NCF Nation: Washington State

Spring practice has begun its roll around the Pac-12, so the table is set for a bevy of position battles that should last the course of the entire offseason. That means it's time to highlight the key fights around the conference.

The quarterback cases

A year after the Pac-12's "year of the quarterback," the conference sees its marquee position enter a state of transition this spring. Plenty of top-flight talent has departed, but an influx of emerging signal-callers has the potential to take at least some sting out of the exodus.

Oregon's saga will generate the most headlines. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is gone, while electrifying dual-threat talent Vernon Adams has transferred to Eugene, Oregon, from Eastern Washington. Coach Mark Helfrich's succession plan isn't determined yet, though: Jeff Lockie was last season's second-stringer, and he'll have a chance to get a jump on Adams -- who can't enroll until fall -- during spring practice.

Less than an hour up the road, Oregon State is tasked with replacing all-time Pac-12 passing leader Sean Mannion. The Beavers are confronted with a traffic jam of their own at the position, as seven quarterbacks currently pack the roster. Luke Del Rio was Mannion's backup last year, so he's a popular name right about now. Expect plenty of maneuvering as the entire stable adapts to Gary Andersen's new offensive system.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCan UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel earn the starting quarterback job over highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen?
Jerry Neuheisel made a memorable start in Brett Hundley's stead against Texas in 2014, but that might have been just a prelude to what's expected to be a fierce offseason quarterback battle at UCLA. Josh Rosen, one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation, has also entered the Westwood fray.

Intrigue extends further into the conference. Luke Falk will likely be Connor Halliday's successor at Washington State, but the fates of incumbents Cyler Miles (Washington) and Travis Wilson (Utah) are far from settled. K.J. Carta-Samuels looks to steal the reins in Seattle. At Utah, Kendal Thompson's challenge of Wilson for the starting job, which raged throughout most of last season, will continue following Thompson's recovery from injury.

The defensive battles up front

Stanford, the Pac-12's best defense three years running, is currently competing to reload a unit that lost eight starters following 2014. The most painful attrition for the Cardinal has happened along the defensive line, where all three of last year's starters are graduating. Coach David Shaw actually wishes he had more competition there, since injuries have reduced Stanford to only three healthy players at the position. But Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas will be back, and the fight to replace Henry Anderson and David Parry will rage on in due time.

Washington, meanwhile, is tasked with replacing six members of a front seven that was stocked with pro talent in 2014: Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson, John Timu, Andrew Hudson, and Evan Hudson. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, and ouch -- all of those guys are leaving. That's a tough rash of losses. Brace for a free-for-all of competition in Chris Petersen's second year. Meanwhile, a few hours to the east, two spots are open on Washington State's defensive line.

The offensive trenches

Most of Cal's rising offense returns in 2015, but there's a big battle for Chris Adcock's vacated center position between Matt Cochran and Addison Ooms. Both Arizona schools should see spirited competition among the offensive hogs, too. The Wildcats must fill three holes up front, including center. Carter Wood is the front-runner there, and Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa throws his name into the tackle ring. He is 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- that sounds fun.

Arizona State tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are both gone, setting up a critical reloading effort to ensure that Mike Bercovici is well protected next season. Evan Goodman and Billy McGehee seem to be the early leading options, but nothing is a lock at this point.

Colorado has lost both starting offensive guards to graduation, and there are four bodies currently competing for those two spots.

Skill-position central

The running back room always seems to be crowded at USC, and Javorius Allen's departure has set the table for a wide-ranging battle this offseason. Allen was the Trojans' leading rusher, but the next six performers on the ground-yardage list come back in 2015. Justin Davis and Tre Madden are the only two scholarship backs returning, and they'll be joined by a trio of freshmen from Steve Sarkisian's monster 2015 recruiting class -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware.

Of course, the departures of Nelson Agholor and George Farmer have also opened matters up at receiver for USC. Expect plenty of explosive fireworks there: JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson are just two of the exciting names on the Trojans roster.
At face value, the Week 12 slate in the Pac-12 isn't sexy, particularly when compared to the doozies the conference has enjoyed in recent weeks. Four clubs again have byes, and there's no truly marquee matchup that stands out from the bunch.

