NCF Nation: Aaron Corp

Kiffin's decisions are failing USC

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
3:00
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Lane KiffinRichard Mackson/US PresswireBy maintaining play-calling duties, Lane Kiffin has put himself in the crosshairs.
In spring 2003, Pete Carroll decided that Matt Leinart should be named USC's starting quarterback over Matt Cassel. In the spring of 2008, he decided that Mark Sanchez should be named the Trojans' starter over Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp.

While Carroll's dynastic run at USC was notoriously about non-stop competition, he also understood team dynamics. He believed that it was important to name a starting quarterback as soon as possible. When he saw separation, he believed a starter should be "anointed." And, yes, that was the term he used.

"Part of the reason for naming [Sanchez] is to see [leadership] come out," Carroll told me in 2008. "He wasn't able to show it. He hadn't been anointed yet."

That formal anointing allowed the quarterback to gain and then demonstrate confidence. He became the offensive leader.

In the spring of 2011, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator, leaned on this lesson when he opted to name Keith Price his starter over Nick Montana.

In all three cases, a coach made a decision and it turned out to be the right one. That is what good coaches do. They use their wisdom and intuition to make decisions that help their football team reach its potential.

At a place like USC, "reach its potential," means winning and winning big. And that is -- critically -- where USC coach Lane Kiffin, who also coached under Carroll, has fallen short. He has made decisions and they have turned out to be the wrong ones. Those wrong decisions now have him riding an 8-7 record since his team started the 2012 season ranked No. 1.

When judging Kiffin, that is what matters: The concrete decisions he makes and the real-world results of those decisions. It's not about folks who have never talked to him one-on-one judging his personality or character. It's not about the perception that he's smug or hasn't paid his coaching dues. Forget perception and personality. It's about results.

Two games into the 2013 season, after a miserably disappointing 2012 campaign, those results have been terrible, at least in the specific areas that Kiffin oversees: offense and quarterbacks. Though Clay Helton is the titular quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Kiffin's decision -- another bad one -- to retain play-calling duties this fall makes him responsible entirely for the results on offense.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Chris Williams/Icon SMICody Kessler and the USC offense were brought to their knees by Washington State.
Those results? The Trojans' longest pass play this year is 19 yards. They passed for only 54 yards -- 2.6 yards per completion -- in the 10-7 loss Saturday to Washington State, which yielded 263 yards passing per game last year. Auburn, which is using a former defensive back as its quarterback, passed for 99 yards in a win over the Cougars the week before. USC is ranked 112th in the nation in passing offense, despite having the nation's best receiver in Marqise Lee, the extremely talented Nelson Agholor and two future NFL tight ends in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.

Of course, a defense lawyer pleading Kiffin's case could try to change the narrative. He could say USC doesn't have a Leinart, Sanchez or even a Price on its roster. He could say the QB competition was too close to call -- to anoint -- at the end of spring practices. He could say Kiffin should be able to call plays because it's his team, as Carroll called plays on defense and Sarkisian calls his offensive plays. He could say USC is leading with its stout defense. He could say NCAA sanctions are hurting Kiffin's offense.

He could say the season is far from over, and that would be unquestionably true.

The easy and decisive counter to all that is to wheel in a TV and turn on a replay of the loss to Washington State. To use a Kiffin phrase, "It is what it is." And that is horrific. If the prosecutor wanted to pile on, he'd then make it a double-feature with the Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.

Yet, it's also easy to counter each defense argument.

QB talent? Max Wittek was No. 3 and Cody Kessler was No. 29 in the ESPN.com ranking of QB recruits in 2011. True freshman Max Browne was the No. 2 QB in the 2013 class. Young QBs across the country are putting up big numbers, most of whom were lower rated than these guys.

Competition too close to call? There wasn't an observer during spring practices who didn't believe Kessler had outplayed Wittek.

Call his own plays because it's his team? As the head coach, it's his job to judge performance objectively. By any measure, USC's offensive playcaller in 2012 failed at his job. He also certainly failed through two games this season.

Leading with a stout defense? Well, take a look at the scoreboard. That stout defense needed more help if winning remains the goal.

NCAA sanctions? Really? You'd use that argument after losing at home to a team that has averaged 9.8 losses per season over the past five years?

Kiffin's chief problem in 2012 was getting distracted by little things. He seemed consumed with gimmicks and gamesmanship. He hasn't seemed to grasp the fundamental fact of coaching USC: If superior players execute well, they win just about every time.

USC still has superior players. While that advantage might not be as decisive these days when matched with Oregon and Stanford, or even a rising UCLA, it certainly is when standing opposite Washington State.

Kiffin made a pair of decisions entering the 2013 season: 1. He would retain play-calling duties; 2. He would play two quarterbacks. After two games, those decisions are abject failures by even charitable measures.

