the playoffs. Similarly, I'd relish the chance to craft a couple submissions about Oregon crashing and burning to 7-6 post-Mariota injury with Phil Knight having a crisis of conscience and deciding to refocus all of his financial resources on tackling child labor laws in southeast Asia, as well as WSU flaming out to 3-9 with Mike Leach jumping ship in favor of using his law background to defend actual Somali pirates in legal proceedings. It might take some time for you and your team to read through a lot of these submissions, but that may be more amenable (and hopefully more entertaining) than to have to actually create all of these yourself. Just a thought. Love the blog.

Brian from Cincinnati writes: Hi Ted, I read your comment about the Best Case/Worst Case piece and have an idea to keep it going. Launch a reader contest and have them submit their takes -- you select and publish the best or most relevant? I'd take a crack at Oregon's if you opened it up to us readers. Thanks for what you do. Keep it going!

Ted Miller: Did you guys get together and talk about this? Lots of notes suggesting this course of action.

First of all, thanks for the kind words. Gratifying to know some folks enjoyed the pieces.

I am intrigued. Let me give this some thought. Maybe I can set up an email box for folks to send in their work/ideas.

Going on vacation next week, so I can let this marinate.

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PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler413292350536
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Offense158.2294.6452.8
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