The conference has consistently been giving us "are you not entertained?!" moments, so this initial look at this week's docket may trigger some feelings of withdrawal. But we'll stick with the "Gladiator" theme in our search for some perspective. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (the real guy, not the one featured in the movie), might have been a hidden fan of this Week 12 about 1,800 years ago.

"Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee," he said.

And that's exactly what we're going to do. Because while this cluster of games hasn't made the massive initial splash of its predecessors, there's enough material to make for another engaging weekend.

A Tasty Appetizer: California at USC

At 5-4, the Bears are one win away from bowl eligibility. This trip to Los Angeles and home dates against Stanford and BYU remain on the schedule. Conventional wisdom says that final game against the Cougars will be Cal's best chance to notch win No. 6, but since when does conventional wisdom mean anything in college football? The Bears are averaging 42 points per game this season. They trail only Oregon in the Pac-12, and that explosiveness makes them dangerous on a weekly basis. Jared Goff receives the majority of adulation in Berkeley, but he's enjoyed some critical support on the ground: Only two conference running backs have averaged over five yards per carry while rushing for at least 10 touchdowns. Oregon stud Royce Freeman is one, while Cal's Daniel Lasco is the other.

The Bears must maintain this offensive balance to close out the season, because their Pac-12 worst defense simply isn't at the necessary level yet. That's why Cody Kessler (25 touchdowns, two interceptions) is licking his chops this weekend, and that's why this matchup has some potential Thursday night insanity in it. The Trojans have been good against the run defensively, but if Lasco finds some room to work, there'll be a shootout in the Coliseum (the Pac-12 really is built for Gladiator references).

Saturday's first course: Washington at Arizona

Following the dismissal of cornerback Marcus Peters and a number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Huskies are reeling. Washington has been able to find some success on offense by using Shaq Thompson's top-flight talents at running back, but it was clear during the 44-30 home loss to UCLA that this is a football team struggling with limited resources. Still, there are plenty of intriguing pieces to watch in action here. It sounds as if dinged up national sack leader Hau'oli Kikaha (nation-leading 16.5 sacks) will play this weekend, and that sets the table for a potentially explosive matchup against young quarterback Anu Solomon. The Wildcats, who are coming off a 38-20 win against Colorado, have a strong set of receiving options, and they may pose big problems for a Washington secondary in flux. That'll put even more pressure on Kikaha and the Huskies' pass rush, and considering that unit's ferocity in getting after the quarterback, that's not a bad thing for entertainment purposes.

Don't forget that we'll also have a chance to see Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright work against a sputtering offense. The man's also been a statistical machine, so this game is a chance to watch some of the Pac-12's defensive stars.

Desperation Bowl: Utah at Stanford

In many ways, the 2014 Utes are built like the 2012 Cardinal -- a team that fans in Palo Alto really miss right about now. I wrote about the similarities earlier today while elaborating on the importance of this game for both of these teams. Two consecutive losses (that 51-27 setback to Oregon was brutal, considering how things shook out after Kaelin Clay's infamous mistake) have sent Utah into a slump after a sensational start to the season, while previously mighty Stanford is now in a fight just to attain bowl eligibility.

It feels that both clubs need this game to avoid "total free fall" mode, so this may end up being an entertaining watch, especially if you're a fan of players who love to get after the quarterback. Utah leads the nation with 43 sacks, while Stanford still has some healthy and monstrous pass-rushing talent -- Henry Anderson and Peter Kalambayi come to mind. Expect some violent takedowns in this one.

Game with biggest College Football Playoff implications: Arizona State at Oregon State

Our Ted Miller astutely noted that the Sun Devils' 55-31 win against Notre Dame was actually a three-game series: ASU won Game 1, 34-3, dropped Game 2, 28-0, and sealed the rubber match, 21-0. By the time the desert dust had settled, Todd Graham's team had fully overcome its 62-27 September debacle against UCLA.

The Sun Devils obviously aren't perfect, but their two excellent surges against the Irish proved that there's been a whole heck of a lot of improvement going on in Tempe. At this point, the Sun Devils should strive to continue their steady build heading into the Nov. 28 Territorial Cup. Oregon State's slide has reached severe levels with last week's 39-32 home loss to Connor Halliday-less Washington State, and ASU gets those same Cougars at home after this contest in Corvallis. Of course, the Sun Devils must be wary of a letdown, but the stars seem to be aligning for that match-up against the hated Wildcats with everything on the line.

