NCF Nation: Chris Harper

Spring is about rebirth and renewal, but for members of the California football program, it's going to include more dissecting of an ugly corpse than the Bears would like. The players and coaches are going to be asked about the 2013 season over and over again by reporters and fans. The redundant interview process will start off as painful, become boring and then transform into an annoyance.

Fortunately, the Pac-12 blog was Cal quarterback Jared Goff's first interview in advance of spring practices, which start March 31.

"I'm not too worried about [the questions]," Goff said. "Obviously, I don't want to answer them but I'm going to have to. It's something we did. Cal football did that last year. We're moving on from that, but it's something we did, and we're going to have to use it as motivation. We're going to get a lot better from it."

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillJared Goff and Cal are focused on putting last season's struggles behind them.
What Cal "did" last year was stink up the joint. The Bears finished 1-11 and produced their worst defense in program history. It was further deflating that the woeful campaign sapped fan enthusiasm that surrounded the hiring of Sonny Dykes, as well as curtailed the positive momentum produced by the program's shiny renovated stadium and upgraded facilities.

While the defense inspired the most forehead slapping last fall -- and cost coordinator Andy Buh and two other defensive coaches their jobs -- the offense, Dykes' specialty, wasn't exactly collecting accolades either. While Goff piled up passing numbers, ranking third in the Pac-12 with 331.4 yards per game, little else went well.

The Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation with just 23 points per game. While the total yardage numbers looked solid -- 453.6 yards per game -- they were deceiving. The Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 and 98th in the nation in yards per play (5.2 ypp). The Bears were last in the conference third-down conversion percentage and last in redzone offense.

Goff himself ranked 11th in the conference in passing efficiency and last in the conference in ESPN.com's Total Quarterback Rating.

Of course, completing 60 percent of your passes for 3,508 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions doesn't look as bad when you recall Goff was a true freshman playing behind a makeshift offensive line that offered up five different starting lineups over the course of the season.

Goff called the lost 2013 campaign "extremely disappointing." While it seemed that Cal, at least competitive early in the season, lost its confidence and motivation as the season went on, Goff said his confidence never flagged, and he approached every game believing the Bears were just a few plays from breaking through.

"I wouldn't say worn down," he said. "Obviously, we were tired of losing. We wanted to start winning. But as the season went on we never got over the hump, never broke through and made that play that could change the outcome of the game."

Let's also not forget the Bears suffered through epidemic injuries on both sides of the ball, the impact being compounded by many of those sidelined guys being the team's best players.

Citing injuries can be called an excuse. But, well, come on. Cal had 13 projected starters miss multiple games or suffer season-ending injuries, most falling into the latter category. The starting lineup for the season-finale against Stanford featured nine freshmen, seven sophomores and just two seniors.

Yes, it's an excuse, but it's a pretty good one.

"I tend to forget about that because you don't like to make that an excuse but that's a good point," Goff said." We had the worst luck. I hate to make that excuse but that just happens some times where the wrong guys get injured."

From a cynical perspective -- who us? -- Cal is almost certain to be better in 2014 because it can't be much worse. But from a not unreasonable optimistic perspective, Cal is almost certain to be better because it's got potential, despite several unexpected offseason defections to early-entry in the NFL draft or transfer.

For one, Goff is a second-year starter. He knows the speed of the game and has a year of seasoning with Dykes' scheme. Further, he has a strong and deep crew of receivers coming back. His top two receivers, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, a potentially A-list tandem, return after combining for 147 receptions last fall, and two other returning wideouts caught more than 25 passes in 2013. If Goff gets time to throw, the passing numbers will be there, and they should be attained with more efficiency.

"We're so deep across the board [at receiver]," Goff said. "Everyone is going to be contributing this year. It's ridiculous how deep we are at receiver. I feel we have three good players at every position."

Goff said he's put on "five or 10 pounds" onto his 6-foot-4 frame, though he also said he's tipping the scale at just 200 pounds, five below his listed weight in 2013. He said he feels stronger mentally and physically, both as a player and a leader. What transpired last fall feels like a distant memory.

"It feels like it was so long ago when we were playing," he said. "I watch film of myself, and that feels like years ago."

He said the offseason message from Dykes has been simple: Work hard. Get better. Improve. We have the players who can win.

Finding offseason motivation hasn't been difficult. Just recalling what happened last season is enough. And if anyone has pushed it out of his mind, interviews in advance of and during spring practices will provide regular reminders.

Goff sees a bright side.

"In the long run," he said, "when we do what we want to do, it's going to feel that much better, knowing where we came from."