Based on the "Fire Kiffin" chants in the Coliseum as the clock wound down last weekend, more than a few folks are done with charitable measures.
Say what you want about the flagging reputations of former USC quarterbacks, but at least they keep things interesting.

One of the big questions for the 2013 NFL draft this week is the fate of Matt Barkley. Will he still get picked in the first round or will his stock continue to tumble?

Barkley seemed to -- finally? -- reveal some frustrations this week in a series of interviews in which he questioned coach Lane Kiffin's play-calling in 2012.

See here. And here.

But he wasn't the only former Trojan making news.

Mark Sanchez spoke up about the New York Jets acquiring Tim Tebow last year, and the media circus that the organization seemed to embrace. That, of course, created a new, if more modulated, media circus.

That wasn't the oddest bit of "news."

Former USC quarterback Mitch Mustain, who backed up Sanchez and Barkley after transferring from Arkansas, is the subject of a new documentary. It's narrated by former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, which adds to a slightly strange texture in itself.

What's it about? Well, it's called "The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain," which strikes me as a bit melodramatic. Mustain, who had an undeniably live arm, had one problem: His ability to select football programs.

When Mustain decided to leave Arkansas, where he was mismatched with head coach Houston Nutt, he could have become the starter for about 100 or so teams. But he chose USC, which simply had better quarterbacks on hand. End of story, at least on the USC end.

The Arkansas stuff, however, is fairly rich.

Meanwhile, Matt Leinart is a free agent, Carson Palmer signed with Arizona -- perhaps to be closer to the Pac-12 blog -- Matt Cassel is with the Minnesota Vikings, Aaron Corp is on the Buffalo Bills roster and John David Booty is out of the league.

Not many schools can list so many NFL QBs, but that operates as a negative when the success rate is so low.

The cumulative affect of all this mediocrity and odd drama -- fair or unfair -- is freight for Barkley.

His draft stock is not just about a disappointing season and over-heated questions about his arm strength, which is certainly NFL-adequate. It's guilt by association: USC QBs and their recent history in the NFL is pretty lousy.

USC's QB past shouldn't mean that much. Barkley should be evaluated, positively or negatively, on what he has done, who he is and his potential. But that dubious lineage will make more than a few NFL GMs skittish.

But all it takes is for Barkley to end up back in the first round. We shall see.
USC got a look at what its offense might look like without starting quarterback Matt Barkley during the spring game. The verdict? Not too shabby.

[+] EnlargeMitch Mustain
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIREIf Matt Barkley were to get injured or falter, the USC coaching staff would "be very comfortable" turning to Mitch Mustain, above.
With Barkley sidelined by a bruised hand, Mitch Mustain threw five touchdown passes while completing 19 of 29 for 299 yards to lead his team to victory.

While ESPN's College Football Live rates Barkley as "irreplaceable," the Trojans coaches doesn't seem too worried about the prospect of potentially turning to Mustain, a fifth-year senior.

"We'd be very comfortable," quarterbacks coach Clay Helton said.

Mustain is probably the nation's best known backup quarterback. He went 61-2 at Springdale (Ark.) High School and was named the 2005 Gatorade, USA Today and Parade Magazine National Player of the Year before becoming the biggest recruit in Arkansas history. He went 8-0 as a true freshman starter, yet things turned sour between Mustain and Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt -- let's just say it was complicated -- and Mustain opted to transfer to USC.

The Trojans offered a new start, but Mustain couldn't manage to win the starting job after sitting out a season, per transfer rules. He first served as Mark Sanchez's backup in 2008 and then failed to beat out Barkley last fall. He saw limited action in 2008 -- he passed for 157 yards with two TDs and two interceptions -- but didn't throw a pass last year and was a mostly a forgotten man under coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.

With the arrival of new coach Lane Kiffin, however, the message was no job was safe. Even Barkley's.

"Mustain really wanted to come and compete and show that he's a big-time quarterback who can help the team in any way," Helton said. "We were very proud of the way Mitch responded during the spring."

While few expected Mustain to beat out Barkley, who emerged as a clear No. 1 when spring practices ended, he impressed the coaching staff, Helton said.

"I thought he really put in the extra effort and the extra time of really understanding the system," he said. "We're extremely pleased with him."

The good news is that Mustain's game experience likely means he won't be too wide-eyed if he's needed to step in for an injured Barkley. The bad news is that he's the last line of defense -- or offense. This spring, after Aaron Corp opted to transfer to Richmond, he and Barkley were the only two scholarship QBs on the roster, though James Boyd was moved from defensive end to fortify depth. In the fall, touted freshman Jesse Scroggins arrives, but turning to a true freshman quarterback is rarely a good thing in the Pac-10.

If Barkley is lights out and doesn't get hurt, it seems unlikely that Mustain will see much playing time. His future hope, of course, is to copy the path of Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart's backup at USC, who signed a six-year, $63 million contract in July 2009 with the Kansas City Chiefs.

