NCF Nation: Jeff Casteel

Last Nov. 3, Arizona headed to UCLA riding a hot streak. It had won two in a row, obliterating Washington 52-17 and shocking then-No. 9 USC 39-36. The Wildcats were squarely in the Pac-12 South Division race.

Then Arizona made like a rotten Halloween pumpkin being hurled off the roof of a 50-story building. The Bruins delivered a 66-10 smashing that was pretty much over after the first quarter.

"Why did you have to bring it up?" replied Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez when asked about what went wrong. "About everything did. ... There wasn't a single thing we did well, in any phase. If you want to know what went wrong, it was everything."

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesUCLA coach Jim Mora believes last year's blowout win against Arizona is "irrelevant" to this year's game.
UCLA led 21-0 after the first quarter and 42-3 at halftime. The Bruins outgained the Wildcats 611 yards to 257. Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey would go on to lead the nation in rushing, but he managed just 54 yards on 16 carries against the Bruins. That was a season low, as was his 3.4 yards per carry.

UCLA wasn't 56 points better than the Wildcats, who finished last season 8-5. It was just one of those games. The Bruins played well in all phases and the Wildcats played poorly.

Funny thing about games like that, though. The losing coach tends to volunteer a better memory of it. The winning coach wants his players to erase their recollection and any residual feelings that might influence their perception of how and why things went down as they did.

As Bruins coach Jim Mora effused, "It's pretty irrelevant to us."

Mora's Bruins are headed to Tucson to again face the Wildcats in another key South clash on Saturday night. He doesn't want his players to think this game will be easy just because last year's was. And Rodriguez is hoping his players might compete with a little more edge and focus, knowing they got humiliated last year in by far the team's worst performance in Rodriguez's first season.

"I would hope just from a competitor's standpoint, when you didn't play well against somebody, you'd want to have another chance to show you are a little bit better than what you did," Rodriguez said.

Last year's game also had another notable occurrence: B.J. Denker had to come off the bench for an injured Matt Scott, who suffered a concussion, and Denker would make his first career start the following weekend against Colorado.

While Denker is a much different and better quarterback than he was a year ago, this game more likely turns on Carey looking like a player trying to lead the nation in rushing for a second consecutive season rather than the guy he was in last year's UCLA-Arizona game.

Carey leads the nation with 153.1 yards rushing per game and averages a strong 5.7 yards per carry. While the Bruins' run defense has yielded some yards -- 167.6 per game, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12 -- it limits opposing runners to 3.9 yards per carry, which is tied for fifth in the conference.

Carey was largely irrelevant in last year's game because the Wildcats fell behind by a large margin, forcing them to throw, and throw ineffectively.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsArizona will need a big performance from running back Ka'Deem Carey, who leads the nation in rushing yards per game this season.
Arizona can't afford to let the Bruins get off to another fast start and take Carey -- and the crowd -- out of the game. Mora certainly knows that Carey is where everything starts for the Wildcats offense.

"This guy, I don't think you stop him," Mora said. "He's too good. He's leading the nation in rushing. You just hope to contain him a little bit, not let him break the long ones."

While Mora didn't have many thoughts about last year's game, he did have some ideas about why Carey is again putting up such big numbers.

"He runs hard," Mora said. "He's got great vision. He's good after contact. He's elusive. He's powerful. He's a slasher. He can catch it in the open field. He can break the long one. He can get the tough yards up inside. He's got all the attributes you look for in a great running back."

The good news for the Bruins is they have a strong defensive front seven, a 3-4 scheme anchored by a crew of linebackers who rank among the nation's best.

Yet defense is also where Arizona is most different from 2012. The Wildcats wore down last year on defense in the first year of using Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme. An inexperienced unit that wasn't that talented in the first place was hit hard by injuries. This year, the Wildcats rank among the Pac-12 leaders in most defensive categories. While still not exactly loaded with future NFL talent, particularly on the defensive line, the Wildcats are playing good team defense.

That said, the best offenses on the Wildcats' schedule have yet to be faced, and that starts Saturday with the Bruins and quarterback Brett Hundley.

Both teams are 6-2 overall and 3-2 in conference play, though the Bruins are 19th in the BCS rankings largely due to their first eight games being significantly tougher.

Still, both teams' seasons will be judged by how they handle their final four contests. The winner Saturday, for one, will announce itself as a South Division contender.

"This is at least where you want to be in November, with a chance to play meaningful games with a lot at stake," Rodriguez said. "And here we are with a big one Saturday night."
When history judges the Rich Rodriguez era at Arizona, chances are folks aren't going to look back and say, "Gosh, those RichRod teams were really known for their defense."

And that has more to do with Rodriguez's reputation as an offensive-minded coach than his team's desire to stop the other team from putting up points. Even when we reflect on the Chip Kelly era -- it was known for offense. Not that he didn't have some good defenses (better than most gave Oregon credit for), that's just how perception works.

[+] EnlargeJeff Casteel
AP Photo/Rob HoltJeff Casteel's defense has 20 players who started last season returning this year.
Still, that doesn't have to sit well with Arizona defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. He's not in control of what happens on the other side of the ball. His job is to put his players in position to keep the other team out of the end zone. He wants the Wildcats to be known as a defensive team. And he wants his players to be a bit salty about it.

"I hope they are," Casteel said. "These guys understand that we have to do a better job than we did last year. There were situations where we make a stop, we win a game. We've talked about that and I'm sure they want to be known as a defensive football team. But to do that requires a lot of work and hopefully they'll do that. We want to be a tough, physical football team. And I think the kids want to embrace that."

And while the offense made a huge splash in Year 1 of the Rodriguez era, the defense was often left thanking their offensive brethren for bailing them out week to week. Energy and enthusiasm weren't the issues in 2012, when the Wildcats surrendered a league-worst 499 yards per game and allowed more than 35 points per contest. A lot of it was learning a new scheme. And part of the learning process is knowing when not to make a play. Staying at home and making sure your assignment is covered can be just as valuable to a team's success. Attrition via injury also resulted in the Wildcats throwing true freshmen and walk-ons into situations they probably weren't ready for.

"It's about attention to detail and taking care of your job and playing team defense," Casteel said. "At times last year -- it wasn't that they weren't trying to make plays -- but sometimes it would cause problems because they didn't take care of their responsibilities.

"The kids' energy was good and through the first five or six weeks they played well. We just wore down as the season went on because of a lack of depth. You can point to probably three or four games that we lost because we missed opportunities. If we make a play here or there we have a great season. That's a positive for the kids because they can see that we're close."

Close -- but nowhere near where they need to be. Besides the points and yards allowed, the Wildcats ranked in the bottom half of the league in interceptions (10th with 12 interceptions), sacks (12th, 16), red zone defense (9th, 83.9 percent), opponent first downs (12th, 339) and third down defense (9th, 43.7 percent). On the flip side, they improved from 4-8 in 2011, to 8-5 in 2012. They scored wins over Oklahoma State and USC and they won their bowl game.

"This is a business about wins and losses," Casteel said. "There are some numbers that are important to us -- yards per carry, yards per play, turnovers, third down defense. And if you are good at those things then your numbers will be fairly decent. We all would love to have the great numbers. But it's still all about winning and our job is to do what we can to help our team win games."

The good news is that 20 different players who started games last year are returning -- essentially the entire defense is back. With that comes a better understanding of the scheme and another year in the strength and conditioning program. When he first took over, Rodriguez made it a point to call out the physical conditioning of his team. The hope is that with improved conditioning comes improved performance.

"I think we're all a little more comfortable with them as players and they are a little more comfortable with us as coaches than we were this time last year," Casteel said. "At this point it's about getting bigger, stronger and faster. I think we're seeing that. We were a small football team last year. We're not where we want to be. But I'm excited to get them back in the fall and see what we can do."
With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.