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Light week: Only four games on the Pac-12 docket this week, including one on Thursday (Arizona State at Washington State), one on Friday (USC at Oregon State) and two on Saturday (Arizona at California and Colorado at UCLA).
  2. Let's go bowling: Three teams, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, are already bowl bound. Four others sit on the precipice and as many as seven others are still in the hunt (note, because of the 13-game schedule, USC needs seven wins to become bowl eligible). Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA can all become bowl eligible this week.
  3. [+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
    AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonBishop Sankey is one of four Pac-12 backs who average at least 100 yards a game.
  4. 1K club: Washington running back Bishop Sankey became the Pac-12's first 1,000-yard rusher this season and has 1,162 yards on the year. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (920 yards) probably will break through this week against a Cal rush defense that yields an average of 189.1 yards per game. Carey leads the league with 153.3 yards per game, one of four backs who average at least 100 yards per contest (Sankey, 145.2; Tyler Gaffney, 110.8; Byron Marshall, 109.9).
  5. Scoreboard, baby: The Sun Devils have the top two scorers in FBS football in running back Marion Grice (15.4 points per game) and kicker Zane Gonzalez (11.4 ppg) and rank sixth in the nation with 45.4 points per game. Four times this year they have posted 50 or more points. That's the most since the 1973 team. Worth noting, too that Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is third nationally in scoring, making it a hat trick for the conference.
  6. Rubber arm: Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday is on pace to set single-season school records in pass attempts and completions. Through eight games he has completed 273 passes on 428 attempts. Gabe Marks has been the primary recipient with 59 catches for 655 yards. But eight different WSU receivers have 20 or more catches.
  7. Remember, Reser: The Beavers have won three straight over USC in Corvallis, but the Trojans' defense, though injury-depleted, is having a fine season. The Trojans have held six of their eight opponents to fewer than 300 yards. They'll be tested by an Oregon State passing attack that, despite a loss last week to Stanford, is still one of the best in the nation. Cooks leads the FBS with 10.6 receptions per game and 157 yards per game. USC is tied for the conference lead with 27 sacks, which might not bode well for an Oregon State team that gave up eight sacks to the Cardinal last week.
  8. Off and running: The aforementioned Carey is 80 yards shy of reaching 1,000. When he gets there, he'll be just the third Arizona running back to post multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 straight games, which is the longest active streak in FBS. But it was quarterback B.J. Denker who led the Wildcats in rushing last week, posting 192 yards on 15 carries.
  9. Where's the points? Cal, still winless in conference play, is giving up a league high 44 points per game and scoring a league low 22.9 points per game. Moving the ball isn't a problem. The Bears rank sixth in the league in total offense, averaging 468.4 yards per game. But they have only scored 20 touchdowns on the year, second worst only to Colorado's 19. Receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have combined for 112 catches for 1,387 yards, but just six touchdowns -- five from Harper.
  10. Back to basics: The Bruins are looking to snap a two-game slide after dropping back-to-back road games at Stanford and Oregon. Keep in mind the Bruins have played 32 freshmen this year -- including 17 true freshman. Last year they played 26, including 12 true. Through the first five games, quarterback Brett Hundley averaged 293.8 passing yards per game, was completing 68 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. In the last two weeks he averaged just 128 yards and completed 63 percent of his throws with two touchdowns to four interceptions. The more comfortable he gets with his young, reshaped offensive line, and the fact that he's not playing two of the top teams in the league, should help him bounce back.
  11. Explosive potential: The Buffs rebuilding process has yet to produce a conference win. But that doesn't mean Colorado can't be explosive. Wide receiver Paul Richardson has 50 catches and 914 yards with seven touchdowns, and he's sneaking up on some Colorado single-season marks. He has six plays of 50 yards or longer this season. Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau is 1-1 as a starter and is completing 59 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and an interception.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
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Oregon State QB Sean Mannion threw for 422 yards, and receiver Brandin Cooks had 13 catches for 196 yards in the Beavers' upset loss to Eastern Washington, but you don't get a helmet sticker when your team loses to an FCS foe.

So who does?

Andy Phillips, K, Utah: This might be the best story of the week, as Phillips, a former U.S. alpine skier who had never played competitive football before his kickoff against Utah State, kicked field goals of 45, 19 and 38 yards and was perfect on three extra points in the Utes' 30-26 victory. Oh, and he perfectly executed an onside kick that might have been the biggest play of the game. See this video.

Dion Bailey, S, USC: Bailey's switch back to his native position of safety from linebacker paid off against Hawaii. He led the Trojans' defense with seven tackles, a sack and an interception in their 30-13 victory.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: A poor 2012 season is officially old news for Price. In the Huskies' 38-6 win over No. 19 Boise State, he completed 23 of 31 passes for 324 yards with a pair of touchdowns, which gave him 56 for his career, a new school record, eclipsing Cody Pickett. He also rushed for 25 yards. His efficiency rating of 176.8 would have led the nation in 2012.