But Helton isn't writing off Mustain.

"I think he is going to be a guy who definitely helps us in his last year," he said.

Ten top moments of the Pac-10 season

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
2:09
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The Pac-10 moments that stood out.

1. Pete Carroll leaves USC for the Seattle Seahawks: It wasn't just the biggest story in the Pac-10. It was the biggest story of the college football season. Carroll built a dynasty and nearly won three consecutive national titles. His run at USC -- two national championships, seven Pac-10 titles, seven consecutive top-four finishes, three Heisman Trophy winners -- ranks among the best in college football history.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Joe Robbins/Getty Images After only one season at Tennessee Lane Kiffin is headed to Southern California.
2. Lane Kiffin leaves Tennessee for USC: This one nearly equaled Carroll's departure in shock value: Kiffin, a former USC assistant, bolts his job at Tennessee after just one season to take over the Trojans. Obviously, unless you've been under a rock, you've read plenty about this one of late, including the potential inclusion of Norm Chow, presently UCLA's offensive coordinator, on Kiffin's new staff. That certainly will cool things down between the Bruins and Trojans, eh?

3. A victory in the Civil War for the Roses sends Oregon to the Rose Bowl: The Ducks 37-33 victory over rival Oregon State lived up to the pregame hype. LeGarrette Blount scored a touchdown in his first action since his meltdown at Boise State, but the stars for Oregon were running back LaMichael James (166 yards rushing, three TDs) and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who led a masterful final possession that featured two fourth-down conversions and burned the final 6:09 off the clock.

4. The punch: Blount's punch of a Boise State player after the Ducks embarrassing 19-8 season-opening road loss became one of the most replayed highlights of the season. It also became the touchstone for the Ducks' transformation from a national joke into Pac-10 champions. And Chip Kelly from an overmatched neophyte into Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

5. Toby Gerhart is runner-up in closest Heisman race in history: Despite putting up the best numbers against the best competition during the regular season, Gerhart finished second to Alabama's Mark Ingram in the Heisman Trophy voting. Still, Gerhart won the Doak Walker Award -- over Ingram -- as the country's top running back and earned consensus first-team All-America honors.

6. Oregon crushes No. 4 USC 47-20: For anyone who had covered USC during the Carroll era, it was shocking to watch. The Ducks piled up 613 total yards -- 391 rushing -- while handing USC its worst loss since 1997.

7. Stanford runs up the score on USC, 55-21: For anyone who had covered USC during the Carroll era, it was shocking to watch. Perhaps it was possible to write off the Trojans getting blown out on the road at Oregon, but getting physically manhandled at home? The 34-point defeat was USC's worst home loss since 1966. Even more galling: Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh opted to go for a 2-point conversion with a 27-point lead and just 6:47 left, inspiring a spirited post-game handshake with Carroll, who asked Harbaugh, "What's your deal?"

8. Oregon beats Arizona 44-41 in double-overtime: It was as entertaining a game as you could see. Oregon overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit because of a tour de force performance from Masoli, who scored three touchdowns running and three passing, including an 8-yard toss that tied the score with six seconds left and forced overtime, stunning Wildcats fans who already had jumped from the stands for a postgame celebration. The loss kept Arizona from playing in its first Rose Bowl.

9. California goes down by a combined 72-6 on consecutive weekends: Talk about a fall from grace. Cal went to Oregon on Sept. 26 ranked No. 6 in the country with a 3-0 record. The Bears were national title contenders and Jahvid Best was the conference's leading Heisman Trophy candidate. But a 42-3 loss to the Ducks followed by a 30-3 defeat at home against USC the following weekend made the Bears a national punchline.

10. Sarkisian bests Carroll: Fresh off a thrilling 18-15 win at Ohio State, USC carried a No. 3 ranking to Washington, which had just ended a 15-game losing streak the week before against Idaho. Most of the pregame discussion was whether Carroll would take it easy on his former offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian. But with quarterback Aaron Corp starting for an injured Matt Barkley, the Trojans couldn't get anything going on offense. Washington quarterback Jake Locker, meanwhile, engineered a thrilling 68-yard drive that ended on Erik Folk's 22-yard field goal with three seconds remaining for a shocking 16-13 victory.

Carroll, USC confirm Corp transfer

January, 7, 2010
1/07/10
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USC has confirmed that No. 3 quarterback Aaron Corp has decided to transfer to Richmond.

"We wish Aaron the best. I know it'll work out well for him," coach Pete Carroll said in a statement.

Corp's transfer was first reported by WTVR CBS in Richmond.

Has Barkley's season been a success?

December, 2, 2009
12/02/09
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This quarterback has thrown 11 interceptions and 12 touchdown passes in 10 games.

Is he any good?

