NCF Nation: California Bears

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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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.

Position U: Running backs

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
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Who really deserves to claim the title of "Running Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Arkansas (104 points)
In perhaps the biggest upset at any position, Arkansas can call itself “Running Back U” for the 2000s. Certainly Darren McFadden played the biggest role in the Razorbacks’ claim, but he got an assist from Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Those former backfield mates are among six Arkansas running backs who have been drafted since 2001, helping the Hogs barely edge Oklahoma for the top spot.

Award winners: McFadden, Walker (2006, 2007), Camp (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: McFadden (2006, 2007).
First-team all-conference: Fred Talley (2002), Cedric Cobbs (2003), Darren McFadden (2005, 2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2008), McFadden (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cobbs (Round 4, 2004), Knile Davis (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Hillis (Round 7, 2008), Kiero Small (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (102 points)
When someone like Adrian Peterson has been on your campus, you have to start there when discussing Oklahoma running backs. But one of the main reasons the Sooners racked up such a considerable point total is the Big 12’s unusual practice of honoring fullbacks on its all-conference team. In addition to the Petersons and DeMarco Murrays, there are also several blocking backs included in the Sooners’ 12 all-conference running backs who made our list.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Peterson (2004).
First-team all-conference: Quentin Griffin (2002), Peterson (2004, 2005, 2006), J.D. Runnels (2005), Brody Eldridge (2007), DeMarco Murray (2008, 2010), Matt Clapp (2008), Trey Millard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Peterson (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Griffin (Round 4, 2003), Murray (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Runnels (Round 6, 2006), Patrick (Round 7, 2008), Trey Millard (Round 7, 2014).

3. Alabama (100 points)
Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams had better pick it up this season, or the Alabama train is going to roll to the top spot. The Crimson Tide once again has one of the nation’s most talented backfields with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry set to join the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy as top point producers from Alabama.

Award winners: Ingram, Heisman (2009); Richardson, Walker (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011).
First-team all-conference: Kenneth Darby (2005), Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011), Lacy (2012), Yeldon (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ingram (2011), Richardson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Le’Ron McClain (Round 4, 2007), Glen Coffee (Round 3, 2009), Lacy (Round 2, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ahmaad Galloway (Round 7, 2003), Darby (Round 7, 2007), Brad Smelley (Round 7, 2012).

4. Auburn (86 points)
Auburn hasn’t been as flashy as its in-state rival -- the Tigers don’t have a single award winner or consensus All-American in the 2000s -- but few schools have been as consistent at developing solid tailbacks. Perhaps the most memorable names are the stars from the undefeated 2004 team -- Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams -- but Rudi Johnson, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate and Tre Mason all made big impacts at Auburn, as well.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2000), Williams (2003, 2004), Brown (2004), Irons (2005, 2006), Michael Dyer (2011), Mason (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brown (2005), Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Heath Evans (Round 3, 2001), Johnson (Round 4, 2001), Irons (Round 2, 2007), Tate (Round 2, 2010), Mason (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jay Prosch (Round 6, 2014).

4. Wisconsin (86 points)
Montee Ball is Wisconsin’s only major award winner and consensus All-America tailback from the 2000s, but the Badgers have an impressive tradition of turning out 1,000-yard rushers. Among the program’s top producers from this era are 2001 first-round pick Michael Bennett, Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, among others. Ball posted huge yardage and touchdown totals in 2011 and 2012 -- which explains why he was a two-time All-American and won the 2012 Doak Walker Award -- but it’s the run of consistency at running back that makes Wisconsin a producer of top rushers.

Award winners: Ball, Walker (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Ball (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Davis (2001), Calhoun (2005), P.J. Hill (2006), John Clay (2009), Ball (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bennett (2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Calhoun (Round 3, 2006), Ball (Round 2, 2013), James White (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Davis (Round 7, 2005), Bradie Ewing (Round 5, 2012).

6. Oregon (82 points)
Although the Ducks have ranked among the nation’s top programs over the past half-decade, LaMichael James’ 2010 Doak Walker Award is the only major award that an Oregon player has won at any position in the 2000s. James is the Ducks’ top point producer out of the backfield in recent years, but they also won points with backs like Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith before Chip Kelly’s rushing attack turned Oregon into the offensive juggernaut that we see today.

Award winners: James, Walker (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: James (2010), Kenjon Barner (2012).
First-team all-conference: Smith (2002), Jonathan Stewart (2007), James (2010, 2011), Barner (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Stewart (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Morris (Round 2, 2002), Smith (Round 4, 2003), LaMichael James (Round 2, 2012), De’Anthony Thomas (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Barner (Round 6, 2013).

7. USC (78 points)
Reggie Bush was actually a two-time All-American, but we aren’t factoring the 2004 nod he received because that was as an all-purpose player, not a running back. Nonetheless, Bush’s standout 2005 season was the main points driver as the Trojans cracked the top 10 largely because of the former No. 2 overall NFL pick’s accomplishments. It bears mentioning, however, that USC has already had eight running backs drafted in the 2000s.

Award winners: Bush, Heisman (2005), Camp (2005), Walker (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Bush (2005).
First-team all-conference: Bush (2004, 2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bush (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Fargas (Round 3, 2003), LenDale White (Round 2, 2006), Joe McKnight (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Malaefou Mackenzie (Round 7, 2003), David Kirtman (Round 5, 2006), Allen Bradford (Round 6, 2011), Stanley Havili (Round 7, 2011).

8. Penn State (72 points)
Larry Johnson’s huge 2002 season accounts for much of Penn State’s point production -- he generated 52 points between winning three national awards, becoming a consensus All-American, winning first-team all-conference honors and getting drafted in the 2003 first round -- but the Nittany Lions have had five running backs drafted and Evan Royster also won all-conference honors in 2009.