Buy or sell Arizona winning the South?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,070)

Buy or sell Arizona winning the South?

Ted Miller

Buy: Arizona has a sneaky-strong position as it sets up for the 2013 season and the South Division race.

It starts with the schedule, which includes fortuitous misses of Stanford and Oregon State. In fact, when you toss in three horribly weak nonconference games -- the nonconference schedule would make an SEC team blush -- you can envision seven games in which the Wildcats will be clear favorites. After that, you see three rugged road games -- Washington, USC and Arizona State -- and a pair of home games in which Arizona figures to be the underdog: UCLA and Oregon.

As it stands now, this schedule suggests seven or eight wins. What could swing the Wildcats in the upward direction -- or downward, if you want to be a pessimist -- is quarterback play. While the Pac-12 blog suspects many Wildcats fans don't realize just how good Matt Scott was last season -- obviously the Ted Miller half of the Pac-12 blog believes he was one of the elite players in the conference in 2012 -- the recent strong performances across the Pac-12 of first-year starters at the position means it doesn't require a Herculean leap of faith to wonder this with a degree of hope: What if the Wildcats are at least solid at the position?

[+] EnlargeJeff Casteel
AP Photo/John MillerA second season under coach Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, left, could boost the comfort level for Arizona's returning players.
Solid at quarterback, coupled with a lot of guys coming back everywhere else, would make Arizona a dark horse in the South, particularly if the defense is significantly improved. And the front-runners falter.

Now, I'm not picking the Wildcats to win the South. I'd rate them fourth at this point, behind Arizona State, UCLA and USC. But none of those teams is a sure thing. I also see a team that should be more comfortable with second-year coach Rich Rodriguez, one that has a lot of intriguing elements coming back.

Looking at this like a stock purchase, if you're willing to take on some risk, the Wildcats might be a team that will yield high reward.

Kevin Gemmell

Buy: I wanted Ted to go first for Arizona because I wanted to see how long it would take him to mention Matt Scott in relation to skeptical Arizona fans. He waited all the way until the middle of the third paragraph. His restraint is commendable. (Though it took him only three sentences to sneak in an SEC jab. Golf clap.)

The Wildcats are right on the edge -- and I agree that they are probably fourth in the pecking order of teams in the hunt for the division. As of today, I wouldn't pick them to win the South. But I wouldn't rule them out either. So I'm buying because of … wait for it … the improved defense! That's right, Jeff Casteel, this is your time to shine.

We're not talking about a handful of returners, we're talking about the entire defense returning. Are the Wildcats going to be at the same level as Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon State, et al? No. Probably not even in the same neighborhood. But they will be better than 105th against the run, 118th in total defense and 102nd in points allowed.

If the Wildcats make even incremental defensive progress, it is going to be a huge step forward and should be enough to offset a quarterback change on the other side of the ball. The 3-3-5 is a risk-reward scheme that, when run properly, can give offenses fits. It's unique to the conference, so teams aren't going to be used to seeing it, and Year 2 is usually when teams start to see progress because there is a better understanding of the big-picture concepts. I'm expecting the sacks to go up, the turnovers forced to go up and the yards allowed to go down.

The offense has enough elite playmakers to put points on the board. I think whoever wins the quarterback job is going to have enough warm-up time before that Sept. 28 game at Washington (and as of today I'd pick the Huskies in that one). With guys such as Ka'Deem Carey and Austin Hill, the Wildcats will again be an offensive force to be reckoned with. More importantly, the defense should do a much better job protecting leads in 2013, which gives the Wildcats a fighting chance against the South elite.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The old Canon camera commercial announced that "Image is everything!" If that's so, everything presently is wrong for Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, whose horrible offseason has obscured an All-American 2012 campaign that included him leading the nation in rushing.

Since closing out the season with 172 yards and three TDs in the comeback win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, Carey has been in the news for three separate and unflattering incidents.

First, a domestic dispute with his pregnant ex-girlfriend led to misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges. Second, he was ticketed for driving with expired registration and no proof of insurance. Third, he was thrown out of an Arizona basketball game against UCLA after a verbal altercation with arena security and then police.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireKa'Deem Carey rushed for 1,929 yards and 23 TDs last season, but has run into trouble this offseason.
That incident allegedly escalated after Carey, according the police report obtained by the Daily Wildcat, the student paper, told arena officials to “get the (bleep!) out of my face,” then added, “Do you know who I am? I’m an All-American.”


Instead of talking about how cool it is to be a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, Carey is taking a break from interviews this spring. The hope among Wildcats coaches and players is that Carey can rehabilitate his image this fall.

"It doesn't portray who he is, but that's Ka'Deem's fault," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "That's what I told Ka'Deem. He's got to work now to show people who he really is. He's a good teammate, he's a great worker, he's fun to coach because he plays hard. But he had a couple of incidents that made him look different than he really is. He's not a guy who walks around with a sense of entitlement, but his actions kind of portrayed that."

Rodriguez said Carey can work his way into good standing by the beginning of the 2013 season -- he's participating in spring practices -- but he added that his initial reaction wasn't terribly pleasant. He said, "I got a size 13, so it fits up in there pretty good."

Co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith wants people to know that Carey is not a "bad egg."

"Ka'Deem needs to understand the microscope he's under now," he said. "He needs to understand the responsibility that comes with that. He's got to mature a little bit, which I think he has through some of this. We're going to look to him for some leadership, so he needs to make sure he's right -- on and off the field."

Some other notes and observations from Arizona spring practices:

  • The quarterback competition won't truly begin until the fall, when USC transfer Jesse Scroggins is 100 percent -- he's out with a foot injury but could see some limited action late in the spring session -- and touted incoming freshman Anu Solomon arrives. Suffice it to say, that none of the three QBs who are full-go right now look anything like the departed Matt Scott.
  • It sounds like the Wildcats coaches are as high on Solomon as fans are. Smith pointed out he's started a true freshman before -- Tre Roberson at Indiana in 2011 -- but never in the season-opener. Still, he's not willing to rule out the possibility: "If the kid is good enough and he can handle it. Some kids transition better than others. Anu is a kid who was a four-year starter in high school. That doesn't mean anything for college, but at least he's been in the mode when he's the new kid on the block competing with older kids and he performed well. He was 56-4 as a starter. The kid is a winner. He knows how to move the football and win."
  • While some Pac-12 blog readers have taken issue with our ranking of Scott No. 4 among conference players in 2012, Rodriguez is not one of them: "He had not a good year, he had a dominant year. We rode him as hard as we could. He was phenomenal. He's an NFL player. Best thrower I've coached or coached against. And I've seen some good throwers."
  • Smith said sophomore running back Jared Baker, the Wildcats' fastest player, is the frontrunner to be Carey's top backup.
  • Rodriguez on the 2012 defense: "We had to be the smallest division I team in the country. It was scary. I quit watching the other team in warm-ups because I was losing confidence."
  • It's too early in spring to talk too much about defensive improvement. It's also clear the coaches expect a good handful of incoming players to see action next fall. Still, the fact that practically the entire 2012 two-deep is back is a positive. Said coordinator Jeff Casteel: "Their practice tempo and understanding of things that are asked of them are a lot better right now, and our evaluation process is a lot easier right now because we've been around them for a year."
  • Three starters are back on the offensive line, but Rodriguez is still a bit grumpy about the position. He said, "Physically, we're still not close to where we need to be. We're not strong enough and not explosive enough. Even though the numbers were productive [last year], we weren't overwhelming. And we're still not going to be overwhelming. We simply not big and strong enough."

Arizona may have growing pains in 2013

December, 17, 2012
During the early afternoon on Saturday, one half of the Pac-12 blog was standing in line waiting to talk to Santa -- er, his kids, his kids were waiting to talk to Santa -- while the other half was watching that little bit of nuttiness going on between Arizona and Nevada in New Mexico.

