NCF Nation: Washington Huskies

Five Pac-12 players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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There is no shortage of players who will excite on the field in the Pac-12 this season, but it's not all about on-field performance. Whether it's for their off-field contributions or their on-field demeanor, here are five guys worth rooting for even if they don't play for your team.

Taylor Kelly, quarterback, Arizona State: Quick, who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback last season -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Arizona State’s Kelly? Outside the Pac-12, the assumption would probably be Hundley, and that would be wrong. Kelly quietly led ASU to the best regular-season record in the Pac-12 last season and has a likely NFL future. His time in Tempe hasn’t been one big party, either. The Master’s candidate volunteers at local schools two days a week and is heavily involved in the Scholar Baller leadership and outreach program, for which he teaches high school students about leadership and character among other things. Kelly is also an accomplished drag racer, but that passion is currently on hold at the request of ASU coach Todd Graham. As a result of his vast car knowledge, Kelly has turned into the de facto mechanic for the ASU football team.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsWhen Marcus Mariota isn't piling up big stats on the field, he can usually be found studying somewhere.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon: After passing up a good shot at being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to return to school, Mariota has all the makings of a Heisman Trophy favorite. And he won’t come with much controversy. If Andrew Luck set the standard for unassuming superstar quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Mariota isn’t far behind. He’s quiet, he’s polite, he’s humble and while pursuing a degree in General Science, he has developed a reputation as one of the most studious athletes on campus. For those looking for reasons to root against him, as an individual, it will be hard to justify.

Toni Pole, defensive tackle, Washington State: When Pole intercepted a Keith Price pass in overtime and nearly returned it for a touchdown in the 2012 Apple Cup, he created a memory Washington State fans will remember for a long time. For many, that is not the only lasting impression he has produced. Pole is a frequent volunteer in the Pullman community, and his philantrophic efforts have included helping to put on “Butch’s Bash,” a holiday party for local kids. He makes trips to the local senior center where he plays games with the residents and is musically inclined. When the Cougars are on the road, he can be found playing the piano in hotel lobbies and has sang the National Anthem at women’s basketball games.

Ty Montgomery, receiver, Stanford: Stanford coach David Shaw has said Montgomery has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but after big junior year with the Cardinal, Montgomery didn’t even consider a pre-graduation jump to Sunday football. He didn’t even ask for an evaluation from the NFL or for a draft-round projection, which is common for draft-eligible players. He chose Stanford largely for academic reasons and chose to stay for the same. As soft-spoken as they come, Montgomery has already been named to the Maxwell and Hornung Award watch lists and is one of the more dynamic kick returners in the country.

Stefan McClure, cornerback, Cal: After a solid true freshman season in 2011, McClure appeared on his way to a great career for Cal. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but it’s not for a lack of talent. He sat out the 2012 season rehabbing a torn ACL, then suffered another torn ACL five games into last season. If there is anyone who could use some good vibes coming his way, it’s McClure.

PHOENIX -- Pac-12 coaches on Tuesday finished up the first day of the spring meetings with the morning session filled with mostly housekeeping items: scheduling, the College Football Playoff, bowl affiliations, summer practices and player stipends.

The largest news item to come out of the day was the discussion to move the Pac-12 championship game to Levi’s Stadium, the future home of the San Francisco 49ers, in Santa Clara, California. No coaches gave specifics on a timeline of when this would be put into effect, but it could happen as early as 2014.

Since the Pac-12 conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011, the game has been held at the stadium of the division champion with the better record. Levi’s Stadium, which will be completed and opened by August, will hold 68,500 fans.

Stanford coach David Shaw, who has been in the Pac-12 championship game two years in a row (with one as the home team and one as the visiting team), said he’s split on the idea of the neutral site game and that both options offer exciting opportunities for schools and fans.

Washington State coach Mike Leach said he’s excited about the idea of the game being played at Levi’s Stadium, though he said not every coach was as on board with the idea as he was.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said the neutral game site idea is “a total guess … but potentially a really great market,” noting the large Pac-12 alumni base in the Bay Area.

“I trust the league and what they want to do,” he said. “I have no problem one way or the other.”

The three-hour afternoon session was focused on officiating, according to Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceCoach David Shaw and Stanford have played in the last two Pac-12 title games.
He said one of the biggest talking points was in regard to the NCAA’s 10-second rule proposal, which would have allowed defenses to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. Under this proposal, offenses wouldn’t be allowed to snap the ball until the 29-second mark of the play clock, which would’ve severely affected up-tempo teams. The NCAA Football Rules Committee tabled the proposal in March.

Shaw said the 10-second rule was “ridiculous” and doesn’t believe the rule will ever be brought up again.

“It caught everybody by surprise,” Rodriguez said. “We wondered, ‘How did that happen?’ … That was a scary part. We have to make sure in the future that we as coaches do our job to stay involved in anything that may affect the game itself or the people playing the game.”

Coaches also discussed the new rule that will be enforced on quarterback hits, which states that no rushing player is allowed to hit a quarterback at or below the knee when the QB is in a passing posture.

Shaw said the difficulty with that rule is how the officials will decide whether a defensive player is being blocked into a QB or hitting the player on his own.

“That’s the biggest distinction,” he said. “But I think it’s great. We all want to protect the quarterbacks as much as anybody. But we also like hitting quarterbacks. But it’s great for us to know when we can hit them and when we can’t.”

The spring meetings continue Wednesday morning with the coaches and athletic directors from each respective school (though Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis won’t be in attendance) meeting from 10 a.m. to noon, and then the athletic directors continuing their meetings until 6:30 p.m.