Then again, conventional wisdom doesn't apply to Pac-12 football, so make sure to watch without making any prior assumptions.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Another entertaining Saturday of college football is over, and that means that there are more helmet stickers to give out. Here's to Week 11.

DJ Foster, RB, Arizona State: The Sun Devils delivered a fine performance in all phases during their 55-31 win against Notre Dame -- even if a second-half lapse made the Tempe faithful nervous. Foster's 21 carries for 120 yards (5.7 per carry) were at the center of the effort on offense. ASU also enjoyed a solid performance from Taylor Kelly (17-for-28, 224 yards, 3 touchdowns), and Jaelen Strong registered a spectacular touchdown catch to set the tone, but Foster's explosiveness formed a backbone for Todd Graham's club throughout.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Hundley's two touchdown passes gave him 69 on his college career, thrusting him past Cade McNown for first place on the UCLA career list. He also rushed for two scores in the Bruins' 44-30 win at Washington. Hundley (29-for-36, 302 yards) is playing his best football of the season, and it seems that 8-2 UCLA is following suit.

Shaq Thompson, LB/RB, Washington: Thompson squared off against fellow two-way phenom Myles Jack on Saturday, and he registered another impressive all-around day: 16 carries, 100 rushing yards on the offensive end to go with four tackles from the linebacker position on the defensive end. It's tough to imagine where the sputtering Washington offense would be without Thompson's contributions in the backfield.

Luke Falk, QB, Washington State: Falk's final line from Washington State's 39-32 win at Oregon State looks a lot like some of the gaudy performances Connor Halliday had been posting all season long: 44-for-61, 471 yards, 5 touchdowns, no interceptions. The road environment certainly didn't faze the redshirt freshman in his first career start, as he calmly led the Cougars back from an early 10-0 deficit.

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona: The Wildcats struggled at home against an improving Colorado squad for much of this game, but Solomon ultimately got back on track after a disappointing outing at UCLA last week. He finished 21-for-38 for 211 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps more impressively, Solomon also tacked on 105 yards with his legs, and he needed just 13 carries to do it. Arizona beat the Buffs 38-20.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: As injured teammates fell around him, Mariota stood tall and powered Oregon to a 51-27 victory with his dazzling combination of passing prowess and running ability. His 18 rushes for 114 yards routinely burned Utah's aggressive defense, while his three passing touchdowns exemplified yet another 'wow' performance from the pocket. Mariota now has too many stickers to fit onto a single helmet, but no problem: He's the Heisman frontrunner.

Joe Walker, LB, Oregon: The pivotal play in Oregon's win over Utah came early, when it appeared as if Ute wide receiver Kaelin Clay was on his way to a 79-yard touchdown reception. But Clay dropped the ball short of the goal line, and the expected 14-0 Utah lead never materialized. Erick Dargan initially grabbed the ball for Oregon before he, too, fumbled it. That's when Walker had the awareness to snatch the treasure and race 100 yards the opposite direction, completing a 179-yard, 14-point swing that completely changed the complexion of the game. One might argue that Walker was simply in the right place at the right time, but his play was critical in this Ducks' victory, so it calls for a sticker.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 11

November, 7, 2014
12:30 p.m. PT

Notre Dame at Arizona State, ABC

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)Taylor Kelly and Arizona State hope to avenge a close loss against Notre Dame last season when the teams meet Saturday.
Here's a game the Sun Devils have been waiting for since falling short against the Irish 37-34 last year. This time, Arizona State gets a crack at Notre Dame in Tempe, and it comes in a spot with major College Football Playoff ramifications. The Sun Devils have delivered significantly better defensive performances over their past three games, but has that been a product of actual improvement or weaker offensive competition? A matchup with Notre Dame's balanced offense will answer that question. This contest also will test Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils' offense.

1 p.m. PT

Washington State at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network

It would have been fun to see Sean Mannion (new holder of the Pac-12 career passing record) square off opposite Connor Halliday, who was on pace for the NCAA single-season passing record. Unfortunately, Halliday's college career ended when he broke his leg last week, so Luke Falk will get the nod for the Cougars. Both teams are desperate for a win. By the way, don't miss our tribute to Halliday.