Washington's defense: The Huskies held Boise State to their lowest point total since 1997 (a 58-0 loss to Washington State). The Broncos gained only 3.9 yards per play. Their longest running play from scrimmage was 18 yards. The Huskies are paying second-year coordinator Justin Wilcox a lot of money. He is worth it.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Hundley completed 22 of 33 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Bruins' 58-20 win over Nevada. He also rushed for 63 yards on seven carries with two TDs. The Bruins' offense, guided by Hundley, gained 647 yards.

Chris Harper, WR, California: Harper caught 11 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the Bears' 44-30 loss to Northwestern.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Marriota rushed for 113 yards and two TDs on just five carries -- 22.6 per rush -- and passed for 234 yards and a score in the Ducks' 66-3 blowout win over Nicholls State.

Tra'Mayne Bondurant, S, Arizona: Bondurant had two interceptions in the Wildcats' 35-0 won over Northern Arizona, including one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown. He also tied for the team lead with seven tackles, adding one for a loss.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard receivers

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Gabe Marks, Marcus PetersWilliam Mancebo/Getty ImagesIn Mike Leach's offense, WSU's Gabe Marks, left, looks like a good bet to have a 1,000-yard season.
We've looked at the Pac-12's 2,500-yard passers and its 1,000-yard rushers. Now we turn to the third wheel of the skill position tricycle: 1,000-yard receivers.

The conference featured four 1,000-yard receivers last year. One is off to the NFL: Oregon State's Markus Wheaton. One is out for the season -- or at least a significant part of it -- with a knee injury: Arizona's Austin Hill. Two others are back:
That's a good start. Lee was a unanimous All-American and Cooks could push for such recognition this fall.

There's plenty of talent after them. This is hardly a down position in the conference. In fact, several teams feel pretty good about their chances to produce a 1,000-yard pass-catcher.

Arizona: The Wildcats not only lost Hill, they also are replacing quarterback Matt Scott. Moreover, their No. 2 receiver in 2012, Dan Buckner, is gone, and the No. 3 guy was running back Ka'Deem Carey. There's solid experience returning at the position, but no one player looks like the go-to guy. The Wildcats are more likely to have three guys with over 600 yards receiving than to have one with 1,000.

Arizona State: Receiver is the Sun Devils' most questionable position. At this point, the most likely guy to go over 1,000 yards is tight end Chris Coyle. But if you were to imagine who will be the Sun Devils' top wideout in 2013, a good bet is touted juco transfer Jaelen Strong.

California: Keenan Allen is gone, but the Bears have plenty of young talent at receiver, a list topped by Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. With new coach Sonny Dykes' new high-flying spread passing offense, it's difficult to imagine the Bears don't produce a 1,000-yard receiver.

Colorado: The Buffaloes' only legitimate A-list player is receiver Paul Richardson. He'd start for just about any Pac-12 team. And, considering how much new coach Mike MacIntyre likes to throw, Richardson seems likely to hit the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy.

Oregon: The Ducks are expected to throw more this season for a number of reasons -- new coach, questions at running back, etc. -- but the chief reason is because quarterback Marcus Mariota is a highly capable passer. Last year, we saw flashes of what he could do. We'll see plenty more in 2013. With De'Anthony Thomas slated to be primarily a running back, expect Josh Huff to become Mariota's favorite target.

Stanford: Stanford isn't the sort of team that produces a 1,000-yard receiver, and its most likely candidates in recent years were tight ends. But if things fell a certain way, Ty Montgomery might make a run at it.

UCLA: If you were to make a list of most likely new members of the 1,000-yard club in 2013, Bruins wide receiver Shaquelle Evans would be on it. He caught 60 passes for 877 yards last year in quarterback Brett Hundley's first year as a starter. With no Johnathan Franklin at running back, the Bruins should be throwing plenty.

Utah: The Utes should be much better throwing the ball this season. For one, quarterback Travis Wilson can only be more mature after starting as a true freshman. Second, new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson likes to spread defenses out and throw the ball. Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott are a good tandem, and one or the other could make a run at 1,000 yards.

Washington: The Huskies have two legit candidates -- wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But Jenkins is working through a DUI arrest that has him presently suspended. Williams, who caught 77 passes for 878 yards a year ago, is a strong bet to be Keith Price's go-to guy.

Washington State: That list with likely new 1,000-yard receivers? Colorado's Richardson, UCLA's Evans and Washington's Williams would be on it. But atop the list would be Washington State's Gabe Marks. If he stays healthy, he's almost a sure thing, considering how much coach Mike Leach likes to throw the ball.
On the low end of the bell curve, California's wide receivers will probably be productive. But youth, packaged with a new offensive system, might mean they'll need another year to get up to speed.