The obvious question: No, the Pac-12 blog didn't use its pull with Santa, which as you all know is considerable, to get the Wildcats an early gift. But it's no surprise you might feel that way about that "No-way-that-just-happened" 49-48 victory.

The following pretty much happened:
Ted: My iPhone is trying to fool me -- Siri is mad because she saw me admiring the new Samsung Galaxy. It says Arizona won 49-48. That can't be right. It was 45-28 entering the fourth quarter.

Kevin: I have to redo the entire Instant Analysis. The first one was composed in elegantly wrought heroic couplets. It was Pulitzer worthy.

Ted: What the heck happened?

Kevin: Well ... you sorta had to see it.
[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
AP Photo/Eric DraperArizona will surely be counting on star RB Ka'Deem Carey for heavy production in 2013.
What an interesting first year for coach Rich Rodriguez, eh?

The Wildcats posted a number of nice wins (Oklahoma State, USC and Washington), a couple of blowout losses (49-zip at Oregon, 66-10 at UCLA) and a pair of blown big games (54-48 in overtime to Stanford and 41-34 to Arizona State).

In consecutive games to finish the season, they yielded a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to their good friends from Tempe, and they overcame a 17-point deficit in their bowl game, one that featured their own players fighting each other on the sidelines. So, yeah, you couldn't take much for granted with this team, even them not punching each other.

The end result is an 8-5 finish, including Arizona's first bowl win since 2008. The program has won eight games twice since going 12-1 in 1998, but no more.

So, despite the loss to the Sun Devils, it's fair to call this a successful season for Rich Rod.

In the preseason, this looked like a team that would be hard-pressed to reach six wins and earn a bowl berth. The offense looked potentially strong, but the defense didn't pass the sight test, particularly up front.

That impression proved true, but QB Matt Scott was so good -- as were RB Ka'Deem Carey and WR Austin Hill -- that the offense was (mostly) able to overcome a struggling defense.

And don't view this as a ripping of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Casteel got as much as he possibly could out of this overmatched unit, one that featured no All-Pac-12 players and just two -- LB Jake Fischer and safety Jared Tevis -- that earned honorable mention.

So what does the future hold? Well, Scott will be gone and the defensive front will be a glaring question mark heading into spring practice. Few will project the 2013 team improving on eight wins.

The good news? Well, it's nice to have a returning consensus All-American in Carey as a first option, and the offensive line and corps of receivers should be solid, though both have some holes to fill.

The defense? That's an interesting question. Twenty-one of 22 players on the two-deep from the New Mexico Bowl are scheduled to return in 2013, including all 11 starters. But that's not necessarily a good thing, particularly on the D-line, where the Wildcats got pushed around all season.

Further, Scott was second-team All-Pac-12 this year and couldn't have played much better (and tougher). A legitimate dual-threat who fit perfectly into Rodriguez's spread-option attack, he far exceeded preseason expectations as a passer. From our vantage point, he played himself into the 2013 NFL draft this fall.

He won't be easy to replace. The competition between backup B.J. Denker, former USC QB Jesse Scroggins, a junior college transfer who will arrive this spring, and redshirt freshman Javelle Allen will be interesting to watch. Scroggins, a once-touted recruit, is much more of a pro-style passer than Denker or Allen, so comparing their skills sometimes will have an apples & oranges feel -- not unlike Nick Foles vs. Matt Scott a few years back.

Rodriguez said when he was hired that it takes a few years for him to recruit to his systems on both sides of the ball, obviously alluding to what he wasn't given at Michigan. The moderate success this season might fuel the sort of fans who expect improvement every year, and that group might end up feeling grumpy this time next year.

Still, there's no question the program feels healthier than it did a year ago. The biggest problem, in fact, might only be that the program up north feels a tad bit more sprightly.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 10

October, 29, 2012
If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

See last week's power rankings here.

This feels like an odd one.

1. Oregon: The Ducks showed seemingly effortless brilliance in a dominant victory over Colorado, but it wasn't a good weekend for the Ducks. They don't want the distance between themselves and everyone else to appear this vast. They want the conference to look strong, top to bottom. Losses by USC and Oregon State dinged the Ducks' BCS standing in terms of potential strength of schedule ratings down the road. And Kansas State and Notre Dame both posted impressive wins.

2. Oregon State: Picking the No. 2 team here wasn't easy. Stanford was considered, but the Cardinal barely slipped by Washington State at home. And the Beavers still have only one loss. The power rankings looks more at the short term, but the big picture keeps the Beavers here. By a thread. It feels like the visit from Arizona State will be a tester, particularly when there are now quarterback questions.

3. Stanford: The Cardinal muddled through a win against Washington State. They very well may muddle through a visit to Colorado on Saturday. The visit from Oregon State on Nov. 10 will begin a home stretch that will reveal just who Stanford is in 2012 (at Oregon on Nov. 17, at UCLA on Nov. 24).

4. Arizona: Matt Scott and Rich Rodriguez are making beautiful music together, but somebody needs to tip their cap to Wildcats defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. He's put together an opportunistic defense that just finds a way to do well with some questionable parts. Sure, USC had huge numbers. But the Wildcats also got stops that proved critical.

5. USC: The idea that the Trojans would fall into the middle of the Pac-12 power rankings never occurred to the Pac-12 blog in the preseason. What's notable is the sloppiness: turnovers and penalties. Sure, other teams have penalties. But the Trojans seem to get lots of penalties of choice -- personal fouls, taunting, lining up wrong.

6. Washington: There are two Huskies teams. The one that plays at home is worthy of a national ranking. The one that plays on the road is worthy of mockery. The next step for coach Steve Sarkisian is to make the Huskies into a team that plays like it's at home even when it's not. Up next is a Friday visit to flagging California.

7. UCLA: The win at Arizona State -- a clutch comeback one, no less -- feels like a potential corner-turner for the Bruins. Recall the horrid performance at California? That brought up some old UCLA bugaboos about road games. This win canceled those out nicely. Let's ask it ... maybe Jim Mora is the guy to actually end the football monopoly in L.A. Of course, the visit from Arizona on Saturday will provide a huge measuring stick in the South Division. The Bruins control their own destiny. If they win out, they go to the Pac-12 title game.

8. Arizona State: The schedule is getting tougher, and the Sun Devils are taking some hits. There was plenty of good to take away from the 45-43 loss to UCLA, but not so much on the defensive side of the ball. The Sun Devils could quickly right things if they can win at Oregon State.

9. Utah: Hard to say whether the blowout win over California was about the Utes finding their mojo after another 0-4 Pac-12 start -- just like last year -- or whether it was just a Cal team waving the white flag on its season. Maybe a little of both. But if the Utes can hold serve at home against Washington State, they will need to win just two of their final three to become bowl eligible. And one of those games is with Colorado.

10. Washington State: The Cougars were close at Stanford, but isn't being close what we sorta celebrated last year? The good news is how much better the defense is playing. The bad news is ... 10 sacks surrendered. And you got to see just how tough QB Jeff Tuel is. Getting hit that much and still playing well, passing for 401 yards and two touchdowns with no help from a running game.

11. California: Hey, Cal? Are you quitting on yourselves and coach Jeff Tedford? The performance at Utah suggests so.

12. Colorado: There is some good news. There are only four more games this season.

A Baylor-WVU shootout? Not so fast

September, 26, 2012
Prepare yourselves for as many lame high-scoring game jokes as possible before West Virginia and Baylor kick off Saturday at noon in Morgantown.

"Make sure all the bulbs on the scoreboard work!"

"Gentlemen, start your engines!"

"West Virginia state law forbids the possession of defense-like substances, so..."