4 p.m. PT

UCLA at Washington, Fox Sports 1

Some Thursday morning turmoil overtook Washington's program when Chris Petersen dismissed top cornerback Marcus Peters from the team. Only three cornerbacks remain on scholarship for the Huskies, and all of them are true freshmen. That's not ideal against UCLA dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley. Washington's struggling offense also might not match up well with a Bruins' defense that finally put together a complete effort against Arizona last week.

5 p.m. PT

Colorado at Arizona, Pac-12 Network

It's been a close-but-no-cigar season for the Buffaloes, and they are running out of opportunities to win a Pac-12 game. The Wildcats certainly are happy to see the conference bottom-feeder visit Tucson a week after a frustrating 17-7 loss to UCLA. Arizona no longer controls its destiny in the Pac-12 South race, but a 10-win regular season is still within reach. Tantalizing matchups with Utah and ASU loom, but Rich Rodriguez's first order of business is to right the ship.

7 p.m. PT

Oregon at Utah, ESPN

Speaking of righting the ship, the Utes will try to do that at home Saturday. For them, the problem is that red-hot Oregon is the opponent. The Ducks just finished ripping through the Pac-12's top-rated defense (Stanford), and now they get to face the league's No. 2 unit. Utah is healthier in the front seven than the Cardinal, and its aggressive style seems to really feed off the pulsating energy of Rice-Eccles Stadium, so Marcus Mariota's bunch definitely will be tested. Much also rests on the shoulders of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, who likely will have to be more productive than last week (57 yards, 2.6 yards per attempt) for the Utes to keep pace.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
A look at the Pac-12's top players in Week 10.

Shaq Thompson, RB, Washington: The Huskies need offense more than they need defense, and Thompson is the defintion of firepower. As a linebacker, he has scored a nation-high four defensive touchdowns this season. As a running back in Washington's 38-23 win over Colorado, Thompson was also a monster: 15 carries, 175 yards, and a touchdown. That's a sweet 11.7 yards a pop to go with over 200 all-purpose yards.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC: This was smooth sailing for the Trojans. Kessler utilized his arsenal of weapons, completing 21 passes to six different receivers in USC's 44-17 win over Washington State. The quarterback's final line was gaudy: 21-for-32, 400 yards, five touchdowns. That's a gaudy 12.5 yards per attempt. Kessler is (rather quietly) assembling a very productive season for Steve Sarkisian's team.

Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: This receiver's performance was anything but quiet on Saturday: 8 catches, 220 yards, and an 87-yard touchdown reception. The Trojans are a force to be reckoned with in space, and Agholor is the veteran leader of the team's deep playmaking corps.

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: An eye-opening career is over in Pullman after Halliday broke his fibula in gruesome fashion. The senior was on pace to break the NCAA single-season passing record. That obviously won't happen anymore, but Halliday deserves a helmet sticker on his unfortunate final day in a Wazzu uniform.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: A year after Stanford bulldozed Oregon with the power run, the Ducks gave the Cardinal a taste of their own medicine -- and they did it behind another muscle-flexing performance from this true freshman. Freeman popped pads against Stanford's top-ranked defense to the tune of 98 yards on 19 carries, while Thomas Tyner provided some tough running of his own (10 carries, 63 yards). The Ducks exposed the Cardinal 45-16.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: He only caught five balls for 77 yards on Saturday, but it seems like every single one of Strong's grabs came in clutch situations. The guy is aptly named, he soars over defensive backs, and has hands of glue. The Sun Devils feed off their reliable target, who combined with running back Demario Richard (14 carries, 116 yards) to deliver for the offense in ASU's 19-16 overtime win over Utah.

UCLA defense: The Bruins had not been very good defensively in the weeks leading up to this matchup against Arizona's potent attack, so their stifling performance garnered some attention Saturday. UCLA allowed the Wildcats only 3.2 yards per play and flustered quarterback Anu Solomon into an 18-for-48 performance (it must be noted that Arizona also dropped numerous passes). This was a welcome resurgence for the Baby Blue, which won 17-7.

Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona: He continues to be a machine. Wright's stat line: 19 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. No forced fumbles this time, but he's already registered three of those this season.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
All times Pacific

10 a.m.

Washington at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

The Buffaloes are desperate for a conference win, and given Washington’s horrendous offensive struggles, this looks to be their best remaining chance. The Huskies can still wreak havoc defensively, though, so they’re the favorites entering this game. Cyler Miles will be back under center for Washington, which will try to escape Boulder with greater ease than UCLA, who beat the Buffs in double overtime, did last week.