On the high end of the bell curve, California might have one of the most explosive wide receiving corps in the Pac-12.

It's that wide open when you measure the depth and potential of the youngsters.

Chances are, they'll probably fall somewhere in the middle. But there is no disputing that new coach Sonny Dykes has some very good talent at the position that can't wait to break out in the new "Bear Raid" system.

[+] EnlargeChris Harper
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsChris Harper is expected to be part of a deep Cal receiving corps.
"It's an interesting group," Dykes said. "We've got a lot of different kinds of guys. We've got longer guys with great ball skills. We've got big guys. Fast guys. A lot of range."

In the pro-style attack of former head coach Jeff Tedford, Keenan Allen was the guy -- totaling 205 catches, 2,570 yards and 17 touchdowns in a three-year career. It didn't hurt that his brother was the quarterback. But relations aside, Allen was the kind of talent that it didn't matter who was throwing the football, he was going to be the primary receiver.

In the new system, there is room to spread the wealth. Sophomore Bryce Treggs (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) is fast, shifty and good in space. Redshirt freshman Kenny Lawler might be the most complete of the bunch at 6-3, 185, with the ability to stretch the field.

"We didn't know at first what we were getting with him," Dykes said. "But he came in and had as productive a spring as anybody. He was really good at going to get the football and he has some outstanding ball skills. He still needs to learn to play the position. But he's been a pleasant surprise."

Sophomore Chris Harper (6-0, 165) was second only to Allen last year, catching 41 balls for 544 yards and two touchdowns. Injury, however, limited him this spring.

"We didn't get a great chance to evaluate him," Dykes said. "But we're starting to get a sense now for how he moves and we're pleased. Athletic, quick guy.

Then there is sophomore Darius Powe (6-3, 212), sophomore Maurice Harris (6-3, 205), sophomore Maximo Espitia (6-2, 215), former tight end, sophomore Richard Rodgers and about five or six other players who could be impact guys.

It's a unit loaded with youth -- which also means it will grow up together and might eventually emerge as one of the top receiving corps in the league.

But first things first.

"We still need a quarterback," Dykes said.

Oh yeah, details.

"From a talent standpoint, the ingredients are all there," Dykes said. "Maurice Harris has a chance to do some good things. Richard Rodgers has lost about 25 pounds. If he's good at inline blocking, we'll stick him out there and let him block. But that's not really his strength. His strength is being able to run routes and cover people up with his body."

There is room for cautious optimism that personnel is a silky fit for what Dykes wants to bring to the Bears.

"I think we have the makings of having a pretty good offense," he said. "There are question marks at spots. We have to stay healthy at running back. We probably need to get some depth from a true freshman, which is never a good thing. But there are reasons to be optimistic."
A great start to a season can catapult a team into the top 25 and give them staying power. See Oregon State last year. A slow start can stunt momentum and leave a team playing catch-up all year. See Washington.

ESPN Insider Travis Haney looked at five teams that have especially front-loaded schedulesInsider in 2013. Two of those five come from the Pac-12.

Arizona State and California will have their hands full to kick off the year. The Sun Devils have Rose Bowl hopes and, along with UCLA, appear to be slight favorites in a very competitive Pac-12 South. The Bears are in rebuilding mode under new head coach Sonny Dykes. A tough early slate could either be a shot in the arm or create a crisis of confidence.

Here's Haney's take on the Sun Devils, who play Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame early.
Anyone who saw the 62-28 bowl manhandling of Navy knows ASU is certainly capable. "We're not going to sneak up on anybody," Graham told our Pac-12 reporter, Ted Miller, last week. "People are expecting us to be a darn good football team. So how do you handle success?"

For starters, you adequately manage the first part of the schedule, beginning with last season's Rose Bowl teams -- meaning two conference champs -- in consecutive weeks. Adding a neutral-site game against last year's national runner-up is another chore.

If the Devils intend to be this year's UCLA, an upstart in the South Division, they're going to have to earn it. Winning two of those four would be solid. Three would be outstanding.

At Cal, the Bears are still trying to figure out who the quarterback is going to be in Dykes' new system. But a very talented group of young receivers -- like Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper -- are anxiously awaiting to find out who their signal-caller will be. Because whoever it is, he will be tested early. The Bears play Northwestern, Ohio State and at Oregon in the first month.

Writes Haney:
Playing Northwestern or Ohio State would be ambitious for Cal, but both? In particular, this is not the season to catch the national-title-intent Buckeyes, even if the game is in Berkeley.

The good news if you're a Bears fan is that at least Sonny Dykes and his wide-open offense should produce points that could make for competitive games regardless of the opponent's skill level.