Hardy har har har, or something. The over/under for Saturday's game is a healthy 79.5 points, and the prediction? A prescription for plenty of aspirin for defensive coordinators Phil Bennett (Baylor) and co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson (West Virginia).

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWill we see shootout when Geno Smith and West Virginia host Baylor on Saturday?
That over/under? It's nothing new for DeForest, who's seen higher. It's been a whole 11 months to the day, in fact, since DeForest last saw it.

Last season, the Big 12's top two quarterbacks and top two offenses went head to head in Stillwater, where DeForest spent 11 years coaching special teams and safeties, also earning a title as associate head coach under Mike Gundy.

His safeties were tasked with reigning in eventual Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, and the prediction was for a pointsplosion of the highest order.

At halftime? Oklahoma State had given up exactly zero points while the offense raced to a 35-0 lead that grew to 49-3 after three quarters. RG3? Please, said the Pokes defense, who forced five turnovers on the day and walked away with a 59-24 win that did, in fact, clear that over/under after Baylor scored three garbage time touchdowns.

"Oklahoma State did such a good job of moving the ball on offense," Holgorsen said of that game and another in 2010. The over/under for that RG3/Weeden showdown was 72.5, but Oklahoma State again held Baylor scoreless in the first half, forced three turnovers and raced to a 41-7 lead over the Bears before winning 55-28.

"Baylor was always playing from behind," Holgorsen added.

Could DeForest work his magic against Briles again in Morgantown on Saturday and turn a shootout into a blowout?

"We’re going to look at those tapes to try and just like coach Briles and his staff’s going to look at those tapes to try and see those similarities," Holgorsen said. "There’s some things that we can do better. There’s some things that they can do better, and so forth. Every year’s different."

It is, but Oklahoma State's seemed to have the magic touch in shutting down Baylor's high-powered offense. Now, DeForest and Holgorsen are the biggest two pieces of Morgantown's program that's become a sort of "Stillwater East" since Holgorsen took over. DeForest replaced Jeff Casteel, who took his talents to Arizona to follow his former boss, Rich Rodriguez. Holgorsen added running backs coach Robert Gillespie and former OSU cornerback Andrew McGee as a graduate assistant.

Now, it's up to a new group of players but another big-armed quarterback and playmaking receivers to be the Kryptonite to the supermen of Baylor's offense who have the nation's No. 6 offense this year and were No. 2 in 2011.

"When Baylor lines up to play Oklahoma State this year, it’s going to be a completely different ball game, so you can try to take some things and learn from it, but ultimately, it’s preparing the team you have this year the best you ultimately can to be in position and make some plays," Holgorsen said.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
Here are 10 things I'm keeping an eye on in Week 2 across the Big 12.

1. Collin Klein's workload. The big man only got 12 carries a week ago. Was it because Bill Snyder knew his team could handle FCS Missouri State, or can we expect more of a change out of Kansas State's offense? I'm betting on the former, but you never know what to expect from Bill Snyder. No coach in the league plays his cards closer to the vest.

2. Oklahoma's passing game. It was a little bit of everything last week against UTEP. Receivers looked uncomfortable and didn't always get open. One long pass was called back because the receiver stepped out of bounds. The offensive line wasn't great in protection, but Landry Jones held on to the ball a little too long on plenty of occasions. The Sooners know they need to fix the problems. Playing against an FCS opponent is a good time to get some work in.

[+] EnlargeSteele Jantz
Reese Strickland/US PresswireIowa State's Steele Jantz completed over 70 percent of his passes against Tulsa.
3. Steele Jantz's decision-making. Jantz was much more judicious with the ball in Week 1 against a decent Tulsa team than he was in the first few games of last season. Will that continue? His one interception last week was partly his fault (poor accuracy) and partly his receiver's fault (tipped pass). Iowa State can't afford turnovers against Iowa.

4. Wes Lunt under fire. Mike Gundy liked what he saw from Lunt, but knows Lunt didn't face third-and-longs, blitzes or pressure of any kind. That'll change this week against former WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, now in Tucson. You have to assume Arizona's game plan centers around pressuring the freshman quarterback. You can't drop back and see if the backs can beat you -- they can. How does Lunt handle it? Oklahoma State's hopes hinge on it.

5. Kansas' defensive line. The Jayhawks had just nine sacks a year ago, but defensive linemen got two against South Dakota State last week. But KU also gave up a 99-yard touchdown run. What does the unit most in need of a facelift from 2011 have in store for Week 2?

6. TCU's defense. I don't think the Frogs can really prove anything, but I'm mostly curious about who's going to be where and how often for the Frogs. Gary Patterson shook up his defense during fall camp, and TCU has two freshmen starting on the defensive line. How do the new safeties look? Here's guessing that depth chart changes even more after Week 1.

7. Texas' defensive miscues. Safety Kenny Vaccaro said players on defense played as if they'd read too many of their press clippings last week. The defense gave up an 82-yard touchdown to Wyoming and looked undeniably mortal for a unit that's supposed to be the Big 12's best. Will the Longhorns eliminate mistakes this week against New Mexico?

8. Texas Tech's first quarter. The Red Raiders looked sluggish against FCS foe Northwestern State last week, leading just 7-3 early in the second quarter. This week, they have a road game against Texas State. I think Tech wins, but starting slow and falling behind to the Bobcats would energize the crowd and the team in a game it wants badly. Tech needs to open the game with its best. At halftime of last year's matchup, Texas Tech led this game in Lubbock 10-9.

9. Big 12's first loss of the season? The Big 12 mostly cruised through Week 1, save for Iowa State's first quarter against Tulsa. The conference faces three major tests in Week 2, though: (1) Oklahoma State has to take care of business on the road against Arizona; (2) can Kansas State take the first step in validating last year's 10-win season against Miami? The most likely spot for a loss? and (3) A toss-up game at Iowa for Iowa State. Getting through two weeks of football at 17-0 is definitely possible for the Big 12, though.

10. Oklahoma State's renewed defense. The Cowboys have the personnel to be solid this season, but are they as good as advertised on defense? Arizona's zone-read scheme is an interesting test -- mostly for the front seven. The Cowboys linebackers are solid, but can the defensive line prove itself? I'm looking at Cooper Bassett, Nigel Nicholas and Calvin Barnett on this one.
Arizona might go to a bowl game. Or the Wildcats might not. Or they might win two games. Or more. Or less. Or, or, or.

Arizona's latest depth chart has 24"ors" on it. Dan Buckner at wide receiver, or David Richards. Derrick Rainey at cornerback, or Jonathan McKnight. John Bonano place-kicking, or Jake Smith.

Or ...

"I didn't help you with a lot of the 'ors,'" head coach Rich Rodriguez said in a news conference Wednesday. "It wasn't just a coach kind of deal, we really don't know for sure in a lot of positions. I think 15 practices in spring told us a little bit ... really, I think we'll get a better idea at the end of camp and at the end of the next 30 days. But I really won't know until we play a couple of games. There are a lot of 'ors.' I want our guys to compete for their jobs. If they've played in the past, that's good and that experience should help them. But we're starting all over again. A clean slate. Everyone has to earn their spots."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire"Everyone has to earn their spots," coach Rich Rodriguez said in explaining Arizona's uncertain depth chart.
Wildcats players reported Wednesday and will start practice today. And if the depth chart is any indication, Rodriguez has a lot of decisions to make over the next month.

