NCF Nation: ACC

Pac-12 leads leagues in QB starts

April, 23, 2014
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Keeping with our theme of Pac-12 quarterbacks -- and numbers donated to the Pac-12 blog by the Arizona State sports information department -- Jeremy Hawkes and Jordan Parry compiled a list of returning starts behind center by conference. Not surprisingly the Pac-12, with 10 returning starting QBs, is tied with the Big Ten for the most returning starters, and the Pac-12 leads the nation in total starts.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country.
Hawkes wrote: "The logic we used was based around the quarterback who would be considered the 'primary' quarterback by season's end last season. Quarterbacks who were injured early in the season when they were considered the primary quarterback and return this year are also counted on the list (like David Ash at Texas)."

The Pac-12 not only welcomes back 10 starting QBs, it welcomes back 198 total starts, topped by 31 from Oregon State's Sean Mannion. Seven of the returning Pac-12 QBs have more than one season's worth of starting experience, too.

The Big Ten features 10 returning QBs and a cumulative 139 starts. The 14-team SEC only welcomes back five starting QBs with a combined 68 starts. Ohio State's Braxton Miller has the most career starts among returning quarterbacks with 32.

Further, notes Hawkes, "Also notable is that aside from Rutgers' Gary Nova (28 starts), Mannion (31), Taylor Kelly (27), Brett Hundley (27) and Marcus Mariota (26) are the four most seasoned QBs among all BCS teams (along with Bo Wallace at 26 starts at Ole Miss)."

Here's the list.

Pac-12 (10)
Sean Mannion, Oregon State: 31
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: 27
Brett Hundley, UCLA: 27
Marcus Mariota, Oregon: 26
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: 19
Connor Halliday, Washington State: 19
Travis Wilson, Utah: 16
Cody Kessler, USC: 14
Jared Goff, Cal: 12
Sefo Liufau, Colorado: 7
Total: 198 starts

Big Ten (10)
Braxton Miller, Ohio State: 32
Gary Nova, Rutgers: 28
Devin Gardner, Michigan: 21
Joel Stave, Wisconsin: 19
Connor Cook, Michigan State: 13
Jake Rudock, Iowa: 13
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: 12
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana: 8
Danny Etling, Purdue: 8
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota: 4
Total: 139 starts

Big 12 (8)
David Ash, Texas: 21
Bryce Petty, Baylor: 13
Jake Waters, Kansas State: 13
Jake Heaps, Kansas: 9
Sam Richardson, Iowa State: 8
Clint Trickett, West Virginia: 7
Davis Webb, Texas Tech: 6
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: 5
Total: 82 starts

American Athletic (5)
Paxton Lynch, Memphis: 12
John O'Korn, Houston: 11
P.J. Walker, Temple: 7
Mike White, South Florida: 5
Casey Cochran, Connecticut: 4
Total: 39 starts

ACC (5)
Anthony Boone, Duke: 15
Jameis Winston, Florida State: 14
David Watford, Virginia: 12
Terrel Hunt, Syracuse: 10
Total: 54 starts

SEC (5)
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: 26
Nick Marshall, Auburn: 14
Brandon Allen, Arkansas: 12
Justin Worley, Tennessee: 10
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: 6
Total: 68 starts
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Love it or hate it, the BCS delivered a dramatic and fitting ending on Monday night, as No. 1 FSU rallied from from a late four-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 in the final VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles won their third national championship and ended the SEC's reign of seven consecutive BCS national championships.

Play of the game: Trailing 31-27 with about one minute to go, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw a 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene to move to Auburn's 23-yard line with 56 seconds to play. Six players later, after Auburn was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to go ahead for good with 13 seconds to play. FSU's extra point gave it a 34-31 lead.

Turning point: After Auburn took a 24-20 lead with about 4:42 to go, FSU's Levonte Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield, a 5-foot-7 freshman known as "Kermit," returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season.

Early turning point: With Auburn holding a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray to stake the Tigers to a 14-3 lead with 13:48 to go in the first half. Ray, a sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., had four catches for 58 yards this season before hauling in the long touchdown catch against the hometown Seminoles. FSU, which hadn't trailed since falling behind Boston College on Sept. 28 and had led for more than 571 minutes of football before falling behind the Tigers, suddenly trailed by two scores. The Seminoles played catch-up the rest of the night but finally caught the Tigers in the end.

Player of the game: Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., got off to a slow start against Auburn's defense, getting sacked four times and fumbling once in the first half. But in the end, Winston broke the Heisman Trophy jinx, throwing the winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns.

What it means: The controversial BCS era ends with the SEC being denied its eighth consecutive national championship, which should sit well with college football fans outside of the SEC. In a game in which the SEC seemed most vulnerable during its championship streak, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead but couldn't hold on for a victory. The Tigers were denied their second BCS national championship since the 2010 season, when they defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship behind quarterback Cam Newton. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn missed becoming only the second coach -- Miami's Larry Coker was the first -- to lead his team to the national title in his first season since the BCS began in 1998.

Stat that matters: 2-for-12: Florida State won despite going 2-for-12 on third down.

What's next: Florida State will probably be a popular choice to be the No. 1 team in preseason polls heading into the 2014 season. FSU will have to replace several key pieces on defense, including linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. But the Seminoles will bring back Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, along with several of their most important players on offense. Auburn, which reached the BCS national championship in Malzahn's first season, will be among the SEC West favorites in 2014, along with Alabama and LSU. The Tigers will bring back Marshall, but they'll have to wait to see if junior tailback Tre Mason returns to school or enters next spring's NFL draft. Auburn's very young defense will be a lot wiser in coordinator Ellis Johnson's second season, too.

