NCF Nation: Allan Bridgford

Pac-12 QB competitions update

April, 16, 2013
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Four of the five Pac-12 teams that entered spring with wide-open quarterback competitions are now finished with practices and are headed into the offseason.

So ... what did we learn? A little but not a lot. We didn't expect much resolution and we didn't get it. So, hey, we lived up to expectations.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and USC entered the spring with wide-open battles. Of them, only Oregon State is still practicing, and coach Mike Riley has said he won't decide between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion until the fall.

Which is sort of the message with the other four, too.

Still, here's our best tea leave reading.

Arizona

When I was in Tucson at the beginning of spring practices, coach Rich Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Rod Smith kept saying they just wanted to find a QB with whom they could win.

At the time, I kept thinking, "Well, duh." But I get it now. The translation: Matt Scott isn't walking back down the stadium tunnel. It's difficult to imagine 2013 production at the position will approximate what the Wildcats had in 2012.

The general takeaway from spring practices? The Wildcats probably can be at least adequate on offense and win a few games and be competitive throughout the season with B.J. Denker at quarterback.

The second takeaway? The guys who weren't able to participate this spring -- USC transfer Jesse Scroggins and incoming freshman Anu Solomon -- are Denker's true competition.

So ... this is still wide open and it's wide open in a predictable way.

Denker has the most experience in the offense. Scroggins has a significantly better arm. Solomon is seen as the future. The question with him is readiness and whether he will benefit more from a redshirt season (Pac-12 blog guesses "yes") than playing immediately, even if in only limited packages.

California

California's QB competition also remains officially unresolved, but the scuttlebutt seems to strongly favor redshirt freshman Zach Kline.

Further, there was some movement. For one, senior Allan Bridgford, quite reasonably, recognized he was the odd man out and opted to transfer. Second, it became a three-man race between Kline, junior Austin Hinder and surprising true freshman Jared Goff.

The post-spring depth chart was sort of interesting, though it's likely the Pac-12 blog is reading more into stuff than it should. While all three were separated by the time-honored "OR," Goff was first, Kline second and Hinder third.

Typically, "ORs" go in alphabetical order. You don't need a Berkeley degree to know that's not what happened there. Perhaps this is a case of youngest to oldest?

A further wrinkle: Hinder is the best runner of the troika by a wide margin. It wouldn't be surprising if he's given some specific, situational packages to run next fall.

Colorado

Colorado started with six candidates -- though not with equal standing -- and the top two after spring practices might surprise some, particularly those hoping for new blood: juniors Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman.

Before spring practices began, more than a few folks believed redshirt freshman Shane Dillon was the favorite. But he often looked raw while Wood and Hirschman seemed far more comfortable with the new offense under Mike MacIntyre, something that likely is due to their having significantly more experience.

Of course, there's no reason Dillon can't find his stroke this summer and jump back into the competition. The most obvious precedent of a guy overcoming a poor spring to win the starting job is Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who was well behind Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank a year ago.

Further, just like Arizona, Colorado has its own touted incoming true freshman: Sefo Liufau.

Youth is an advantage in some ways. The Buffaloes aren't going to win the Pac-12 in 2013. There's something to be said for, if the race is close, going with Dillon or Liufau and accepting immediate growing pains with an eye toward 2014 and beyond.

++USC

USC's QB situation is interesting, in large part because one guy clearly outplayed the competition this spring: Sophomore Cody Kessler.

But Max Wittek is undeniably a more talented passer; he might have the strongest arm in the Pac-12. He also is a strapping 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, while Kessler is a scrappy 6-foot-1 215.

USC isn't known for scrappy. Some might call that, on occasion, a shortcoming.

So there is a bit of controversy here as coach Lane Kiffin didn't seem inclined to say after the spring game -- Kessler passed for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions compared to Wittek's 145 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions -- that Kessler was ahead.

Of course, this could just be a minor, media-driven quibble. For one, Kiffin might release a depth chart in a few days and put Kessler ahead. So there you go, media!

Or Kiffin, unlike his mentor and predecessor Pete Carroll, might want to keep the competition going as long as possible. He might want to see who asserts himself as the screws tighten. Nothing invalid about that. Will we media sorts similarly harrumph if Riley does the same even if Vaz/Mannion decisively outplays Mannion/Vaz?

(Carroll liked to "anoint" -- his frequently used term -- a QB as early as possible so he could take over requisite leadership for the position).

The problem Kiffin has is some see him sometimes prioritizing talent over performance (see, OT Aundrey Walker), which diminishes the perception of true competition. Carroll seemed to fall into that during his later years at USC before bolting for the Seahawks.

Anyone remember the old USC glory days of "Competition Tuesdays?"