Here are some more highlights from his news conference:

  • On the linebacking corps: "For us, that's certainly our thinnest position and it's an area of concern. There are probably some guys we're going to have to push to get ready [sooner] than they may be ready for or we may be ready for. In particular some freshmen. It's wide open. Jake Fischer is the only guy right now that we know has a lot of experience and we feel pretty comfortable with him at linebacker. Outside of Jake, it's kind of a wide-open deal. We have concerns, but what we have is what we have. Hopefully these freshmen will grow up in a hurry and coach [Jeff] Casteel will get them ready to play."
  • Rodriguez said staying healthy in camp is going to be crucial because the Wildcats aren't a particularly deep team yet. That's going to affect how they practice: "Where we're at right now with our depth -- or lack of it in some spots -- it's going to be critical. We've talked as coaches, you have to practice physically sometimes. You have to hit at times. We need to get tougher and more physical. Yet we don't want to beat ourselves up and have a lesser team come Sept. 1. How do you balance that? We will have some physical times and physical practices. But they won't be all day, every day. The message to our team will be when we have those moments when we go live, we need to really get after that and develop the mentality we want from a toughness standpoint. Because they will be few and far between. When we do it's got to be really, really intense and we have to make the most of it ... it's concerning and it limits you a little bit."
  • Offensive lineman Jack Baucus might have to retire because of injury.
  • Rodriguez said some of his coaching staff knew some players on Penn State's roster and that "a handful" reached out and talked with Arizona, but he said they are not actively pursuing anyone.
  • On how receptive his players have been to changing in coaching staffs: "I think they've been really receptive. I think our guys are hungry. At least I hope. When you're not going to a bowl game and you're sitting there at the bottom of the league, I think our guys were a little bit embarrassed and certainly they weren't happy because I met with all the guys in December. But how upset were they and how angry were they? I hope they are very angry and you use that anger and channel that in a positive [direction] with a chip on their shoulder to prove themselves ... I want them to be really mad. There was some of that and I think our players have a lot of pride. But we should be more upset and channel that in the right way."
  • Rodriguez called some of the NCAA's non-contact rules "silly," saying that two hours a week in the month of June would be beneficial -- especially for a new coaching staff trying to learn about their players: " It's really silly. It makes no sense. I think our guys -- college athletes in particular -- are better off with more guidance and more eyes."
  • The players will undergo a physical evaluation after the first practice. You'll recall that back in March, Rodriguez said his team was "weak, really weak." He'll see how much the summer conditioning has paid off: "The first practice will tell me a lot. Guys that struggle tells us they didn't do a whole lot this summer. We'll have a conditioning test at the end of the first practice. Those that worked out and are in shape shouldn't have any problems passing it. Those who didn't will have a big problem."
To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today we'll continue our series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. Next up: Newcomer West Virginia.

More contenders:
Why the Mountaineers will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWest Virginia's Geno Smith passed for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.
1. They have the most explosive offense. Nobody's got a better, more experienced pass-catch combo than Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Geno Smith and his top two targets, receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The running game with Dustin Garrison and Shawne Alston isn't going to scare too many folks, but it's definitely good enough to make defenses respect it, and it benefits from the play of Smith, Austin and Bailey. WVU is entering Year 2 with Dana Holgorsen, and there's not a lot of reason to believe the trio won't be even better in 2012.

2. They've got plenty of inside knowledge. Dana Holgorsen's been in the Big 12 for nine of the past 12 seasons, and his new defensive coordinator, Joe DeForest, spent more than a decade at Oklahoma State. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie and new graduate assistant Andrew McGee, a former OSU cornerback, can help provide some insight into what the Mountaineers will expect on the field in the pregame preparation.

3. They're an unknown entity. Oklahoma has to make a trip to West Virginia on Nov. 17 in a game that may decide the league title. Nobody in the Big 12 has ever played this band of Mountaineers, and WVU can perhaps use that to their advantage. Big 12 defensive coordinators are familiar with Holgorsen's schemes, but nobody was really able to stop it when he was at Oklahoma State. Don't expect that to change with WVU this year, especially with the kind of talent he's fielding offensively.

Why the Mountaineers will not win the Big 12

1. Where's the defense? West Virginia lost essentially its entire pass rush from last year's team, which ranked essentially in the middle of the pack in the offensively-challenged Big East. It's a whole new world in the Big 12. Defensive backs Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin return, along with defensive lineman Will Clarke and cornerback Brodrick Jenkins, but this isn't the Big East, and WVU is changing schemes from Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 to a 3-4 with Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. There could be a rough road ahead of the Mountaineers when it comes to trying to stop Big 12 offenses, which are in another stratosphere compared to what WVU traditionally sees on game day. The one advantage? They've gotten plenty of work in practice this offseason.

2. The Nebraska Effect: They've got too much to learn. Nebraska was picked by plenty of folks to win the Legends Division in its first year in the Big 12. The Huskers had the talent, but instead, went 5-3 and finished third in the division behind Michigan and Michigan State. West Virginia has the talent to win the Big 12, but has to study up on nine new teams. The rest of the Big 12 only has to adjust to two new teams. NU got rocked by Wisconsin and Michigan, teams that weren't nearly as good as Nebraska's inexperience in the league made them look. WVU may see the same fate against unfamiliar opponents.

3. The inconsistency will catch up to the Mountaineers. Everybody remembers that nationally-televised bludgeoning WVU handed out to ACC champion Clemson. Doesn't seem like enough people remember a 26-point blowout loss to five-win Syracuse, or narrow wins over sub-.500 teams like Pitt and South Florida. West Virginia wasn't as impressive on a week-to-week basis as they were in their most prominent game in 2011. Even coach Dana Holgorsen admits that game has plenty of people thinking his team is better than it actually is. Will they improve enough between January and September to be a consistent team capable of winning a much tougher league? We'll find out soon.
Folks like rankings, which is why a lot of you had opinions on both Athlon Sports and our rankings of Pac-12 coaches this week.

There are very few naysayers to the idea that Oregon's Chip Kelly is an obvious No. 1. In fact, I'm not even sure how you gainsay that.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKyle Whittingham is 7-1 in bowl games, including a BCS victory.
But who's No. 2?

That's the question before your faithful Pac-12 bloggers.

Kevin Gemmell: Since you went first last week, and I used it as an opportunity to take a shot at you about Darron/De'Anthony Thomas Top 25 incident, I'll take the lead this week and suffer whatever ribbing comes from it.

To be honest, I was pretty torn when trying to figure out who I would put at No. 2 in the conference. I think you can easily make an argument for three or four different guys. But I've also seen what Kyle Whittingham has done at Utah from the very beginning when I used to cover the Mountain West Conference.

His résumé is stellar, and his credentials are without question. He has an undefeated season to his credit and two BCS bowl game victories (I believe the NCAA credits him and Urban Meyer both for the Fiesta Bowl win). If I'm wrong on that, he still has a BCS bowl victory at a then mid-major program.

He's 7-1 all-time in bowl games. That means he's a closer. The only bowl loss was in 2010 to Boise State -- the Broncos' second football game following the Nevada field goal debacle. There weren't many that thought Boise would lose that one.

What I think is the most impressive thing about Whittingham, though, is that he's proven to be his own man. He easily could have fallen into the trap that David Shaw now finds himself in at Stanford. Critics will constantly question Shaw about if he can do it outside of Jim Harbaugh's shadow and without Andrew Luck on the roster. Whittingham faced similar charges in the face of Meyer's departure.

In that time, he's gone 66-25 and stewarded the program into the Pac-12, where the Utes went 8-5 last season, including a come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Sustained success means several things. He can recruit. He can reinvent himself and the team with each new generation of players. And he makes good hires.

We all know one bad recruiting class can set a program back several years. Bad hires can have an even longer impact. Whittingham is not afraid to take gambles -- and the latest one is naming former quarterback-turned quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson his offensive coordinator. At least some see it as a gamble. But Whittingham has given us no reason over his career to think it's not going to be a great hire.

The fact is, Whittingham wins year after year. Can't ask for much more out of your coach.