Haney doesn't dig into teams that are back-loaded on their schedule. But on the blog we've already talked about the tough stretches facing Oregon State and Stanford. It's no cakewalk for ASU, either. The Sun Devils host Oregon State -- likely a top-25 team -- then travel to UCLA (top 25?) before closing out at home against rival Arizona (top 25?). Chances are that the South title will come down to the final two weeks. So a strong start would bode well for ASU and cement its legitimacy.

Early Big 12 power rankings for 2013

January, 8, 2013
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The season is done, but ask any coach and he'll tell you the 2013 season already has begun. That's true on this blog, too. So, how would I slot the Big 12 heading into the fall? With a month before national signing day and a couple of months before spring football kicks into high gear, here's my first crack at slotting the conference.

To me, it looks as if we have four legitimate contenders for the conference title and three possible dark horses. We'll see how the latter three develop, but I'm sold on the top four as teams that could realistically win the league next season.

1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys will be loaded, and that's especially true if running back Joseph Randle comes back. Cornerback Justin Gilbert is returning, but we saw this season that they can win with any one of their three quarterbacks. That's a recipe for success in this league. The defense was a bit streaky; this season was the first under defensive coordinator Bill Young that the Cowboys didn't finish in the top 15 in turnovers forced. If they can get back to forcing turnovers in bunches next season, another Big 12 title could be headed to Stillwater.

2. TCU: The Frogs are growing up fast, but their spot here is assuming that quarterback Casey Pachall will be back on the field this spring to reclaim his job. The defense looks likely to be the best in the Big 12, and as much offense as this league has, you can't win it without a solid defense. TCU's offense will win it some games; its defense might win it a Big 12 title. Look out for Devonte Fields' encore.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners look like they may lack a true star on next season's team, but they are still solid across the two-deep and will be good enough to be in the mix for a title even without quarterback Landry Jones. A wealth of losses on the defensive end is a bigger concern, but receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard also will have to navigate a transition to a new QB after three-plus years with Jones. The Sooners ought to feature fullback Trey Millard a bit more in the offense next year.

4. Texas: Believe it or not, but David Ash is the Big 12's most experienced passer. Can he look the part on the field? We'll see, but the biggest problem for Texas is continuing its defensive improvements. Jackson Jeffcoat could be back, and Jordan Hicks will be one of the league's biggest talents if he is able to recover from a hip injury. The time is now if the Longhorns' trio of backs are going to mature into true impact players.

5. Baylor: I'm a believer in the late-season run for these guys translating to 2013. The defense made big strides, and we'll see if those continue, but the offense will be fine. I buy Bryce Petty as a big talent and the next in the long line of Art Briles' quarterback disciples. Lache Seastrunk will help him out early, too. Don't be surprised if he surpasses Randle next year as the Big 12's best back.

6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a huge wild card and might have the biggest upside of any team in the bottom half of these rankings. Michael Brewer is a promising QB, and he now has Kliff Kingsbury -- the former Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who helped the Aggies far surpass expectations -- as his new head coach. Could Tech do the same? The Red Raiders have tons of talent on both sides of the ball, thanks to a couple of great recruiting classes from Tommy Tuberville (who left to become the coach at Cincinnati).

7. Kansas State: No Collin Klein and Arthur Brown? You know about that, but there's no Chris Harper, Travis Tannahill, Braden Wilson, and the entire defensive line is gone, including star DE Meshak Williams. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, too. Point is, K-State's probably a bowl team next season, but to come back from that mountain of losses and be in the top half of the Big 12 is going to be a tall, tall task.

8. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' trio of wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin and quarterback Geno Smith was outstanding this year. Not much else in Morgantown was. All three are gone, and that team only went 7-5. Coordinator Keith Patterson has got to fix this defense in the spring and apply some lessons learned in a disappointing Year 1 in the Big 12. The QB derby between Paul Millard and Ford Childress should be interesting.

9. Iowa State: Sam Richardson was severely ill while playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but he still didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the future of the QB spot in Ames, despite a strong finish to the season. With linebacking pillars A.J. Klein and Jake Knott both headed to the NFL, the odds once again will be against Iowa State winning six games and getting to a bowl. Without consistency at the quarterback spot, it's going to be tough, especially with the defense likely to take a step back.

10. Kansas: Gotta prove something before the Jayhawks move out of the basement. Charlie Weis is bringing in tons of juco talent, but after the Dayne Crist experiment didn't work, BYU transfer Jake Heaps simply must be better for KU to begin its climb back to the postseason.