Award winners: Johnson, Camp (2002), Maxwell (2002), Walker (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Johnson (2002).
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2002), Royster (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Johnson (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Omar Easy (Round 4, 2002), Michael Robinson (Round 4, 2006), Tony Hunt (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Royster (Round 6, 2011).

9. Oklahoma State (70 points)
There’s nothing flashy about Oklahoma State’s point production here. No national awards, and just Kendall Hunter among its All-Americans. But the Cowboys have been outstanding at producing all-conference running backs, with Hunter (twice) and Tatum Bell ranking among their eight backs who made the coaches’ first team.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Hunter (2010.
First-team all-conference: Bell (2003), Dantrell Savage (2007), Hunter (2008, 2010), Keith Toston (2009), Bryant Ward (2009, 2010), Joseph Randle (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Bell (Round 2, 2004), Vernand Morency (Round 3, 2005), Hunter (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Randle (Round 5, 2013).

10. California (66 points)
Considering how Cal shares a conference with splashy programs like Oregon and USC, perhaps it’s understandable that its success developing tailbacks might fly a bit under the radar. But just look at the Bears’ résumé, starting with Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and J.J. Arrington. There have been some enormously productive tailbacks who got their start in Berkeley.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Arrington (2004).
First-team all-conference: Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), Arrington (2004), Lynch (2006), Justin Forsett (2007), Best (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Lynch (2007), Best (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Arrington (Round 2, 2005), Shane Vereen (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Echemandu (Round 7, 2004), Forsett (Round 7, 2008).

10. Virginia Tech (66 points)
Frank Beamer’s Hokies are another bunch who trotted out productive tailback after productive tailback. Virginia Tech hasn’t won a national award and has only Kevin Jones among its All-America backs, but its list of all-conference backs -- including first-round picks Jones and David Wilson, along with Lee Suggs, Brandon Orr and Ryan Williams -- features some players whose running abilities fit perfectly with Beamer’s winning formula in Blacksburg.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jones (2003).
First-team all-conference: Suggs (2000), Jones (2003), Orr (2006), Williams (2009), Wilson (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2004), Wilson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Suggs (Round 4, 2003), Williams (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jarrett Ferguson (Round 7, 2002), Cedric Humes (Round 7, 2006).

REST OF “RUNNING BACK U” RANKINGS
62 -- Boston College; 60 -- Michigan, Ohio State; 58 -- Stanford; 56 -- LSU, Miami; 52 -- Georgia Tech, Oregon State; 50 -- West Virginia; 48 -- BYU; 44 -- Arizona, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, TCU; 42 -- Texas; 40 -- Clemson, Iowa, Nebraska; 36 -- Kansas State, Rutgers; 32 -- Georgia, Minnesota; 28 -- Florida State, Louisville, Tennessee, UCLA; 26 -- Illinois, Maryland, Syracuse; 24 -- Virginia; 20 -- Colorado, North Carolina; 18 -- Baylor, Mississippi State, Wake Forest; 16 -- Florida, Northwestern, Washington, Washington State; 14 -- Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas Tech; 12 -- Iowa State, Kentucky; 10 -- Kansas, N.C. State, Texas A&M; 8 -- Missouri, Utah; 6 -- Arizona State, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame; 2 -- Vanderbilt

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.
Spring is about rebirth and renewal, but for members of the California football program, it's going to include more dissecting of an ugly corpse than the Bears would like. The players and coaches are going to be asked about the 2013 season over and over again by reporters and fans. The redundant interview process will start off as painful, become boring and then transform into an annoyance.

Fortunately, the Pac-12 blog was Cal quarterback Jared Goff's first interview in advance of spring practices, which start March 31.

"I'm not too worried about [the questions]," Goff said. "Obviously, I don't want to answer them but I'm going to have to. It's something we did. Cal football did that last year. We're moving on from that, but it's something we did, and we're going to have to use it as motivation. We're going to get a lot better from it."

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillJared Goff and Cal are focused on putting last season's struggles behind them.
What Cal "did" last year was stink up the joint. The Bears finished 1-11 and produced their worst defense in program history. It was further deflating that the woeful campaign sapped fan enthusiasm that surrounded the hiring of Sonny Dykes, as well as curtailed the positive momentum produced by the program's shiny renovated stadium and upgraded facilities.

While the defense inspired the most forehead slapping last fall -- and cost coordinator Andy Buh and two other defensive coaches their jobs -- the offense, Dykes' specialty, wasn't exactly collecting accolades either. While Goff piled up passing numbers, ranking third in the Pac-12 with 331.4 yards per game, little else went well.

The Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation with just 23 points per game. While the total yardage numbers looked solid -- 453.6 yards per game -- they were deceiving. The Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 and 98th in the nation in yards per play (5.2 ypp). The Bears were last in the conference third-down conversion percentage and last in redzone offense.

Goff himself ranked 11th in the conference in passing efficiency and last in the conference in ESPN.com's Total Quarterback Rating.

Of course, completing 60 percent of your passes for 3,508 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions doesn't look as bad when you recall Goff was a true freshman playing behind a makeshift offensive line that offered up five different starting lineups over the course of the season.

Goff called the lost 2013 campaign "extremely disappointing." While it seemed that Cal, at least competitive early in the season, lost its confidence and motivation as the season went on, Goff said his confidence never flagged, and he approached every game believing the Bears were just a few plays from breaking through.

"I wouldn't say worn down," he said. "Obviously, we were tired of losing. We wanted to start winning. But as the season went on we never got over the hump, never broke through and made that play that could change the outcome of the game."

Let's also not forget the Bears suffered through epidemic injuries on both sides of the ball, the impact being compounded by many of those sidelined guys being the team's best players.

