NCF Nation: Aaron Rodgers

You may have noticed this story Monday from Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN Stats & Info. It's a nice breakdown of how the 2013 class of quarterbacks across college football might be one of the best ever. Kraemer offers five reasons why:

  1. The best teams of 2012 return their quarterbacks
  2. The best passers are returning
  3. A diverse array of NFL talent
  4. Little QB turnover in SEC
  5. Award winners back on campus

We're going to take this and, point-by-point, give it a Pac-12 rinse.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanOregon QB Marcus Mariota showed that he was more than just a strong runner last season.
The best teams of 2012 (in the Pac-12) return their quarterbacks: Yep. Stanford (12-2), yes. Oregon (12-1), yes. Oregon State (9-4), yes (and yes). UCLA (9-5), yes. Arizona State (8-5), yes. It should come as no surprise that the top six teams in our post-spring power rankings all have their quarterback coming back. In fact, there were only four teams last year that started the same quarterback in every game (Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington) and those are four of our top five teams in the rankings.

Thus, it's not by chance that the five of the bottom six in the power rankings have an ongoing quarterback competition. That's not to say that a school like USC, which has too much talent to be sitting in the bottom half of the rankings, can't quickly make a jump to the top once their quarterback situation is resolved.

And the same goes for No. 6 Oregon State -- which is fortunate to have two capable starters competing. I don't know who first opined that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one. I don't buy it. Ask any coach in the bottom half of the power rankings if they'd prefer zero quarterbacks who have won games or two. I think we all know the answer.

The best passers are returning: Yep. Marcus Mariota led the Pac-12 in efficiency and Taylor Kelly wasn't far behind. Matt Barkley was third, Brett Hundley was fourth and Sean Mannion was fifth. However, it's worth noting that Kevin Hogan's efficiency would have ranked him slightly above Hundley had he appeared in more games in 2012 (the cutoff was appearing in 75 percent of the games, Hogan was at 71). That means five of the top six quarterbacks in efficiency are back.


A diverse array of NFL talent: Yep. Anyone who thinks Mariota is just a running quarterback failed to witness his 32 touchdown passes and league-best 68.5 completion percentage. He will fit nicely into any NFL offense.

Same for Kelly (29 touchdowns, 67.1 completion percentage) and Hundley (29, 66.5). Hogan should be well-versed in the pro-style attack (and NFL scouts love quarterbacks who know the pro-style/West Coast coming out of college) and if Mannion (if he wins the job) bounces back, he's got the prototypical NFL pro-style frame.

And let's not forget Keith Price, who we're expecting to have a nice bounce-back year. He was extremely efficient in 2011 (33, 66.9) so the potential and athleticism is obviously there.

Little QB turnover in the league: Well, the Pac-12 can't make that claim with six starting jobs still in doubt and potentially five schools starting a fresh-faced QB.

Award winners back on campus: Yep. Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year (Mariota). First-team quarterback (Mariota). Kelly, Hogan and Hundley were honorable mention.

While it's true that this might shape up as one of the greatest years in college football history for quarterbacks, it's equally true that the Pac-12 might have its best crop of quarterbacks in league history.

The Pac-12 has sent at least one quarterback to the NFL since 1995 and at least one has gone in the first round in nine of the past 16 drafts. There was 2003 when Carson Palmer (USC) and Kyle Boller (Cal) both went in the first round. 1999 was a strong year with Akili Smith (Oregon) and Cade McNown (UCLA) going in the first round and Brock Huard (Washington) going in the third. Three times the Pac-12 has had four quarterbacks go in the draft (2005, 1991 and 1989).

2004 comes to mind as a pretty darn good collection with Aaron Rodgers (Cal), Matt Leinart (USC), Derek Anderson (Oregon State), Andrew Walter (ASU), Kellen Clemens (Oregon), Trent Edwards (Stanford), Drew Olson (UCLA) and Alex Brink (Washington State).

It's a little too early to start speculating about who is going to go and who is going to stay. But based on what we've seen from this crop in the past nine months, it's possible the 2013 class will be right up there in the conversation as one of the best collection of quarterbacks ever in the league.

BERKELEY, Calif. -- While California has hired two coaches over the past 12 years, it didn't hire them to do the same job.

Jeff Tedford took possession of a dilapidated and unlivable house on college football's skid row in 2001. Sonny Dykes this winter moved into a nice home in a posh neighborhood that needs some minor interior renovations.

Sure, Cal went a dreary 3-9 last season, its second losing season in three years, which got Tedford fired. But he took over a program that went 1-10 in 2001, played in a crumbling stadium that averaged 30,000 in attendance and featured some of the worst facilities in major college football.

Dykes has inherited a team that went 82-57 under Tedford and plays in front of 55,876 fans even during a 3-9 season. And the facilities? Sparkling. Brand freaking new. Among the best in the Pac-12 and the nation.

Tedford made the Bears respectable and then made a push for the top of the Pac-10. That initiated the process -- glacial in pace -- of facility upgrades. But he couldn't reach the top of the conference. The program plateaued and then reversed course. In 2004, it seemed certain Tedford would get the Bears to their first Rose Bowl since 1959. In 2012, the Rose Bowl seemed infinitely far away, and it didn't help that stricken Old Blues had to watch crosstown rival Stanford win the darn thing.

Enter Dykes.

"Jeff had a rebuilding job. His job was different," Dykes said. "He made this place credible. He made people take notice and say, 'Cal is a good job. You can do things at Cal.' If it hadn't been for his success, we wouldn't be sitting in this facility right now. He did a great job with the program. They kind of fell off the last couple of years, but he's what made this place a good place."

Dykes is expected to make it a great place.

That won't be easy. Stanford and Oregon are in the way, for one. Washington and Oregon State, potential top-25 teams in 2013, also are looking to take the proverbial "next step." And that's just the North Division.

Further, there are some things that need to be cleaned up, not the least of which is team academics.