GLENDALE, Ariz.-- Collin Klein could only stare and watch as the final seconds of his college career ticked away. Oregon would hand him a 35-17 loss at the Fiesta Bowl in his final game, an ugly offensive performance that featured a pair of interceptions, a pair of touchdowns and one painful finale.

With glassy eyes shadowed underneath his helmet, he congratulated a few of the Ducks before joining his teammates and locking arms, grabbing a spot on the front row in the middle of the final CatPack of his life.

He and his teammates trotted off the field for the last time. Together.

"It's hard," Klein said, "It's not the way any of us wanted to go out."

Coach Bill Snyder collected his team in the locker room and delivered his final address of the season. He thanked his players for the work they put in, but most importantly, he reminded them that no one thought they'd be playing in this game. No one thought these seniors would end their careers as Big 12 champions, even if they couldn't be Fiesta Bowl champions, too.

He finished his remarks and dismissed the team before sharing a few words and a hug with Klein before the two went out the door to answer questions at a postgame news conference.

"Everybody might not see us as the most talented team in America, but we hang our hat on toughness, giving the greatest efffort we can do and this dude sums it up," linebacker Arthur Brown said of Klein. "Probably one of the toughest dudes I ever met."

He was tough enough to carry his team to 10 wins a year ago when some wondered if the 'Cats were good enough to reach a bowl game. He was tough enough to carry K-State to 11 wins and a Big 12 title this season when it was picked to finish sixth in the league. Along the way, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Thursday's bittersweet performance won't be easy to swallow, but as players dressed, there were a whole lot more hugs than tears. A whole lot of promises to stay in touch as careers ended and brothers went their separate ways.

[+] EnlargeCollin Klein, Bill Snyder
Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsThe final go-round for K-State QB Collin Klein didn't go quite as he and coach Bill Snyder had hoped.
"This was a fantastic year for us, we did a lot of things when people didn't believe in us," running back John Hubert said. "It was great. We like proving people wrong. Every year since I've been here, we always hear we couldn't do this or couldn't do that. Just to go out and prove people wrong and win is a great feeling."

That's what these Cats will always be remembered for. They're the team that did what no other in K-State history did: Reached No. 1 in the BCS standings. They're also a team that lost two of its final three games and let a chance at a national title slip through its fingers, but time will provide perspective, and many of the Wildcats already possessed it not long after their season had ended.

"The Big 12 championship, when we got that 11th win and beat Texas, seeing that crowd rush the field," Hubert said. "Holding up that Big 12 Championship Trophy and for it to be in our locker room is one of the greatest things we've done."

Added linebacker Justin Tuggle: "I hope we're remembered for the good things we did, and not for the two slip-ups we had."

These Wildcats absolutely will be remembered for those moments. Klein's interception on the final pass attempt of his career will fade away. So will Cornelius Lucas' second-quarter false start on fourth-and-1 that led to a missed field goal by Anthony Cantele and the loss of every bit of momentum the Wildcats had built after falling behind 15-0 and giving up a 94-yard return for a score from Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas on the game's opening kick.

"It had a significant impact on the outcome of the ballgame," Snyder said of the false start.

Well, Snyder had a significant impact on the individual lives of his players and the community in Manhattan, too. Those false starts and missed tackles and missed opportunities will fade away. That Big 12 trophy and Klein's memories from a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation never, ever will.

Kansas State's season ended with a difficult loss and the extension of a bowl drought that now stretches beyond a decade. K-State wishes it could have won this game. Any one of the Wildcats would have told you that. But they'd also tell you that a loss in this game does little to diminish the accomplishments of the 2012 team, which will go down in history as one of the best in school history.

Video: Kansas State receiver Chris Harper

January, 4, 2013
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Kansas State receiver Chris Harper talks with David Ubben about playing against his old teammates, what went wrong for Kansas State's offense and a memorable season after the Wildcats' 35-17 loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On Nov. 17, both Oregon and Kansas State lost their only game of the season. Otherwise, these two teams likely would have met each other for the national title in South Florida instead of at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl tonight.

It's also interesting that both lost to an opponent that generally resembles their opponent in University of Phoenix Stadium.

Oregon went down to Stanford, a team that prides itself on its disciplined, physical play on both sides of the ball. That's Kansas State.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsCoach Chip Kelly and Oregon will face a Kansas State team that shares similarities with Pac-12 rival Stanford.
Kansas State went down to Baylor, a team that runs a high-octane, up-tempo, spread offense. That's Oregon.

The parallels are far from exact -- for example, Baylor is pass-first; Oregon is run-first -- but they are notable. Both teams surely paid extra-special attention to those game tapes.

Said Ducks coach Chip Kelly, "I think Baylor has a lot of speed, speed in space. They made kids miss tackles. When they missed tackles, they hit some long runs."