That, of course, oversimplifies things with USC's true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. If you've watched him play, his potential is clear. It's hard to believe that in two or three years he won't be a first-round NFL draft choice.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireMatt Barkley has had his ups and downs during his first season as a starter.
And yet, as the LA Times' Gary Klein writes, there was a lot not to like about his first season as the Trojans' starter, particularly the interceptions.

Barkley admits that. He's been a stand-up guy all season.

His biggest defender, coach Pete Carroll -- it's sport among Trojans beat writers how Carroll nearly always blames other factors for Barkley's interceptions -- mostly admits the same. Mostly.

Barkley has completed 59 percent of his passes, a middling percentage considering how conservative the Trojans' offensive game plans have been. He ranks fifth in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency, but two of the quarterbacks he leads -- Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli and Washington's Jake Locker -- bring other attributes to the table (Locker has accounted for 23 total touchdowns; Masoli, 26).

More than a few Trojans fans wonder if the season would have been more successful with Aaron Corp or Mitch Mustain starting. And what if Corp, No. 1 on the depth chart after spring practices, didn't get hurt during the preseason?

Ah, what-ifs.

On the other hand, the payoff may be the next two years.

Barkley is clearly mature and bright. It's hard to believe he won't process this season and come back better next spring and fall. A sophomore blossom seems much more likely than a sophomore slump.

Of course, the Trojans' offense will be rebuilding next year -- is it time to jump ship on the automatic "reload?" -- particularly if a couple of juniors, such as receiver Damian Williams, declare early for the NFL draft.

The Pac-10 will be loaded at quarterback next fall, especially if Locker returns.

Where will Barkley rank in that pecking order entering the season? Probably fifth behind Locker, Masoli, Stanford's Andrew Luck and Arizona's Nick Foles.

But that doesn't matter, does it? The big issue for the Trojans is where he will rank a year from now.

A Pac-10 Halloween!

October, 30, 2009
10/30/09
10:02
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Happy Halloween Eve!

The Pac-10 has its share of ghosts, ghouls and goblins.

 
 AP Photo/Don Ryan
 After being left for dead following the first three games, Jeremiah Masoli has come back to life.
So, in the spirit of the coming weekend ...

Haunted House: Autzen Stadium. Ducks fans are donning all-black for Saturday's marquee showdown with USC. The freaks will be out and it will be very, very loud.

Scary Movie: Boise State 19, Oregon 8. Eek! The Ducks don't record a first down into the third quarter! They managed just 152 total yards! Running back LeGarrette Blount is possessed by an evil spirit! Eek!

Cursed Team: Washington State. The Cougars won two games a year ago. They will be lucky to win two again this season.

Trick-or-Treat: Oregon's visit to Arizona on Nov. 21 could be tricky. And a treat? Arizona comes out of a bye this weekend to face Washington State on Nov. 7.

Nightmare on Tempe Street: Arizona State plays host to California this weekend with an increasingly unhappy fan base frowning from the stands. The Sun Devils need two more wins to reach bowl eligibility, but the remaining schedule includes USC, visits to Oregon and UCLA and the season finale against rising rival Arizona.

Boo (Boo): While there have been plenty of season-ending injuries, the Pac-10's most critical injury thus far only lasted one game. When USC quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a sprained shoulder at Ohio State, it may have cost the Trojans a shot at playing in the national title game. With Barkley on the sidelines, backup Aaron Corp had a terrible day at Washington in a 16-13 loss.

Jigsaw team: California is tough to figure. It welcomed back 17 starters from a nine-win team that beat Oregon and lost to USC by 14 points in 2008, while the Ducks and Trojans had to replace 17 NFL draft picks between them. Yet the Bears lost to both by a combined 72-6 count.

Night of the living dead: Speaking of the Golden Bears, it's not unreasonable to project that they could run the table and finish 10-2, despite the faceplants against Oregon and USC.

The Great Pumpkin: When UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel talks about his offense, most particularly his uncertain quarterback situation, you can almost see him transform into Linus Van Pelt, hoping against all hope that some points magically arrive.

Halloween costumes:

Arizona quarterback Nick Foles: The Dude from "The Big Lebowski"
Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict: A watch (so he can learn to be on time with his hits)
California running back Jahvid Best: Flash
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli: Dracula (he looked dead three games into the season, but he's clearly undead now)
Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers: Chucky (he looks like a little doll, but he will kill you)
Stanford running back Toby Gerhart: Juggernaut (the bad guy from the X-Men)
UCLA kicker Kai Forbath: Bigfoot
USC coach Pete Carroll & UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel: Hans & Franz (They're both here to pump (clap) you up!)
USC safety Taylor Mays: The Terminator
Washington quarterback Jake Locker: Batman the Dark Knight (Locker is a tortured superhero)
Washington State coach Paul Wulff: Joe Bfstplk

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


The backup quarterback is just a bruised shoulder or broken jaw away from taking over the most critical position on the field -- just ask USC or UCLA.

