NCF Nation: Jeff Tuel

Connor HallidayAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenConnor Halliday has bought into Mike Leach's style of hard-nosed football.
It was Day 4 of Washington State spring practices and the Cougars' talented, but young, receivers caught a sudden and severe case of the dropsies.

Bobble, bobble ... and the ball falls to the dirt. Boing! To the dirt. Volleyball set! And to the dirt.

Coach Mike Leach was not happy. You wouldn't like Coach Mike Leach when he's not happy. And Leach decided that quarterback Connor Halliday needed to take some of the blame for the dropped passes.

Mayhem shortly ensued.

"Coach Leach was yelling at me that they were dropping balls and then the strength coach came up and said something to me," Halliday explained. "So it was boiling over and boiling over. This one kid had dropped like five balls. I kind of got in his face and he shoved me. So I took his helmet off and kind of started punching him. We had a great practice after that so it kind of did its job."

While some might flinch at talk of punches being thrown at practices, various media reports on the incident describe the donnybrook as closer to WWE than UFC.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jesse Beals/Icon SMIMike Leach posted a disappointing 3-9 record in his first year as coach of the Cougars.
And more than a few Cougars fans are probably pleased at Halliday showing some spit and vinegar. You can bet Leach is.

Washington State finished with 10 wins for a third consecutive season in 2003. It hasn't posted a winning campaign since. In fact, since 2008, it's averaged 2.4 wins per season.

Leach arrived as a potential savior in the winter of 2011. He buoyed the Cougs' sagging spirits. Then BYU manhandled Washington State 30-6 in the season opener, and things were pretty much miserable from then on, other than a shocking comeback overtime victory in the Apple Cup, which put a gratifying hatchet wound in Washington's season.

Further, the season was not devoid of controversy. In front of reporters, Leach more than a few times laid into his players for their effort. Star receiver Marquess Wilson quit the team, making false charges of abuse as he exited that he later recanted.

Leach wanted a level of commitment from his players that he wasn't getting. But that is the past. Will that uncomfortable transition prove to be groundwork for a positive future, or a harbinger of a more dreadful spiral? Was there method in Leach's madness? Or just out-of-touch bluster?

Welcome to the spring of 2013, where Halliday throwing nubs -- or dishing out encouragement -- is replacing at least some of Leach's harangues.

Explained Halliday, "I think Coach Leach has put more trust in me. That when we're sputtering as an offense, I've taken it upon myself to bring the offense up and kind of get into the guys, depending on how the practice is going, to yell at them or say, 'Hey, let's take a deep breath and take one play at a time.' When things went wrong last year, I think coach Leach thought it was his job to get everybody going, to get the attention of people. I think hearing a different voice has really helped the offense when we are sputtering."

Halliday and Jeff Tuel had a version of Oregon State's Sean Mannion/Cody Vaz quarterback carousel last year. Halliday started five times, Tuel seven. Both had some great moments. And plenty of poor ones.

Halliday took over the starting job when Tuel got hurt, then lost it when he threw five interceptions with no touchdowns in losses to Oregon State and California. He came off the bench against UCLA on Nov. 10 and nearly led the Cougars to a shocking upset, hurling five touchdown passes. Then he completed just 13-of-33 in a blowout loss to Arizona State a week later. The job was handed back to Tuel for the Apple Cup.

It wasn't an easy situation for either guy, much less the entire offense.

"It kind of sounds silly but it's about not knowing if the guy making the decision has much confidence in you," Halliday said. "If you make one mistake, you're kind of looking over your shoulder. I think Jeff and I both played pretty well in the role of backup, going in when the other struggled."

Halliday threw 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions last year, but his most notable problem was accuracy. Leach wants his quarterbacks to complete 70 percent of their throws. Halliday completed 52 percent.

Of course, it didn't help that his line couldn't pass protect him; giving up a worst-in-the-nation 57 sacks. Still, Halliday often held the ball too long, looking for the big play instead of the smart one.

"I'm definitely fitting into [the offense] better," Halliday said. "[Leach] charts every pass in spring and I'm right around 67-68 percent right now ... I understood the offense for the most part last year but I didn't understand where every easy throw was for every play."