Hyundai Sun Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
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No. 17 UCLA (9-3) and Virginia Tech (8-4) meet on Tuesday in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Here are a few keys:

Who to watch: Start with UCLA’s dynamic duo at linebacker, senior Anthony Barr and freshman Myles Jack. Barr benefited from turning down a chance at the NFL a year ago, developing into one of the nation’s best at his position. Jack needed no such time. He also played running back for the final four games of the year, rushing for four touchdowns as he earned the Pac-12’s offensive and defensive rookie of the year honors. For Virginia Tech, the best chance to move the football comes through the air, but talented quarterback Logan Thomas must avoid interceptions. He threw 13 this season in 12 games.

What to watch: Virginia Tech is shorthanded without its leading rusher, Trey Edmunds, who suffered a broken leg in the season finale, a 16-6 win over Virginia. The Hokies struggled to run the ball with Edmunds, so what happens without him? On defense, top cornerback Kyle Fuller is likely out with a groin injury for Tech. Fellow corner Antone Exum will sit with an ankle injury. Against a pair of freshmen in coverage, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley could have a big day throwing to Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller.

Why to watch: It’s two name-brand programs in El Paso, but in what direction are these programs headed? The Bruins, under second-year coach Jim Mora, are trending up regardless of the outcome on Tuesday as they seek a 10-win season for the first time since 2005. The Hokies lost three of their final five games this season after struggling to a 7-6 finish a year ago under 27th-year coach Frank Beamer.

Prediction: UCLA 28, Virginia Tech 14. The Hokies don’t have enough firepower to get into a scoring duel with UCLA, so look for the bowl-savvy Beamer to search for a few nontraditional ways to even this matchup. But expect the Bruins and Hundley to shake free in the second half.

Could top conference be out of title game?

December, 2, 2013
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Heading into the final week before the bowls are announced, the SEC leads ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top five teams in the country in Auburn, Alabama and Missouri.

The SEC’s strong out-of-conference record has a lot to do with its success in the polls; the SEC is 47-9 in nonconference games, including 3-1 last Saturday against the ACC.

Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina all defeated their ACC rivals on Saturday, and the SEC’s only out-of-conference loss this past weekend came at the hands of then-No. 2 Florida State.

However, the biggest debate heading into conference championship weekend is whether the SEC deserves a spot in the BCS National Championship to defend its seven straight titles.

If the season ended today, the top team in the ACC would face off against the top team in the Big Ten. According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings, the ACC and Big Ten are the lowest-ranked conferences among the five major ones, and the SEC is by far the top conference in the country.

However, the debate is not necessarily which conference is the best, but which team is the most deserving.

When looking at ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings – a system that determines the most deserving teams in the country -- Ohio State and Florida State are both ranked higher than the top team in the SEC.

Looking deeper by using ESPN’s Football Power Index – a predictor of future strength -- Ohio State should be favored by three points over Auburn and six points over Missouri on a neutral field.

It appears the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be on the outside looking in on the national title debate despite ranking second and third, respectively, in ESPN’s Conference Power Rankings. Both conferences have depth, but their biggest issue is that there is no “elite” team at the top.

Keep an eye on the bowl matchups announced next Sunday to see how conference strength plays into bowl selections. In the last three seasons, the SEC has the best record in bowl games among the five major conferences (17-11) while the Big Ten has the worst record (9-16).

Pac-12 is most excellent! And left out

November, 25, 2013
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The Pac-12 is what we thought it was back in August -- as deep and as good as it's been. Probably ever.

Before the season, five Pac-12 teams were ranked. As we head into the final weekend of the regular season, five Pac-12 teams are ranked. Nine Pac-12 teams are bowl-eligible, the most in conference history. That's the same number as the 14-team SEC, which has six ranked teams.

We wrote this on Aug. 26:
The Pac-12 needs to go at least 2-1 against [Notre Dame] and finish the regular season with a 31-6 nonconference record. That would mean going 29-5 in the first four weeks.

Guess what happens if Stanford beats Notre Dame on Saturday? The Pac-12 would go 31-6 in nonconference games, though 1-2 versus Notre Dame, and 22-5 versus FBS teams and 6-3 versus the AQ conferences.

[+] EnlargeStanford Huddle
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford is among the Pac-12's elite teams, as expected. And while the league was as deep as it's ever been, the Pac-12 is expected to only get one BCS berth.
So excellent for the Pac-12. And there was great rejoicing.

And yet, if you're a big-picture Pac-12 observer, the season feels disappointing.

The Pac-12 is not only out of the national title picture, but it won't get a second BCS bowl team for the first time since 2009. That will cost 12 athletic departments about $500,000, money that most expected to get again this year. The Pac-12 has just one top-10 team: No. 8 Stanford. For just the second time since 2000, the Pac-12 could finish the season without a team ranked in the top five. The Cardinal will need to win out in order to climb that high.

Sometimes being deep and good costs you. That's the often counterintuitive reality of college football, where perception rules the day.

Lots of conferences talk about "cannibalism," which means a conference eats up its own with a brutal conference schedule. But it became the reality in the Pac-12 this year while being a myth in other conferences.

Consider the BCS standings. Click the schedules of the teams ranked No. 2 through No. 7, the teams behind Alabama and ahead of Stanford, vying for a spot in the title game. We'll wait here.

Done? Did you notice something? Of course you did.

No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Auburn and No. 7 Oklahoma State each have just one victory over a team that is presently ranked in the BCS standings. No. 5 Missouri and No. 6 Clemson? They have zero wins over currently ranked teams.

Meanwhile, No. 8 Stanford has wins over No. 12 Arizona State, No. 13 Oregon and No. 22 UCLA. Arizona State has wins over No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 23 USC and UCLA. Oregon has a win over UCLA. USC has a win over Stanford.

The Pac-12 grind was like no other conference this year. Utah, for example, was good enough to beat Stanford, Utah State and BYU -- combined record 24-10 -- but enters the final weekend at 1-7 in conference play.

Washington fans were throwing up their hands after consecutive losses to Sanford, Oregon and Arizona State. Of course, those three are each ranked in the top 13. The Huskies' four losses all came to ranked teams.