Citing injuries can be called an excuse. But, well, come on. Cal had 13 projected starters miss multiple games or suffer season-ending injuries, most falling into the latter category. The starting lineup for the season-finale against Stanford featured nine freshmen, seven sophomores and just two seniors.

Yes, it's an excuse, but it's a pretty good one.

"I tend to forget about that because you don't like to make that an excuse but that's a good point," Goff said." We had the worst luck. I hate to make that excuse but that just happens some times where the wrong guys get injured."

From a cynical perspective -- who us? -- Cal is almost certain to be better in 2014 because it can't be much worse. But from a not unreasonable optimistic perspective, Cal is almost certain to be better because it's got potential, despite several unexpected offseason defections to early-entry in the NFL draft or transfer.

For one, Goff is a second-year starter. He knows the speed of the game and has a year of seasoning with Dykes' scheme. Further, he has a strong and deep crew of receivers coming back. His top two receivers, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, a potentially A-list tandem, return after combining for 147 receptions last fall, and two other returning wideouts caught more than 25 passes in 2013. If Goff gets time to throw, the passing numbers will be there, and they should be attained with more efficiency.

"We're so deep across the board [at receiver]," Goff said. "Everyone is going to be contributing this year. It's ridiculous how deep we are at receiver. I feel we have three good players at every position."

Goff said he's put on "five or 10 pounds" onto his 6-foot-4 frame, though he also said he's tipping the scale at just 200 pounds, five below his listed weight in 2013. He said he feels stronger mentally and physically, both as a player and a leader. What transpired last fall feels like a distant memory.

"It feels like it was so long ago when we were playing," he said. "I watch film of myself, and that feels like years ago."

He said the offseason message from Dykes has been simple: Work hard. Get better. Improve. We have the players who can win.

Finding offseason motivation hasn't been difficult. Just recalling what happened last season is enough. And if anyone has pushed it out of his mind, interviews in advance of and during spring practices will provide regular reminders.

Goff sees a bright side.

"In the long run," he said, "when we do what we want to do, it's going to feel that much better, knowing where we came from."

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Here's what we learned in the Pac-12 in Week 12:

Oregon is the Rose Bowl favorite: For the first time all year, Oregon seems destined for the Rose Bowl -- the game, not just the stadium. The Ducks were pegged for the national title game before losing to Stanford last week, which figured to have shipped them to a BCS bowl elsewhere. But after USC’s upset win over the Cardinal, Oregon again stands to host the Pac-12 championship game, which will send the winner to the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesQuarterback Cody Kessler and the Trojans got a huge upset victory over Stanford.
Orgeron makes his case: The almost instantaneous turnaround of the USC program under interim coach Ed Orgeron isn’t going unnoticed. When Lane Kiffin was fired, Orgeron figured to be merely a means to get to the end of the season before a big-name savior could be hired. Less than two months later, Orgeron has the Trojans playing like, well, you’d expect USC to play. The Coliseum is filling up again, the Trojans have reintroduced the forward pass and now own a win against a top-five opponent. If he wasn’t a serious candidate to replace Kiffin at the end of September, that has probably changed.

WSU a bowl threat: Needing two wins with three games to go, Washington State snapped a three-game losing streak at Arizona to take a big step toward returning to the postseason for the first time since 2003. The 24-17 win marked the team’s most important victory since taking down the Trojans at the Coliseum on Sept. 7 and is arguably -- considering the circumstances -- the team’s most complete win of the season. Utah’s trip to Pullman next week will essentially serve as a semifinal game for each team’s postseason hopes. If WSU loses, it still has the Apple Cup the following week, but Cougars fans would like nothing more than to lock up bowl eligibility at Martin Stadium. Will students delay the start of their Thanksgiving break to remain in town?

Injuries unearth strength for UCLA: A week ago, the Bruins’ desperate need for help at running back led coach Jim Mora to call on freshman linebacker Myles Jack, who responded with 120 yards on six carries. Mora played coy throughout the week as to the chances that Jack would be back with the offense, but it became obvious early in UCLA’s 41-31 win against Washington that the former Bellevue (Wash.) High two-way star’s performance earned a bigger role. Four touchdowns later, it’ll be hard to justify leaving Jack on the sideline when UCLA has the ball if/when the health situation improves in the backfield.

Cal is conference’s worst: Someone had to win. Someone had to snap a double-digit conference losing streak. Not only did Colorado pull it off, it turned it into a lopsided affair, winning 41-24. With only Stanford remaining, Cal is all but assured to become the 19th team since the Pac-8 was formed in 1968 to finish conference play without a win. One of those teams was Cal in 2001, which led to the dismissal of Tom Holmoe and the hiring of Jeff Tedford. Tedford, of course, was replaced by Sonny Dykes this season.

Another step back for Washington: Since peaking at No. 15 in the AP poll after its 4-0 start, Washington has failed to meet expectations. The first big blow was the 53-24 loss to Arizona State, and Friday’s loss to UCLA again stamped the Huskies as a third-tier program in the conference. Next week’s trip to Corvallis will be another benchmark test for the Huskies before they try to reclaim the Apple Cup on Nov. 29. If the UW athletic department is looking for a positive byproduct of the recent 2-4 stretch, it’s that the Sarkisian-for-USC campaign has died down significantly.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
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Here are the players who earned helmet stickers in the Pac-12 in Week 12:

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: Halliday completed 36 of 53 passes for 319 yards, none more important than a 25-yard strike to Isiah Myers for a touchdown with 2:15 left. The score stood as the game-winner as WSU improved to 5-5 -- one game shy of bowl eligibility.

Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: After running for four touchdowns in the Bruins’ 41-31 win against UCLA, Jack maintained he’s “still defense all the way.” Could have fooled us. Jack became the first UCLA player since Maurice Jones-Drew to pull off the feat and is now tied with Jordan James for second on the team with five rushing scores despite playing offense in just two games.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey cracked the 100-yard mark for the 13th straight game, running for 132 yards on 26 carries and a score. The Doak Walker Award semifinalist came into the game No. 2 in the nation, averaging 152.6 yards per game.

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards and broke the school’s single-season receiving record in the process. He surpassed the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson and sits at 1,201 receiving yards on the year.

Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: Grice ran for 118 yards on 24 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ win against Oregon State. ASU remains in control in the Pac-12 South with an important showdown with UCLA looming next week.

Andre Heidari, K, USC: Heidari’s day didn’t start too well when he missed the PAT following USC’s first touchdown of the game. But he redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal in the final minute to lift USC over No. 4 Stanford, 20-17.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Stanford’s loss won’t fall on Gaffney’s shoulders. The senior carried 24 times for 158 yards and a pair of scores, including a highlight-reel quality 35-yarder in the first quarter.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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Here are a few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Welcome, Coach O: The USC Trojans will make their debut with Ed Orgeron running the show. Considered a fiery alternative to his predecessor, the former Ole Miss coach says he’s been putting an emphasis on bringing fun back to football. The Trojans, who face the Arizona Wildcats tonight, are 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 2001, when they started 0-3. The last USC coach to lose his debut was John Robinson in his second stint in 1993. Not sayin' … just sayin'.
  2. Speaking of that game: The past six matchups between Arizona and USC has been decided by a touchdown or less. Of the 35 meetings, 15 have been within a touchdown. The Trojans and Wildcats have split their past four meetings, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
  3. Get up for "GameDay"! ESPN’s "College GameDay" is making its first appearance in Seattle for Saturday’s showdown between the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies. Just a reminder, the Ducks have won nine straight in the series -- all by at least 17 points and with a 26-point average margin of victory. This is the second time in as many weeks the Huskies will face a top-5 opponent after falling 31-28 last week to No. 5 Stanford.
  4. [+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington State quarterback Connor Halliday won a shootout against Cal.
  5. Conference of quarterbacks: Some quarterback numbers from our friends at the Pac-12 office: “Pac-12 quarterbacks continue to put up impressive numbers each weekend. Washington State’s Connor Halliday [521 yards] and California’s Jared Goff [504 yards] combined for 1,025 passing yards in WSU’s 44-22 win at Cal. It was the most passing yards by two opposing players in a Conference game. Four Pac-12 quarterbacks ranked among the top eight in the FBS in passing yards per game -- No. 1 Oregon State’s Sean Mannion (403.6 YPG), No. 3 California’s Goff (364.2 YPG), No. 5 Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly (346.4 YPG) and No. 8 Washington State’s Halliday (332.2 YPG).”
  6. North vs. South: Just an update on how things are going in the unofficial rivalry. The North division is 6-0 against teams from the South division. There’s a good chance the Bruins -- the only South team yet to play a team from the North -- break up the no-hitter with a visit from California, which has dropped nine straight games to FBS opponents. That is one of two interdivision games this weekend. Stanford’s trip to Utah is the other. The Bruins are 4-0 for the first time since 2005 and are coming off a six-interception performance against Utah.
  7. Everyone in action: Did you know there are only three weeks out of the entire season in which every Pac-12 team is playing against another Pac-12 team? This is the first one. Every team played in Week 3, but mostly against nonconference foes. The next time this happens will be in Week 12, then again in Week 13.
  8. 55 for six? Last week, we asked if the Ducks could break 50 points for the fifth straight game. They did, becoming the first team since 1885 to start the season with five straight wins with 55 points or more. Now they’ll look to become the first team to do it six times in a row since Oklahoma in 2008.
  9. Must-see TV: Better yet, see it live. Stanford makes its first trip to Utah since the Utes joined the conference. The teams haven’t played since 1996. It’s been hard luck for the Utes so far in conference play, having dropped an overtime game to Oregon State and then falling by a touchdown last week to UCLA. Coach Kyle Whittingham talked this week about the need to be stronger on first and second down to give his team a more manageable third down. Utah is just 3-of-27 on third downs in its past two games. On the flip side, Stanford will look to rebound from a shaky offensive performance in the win over Washington. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has thrown an interception in four straight games.
  10. Elite receivers: Two of the league’s top receivers square off when Colorado travels to Arizona State. The Buffs' Paul Richardson has four plays of 50 yards or more and has three 100-yard receiving games this season. Also with three 100-yard games is ASU’s Jaelen Strong, the junior college transfer who has made an immediate impact for the Sun Devils. OSU’s Brandin Cooks still leads the league with 10.4 receptions per game, but Strong and Richardson are right behind, tied for second with 7.8 per game.
  11. Bowl implications: Oregon State heads to Washington State with four wins. The Cougs likewise have four wins -- making this a critical game for postseason hopes. Both teams have a challenging second half of the schedule, so this one feels like one of those must-win games to keep bowl hopes alive and well. Don’t expect a ton of play on the ground. As noted above, Cooks leads the league in receptions and Oregon State has the No. 1 passing offense with 21 touchdowns and 420.6 yards per game with Mannion at the helm. Washington State is third in passing offense (359.7 yards per game) and tied for second in the league with 15 passing touchdowns. The Beavers and Cougars rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in the league in rushing offense. Speaking of bowls, more of a formality, but Stanford and Oregon can become bowl eligible with a win.