Cal is the nation's most celebrated public university. It's difficult to walk around campus without running into someone wearing a Nobel Prize medal. Yet the football program not only ranked last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate last season at 48 percent -- 5 percent behind No. 11 Arizona -- it ranked second worst among automatic qualifying conference teams, 1 percent ahead of Oklahoma, where folks believe the Nobel Prize is something a person gets for visiting the "Rock Rose Capital of the World."

On the football side of things, the Bears seemed mired in a general malaise over the past few seasons. Quarterback play, upon which Tedford built his strong reputation, was mediocre to bad post-Aaron Rodgers. Further, when Cal lost, it didn't mess around. Over Tedford's final four years, the Bears lost 16 games by at least 17 points. That happened while the Bears nonetheless remained a major pipeline to the NFL.

Top-to-bottom talent didn't seem like the problem. It seemed like the Bears had become a bit of a head case. Chief among Dykes' first-year tasks is creating a mentally tougher team.

"This is not a traditional rebuilding job," Dykes said. "But some things do need to be rebuilt. I think the psyche needs to be rebuilt. Maybe expectations need to be rebuilt. We need to do a good job of balancing athletic and academic success."

As for X's and O's and quarterback woes, Dykes and his spread-guru offensive coordinator Tony Franklin averaged 51.5 points per game last season at Louisiana Tech, with quarterback Colby Cameron ranking 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency while throwing 31 TD passes with just five interceptions.

Too pass-happy? The Bulldogs averaged 227 yards rushing, which ranked 17th in the nation. Dykes, who also coached Nick Foles as Arizona's offensive coordinator before going to Louisiana Tech in 2010, has the offensive bona fides, without question.

In terms of putting it all together at an elite academic institution -- Cal fans might want to cover their ears -- Dykes sees a pretty good model playing ball a bit to the south.

"The thing Stanford has done is they've done it the right way," he said. "Their kids are graduating. They've proven you can have high academic standards and still have success on the field."

Dykes says his charge is "not about building a team; it's about building a program." That means creating a culture aimed at long-term and high-level success.

Yes, more than a few Old Blues have related to Dykes their singular wish to experience a Rose Bowl before they die. Tedford used to joke that many Cal fans wanted the Rose Bowl more than a national title.

Tedford took over a team that hadn't posted a winning season in eight years. He made winning seasons the standard. Now Dykes is charged with pushing the Bears back into the national rankings and into the Pac-12 title picture, while maintaining high academic standards.

And if he produces a Rose Bowl victory, they'll probably build a statue of him outside remodeled Memorial Stadium.

Jeff Tedford doomed by Cal's recent slide

November, 20, 2012
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For much of the past two seasons, as Jeff Tedford sat firmly on the proverbial hot seat, the question was whether California could afford to fire its winningest coach. There was no buyout in Tedford's contract, so it would cost nearly $7 million to dispatch him, and that didn't include paying off his coaching staff.

And, of course, there were issues of loyalty. Tedford transformed a program that went 1-10 and played in a crumbling, half-empty stadium the season before he arrived, building it into a consistent winner that could afford massive facility upgrades.
On Tuesday, Cal administrators concluded that they couldn't afford not to fire Tedford, who completes the longest continuous, and current, tenure in the Pac-12 with an 82-57 record in 11 seasons in Berkeley.

The reasons for the not-unexpected firing are obvious. Tedford is 15-22 overall and 9-18 in Pac-12 play since going 8-5 in 2009. The Bears went 3-9 this year, the worst record of Tedford's tenure, including a five-game losing streak to end the season. Crowds at newly remodeled Memorial Stadium were dwindling, threatening Cal's Endowment Seating Program, which was supposed to play a central role for financing the stadium renovation.

Over the past four seasons, California lost 16 games by at least 17 points, and it is riding a three-game losing streak in the Big Game to Bay Area rival Stanford, which could end up in its third consecutive BCS bowl game this January.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireJeff Tedford's Bears lost their final five games to finish 3-9 -- the head coach's worst season at Cal.
The program has been in a downward trend and showed no signs this season of reversing that negative momentum. Fans were turning away just when they -- and their money -- were needed most. So, it was decided, a coaching change was critical to reverse the tide.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, one that required a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a complex set of factors,” Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. “Ultimately, I believed that we needed a change in direction to get our program back on the right track. Cal football is integral to our department and our university, and its influence can be felt well beyond the walls of Memorial Stadium."

So what's next? Well, Cal first has to decide how much it's willing to pay.

Tedford's 2012 salary is $2.3 million, which is a lot to most of us but not that much among elite coaches, particularly when you adjust for the Bay Area's cost of living. That's like making $1.6 million if you lived in Tuscaloosa, Ala. If Cal wants to pursue, say, Cincinnati's Butch Jones, they'd have to pay him $2.3 million just to match the value of Jones' current $1.6 million salary.

A front-line head coach likely will cost at least $2.5 million to $3 million. And then you have to hire his staff. Top coordinator salaries have risen to between $500,000 and $1 million. Washington is paying defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox $750,000 this year.
So this could get expensive.

Of course, the Bears also could do what they did when they hired Tedford away from Oregon: Find a hot coordinator.

Names you likely will hear: Wilcox, Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.

Bears fans have been frustrated by Cal's QB play since Aaron Rodgers went to the NFL. Well, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone rebuilt two offenses -- and two QBs -- in the past two seasons (at Arizona State and now with the Bruins).

Then you could trot out some other hot names in no particular order: Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky; and Gary Anderson, Utah State.

And coordinators: Kirby Smart, Alabama; Chad Morris, Clemson; Todd Monken, Oklahoma State; Brent Venables, Clemson; Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina; Kalani Sitake, Utah; Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State.

Or Cal could look to the NFL.

From the Cal statement: "Barbour said that a national search for a new head coach, which will be aided by the firm of DHR International, will begin immediately. She did not indicate a timetable for hiring a replacement, adding that Cal Athletics will have no further comment on the search until a new coach has been selected."

Tedford will land on his feet. He is plenty respected among other coaches. Don't be surprised if he lands another job in a major conference. Or the NFL.

He has proved he can build a program. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978 to 2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford suffered just two losing seasons in 11 years and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993.