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.
SEATTLE -- There’s no part of football that Washington wide receiver Jaydon Mickens doesn’t love.

The grind of practice? Love it.

The weightlifting when you can’t feel your legs? Love it.

The 5 a.m. wake ups? Love it.

OK, what about the ice baths? Ohhhhh.

“The ice baths? I don’t know about that one,” Mickens said. “That might be one niche in my happiness. Actually, no. When you get out, it’s the happiest moment ever because you’re feeling so good to get out.”

Mickens has been an optimist since he started playing football. Even when he was an offensive lineman (it only lasted two days) or a running back all through Pop Warner, or making the move to wide receiver in high school, he always believed it was for the best.

And through all those changes and years, he always had one goal in mind: There would be no one on the field who would have more fun than he would.

“The stadium changes, the venue changes but it’s the same sport -- like Pop Warner,” Mickens said. “It’s all fun.”

On his Pop Warner team in California, the Inglewood Seminoles, it was easy to always have fun. Everyone always played and he was close on and off the field with coach Jamar Applewhite.

[+] EnlargeJaydon Mickens
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenJaydon Mickens made 65 receptions and scored five touchdowns last season for Washington.
Inglewood was never the safest place, and through the years there was plenty that Mickens saw and heard about that wasn’t fun. But football? Football was always fun.

Applewhite would use Mickens as his speedometer for the Seminoles. Anytime he put Mickens on the field, players would speed up their games to keep up with him. They’d also increase their energy to keep up with Mickens, and Applewhite saw guys enjoy the game more when they played with Mickens.

Every spring they’d attend USC’s spring game together, and Mickens would tell Applewhite how someday he’d play for the Trojans.

“Just wait,” Mickens would tell his coach. “I’ll be out there.”

They’d leave and Mickens and his teammates would go back to Applewhite’s house, where they’d play video games. Mickens would tell Applewhite, his Pop Warner teammates, a stranger -- really anyone who would listen -- how someday he’d be in that football video game.

“Just wait,” Mickens would say. “No. 4 will be out there.”

But those were all goals for down the road. Happiness on the field, on the other hand, was the one that was constant throughout his entire career. He never had to wait to have fun playing the sport he loved.

“He has always loved it, been fanatical about it,” Applewhite said. “He loves playing football. That’s all he ever talked about.”

Eventually, USC came calling, but Mickens had readjusted what he wanted in a college and committed to Washington. And yes, that video game dream happened, too. Applewhite will never forget the phone call he received last spring when Mickens called screaming that he was playing “UW No. 4” in "NCAA Football 14."

As a freshman, Mickens appeared in all 13 games but only averaged 1.5 catches per game.

He could feel that it was taking him a bit longer to catch up to the size of Division I football and at 5-foot-11, he wasn’t the biggest guy out there. There were established receivers in front of him on the depth chart. But he was a former track guy, and he had that speed to get him his looks every now and then. But he wanted to be consistent. Playing was fun, but contributing was even better.

In his second year under Steve Sarkisian, he really started to develop. He started 12 games and had his biggest game of the season against Boise State. He tore apart Chris Petersen’s Broncos secondary with nine catches for 109 yards.

In his third year with the Huskies, he had plans to really come into his own. But then Sarkisian left for Mickens’ former dream school and a new guy -- the guy he had his best game against -- came in and completely changed the Washington program.

Guys like that are fun to coach. Jaydon is at the top of the list with that type of energy and spark and spunk and all that good stuff.

-- Washington coach Chris Petersen, on WR Jaydon Mickens
The coaching staff was new. The program was different. Players questioned whether they wanted to buy in to what Petersen was selling. Some considered transferring, others didn’t.

But Mickens wanted to look at this as optimistically as possible. So he considered it to be professional training. This experience, like so many others, would help him if he makes it to the NFL. Coaches move around on a coaching carousel there, and if he couldn’t handle it now, how would he be able to handle it then?

And he listened to Petersen preach about discipline, accountability and integrity. He thought if he bought into those ideals, maybe football could be even more fun because there’d be more of a purpose.

And he went through his first spring with Petersen, coming into his own without any kind of a hitch despite the coaching turnover. Mickens became a guy for Petersen like he was for Applewhite -- a constant, positive force on the field.

“Guys like that are fun to coach,” Petersen said. “Jaydon is at the top of the list with that type of energy and spark and spunk and all that good stuff. Football practice is hard, and it can be grinding and boring and those types of things, so you need those personalities to bring some freshness and some fun to practice.”

It has been all fun for Mickens and Petersen.

And that’s when it strikes him, when he’s thinking about Petersen and his previous stop, Boise State.

“Getting hit -- that’s not something I like, especially getting hit when you’re not looking,” Mickens said. “My freshman year against Boise State I got my head knocked off. That was a ‘Welcome!’ to college football and I was very much so welcomed. I did not appreciate it that day.”

So getting hit then? That’s not fun?

“Maybe," Mickens paused. "Maybe."
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SEATTLE -- Chris Petersen sits in his office, anxiously folding an address label he peeled off a magazine. He looks past the football field into Union Bay, where the Washington crew team is practicing. He's still getting used to this view.

His last meeting ran 45 minutes long, but it was no worry to him. His family is still in Boise, Idaho, so he can stay at the office as long as he wants, which is what he needs right now. He needs to get to work on "the process."

This is not the "Boise State process." That might be where he gained his fame for working the process so well, but by no means was it built there. The process isn't one of blue turf. It comes from a program with no scholarships, a torn up field and an aged locker room.