Wittek might end up earning the starting nod. But it will not benefit him if there's a sense in the locker room that he didn't truly win the job. If Kiffin hands him the keys to the offense -- not saying he will, only "if" -- then it will be a disservice to Wittek as much as his teammates.

Beavers roll over Bears

November, 18, 2012
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Making his first start since the ill-fated trip to Washington, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion tossed four touchdowns and the Beavers blew up the visiting California Bears 62-14.

Mannion, starting in place of the injured Cody Vaz, threw touchdowns to four different receivers. Markus Wheaton led all players with seven catches for 99 yards while Terron Ward carried 14 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

After Wheaton’s 11-yard score put the Beavers (8-2, 6-2) up 7-0 in the first, Cal answered with a 9-yard Isi Sofele run. That was as close as the game would get because the Beavers would go on to score six unanswered touchdowns. Cornerback Jordan Poyer also picked up his sixth interception of the season.

“We were aggressive … we mixed in some runs nicely and the guys blocked them pretty well and we made some big plays,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley told the Pac-12 Network after the game. “That helped a lot.”

The 62 points was Oregon State’s highest point total in more than four years. Cal ends the season on a five-game losing streak, 3-9 overall and 2-7 in Pac-12 play. Allan Bridgford, making his second start at quarterback for the injured Zach Maynard was 18-of-31 for 132 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

At question is the status of Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who according to numerous reports will meet with athletic director Sandy Barbour on Sunday to talk about his future. Ironically, it was Riley who started the season potentially on the hot seat.

Oregon State hosts the Ducks next week in the Civil War.

Pac-12 laden with QB questions this week

November, 14, 2012
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Oregon State and Stanford, both nationally ranked, took the unusual route of changing starting quarterbacks late in the season, yet there is still sizzling quarterback news in the conference, even though we are headed into Week 12.

Five teams face uncertainty at the position this weekend. So here's an update on where things stand.

Arizona: Arizona starter Matt Scott may miss a second start due to a concussion, which would mean a second start for junior college transfer B.J. Denker at Utah. Coach Rich Rodriguez releases an official injury report on Thursday, but it likely will leave Scott's status as the vague "questionable." Denker played very well against Colorado, completing 12 of 14 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown and also running nine times for 44 yards and a score. But Utah's defense, particularly playing at home, is a different animal.

California: Allan Bridgford is likely to make his second consecutive start for Zach Maynard, who is out with a knee injury, at Oregon State. Bridgford also will be without star receiver Keenan Allen (knee). He was 9-of-21 for 113 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions against Oregon.

Colorado: Nick Hirschman played well last week in the loss to Arizona but he suffered a concussion. If he can't go, coach Jon Embree said Connor Wood will make his first career start against Washington. Former starter Jordan Webb would serve as the backup. Said Embree, "We won't know what we will do until probably Thursday." Embree also said he anticipated playing more than one guy.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion might return to the starting job against California after Cody Vaz sprained his ankle late in the loss to Stanford. "When Cody gets healthy, and how fast he gets healthy, then we'll have a decision," coach Mike Riley said.

Washington State: Connor Halliday came off the bench in relief of an injured Jeff Tuel and led a furious comeback last weekend against UCLA, throwing for 330 yards and five touchdown passes, but Tuel will get the nod at Arizona State on Saturday, coach Mike Leach confirmed.

Kelly breaks the ice on Bama loss

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- There were some nerves. There was some trepidation. As Chip Kelly put it, there was some fear that “Coach Kelly’s head might fall off.”

Yes, the Oregon players knew what happened to No. 1 Alabama before they took the field Saturday night against California. And when Kelly gathered the team around for the final meeting, he could feel the tension.

So he broke it, and as a team they talked about it.

“Everyone has a phone,” Kelly said following his team’s 59-17 victory over the Bears at Memorial Stadium. “They were all looking around, so I said, ‘I’ll tell you, Alabama lost.’ I think people were afraid to talk about it. Just because they won or lost shouldn’t affect us. I felt like I had to address it so they didn’t know if we talk about it or not talk about it. I didn’t want them worried that Coach Kelly’s head would fall off if we talk about it. I told them and said, ‘Hey, they lost, what does that have to do with us?’

“The outcome of that game shouldn’t affect us. Our deal is did we have a good Monday? Yes. Did we have a good Tuesday? Yes. Did we have a good Wednesday? Yes. That’s what’s going to help us play well tonight, not the fact that somebody else in another part of the country lost a football game.”

Said linebacker Michael Clay: “It was like walking on egg shells. And when he addressed it, it was like a huge weight off of our shoulders. It was very freeing.”

And for quarterback Marcus Mariota, it served as both ice-breaker and crucial reminder.