Ted Miller: I deserved the snark over the twin No. 12s. That was a moment of clumsy compensation for a boneheaded oversight on my part. Of course, you did steal my No. 2 coach, which I will write off to your savvy and your foreknowledge you got to go first this week.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Courtesy of J&L PhotoRich Rodriguez led West Virginia to two BCS games, but struggled considerably at Michigan.
And it gives me a chance to tout a guy who might shortly challenge for the top-spot on this list: Arizona's Rich Rodriguez. In fact, if we could make Rodriguez's ill-fated, three-year tenure at Michigan magically disappear, and then view Rodriguez as arriving in Tucson after a brilliant run at West Virginia, you would be able to make a case for him against even Kelly.

Before the disaster in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was widely viewed as among the nation's best coaches. He'd been successful everywhere he went, and was considered one of the nation's truly great offensive minds -- not unlike Kelly. He went 60-26 at West Virginia and, after going 3-8 his first year, never won fewer than eight games. He also won a Sugar Bowl over Georgia, and his team won the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma after he bolted for Michigan. The Mountaineers won 33 games his final three seasons. According to this high-powered calculator, that's an average of 11 wins per season.

But what about Michigan? Well, as we've said before and surely will say again, his failure at Michigan was more about Michigan than Rich Rodriguez. It was a bad fit from the get-go in terms of his personality versus the "Michigan way"; Rodriguez wasn't able to hire his defensive coordinator, as he has done at Arizona with Jeff Casteel; he was shamefully betrayed and undermined by a Machiavellian Lloyd Carr; and it's not unreasonable to question the agendas of some of the media coverage he received.

Some Michigan fans take issue with that perspective on Rodriguez's Michigan tenure, much of which is detailed in John Bacon's book "Three and Out." But only because they love the Wolverines more than the truth, at least in this instance.

Rodriguez repeatedly has said he's not a quick-fix guy -- he, by the way, told the folks hiring him at Michigan exactly that -- and that it will take three years for his systems and recruiting to truly take hold. I doubt Wildcats fans are exciting about waiting that long, but the smart money is on Rodriguez finding a way to get it done in Tucson.

And, yeah, that means it's legitimate to dream about a first Rose Bowl within five years.

Wouldn't it be fun if it were against the Wolverines?
West Virginia are the new guys on the block in the Big 12, but its coach has been around the Big 12 block plenty. Dana Holgorsen did stints at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State (with Houston in between) before being named the Mountaineers' head coach.

The Mountaineers kicked off spring practice Sunday, but he took some time over the weekend while in New York for the Big East men's basketball tournament ("It's a great event. ... It's the Garden, man, and it's right in the heart of the Big Apple," he said) to talk to

Portions of this interview were cut for length.

We missed you in the Big 12 last season, but it looks like we're getting you back, finally.

Dana Holgorsen: Yeah, I was only gone a year.

What's been the best part of this whole transition process?

DH: The transition really takes place next year, not this year, so we really haven't been -- it hasn't been a whole lot different right now. We're excited about it, no question. What's cool about it is I know what we're getting into. I've been at every venue, and I've seen every team. I know what's out there and I know what we've got to do to get better and be able to compete.

Missouri talked a bit about shifting its recruiting focus some from Texas into Atlanta and Florida. What have you guys done that you wouldn't traditionally be doing this time of year?

DH: Nothing, really. Our recruiting base is still going to be the same recruiting base. We have been getting into Texas some little bit and we'll continue to get into Texas. You've got to focus primarily on the Dallas and the Houston area that have the airport next to it so you can get back and forth pretty quick, so we're just going to go get a lot out of Florida. I think we took 12 out of Florida this year. There's a whole lot of pretty good football right around here in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Maryland and Virginia and we don't need to change where we recruit too much.

Seems like every school that leaves a league -- Nebraska and Colorado, for instance -- faces a different set of challenges. What do you see ahead as the biggest challenge for West Virginia?

DH: I don't care where you're at, everybody's challenged in facilities. You've got to make sure that you have the best and going into the Big 12, all Big 12 schools' facilities are as good as there is in the country. You've got to be able to keep up with whatever the other schools are doing just based on the recruiting aspect of things. That's a challenge that everybody has to figure out. Other than that, the program is in great shape, our kids are good and the support is good, where we're at and all that is in pretty good shape. It's just trying keep up with what everybody else is doing. It's an arms race, you know.

The history you do have in this league, where will that show up the most and be an advantage vs. entering this league with a coach that wouldn't have the experience you do?

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Douglas Jones/US PresswireA full offseason of work has helped QB Geno Smith, right, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
DH: Like I said a minute ago, I just know what we're getting into. I'm very familiar with what every team does and I've hired a lot of coaches who understand how things work in the Big 12 and what schemes are and what players are like and what the atmospheres are like. There's not a whole lot of unknowns when it comes to me going to play other teams and other venues and all that. There's a whole lot of unknowns for the rest of the league having to come to Morgantown, because nobody's ever been here. So, I feel like that's an advantage for us.

You guys are obviously a big geographical outlier. You hear Louisville and Cincinnati's names come up when people talk Big 12 expansion. What are your thoughts on Big 12 expansion, specifically as it relates to other Big East teams?

DH: Obviously, it came down to Louisville and West Virginia to get in this past time, so if they do expand, I would assume that Louisville would be the first team that would get in. From a geographical standpoint, I think it'd be fantastic. The one thing that I think is pretty cool about 10 teams is you play every team. When you start getting into 12 teams and 16 teams, you don't play everybody. Last year in the Big East, with eight teams you played everybody and everybody knew who the best team was based on head-to-head matchups.

Back on the field, Jeff Casteel is gone, but with Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest taking over the defense, what can we expect?

DH: Familiarity with who we're playing is incredibly important. They're going to understand that side of the ball, the people and the players, the atmospheres, I mean, that was one of the reasons we hired who we hired; they were going to be familiar with the teams we're going to play. It's all about the one thing Joe preaches more than anything, which is not to worry about giving up a play. Everybody's going to give up a play in the Big 12. The offenses are so good, but if you give up a play, it doesn't mean that you're going to lose a game. Oklahoma State was fantastic with that last year with him and (defensive coordinator Bill) Young. They just keep playing and make a play at some point to win the game, get turnovers and play with tremendous effort no matter what happens.

The 3-3-5 stack has been pretty ingrained in West Virginia's identity. With the new guys coming in, does that mean the 3-3-5 is officially dead at West Virginia?

DH: Yeah, what's always given me the most problems is the 3-4. It's just a lot of movement and a lot of stemming and showing looks and not necessarily what you line up in is what you're going to get. I think the 3-4 gives you the best opportunity to do that. So, Oklahoma State did that a little bit with Joe, but Keith Patterson, from a front standpoint, has been doing that. I've coached against him the past four years at Tulsa, and between the two of them, they're going to put something out there that's pretty tough to play against.

Anything else I should know?

DH: (Quarterback) Geno (Smith)'s playing well. For his first offseason -- we didn't really have him last year because of a foot injury -- we're getting a lot of work out of him right now and he's really improving himself from a physical standpoint. I can't tell you how special I think Tavon Austin is. He's one of the most dynamic guys I've coached. We should get a little bit more out of him next year than we did this year. Those two guys are special. They've got a chance to make a difference in this league.

I'm excited to see those guys on a week-to-week basis. I'll be heading your way next month. I've never stepped foot in West Virginia, so I'm looking forward to it.

DH: It's a unique place, it really is. It's really, really, really pretty. There's all kinds of stuff going on and it's probably the best-kept secret in the United States. These people are pretty passionate. I'm telling you, you're going to see nothing but blue and gold when you step in this state.

Four new coaches highlight Pac-12 spring

February, 23, 2012
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was baffled in a phone interview before the Rose Bowl. How the heck could little-old-him be important to a reporter?