That hits the first issue to watch: Tackling. Said Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, "Tackling is going to be the biggest thing in this game."

That seems simple, right? And it is. But it's a measure you can measure on your own at home: How often does the first guy miss or fail to bring his guy down? How often does the Duck or Wildcat with the ball get a second chance to gain yards?

Oregon thrives when it gets fast guys into space, and that fast guy leaves the first tackler grasping air. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Kenjon Barner, receiver Josh Huff and RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas can use a first-guy miss to go yard.

Kansas State isn't quite so fancy, but it's effective. It ranked seventh in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at just over 50 percent. How often can quarterback Collin Klein or another Wildcat twist away from a Ducks tackler and significantly boost the attractiveness of down and distance? Unlike Oregon, Kansas State loves to hold the ball for a long time. Against Oregon, in particular, it wants to methodically move the chains and play keep-away.

Oregon, by the way, ranks 14th in the nation in third-down defense, with foes converting less than 31 percent of the time.

And what about an X factor? We know who the stars are, and it's perfectly reasonable to believe the quarterback who plays better will lead the winning team. But so often in bowl games, a player who has been under the radar all week plays a major role in deciding things.

Maybe that's Huff for Oregon. Or Chris Harper, a former Duck who is now Kansas State's best receiver.

As for Oregon making like Baylor or Kansas State donning a Stanford disguise, it probably won't be that straightforward. Know that both teams labored over that what-might-have-been game film well before the Fiesta Bowl. The weaknesses that were exposed were taken note of and addressed.

At least that's what both teams' coaches and players are saying about the one that got away.

Said Helfrich, "I don't know if they are finding any magic in that game. I don't think it's in there. It's not going to come down to revelations from one game on either side."
What's one X factor that will decide tonight's game between Oregon and K-State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl? Let's take a look:

Kansas State X factor: Wildcats receivers

These guys might be the most underrated unit in the entire Big 12. K-State's run-heavy offense limits their ability to put up numbers competitive with the rest of the pass-happy Big 12 that loves to sling it around. Still, the combination of Chris Harper, Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett will have a huge effect on this game. Lockett didn't play in last year's Cotton Bowl but dropped passes plagued the Wildcats in an ugly loss to Arkansas.

All three topped 35 catches and 500 yards this season, which is pretty impressive considering the Wildcats attempted just 282 passes all season. Harper leads the group with 786 yards on 50 grabs, followed by Lockett with 657 yards on 40 catches and Thompson with 514 yards on 36 catches. They combined for 11 touchdown grabs. Thompson and Lockett are both speedy, deep threats, while Harper is more of a physical possession receiver (and an Oregon transfer who came to K-State to play quarterback). When these guys get going and play consistently, K-State's offense is nearly impossible to stop. They're not the most physically gifted guys. Harper doesn't have breakaway speed, and Thompson and Lockett are both undersized, but all three make their names with solid route running and mostly consistent hands. If they showcase those against Oregon, the Ducks will have big problems slowing the Wildcats' offense.
Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.

Trending up or down: Big 12 in 2013

December, 18, 2012
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Colleague Phil Steele checked in with our ESPN Insider folks for a look at all 70 bowl teams Insider... in 2013.

What can they all expect next season? You'll need Insider to see his full comments, but he weighed in on the nine Big 12 bowl teams.

Baylor's stock: Down

My take: I'd lean more toward even for the Bears. They're losing Nick Florence and Terrance Williams, but Tevin Reese is a strong candidate to continue the receiver tradition at Baylor under Art Briles, and Lache Seastrunk might end up being the Big 12's best back next year. Don't be surprised if new QB Bryce Petty is even better than Florence. It's very easy for me to see Baylor winning seven (or more) games next year, and once again, it's hard to see the defense getting worse.

WVU's stock: Even

My take: The record might be the same (7-5) next year, but I would lean toward trending down for WVU, just because it won't have the upside or potential of this year's team. WVU was good enough to win 9-11 games this year, but with a new QB, no Tavon Austin and no Stedman Bailey, it's tough to see next year's team being able to make that claim.

Texas' stock: Up

My take: How up depends on David Ash's development, once again. When he played well early in the season, Texas looked like it could beat a whole lot of teams. When he struggled against KU and Oklahoma, Texas didn't look like it could beat anyone. The defense can't be any worse.

TCU's stock: Up

My take: Way, way, up. Maybe more up than any team in the country. TCU was 70 percent freshmen and sophomore this year and still managed to go 7-5. It has tons of talent on both sides of the ball, and running back Aaron Green, a blue-chip transfer from Nebraska, will be on the field. Quarterback Casey Pachall may return, too. Big 12 title contenders.