[+] EnlargeJosh Huff, Kenjon Barner
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireJosh Huff (1) and Kenjon Barner celebrate the first of Huff's three touchdown grabs in Oregon's rout.
“You could feel the relief,” he said. “It was kind of a tense thing because you already have so much stuff on your mind. It really reminded us that every game counts and we have to understand that other games don’t affect us and we have to take care of our own business.”

And Mariota did just that. The redshirt freshman matched an Oregon record by tossing six touchdowns on 27-of-34 passing for 377 yards with no interceptions.

With the Bears selling out to stop the run, the Pac-12’s top rushing team managed just 180 yards on the ground. But Mariota picked up the slack, finding Josh Huff three times for scores and tight end Colt Lyerla twice for touchdowns.

“He’s a special player,” Kelly said of his quarterback. “He keeps getting better and better. They did some things today where we felt like they were going to try to take away the run game and play some zone coverage on us. He’s got to do a good job figuring out what they are in, and it seemed like he was on target and making the right reads and making good decisions. You keep seeing him better and better each week.”

So instead of blowing a team out in the first 30 minutes, it took Oregon 45 against a Cal squad that challenged an injury-depleted Oregon defensive line. Isi Sofele rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown against a front that -- at one time -- featured three true freshmen and one redshirt freshman.

“Normally, Oregon backs break for 75-yard runs, but it wasn’t happening today,” said Cal linebacker Chris McCain. “I felt like defensively we did pretty well to stop their run, but the passes got to us.”

None bigger than Mariota’s 35-yard touchdown to Huff midway through the third quarter. Cal had narrowed the gap to 24-17 in early in the third quarter. A few possessions later, Allan Bridgford was intercepted by Boseko Lokombo at the Cal 35. On the next play, Mariota connected with Huff to put Oregon ahead 31-17.

“I thought that two-play sequence might have been the game-changing part of it,” Kelly said. “It was kind of a back-and-forth game. I felt like we got some distance.”

From there, Oregon scored four more second-half touchdowns. And as the Bears were forced to go to the air, the young defensive line started to get some pressure up front.

“You hear people talk about, ‘Well, we’re young.’ Too bad, you gotta go,” Kelly said. “We’ve recruited kids and told them they’ll have an opportunity to play. They’ve prepared for it. ... They don’t act like young guys, and that’s something we’re looking for. I think this young group is more mature than any young group I’ve been around.”

Poll: Quarterbacks under pressure

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
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The pressure is mounting as the season reaches the tail stretch. Quarterback play will be vital. And if you noticed, we had a bit of a quarterback theme going on in the blog this week. Be it because of injury or performance issues from the previous starters, we'll have three fresh faces starting this week and the return of another once thought to be a stop-gap. (We're working under the assumption that neither Zach Maynard nor Matt Scott is going to start this week).

SportsNation

Which quarterback is under the most pressure to perform this week?

  •  
    37%
  •  
    41%
  •  
    8%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,646)

So for your Thursday poll question, which relatively inexperienced quarterback is under the most pressure to perform?

Your options:

Kevin Hogan, Stanford: He's making his first career start against one of the top defenses in the country. No doubt, Oregon State's Scott Crichton will be bearing down on him. The Beavers' secondary will also be much stingier than Colorado's. By the way, the only thing at stake is Stanford's continued Rose Bowl hopes.

Cody Vaz, Oregon State: Just as Hogan has to face a wicked defense, Vaz must do the same. He likely won't get much help in the run game, since the Cardinal are tops nationally against the run, and the Cardinal defense can be just as opportunistic as his own. Same stakes apply for Vaz and the Beavers when it comes to the North Division/Rose Bowl race.

B.J. Denker, Arizona: With the concussed Scott taking it easy in practice this week, Denker has been getting the reps. Scott has been listed as doubtful in Arizona's weekly injury report. So while Denker faces a youthful Colorado squad that hasn't had much success this season, this game is still a game that could get the Wildcats to bowl eligibility. And for a team that missed the postseason last season and has a new coach and new systems on both sides of the ball, that's an important step in the right direction.

Allan Bridgford, California: He has to face an Oregon defense that is probably a bit salty after being ripped by the national media for allowing 51 points to USC's offense (no matter that there are at least three first-round draft picks there, but hey, people see what they want to see). Cal's season has been, without question, a disappointment. But Bridgford could salvage the season by pulling off one of the biggest upsets in college football this season.
California is 3-7, has lost three games in a row, and coach Jeff Tedford -- have you heard? -- is on a decidedly hot seat.

The Bears' starting quarterback, Zach Maynard, won't play Saturday because of a knee injury suffered last week against Washington. The Bears' best player, receiver Keenan Allen, also won't play because of a knee injury. The Bears' best offensive lineman, right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, is doubtful with a knee injury.