Washington State is just 6-5 but was good enough to beat USC (which beat Stanford), Arizona (which beat Oregon) and Utah (which beat Stanford). Oh, and the Cougars outgained Auburn 464-394 in a tight, 31-24 road defeat, with the Cougars undone by three turnovers.

Everyone knows what's coming, right? Yep, we're again going to point to the nine-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games. The Big Ten has announced it will start playing nine in 2016. The ACC and SEC have both talked about it, but then have hidden behind excuses for not playing nine games.

The ACC and SEC say they don't want to play nine games because of intraconference rivalry games such as Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina and Florida State-Florida. Of course, this is pure disingenuousness. At least they could just be honest and admit they are trying their darnedest to make things as easy on themselves as possible.

The thinking in the ACC and SEC, with the new four-team playoff coming, is to wait and see, to really and truly see how important strength of schedule is going to become.

None of this means any Pac-12 team could beat Florida State, a team I believe is very good. And we'll likely get to see what the Pac-12 champ will do against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

In fact, if the Pac-12 flops in its bowl games, there will be plenty of chuckling over this "world's deepest conference" talk. There are no excuses this year, with USC eligible and just one BCS bowl team.

Yet if the four-team playoff began this year, Pac-12 folks can see what's at stake. We don't yet know how much money teams and conferences that earn spots in the playoff will pocket, but it will be north of the $18 million the teams/conferences playing for the final BCS title this year will receive.

If Pac-12 coaches, athletic directors and administrators end up watching as the SEC or ACC pockets an extra, oh, $40 million after placing two teams in the playoff while the Pac-12 gets some nice parting gifts, then perhaps there would be a sense of urgency about making sure that every major conference plays the same number of conference games.

That, above all else, will be the critical issue for the Pac-12 as we make a transition into the playoff era.

Big Ten rises in conference rankings

November, 4, 2013
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After a fairly uneventful weekend, ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings remained relatively unchanged, other than a slight gain by the Big Ten.

The SEC

The SEC continued to build upon its lead in the rankings after five of its top teams rose in the AP Poll. The SEC now has six teams ranked in the top 13 of the poll. No other conference has more than two teams in the top 13. 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams (79 percent) are also ranked in the top 50 of the FPI, the highest percentage of any conference.

The Big Ten

The Big Ten gained 3.9 points in the conference rankings after its top teams won on Saturday. Michigan State held Michigan to -48 rushing yards and confirmed that it has an elite defense. As a result, the Spartans rose six spots in the AP Poll and eight spots in the FPI. Michigan State’s emergence is important for the Big Ten because there is a perception that Ohio State is the only elite team in the conference.

The Big 12

The Big 12 fell 3.7 points in the rankings after Texas Tech lost its second straight game. The Red Raiders have fallen 15 spots in the AP Poll in the past two weeks, including 10 spots after their 18-point loss to Oklahoma State. There are now four teams in the Big 12 with no more than one loss in conference play. Each of those teams plays at least two games against the other three teams to end the season. That chaos at the top of the Big 12 will begin on Thursday night when Oklahoma travels to Baylor.

Next Week’s Slate of Games
Next week features seven different games that will shape conference races:

--SEC: LSU travels to Alabama on Saturday in a game that could eliminate LSU from the race for the SEC West.

--Pac-12: Oregon heads to Stanford on Thursday (9 pm ET, ESPN) in a game that will likely determine the winner of the Pac-12 North.

--Big 12: As mentioned above, Baylor hosts Oklahoma on Thursday in its first major test of the season.

--ACC: Miami (FL) will look to bounce back against Virginia Tech on Saturday in a game that could go a long way towards determining the winner of the ACC Coastal division.

--Big Ten: Nebraska heads to Michigan on Saturday in a must-win game for the Cornhuskers if they want to keep pace with Michigan State in the Big Ten Legends division.

--American: UCF hosts Houston on Saturday (7 pm ET, ESPN2)in a matchup of the only two undefeated teams in AAC play. If UCF wins, it will have beaten Louisville and Houston, the two 7-1 teams in the American Athletic Conference heading into this weekend.

--MAC: Ohio travels to Buffalo on Tuesday (8 pm ET, ESPN2) with first place up for grabs in the MAC East.

These games may not necessarily have a major impact on the conference rankings, but they will help determine the strength of the best teams in each conference.

For a refresher on the formula for the conference power rankings, click here

Is the Pac-12 ready for its close-up?

August, 21, 2013
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Five Pac-12 teams were ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll. The Pac-12/10/8 has never had five teams ranked in the final AP poll, though that would change if new members Colorado and Utah were included in the tabulation.

What that means is the preseason perception of the Pac-12 is strong heading into the 2013 season, perhaps as strong as it has been in a while. The last time as many as four conference teams were ranked in the preseason AP poll was 2006.

Depth? Eight conference teams received votes. National title contenders? Oregon is ranked third and Stanford fourth.

Last year, the general consensus was the SEC was the best conference, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 were candidates for No. 2. This fall, more than a few folks are projecting the Pac-12 as a contender for best conference, though dethroning the SEC, which had six teams in the top 12 of the preseason poll, is as much about ending a streak of seven consecutive national titles as overall strength.

However one views the strength of various conferences, there obviously is a perception that the Pac-12 is on the uptick in 2013.

There are season-specific reasons for this. For one, a lot of starters are coming back, particularly among the better teams.

Pac-12 teams average 16.3 returning starters. The average over the past decade was 14.9. Those 2013 numbers are particularly good at the top. The conference's top seven teams from a preseason perspective -- Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington -- average 16.5 returning starters. For the sake of comparison, the SEC's top six teams (Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina) average 12.3 returning starters.

They say defense wins championships, so it's good that an average of 7.4 defensive starters are back. They also say the game is won in the trenches. Only one conference team, Utah, doesn't welcome back at least three starters on its offensive line. Seven teams welcome back four starters, compared to just two (Arizona and USC) a year ago.