1. No. 7 Georgia lost two receivers and a tailback to knee injuries Saturday, which is something to which the Dawgs’ next opponent, Missouri, can relate. The Tigers had so many injuries during last season’s 5-7 SEC debut that head coach Gary Pinkel revamped his entire practice and training regimen, eliminating two-a-days and reducing contact drills. Missouri is 5-0, ranked No. 25 and its starters have a missed a total of three games because of injury.

2. Here’s what I noticed about the 13 names reported to be on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Three people have won a national championship (Pat Haden as a player, Tom Osborne as a coach and Barry Alvarez as an assistant). There are more former quarterbacks (four) than former head coaches (three, and Ty Willingham is on both lists). If Stanford comes up for discussion, Willingham and Condoleezza Rice would have to leave the room, but what would West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck do?

3. No. 11 UCLA should move to 5-0 this week by defeating a Cal team that is 0-4 against FBS opponents. That would set up not only a showdown the following week at No. 4 Stanford but it would put the Bruins on the cusp of returning to the top 10 for the first time in eight seasons. Since the glory days under Bob Toledo, when the Bruins appeared in the top 10 in four of five years from 1997-2001, UCLA has appeared in the top 10 for a total of three weeks. A long drought appears to have ended in Westwood.

Goff will try to match Mariota in Autzen

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
5:30
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California quarterback Jared Goff is the Pac-12's new big thing. The true freshman is headed Saturday to Autzen Stadium to play opposite the conference's biggest thing, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.

Goff presently leads the nation in passing with 435.3 yards per game. Mariota presently, well, leads the nation, see the latest ESPN.com Heisman Watch poll, where he ranks No. 1 by a wide margin.

Goff has been throwing the ball all over the place -- sometimes not in the right place -- while the Bears have been playing one of the nation's toughest schedules. The No. 2 Ducks will be Cal's third ranked foe in the first four games and second top-five team.

Mariota? He's pretty much been doing whatever he wants. He ranks 14th in the nation with 296.3 yards passing per game and second in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QB Rating. The Ducks have dominated an early schedule that included AQ conference foes Virginia and Tennessee, ranking second in the nation in scoring (61.3 points per game) and rushing (355.3 yards per game).

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCal QB Jared Goff leads the nation in passing with 435.3 yards per game.
Goff is the up-and-comer on a team trying to regain its mojo under new coach Sonny Dykes. Mariota is the superstar on a team trying to win a national championship under new coach Mark Helfrich.

"They are as good an offense as I've seen," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "They are really playing at a high level. They've got a lot of weapons. They haven't turned the ball over this year."

That last point is most notable. Cal has turned the ball over six times, including four interceptions from Goff. Two of those picks went back the other way for touchdowns in the season opener against Northwestern, or that 44-30 defeat might have turned out differently.

Dykes lauds Goff for his ability to distribute the ball to playmakers, his accuracy and his knack for working within the pocket. It's not surprising, though, that when assessing the negatives thus far that Dykes sites Goff's decision-making and tendency to force the football into tight spaces.

That said, it's difficult to argue that Goff hasn't exceeded preseason expectations after surprising many when he beat out touted redshirt freshman Zach Kline in the preseason.

"The good thing about Jared is you can see him get better practice to practice," Dykes said. "He continues to improve every day."

The next test for Goff is playing in a hostile road venue, and road venues don't get much more hostile than Autzen Stadium. Which brings us to another notable Goff characteristic, one he shares with Mariota: a seeming unflappability.

While Mariota comes at it with a genial, mellow humility that belies his fancypants playmaking, Goff conducts interviews not unlike his QB hero, former Cal great Aaron Rodgers. He's laconic and all business.

When asked if anything has surprised him since making the jump from Marin Catholic to the Pac-12, Goff said, "On TV it looks like more than it is on the field." Meaning when you get past all the pageantry in major college football, it's still just football.

As for specifically playing in Autzen, he said he expects the experience to be "fun." He said noise won't be a factor because the Bears offense operates almost entirely on hand signals. Nerves? Nope.

"I don't anticipate having any sort of different feelings than I would if it were a home game," he said. "It's a regular game. We're just playing in front of a bunch of crazy people."

Of course, those are just words. Dykes admits you never know how a young guy will react on the road. Take Mariota. As a redshirt freshman last year, he made his first career road start against Washington State in CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and it was his worst game of the season. He threw two of his season's six interceptions, his only game with more than one pick.

Goff is wired well, but he simply doesn't yet understand how different the atmosphere of a road game is.

"What he does is a great job of not worrying about anything but just going out there and playing football and doing what he is coached to do," Dykes said. "We'll see how he responds, but I expect him to respond well. You never know until a young player gets put into that situation."

A bigger problem is Oregon itself. The Ducks offense likely will roll up points against the conference's No. 12 scoring defense (42 ppg). That will put pressure on Goff and his unit to keep up. Throwing 50-plus balls into the Ducks secondary, one of the nation's best, doesn't seem ideal.

Yet Goff seems undaunted.

"We're going to take it as a challenge and go up there and do what we do every day," he said. "We really feel our offense can score on anybody."

It's an interesting matchup, Goff versus Mariota. But the matchup of the new big thing and the established big thing probably will come down to Mariota having a lot more big things around him.

Freshmen impact in the Pac-12

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
10:30
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Pretty much every team plays true freshmen. But how much of an impact are those freshmen having on the game? Through four weeks, some have made immediate impacts. Others have seen some mop-up time. Across the ESPN blogosphere this morning, we’re looking at the five teams in each conference who have had freshmen make the greatest impacts on their team.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCal signal-caller Jared Goff is off to a big start in his career.
1. California: The quarterback is the most important position, and anytime you have a true freshman playing quarterback, it’s going to have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. So far, quarterback Jared Goff has risen to the occasion, even if it hasn’t translated into wins for the Bears. He leads the country in total offense. He’s completing 61 percent of his passes (103-of-168) and has seven touchdowns to four interceptions. Goff is one of seven true freshmen who have seen time for the Bears. Running back Khalfani Muhammad is tied for second on the team with 21 carries (97 yards, one touchdown).