But football is a zero-sum game. You either win or you lose. Tedford set an early pattern of winning, but losing was the recent trend. The program seemed to plateau, then slide.

Further, Stanford's fortunes were rising, as were other Pac-12 teams with new coaches, such as UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State.

In the big business of college football, losing isn't accepted, particularly when rivals are winning.

Pressure mounts on Tedford, Cal

October, 3, 2012
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Jeff TedfordHarry How/Getty ImagesJeff Tedford brought a moribund Cal program to life, but things have soured in recent seasons.


No one argues that Jeff Tedford hasn't done a lot for California. He took over a team that went 1-10 in 2001 and played its football in a half-empty stadium and built a winning program from scratch that played in a full one.

As a business decision, the hiring of Tedford in 2002 has more than paid off. His winning 28 games from 2004-06 created an enlarged fan base. That fan base, enlivened by winning, developed expectations.

And no one argues that those expectations have not being met over the past two-plus seasons. Not by a 1-4 mark at present, nor a 13-17 record -- 7-13 in Pac-12 play -- since going 8-5 in 2009.

Not anyone, including Tedford.

"We're definitely not where we want to be," he said. "We're not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We're going to attack this and work hard at it and stay together."

In August, athletic director Sandy Barbour told CBS Sports that "Jeff Tedford is not on the hot seat."

That might have been true then, but that was before the Bears opened the stadium that had just undergone $330 million in renovations with a loss to Nevada. That was before USC handed Cal its 12th defeat by at least 17 points over the past three-plus seasons. That was before the Bears were beaten by 10 at home by Arizona State, a team they defeated on the road last year and which fired its coach shortly thereafter.

It's not difficult to defend the big picture of Tedford's 11-year tenure, the longest continuous employment of any Pac-12 coach. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978-2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford has suffered one losing season -- 5-7 in 2010 -- and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993. Finally, Tedford is 7-3 in the Big Game against rival Stanford.

Yet, again, the focus isn't on the big picture. It's the recent history. Cal hasn't finished a season nationally ranked since 2008. There are two Big Game losses in a row and a rising Stanford playing in consecutive BCS bowl games.

Further, there are four new coaches in the Pac-12 who have boosted their programs to varying degrees. The Bears host No. 25 UCLA and Jim Mora on Saturday. Todd Graham has the Sun Devils on the cusp of a national ranking. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez led the Wildcats to a victory over Oklahoma State. And Mike Leach provided a boost of enthusiasm among Washington State fans in the off-season.

Many Old Blues -- and young ones -- feel a sense of stagnation and malaise. And, with five of the next seven games against teams that are currently ranked with no off week, there's not a lot of hope the Bears can rally for a winning record and earn a bowl berth, as they did after an 0-3 start to Pac-12 play last year.

So what went wrong?

The obvious answer is quarterback play, which is where Tedford built a sterling reputation.

In 2004, Aaron Rodgers finished ranked eighth in the nation in passing efficiency and the Bears went 10-2. In 2006, after struggles the previous season with Joe Ayoob, sophomore Nate Longshore ranked 28th in the nation in passing efficiency, led the Bears to a 10-3 finish and was widely hailed as a future early NFL draft pick.

In 2007 -- Cal fans might recall some of this -- the Bears won a thriller at Oregon, 31-24, and rose to No. 2 in the nation behind LSU. In fact, LSU opened Week 8 with a loss to Kentucky. Cal was poised to rise to No. 1.

But Longshore had hurt his ankle at Oregon. He was replaced by Kevin Riley against Oregon State. No need to rehash what happened next.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard, Jeff Tedford
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIZach Maynard hasn't borne out promises by coach Jeff Tedford, right, that Cal's quarterback was much improved entering his senior season.
Quarterback play at Cal would never be the same. Longshore's career never delivered on early promise, and Cal quarterbacks haven't ranked higher than 61st in passing efficiency since 2006.

As for the present, senior Zach Maynard, who was touted by Tedford as vastly improved in the preseason, is 94th in the nation in passing efficiency. He's been sacked 25 times, most in the nation, so that doesn't help, but he has not seemed to rise to the occasion as a player or leader. He was suspended for the early portion of the opening loss to Nevada, had a heated sideline exchange with Tedford during the Southern Utah game and, last weekend, was caught on camera yelling at his offensive linemen.

But it's not just the offense by any stretch. The defense is giving up 30.2 points per game, which ranks 10th in the Pac-12. It's last in the conference in rushing defense, 11th in pass-efficiency defense and 11th on third down.

All of this has led to plenty of negativity around the program, which makes life difficult for Tedford. While Tedford said he doesn't "read it or get into" the speculation about his job status, he can't ignore the topic in the locker room.

"It's important to address it with the team," Tedford said. "They do live in it and around it."

If the negative chatter -- and losing -- eventually makes Tedford's position untenable, it will be costly to fire him. Tedford is paid privately and not with state money, and, as Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has pointed out, there is no buyout in his contract.

Writes Wilner:
[Tedford] is signed through the 2015 season, and the Bears would owe him his annual salary ($2.3 million) for each year left on the deal if he’s terminated.

So a change this winter would cost nearly $7 million, and that’s only for Tedford.

Add the expenses involved in turning over the coaching staff -- approx $1.5 million for Tedford’s assistants and at least that for a new group -- and we’re talking $10 million for a complete overhaul.

That means several wealthy folks would have to be highly motivated to get rid of Tedford.

Still, there are plenty of folks who are on Tedford's side. He's run a clean program, has graduated players and has built a program that justified massive facilities upgrades, which he was promised upon his hiring and has patiently waited for. And he's been loyal to Cal, turning down several suitors in both the NFL and college ranks through the years.

Entering the season, it seemed that Tedford still had some leeway. If he produced another winning season, the odds were he would be safe.

Few entertained the idea of the team cratering. Few imagined a season that could be Tedford's worst.

No one argues that Tedford hash't earned patience. A program's winningest coach deserves that. Plenty of it.