1:30 p.m.

USC at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

Connor Halliday's passing yardage totals continue to light up box scores on a weekly basis, but Cougars losses are piling up just as quickly. Washington State must win out just to finish .500 this season, and that outcome appears highly unlikely. USC might be hurting after a close loss at Utah that also cost them left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but there’s a lot here for Wazzu to handle between Cody Kessler, his explosive targets, and Javorius Allen.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWill Marcus Mariota and Oregon solve Stanford, or will the Cardinal pluck the Ducks again?
4:30 p.m.

Stanford at Oregon, FOX

Don’t let the Cardinal’s three losses fool you: This is still a titanic match-up between the nation’s most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing only 3.7 yards per play, best in FBS) and its best quarterback (Marcus Mariota’s 192.2 rating is No. 1). However, it’s the other side of the ball that might ultimately decide the winner in the Ducks’ revenge effort. Stanford’s offense, though recently revamped, is averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game on the road, while Oregon’s defense has not been airtight this season.

7:30 p.m.

California at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network

Sean Mannion will likely break the Pac-12’s career record for passing yards in this game, as the current mark, held by USC’s Matt Barkley, is just over 200 yards away. Fittingly, the quarterback on the other side -- Cal sophomore Jared Goff -- has a legitimate shot to re-break that record if he’s still around in two years. This one will be fun because it features two talented quarterbacks and an air of desperation, as both teams need a win to stay on reasonable track for bowl eligibility.

Arizona at UCLA, ESPN

It’s put up-or-shut up time in Westwood. The Bruins have squeaked by two lower-tier Pac-12 teams in Cal and Colorado. The road becomes more difficult with resurgent Arizona visiting. The Wildcats fired on all cylinders at Washington State last week, and Anu Solomon is certainly excited to test the shaky Bruins defense with the likes of Nick Wilson and Austin Hill. Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III has forced five fumbles this season, while UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has turned the ball over eight times. Keep an eye on the Bruins’ ability to protect the football.

8 p.m.

Utah at Arizona State, Fox Sports 1

So, how much has Arizona State’s defense — particularly its stoutness against the run — improved? We’ll find out when Utah’s Devontae Booker (leading the Pac-12 at 166 rushing yards per conference game) tests Tempe to wrap up Saturday. The Sun Devils had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight games before stifling Stanford. Washington also had some success against them on the ground last week (but none through the air), so this duel in the desert represents a true litmus test for both teams. The winner will be in excellent position when it comes to the race for the Pac-12 South crown.
After 13 years of home-away-from-home games in Seattle, Washington State Cougars athletic director Bill Moos is pulling the plug on the Cougars' almost-yearly trek over the Cascade Mountains.

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Martin Stadium
Courtesy of WSU AthleticsFans will see a renovated Martin Stadium when they attend games in Pullman, Washington, this season.
Thursday's season-opener against Rutgers at CenturyLink Field will serve as the 12th and final installment of what WSU fans have known simply as The Seattle Game since 2002.

"We're going to discontinue it," Moos said. "Really feel that it's run its course -- served us well over the years."

When the tradition started, it was seen as a way to bring the team closer to a significant number of its fans. Western Washington -- and the Seattle area in particular -- is home to a majority of WSU's alumni base and there was a vocal faction of that group that had long lobbied for a game closer to home. When the Seattle Seahawks opened what was known then as Seahawks Stadium in 2002, the timing made sense.

WSU, ranked No. 11 in the preseason AP poll, beat Nevada 31-7 before a near-sellout crowd of 63,588 in the first football game played at what is now reputed as the loudest venue in the NFL. The game was widely accepted as an overwhelming success.

Over the first eight years, WSU continued to bring in out-of-conference opponents, but interest started to dwindle as the program failed to maintain the success it found early in the decade. The game still regularly drew 45,000-plus -- approximately 10,000 more than Martin Stadium's capacity -- but many believed giving up the distinct home-field advantage in Pullman was no longer worth it.

When Moos arrived in the spring of 2010, there wasn't a Seattle game waiting on the schedule.

"When I got to Washington State, I sat down and developed our blueprint that we wanted to follow to move our program in the direction to be successful," Moos said. "We had all kinds of things we wanted to accomplish, but we didn't have any [major] revenue streams."