2. UCLA: The Bruins have played 16 true freshmen so far, which, as of last week, was second in the country only to Texas A&M. Linebacker Myles Jack has had the biggest impact with 14 tackles, including two for a loss and a team-high four pass breakups. They are also getting good production from Eddie Vanderdoes, who had two tackles for a loss against New Mexico State, and offensive lineman Alex Redmond has started all three games at guard.

3. USC: The Trojans have gotten impact performances on both sides of the ball from their freshmen. Seven have seen the field for the Trojans. Safety Su’a Cravens has been as advertised so far with 18 tackles, half a tackle for a loss, and an interception. With Silas Redd out, running back Justin Davis has supplemented Tre Madden nicely. In four games, Davis has rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 47.2 yards per game and a team-high 5.9 yards per carry.

4. Washington State: The Cougars have gotten quality -- not necessary quantity -- out of their true freshmen. They have only played four. But two of them are getting quality playing time and making significant contributions. Cornerback Daquawn Brown made his first career start against USC and posted a team high 11 tackles while breaking up two passes. He also had an interception against Southern Utah. Wide receiver River Cracraft is fourth on the team with 10 catches for 111 yards.

5. Colorado: The Buffs aren’t going as young as they did last year, but they are still getting production from their rookies. And they have found something special in linebacker Addison Gillam. Through two games he’s the Buffs leading tackler with 20 stops -- including a sack, two tackles for a loss and five stops on third down. He also blocked a punt. Defensive end Jimmie Gilbert should also continue to see time. In 64 snaps he has three tackles and a sack.

Honorable mentions

These guys have been impactful, but chances are their teams would still have had success if they weren’t on the field based on quality of competition and/or depth at a position. But their contributions shouldn’t be overlooked.

  • Oregon TE John Mundt: Five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Oregon RB Thomas Tyner: 12 carries for 80 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Arizona LB Scooby Wright: 13 tackles, three for a loss.
  • Oregon State KR Victor Bolden: 19 returns, 365 yards, 19.2 average.
  • Utah LS Chase Dominguez: Haven’t heard his name before? Good. You shouldn’t. He’s a long snapper.
  • Arizona State K Zane Gonzalez: Has converted 4 of 7 field goals with a long of 40 and is 3-4 inside 40 yards. 13 of 13 on PATs.
  • Washington KR John Ross: Six kick returns for 112 yards (18.7 average). Three punt returns for 16 yards (5.3 average).

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
12:00
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The Pac-12 blog might be going off the rails here, but the weekend results suggested that the pool of potential bowl teams perhaps should widen. So we have projected 10 bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams, which means we've included two teams getting selected for at-large berths in bowls that are not contracted to the conference.

Of course, many teams with early optimism should keep in mind the schedule ahead. I know Utah fans are happy with a 2-0 start, but they should look at the schedule and see if they are confident four more wins lie ahead. It certainly won't be easy, as the toughest part has yet to come.

Further, as bad as USC looked against Washington State, the Trojans can't possibly be headed for a losing season ... can they? And what about Oregon State: Was the Eastern Washington game merely just one of those college football oddities? And can Washington State keep winning?

Lots of questions, which makes sense because these are bowl projections for just WEEK 2.

We still like Stanford atop the conference. But the Ducks sure did look good at Virginia.

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

 

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
9:00
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So who deserves a helmet sticker for a job well done?

Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Sure, it was against Sacramento State, but Kelly was darn near perfect in a 55-0 win. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 300 yards with five TDs and no interceptions. That earned a 96.3 Total QBR rating (out of 100) from ESPN.com Stats & Info.

Travis Wilson, QB, Utah: Again, we don't get too excited about games against FCS teams, but Wilson has been sharp in two consecutive starts. In the 70-7 win over Weber State, he completed 14 of 19 passes for 264 yards with three TDs and no interceptions. He also rushed three times for 93 yards and two scores, one a 51-yarder.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon: Thomas, looking like a much more polished, complete running back than in the past, rushed for 124 yards on just 11 carries -- 11.3 yards per pop -- and scored three TDs in the Ducks' blowout win. He also caught one pass for 28 yards, but his catching just one ball shows that he's really a RB and not as much a "slash."

Jared Goff, QB, California: Goff completed 30 of 47 passes for 457 yards with two touchdowns in the Bears' comeback 37-30 win over Portland State, an FCS team. ... While he wasn't always on target -- he missed a number of potential big plays -- he didn't throw any interceptions. He had three while also putting up big numbers last week in the loss to Northwestern, including a pair of pick-6s. The true freshman has already thrown for 900 yards this year.

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Two games, two 200-yard receiving games. Richardson caught 11 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the Buffaloes' 38-24 win over Central Arkansas. The Buffs went 1-11 last year without Richardson. They are 2-0, in large part because he's back.

Oregon State's defense: A week after becoming a national laughingstock for their horrid performance against Eastern Washington, the Beavers' D bounced back against Hawaii, holding the Rainbow Warriors to 239 total yards and no second-half points in a 33-14 victory.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: His suspension ended in the second quarter with a bang when he took his first carry 58 yards for a TD. He finished with 171 yards on 16 carries -- 10.7 yards per carry average -- with two touchdowns in the Wildcats' blowout victory.