There's already been plenty of quarterback movement in the conference -- injuries, depth chart changes, etc. -- so it seemed like a good time to see where the Pac-10 QB depth stands.

Ready to roll

Lyle Moevao, Oregon State: Heck, it's hard to even call Moevao a backup to Sean Canfield, who was Moevao's backup last year. Moevao owns an 11-4 record as a starter and is only on the bench because he's still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

Tavita Pritchard, Stanford: Pritchard is not going to play in the NFL, but he's a smart and experienced quarterback who started 19 games before being beaten out by talented redshirt freshman Andrew Luck. By the way, his first start was a win over USC.

Matt Scott, Arizona: He started the first three games this season but lost his job to Nick Foles after a poor performance at Iowa. Still, the sophomore has enough experience that if Foles went down the Wildcats wouldn't go into panic mode.

Marshall Lobbestael, Washington State: He started three games last year before a knee injury ended his season and two games this year before coach Paul Wulff opted to go with true freshman Jeff Tuel. He's battle tested, so if he's called upon again, it won't be like he's being fed to the wolves.

Nate Costa, Oregon: Before the 2008 season, Costa was the touted heir-apparent to Dennis Dixon. Then he blew out his knee -- for a second time. A healthy Costa is a nice backup plan for Jeremiah Masoli. And No. 3 Darron Thomas is no slouch -- he nearly led a comeback against Boise State in 2008.

Has the hype

Brock Osweiler, Arizona State: Folks around the Sun Devils program were so excited about the mature, 6-foot-8 Montana native that many thought he'd beat out senior Danny Sullivan for the starting job. The true freshman still might be a factor this season.

Mitch Mustain/Aaron Corp: Corp was the starter coming out of spring. Mustain practically disappeared until reemerging this week as Matt Barkley's potential backup. Both were prep All-Americans. Mustain was good enough to go 8-0 in the SEC at Arkansas, but offenses are more complex in the Pac-10.

Richard Brehaut, UCLA: The true freshman competed -- briefly -- for the starting job during spring practices and was listed as the backup until starter Kevin Prince went down with a broken jaw and coaches opted to go with the more experienced senior Kevin Craft. Brehaut was a top-100 prospect in 2008 and offensive coordinator Norm Chow was supposedly quite taken by his potential. When Prince returns, UCLA would change categories to "Ready to Roll," unless of course Craft implodes at Stanford on Saturday and falls back to No. 3.

Who knows?

Beau Sweeney, California: Sweeney, a redshirt freshman, recently eclipsed sophomore Brock Mansion on the depth chart. He's got great bloodlines. His father, Kevin, was a record-setting QB at Fresno State who had a cup of coffee in the NFL. His grandfather, Jim, was a highly respected college head coach, with tenures at Washington State and Fresno State. But Beau Sweeney hasn't seen any significant game action.

Ronnie Fouch, Washington: New Washington coach Steve Sarkisian went out of his way all through the preseason to praise Fouch, who struggled mightily when he came off the bench to replace an injured Jake Locker for the final eight games last year. He threw 13 picks with just four TDs and was sacked 123 times, plus or minus. But circumstances were awful last season, and Fouch got little support. It's hard to say what kind of player he would be if called upon this season.

What to watch in the Pac-10

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
8:03
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


After a strong showing in nonconference games, the Pac-10 slate gets rolling in earnest this week, with a couple of marquee matchups in Oregon. Oh, and there's a little nonconference game down south.

1. Jahvid Best vs. the Oregon run defense: Lots of defensive coordinators say stopping the run is the first priority, but Oregon's defense is more obsessed with it than most -- a big reason they've yielded significant passing yards through the years, despite the presence of a handful of NFL-quality defensive backs. Yet this year the run defense has been just fair-to-middling, see 151 yards surrendered per game, which ranks eighth in the Pac-10. No runner in the country stresses a defense more than Cal's Best, who's trying to make a Heisman Trophy statement.

2. Danny Sullivan making his first road start at Georgia: Arizona State fans have been wringing their hands over Sullivan since Rudy Carpenter trudged off at the end of the disappointing 2008 season. Even a solid spring and frequent praise from coach Dennis Erickson hasn't helped win over skeptical fans. Sullivan hasn't done much early on, in large part because he hasn't had to. Well, he'll have to at Georgia, though the Bulldogs' defense is yielding 406 yards and 34 points per game and won't be nearly as good as what Sullivan will see in Pac-10 play. Sullivan's biggest adjustment will be dealing with 93,000 screaming Bulldogs fans who don't like him much.

3. Will Nick Foles bolster the Arizona passing game? Arizona ranks ninth in the conference in passing with just 167 yards per game. That won't cut it, and that's why Mike Stoops replaced Matt Scott with Foles. The Wildcats have a nice run game, but without balance, conference teams will just gang up on Nic Grigsby and dare the quarterback to throw. Foles is a better pure passer than Scott. He'll have an opportunity to make a claim for the full-time job against a questionable Oregon State secondary and pass rush.