He saw returning to Seattle in 2011 as one way to change that -- and added a twist. No longer would the Cougars play an early-season nonconference game in Seattle, instead Moos scheduled midseason conference games against Oregon and Oregon State. He knew that by playing the Oregon schools there, WSU was essentially forfeiting home games, but the price was right and WSU needed the money. Plus, the location wasn't going to affect the outcome considering how bad the Cougars were at the time.

"The money we made playing Oregon in 2012 [when the attendance was 60,929] was roughly twice the net revenue that we would have made playing at home in front of a packed house in Martin Stadium," Moos said. "It served its purpose -- it generated funds for us and kind of kick-started what our plans were."

As things progressed, other revenue streams developed. Thanks to network television contracts and the debut of the Pac-12 Network, money was no longer as tight.

"We were able to invest the extra monies that we were realizing from [the Seattle games and TV contracts] to help build $130 million worth of facilities for the football program and Martin Stadium," Moos said. "We've got enthusiasm now. We've got energy. I think we've done a good job of creating exposure in the western side of the state -- which we'll continue to do -- we’re just not going to bring a football game over anymore.

"It just felt like it was time to bring everything home."

When the Cougars play their Pullman-opener on Sept. 13 against Portland State, fans will be greeted by a finished product. In the spring, construction was completed on a $61 million football operations building which encloses the west end zone, and more recently a new brick finish at the base of the stands surrounding the field was installed along with a ribbon board for messaging atop the north stands.

"It certainly isn't the largest stadium, but I think it's one of the nicest and really I think is inviting and complements our campus," Moos said.

Moos has told other schools Seattle is no longer on the table for a potential home-and-home series. He turned down an offer from Oklahoma State -- OSU played in Seattle in 2008 and WSU went to Stillwater in 2010 -- because the Cowboys were only interested if the WSU home game was again in Seattle.

Largely as a result of the game being played on a Thursday this year, the final Seattle game will also be the least attended.

"I think I'd be happy if we have 30,000 with what the numbers are now," Moos said.

As part of the home-and-home contract that will also send WSU to New Jersey next year, Rutgers would only commit to a weekday road game, citing travel concerns. Moos said WSU wanted to play Rutgers in Pullman on a Saturday and play the Seattle game midseason, like the past few years, but it just didn't work out. He acknowledged that a Thursday night game in Seattle is less than ideal -- primarily because it'll prevent students, who have begun classes, from attending -- but thought playing on the first big night of college football on national television was a decent-enough consolation.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
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?!


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.


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.

Who has brains coming back?

April, 3, 2012
Recognition is so important for an offense. Think Andrew Luck -- or Peyton Manning -- wildly gesticulating at the line of scrimmage.

Or, for that matter, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas doing the same thing.

That was something that stuck with me after I chatted with Oregon sophomore center Hroniss Grasu a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about how he improved at making line calls during the 2011 season, but he went out of his way to note how good Thomas was at helping out, at identifying last-second changes a defense made that perhaps hinted at its ill intentions.

The point: Centers and quarterbacks are the brains of an offense. The center typically makes the calls at the line of scrimmage that make sure everyone is accounted for. And quarterbacks communicate to both the skill players and the line about check and audibles.

The QB and center work in tandem. They need to be in sync. And having smart, experienced signal-callers and centers is a big deal for an offense. It means an offense can go to the line with more options, and it can check into the right option more often than not. That breeds confidence, both among players and with their coaches.

So which Pac-12 teams are experienced at QB and center? Who has both back, one back or neither?

Thanks for asking.

Arizona: Center
: While Nick Foles was the Wildcats' quarterback last year, Matt Scott has started five games, so the offense is not in inexperienced hands. Senior center Kyle Quinn did a solid job in 2011, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. On the downside, the Wildcats are installing a new offense with coach Rich Rodriguez, so past experience isn't as helpful.

Arizona State: Neither
QB Brock Osweiler is gone as is center Garth Gerhart. Kody Koebensky likely takes over at center, while the quarterback competition continues to be wide-open. Of course, the Sun Devils are installing a new offense under new coach Todd Graham, so being green isn't as much of an issue.