Damante Horton, CB, Washington State: His 70-yard interception return provided the Cougars their only TD in a 10-7 win over USC. It was the most memorable of his two picks -- one for each Trojans QB. He also had two tackles for a loss among his four total tackles.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Gaffney returned to college football after a year off playing pro baseball by rushing for 104 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns in the Cardinal's 34-13 win over San Jose State.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
8:01
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Kevin went 9-1 last week. Ted went 8-2.

The difference was Ted incorrectly picking California to upset Northwestern. And everyone knows Cal would have won if Ted had picked Northwestern because that's what Cal does to Ted. It ignores him.

Cal, why can't I quit you?!

Thursday

Sacramento State at Arizona State

Kevin Gemmell: Tougher games loom in the coming weeks. But I don’t see being shocked by a Football Championship Subdivision team on ASU’s agenda. I’m predicting an Oregon-esque efficiency and dismantling. Get in, get out, take care of business and stay healthy. Arizona State 42, Sacramento State 7.

Ted Miller: What Kevin said -- dominate, then get the key starters on the bench and get some backups valuable playing time. Arizona State 45, Sacramento State 10.

Saturday

Weber State at Utah

Kevin Gemmell: I like what Kyle Whittingham did earlier this week. He put all the scores of the FCS teams beating Football Bowl Subdivision teams up on the board for the whole team to see. The Utes are coming off an emotional win. And it’s a reminder that anyone can be vulnerable. They'll move to 2-0. (And a special thank you to my new Utonian friends for explaining to me that it’s pronounced WEE-ber State. Message received.) Utah 35, Weber State 10.

Ted Miller: Is that "WEE-ber wobble but it don't fall down"? Well, it will Saturday. Utah 30, Weber State 17.

Oregon at Virginia

Kevin Gemmell: In the final year of the BCS, this is where Oregon wants to be, in the top two. Now all the Ducks have to do is keep winning. And while Virginia will provide a little more pop than Nicholls State, it won’t be enough to slow the Ducks. Oregon 42, Virginia 14.

Ted Miller: The Ducks have been a model of efficiency the past few years, and that's been most notable on the road, a characteristic of national title contenders. The next measure of new coach Mark Helfrich is maintaining that efficiency. Oregon 38, Virginia 17.

Portland State at California

Kevin Gemmell: If you can hang at home against a top-25 team while using a true freshman quarterback, you can beat an FCS team. Jared Goff showed some mettle and should continue to improve. Cal 35, Portland State 13.

Ted Miller: I feel comfortable my Cal jinx will take the weekend off. Maybe. Cal 44, Portland State 20.

Hawaii at Oregon State

Kevin Gemmell: Don’t see any issues with the Oregon State offense, which was efficient and productive with Sean Mannion at the helm. Fortunately for the Beavers, Vernon Adams has not transferred to Hawaii in the past week, so they should be good. Oregon State 38, Hawaii 17.

Ted Miller: The loss to Sacramento State in 2011 was followed by a visit to Wisconsin. That 35-0 beatdown didn't help lift the Beavers out of their post-FCS-loss embarrassment malaise, obviously, and an 0-4 start ensued, as well as a 3-9 finish. I think the Beavers will open up a can of whip-butt and show us they aren't going to wilt. Oregon State 41, Hawaii 20.

Central Arkansas at Colorado

Kevin Gemmell: Even though it added former Heisman winner Ricky Williams to its coaching staff, the University of Incarnate Word couldn’t hang with Central Arkansas in Week 1. The Buffs, however, have a taste for winning. And I think they like it. Colorado 33, Central Arkansas 21.

Ted Miller: If the Buffs improve to 2-0, as most expect they will, how many Colorado fans are going to start reviewing the schedule closely with a magnifying glass, trying to find four more wins and bowl eligibility? Colorado 38, Central Arkansas 24.

Arizona at UNLV

Kevin Gemmell: Arizona is looking to build on a 35-0 win that didn’t include Ka’Deem Carey. The Pac-12 has owned the Mountain West thus far. That should continue against a Las Vegas team that hasn’t had a .500 record since 2003 and hasn’t beaten a BCS-level opponent since ASU in 2008. Arizona 38, UNLV 17.

Ted Miller: Vegas, baby! This is enough of a step up in competition -- not to mention a road game -- that we might get a better idea of the Wildcats on both sides of the ball, particularly QB B.J. Denker. Will the passing game open up a bit? Or is this just going to be the "Ka'Deem is Back" show? Arizona 35, UNLV 24.

Washington State at USC

Kevin Gemmell: Despite a good effort last week from the Cougars, turnovers continue to be an issue. And USC’s defense looked pretty opportunistic. The chance of getting Silas Redd back boosts a running back corps that looks pretty good with Justin Davis and Tre Madden. USC 31, Washington State 21.

Ted Miller: This game definitely gives me pause. The Cougars showcased an Air Raid revival at Auburn, and the Trojans' secondary is vulnerable. Also, the status of USC's best pass-rusher, Morgan Breslin, is questionable, as he has a bum ankle. Still, this is a Pac-12 defense, a big step up from last weekend. I also suspect we'll see more from the Trojans' offense this week than it showed at Hawaii. USC 35, Washington State 28.

San Jose State at Stanford

Kevin Gemmell: SJSU boasts a good wide receiver in Noel Grigsby and a very good quarterback in David Fales. But I don’t see it as anything Stanford’s veteran defense can’t handle. The Cardinal, once again, probably won’t be a team that blows people out. But wins are wins, and Stanford should get plenty of them this year. Stanford 27, San Jose State 13.

Ted Miller: I like Fales. He will give the Stanford defense a good test, although he's learning a West Coast offense that's different than what he ran under Mike MacIntyre. It's supposed to be more physical, which might not be a great plan against the rugged Cardinal. I also think the Stanford offense might have a nice opening night, seeing as the Spartans welcome back just five defensive starters and changed coaching staffs, switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Stanford 35, San Jose State 17.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 1

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
9:00
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If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

Yeah... talking to you, Oregon State.