"The big story," he said conspiratorially,"is all these new coaches."

Well, it's the big story now as the Pac-12 turns its attention away from the 2011 season and toward 2012 spring practices. And, of course, Kelly is part of a reason there are four new coaches in the conference. Mike Stoops, Dennis Erickson, Rick Neuheisel and Paul Wulff -- fired at Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State, respectively -- never beat Kelly and, in fact, came within double digits of his Ducks only once (Arizona, with a 44-41 loss in 2009).

But the story isn't just four new coaches. It's four new coaches whom folks have heard of, each of whom is getting a big-boy salary that would fit in among the SEC or Big Ten. Big salaries are the new normal in the Pac-12 after the conference signed a $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Karl Anderson/Icon SMIWashington State went from paying Paul Wulff a $600,000 salary to paying new coach Mike Leach $2,250,000.
So out goes Stoops and his $1,456,000 salary, and in comes Rich Rodriguez and his $1,910,000 paycheck. Out goes Erickson and his $1,503,000 salary, and in comes Todd Graham and his $2 million tab. Out goes Neuheisel and his $1,285,000 salary, and in comes Jim Mora and his $2.4 million annual take. Out goes Wulff and his $600,000 salary, and in comes Mike Leach and his $2,250,000 price tag.

The chief idea is obvious: Pac-12 schools are paying for an upgrade in coaching talent, and there are high expectations for getting their money's worth. And, by the way, there's an added bonus for each hire: Each new coach has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.

  • In 2010, Rodriguez was ingloriously dispatched at Michigan after three tumultuous and unsuccessful years. Athletic director Greg Byrne is betting that Rodriguez is far closer to the highly successful coach he was at West Virginia than the one who got run out of Ann Arbor, and Rodriguez surely wants that impression to be his legacy. It helps that he got his man, Jeff Casteel, to run the Wildcats' defense, which he failed to do at Michigan.
  • Graham took a lot of heat from a pandering, sanctimonious media and a whiny Pittsburgh fan base for how he left the Panthers. "He didn't even say goodbye," they collectively sobbed. "Waaah." Of course, Graham does have an unfortunate habit of describing every job as his "dream job." All that stuff is mostly hogwash, though. What matters is winning, and if Graham does that, the media will all come down en masse to Tempe pretending they didn't trash Graham's character for taking a better job, in a better conference, in a better place to live while making his family happy in the process.
  • Mora was fired in 2009 after only one season with the Seattle Seahawks, and he's bided his time looking for another head-coaching job. Seeing that he was two or three names down UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero's coaching list -- Chris Petersen! Kevin Sumlin! -- some Bruins fans reacted with disappointed smirks to Mora's hiring. Then Mora hired an outstanding staff. Then he reeled in an outstanding recruiting class. Some of those frowns are turning upside down.
  • Leach was fired at Texas Tech in 2009. He's one of the best offensive minds in the nation, and the almost universal reaction is athletic director Bill Moos hit a home run with this big-name hire. The Pirate Captain looks like the perfect match for Pullman and the Cougs, and he'll be plenty motivated to prove his critics wrong and erase the bad ending in Lubbock.

It's fair to say these four hirings have generated positive momentum for these programs, though, of course, to varying degrees. There's a hope among the fan bases that these four can create quick turnarounds.

And that also leads into another major coaching story entering the spring: The Pac-12's most senior coaches, California's Jeff Tedford and Oregon State's Mike Riley, sit on the hottest seats.

Tedford enters his 11th season in Berkeley having followed up his first losing campaign -- 5-7 in 2010 -- with a middling 7-6 finish in 2011. Riley, the man deserving the most credit for making one of the worst programs in college football respectable, enters his 12th year in Corvallis -- two tenures wrapped around an ill-fated stint with the San Diego Chargers -- burdened by consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-9 finish that felt so 1987.

Spring practices for Tedford and Riley will be about setting up turnaround season that give their frustrated fan bases hope -- and keep their athletic directors from issuing dreaded votes of confidence while checking their coaching Rolodexes.

Meanwhile, Kelly and USC's Lane Kiffin, still relative coaching newbies in the conference, enter spring likely trying to tone down the positive hype. Both will begin the 2012 season ranked in the top 10. USC could be preseason No. 1. Both are overwhelming favorites in the North and South Divisions. And their meeting on Nov. 3 in L.A. could have national title implications.

But that's looking ahead.

The big story this spring in the Pac-12 is newness and rebirth. One-third of the conference's teams hope that newness at the top of their programs will create a rebirth in the Pac-12 standings.
We're back, and the kindly introduction is over. It's time to get to know the real West Virginia.

How will the Mountaineers handle the transition? Big 12 blogger David Ubben and Big East blogger Andrea Adelson debated the issue.

David Ubben: TCU's jump would seem to be a lot bigger, but the Big East has had its well-chronicled struggles the past few years. The Mountaineers left the league with a convincing Orange Bowl win against Clemson, scoring 70 points in the process. Talk about endearing yourself to your new offensive-minded friends, huh? You've seen this team up close lately, though. What, if anything, do you think WVU will have to change to get back to the BCS as a Big-12 member?

[+] EnlargeBrodrick Jenkins
Kim Klement/US PresswireBrodrick Jenkins, an up-and-coming cornerback, will lead the Mountaineers into Big 12 play next season.
Andrea Adelson: Well, one thing that definitely is going to change is the way West Virginia plays defense. Long-time defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is out, and so is the odd 3-3-5 stack defense. The Mountaineers are going to go with a 3-4 base set under former Oklahoma State assistant Joe DeForest. This should help ease the transition from the stack, as West Virginia does not have the type of players on the roster to go with four down linemen.

In addition to the new scheme, West Virginia is losing its two best pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, perhaps its best defensive player in linebacker Najee Goode, and its best cover corner in Keith Tandy. There were times last season when the Mountaineers got beat deep in pass coverage, which will not bode well in Big 12 play.

However, cornerback Brodrick Jenkins has the potential to be truly terrific in 2012. He showed flashes late last season. As for the offense, coach Dana Holgorsen is looking for perfection. That means more consistent play out of an offensive line that was mediocre at times last season, and more explosion out of the run game. Starting running back Dustin Garrison is coming off ACL surgery, so it will be interesting to see whether he will be the same back come August.

Say what you will about the Holgorsen passing offense, but he definitely wants a running back to complement Geno Smith the way Kendall Hunter did with Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State in 2010. How do you think West Virginia will fit in to its new conference home?

DU: WVU is a good fit on the field. Geographically, not so much, but the Big 12 teams have to like that. There's a lot of uneasiness with TCU entering the league. That could shake up recruiting a lot and cut into the share of teams like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

But West Virginia's clearly a strong brand. This is a team that could just as easily have been in the SEC. Instead, it's in the Big 12. The three BCS wins are a big deal, as was the Orange Bowl win. That's endeared the Mountaineers to their new opponents in the Big 12. To win like that on that kind of stage says a lot about where the program is and where it's headed. Having a coach like Holgorsen, who has lots of ties to Texas, will help them grab a few players in Texas, too. The difference between WVU and Mizzou isn't much when you think about recruiting in Texas. I could see WVU being the biggest threat to Missouri recruiting in Texas.

But like TCU, winning games gets people excited. Big 12 fans are psyched about the Mountaineers, who seem like a fun group.

How do you think WVU's transition will compare to TCU's?

AA: Watching a team put up 70 points is always fun! Hearing a guy like Holgorsen talk is always fun because you never know what he is going to say.

But on to your question: I think West Virginia will have a much smoother transition than TCU because it has played in an AQ conference already. Yeah, OK enter your Big Least jokes in here. But West Virginia has been a solid program throughout the course of its history. Note that the Mountaineers are one of just 14 schools to have 700 program victories -- joining Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12.