[+] EnlargeAllan Bridgford
AP Photo/Rob HoltAfter spending most of the season on the sideline, Allan Bridgford will start against Oregon on Saturday.
Oregon, fresh off decimating a USC team that beat Cal by 22 points, comes to town on Saturday.

Just FYI, Saint Jude is the patron saint of desperate or lost causes. Of course, Cal could prop up its hopes on what happened in 2010.

The Ducks and their high-powered offense were also unbeaten and headed for the national title game when they arrived in Berkeley, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2010. They had scored more than 50 points in each of their six previous games. Cal was headed toward a losing, bowl-less season, just as it is now.

But the Bears' defense held the Ducks to just 317 yards, and Cal nearly pulled off the upset before succumbing 15-13. It was Oregon's second-lowest point total and third-lowest yardage total under coach Chip Kelly.

Of course, that was two years ago. Oregon blasted Cal 43-15 last year. And the present matchup doesn't look terribly favorable.

Tedford has been watching Oregon game tape, including the 62-51 victory at USC, in which the Ducks rolled up 730 yards. It was the most points scored and yards gained ever against a USC defense.

"Unbelievably impressive," Tedford said. "It will keep you awake at night watching that. They are prolific with what they are doing now. It's amazing how they are executing and the team speed they have, the way their quarterback is playing. There's really no holes. To do that against USC, which we all know is talented and athletic, was a real eye-opener."

It seems fair to suggest that Cal is going to have to score a lot of points to have any chance of pulling the upset. The problem with that is the Bears are ninth in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (24.5 points per game), while Oregon is No. 1 at 54.3 points per game.

Yes, if the Bears double their season average, they still will be well short of what Oregon typically scores.

Further, there's the quarterback issue. While Cal fans haven't been thrilled by Maynard through the past two seasons, there's a reason backup Allan Bridgford never won the starting job. For one, Bridgford, who is 4-for-16 for 32 yards this season, lacks Maynard's foot speed. That could be a problem for an offense that has yielded 39 sacks and has added to its already long list of injury woes on the line.

"We don't have a ton of tape on Allan," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "Seems like he's a little more of a passer than a runner. But I don't know how much you drastically change your offense at this point in the season."

That's pretty much what Tedford said: Bridgford will run the Bears' offense.

Some hope for Cal could lie in the Ducks' beaten-up defensive front seven, which could be down three D-linemen, including end Dion Jordan. Or it could hang on the Ducks having a post-USC letdown.

There's always Saint Jude, who might take a sad Cal song and make it better.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 11.

  1. Backups-to-starters: Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan both started the season on the bench. Now they square off as starters in one of the most pivotal games in the North Division this season. Whichever team wins in Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday emerges as the prime contender to challenge Oregon for the division crown and a spot in the conference title game. But the stakes are higher still. Because there's a good chance that if either loses to Oregon, but is able to win its other remaining games, that team could still make the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the national championship game. Much on the line with not a ton of experience at the QB position.
  2. Backups-to-starters, Take II: While Vaz and Hogan are now starting quarterbacks because of performance reasons, Allan Bridgford and B.J. Denker probably will get the nod in lieu of injured starters Zach Maynard and Matt Scott at California and Arizona, respectively. Maynard suffered a knee injury in the loss to Washington. An MRI showed no ligament damage, but he hasn't practiced much. Scott continues to be evaluated after suffering a concussion in the loss to UCLA and Denker has been taking the bulk of the snaps in practice this week.
  3. Bowl-bound? Washington, Arizona State and Arizona all could become bowl-eligible this week with victories. The Sun Devils have the toughest chore of the trio, going on the road to face a disgruntled USC team that gave up 62 points to Oregon last week. Arizona -- despite the questionable health of quarterback Scott -- has the easier task with Colorado coming to the desert. Washington has been tough at home, but hosts a surging Utah squad also looking to get back into the postseason.
  4. Slump-buster: Speaking of that Arizona State-USC game, both teams come into the game with losing streaks. The Sun Devils have dropped three straight and USC has dropped two in a row. The Trojans have not lost three in a row since 2001. Someone is going to put the skids on their losing streak.
  5. [+] EnlargeReggie Dunn
    Russ Isabella/US PresswireUtah may need more kick-return magic from Reggie Dunn to get a win at Washington.
    Something's Bruin: UCLA took a huge step toward winning the South -- no asterisks this year, thank you very much -- with its blowout win over Arizona last week. That sets up a monumental showdown next week with crosstown rival USC -- a team that's had its way with the Bruins every year since 2006. While an upset isn't expected in Pullman, Wash. -- especially given the issues the Cougars have experienced this year -- the Bruins are still a young team and can't be caught looking too far ahead. It's a good thing to control your destiny, but it also can weigh heavily on a team with a lot of freshmen playing on offense.
  6. Barner watch: After rolling up 321 yards and five touchdowns last week against USC, Oregon running back Kenjon Barner has played his way into the Heisman conversation. However, the Ducks needed all four quarters to pull away from the Trojans last week and Barner carried 38 times. You have to wonder if the Ducks go back to their standard operating procedure of sitting the starters in the second half should they build a big lead on the Bears.
  7. Three weeks in a row? Can Utah kick returner Reggie Dunn do it again? He has returned three kickoffs 100 yards for touchdowns in the past two weeks -- an NCAA record. And he has four such returns for his career, also an NCAA record.
  8. Tough at home: The Utes will need all the points they can get. Washington is 4-1 at CenturyLink Field and the Huskies' defense is allowing only 13 points per game in their home away from home. (Stanford had a defensive touchdown and USC had a special-teams touchdown -- total points are 15.8).