4. Washington on letdown alert: The "letdown" game is a college football cliche, but it's a cliche because it happens so often. Teams that win big games tend to relax or lose focus -- just ask the USC team the Huskies beat. If USC isn't good enough to win while unfocused, Washington certainly isn't either. If the Huskies manage to win at a solid Stanford team, however, there will no longer be any question over whether they are a legitimate conference contender and potential bowl team -- they will be, a year after going 0-12. And one of the biggest stories of the season will only get bigger.

5. USC QB play: Will it be Matt Barkley or Aaron Corp vs. Washington State? And how will the starter play? And will that effort allow us to stop talking about the USC quarterback for a day or two?

6. Washington State's fight: You never say never in college football, but it would be beyond shocking if Washington State upset USC in the Coliseum a year after losing 69-0 at home, particularly with the Trojans coming off an embarrassing loss at Washington. Not to mention that the Cougars are -- again -- ravaged by injuries. Yet, if Washington State scraps and claws and keeps the final tally respectable -- say within three TDs -- it will distinguish the Cougars of 2009 vs. 2008. Last year, the Cougs quit. That's the thing they cannot do if they expect to keep the heat off coach Paul Wulff.

7. ASU's defense vs. Joe Cox: Georgia fans were all over Cox after the Bulldogs were dominated by the Oklahoma State defense in the opener, but Cox played better in Game 2 against South Carolina and was lights out at Arkansas in Game 3, throwing for 375 yards and five TDs. It helps that he's got A.J. Green, one of the nation's best receivers, to throw to. We've heard a lot about the Sun Devils' new and improved defense. Cox will test those assertions.

8. Chris Owusu, TD maker: Who's the best playmaker in the Pac-10? Other than Best, it might be Owusu, who's already returned a pair of kickoffs for TDs this year. The Huskies might want to bone up on their kick coverage this week. And Owusu is no slouch at receiver. The sophomore ranks fourth in the conference with 65.7 yards receiving per game and has two touchdowns. He averages 16.4 yards per catch. He's the guy who's going to keep defenses from ganging up against running back Toby Gerhart.

9. Jeremiah Masoli's passing: There has been no more bigger disappointment than Oregon's passing offense. The Ducks rank last in the conference with 126 yards per game and have yet to throw a TD pass. Masoli has completed less than 50 percent of his passes this season, and he was 4-of-16 for 95 yards with an interception in the win over Utah. Some fans started asking whether backup Nate Costa should be given a chance. The Ducks can't beat Cal without a passing game, which means Masoli needs to revert to his form at the end of 2008 when he was one of the nation's premier pass-run threats.

10. Oregon State's offensive line: The Beavers have given up 10 sacks, four more than any other Pac-10 team -- their 3.33 sacks per game ranks 107th in the nation. The run blocking has been OK -- 146 yards rushing per game, 4.1 yards per carry -- but the effort has been inconsistent. Arizona's front seven is fast, and Brooks Reed is one of the Pac-10's best pass-rushers, even if he's off to a slow start. The Beavers, who start a true freshman at left tackle and two sophomore former walk-ons, need to grow up fast. Saturday would be a good time to start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel


1. From 2002 through 2005, USC finished a total of plus-78 in turnover margin. That’s an average of 19.5 per season. From 2006-09, the Trojans are a total of plus-12, including minus-one through three games this season. That statistic doesn’t indict just the inexperience of quarterbacks Matt Barkley, a freshman, and Aaron Corp, a redshirt sophomore. The defense shares the blame in that one, too.

2. Has anyone had a more varied career than Arizona State linebacker Mike Nixon? The 26-year-old senior played quarterback/safety/kicker at Phoenix Sunnyslope High, then spent four seasons in the Dodgers’ farm system. Last season, Nixon tied for the Pac-10 lead with five interceptions. And now that Sun Devil kicker Thomas Weber is out for five weeks with a groin injury, Nixon may replace him Saturday at Georgia. Nixon, apparently, can do anything -- besides hit a curve.

3. It wasn’t a matter of if the College Football Hall of Fame would leave South Bend but when. South Bend provided a lifeline to the Hall when it needed it in the mid-1990s, but the Hall only fills up on the weekends of Notre Dame home games. Atlanta is the biggest city that lives and breathes the sport. The Hall will be in the same area as the Coca-Cola Museum and the Georgia Aquarium. May this be the Hall’s last move.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The Ohio State Buckeyes are victims of a double standard, and they deserve better.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and his Buckeyes are victims of a double standard.

Ohio State has seen its national approval rating steadily decline since the 2007 BCS national title game, the first of six consecutive losses against top 5 opponents. Much of the heat directed toward Columbus is warranted. Ohio State has disappointed the national media on the game's biggest stage several times, and despite a series of strong recruiting classes, the team has underachieved in several areas, namely along the offensive line.