Iowa State's stock: Even

My take: I'd agree. Sam Richardson showed some promise, but I don't know if I see a true impact player there. ISU still has to improve its skill position talent in a big way to truly make the jump from fringe bowl team.

Oklahoma State's stock: Up

My take: Other than TCU or Texas, no Big 12 team's stock should be more up next year. OSU can absorb the loss of Joseph Randle if he leaves, and if he stays, OSU will likely have the Big 12's best offense with a good O-line, maturing QBs and experienced backs. They'll go from seven wins to a Big 12 title contender.

KSU's stock: Down

My take: Agreed here. It's pretty simple. This is a very, very experienced team with two huge talents in Collin Klein and Arthur Brown that will be difficult to replace. K-State has a lot of potential at QB in Daniel Sams and juco commit Jake Waters, but Chris Harper will be gone, too. John Hubert and Tramaine Thompson will have to play big, and the offensive line will have to lead the way.

Huskies win an ugly one at Cal

November, 3, 2012
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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.


MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Even when Kansas State is bad, it can't help but be very, very good.

Kansas State trailed by seven in the first quarter, and confusion along Texas Tech's offensive line left the Wildcats' best pass-rusher, Meshak Williams, unblocked. He took advantage and took Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege for a ride, planting him into the turf before Doege even knew Williams was en route.

The ball popped loose, and the chase was on. Jarell Childs scooped it up and ran the rest of the way for an apparent game-tying touchdown.

It wasn't. Defensive end Ryan Mueller was flagged for an illegal block on the return, and the Wildcats were penalized 15 yards.

"It's still a touchdown in my book," Childs said with a laugh after the game.

Until a late hit when the Wildcats were up by 38 in the final minutes of a 55-24 win, K-State had a total of 10 penalty yards and zero turnovers.

Even when it's bad, K-State can't help but be very, very good. The Wildcats simply don't make mistakes, and unless they start, a loss down the stretch looks unlikely.

"If we want to be successful, we have to do it in all three facets of the game, and if we play well across the board, we always have a chance," coach Bill Snyder said. "And if we don't, and if one group falls out, then we've got problems."

[+] EnlargeKansas State defense
Scott Sewell/US PresswireK-State's defense handled a Texas Tech offense that scored 105 points in its previous two games.
In short, Kansas State controls its own destiny -- except just perhaps not in the BCS standings. The voters (and an undefeated record for Oregon) will tell us that. But on the field, it's more true for Kansas State than any team in the country. Play well for the next four weeks, the Big 12 title is coming back to Manhattan for the first time since 2003 and the Wildcats might have a shot at their first national title.

Snyder would never admit it, but Kansas State will enter its final four games as clearly the best team. Whether it leaves that way is up to the Wildcats.

"Success is fleeting in this world. There's bigger things at stake, but we and I recognize that we are human, we do make mistakes and are susceptible to complacency," said quarterback Collin Klein, who accounted for four touchdowns and 316 yards of offense to leave no doubt as to who's the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. "Just knowing that is the first step. Identifying that and being able to attack it."

Snyder's program is founded upon daily improvement, and this team has yet to show any cracks, save a couple of slow starts that K-State made up for in big ways with fantastic finishes. The Wildcats managed to convert 6 of 10 third downs before sending in the backups, too, making the task of finding a way to beat them look even more impossible. Good luck finding any cracks in the foundation -- and look just about anywhere and you can see improvement. That starts with the final scores. K-State hadn't beaten a Big 12 team other than cellar-dwelling Kansas by more than one score in the past two seasons. In two weeks, it has completely obliterated two Top 25 teams.

"From the beginning to where we are at this point and time, we've become a much better football team," Snyder said.

He won't get any arguments from Lubbock or Morgantown anytime soon.

If cracks don't inexplicably start appearing in that solid Kansas State foundation, the rest of the season might look more like a victory lap while the BCS standings shake out around the No. 3 Wildcats.

It starts with Oklahoma State next week, but can the reigning Big 12 champs shake off some quarterback issues and prove they're better than the team that nearly lost to Kansas? TCU might be starting its third-string quarterback in Fort Worth, Texas, in two weeks if the knee injury Trevone Boykin suffered Saturday proves serious. The Frogs lost with Boykin last week at home anyway, to the same Tech team that K-State rolled over on Saturday. Baylor? The Bears have struggled to find their first Big 12 win. Texas in the finale? The same team that needed heroics to beat a KU team that K-State crushed by 40? On paper, the dominoes are all lined up for the Wildcats. It's up to them to knock them down. How forceful that push is might decide whether K-State fans can start booking flights to Miami.

"I don't think people want us to play in the game. We could be [left out]," receiver Chris Harper said. "We've got to go out there and play like we did today and put scores up there so we can't leave no doubt and people can't leave us out."

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