Further, of those top seven teams, six welcome back their starting quarterbacks. Among that group, only USC is replacing its 2012 starter.

Arizona is replacing its starting quarterback, Matt Scott, but it nonetheless was among the teams getting votes in the AP poll. Second-year coach Rich Rodriguez said he thinks the conference has more than five Top-25 teams, and he thinks there's a paper trail behind the conference's improving perception.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Rich Rodriguez
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREArizona coach Rich Rodriguez says the Pac-12 is trending toward success, a positive growth unlike any the conference has ever experienced.
"The Pac-12 is deeper now and will be deeper in the next 10 or 15 years than it ever has been," he said. "And that's just because of the money being put into it. You're talking about more money, more facilities and more revenue than any school in our league has ever had. And that's not going backwards."

He then added with a laugh, "I wish it wasn't that way. I wish it was just us. But everybody is kind of moving up."

How much more money are Pac-12 teams taking in? Well, according to the conference's tax filings for 2011-12, the most recent available fiscal year, revenues jumped 58 percent over the previous year to $175.5 million. And that doesn't include the $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and FOX, which started last season and will pay members an average of $20.8 million over the next 12 years.

That money is paying for facilities upgrades across the conference. In fact, every conference team has -- or is planning to -- significantly upgraded facilities, whether that's stadiums, weight rooms or football buildings.

California last year completed the most expensive facility upgrades in college sports history -- total cost of $474 million -- and immediately went from having some of the worst facilities in AQ conference football to having some of the best. Oregon's new football building has been a national sensation, while the renovation of Husky Stadium will put it on the short list of best college football venues. Arizona, USC and Utah have recently opened fancy new football buildings, while Arizona State's stadium remodel plan is, well, out of this world looking.

These facilities, the conventional wisdom goes, will make Pac-12 programs more competitive in recruiting and will provide state-of-the-art support for the athletes already on hand. The Pac-12 has been playing catch-up in the college football arms race, and now it seems it has caught up.

Of course, the Pac-12 continues to have a self-imposed challenge that the SEC, Big Ten and ACC don't face: a nine-game conference schedule. If the Pac-12 played eight conference games, there would be six fewer losses scattered throughout the conference every year, and that would bolster national perception. It particularly would boost perceptions of depth, as more 6-6 teams would be 7-5 and 8-4 teams would be 9-3.

For many Pac-12 coaches, quality depth has been a major factor preventing the conference from playing for more national titles.

"What I like to say about our conference is it's tough every single week," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You don't have a group at the top and a group at the bottom. You're going to play tough games every single week."

It appears that might be even more true in 2013, at least if preseason polls are to be believed.

But there is a singularly most convincing way for the Pac-12 to distinguish itself in front of the nation this season: Win the final BCS National Championship before the four-team playoff begins in 2014.
1. No wonder Auburn junior Kiehl Frazier asked to step out of the quarterback fight and move to safety: He doesn’t understand how a quarterback is supposed to act. When told midway through August practice that two other quarterbacks are going to get most of the reps, a quarterback is supposed to pack and his bags and transfer. Instead, Frazier chose to transfer to the other side of the ball. It turns out he loves Auburn more than he loved being a quarterback. Sounds like he made the right decision.

2. Rich Rodriguez wasn’t a mentor to his former wide receivers coach Butch Jones so much as a good friend. Their teenaged sons remain close even though Jones is at Tennessee and Rodriguez is at Arizona. But when Jones said Tuesday of his Vols, “I think this football team has to learn how to enjoy being uncomfortable,” he echoed one of Rodriguez’s favorite sentiments. Coaching minds do think alike, especially after they work together for 80 hours a week.

3. Virginia Tech is at least a year away from being the kind of team that won at least 10 games annually from 2004 to 2011. The key to the Hokies’ resurgence? Coach Frank Beamer brought his son Shane onto his staff two years ago. As my colleague Chris Low explained on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Tuesday, Shane served as recruiting coordinator at South Carolina when the Gamecocks began to sign the best talent in their state, including All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Larry ScottAP Photo/Jae C. HongLarry Scott criticized the NCAA's recent rulings and called for fans to drop DirecTV.
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Commissioner Larry Scott came out swinging at Pac-12 media day, giving the NCAA a couple of stiff jabs and DirecTV a haymaker.

Scott showed there was general unity among the commissioners in the big five conferences -- along with the Pac-12, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC -- that there is widespread impatience with the NCAA, its administration, rules and inefficiency.

"It's clear right now [the NCAA] is at a crossroads," Scott said. "It's time for a new vision."

As for DirecTV, it's all about it not picking up the Pac-12 Network for a second consecutive football season, meaning millions of West Coast subscribers have a choice to make: How important is the Pac-12 Network to them?

"I urge our fans that are intent on not missing their team's games this fall to drop DirecTV and switch to one of the many providers that have it all," Scott said.

Scott and the Pac-12 Network don't seem to be hitting at DirecTV from a position of weakness. The new network turned a profit in its first year of existence and will increase the number of live events this year from 550 to 750.

The Pac-12 set up a website to explain how to drop DirecTV.

As for the NCAA, Scott outlined four "high-priority items":

  • Student-athlete welfare, including health and safety as well as full cost-of-attendance scholarships.
  • On NCAA governance, Scott said, "... it's time to acknowledge that one size does not fit all." Along this line, Scott believes that the the NCAA should lean more on athletic directors and commissioners when administrating college sports and less on college presidents.
  • Scott holds a dim view of NCAA enforcement: "It's fair to say confidence in the enforcement process is at an all-time low."
  • Finally, Scott believes one-and-done in college basketball should be ended.

While Scott's broadside might seem to make NCAA president Mark Emmert's precarious footing even weaker, he was conciliatory in terms of envisioning Emmert being part of the solution.