Huskies win an ugly one at Cal

November, 3, 2012
11/03/12
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There’s ugly. And there’s whatever that was Friday night in Berkeley, Calif.

But when all the turnovers had been recovered and all the yellow laundry had been cleared from the field (on one play, there were four separate penalties), the Washington Huskies emerged with a 21-13 victory over California. It was Washington’s first road win of the season and snapped a six-game road losing streak for the Huskies. The win moves Washington (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) one step closer to bowl eligibility.

Cal (3-7, 2-5) is officially eliminated from postseason contention for the second time in three seasons -- and questions surrounding the future of coach Jeff Tedford are sure to heat up with this latest loss.

The teams combined for eight turnovers (four apiece) and 19 penalties for a total of 168 yards (12 for 108 from Washington).

But amid the sloppiness, there were bright spots. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins -- playing on a bum ankle -- turned in a gritty performance with eight catches for 151 yards and a score. Bishop Sankey had a season-high 189 yards on the ground for Washington to go with a pair of scores.

However, it's hard to overlook a stretch in the fourth quarter in which four consecutive drives ended in turnovers -- including four turnovers over a span of 11 snaps.

The Huskies jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when they turned an Isi Sofele fumble into an 11-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard Sankey touchdown run.

The Bears battled back to match the score in the second quarter when Chris Harper scored on a 14-yard end-around. Cal then took a six-point lead in the third following a pair of Vincenzo D’Amato field goals.

But Seferian-Jenkins -- who came out of the locker room at halftime limping badly -- made his presence known late in the third quarter. He made a leaping 43-yard reception that later helped set up his jumping 29-yard touchdown from Keith Price that gave Washington a 14-13 edge at the end of the third quarter.

Price completed 16 of 29 passes for 237 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His Cal counterpart, Zach Maynard, was 15-of-29 for 175 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. C.J. Anderson led Cal on the ground with 160 yards on 22 carries.

The loss also puts a damper on an outstanding game from Cal linebacker Nick Forbes, who tallied 10 tackles with an interception and two fumble recoveries.

It was a Maynard interception in the fourth that set up Sankey’s second touchdown run of the game and gave Washington the final margin.

Making matters worse for Cal, Maynard was sidelined near the end of the game with what appeared to be a knee injury. He was helped off the field and then carted to the locker room. Allan Bridgford relieved Maynard on Cal’s final drive but was unable to get the Bears into the end zone.

Cal searching (again) for QB consistency

November, 2, 2011
11/02/11
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California coach Jeff Tedford noted this week, as many coaches have before, "Always the most popular guy in the stadium is the backup quarterback."

That, of course, is only true if the starting QB is stinking up the joint. Many Stanford fans have no idea who Andrew Luck's backup is. There's no doubt that Keith Price is about as popular as a guy can be in Seattle at present. Arizona fans aren't dumping the Wildcats woes on QB Nick Foles.

[+] EnlargeCalifornia quarterback Zach Maynard
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuZach Maynard played well during a 3-0 start, then got progressively worse during a three-game slide.
But when a QB tosses four interceptions, as Cal QB Zach Maynard did in the Bears' humbling 31-14 loss to UCLA last weekend, it's understandable why fans would start eyeballing the backup, in this case Allan Bridgford.

Further, when your QB ranks 81st in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, as Maynard does, and a team has lost four of five, as Cal has, then fans start wondering about potential changes.

And guess what? So has Tedford. On Saturday and Sunday, he intimated a change at the position might be forthcoming, or at least an increased competition between Maynard and Bridgford.

On Tuesday, however, Maynard was tapped as the starter against Washington State. But barely.

"Zach is starting," Tedford said. "Unless something were to happen through the week."

As for Bridgford: "He's a quality guy and may at some point deserve some playing time if we're not more consistent at that position," Tedford said.

Maynard's issues are accuracy, consistency and turnovers, major problems for a QB. He played well during a 3-0 start, then got progressively worse during a three-game slide. Then he seemed to figure things out in a 34-10 win over Utah on Oct. 22. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 255 yards with a TD and no interceptions and ran for 36 yards.