It's a process Petersen learned 30 years ago. A process that was perfected at a Division II school 75 miles northwest of San Francisco.

It worked there. And at Boise. And in Seattle, Petersen says, it will work here, too.

The process will work. Just give it time.

To continue reading, click here.

There are those who subscribe to the theory that a coach making the leap from a mid-major conference to one of the big five will need some time to adjust.

Then again, few coaches have the résumé that Chris Petersen brings from Boise State to Washington. Among his accolades: 92 wins, a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories and five conference titles. Oh yeah, he’s also the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award.

So if Petersen is fending off any challenges by way of transition, he isn’t letting on.

“The job is exactly the same,” Petersen said. “There hasn’t been one thing that has surprised me. It’s exactly the same. Our recruiting process is the same. When we were recruiting at Boise, we were recruiting against the Pac-12. We were in the same footprint. It was the same battles. All of that is the same. Everybody is regulated by the NCAA on how much time you can lift weights, so it really comes down to implementing your systems and your schemes.”

No question, Petersen has the coaching chops. And Huskies fans are universally proclaiming that they got the better end of the deal when Steve Sarkisian left Washington for USC after five seasons and a 34-29 record.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen's first spring at Washington involves finding replacements for three of the most important players from the Huskies offense.
“It’s a case of be careful what you wish for,” he said. “But nothing has surprised us. We knew for the most part what we’re getting into.”

So the biggest challenge facing the new Washington skipper isn’t transition, but replacing departed personnel. When Sarkisian left, he didn’t exactly leave a barren cupboard. But a talented trio will be noticeably absent in 2014: three-year starting quarterback Keith Price, 2013 Mackey Award-winning tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Doak Walker-finalist running back Bishop Sankey. All are expected to either be drafted or land on an NFL roster.

“That makes things really tough,” Petersen said. “When you lose a quarterback who has been a three-year starter and was as productive as Keith was, that’s hard. Everything on offense, no matter what style you run, is run through that guy. If he’s successful, your team is going to be successful.

“Bishop Sankey was tremendous. You put that tape on and study him, it’s like, ‘wow.’ He has tremendous vision. We played against him twice and we thought the world of him.”

Petersen has already had to deal with a little adversity when one of the quarterbacks vying to replace Price was suspended indefinitely. Cyler Miles, along with wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, remain suspended after allegedly assaulting a Seahawks fan after the Super Bowl last month. Obviously, Petersen doesn’t ever want to have to deal with discipline issues. On the flip side, he has an opportunity early in his tenure to establish himself as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, which he’s done.

Now it’s a matter of filling holes -- knowing full well that most of them probably won’t be filled during the spring session.

“Aside from getting your systems in place, so much of it comes down to how much talent you have,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. So much of this is just recruiting and how much talent you have.”

That and an awareness that he isn’t going to have any easy weeks in the Pac-12. For a while, the Mountain West was considered the strongest of the non-AQ conferences. But even in its heyday, there were always weak sisters. That's not the case in the Pac-12 -- especially in the top-heavy North Division.

“I’ve known about the Pac-12 forever,” Petersen said. “I think it’s extremely competitive conference. The parity from top to bottom is as good as it’s ever been. The coaches are fabulous. It’s as good as any in the country. I thought that before I got here, and now it’s confirmed.”

Expectations are high for Petersen and his staff. While Sarkisian did a fine job turning an 0-12 program into a consistent winner with four straight bowl appearances, the Huskies never ascended to the upper echelon of the league in his tenure.

Petersen brings a big name and track record of success matched by few. Now he has to get the Huskies to buy into what he’s selling.

“The culture is changing. And how quickly those guys buy in is the bottom line,” Petersen said. “It can be tough for the older guys who have been here for four or five years and are used to doing things a different way. We have to get everyone moving and believing in what we do as quickly as possible."

Spring preview capsules: Pac-12 North

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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A glimpse at what's going on in the Pac-12 North:

CALIFORNIA

Spring start: March 31
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Kaufman effect: New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has his work cut out for him after inheriting a Cal defense that allowed 45.9 points per game during coach Sonny Dykes' first season. This isn't a case of needing few tweaks back to respectability; it could take a complete overhaul to get things turned in the right direction.
  • Developing Goff:Jared Goff jumped right into the starting job as a true freshman, and his considerable talent was evident from the beginning. With a year under his belt, Goff will take on more of a leadership role as he begins his first spring as the unquestioned starter.
  • Get healthy: Cal's 2013 season was met with a rash of injuries that made one of the nation's toughest schedules even tougher to navigate. The Golden Bears will show extreme caution during the spring as to remain as healthy as possible for fall camp.
OREGON

Spring start: April 1
Spring game: May 3

What to watch:
  • Life after Mariota? Much like Andrew Luck's 2011 season at Stanford, it's clear Marcus Mariota is headed into his final season as the Ducks quarterback despite having two years of eligibility left. It really began last season, but Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who served as dual backups last year, will continue to compete for the soon-to-be-vacated starting job.
  • Pellum takes over: Don Pellum replaces longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who held the job for the previous 17 seasons. It'll take some adjusting without Aliotti around, but Pellum, who has spent 23 years coaching at Oregon, figures to make it close to a seamless transition.
  • Building receiver depth: Bralon Addison is back, but the Ducks will need to find players to replace Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins and De'Anthony Thomas in the passing game. Keanon Lowe will likely jump into the No. 2 role, but after that the pecking order is unclear.
OREGON STATE