"I spoke to president Mark Emmert this week," Scott said. "I was delighted to see yesterday that he announced plans to call a summit in January to discuss exactly what that change should look like."

Scott also backed away from some of the recent talk about the big schools breaking away from the NCAA.

"The current discussion we have heard this week," he said, "... is too radical and too narrow at the same time. The answer ... is not to break away but to evolve into something better."

Of course, that push to evolve includes the notion of survival of the fittest, and the implication that the NCAA at present isn't terribly fit.
The Pac-12 blog chatted with commissioner Larry Scott on Thursday, and here's what he had to say before he officially met with the media Friday, kicking off Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles.

It sounds like NCAA reform is a huge topic with all the conference commissioners. What are the chief areas where you think the NCAA needs to change?

Larry Scott: The first thing I would say is it's really not limited to the five big conferences. I know that's what's gotten the most exposure. Honestly, it's been a topic of conversation across most divisions. We all met in early June, 31 commissioners of different conferences, and everyone is talking about NCAA governance and the reform movement under Mark [Emmert] -- what people like about it and what people don't like about it. I think it's fair to say there is a collective sense that everyone would like to see a different governance structure that was not exclusively presidents, who are not involved in athletic day-to-day, making the final decisions on things. People would like to see more flexibility for the high resource schools. Let's say the five big conferences but it might not be limited to them. To have more flexibility to do the things we want to do. We're the ones playing against each other most often. We're the ones bringing in the most resources. Taking care of student-athletes better is something we all want to do. I think there is a collective sense we want to see more aggressive restructuring of enforcement. There are a lot of black eyes for the NCAA in college sports. Those are three things that are concrete that I think we'd all like to see some change on.

There are two things we talk about when we talk about getting athletes some money. There's cost of attendance, which means all of your scholarship athletes in all your sports are going to get a stipend, from crew to football. Then there's the notion of paying the revenue sports athletes -- football is making so much money -- of letting them share in the millions being raked in. That they deserve to be paid something special. Lots of talk about that, but it seems to forget Title IX. Is there a loophole in that where football players can be paid more than other athletes, and where does the Pac-12 stand on that?

LS: From my perspective, we are talking about across the board, all athletes. For those of us advocating for more resources for student-athletes, we're not advocating for it on the basis of their bringing in the money so they deserve it. We're advocating for it on the basis that the schools have the resources to do more to support student-athletes -- academically, health and welfare and financially. All student-athletes. Now, football will disproportionately benefit because you have 85 scholarship athletes. No other sport is anything close. But no one is thinking about this in terms of paying student-athletes for their performance.

It's not a purely business, revenue model …

LS: No. And I think that is a really important distinction of principle there.

[+] EnlargeLarry Scott
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott believes "we've come to the end of a cycle" in realignment among the big five conferences.
Everyone used to want to ask you about expansion. Now it's the potential breakaway from the NCAA of the major conferences. Is there any momentum behind the idea if the NCAA doesn't get it together in a way that works for you guys, the Pac-12, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC?

LS: No. I think that conversation this past week was way overcooked. I don't think there's any of us approaching this from the perspective of breaking away. I think people are focused on what the end result is that they think we will need, which is about governance reform, more flexibility on policies, improved enforcement scenarios and some other things. I believe from evolution that can still happen as part of the NCAA. Part of the big tent. I don't think it's that complicated.

The USC verdict, there was some grumpiness about how severe it was, how unfair and unjustifiable the NCAA penalties were. Did you feel happy with how things went down with Oregon? Did the NCAA handle that case better and the school was treated fairly?

LS: Looking in the rearview mirror, I still feel USC was treated unfairly. I said it at the time, even though I had only started as commissioner. At the end of the day, I think the Oregon case, as the school said, it was an OK result. Something that they were OK moving on with. I was disappointed it took so long. I was disappointed that for a year and a half they had to operate under a black cloud of accusation and they weren't allowed to explain their side of the story. That in and of itself was a big penalty. For a variety for reasons, some of which I can't discuss, it should have been handled expeditiously. It was not that complicated of a case.

One of the big initiatives you guys announced -- with a certain amount of pride, it seemed to me -- was limiting contact in football practices. Has there been any negative blowback on that from coaches, about whether it might hurt the quality of football on Saturdays? And are there more tangible guidelines now?

LS: That's something we will be announcing [Friday]. You've got to buy your ticket for admission. (Laughs.)

What about the hitting? Football is a violent, collision sport…

LS: Football is a collision sport, sometimes violent. Everyone accepts that, and no one is going to change the nature of football. A lot of our thinking about having a policy that goes further than the NCAA does in terms of limiting contact is coming from our coaches. As we've been talking to our coaches about this for months, it's clear they've already self-imposed restrictions on hitting because they are very mindful of having their players healthy, having their players safe and having longevity. Our coaches are very evolved in their thinking. They've been instrumental in adopting this policy. So there hasn't been pushback.

Officiating reform. Folks are alway going to complain about officiating. You guys have done some things to make it better. But it still doesn't seem Pac-12 officiating is consistent. I hear that from fans but also from coaches. How is that progressing?

LS: I've been around officiating a long time. I don't think perfection is attainable. There will always be mistakes. To answer your question, what I focus on is constant improvement and how do we measure up against other conferences. Based on those two measures -- and this doesn't mean you don't strive to be the best you can be -- but based on those two realistic goals, I think we've made tremendous progress, particularly in football. I think [officiating coordinator] Tony Corrente has come in and done a fantastic job -- restructuring our program, hiring better officials, holding them to a higher standard, having more consistency, using more technology -- across the board. I absolutely think it's improved. The people I talk to nationally that evaluate all the conferences think we are right there with anyone else out there. Do I feel satisfied? No. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied. But I'm a big supporter of Tony and what he is doing.