Leach promised a hard offseason and he delivered. Instead of loosening up, he tightened the screws this winter. He wanted to know who really wanted to play football for the Cougs.

"It was definitely long and it was definitely a grind," Halliday said. "There were some points in time when there was some bitching and moaning, wondering if this is what they want to do. It was definitely tough. But he was just trying to install the thought process that if you want to be here, you really need to want to be here."

The Cougars have some young talent, and Halliday said the offense has been "clicking" this spring. While the Pac-12 North Division is rugged, Halliday foresees dramatic improvement in 2013.

But even more than wins, it would seem Leach's chief purpose is to break down this program in order to build it up again. He has an idea of a football culture, and he expects guys such as Halliday to work with him to impose that culture.

Said Halliday, "There isn't going to be anybody on the team who is half-in, half-out. You have to be all-in."
When the Washington State Cougars kick off spring ball today, the hope is that things will be a little faster. A little crisper. There is an understanding of what coach Mike Leach now expects from his players -- both from a technical and a mental perspective.

"Statistically, a year older if nothing else," Leach said, addressing the media in a pre-spring conference call Wednesday. "I think in spring there is always some introduction and some re-introduction but there will be less of that. We should get out of the blocks a little quicker. Also we'll have a body of work from last year to learn from, which there is a ton to learn from that. If we can tighten everything a tiny bit all the way around, then the whole production will be higher."

But most importantly, the Cougars have to start believing they can be a good football team.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenConnor Halliday has experience on his side in the QB competition with Austin Apodaca.
"We spent too many times as a team last year being surprised when something good happened to us," Leach said.

Headlining the spring session will be the quarterback competition between junior Connor Halliday and redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca. Leach said he isn't going to force the issue, but he wants to see some progress at the position before they break camp.

"[Quarterback competitions] aren't as complicated as everybody makes them out to be," Leach said. "You go out there. You rep them, and the guy that plays the best, you play him more than the other guy. But I think it will be a pretty good contest.

"Starting out they'll be 50-50 [in number of reps]," Leach said. "I do want to get them a lot of reps. The more the better. One guys is a redshirt freshman and then Connor has either started or been involved in a handful of games. I do want somebody to secure and lock down the position. I am going to give them as many reps as possible. It will be 50-50 for a period -- I would anticipate half or more of spring. I do have quite a bit of reps because I don't have a third guy working in. If I have three, then it's a little more tangled. Then it's harder. I'm in pretty good shape rep-wise this year."

There isn't a third ... yet. That will be reevaluated when touted recruit Tyler Bruggman joins the team in the fall.

"We'll find out," Leach said of Bruggman's possible involvement in the competition. "Early in camp we'll check and see where everybody is at."

Other notes
  • Leach on speedy freshman wide receiver Robert Lewis: "He's fast. Has a real quick burst. In two steps he hits high gear and he's pretty elusive right and left. We're kind of excited to see what he can do. He played a variety of positions in high school -- everything from running back to receiver to returner to this, that and the other thing. We need to try to identify what he can do and see how close he is to being ready to play."
  • On changes he'd like to see to spring rules: "More days, and I'd like to be able to scrimmage somebody. Not like a scrimmage game [setting], more like a mixed practice like they do in the NFL. For example, somebody you don't play or maybe somebody you do, you have the inside drill against them. You have one-on-one against them. You have some team period plays against them."
  • On trying to speed up the tempo: "We went back and forth a little with it last year and then we got into a musical-quarterback situation. That was harder to do. It's always been part of it. We've done no-huddle for decades ... we'll no-huddle and that will be a part of things."
  • On former QB Jeff Tuel making an NFL roster: "It will be interesting. The biggest thing he's battling is experience. Jeff hasn't played in a ton of games because his career has been plagued by injuries and things of that nature. He needs to make up for experience as quick as he can and some of that experience has to do with winning games. The mental and physical experience has to pick up as fast as he can. I think he's talented. I think he's a smart guy. And a lot of it is right-place-right-time."

WSU QB Tuel ends quest for fifth season

December, 18, 2012
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Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel is ending his quest for a fifth season of eligibility and will enter the NFL draft this spring, Bud Withers of the Seattle Times reported.