The question for the powers that be at Cal, however, is when that patience runs out. It's not a question anyone in Berkeley wants to entertain -- everyone wanted to win in 2012 -- but it's clearly out there looming, unwanted yet real.
We're saying goodbye to the BCS today, even though the BCS isn't going away until 2014. Oh, well.

So what are the Pac-12/10's best and worst BCS moments?

Best

The Pac-12 has won one BCS national title (though just about everyone believes USC to be the "true" 2003 national champion). So that has to be conference's best BCS moment: USC's undisputed 2004 championship.

The 2004 Trojans were dominant with quarterback Matt Leinart; running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White; receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett; and a defense led by defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson and linebacker Lofa Tatupu. They outscored foes 496 to 169.

In the BCS national title game in Miami, they stomped Oklahoma 55-19 and made USC a repeat national champ under Pete Carroll.

Honorable mentions
  • In 2000, Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and Oregon State whipped Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Pac-12 has produced two BCS bowl teams four times, but this is the only year it won both games.
  • While Utah was not a member of the Pac-12 in 2004 and 2008, it's worth noting the Utes capped undefeated seasons both years with wins in the Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh and the Sugar Bowl over Alabama.


Worst

Not to make this all about USC, but the worst BCS moment was USC's exclusion in 2003, despite being ranked No. 1 in both major polls.

Those who had eyes knew that the Trojans were the nation's best team. But the computer chips liked LSU and Oklahoma better, even though the Sooners were fresh off a 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.

The AP poll would go on to crown USC the national champion, as did the Football Writers Association of America, after it whipped Michigan in the Rose Bowl. As for the coaches poll, it was contractually obligated to vote LSU No. 1 after its ugly win over Oklahoma. Three coaches, nonetheless, showed courage, rebelled and voted USC No. 1.

Honorable mentions
  • In 2001, Nebraska was picked over Oregon to play Miami for the national title, even though the Cornhuskers were stomped 62-36 by Colorado in their final regular-season game. The Ducks went on to whip Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, while Nebraska got bludgeoned by the Hurricanes 37-14.
  • In 2004, Texas coach Mack Brown lobbied hard for his Longhorns to eclipse California in the national polls. It worked, as the 10-1 Longhorns climbed past the 10-1 Bears and quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the standings for no justifiable reason and thereby finagled their way into the Rose Bowl, where Cal hadn't been since 1959.
Hugh Freeze enters his first spring at Ole Miss with a lot of questions surrounding his new football team.

The same team that won just two games last year, watched its head coach get shown the door and has lost 14 straight SEC games.

Talk about a project.

For starters, Ole Miss is breaking in a totally new spread offense for a team that isn't exactly built for it. Plus there are four scholarship quarterbacks competing this spring and the ones who played last year had a host of issues.

Don't be surprised if junior college transfer Bo Wallace turns some heads this spring at QB because he's more familiar with Freeze's offense. He spent 2010 with Freeze at Arkansas State before going the JUCO route. While he had a record-setting season at East Mississippi Community College in 2011, Wallace has zero experience at this level. He redshirted in 2010, so he has yet to take a snap at the FBS level.

The defense will also see quite a few changes, as defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has said he plans to move the Rebels all around the field. Ole Miss ran a 4-2-5 defense last year under Tyrone Nix, but will come out in multiple sets this time around. It's going to take some time for players to adjust. It also means the Rebels might have to rely more on its secondary again. The good thing for Ole Miss is that just about everyone from the secondary is back, including standouts Charles Sawyer and Wesley Pendleton.

Sawyer might have been Ole Miss' best defensive player last year, while Pendleton has a chance to be a very solid corner in the SEC next fall. Also, keep an eye on Aaron Garbutt, who transferred from the JUCO ranks last year and was sixth on the team in tackles. Getting more out of them this spring will go a long way to helping this defense adjust.

At linebacker, the Rebels return all four starters, but adjusting to the new defensive formations could be more of a chore for them. But having Mike Marry back will be big for the Rebels this spring, considering D.T. Shackelford won't go through the spring as he recovers from another surgery on his knee. Marry filled in nicely for Shackelford last season, leading the Rebels in tackles as just a sophomore.

Marry will be accompanied by rising sophomores Serderius Bryant and C.J. Johnson. Bryant was the better of the two former freshmen last season and was fourth on the team in tackles. For Johnson, the spring will be crucial for his maturation. He started to come on strong toward the end of the season, but he still needs to make strides in his game before the end of the summer. Johnson could also line up at defense end, a position that must replace former star Kentrell Lockett.

The defense has more positives, but there are still questions surrounding where guys will lineup and how they'll take to all the changes. Plus, this is practically the same group that ranked last in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense in the SEC last year.

On offense, finding a quarterback is priority No. 1, with improving an offensive line that took more than a few steps back in 2011 as a close second. Two starters are gone from the line and Freeze has said that the linemen he has weren't recruited for a "more power-type offense."

Freeze has a lot on his plate, but he knew that coming in. He understands that there were locker room issues in the past and the field issues are well documented. This won't be a quick fix by any means, but this spring will be really interesting for Freeze because even he'll have a lot of questions of his own to sort through when the Rebels start digging deep into spring practice.

Final: LSU 52, Ole Miss 3

November, 19, 2011
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OXFORD, Miss. -- LSU just keeps rolling along after a 52-3 win over Ole Miss.

This one was never in question and things spiraled out of control for Ole Miss (2-9, 0-7) less than a minute in, when LSU cornerback Ron Brooks took Zack Stoudt's pass 46 yards for a touchdown.

Ole Miss has now lost 13 straight conference games dating back to last season. This was the worst losssince a 49-0 loss to Georgia in 1974.

It was total dominance by No. 1 LSU (11-0, 7-0), who never looked ready for a letdown. It would be have been easy for the Tigers to get caught looking ahead to what should be an exciting game with rival Arkansas next week, but the Tigers came out focused and never looked sloppy.

LSU played with the attitude you'd expect a team to have against highly-ranked opponent. After a poor start against Western Kentucky last week, LSU bounced back in stellar form.