See last week's power rankings here.

1. Stanford: Thought about moving Oregon up just because Stanford didn't play, but the Cardinal's opponent on Saturday -- boredom -- was better than the Ducks' (Nicholls State). San Jose State is not a foe to take lightly.

2. Oregon: The Ducks did what they were supposed to do: dominate in every way. Now things ramp up over the next two weeks, starting with a looooong trip to Virginia, which beat BYU in its opener.

3. Washington: The Huskies move up from No. 6 after turning in the conference's first win over a ranked nonconference foe. Now can they remain at these lofty heights after they take a week off?

4. UCLA: The Bruins posted a quality win over Nevada, so the big debate this week was whether the Bruins should be No. 3. Arguable. But if you look at the schedule, UCLA has a perfect trip on Sept. 14 to establish itself high up in the early conference pecking order: at Nebraska on Sept. 14.

5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils fell from No. 3 because they didn't play. Sorry. That's how the power rankings work. Things move around every week. A win over Sacramento State won't reveal much, either. But thereafter things get interesting, starting with Wisconsin on Sept. 14.

6. USC: The win at Hawaii wasn't very revealing. The defense looks better than in 2012, but the lack of clarity at QB is an issue, and it will remain so until coach Lane Kiffin decides the Maxwell Smart intrigue he is generating around the position isn't worth it.

7. Utah: The Utes move up two spots with a quality victory over Utah State. There are still plenty of questions -- injuries to WR Kenneth Scott and LB Brian Blechen are big -- but the improvement of QB Travis Wilson is grounds for optimism. While the Utes shouldn't overlook Weber State, Oregon State's visit on Sept. 14, which now seems much more winnable, could become the linchpin for both teams' season.

8. Arizona: The Wildcats pretty much did what everyone expected against Northern Arizona. Now they head to UNLV, a slightly tougher test, as it's never easy to win on the road, particularly with a new starting QB. Still, we won't know who Arizona is until it visits Washington on Sept. 28.

9. California: Cal had its chances against Northwestern, and freshman QB Jared Goff certainly flashed promise, but a pair of pick-sixes did in the Bears. The Bears defense, though missing a handful of starters, was a bit of a disappointment, as was the O-line, which yielded four sacks and didn't run block very well after the first drive. Cal has Portland State before Ohio State comes to town on Sept. 14.

10. Washington State: The Cougars surely have a lot of regrets from their Auburn trip. It was a game they could have won, if not for a few mistakes. Winning at USC on Saturday would be a red-letter victory Mike Leach could hang his hat on. That said -- and you know Leach and his players would never say this -- another competitive performance could be enough for this team to buy into its improvement.

11. Colorado: Buffs, congrats on rising from the basement. That was a quality win over Colorado State. Now don't blow it by overlooking Central Arkansas.

12. Oregon State: Bad Beavers! Bad! Very bad. We projected a 7-0 start. Now, with the defensive showing against Eastern Washington, we have no idea. The first step toward redemption is taking out frustrations on Hawaii.
It's probably self-indulgent to look for deeper meaning in California coach Sonny Dykes naming true freshman Jared Goff his starting quarterback Friday. Going beyond the notion that Goff simply straight-up won the competition with redshirt freshman Zach Kline and junior Austin Hinder is mostly an academic exercise, some preseason navel gazing.

Dykes picked Goff because he was the most consistent player in preseason camp. He picked him because he believes he gives the Bears their best chance to win. There are no other reasons to pick a starting quarterback, particularly when the guy who finished No. 2, Kline, is just a redshirt freshman.

But in terms of fleshing this out, it's also reasonable to believe Dykes particularly liked how Goff looked in preseason camp compared to spring practices. Decided improvement leads to projection -- Goff went from this to this over the summer; what might he do with first team reps and coaching for two weeks?

If two guys are in nearly a dead-heat, the tag goes to the guy who improved the most to get there.

Goff flashed potential in the spring. He showed maturity. He didn't seem intimidated. And he played a similar offense in high school. Still, he looked skinny and had plenty of freshman moments.

At the end of spring practices, while Dykes revealed nothing, most observers thought the big-armed Kline was the front runner. The rationale not being much beyond his being a year older.

But Goff put on six or seven pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, and that filling out accentuated his developing polish. Goff got better over the summer. And probably more confident. That Goff truly believed he could win the job, and Dykes saw that in him, surely played a role in Dykes envisioning a true freshman leading the Bears' new up-tempo, spread offense.

The bad news is the schedule. Goff could use a couple of early-season patsies to get accustomed to game-day environments and the speed of opposing defenses. Instead, he gets Northwestern in Week 1 and national title contender Ohio State in Week 3. The good news is both games are in Berkeley. Of course, the schedule doesn't get any easier, as the Bears' only scheduling break is missing Arizona State.

Playing young quarterbacks, particularly true and redshirt freshmen, used to be almost unheard of in college football. But with the success of redshirt freshmen such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, it's obvious that guys are arriving at college far more advanced and ready to compete, physically, mentally and, perhaps most important, emotionally.

The question now is will Goff hold onto the job? If he falters early, say throws a few picks against the Buckeyes in a blowout defeat, will Dykes be tempted to give him the hook and see what Kline might be able to do? Quarterback carousels, typically, are not a good thing.

Of course, that was the question last year with Hundley, Mariota and then sophomore Taylor Kelly at Arizona State. But all three thrived from the get-go.

Is Goff poised to be the next young Pac-12 QB phenom? We should have at least a preliminary answer to that before September is over.

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