Spring start: March 31
Spring game: May 3

What to watch:
  • Garrett steps in: There won't be any major philosophical overhauls under new offensive coordinator John Garrett, but new twists are inevitable. He and fifth-year senior quarterback Sean Mannion will spend the spring getting on the same page.
  • Revitalized running game? Running backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods will have to be more involved as the Beavers pursue greater offensive balance. Chris Brown's development will be important to add depth at the position after he saw scarce playing time as a redshirt freshman.
  • Replacing Crichton: Receiver Brandin Cooks isn't the only big-name player leaving Corvallis; finding a replacement for defensive end Scott Crichton will be just as important. Lavonte Barnett and Jaswha James are two players to keep in mind at the spot opposite Dylan Wynn, while defensive tackle Jalen Grimble should immediately contribute on the line as well.
STANFORD

Spring start: Feb. 24
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • RB by committee? After Stanford's first spring practice, coach David Shaw touched on how it might become a running-back-by-committee in the Stanford backfield. He said it last year too, but without an experienced ball carrier on the roster, it rings truer this time.
  • Reloading on defense: The Cardinal had four defensive players at the NFL combine and also will replace first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end Ben Gardner. OLB Kevin Anderson, S Kodi Whitfield, DE Luke Kaumatule and ILB Blake Martinez are four players fighting for a chance at more playing time.
  • Staff changes: The program faces the most staff turnover in Shaw's tenure, with defensive coordinator Derek Mason (head coach, Vanderbilt), quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford (offensive coordinator, Boise State) and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski (defensive coordinator, Vanderbilt) all taking promotions elsewhere. Spring will be an important time to bring new coaches Lance Taylor and Pete Hansen -- and a third yet to be hired -- up to speed.
WASHINGTON

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Petersen era begins: Chris Petersen's arrival to a major conference will be a national story line heading into the 2014 season. After posting a 92-12 record at Boise State in eight seasons, expectations are high in Seattle, where he'll replace Steve Sarkisian.
  • Status of Miles/Stringfellow: Quarterback Cyler Miles, who was expected to take over as the starting quarterback, and receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow were suspended indefinitely on Feb. 6, leaving questions about their status with the team. With Miles away, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams will get more opportunities.
  • Replacing Sankey: Jesse Callier, Deontae Cooper and Dwayne Washington will all compete for carries with Bishop Sankey off to the NFL. That much is clear. How the offense will use the trio isn't, thanks to the arrival of Petersen.
WASHINGTON STATE

Spring start: March 27
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
Two years ago, the Pac-12 had an Oregon problem. The Ducks had won three consecutive conference titles and were among the favored to make it four. They didn't. Now the Ducks, and the rest of the Pac-12, have a Stanford problem, as the Cardinal have won two titles in a row.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kell, Marcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsA fully healthy Marcus Mariota should again be one of the Pac-12's top Heisman candidates.
Further, considering that USC won six consecutive conference crowns from 2003 to 2008, it's fair to say the Pac-12 has a diversity problem. It didn't used to be like that. From 1995 to 2002, seven teams won conference titles. The only repeat winner? Washington State.

Is 2014 the season for a new color scheme at the top? Will the South (Division) rise again? (We're eyeballing you, UCLA.) While we're at it, will the conference, which last won a national title in 2004, break through this fall, finishing atop the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff?

These are the big-picture questions that start to get answered as Pac-12 teams begin spring practice. Stanford got rolling Monday. Arizona, Washington and Colorado hit the field next week. Oregon and UCLA won't get cracking until April 1, and the Ducks and Oregon State won't finish until May 3, officially sending us into the long, hot days of the summer offseason.

As is the case most years, there's a little old and a little new in the Pac-12 this spring.

Start with the head coaches. USC and Washington will hit the field for the first time with new guys in charge, making Oregon State and Utah the only two conference teams headed by the same guy since the 2010 season. Neither coach is much of a stranger. USC hired Steve Sarkisian away from the Huskies, and Washington turned around and lured Chris Petersen away from Boise State.

The bigger area of turnover was coordinators. Just three teams didn't make any changes on the top of their offensive and defensive units: Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.

There will be more stability at quarterback. Ten teams welcome back their 2013 starters, if we can be optimistic enough to include Utah's Travis Wilson, who will practice this spring with no contact but still has not been fully cleared to continue his career due to a pre-existing medical condition.

Arizona and Washington will stage full-on competitions to replace B.J. Denker and Keith Price, respectively. Wilson's uncertain status makes the Utes' QB situation complicated, while at USC, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne is expected to provide a strong challenge to incumbent starter Cody Kessler.

Meanwhile, the returning QB talent is strong. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley will be near the top of every preseason Heisman Trophy watch list. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion aren't too far behind.

The situation at running back and receiver is not as strong. The top four rushers from 2013 are gone: Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Stanford's Tyler Gaffney and Arizona State's Marion Grice. The top three receivers -- as well as USC's Marqise Lee -- also are off to the NFL: Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/University of Southern California/Collegiate Images/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian has switched divisions but takes over a USC team that finished third in the Pac-12 South.
There are a lot of voids across the conference on defense as well. Just one first-team All-Pac-12 performer is back -- Ducks CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- and just four on the second team. The six players who led the conference in tackles for a loss are gone: Stanford's Trent Murphy, UCLA's Anthony Barr, Oregon State's Scott Crichton, Arizona State's Carl Bradford, Utah's Trevor Reilly and Arizona State's Chris Young.