But another national powerhouse deserves the same treatment. Another big-name has been just as disappointing in big games, if not worse. And yet that team continues to escape the hate. Meet the Oklahoma Sooners. They're apparently made out of Teflon.

Let's review some of the similarities between Ohio State and Oklahoma:
  • Ohio State has a three-game losing streak in BCS bowls; Oklahoma has dropped five consecutive BCS bowls, including games in each of the last three seasons.
  • Ohio State suffered two blowout losses in the national title game; Oklahoma fell to USC 55-19 in the 2005 Orange Bowl, which gave the Trojans the national championship. The Sooners also suffered a 20-point loss to a West Virginia team that had just lost its head coach in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. And they lost to non-BCS Boise State.
  • Both teams have had Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks (Troy Smith and Sam Bradford) stumble in the national title game.
  • Both teams have taken care of business in their leagues. Ohio State has won or shared the last four Big Ten titles. Oklahoma has won the last three Big 12 championships.

Despite the parallels, Ohio State continues to be the nation's piñata, while Big Game Bob Stoops and the Sooners get a pass. The latest example arrived Sunday, as Ohio State moved down two spots to No. 13 in the AP Poll, while Oklahoma moved up two spots to No. 10.

What happened Saturday? Ohio State pounded Toledo 38-0 in Cleveland, the same Rockets team that had embarrassed Big 12 member Colorado the previous week. Oklahoma crushed Tulsa 45-0, a very solid win without Bradford at the helm.

Still, I don't see much of a difference here. So why the shuffle in the polls?

Perhaps it's because USC, which beat Ohio State in Columbus on Sept. 12, lost to unranked Washington in Seattle. Meanwhile, a BYU team that beat Oklahoma in Dallas on Sept. 5 got utterly embarrassed on its home field by Florida State.

Explain to me how USC's loss, which came on the road with the backup quarterback (Aaron Corp) at the helm, should punish Ohio State, while BYU's loss, which came with the Cougars at full strength and on their home field, rewards Oklahoma.

It's ridiculous. And it needs to stop.

I don't vote in the AP Poll. For what it's worth, I have USC at No. 11, Ohio State at No. 12 and Oklahoma at No. 13 in my most recent ESPN.com power rankings.

People can pick on Ohio State until the Buckeyes win a big nonconference game. But Oklahoma deserves the exact same treatment.

Pac-10 roundup, Part 1

September, 20, 2009
9/20/09
12:32
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Wow. What a day.

Washington broke through. USC went splat. California proved it can win on the road. Oregon put the loss at Boise State behind it by ending the nation's longest winning streak. Washington State posted a comeback victory.

Here's a look at the early games. Will come back with a post for the three late games.

Washington 16, USC 13: The Trojans were sloppy and quarterback Aaron Corp didn't play well stepping in for the injured Matt Barkley. Washington played well on both sides of the ball and won the critical turnover battle 3-0. All three of USC's turnovers happened deep in Washington territory. A year after finishing 0-12, the Huskies and new coach Steve Sarkisian are 2-1 and 1-0 in the Pac-10. Up next: USC plays host to Washington State; Washington visits Stanford.

California 35, Minnesota 21: Minnesota challenged Cal, tying the game 21-21 in the third quarter, but the Bears responded and won going away. That broke a four-game road losing streak. Jahvid Best scored five touchdowns and rushed for 131 yards, which should establish him as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. With USC's loss, the Bears now become the Pac-10 front-runner. Of course, they've got another -- tougher -- road test coming up. Up next: California visits Oregon.

Oregon 31, Utah 24: Reports of the Ducks' demise apparently were wrong, as they ended Utah's 16-game winning streak and improved to 2-1. While quarterback Jeremiah Masoli continues to struggle -- and Oregon had four turnovers -- the running game got back on track, with LaMichael James rushing for a career-high 152 yards and a touchdown. Safety John Boyett, who stepped in for an injured T.J. Ward, had a pick deep in Ducks territory to keep the Utes from tying the game. Up next: Cal comes calling.

Cincinnati 28, Oregon State 18: The Beavers just couldn't stop Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike, who threw for 332 yards, and receiver Mardy Gilyard. Oregon State continues to struggle to both pressure the quarterback -- just one sack -- and protect its quarterback -- the Bearcats had five sacks. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers, though bothered by a sprained ankle, rushed for 73 yards on 20 carries. Up next: The Beavers open Pac-10 play by hosting to Arizona. Both are coming off nonconference losses.

Iowa 27, Arizona 17: Arizona only managed eight first downs at Iowa, and it's clear the Wildcats are still looking for answers at quarterback. Matt Scott and Nick Foles only combined for 105 yards passing, but Foles outplayed Scott, completing 6 of 11 for 55 yards with a touchdown. Scott was 4 of 14 for 50 yards with an interception. The receivers didn't help -- Delashaun Dean dropped what would have been a big pass play. Arizona was 2 of 12 on third down; Iowa was 10 of 19. The Hawkeyes were able to push around a smaller Wildcats defensive front. Up next: Arizona heads to Oregon State to open Pac-10 play.