California: Both
: QB Zach Maynard should be much more in control as a second-year starter. While center Dominic Galas is back, he's sitting out spring due to a shoulder injury, and it appears he will switch over to guard. Galas, some of you Bears fans might recall, did have some issues with shotgun snaps last year. Chris Adcock or Mark Brazinski could end up winning the job.

Colorado: Center
: Tyler Hansen is almost certainly going to be replaced at quarterback by Texas transfer Connor Wood, a sophomore with no game experience. It should help Wood, however, to have junior Gus Handler back making the line calls. Daniel Munyer, who's slated to start at guard, also has starting experience at center.

Oregon: Center
Skinny: Center
Grasu's first start as a redshirt freshman was against LSU's beastly defensive front. That was a baptism by fire, but he consistently improved throughout the season. QB Bryan Bennett has some experience, including one start, but he will be challenged this spring by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Oregon State: QB
: Sean Mannion is back at QB, but center Grant Johnson is gone. The frontrunner to win that job is sophomore Roman Sapolu. The Beavers have injury issues on the line this spring, and that likely will slow down the unit's -- and Sapolu's -- development.

Stanford: Center
: You might have heard that Andrew Luck is gone. Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes look like the favorites to replace him, but neither has significant experience. Senior Sam Schwartzstein did a fine job stepping into Chase Beeler's shoes in 2011, but life was, naturally, easier with Luck at QB. More will fall on Schwartzstein in 2012.

: The Bruins have two quarterbacks with significant starting experience back: Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. But redshirt freshman Brett Hundley might end up winning the job. All three are learning a new offense this spring under new coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Sophomore Jacob Brendel -- or perhaps junior Greg Capella, who mostly started at guard last year -- are the frontrunners to replace Kai Maiava at center.

USC: Both
: You've maybe heard of Trojans QB Matt Barkley and his receivers, Robert Woods/Marqise Lee, being the best pass-catch trio in the nation. Well, Barkley and senior center Khaled Holmes are the perhaps the best QB-center combination in the nation. Holmes was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, and he's probably the best center in the conference.

Utah: Both
: Junior Jordan Wynn, a three-year starter, only needs to stay healthy for the Utes to get at least solid QB play. Center Tevita Stevens is solid, but he will be breaking in a pair of new OTs.

Washington: Both
: Junior QB Keith Price was a revelation last year as a first-year starter, far eclipsing the production of his celebrated predecessor, Jake Locker. Senior center Drew Schaefer is a 30-game starter. So this is a strong combo for the Huskies.

Washington State: Both
: Jeff Tuel feels like a decided frontrunner to retain his starting job at QB, while junior Matt Goetz returns at center. A junior-college transfer in 2011, he started the final nine games of 2011. A year of seasoning -- and in the weight room -- should help Goetz in 2012.

Pac-12 media day notebook

July, 28, 2011
ArizonaArizona: There has been a lot of speculation about receiver Juron Criner's absence this summer and the potential of him even playing this season. Coach Mike Stoops said the all-conference player was back participating with the team after having "some personal and family issues with his mother that he had to attend to."

ASUArizona State: If Arizona State were to finish second behind USC in the South Division, they would still advance to the championship game because of the NCAA sanctions levied upon USC. If that were to happen, coach Dennis Erickson and quarterback Brock Osweiler agreed that they wouldn't care. "If you get in the game and you win it, you're going to the Rose Bowl," Osweiler said. "So whatever it takes to get there."

CalCalifornia: Oregon isn't the only Pac-12 team tied to scout/street agent Willie Lyles. California also did business with Lyles. "I have no concern whatsoever about it," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We have the videos, we have the prospect list, and so I have absolutely no concern about it." What Tedford is concerned about is his first losing season, and he said he understood that Bears fans are unhappy with the recent trajectory of the program. "We have created a standard and expectation at Cal over the last nine years," he said. "Last season we fell short of that, and we're not hiding from that."

ColoradoColorado: The Buffaloes have not won on the road since 2007, a span of 18 games. That second number was provided by new coach Jon Embree when asked about the first. He said it's a "sticking point" with him and one that he's noted -- probably more than once -- to the team. "I believe there is no one on our team that's played in a road win," he said. "Good teams win on the road. Obviously we haven't been a good team or I wouldn't be here. The thing I'm excited about is our first game's on the road [at Hawaii] because we need to address that issue immediately. I'll leave it at that. We need to address that issue immediately. It does not sit well with me." Sounds like Hawaii is circled in red ink on the schedule.