While Stanford and Oregon -- it used to be Oregon and Stanford -- will remain the favorites among many, both have big questions on defense. The Ducks will be projected ahead of the Cardinal, however, because of Mariota's return and Stanford having to replace Gaffney and four starting O-linemen.

Yet this go-around, Stanford has the winning streak in the series and consecutive crowns and Oregon has the chip on its shoulder.

"It's not that we should [have a chip on our shoulder]. It's that we need to," Oregon running back Byron Marshall said. "Like you said, Stanford has kind of had our number the past couple of years. … As one of the leaders on this team, it's my job to remind everyone that [Stanford] beat us the last two years. It hasn't really been a close game. It might be close by score, but they've dominated us in both performances. We need to have a chip on our shoulder in order to get where we want to this year."

That last line pretty much applies to every Pac-12 team this spring.

The conference was as deep as it's ever been in 2013 and a record six teams ended up ranked in the final Associated Press poll, but the conference produced just one BCS bowl team and no team finished in the final top eight.

Will a Pac-12 team advance from good to elite in 2014? Spring practice provides an important step toward that possibility.

NCAA won't penalize Tosh Lupoi, UW

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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The NCAA won't take any action against former Washington assistant coach Tosh Lupoi on accusations he paid $4,500 in cash for tutoring services and online classes for a Huskies recruit. That means Lupoi and two separate football programs let out a deep breath on Monday: Steve Sarkisian's former school (Washington) and present school (USC).

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNew USC coach Steve Sarkisian can officially put the past behind him after the NCAA's latest ruling.
From the Seattle Times, which broke the story:
Tom Hosty, the NCAA’s Director of Enforcement, notified University of Washington President Michael Young in a formal letter delivered today that the NCAA has “now completed the inquiry into those matters” and that “the enforcement staff does not believe that further action is warranted” in the investigation.

First off, USC: How's it feel to get good news from the NCAA? Weird, huh?

For this is very good news for Sarkisian, ensconced in his new digs at USC. He was Lupoi's head coach at Washington, and the NCAA has new enforcement guidelines that are supposed to hold the head coach more accountable than in the past for the "rogue" actions of his assistants. If the NCAA had found that Lupoi had provided extra benefits to the recruit in question, former Lynnwood (Wash.) High defensive lineman Andrew Basham, Sarkisian could have been exposed to sanction himself.

The same goes for Washington, which is good news for new coach Chris Petersen and his staff.

And, obviously, this is good news for Lupoi, whose college coaching future was on the line. He released a statement on Twitter Monday night.

"I want to thank the NCAA and the UW for their professionalism and thoroughness during this investigation," he wrote. "I stated from the beginning that an honest and thorough investigation would clear my name, and prove these attacks against me were untrue. The results speak for themselves."

So this means all three parties under scrutiny can move on. Lupoi, who took a buyout from Washington and wasn't hired at USC because of these accusations, now needs to find a job. Widely considered an ace recruiter, it will be interesting to see if he's quickly grabbed by another college program or if he opts to seek an NFL job.

The problem for Lupoi, of course, is just getting accused of recruiting violations is often enough to make head coaches -- and athletic directors -- wary of hiring a guy. We shall see.

Then there's the alleged whistleblower Mike Davis, a track coach and advisor to Basham, who made the accusations to the NCAA, LA Times and Seattle Times. He told the newspapers he could document $4,500 in payments from Lupoi.

The Seattle Times reported "Davis and his wife met with a UW official and two NCAA investigators for a combined five hours in Seattle on Dec. 20, two days after the allegations first surfaced in a Los Angeles Times report." It appears, however, that Davis was unable to produce compelling evidence beyond his inflammatory accusation.

So, barring the unlikely event that new evidence is produced, Lupoi, USC and Washington can tip their caps at each other and go their separate ways, (mostly) no worse from the NCAA wear and tear.

Q&A: Washington coach Chris Petersen

January, 16, 2014
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Chris Petersen shocked many when he opted to leave Boise State and replace Steve Sarkisian at Washington. He's been the Huskies coach for more than a month now, so it's time to move past his move and consider his present and future on Montlake.

With national signing day just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to check in with him and see what his early impressions of the transition are. And what's ahead.

Update us on how you spent your time since you were introduced as the Washington coach. Have you settled in and been able to move the family from Boise to Seattle?

Chris Petersen: That hasn't even kind of happened. I'm here and my family is in Boise. Just every day is a scramble. The good thing is we got our staff in place, so now we're trying to re-integrate ourselves with the players, get to know those guys, get them up to speed. School has re-started, so we're a week into it. Then along the way the most important thing is re-establishing our ties with connections and recruits. Guys that we've recruited before, been recruiting for the past year, guys who already have ties to Washington. Trying to put that puzzle together.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesA whirlwind few weeks has Chris Petersen ready for his first signing day and spring at Washington.
How does that work? It's complicated, isn't it? You're trying to recruit to a new school after building long-term relationships with guys as the Boise State coach. How much do you look at what Washington already has committed vs. some of the guys who were talking to you about going to Boise State?

CP: You're right. It is complicated. Every situation is a little bit different. We've been talking to a lot of these kids for a long, long time -- some for over a year, so a lot of them are tied into us as coaches. You know how that goes in the recruiting process. Some kids are really tied in to the university itself, but most are tied in to the coaches. When you show them what Washington has to offer academically, the league we play in, for some of these kids, that's a real benefit. We'll see when it's all said and done. We're really trying to figure out what is best for everybody, the best fit. This is how we've been at Boise. It's all about getting each guy into the right place for them. That's when the magic happens. If this isn't the right place for some of these guys, then that's OK as well. But we'll get some good players here, without question, in this class. And then we'll start the process over immediately after signing day. We'll have a lot longer time to work at it.