If not for a nifty 47-yard run by Ole Miss quarterback Barry Brunetti late in the second quarter, the Rebels wouldn't have come close to sniffing the end zone.

LSU is undeniably the country's best team and now Arkansas has the pleasure of trying to stop this crazy train.

Should be fun.

Rodgers making the most of his shot

November, 11, 2011
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Jordan Rodgers wants to get one thing straight.

The most accomplished quarterback in the family might be his older brother, Aaron, who also happens to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

[+] EnlargeJordan Rodgers
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireQuarterback Jordan Rodgers and the 4-5 Commodores host the 4-5 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday.
But when it comes to overall athleticism, Jordan says it’s no contest.

“I will be steadfast in that I’m the best athlete in the family,” trumpeted Jordan, who takes particular delight in making that proclamation. “Obviously, I’m trying to follow in his footsteps as a quarterback. But when we get on the basketball court and play a little one-on-one, it’s a different story.

“I can say with confidence that I’m athletically dominant over him.”

Something else Jordan can say with confidence is that he’s seeing things on the football field faster and more instinctively than he ever has since stepping foot on Vanderbilt’s campus last year.

And not coincidentally, the Commodores are putting up the kind of offensive numbers they haven’t put up in a long time heading into Saturday’s key matchup with Kentucky.

The winner keeps alive its hopes of qualifying for a bowl.

“It’s just slowing down for me,” said the younger Rodgers, who’s set to make his fourth consecutive start. “I’m seeing defenses better. We’re more in rhythm, and guys know what to expect from me.

“We’re all learning how to play with confidence and use the abilities we know we have, and I think you’re just going to see us keep getting better.”

The Commodores are averaging 24.8 points, a touchdown more than a year ago. And even more noticeably, they’re making the kind of explosive plays they haven’t made in years.

Vanderbilt leads the SEC with 25 plays of 30 yards or more. The Commodores also lead the league with 13 plays of 40 yards or more.

Rodgers, whose ability to scramble and make plays with his legs has helped to open up more things for the Commodores, is tied for third in the SEC with 10 completions of at least 30 yards.

“I’m getting more comfortable staying with my reads and going through my full progressions,” said Rodgers, who redshirted last season while recovering from shoulder surgery. “I’m learning to be more of a pocket passer, but still make plays outside the pocket. It’s something I can go to when I need to.”

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin was familiar with Rodgers because Franklin was on the Green Bay Packers’ staff when they drafted Aaron Rodgers.

“I was impressed with his athleticism, but when I got here, he was a little bit limited early on because of the surgery,” Franklin said. “This thing just kind of timed up good for him and good for our team as he got healthier and more comfortable with what we were doing offensively at the same time as our O-line started to come on as well as our receivers. Everything has kind of fallen into place from that perspective.”

Indeed, junior running back Zac Stacy is making a run at a 1,000-yard season. He has 756 rushing yards and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry. And with Rodgers’ emergence, sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews has really blossomed.

In the last two games, Matthews has 15 catches for 321 yards and two touchdowns.

“We feel as if we’re on the cusp of being great and feel like we’re the only ones stopping us the last couple of weeks,” Rodgers said. “We’re really close to putting together a full game and showing people the new Commodores and the new confidence that we have this year.”

Aaron Rodgers was in Nashville to take in the Arkansas game two weeks ago, Jordan said, and has caught most of the other Vanderbilt games on television.

He’d been telling Jordan since last season to hang in there and that his opportunity was going to come.

“The important thing was for me to be ready,” Jordan said. “Aaron was in that same position at Green Bay and Cal before that.

“You always have to prepare like you’re the starter, and when your moment does come, you have to capitalize on it.”
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Quarterbacks are always a big story. Quarterback competitions are typically bigger stories. But quarterback is an almost singular story this spring at California.

For one, no one has any idea who the 2011 starter will be, an uncertainty that has been rare since coach Jeff Tedford took over in 2002. Tedford announced last week that he'd reduced the candidates list from five to three -- senior Brock Mansion, junior Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard and sophomore Allan Bridgford -- but it's unlikely that troika will be winnowed to one until late in preseason camp.

[+] EnlargeBrock Mansion
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezBrock Mansion threw for 646 yards and a pair of TDs last season.
Finally, more than a few critics are questioning Tedford's once impeccable bona fides for developing quarterbacks. Sure, Tedford has mentored six who became first-round NFL draft picks: Kyle Boller, David Carr, Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Aaron Rodgers and Akili Smith. But in our "what-has-he-done-lately?" world, folks are asking, well, what has Tedford done lately with quarterbacks, with an incriminating finger-pointing at the less-than-stellar production from Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley.

Tedford will call plays this fall and he has been heavily involved with the quarterbacks this spring. He attends all position meetings and spends plenty of practice time with the QBs and new assistant Marcus Arroyo.

Tedford is as aware as anyone that bouncing back from a down campaign -- his first losing season in nine years in Berkeley -- will require at least solid play at quarterback.

"For us to get back to 10- or 11-win seasons, we have to have better play at the quarterback position," he said.

So far, no quarterback has asserted himself.

Mansion, due to experience, would in most situations be considered the front-runner. But he didn't do well in four starts after replacing Riley. His efficiency rating ranked last in the Pac-10 by a wide margin, and he threw five interceptions with just two TDs.

Said Tedford: "You can tell that Brock is better because of the experience he had last year. He's more comfortable. And he's even learned some things physically. You can see the maturity there a little bit. Still not where we need to be."

More than a few folks believe Maynard, the best athlete of the three and half-brother to standout receiver Keenan Allen, to be the front-runner. As a sophomore starter at Buffalo in 2009, he completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions and added 455 yards rushing and one TD.

Said Tedford: "He does have some athleticism. He can make plays with his legs. He throws the ball accurately. He can throw all the balls on the field. He's a lefty. He can throw the deep ball. He's got zip on the ball. His main thing is just going to be the mental part of understanding our offense and understanding what we're looking for."

Tedford also said that the Bears' offense has some spread-option elements it could adapt for Maynard.