Ivan Maisel told me you said on his podcast that if the Pac-12 championship game, with the No. 1 seed being the host model, if that has attendance issues like it did at Stanford -- and let's face it, that was a confluence of negative events, with Bay Area rush hour traffic on a Friday that had featured torrential rain -- but if it continues to struggle with attendance, you'd entertain going to a neutral site game. What's your thinking there?

LS: We knew we were creating something new with the conference championship game. And our conference is not like any other conference. We're not a driving conference. We're not the SEC, we're not the Big 12, where you can plunk this game down in a central, neutral site where people can drive to it. Even the Big Ten's got that, though less so now since their recent expansion. I really believe our unique model of the home-hosted championship is the right one for us in terms of getting the best crowds and rewarding the team and their fan base for having the best record. And not having those fans buy another airline ticket and create a choice between going to the championship game or a bowl game. I really believe in my bones this is the right thing for us long term. The first year it felt like a good choice. It was not a great matchup but it was sold out. But last year's game caused me to pause. I still believe we have the best model, but I'd be the first to say that if it's not working over a period of time -- if we have more years like Stanford last year -- I'll be the first to say let's look at a different model. Because we've got people knocking down our door wanting to host a neutral-site championship game, up and down the conference. We've got plenty of options. It's been us resisting, even though there are some advantages -- knowing where it's going to be, being able to plan -- but we're going to give this model some more time before we draw a conclusion.

All quiet on the expansion front. Do you feel like that's done for now across the country?

LS: I do. I think we've run a cycle. All the major conferences have long-term TV deals. All but the SEC have locked up a grant of rights. That means any school that would leave a conference would leave their TV rights behind. That takes away all the financial motivation to leave a conference. That takes away the incentive for a conference to want to acquire a new team. You might see some at the lower levels but I think amongst the big five, we've come to the end of a cycle.

Last question. You knew I would ask it. DirecTV…

LS: I will have more of an update [Friday]. Our folks are in fact going to be speaking to DirecTV again before [media day] so I want to give a real live update tomorrow on that.

So not a definite grumpy no?

LS: We'll talk about that tomorrow.
The Pac-12 hasn't won a football national championship since USC in 2004, but in the big picture of college sports, it's the top conference. Again.

Seven Pac-12 programs finished ranked in the final Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup top 25, the most of any conference. Stanford, of course, won its 19th consecutive cup after claiming a national championship in women’s tennis, and top-four finishes in women’s cross country, women’s soccer, men’s gymnastics and women’s water polo. The football team also won the Rose Bowl.

With its baseball national title earned earlier this week, UCLA moved up to finish third for the second straight year. In addition to the baseball crown, the Bruins posted top-four finishes in six other sports -- men’s and women’s water polo, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s gymnastics and women’s golf.

USC placed 14th overall after sweeping the men’s and women’s water polo titles. Oregon was 15th with 929.75 points after picking up a pair of NCAA titles in women’s cross country and women’s indoor track and field and winning the Fiesta Bowl.

Five top-four finishes helped California to finish 17th, while Arizona State and Arizona rounded out the top 25, finishing 18th and 23rd, respectively.

Washington finished 28th, Colorado was 56th, Oregon State 69th, Utah 77th and Washington State tied for 192nd.

The success of the Pac-12 in the Directors' Cup was bolstered by the capturing of eight NCAA titles, most among all conferences. In addition, 10 Pac-12 league members finished among the top four in 22 NCAA championships, while the Big Ten was next with its league members placing among the top four in 18 NCAA championships.

The Directors' Cup was developed as a joint effort between the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and USA Today. Points are awarded based on each institution's finish in up to 20 sports -- 10 women's and 10 men's.

Complete standings and the scoring structure can be found on the NACDA website at www.directorscup.org.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN
Conference Top-25 Schools
1. Pac-12 (12) 7
2. SEC (14) 6
3. Big Ten (12) 5
4. ACC (12) 4
5. Big 12 (10) 2
6. Big East (15) 1
I was on vacation last week, and all hell broke loose.

Actually, I knew it was coming when my bosses emailed me a copy of this ESPN.com Insider story: College Football Future Power RankingsInsider.

I read over it just as you surely did, with plenty of "Agree," "Disagree" and "That's just crazy." That would happen with any list like this. That, by the way, is why we in the media make lists like this: Debate. Those who use the World Wide Web love to express Outrage over all the stuff that Outrages us.

The panel of experts who put this ranking together are each gentlemen and scholars: Travis Haney, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill, Todd McShay and Mark Schlabach. They used a methodology and surely did their best. Not all of them are yoked with the unenviable burden of living far away from the West Coast.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
George Frey/Getty ImagesPerhaps unnoticed nationally, Oregon State has enjoyed lots of success under coach Mike Riley.
Of course, I think the Pac-12 is under-represented. The Pac-12 teams that made this top 25 should be higher, and several teams that didn't make the list are stronger -- in my humble, humble opinion -- than those that did.

But one inclusion over those Pac-12 candidates was completely cracked. With all due respect to North Carolina, the Tar Heels at No. 21 makes no sense whatsoever.

If you are projecting forward, Washington is more justifiable than UNC. The Huskies are a former national power -- finished ranked No. 3 in 2000 -- who bottomed out, then meandered for several years but appear to be rising as they step into a fancypants new stadium that might be as nice as any in the country.

Yet I immediately emailed my bosses pointing out that omitting Oregon State would be a significant mistake. They made me go and sit in time out. Bosses are so unfair.

What is curious to me is there is no measure with which you could say North Carolina football is better -- past or present -- than Oregon State football.

None.

In 1996 and 1997, the Tar Heels finished ranked in the AP Top 10. With that gloss on his resume, coach Mack Brown bolted for Texas.

Know how many times UNC has finished ranked in the AP Top 25 since then? Zero.

Zero. Zero. Zero.

Oregon State? Five times, including a No. 4 ranking in 2000 and a No. 20 ranking last fall.

Five times.

Or how about this: Oregon State has five seasons with nine or more victories since 2000.