You're also introducing yourself to a new set of players who are probably curious about what they are going to get from you and your staff. You're fortunate in that you have an impressive track record and that everyone knows who you are. But give me the general message you give the returning players, what they need to know about playing for you and what you're looking for.

CP: The first thing is that some things we do are going to be different. Not necessarily right or wrong -- it's just going to be different. It's going to be our way that's worked for us. The sooner they buy into it, the sooner it's going to work for all of us. It really comes down to kind of putting the ball in their court. It's an exciting, fun time. They've learned some really good things from the other coaches. They have those techniques and philosophies, and here we come with some new things. The faster they are all-in on the way we do things, the better it's going to be for everybody. They've been really excited, really receptive. We're just kind of getting started here. It starts in the weight room for us. I'm excited to watch them go to work.

Boise State played Washington to open the season, so you have a pretty good knowledge of the schemes they ran last year on both sides of the ball. How much different are your offensive and defensive schemes compared to what they did this year?

CP: That's going to be interesting offensively and defensively, because I think the plays, the schemes, the concepts -- so much of it is very, very similar. So it's a matter of blending the languages together. Certainly, we'll emphasize different things, but I think a lot of it is the same. So we're trying to be smart in terms of how we can help the players and not have to have them learn from scratch. Yet we've got to be able to call things the way we're used to calling things for a long, long time, because we've got to be able to teach it. So we're working on that right now. Defensively, it's the same thing. This whole system started at Boise when [defensive coordinator] Justin Wilcox was with us. So there's going to be a lot of carryover with that terminology, with that structure of the defense as well. So in some ways, it's really pretty nice. It's going to be as much as the same as you can possibly have it on a brand new staff.

Is the message for spring practice that every position is open for competition and no one should feel settled? Or guys have fresh life who were buried on the depth chart?

CP: Absolutely -- that's the beauty of a new staff. But it's always like that. It was always like that at Boise. When we had [quarterback] Kellen Moore, it was like, “Kellen, I hope one of these guys pushes you very hard to beat you out. It's just going to make you better.” Our philosophy is it didn't matter who you were; it was always a competition. Certain guys have earned more reps than the others through the years, but hopefully we're recruiting young, hungry guys who want to play. That's better for the entire program. Everybody competes. Heck, we don't know anything about these guys, other than the basics of seeing them on tape, playing against them one game. That's not enough. So, yeah, I think it's a breath of fresh air for everybody. Guys who have started a lot and guys that haven't. Hey, show us what you got. We're all eyes and ears.

How deep did the discussion go with Justin Wilcox at defensive coordinator? Or were you pretty much set on bringing over most of your staff from Boise?

CP: It was a total win-win for both sides. Justin and I go way, way back. It was just a matter of what was going to work for the both of us. I think at the end of the day, it was a win-win for both of us that he was going to go down there [to USC] and we were going to bring our staff here. Justin and I will always be extremely close. It worked out great.

I don't know how many times through the years I typed your name as a potential candidate for a coaching opening. But you always stayed at Boise, at least until Washington came calling this time. It's still got to be a little bit of a shock for you to look around and see Seattle and the Huskies and not Boise State. Has it sunk in fully that you are in a new situation with a new team? Or has the whirlwind of demands and getting settled kept you from being reflective about this massive change?

CP: The time at Boise was awesome. So much of my life -- 13 years -- was there. It was the longest I've lived anywhere. I don't want to discount that. Those were the best years of my professional life, certainly without question. But I also felt really strongly that it was time for a change for the right place. This was the right place. I feel really good about that. I don't look back and say, "Oh, my gosh, I'm here now." Nothing like that. It felt like the right time for a new challenge. We're energized by it and excited to do what we can do.

Pac-12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
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Today we put a bow on the 2013 season (almost -- a few more review posts are coming up, and then probably a few more after that). But today across the blogosphere, we’re categorizing some of the top moments and individuals from the Pac-12 season. These are set in stone and in no way open to argument or interpretation.

Best coach: Arizona State's Todd Graham was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers. And it’s hard to argue with that, given the fact that the Sun Devils had the best league record and won their division. But you can’t discount the job of the L.A. coaches (interim or otherwise). Ed Orgeron did a phenomenal job in relief at USC before Steve Sarkisian was hired, and Jim Mora shepherded his team through a difficult time early.

Best player, offense: Ka’Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. And the Pac-12 blog agrees. Certainly, cases can be made for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was on the Heisman Trophy track before being derailed by a knee injury. And there is the debate between Carey and Washington running back Bishop Sankey, which will rage until the end of days.

Best player, defense: The coaches went with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. And there’s nothing wrong with that selection. But cases certainly can be made for outside linebackers Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).

Best moment: Lots of them. Shocking upsets (see below) and stellar individual performances dusted the landscape of the 2013 Pac-12 season. But in terms of moments that were seared into our memories, it’s tough not to think about UCLA’s come-from-behind win at Nebraska way back on Sept. 14, following the death of Nick Pasquale. Specifically, Anthony Jefferson recovering a red zone fumble and then sprinting off the field to give the ball to Mora, followed by a big hug. It was as authentic and genuine a moment as you’ll find in sports.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Kodi Whitfield had a highlight touchdown grab against UCLA.
Biggest upset: Take your pick between Utah topping Stanford or Arizona topping Oregon. Both were road losses for the favorites and both shook up the national and league landscape. Granted, Utah’s win over Stanford came earlier in the season, and early-season losses are easier to rebound from. Oregon’s loss to Arizona came at the end and cost the Ducks all kinds of postseason possibilities.