Bridgford is reputed to be a strong pure passer, but he's coming back from shoulder surgery and his mobility also is an issue. The scuttlebutt is he's presently in third place and could be challenged by redshirt freshman Austin Hinder, who Tedford said was a strong No. 4.

Said Tedford of Bridgford: "Smart guy. Can throw the ball. He can throw all the balls on the field. Escape dimension? Haven't seen that yet. That's a concern, but he's not a lead foot by any means."

Trying to figure out where things stand isn't easy. Even Allen clings to neutrality, at least publicly. And players appear to be as in the dark as fans about who will prevail.

"I know you guys all want to know that -- we all want to know as well," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "I have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff. They are going to put the right guy on the field."

It's been a while since Tedford and Cal found the "right" guy to put behind center. The Bears' success in 2011 probably hangs on Tedford rediscovering his inner QB Yoda.

Tedford trying to block out critics

April, 13, 2011
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- California coach Jeff Tedford hears the negative chatter but he's trying not to listen. The operative word there being "trying." He also understands why some Bears fans are grumbling, but such talk nonetheless frustrates him.

Tedford rebuilt a lousy program and created a high standard to which Cal fans happily became accustomed. Yet over the past few seasons, he has not consistently met that high standard.

"All of a sudden, you have an eight-win season and it's not good enough," Tedford said. "Then, all of the sudden, you have a [losing season] and it's, 'Wow, what happened here?'"

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAn imposing front seven on defense should help coach Jeff Tedford and Cal be competitive against elite teams in 2012.
Things turned sour in Berkeley in 2010, a 5-7 finish that was Tedford's first losing season -- first season with fewer than seven wins -- in nine years leading the program. Meanwhile, on the south side of the Bay Area equation, archrival Stanford won a BCS bowl game and appears poised to start 2011 ranked in the top 10. That juxtaposition doesn't sit well with the Old Blues.

It no longer matters where Tedford started, taking over a 1-10 program in 2002 that won seven or more games just four times in the 24 previous seasons. Forget that from 1978 to 2001, Cal won three or fewer games nine times. Sure, back then, a couple of seven-win seasons -- heck, even 5-7 -- would have seemed pretty nice.

No longer.

But it's more than that, Tedford's critics will tell you.

What happened to Tedford, the quarterback guru? Tedford transformed Kyle Boller from a five-star recruiting bust into a first-round NFL draft pick. He then discovered Aaron Rodgers out of nowhere and made him into a first-round pick. Nate Longshore appeared poised to join them when he led the Bears to a 5-0 start and No. 2 national ranking in 2007. But, really, since Longshore sprained his ankle during a marquee win at Oregon on Sept. 29, 2007 -- Cal fans just fainted recalling the memory of what happened next -- the Bears haven't benefited from consistent play at quarterback.

It's not just losing, either: It's the nature of the defeats. In Tedford's first seven seasons, the Bears suffered only two defeats by more than two touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, they've lost eight games by 17 or more points and six by 27 or more.

Further, the staff turnover, particularly at offensive coordinator, has been notable. Not including himself, Tedford has gone through four offensive coordinators before arriving at his present, complicated configuration, with offensive line coach Jim Michalczik returning as coordinator, running backs coach Ron Gould set as running game coordinator, receivers coach Eric Kiesau set as passing game coordinator and Tedford (again) helping with the quarterbacks and (again) calling plays.

A couple of years ago, Tedford listened to the nattering nabobs of negativism and he wanted to smack them. Now, he's trying to be philosophical about criticism. Trying.

"I have it back in focus now not to worry about the external things," he said. "That one year [2009] we went [8-5] and it felt like we went [5-8], it felt like people were real irritable about that. I was irritable, too. About their reaction to [8-5]. Now, I'm just back to focusing on what it takes to get us back on the upward trend again."

If you're the sort who prefers optimism, there's grounds for that, too. For one, Michalczik and Kiesau were both with Tedford during the "glory years." There's history and comfort there. And Michalczik is widely considered an elite line coach, perhaps the best in the Pac-12. The play of the Bears' O-line hasn't been as good the past two seasons while Michalczik was with the Oakland Raiders.

Further, Tedford is re-engaging on the offensive side, and not only by calling plays, as he did during his early years at Cal. He's also working extensively with the quarterbacks, even to the point of sitting in all QB meetings.

"Consistency at quarterback has been something that has hurt us at times," Tedford said.

Another big-picture item for Cal fans to be upbeat about: An uptick in recruiting that, perhaps not coincidentally, began when stadium and facilities renovation projects began in earnest after protesters -- old school Berkeley! -- were forced out of the trees. The Bears are nomads this spring, traveling from site to site in search of good grass to practice on, and they will play "home" games in AT&T Park this year. But when Memorial Stadium re-opens in 2012, the structure will match the grandeur of its Strawberry Canyon home.

As for hot-seat talk -- it's probably more accurate to call Tedford's chair lukewarm -- the players are aware of said chatter. They don't live in a protective bubble. And they are aware that pointed observations about the blowout defeats also fall on them, whether those embarrassments are about poor preparation, a lack of mental toughness in the face of adversity or -- gulp -- a propensity to quit when an opponent asserts itself.

"We all love Coach," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "His past record of success, that's why we are all here. There's no grumbling [in the locker room]. We're more disappointed in ourselves. We feel like we let the coaching staff down."

And, of late, Cal fans feel let down. When the Bears were controversially blocked from playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1959 by Texas and the BCS computers following the 2004 season -- Cal fans just fainted for a second time while reading this story -- the consolation was a confident belief that it was just a matter of time before a Tedford squad ended that lengthy, painful Rose-less run.

The clock is still ticking -- 52 years and counting -- on that one, though.

Pac-12 Valentines

February, 14, 2011
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It's Valentines Day. I know. Awesome.

Because we are so captivated by the spirit of the holiday, which isn't a holiday, we're handing out Roses to the Pac-12. Just like our hero does.

A Rose for Arizona quarterback Nick Foles: Nick, you lose all five starting offensive linemen, but don't think of this rose as something you'd get at a funeral. Really.