But he only completed 14-of-30 for 199 yards against the Bruins. His previous interceptions were mostly about poor reads and trying to force passes into coverage. This time, he was making the right read but just missing guys.

And, yes, you can tell Tedford is paying attention to every detail.

"[The first one] was more of a ball just outside and tipped off a hand," Tedford said. "The other one, a guy breaking off when he thought he was breaking different, that was an overthrown ball that went right to the safety. There was another one -- there was a 'backer right in his face -- and he throws it too early and we're not out of the route yet and it goes over his head."

Tedford could see each pick in his mind's eye.

One can assume Tedford senses the urgency his 4-4 team faces, particularly against a foe, the once-again struggling Cougars, his fan base would become apoplectic about losing to at home. So it's clear he still believes Maynard gives his team its best chance to win. This isn't about being nice or not wanting to hurt Maynard's feelings.

Said Tedford, "The week before he played excellent."

Maynard needs to find that level of play and then maintain it. If he doesn't find it before halftime Saturday, he may not start the third quarter.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 10

October, 31, 2011
10/31/11
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

See last week's power rankings here.

1. Stanford: The Cardinal showed mental toughness by beating USC in triple overtime. Lots went wrong, including a pick-six from Andrew Luck, but the end result is a 16th consecutive win.

2. Oregon: Chip Kelly created a tempest in a teapot by opting to tweak reporters instead of simply saying, "If healthy, Darron Thomas is our QB." But that snarkiness is why we love him so much. The matchup Saturday with Washington is interesting, considering it's an emotional rivalry game in advance of a major clash with Stanford.

3. Arizona State: Against Colorado, the Sun Devils looked like a team that fully intends to win the rest of their regular-season games and then take their best Rose Bowl shot at either Stanford or Oregon.

4. USC: The Trojans showed they can play with anyone against Stanford. Normally, you'd wonder if they weren't set up for a let-down. But a visit to reeling Colorado on Friday doesn't seem too worrisome. Or is it?

5. Washington: Good win over an Arizona team that is better than its record. Bowl eligibility has been obtained a lot easier than it was in 2010. But, Huskies, want respect? Beat Oregon.

6. UCLA: Difficult to rank the next four. Just 10 days ago, the Bruins were in the pits after getting stomped at Arizona. But the power rankings are mostly about the RIGHT NOW. And UCLA's whipping of California was impressive. And shocking (to me, at least, but I need to get over being surprised by anything the Bears do, good or bad).

7. Utah: A week ago, the Utes were crushed by California. Hey, things change. The Utes are ahead of Arizona and Cal because: 1. They won over the weekend; 2. They are 4-4 with quality wins over BYU and Pittsburgh. So there is a big picture to the power rankings, too.

8. Arizona: No shame in a competitive loss at Washington, particularly with four suspensions. And it feels weird to have UCLA ahead of the Wildcats. But should a 2-6 team coming off a defeat be ranked higher than a pair of 4-4 teams coming off wins?

9. California: When I did my predictions on Thursday, the pick I had the most confidence in was Cal over UCLA. Yes, more than Stanford over USC. There is no analyzing Cal, a team whose results clearly are decided by some random spin of a fortune wheel. Is it time to give Allan Bridgford a shot at QB?

10. Oregon State: The Beavers got pushed around up front by Utah, which has issues at QB. Stanford is next. It runs better than Utah and doesn't have issues at QB. The Cardinal rushed for 446 against Washington. So, 500 this week?

11. Washington State: The Cougars outgained Oregon and played hard. These guys are fighting for coach Paul Wulff. But it seems as though this team isn't going to earn bowl eligibility. Athletic director Bill Moos is likely hearing a lot of feedback -- both ways -- from pained fans.

12. Colorado: Another week, another bad loss. It's a lost season. Coach Jon Embree again questioned his players: "We have some people who are comfortable with the results."

Maynard the key piece for Cal

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
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Our oversimplification of the day is this: If QB Zach Maynard plays well this year, California has a successful season.

But more than a few Cal fans would nod their heads.

The Bears are solid to good at just about every position, starting with both lines. There's intriguing young talent to fortify the depth, particularly on defense. While the Pac-12 North Division looks rugged, there's enough here for the Bears to bounce back from a hugely disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2010, the first losing season in nine years under Jeff Tedford, the dean of conference coaches.

[+] EnlargeCal's Zach Maynard
AP Photo/Ben MargotNew Cal quarterback Zach Maynard passed for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns during his 2009 season with the University of Buffalo.
But Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo who'll make his debut against Fresno State on Saturday at Candlestick Park, said he doesn't feel any pressure. In fact, he kicks that line of questioning to the curb and segues into what he wants to talk about: How many are discounting the Bears.