Best workhorse performance: It’s a tie between Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Carey -- both of whom put in the work in their teams’ victories over Oregon. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries; Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.

Best play: One of the most subjective categories, for sure, but Kodi Whitfield’s one-handed touchdown catch against UCLA was nothing short of spectacular. He elevated between two Bruins defenders and backhanded the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown. Something about UCLA-Stanford brings out the one-handed catches. Recall in 2011, Andrew Luck hauled in a one-handed catch against the Bruins, and a few plays later, Coby Fleener snagged a one-handed dart from Luck for a touchdown.

Best performance, offense: Again, wildly subjective. Take your pick from Ty Montgomery’s five-touchdown day against Cal, Marion Grice’s four touchdowns against USC or Wisconsin, or Myles Jack’s four touchdowns against Washington. Brandin Cooks had a pretty nice day against Cal with his 232 receiving yards. There were games with seven touchdown tosses from Mariota and Taylor Kelly. Connor Halliday’s losing effort against Colorado State was spectacular. In terms of impact, it’s hard not to go back to Carey’s effort against Oregon.

Best performance, defense: As in every other category here, plenty to go around. But think way back to Washington State’s win over USC. Damante Horton had a 70-yard interception return that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Then, after Andrew Furney’s 41-yard field goal put the Cougars ahead 10-7 with 3:15 left in the game, Horton picked off Max Wittek, which allowed WSU to run out the clock.

Best/Worst of the Pac-12 bowl season

January, 10, 2014
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We're taking a look at the best and worst of the Pac-12 bowl season.

Best player, offense: UCLA QB Brett Hundley accounted for four touchdowns in the Bruins' 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. He rushed for 161 yards on 10 carries -- 16.1 yards per run -- with two touchdowns and he also completed 16 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two scores. He did all that against one of the nation's best defenses in a winning effort.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Victor CalzadaBrett Hundley (17) and UCLA had a lot to celebrate in their Sun Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Best player, defense: Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha had nine tackles with three sacks of burly BYU QB Taysom Hill. He also forced a fumble in the Huskies' 31-16 victory. It was a great ending to a great comeback season -- 13 sacks -- for a player who overcame two major knee surgeries the past two years.

Best player, special teams: Washington's John Ross had a 103-yard kickoff return in the Huskies win over BYU.

Best game: While Stanford lost the Rose Bowl 24-20 to Michigan State, it wasn't decided until the waning moments of the fourth quarter after the Cardinal failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 play on its 34-yard line. It was a well-played, entertaining game between two defensive powers that delivered plenty of exciting moments, even if the Pac-12 ended up losing.

Worst game: In the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Washington State blew a 22-point lead against Colorado State in one of the most epic meltdowns in Pac-12 bowl history. The Cougars led by 15 with three minutes left but gifted the Rams the game, 48-45, with terrible defense, incomprehensible clock management and two fumbles. The first fumble came immediately after the Cougars had been saved from a fumble by instant replay. The second came on the ensuing kickoff to set up the game-winning field goal.

Worst game runner-up: Arizona State's 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl was shocking because the Sun Devils came in nationally ranked and surging, while the Red Raiders had lost five in a row to conclude the regular season. The Sun Devils were flat on both sides of the ball, and coach Todd Graham rightly blamed himself for his team looking unprepared. His defense gave up 403 yards passing and four TDs to a freshman QB, while his offense was sloppy and out of sync. And the clock management to end the first half rivaled the Cougars at the end of the New Mexico Bowl.

Best play: On second-and-6 from the UCLA 14-yard line, Hundley dropped back to pass, but then decided to run up the middle. It was a good decision. He scampered to his left, then back to his right and, skillfully using great downfield blocks, he went 86 yards for a touchdowns. It was the longest touchdown run in UCLA bowl game history as well as the longest of Hundley's career.

Worst play: With Colorado State out of time outs, Washington State had the ball and an eight-point lead. There was1:55 left in the game, and Washington State faced a second-and-10 from its 31-yard line. There were 20 seconds left on the play clock when the ball was snapped and the Cougars handed to Jeremiah Laufasa for his first carry of the New Mexico Bowl. He fumbled and Colorado State recovered. The Rams then drove for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. And you know what happened next. The worst part about that sequence, however, is that all the Cougars had to do to win the game was assume victory formation and take a knee. You could blame the players for fumbling, but the ultimate blame falls on coach Mike Leach, who scoffed at clock management questions after the game. Mike, this was a simple math problem you got wrong. This isn't a subjective issue. There was a right and wrong strategy, and the Washington State head coach chose the wrong one.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsConnor Halliday had a big game against Colorado State, but end of the New Mexico Bowl was inexcusable for Washington State.
Best stat(s): USC held high flying Fresno State and QB Derek Carr to 13 points -- the Bulldogs got seven points on a pick-6 -- 14 first downs and 253 total yards. The Bulldogs entered the game averaging 570.6 yards and 45.3 points per game. Kudos to coordinator Clancy Pendergast and the 13 healthy players the Trojans had available on defense.

Best stat(s) II: In Nick Aliotti's last game as Oregon's defensive coordinator, the Ducks held Texas to seven points, 13 first downs and 236 total yards. The Ducks defense even outscored the Longhorns in the 30-7 victory with a pair of pick-6s.