OregonOregon: Ducks coach Chip Kelly had high praise for quarterback Darron Thomas. "I don't know if there's a ceiling with Darron," he said. "To come in as a first-time starter and go undefeated in the regular season, and undefeated in this conference and lead his team to a berth in the national championship game. And threw for the second most yards ever in a national championship game, I think the one thing that I remarked and I said it a lot last year is that it almost seemed like every week he just got better and better." Oh, and Kelly also said Thomas was "the toughest quarterback I've been around."

Oregon StateOregon State: Beavers coach Mike Riley provided a cautiously optimistic update on receiver James Rodgers, who blew out his knee last season at Arizona. "The one thing that you can never do with James is count him out," Riley said. "He had two major knee surgeries. He is running. He has always been deemed ahead of schedule. But I'm going to really play this conservatively. I'm going to see where he is. He's got a major doctor's appointment, kind of a last check up before camp coming up. We'll see what they say when he comes home from that. Then we'll go into fall camp and see where he is." Riley also said that he expects tight end Joe Halahuni (shoulder) to "be practicing the last couple of weeks of fall camp, then we'll see about game ready after that."

StanfordStanford: The Cardinal has plenty of questions at receiver, but a healthy return of Chris Owusu would answer many of those questions, including giving Stanford one of the conference's best deep threats. Said coach David Shaw, "Since Chris' last surgery I haven't said anything to him besides play every game. That's all I said to Chris. I said nothing else. I said, 'Chris, … we'll practice accordingly.' We will make sure we take the pounding off him in training camp. We need Chris to play in every single game." As for young receivers stepping up, Shaw didn't provide any names, though he did say if none did, he'd just throw more to the Cardinal's deep collection of tight ends.

UCLAUCLA: Coach Rick Neuheisel hopes to take to the air this year, no matter who he has under center. Juniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut will compete for the starting gig during fall camp, with each looking to bolster an anemic passing attack that ranked 116th out of 120 teams nationally last season. "Somewhere along the line, we lost our ability to throw the ball," Neuheisel said. "I don't think you can point to one factor."

USCUSC: If USC's new-look offensive line ends up being any good this season, a lot of the credit will go to Khaled Holmes, a converted guard who moved to center this offseason because of his cerebral nature. "This is an important move for us," coach Lane Kiffin said. "We do a lot of stuff on our offensive system. Khaled's a very smart football player, so he'll help us up front, because he's going to have two new guards next to him."

UtahUtah: Utes coach Kyle Whittingham didn't mince words when talking about the importance of QB Jordan Wynn, who is coming back from shoulder surgery. "Job 1, in fact, is keeping Jordan Wynn healthy throughout the course of the season," Whittingham said. Whittingham said Wynn's shoulder is "100 percent from a medical standpoint," but that doesn't mean the coaches won't be cautious with him. "[Offensive coordinator Norm] Chow has a plan in place to limit his throws early in camp and progress from there," Whittingham said. "What that number is, we're looking at is it 100 throws a day? Is it 80 throws a day? But we'll have a plan in place to make sure we don't wear him out early on in camp."

WashingtonWashington: The Pac-12 blog recently rated Washington in "great shape" at defensive tackle. That probably is no longer accurate, particularly with some injury issues at the position. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi will be limited early in camp, coach Steve Sarkisian said. Potoa'e has a sprained knee that needs to be watched, while Sarkisian previously said Tokolahi (ankle) likely won't be back before conference play begins on Sept. 24 against California. Toss in the retirement of Chris Robinson due to knee issues, and the Huskies have some issue at the position, at least beyond 330-pound Alameda Ta'amu. The depth, at least, figures to be young, with redshirt freshman Lawrence Lagafuaina and incoming freshman Danny Shelton.

Washington StateWashington State: While the return of QB Jeff Tuel and a top-flight receiving corps is good, the Cougars struggled on the offensive line in 2010, both pass blocking and run blocking. But coach Paul Wulff believes that might change this fall due to continuity, with four starters back as well as some other experienced backups. "I think a lot of things are solved," Wulff said. "Our running game, we're a lot more physical on the offensive line. We're athletic. We have experience. Our running backs are better. Our quarterbacks and then the continuity with some of our young receivers and Jeff are better. So all of those ingredients are going to equate to higher productivity."