A Rose for Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict: Vontaze, buddy, stop and smell the flowers. Er, rose. Chill. Breathe. You're going to have several million dollars in the bank 14 months from now. No need to act so crazy.

A Rose for California coach Jeff Tedford: Jeff, it's not really about the rose. It's the guy giving it to you. It's Aaron Rodgers. He's back. With four more years of eligibility.

A Rose for Colorado running back Rodney Stewart: Does anyone know you rushed for 1,318 yards last season? No? Well, here's a rose and a guess you're going to be the "Who the heck is that guy?" player in the Pac-12.

A Rose for Oregon coach Chip Kelly: You don't like my rose, Chip? Oh, did I mention that Nick Fairley is allergic to roses? And that this rose doubles as a time machine? And you can go back and get quarterback Darron Thomas to make the right read on the first play of the second quarter?

A Rose for Oregon State: But it's not just a rose. It's a Rose Bowl. You like?

A Rose for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck: Not to get all serious, but we're glad you're back. Stay healthy.

A Rose for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel: "Hey, Rick, the Pac-12 blog told me to give you this rose. I coach defense. My name is Dick LeBeau. Can I have a job?"

A Rose for USC coach Lane Kiffin: It's from the NCAA. Note reads: "Sorry. We were wrong about you and the Trojans." Anybody have any idea what that means?

A Rose for the Utah student section: They don't know about the MUSS yet, do they?

A Rose for Washington running back Chris Polk: Guess who finally gets the credit he deserves in 2011? Can I interest you in a Pac-12 rushing title, perhaps?

A Rose for Washington State: It has six petals. One for each win in 2011.

1. Why Not to Get Too Excited About Signing Day, Cont.: Chico (Calif.) Pleasant Valley High quarterback Aaron Rodgers got no FBS scholarship offers in 2002. San Diego State looked, at least until head coach Ted Tollner got fired. Rodgers considered walking on at Oregon but went to Butte (Calif.) JC instead. That fall, Cal coach Jeff Tedford looked at video of Butte tight end Garrett Cross, loved the quarterback, and signed both. After two seasons with the Bears, Rodgers went in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft.

2. To see the Mid-American Conference’s 2011 non-league games, which were announced Monday, is to understand life among the FBS have-lesses. Of the 29 games against the AQ conferences, 24 are on the road and one at a neutral site (Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois at Soldier Field). Of the four home games, one is Penn State at Temple (so much for an advantage). MAC teams play 11 games against the Big Ten, which are for paychecks, and nine against the Big East, which just may be for a leg up.

3. Here’s a starting 11 for you: according to the website Inside Higher Education, 11 FBS schools had two cases of major NCAA infractions in the decade that concluded in 2010. Not all of the cases involved football, which means it’s purely a coincidence that 10 of the 11 went to bowl games last season: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, FIU, Fresno State, Michigan, Oklahoma, TCU, USC and Washington. The lone two-timer without a bowl: Ball State.

Pac-10 and the NFL Pro Bowl

January, 18, 2011
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The SEC dominates college football, but the ACC and Pac-10 rock the NFL Pro Bowl.

Wheeeee!

As my esteemed colleague Heather Dinich pointed out in the ACC blog, the ACC led all conferences for the third consecutive year with 19 players selected to play in the Pro Bowl, which will be held on Jan. 30 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. The SEC was second with 13 selections and the Pac-10 was third with 12. The Big Ten and the Big 12 had nine each.

But, of course, seeing that the Pac-10 at present has just 10 teams versus 12 for the ACC, SEC and Big 12, the numbers need to be adjusted for players per team. By that measure, the ACC is still No. 1 with 1.58 Pro Bowl players per ACC team, while the Pac-10 is second with 1.2 per team.

Here's the list of Pac-10 players in the Pro Bowl.

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville (UCLA)
Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis (Oregon State)
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia (California)
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta (California)
Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina (USC)
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars (UCLA)*
Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore (Oregon)
Terrell Suggs, DE, Baltimore (Arizona State)
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland (California)
Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh (USC)
Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay (USC)
Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago (Arizona)

*Out of game due to injury

You also may have noticed that a Jets-Packers Super Bowl would mean both starting quarterbacks -- Mark Sanchez for the Jets (USC) and Aaron Rodgers for the Packers (California) -- hail from the Pac-10.

A tip of the cap to Cal's Kevin Riley

November, 2, 2010
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California won't build a statue of Kevin Riley outside of Memorial Stadium. It's unlikely that many Old Blues will demand their children and grandchildren be named "Kevin" or "Riley" in tribute to the now-former Cal quarterback. The Bears have produced many good quarterbacks through the years. Riley will be well down the list when they count off the best ones.

But would it be too much to pause and tip our caps to Riley? To give him -- if not praise -- at least respect?

For whatever reason that Riley never became a "special" quarterback, it wasn't for a lack of trying. You wanted the Bears to win every game and Riley to go all Aaron Rodgers? Trust me: Riley wanted it more. My guess is he had plenty of nights tossing and turning wondering why things couldn't come together.

[+] EnlargeKevin Riley
AP Photo/Rick BowmerCal's Kevin Riley threw for 1,409 yards this season before injuring his left knee.
“It’s upsetting to see Kevin end his collegiate career like that,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said in a statement reporting Riley's career-ending knee injury suffered at Oregon State last Saturday.

“He has been a very strong competitor during his time at Cal and has dedicated himself to our program. He’s a great team player and has a lot of passion for Cal football. He’s provided a lot of great moments.”

What a complicated relationship Tedford and Riley have had. Recall their first made-for-TV moment, when Riley's ill-advised scramble in the last seconds against Oregon State in 2007 -- he was filling in for an injured Nate Longshore when Nate Longshore was still Nate Longshore -- probably cost the Bears the No. 1 ranking. The cameras caught Tedford, far from the demonstrative sort on the sideline, jumping into the air and slamming his play sheet to the ground.