Worst stat: Stanford had just 11 first downs against Michigan State. They produced just 71 yards rushing on 27 carries over the final three quarters.

Crazy stat: It was difficult to decided where to place Washington State QB Connor Halliday's performance against Colorado State. The numbers overall are incredible: 37-of-58 for 410 yards with six touchdowns -- to six different receiver! -- with one interception. But his team lost and the Rams have a bad defense. Further, he threw five of the TDs in the first half and was not particularly on target in the second half. And then there was the end game. Still, six touchdown passes tied West Virginia's Geno Smith and Iowa's Chuck Long for an NCAA bowl record. That's something worthy of note.

3-point stance: Mariota puts on a show

December, 31, 2013
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1. The Marcus Mariota we saw for two-and-a-half quarters Monday evening before cramps took away his running game is the Oregon quarterback who made it deep into October as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Mariota is a good passer who can improve. Mariota on healthy wheels makes the Duck offense lethal. He and Jameis Winston will get the bulk of the offseason attention. With good reason.

2. The Pac-12 went into the National University Holiday Bowl on Monday night with a 4-1 bowl record, which means the league was a Washington State last-minute meltdown in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl away from a perfect record. You can argue that the matchups favored the Pac-12 teams and you would be correct. But that shouldn’t diminish what an outstanding year the league had. And with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington, the Pac-12 just got tougher.

3. The Seattle Times reports that Petersen asked Marques Tuiasosopo to stay at Washington, where he had been quarterback coach, where he remains the last quarterback to win a Rose Bowl. And Tuiasosopo wants to go with Steve Sarkisian to be USC’s tight ends coach. Maybe Tuiasosopo wants to flesh out his resume and show he will coach anywhere. Maybe Sarkisian knows how to keep a staff together. It wouldn’t be a long-term blow to Petersen. But it underlines the change that has come to U-Dub.

A couple of up-tempo teams squared off in the Fight Hunger Bowl. But it was a big special teams play that propelled the Washington Huskies (9-4) to a 31-16 win over BYU (8-5). Here’s how it all went down Friday in San Francisco:

It was over when: Holding a 31-16 lead late in the fourth, Washington’s John Timu picked off BYU quarterback Taysom Hill with 2:28 left to play. It was BYU’s only turnover of the game and squashed the possibility of any late-game heroics. The Huskies ran down the clock, making BYU's final offensive drive moot.

Game ball goes to: Though he missed the fourth quarter, Washington running back Bishop Sankey turned in his usual workmanlike performance, rushing for 95 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns on the ground.

Unsung hero: Washington’s special teams -- particularly kick return -- were a huge difference early in the game. John Ross returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give Washington a 14-7 lead in the first quarter. Then Jesse Callier had a 47-yard return that set up Sankey’s second score of the game. In his only field goal attempt of the game, Travis Coons hit a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game: The Cougars outgained the Huskies in total offense, 473 yards to 316, but struggled in the red zone, settling for field goals in lieu of touchdowns. They also held a time of possession advantage of more than four minutes, but Washington’s special teams touchdown and long return contributed to shorter drives for the Huskies.

What it means for Washington: The Huskies pick up their ninth win for the first time since 2000 and head into the Chris Petersen era with a little bit of momentum. There are a lot of questions lingering -- such as the makeup the Petersen’s new staff (pretty good audition for Marques Tuiasosopo), which players are staying or going, etc. But for a team that came into the year with fairly high hopes, the Huskies proved they deserve a spot in the final top 25 rankings.

What it means for BYU: The loss snaps BYU’s streak of four straight bowl wins and brings an end to a very difficult schedule. Eight wins is nothing to scoff at, and their 2013 resume includes victories over Texas, Georgia Tech and Boise State. Hill is a player, and with him at the helm the Cougars offense will be dangerous again next year against an easier schedule.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Fight Hunger bowl, click here.

Fight Hunger Bowl preview

December, 27, 2013
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Washington (8-4) and BYU (8-4) square off Friday night in the Fight Hunger Bowl at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: For Washington, it starts with running back Bishop Sankey, a Doak Walker finalist and one of the most consistent and powerful backs in the country. He ranks second in the country in rushing yards (1,775), fourth in rushing touchdowns (18) and averages 147.8 yards on the ground per game. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is the first player in school history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. His completion percentage isn't great -- just 54.1 percent, and he has thrown 13 interceptions to go with 19 touchdowns. But what he lacks in accuracy, he makes up for in scary athleticism.

What to watch: Both teams run an up-tempo style of offense that will put a lot of strain on the opposing team's defense. Well-known nationally is hybrid defensive end/OLB Kyle Van Noy, who pretty much single-handedly won the Poinsettia Bowl last year for the Cougars. Washington's offensive line has been steady and consistent, but keeping Van Noy out of the backfield poses as big a challenge as any pass rusher the Huskies have seen this season. How the Huskies protect quarterback Keith Price and open up holes for Sankey will be the matchup to watch.

Why to watch: Much like USC and Boise State, who already have played their bowl games, Washington is a team going through a coaching transition. That always adds intrigue and drama to the postseason, because motivation comes into question. But with Chris Petersen's hire at Washington, the Huskies don't seem to be as unstable as Boise State was in its loss to Oregon State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. BYU has a knack for playing well in the postseason, winning six of its past seven bowl games and four in a row. Their stability provides a stark contrast to the in-transition Huskies, making for some interesting sidebar discussions in this one.

Predictions: Kevin Gemmell picked Washington to win, 38-27. Ted Miller picked BYU to win, 30-24.

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