"We're the underdogs right now," he said. "Nobody is saying anything about us. There's a lot of hype about other teams. Everybody's wondering what we're going to bring to the table. Everybody is going to find out when we start our first game and get into the season."

Here's what we're saying about Cal: It has to pass better. It ranked 89th in the nation in passing efficiency in 2010 and 94th in passing, with just 175 yards per game. That ain't going to cut it, particularly in the Pac-12, where superior QB play is required.

Tedford's reputation as a quarterbacks guru has taken some hits of late, but he seems to feel he's found his man. Tedford named Maynard the starter at the end of spring practices after he outplayed Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgford, who won the No. 2 spot, and part of that was so Maynard could start winning over the locker room as a leader.

"He's really stepped up and earned the team's respect," Tedford said.

Maynard passed for 2,694 yards with 18 TDs and 15 interception in 2009 for Buffalo and also rushed for 300 yards. Tedford likes his arm and his quick release, but he particularly likes his athletic ability.

"He has an escape dimension that we haven't had here in a while," Tedford said.

But it's not only an ability to escape pressure and scramble. It's an ability to create -- "Manufacture," Tedford says -- plays. There was a seeming tendency to panic that made Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley often throw the ball into the wrong place at the wrong time. Maynard has a bit of the cool-cat artist to him.

And if he's looking for a go-to guy, he's got one in true sophomore receiver Keenan Allen, and not just because Allen is super-talented. Allen is Maynard's half-brother and they are tight.

"It's like throwing in your backyard really," Maynard said. "You have a connection. You always know where he's going to be."

Maynard could be the key piece that gets Bears back into contention, and thereby mutes the increasingly vocal Tedford critics. But that's another topic Maynard kicks to the curb.

"I don't really hear anything about that," he said. "I don't get involved in the politics. I just go out and play ball and go to class."

But if he plays well, folks will start talking about Cal and Tedford (again), and they'll probably be saying nice things (again).

UCLA is only Pac-12 QB battle

August, 9, 2011
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Typically, every preseason features a handful of quarterback competitions, even if we sort of feel like we know who will ultimately emerge.

Last fall, there was uncertainty at Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon.

At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like there would be plenty of ongoing quarterback intrigue. Arizona State was expected to feature another showdown with Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. California was completely wide open with the departure of Kevin Riley. There was a new coach at Colorado, Jon Embree, who said every job was open. UCLA clearly had no clear No. 1. Washington had to replace Jake Locker.

But most of the mysteries were solved by the end of spring practices.

Threet was forced to retire because of multiple concussions, thereby handing the job to Osweiler. Cal coach Jeff Tedford surprised a few folks when he announced Zach Maynard had eclipsed Allan Bridgford and Brock Mansion. It was clear throughout spring drills that Tyler Hansen was the Buffaloes' best option. And Steve Sarkisian tapped Keith Price over Nick Montana before the spring game.

If you're looking for a potential source for making quarterback decisions before preseason camp, consider former USC coach Pete Carroll. He believed in "anointing" a starter after spring practices because he believed it helped them become leaders over the summer -- see Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez. Notably, Sarkisian chatted with Carroll before tapping Price.

While coaches will still talk about competition, and it wouldn't be wise for any of these guys to take their job for granted, the only team with remaining uncertainty behind center is UCLA, and even then most would project a healthy Kevin Prince -- the incumbent starter who suffered a season-ending knee injury that also knocked him out of spring practice -- is the likely choice.

Still, let's look at where the Bruins' competition stands.

The candidates:

[+] EnlargeKevin Prince
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireKevin Prince seems the likely choice to enter the season as UCLA's starting quarterback.
Kevin Prince: While Prince's passing numbers were horrid in his five 2010 games before getting hurt, he showed in 2009 that he can be a capable passer. And last fall, he showed he could do a pretty good job running a pistol offense. But Prince had suffered myriad injuries even before he hurt his knee last fall, and while he enters the preseason reportedly at 100 percent, keeping him healthy is the critical element for him to become a reliable starter. Recall that the Bruins' ragged start on offense in 2010 could be attributed to Prince not practicing until the week before the season opener -- an embarrassing loss to a Kansas State team the Bruins pushed around the previous season. So it's fair to expect less running -- or at least more running out of bounds -- for Prince. He will be given every opportunity to win the job.