Tuel was trying to get an extra year after an injury-plagued 2011 season, when he broke his collarbone early in game one and was quickly shelved after he tried to come back at midseason. The abortive comeback is why the NCAA required an appeal.

From the Times:
Tuel said continued questions by the NCAA appeared to make the fifth year hinge on whether he felt he had been "mistreated" by the previous staff, or had been forced back into action too early.

"That's basically what they were wanting," he said. "I don't feel comfortable saying I was mistreated. I was never mistreated by them. It's (his decision) a combination of that, that how long this has been drug out. If it goes two, three more weeks and they say no, I'm kind of screwed."

That fits in perfectly with who Tuel is: A standup guy.

It's too bad, but this is typical of the NCAA, which apparently only seeks out interpretive leeway within its rules when it is sanctioning USC.

Tuel is a good quarterback who went through a lot. Few quarterbacks have suffered the pounding he took over the past few seasons, and those who did certainly didn't put up equivalent numbers. Tuel never whined and never blamed his teammates. He stood up for former coach Paul Wulff, and didn't complain when coach Mike Leach benched him this season. In fact, he was frequently an effective spokesman for the hard-nosed changes Leach was adopting.

In the end, however, this might be good for Washington State. The QB carousel between Tuel and Connor Halliday this past season didn't feel very constructive.

With Tuel gone, Halliday, a rising junior, will get most of the spring reps with the first-team, and that means more time to learn the nuances of Leach's offense. Recall that Halliday missed last year's spring practices due to a prolonged recovery from a lacerated liver, so he missed substantial time under Leach's tutelage. If Tuel were still there, those two would have split reps and would have been engaged in another QB competition that might have become a distraction.

Coaches say competition is always good. It is. But Halliday might benefit more from the extra work, as well as having his teammates see him as The Man. That will help him grow as a leader.

Of course, Halliday also may need to be wary of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, who could play his way into the picture. Leach has previously lauded his accuracy, which was something that both Tuel and Halliday lacked at times this season.

Final: Wash. State 31, Washington 28 (OT)

November, 23, 2012
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There is a term Washington State fans often use on their own team. "We Coug'ed it," they will say with considerable bitterness after a bad loss. Of course, other Pac-12 teams say it with a smirk.

Yet in the 105th Apple Cup, it was Washington that "Coug'ed it." Or "Husky'ed it," if you prefer.

Or just call it what it was: A massive choke.

Washington State overcame an 18-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime against the Huskies, then used a bumbling Keith Price interception on the first play of overtime to set themselves up for Andrew Furney's game-winning 27 yard field goal.

So that's 21 unanswered points in the fourth and overtime for a team that entered the game averaging 19.5 points per game, one that was playing without its two best players: wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who quit the team, and outside linebacker Travis Long, who was injured.

Perhaps it shouldn't be looked on as a Washington choke. Perhaps it should be about the Cougars showing some grit against the rivals. Probably it's a little of both. In fact, Washington State fans might enjoy thinking of it both ways.

The win ended the Cougars' (3-9, 1-8) three-game losing streak in the rivalry series and an eight-game overall losing streak. The Huskies (7-5, 5-4) saw a four-game winning streak end.

It was a horribly sloppy game. The Cougars had four turnovers, the Huskies two. The Huskies also were flagged 17 times for 127 yards.

The Huskies, who didn't have a first down in the fourth quarter until their final possession, had a 35-yard field goal to win the game in regulation, but Travis Coons pushed the kick wide right.

In overtime, the Huskies got the ball first, but Price was intercepted on the first play by defensive tackle Kalafitoni Pole, who nearly rumbled the other way for a score before being tackled inside the 10-yard line.

The Cougars then calmly set themselves up for the winning kick, knowing Furney, who had tied the game at 28-28 with a 45-yard field goal with two minutes left, is the best clutch kicker in the conference.

Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel completed 33 of 53 passes for 350 yards.

The Huskies, who had won 11 consecutive games decided by 10 points or fewer, were outgained 366 yards to 269. They trailed 10-7 at halftime but seemed to take control of the game with 21 unanswered third quarter points.