North Carolina? Zero.

Zero. Zero. Zero.

North Carolina has five losing seasons since 2000. Oregon State has four, but three of those included five wins. Four of the Tar Heels' losing seasons featured four or fewer defeats, including a 2-10 campaign in 2003.

North Carolina record since 2000: 76-83 (.478).

Oregon State record since 2000: 97-65 (.599).

Moreover, keep in mind that Oregon State is playing in a conference that has been consistently and significantly superior to the ACC. They've got a better record playing in the Major Leagues compared to what UNC has done in AAA ball.

Is this all about recruiting? Maybe. The state North Carolina produces more highly rated recruits than Oregon by a wide margin, and the Tar Heels typically rank ahead of the Beavers in the national recruiting rankings.

But it's not Oregon State's fault that its recruiting is annually underrated. At present, there are 23 Beavers in the NFL and 25 Tar Heels. That's basically a push.

Oregon State fans have been on the whole pretty irritated for the past few years, even after last year's uptick. A lot of that is due to the rise of rival Oregon as a national power, as well as a two-year downturn in 2010 and 2011.

This is another reason to be annoyed. And, Beavers, I'm with you on this.
Notre Dame wanted out of its series with Arizona State, but the Sun Devils wanted to play. A compromise was announced Tuesday that is a win for the Sun Devils.

The Fighting Irish will visit Tempe on Nov. 8, 2014, but the Sun Devils won't make a return trip to South Bend, Ind., in 2017.

The meeting scheduled for Oct. 5, 2013, between the teams at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas has nothing to do with this game contract. It's still on.

A statement from ASU vice president for athletics Steve Patterson:
“We’re pleased that Notre Dame was able to resolve its scheduling issues in a way that allows it to play at Sun Devil Stadium in 2014. ... Our entire Sun Devil family -- season ticket holders, fans, students, alumni -- and our entire community here in the Valley have been looking forward to playing Notre Dame in Tempe since the original agreement was signed in 2008. While the game at Notre Dame in 2017 has been canceled, what is most important to us is that the game in Tempe has been saved."

Notre Dame, which has been reworking its schedule after it agreed to play five ACC football games per year from 2014 on, apparently had a weakness in its negotiating position with ASU: Not including a buyout in the original game contract.
PHOENIX -- Although the new College Football Playoff format likely will ignite a spirited debate between Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and his SEC counterpart, Mike Slive -- as well as every other major conference commissioner -- there is at least one area where Scott and Slive agree: increasing the value of scholarships to cover cost of attendance.

And, just like Slive, Scott was willing to say for the record this week that if the NCAA isn't going to facilitate a solution, maybe then it's part of the problem.

[+] EnlargeLarry Scott
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIn regards to increasing the value of scholarships to cover cost of attendance, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is "in lockstep with the SEC."
Scott said the Pac-12 is "in lockstep with the SEC" on the matter, suggesting that a $2,000 stipend added to the existing scholarship structure would be a straightforward solution to a longstanding issue, one the NCAA needs to prioritize.

"And if it gets blocked completely, if there no movement in this direction, I think it will cause some real soul-searching among some of the conferences as to whether this structure -- one size fits all; if everyone can't do it, then no one should do it -- can make sense for us long term," he said.

That "structure," of course, is the NCAA.

The College Football Playoff, which will be a revenue gold mine for the major conferences, figures to push forward the issue of improving the lot of student-athletes, who are generating the revenue. That said, the front-line concerns during Pac-12 meetings at the Biltmore resort in Phoenix this week were how the new playoff system will be set up.

While little news was made this week, there was plenty of discussion about the makeup of a playoff selection committee and the lack of uniform standards across the major conferences, whether that's about conference and nonconference scheduling or how many support staff members each school can hire.

The selection committee, however it will be made up, will face significant scrutiny. It will be asked to make subjective distinctions between teams that often will have little common ground for comparison. The process will amount to a four-team BCS system but with human faces -- humans who can be blamed by disappointed fans of the team deemed No. 5.

Scott echoed Slive in suggesting the committee needs a strong resume of football expertise, and that picking former coaches might be one direction to take.

"Coaches have tremendous comfort with other coaches, as long as they are not too distant [from their coaching careers]," Scott said. "Ideally they are former coaches that have worked at multiple institutions across multiple conferences that would have a broad feel and perspective."

Said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez: "I think it’s a good idea to have a big committee. I know there is an issue that if you can’t get two or three people to agree on something, how are you going to get 20? With that being said, I think you can find 20 quality people to be on a committee. I still think you have to use some kind of poll to help. But you’ve got to have someone that can watch the games -- somebody that actually gets a chance to watch film or watch them on TV and make a true evaluation of who the best teams in the country are."

But most college coaching careers are regional. And most coaches will have fan bases that strongly view them as a foe.

As far as athletic directors making up the committee, as many do for the NCAA basketball tournament, more than a few Pac-12 ADs offered up a "no, thanks," though the Pac-12 blog was amused with Oregon State's Bob De Carolis gamely volunteering that he thought it would be "fun."

One way to make things easier for a selection committee is creating scheduling standards to which all of the participating major conferences agree. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games. The Big Ten has announced it will play nine conference games starting in 2016. Within the SEC and ACC, which play eight conference games, there has been resistance to adding another.

Conferences that play eight conference games not only have an easier path to a good record and potential inclusion in a playoff, but -- perhaps counterintuitively -- also increase the perception of strength of schedule because it reduces the number of losses within a conference.

"I think a big thing for us is whether we all have level playing fields," said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose Cardinal, like USC, have the burden of an annual matchup with Notre Dame on top of a nine-game conference schedule.

"All those things need to come to the forefront so that when this does come about, we all are playing by similar rules, so we can be judging apples and apples," Shaw said.