West Virginia is one of just three schools to have at least nine wins in seven straight seasons. That doesn't happen by accident. And it's also important to note West Virginia is not exactly in a recruiting hotbed. Talent does not come pouring out of the state the way it does in Texas. The Mountaineers have built pipelines into Florida -- Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey being two notable examples on the squad -- and try to mine talent in Baltimore, Virginia and Washington, D.C. So I do think there will be inroads made into Texas with the Big 12 affiliation.

Already on the roster from the state are starting running back Dustin Garrison and quarterback Ford Childress, an ESPNU 150 player in the class of 2012. I respect the job Gary Patterson has done in building TCU, but I simply think there is going to be much more of a growing curve for a team transitioning to an automatic qualifying conference. What do you think?

DU: I'd agree. The Big East has been weak, but there aren't any teams like New Mexico and UNLV in that league, who are little more than a week off for teams as talented as TCU has been the past few years. Show up and you win.

Last year, even Kansas beat the MAC champions, Northern Illinois, before losing its final 10 games of 2011. Big 12 champion Oklahoma State lost to 6-7 Iowa State, too. This league is so, so deep. You have to show up and play well every week, and even then, you might not win. In 2010, 11 of the league's 12 teams had five wins and at least played a game with a chance to win six and qualify for a bowl game.

This year, nine of the 10 teams did that. It's got elite teams, too. Texas and OU played for titles in 2008 and 2009 and OSU was barely shut out of the title game this year.

The depth of the Big 12 is what TCU will have to get used to. In that sense, WVU will have to adjust much less. Of course, you never know for sure. We'll find out next year. WVU had some head-scratching losses, too. Losing to Syracuse by 26 points? Really? Sheesh.

Both of these teams are built to win in 2012, and I think they'll do it. But winning a Big 12 title requires you to show up every week and play well. In the Big East, which sent an eight-win team to the BCS in 2010, that hasn't necessarily been true.

In the Big 12, Texas or OU has basically run through the year with 0-2 losses every single season. If WVU wants to win this league, they'll have to do that.

When do you think WVU will win its first title? Will it win one?

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Kim Klement/US PresswireGeno Smith will enter the Big 12 in his third season as West Virginia's starting quarterback.
AA: It is tough to put a time frame on when West Virginia will win a league title. As crazy as it might sound, I think this team is built to contend in 2012. The Mountaineers dropped FSU from the nonconference schedule, so you could consider Kansas as filling that void. I am sure West Virginia takes that.

Oklahoma is going to be a preseason national favorite, but after that, every single team returning has major question marks. Is Texas going to be Texas? What does Baylor do without RG3? What does Oklahoma State do without Weeden and Justin Blackmon?

You bring up a good point about the head-scratching losses. There have been a bunch of those over the last several seasons -- including TWO in a row to Syracuse. This is a team that has simply been inconsistent. It didn't put together a full game against Clemson. But I think Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are going to be a handful for teams to stop, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Mountaineers were a surprise contender in 2012. Are you buying or selling?

DU: I'd generally agree. Year 1 seems to be their best chance. It's a wide-open year in the Big 12, and I think Oklahoma's a bit overrated heading into next year, though the potential for a national title run is there. Texas looks like it's on its way back up, but next year won't be the year.

If it doesn't happen next year, though, I don't think WVU will win a Big 12 title in the next decade. It's a solid program that I think could get into the BCS, but win the Big 12?

With the stability, metroplex location and winning tradition, I like TCU's upside a whole lot more, and its ability to win a Big 12 title in the future. I'm buying a Horned Frogs Big 12 title in the next decade. Not so much on WVU.

Time to put you on the spot: What's WVU's record next year and Big 12 finish?

AA: I can see the hate mail trickling into the Big 12 mailbag over that one, Mr. Ubben!
I am going to say West Virginia goes 10-2 and finishes second in the Big 12. What say you?

DU: Maybe so. But hey, that's how we do things on the Big 12 Blog. I call it like I see it. And I see more potential for the Froggies, though I think the Mountaineers will be a solid, solid program. I wouldn't be that surprised if they won the league, but I'm not betting on it.

This is a league built around the state of Texas, and the location's going to make it tough for them to consistently field teams that can win 11-12 games consistently.

Next year, I'll take 9-3 for the Mountaineers, but a tie for third place.

Post-signing day Pac-12 Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
We like doing Power Rankings at These are the post-signing day Power Rankings.

If you want to see where your team stood on Jan. 10, go here.

The schedule does not factor into these. This is a projected pecking order based on where a team stands right now.

And if you don't like where your team is in the post-signing day Power Rankings, then I'd suggest whining about it until your team plays better.

1. USC: The Trojans ranked 13th in the final recruiting rankings with just 12 signees. They will be ranked in the preseason top five, perhaps even No. 1. If things go according to plan, USC will blow a big raspberry at Paul Dee next January.

2. Oregon: The Ducks surprisingly lost QB Darron Thomas to the NFL, but the far more important news is not losing coach Chip Kelly to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A strong recruiting class and another likely top-five preseason ranking sets the Ducks up nicely to enter the national title chase.

3. Stanford: Stanford signed the best recruiting class in the Pac-12. It was ranked 12th by ESPN Recruiting and much higher by just about every other recruiting service. While the Cardinal have big holes to fill -- most notably behind center -- a glance through the roster suggests those rooting for the program to topple after a grand rise will be disappointed.

4. Washington: Much of the recruiting season had been disappointing for the Huskies, particularly losing almost all of the top in-state prospects, including a pair of A-list linemen who would have addressed major needs. But Steve Sarkisian made a series of aggressive moves rebuilding his coaching staff, most notably with the hiring of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi. That supplies much of the positive momentum here.

5. Utah: The Utes signed a strong recruiting class and welcome back a wealth of starters from a team that won eight games without much production at QB. The promotion of 24-year-old Brian Johnson to offensive coordinator was a surprising move, particularly with fans rooting for a "celebrity" hire. It could prove to be a stroke of genius, but the onus is now on Johnson to make it become so.

6. UCLA: The Bruins are the big climbers from our Jan. 10 power rankings -- moving up from No. 10 -- but that's what happens when new coach Jim Mora punches back at skepticism with an outstanding recruiting class. A team that looked like a "meh" is moving closer to a "maybe."

7. California: Despite all the hand-wringing over the loss of Lupoi and receivers coach Eric Kiesau to Washington, the Bears still signed a top-25 recruiting class that addresses needs. Still, perception matters, and at present, Bears fans seem more worried than optimistic. Nothing, of course, that a few wins in a shiny remodeled stadium can't change.

8. Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's recruiting class finished at or near the bottom of the Pac-12, according to most rankings. That said, Rodriguez got his man at defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel, which is significant because most trace the problems at Michigan to his failure to do so for the Wolverines.

9. Washington State: The Cougars didn't soar in the recruiting rankings just because of the hiring of coach Mike Leach. Still, that doesn't appear to be dampening the enthusiasm in Pullman.

10. Arizona State: New coach Todd Graham did a solid job salvaging the Sun Devils' recruiting class. But the loss of QB Brock Osweiler to the NFL and the NCAA's rejection of receiver T.J. Simpson's bid for a sixth year of eligibility leave the program with plenty of questions on offense. And just as many on defense.

11. Oregon State: The Beavers were victimized by a handful of late recruiting flips that put dents in what was shaping up to be a strong class. And the loss of secondary coach Keith Heyward to Washington also was a blow. On the plus side, the Beavers will see 17 returning starters during spring practices.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes remain at the bottom because the bottom line is this: They welcome back 13 starters from a team that went 3-10 and ranked last in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Still, coach Jon Embree put together a solid recruiting class, one that could become the foundation of his substantial rebuilding project.