Washington State 30, SMU 27 OT: The Cougars showed some guts, fighting back from a 24-7 third-quarter deficit to win over overtime. They grabbed four interceptions, including one by Chima Nwachukwu to stop the Mustangs on their first overtime possession. The Cougars' best offense, in fact, was its defense. Linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis returned one interception 52 yards for a touchdown, while linebacker Myron Beck grabbed one and went 67 yards for a score. While new starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael wasn't terribly sharp, he led the Cougars on an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game with 28 seconds left in regulation. SMU outgained the Cougs 504 yards to 276, but the Cougs found a way to get their first win of the season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


SEATTLE -- Things were supposed to be different this year for USC. The Trojans wouldn't stumble in a "let-down" game against a less talented Pac-10 foe because they had finally learned their lesson.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Aaron Corp on his performance: "I wish I had some stuff back. I didn't play well by my standards."
Nope.

Or maybe this is different. Coach Pete Carroll seemed to think so after his No. 3 squad lost 16-13 at Washington, which just last weekend ended a 15-game losing streak.

When the Trojans lost at Oregon State a year ago, few questioned whether they were any good.

Carroll did just that after Washington, which lost to USC 56-0 last year, calmly executed a 10-play, 63-yard drive over the game's final four minutes before kicking the winning field goal.

"We're not real good right now," he said. "We weren't real good last week, either, to tell you the truth."

Last week, USC sputtered much of the evening but won at Ohio State with a clutch final drive. But that was led by Matt Barkley, who sat out Saturday with a bruised shoulder. All-American free safety Taylor Mays also was out (knee sprain).

In Barkley's stead, Aaron Corp, who was the No. 1 quarterback coming out of spring, didn't take advantage of his opportunity to make a claim for the starting job. He completed only 13 of 22 passes for 110 yards with an interception deep in Washington territory when he threw into double coverage.

Last year, the Huskies ranked 115th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

If healthy, it's certain that Barkley will retake his job with Washington State coming to the Coliseum.

"We didn't throw the ball very well today," Carroll said.

Said Corp, "I wish I had some stuff back. I didn't play well by my standards."

The Trojans did little well, other than run the ball in the first quarter -- with 4:36 left in the first, they already had 111 rushing yards. They jumped ahead 10-0 and then didn't do much of anything after that.

Washington, which rotated in a number of younger, quicker players on its defensive line, made adjustments and those mostly stymied the Trojans.

Three drives deep into Huskies territory ended in turnovers. USC also was flagged eight times for 75 yards, including a pair of personal fouls.

"If you look back at the games that we have lost over time, it's always turnovers, and usually there's penalties to accompany it," Carroll said.

And what about this: USC was 0-for-10 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down.

Last year, UW opponents converted 49.34 percent of their third-down plays, a percentage that ranked 114th in the nation.

The Huskies, though outgained 360 yards to 293, were 7-of-15 on third down, including two conversions on the winning drive.

There was a lot wrong for USC, and this defeat likely put a severe -- and perhaps irreparable -- crimp in their national title aspirations. And it might further signal that the Trojans are, indeed, rebuilding and are vulnerable to yield their seven-year perch atop the Pac-10.

Carroll said his team had "a long way to go." And he pointed a finger after a sloppy performance.

"That's me," he said. "I'm not doing a good enough job of making points of how we win."

Washington wins!

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
6:57
PM ET

Posted By ESPN.com's Ted Miller


SEATTLE -- It's been a long time since Husky Stadium has been shaken to its foundation.

Washington, coming off an 0-12 season, and first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian upset third-ranked USC 16-13.

Sarkisian was USC coach Pete Carroll's offensive coordinator last season. Nick Holt was the Trojans defensive coordinator. This time the students beat the teacher.

The Huskies drove from their 33 yard line on the final possession. They converted on third and 15 from their 27. A 23-yard boot from Erik Folk provided the winning margin.

Welcome back to relevancy, Washington.

And I am typing from the track as the students are charging the field.

More later.

Jones back in for Huskies

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
4:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


SEATTLE -- Senior defensive end Darrion Jones, who's nursing a bruised knee, returned for Washington's second defensive series, replacing true freshman Talia Crichton.

It didn't help. At first.

The Trojans gashed the Huskies for a pair of long runs -- 25 yards from Joe McKnight and 27 yards from Stafon Johnson. But the defense stiffened and forced the Trojans to settle for a field goal.

Still, the Trojans have 111 yards rushing with 4:36 left in the first. That's a problem.

And if the Huskies completely gang up on the run, that should make things wide open for Damian Williams, who already made Aaron Corp look good on a couple of short tosses.

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