While the momentum seems to be toward everyone playing nine conference games, there continues to be a strong divide in the Pac-12 over whether the conference should revert to eight conference games if it doesn't become a playoff qualifying standard. Playing nine conference games makes scheduling easier and improves ticket sales, but it also hurts the Pac-12 competitively.

The issue didn't come up this week, as it had during past conference meetings, but it again could become relevant.

"We've had serious discussions, and I've raised the issue, from a competitive standpoint," Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said. "It's been one of my key issues. I love playing a nine-game conference schedule. It's good for football. But I want our counterparts in other conferences to do so as well, and make sure we're not at a competitive disadvantage."

Scott said strength of schedule will be a critical component of the selection process, but it might require a couple of years for conferences and teams to recognize what that means.

"Frankly, the first time a team gets punished, is maybe out of the playoff or gets a No. 3 or No. 4 seed rather than a one or two seeding as a result of playing an FCS team or playing a weak nonconference schedule, that will change behavior," Scott said.

"Change" has been a constant in college football of late. The tension surrounding the new College Football Playoff is there in part because we don't yet know what that change is going to look like.
Five Pac-12 players were selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.

Here's the chart:


So... what's our take?

Thanks for asking.

Kevin Gemmell: I must say, very, very interesting first round. And one that I think most Pac-12 fans can be relatively pleased with. The five players drafted Thursday night are the most since the league sent six in 2008. So that's progress.

Two things really stood out as surprising to me. First, it's not that Dion Jordan went third overall to the Miami Dolphins. It's that he went to a 4-3 defense. Perhaps Jeff Ireland is a huge fan of the Pac-12 blog and was reading our Take 2 from a few weeks ago. And if that's the case, you're welcome, Jeff.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the first round to select Oregon's Dion Jordan.
Jordan is pretty good at stopping the run -- but it's not the strength of his game. As every draftnik in the world noted before and after the selection, he's a beast at speed rushing off the edge, but has some work to do in other aspects of his game. They also made the apt comparison to former Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor. Fitting since both players have similar frames and skill sets. He had an OK career, so maybe it all works out.

The second thing that surprised me was that Star Lotulelei was not the first defensive tackle taken. We figured he could go pretty much anywhere in the top 15 -- most mocks had him where he landed at No 14 to the Carolina Panthers. One pick earlier, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets. I admit I don't know a ton about Richardson. I just know that Lotulelei graded out higher, had a comparable 40 time (though it was inconsistent because it was at a pro day, not the NFL scouting combine) and he had eight more reps on the bench. Maybe it's just personal preference, but I was pretty surprised he wasn't the first defensive tackle off the board.

Liked the pick of Oregon's Kyle Long by the Bears. They are getting a versatile player who could really fit in at any position across the line after he gets a little seasoning. We've seen him slowly creep up in mock drafts -- starting several months ago in the third-round range -- and that buzz was legitimized with his pick at No. 20.

And I liked that Atlanta had Desmond Trufant targeted and they traded up to get him. It was a need position and they jumped at the chance to get an NFL-ready starter. Good pick.

Datone Jones is a guy Ted and I have been talking about for a couple of years now -- how we just kept waiting for him to breakout. And then UCLA switches to the 3-4 and he blows up. He could be a real solid player for years in Green Bay's 3-4 front.

Overall, I'd call it a fair-to-good first day for the Pac-12.

Ted Miller: Of course, the big question many will ask is how did the Pac-12 compare to the other conferences.

Here are the first-round numbers. Yes, there will be SEC crowing, with some justification.

  • SEC – 12
  • ACC – 6
  • Pac-12 – 5
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Independent – 2
  • MAC – 1
  • C-USA – 1
  • Big East - 1
  • Big Ten - 1

The SEC's 12 picks ties the record set by the ACC in 2006. Don't forget the SEC now has 14 teams. Or, for that matter, the Big 12 has 10.

My first-round takeaways? Well, the above numbers are meaningful.

The SEC? Well. I'll let you guys try to explain those away. (Good luck with that.) I tweeted this story the other day, and I think it well relates how SEC dominance, once a chimerical creation from a region that often doesn't fret the truth getting in the way of a good story, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The bottom, however, is almost as telling -- see the Pac-12's Rose Bowl partner, the Big Ten with just one selection. That certainly validates the perception that conference has slipped, something we've seen on the field in recent years.

As for the five Pac-12 picks, I had a nice conversation with Jordan at the Fiesta Bowl about how his fortunes had turned. He seemed genuinely awed by it. And grateful. After the game, I was standing there when his mother worked here way through the crowd to give him a hug. Apparently it was raining inside University of Phoenix Stadium.

One of the things I always think about on draft day is how through-the-looking-glass strange it's got to feel for guys, at least the reflective ones. Sure, most top picks get fronted money by their agents, so they've been living the life for a few months. But when it becomes official, a guy in his early 20s suddenly become certifiably rich.

The third pick last year, Cleveland's Trent Richardson, got four years at $20.4 million. Just imagine yourself at 23 having a conversation about $20 million. And how it's a bit low.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsMatt Barkley could be the next Pac-12 alum off the board.
As for the rest, the Panthers got a steal with Star Lotulelei at No. 14. The Panthers just put a checkmark in the box for the middle of their defensive line. And I think Jets fans will remember in a very Jets fans way that the Jets took Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson a pick before the Panthers.

Oregon O-lineman Kyle Long at No. 20 was a mild surprise, but the Bears probably swooned over his obvious upside. You can't beat his bloodlines either.

The Trufant pick clearly validates the Pac-12 blog at the expense of Washington fans. See... we told you he was good.

Wait. I may not be recalling that accurately. Two words: Kevin's fault.

And Jones, whom we've been touting pretty much since he arrived at UCLA, obviously found his rhythm over the past year.

As Kevin noted, there are a lot of good Pac-12 players left on the board, including a substantial handful who figure to get selected in the next two rounds. Things should continue to be interesting, starting with who steps up and picks USC quarterback Matt Barkley.

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