Tedford's moving compassion for Riley on Saturday when it was clear the injury was severe is probably being noted by recruits and their parents: This guy cares about his players.

Tedford has benched Riley. He's defended Riley. He tried to get others to beat him out. He spent this past offseason telling anyone who would listen that Riley's numbers ranked him among all the celebrated quarterbacks in the Pac-10.

Those numbers? Riley is among Cal’s all-time leaders in touchdown passes (50, No. 5), total offense (6,136, No. 6), passer efficiency (131.55, No. 7), passing yardage (6,182, No. 8) and 250-yard passing games (7, No. 10). He has completed 55.5 percent of his throws with 50 TDs and 21 interceptions. He has scored another five touchdowns on the ground.

Riley is 19-12 in 31 career starts. He's won more games than any other active Pac-10 quarterback. Riley had a string of 11 straight games with a touchdown pass, spanning the final eight outings of his junior campaign and the first three of this season. In 2010, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,409 yards with 13 touchdown and six interceptions. He probably had his strongest performance of the season in his last full game before the injury, completing 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards, with two touchdown tosses and no interceptions in a 50-17 win over Arizona State.

As of today, he's ranked 32nd in the nation in passing efficiency.

There was a time when going 19-12 as Cal's QB would have been pretty darn good. These are not those times. Bears fans engorged themselves on the success of Tedford's early years and are frustrated that the program isn't taking the proverbial next step. Longshore and now Riley are the first two players who fans finger over the recent middling results.

And that frustration is not invalid. In the program's big picture, there are notable trends and patterns that are hard to ignore.

Therein lies something I always liked about Riley: He wasn't a whiner. And he never hid. He admitted his own frustration and shortcomings. Reporters would ask the tough questions, he'd provide the tough answers. Sometimes it was clear he wished his inquisitors knew enough about football to realize a lot of things go into a failed play, but he generally sucked it up.

He tried to get better. He worked on his mechanics. He fought to retain his confidence in a new-media world that makes it impossible to block out criticism.

Riley burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2007, when he entered the Armed Forced Bowl early in the second quarter, trailing 21-0, and directed the Bears to a 42-36 victory over Air Force. He completed 16-of-19 for 269 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

At that point, it was hard to believe his future script wouldn't include championships and postseason honors.

But not everyone gets a storybook ending. At least in sports. Riley's got his whole life ahead in which to write a lasting, more substantive script than the ones recounting the events on fall Saturdays.

But as to that football part of Riley's life, today we tip our cap. Respect.

Building a Pac-10 'House of Pain'

August, 5, 2010
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Here's our take on the most painful losses for each Pac-10 team.

Feel free to disagree.

Arizona

Oregon 44, Arizona 41, 2OT, 2009

With "College GameDay" on campus for the first time, Arizona fans stormed the field in celebration. Prematurely. And that set up a red ring of disappointment around the field at packed Arizona Stadium, when Jeremiah Masoli rallied the Ducks late for a tie in regulation and then a win in double-overtime. As it turned out, if the Wildcats had won, they would have gone to the school's first Rose Bowl. Masoli tied the game at 31-31 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ed Dickson with six seconds left, capping a 15-play, 80-yard drive. Two plays before, he had converted an 8-yard pass on fourth-and-5. Masoli scored the game winner from 1-yard out in the second overtime. It was his sixth touchdown of the night -- three passing and three running. It may have been the best game of 2009.

Arizona State

Ohio State 20, Arizona State 17, Rose Bowl, 1997

So close to a national championship. The Sun Devils' 11-0 regular season included a 19-0 victory over defending national champion Nebraska, and they looked poised to win in Pasadena when Jake Plummer, on third-and-11, scrambled for a touchdown and 17-14 lead with 1:40 to play. But the Buckeyes weren't done. They drove 65 yards for the winning score, with David Boston hauling in a touchdown pass from five yards out with 19 seconds left. That pass was thrown by Ohio State's backup quarterback, Joe Germaine, who came off the bench to earn game MVP honors. Germaine was born and raised in Arizona and grew up rooting for ASU but opted to go to Ohio State because the Sun Devils coaches wanted him to play defensive back.

California

USC 23, California 17, 2004

Cal dominated the best USC team of the Pete Carroll era -- the Bears outgained the Trojans 424 yards to 205 -- but a comeback attempt fell short at the end. It was the Bears only regular season loss, despite quarterback Aaron Rodgers tying an NCAA record by completing 23 consecutive passes. Rodgers was nearly perfect until three throws missed from the USC 14-yard line in the final minute. Cal was undone by poor special teams play and three turnovers (versus one from USC). Making the defeat even more bitter: After a lobbying effort from Texas coach Mack Brown, the Longhorns eclipsed the Bears in the BCS standings and played in the Rose Bowl, which relegated Cal, which hadn't played in the Rose Bowl since 1959, to the Holiday Bowl, where they played without passion in an upset lost to Texas Tech.

Oregon

Arizona 34, Oregon 24, 2007

It's hard to decide between the 49-42 loss to Stanford in 2001 -- the Ducks lone defeat that season -- or this one (the 2000 Civil War defeat also deserves note). The Stanford loss -- after leading 42-28 -- ended a 23-game winning streak and was the Ducks first home loss in four years. It also cost the Ducks a shot at the national title against Miami. At Arizona in 2007 on Thursday night on ESPN, the 8-1 Ducks were ranked No. 2 and quarterback Dennis Dixon was the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. They led 8-7 and were driving when Dixon blew out his knee (he'd first hurt it 12 days before versus Arizona State). Things mostly fell apart from there, in the game and over the final two games of the regular season. Here's the distinction: 2001 and its final No. 2 ranking still rate as the best season in program history. If Oregon had beaten Stanford, however, it would have played Miami in the Rose Bowl, the BCS title game, and that Hurricanes team was, well, awesome (in the real sense of the word). If the 2007 Ducks had won out and played LSU or Ohio State for the national title, their chances would have been very good to win the program's first national title. Instead, the season ended in major disappointment -- the Sun Bowl -- and an overwhelming sense of what might have been.

(Read full post)

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