Richard Brehaut: There's no other way to say it: While Brehaut didn't play terribly well after replacing Prince, his passing numbers were better than what Prince did in 2010. That fact has engendered some not unreasonable sentiments that coach Rick Neuheisel has some sort of issue with Brehaut, a summary of which is provided here by Adam Maya (by the way, former offensive coordinator Norm Chow doggedly believed Prince was a better option than Brehaut). While Neuheisel said it was "nothing personal," it is fairly clear that Neuheisel questions Brehaut's complete commitment, which is reflected in Brehaut's apparently incomplete absorption of the offense. Further, knowing Neuheisel and how he works with quarterbacks, I can tell you that those little tirades he seems to have with his quarterbacks after a bad play mostly amounts to Neuheisel asking the quarterback to explain what he was thinking. And if the player doesn't have an answer, it drives Neuheisel crazy. A bad explanation -- "I didn't see the safety cheating over" -- is way, way better than "I don't know."

Brett Hundley: Hundley is the hotshot incoming freshman -- one of the nation's top dual-threat prep quarterbacks during the 2010-11 recruiting season -- whom many fans have been making googly-eyes at. But it ain't easy going from high school quarterback to college quarterback, and it was clear during spring practices that Hundley had a ways to go (though he also had some "wow" moments, too). Hundley was a bit of a long shot in any event, but after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will be out most of camp, his chances of redshirting are now higher than of him winning the starting job. Still, if he comes back strong, he could earn playing time. And if the situation gets desperate, Neuheisel, under pressure to win now, might roll the dice with a true freshman.

Nick Crissman and Darius Bell: These are the two long shots. Crissman's career has been riddled by shoulder injuries, but he had a fairly good spring and he's got some skills. Bell, a JC transfer, is a far better runner than passer. Many Bruins fans probably recall his regrettable debut in relief of Brehaut during a loss at Washington: 0-for-3 with an interception and a tongue-lashing from Neuheisel.

Zach Maynard the man at Cal

May, 15, 2011
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What seemed clear at the end of spring practices was made crystal Saturday by California coach Jeff Tedford: Zach Maynard is going to be the Bears' starting quarterback.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireZach Maynard, shown playing for Buffalo against Pittsburgh in 2009, will open the fall as Cal's starter.
“Zach showed a tremendous amount of upside during spring practice and is the quarterback that gives us the best opportunity to win football games,” coach Jeff Tedford said in a statement. “He has the ability to both throw and run the ball effectively, giving us another dimension at that position that we haven’t had in a while.”

The mobility, in particular, seemed to give Maynard an edge. He gives the Bears spread-option possibilities as well as a weapon when plays break down, which Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgford do not. The post-spring depth chart will list an "or" between Mansion and Bridgford, which is clearly a challenge to both not to slack off after losing the battle for the starting job. There certainly are no guarantees that Maynard will start all 12 games.

Maynard, a junior, was the starter at Buffalo in 2009, and he completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,694 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also rushed for 300 yards. His half-brother, Keenan Allen, is a budding star at receiver.

Couple of notable elements here:

  • This was Tedford's call based on thorough observation. While that might seem like it has a "duh" factor to it, the point is Tedford was more involved with the quarterbacks this spring than he has been in recent years, both in meetings and on the practice field.
  • You'd think this might signal some tweaks to the Bears' offense that take advantage of Maynard's athleticism. Most likely: Some spread-option elements that force defense to account for quarterback runs. It also seems likely that Maynard won't be asked to be a pure pocket passer, which means more roll outs with run-pass options.
  • Maynard will be immediately thrown into the competitive fire against Fresno State and on a nonconference trip to Colorado. It might have been nice to play Game 3 foe -- the doughty Blue Hoes of Presbyterian -- first, so Maynard could get his feet under him.
  • That said: Experience probably helped Maynard. While Mansion was the quarterback of record during Cal's late-season slide -- experience, but not exactly the impressive sort -- Maynard owns 11 FBS starts, even if Buffalo isn't exactly the Pac-12. Bridgford, perhaps the best pure passer of the troika, has no experience.
  • Some links on the story: The Contra Costa Times. The San Francisco Chronicle. Berkeley's student paper. And the official release.
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.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- California lost a receiver and cut its quarterback competition from five candidates to three Thursday.

Tedford
Tedford
Coach Jeff Tedford said that that senior Brock Mansion, junior Zach Maynard and sophomore Allan Bridgford are the finalist for the starting job. He said redshirt freshman Austin Hinder was fourth and had impressed him but his chances were hurt by his youth. Junior Beau Sweeney, who was Kevin Riley's backup over the early portion of the 2010 season, ended up No. 5.

"We're really going to find with those practice reps if somebody can separate themselves," Tedford said.

Tedford, however, said the competition figures to continue well into preseason camp.

Whoever wins the job will have one less speedy receiver. Tevin Carter, a redshirt freshman from Los Angeles, has quit the team. Carter didn't ask for a release so he could transfer.

"He's finished here, which is unfortunate," Tedford said. "I don't know if he had a passion to play football anymore... he doesn't know if he wants to play football."

Will have a lot more from my visits to to Stanford and Cal over the next week. So stay tuned.

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