They didn't.

This means state bragging rights belong to the Cougars, even though they suffered through a miserable first year under new coach Mike Leach.

The Huskies get a bowl game -- though likely a lesser one -- in which to try to put a positive cap on their season.

But this one figures to hurt the men in purple for a bit.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week:
  1. And the winner in the North is ...? Could be Oregon. If the Ducks can get past visiting Stanford this week, they'll lock up the division and earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. They still have to go through Oregon State next week -- but wins over both of those clubs should help them in the BCS standings. Well, at least on the computer side. The Ducks hold the No. 1 spot in both human polls. So if they win out, they will be in the national championship game. The North Division winner could be Stanford, too. If the Cardinal win this weekend and close out with a victory at UCLA next week, Stanford and Oregon will each have one conference loss, with the Cardinal holding the tiebreaker.
  2. And the winner in the South is ...? We'll see Saturday, but we know it will be from Los Angeles. The USC-UCLA rivalry hasn't been one of late. UCLA's last victory over the Trojans came in 2006 -- a 13-9 win that snapped USC's NCAA record of 63 consecutive games scoring at least 20 points and also cost the Trojans a spot in the BCS title game. The scenario is winner-take-all -- regardless of what happens next week.
  3. On the bubble: Arizona State and Utah are both trying to make the postseason. ASU has the easier road, needing just one win to lock up bowl eligibility. And it hosts a Washington State team that is winless in conference play. Utah has to first beat Arizona at home this week, then win at Colorado next. The Utes are yet to win a road game this year.
  4. QB carousel: Seems like it wouldn't be a normal week in the Pac-12 if there weren't quarterback issues. Almost half of the league has uncertainty at the position heading into this weekend. Arizona's Matt Scott might not be able to go again this week; same for Cal's Zach Maynard. Nick Hirschman suffered a concussion last week for Colorado, Jeff Tuel was injured for Washington State, opening the door for Connor Halliday's five touchdowns. And the Sean Mannion-Cody Vaz back-and-forth continues at Oregon State, pending Vaz's health.
  5. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireUtah's chances at the postseason hinge on doing a better job stopping Ka'Deem Carey than Colorado.
    Quality matchups: If the Utes do want to get into the postseason, they'll have to find a way to slow down Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in last week's victory over Colorado. It's Utah's strength as a defense versus Arizona's strength as an offense. You can say the same for the Oregon-Stanford matchup, which pits Oregon's league-best rushing attack against Stanford's conference-leading rush defense.
  6. Gone in 60 seconds: Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, Stanford is the only FBS team that hasn't allowed a touchdown drive of three plays or fewer; it is also one of only five teams that has not allowed a touchdown in less than a minute. Oregon, of course, leads the FBS in touchdown drives that last one minute or less. Stopwatches at the ready.
  7. The SoCal tight-end factor: More super-cool stuff from the Stats & Info group: Matt Barkley and Brett Hundley have combined to throw 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions when targeting their tight ends. Hundley completes 75.6 percent of his passes when targeting a tight end; Barkley is at 67.2 percent. Could make for an interesting sidebar to Saturday's matchup.
  8. Off and running: Washington's Bishop Sankey heads to Colorado as one of the hottest running backs in the conference right now. He ha rushed for 351 yards and four touchdowns in his past two games and last week became the 11th player in UW history to reach the 1K milestone. Expect him to add to that total. Colorado ranks last in the conference against the run, yielding 227.6 yards per game on the ground to go with a conference-worst 25 rushing touchdowns allowed.
  9. Decisions, decisions: When California coach Jeff Tedford gets back to the Bay Area following the Bears' trip to Oregon State, he'll have sit down with athletic director Sandy Barbour to discuss the future of Cal football and what role -- if any -- he plays in it. Walking into that meeting with a victory over the No. 16 Beavers would probably go over better than closing out the year on a five-game losing streak.

Pac-12 laden with QB questions this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruins survive late WSU surge

November, 11, 2012
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The UCLA Bruins held serve. Even if there were a few service errors along the way.

After jumping out to a 30-point lead on the road against the Washington State Cougars, head coach Jim Mora watch his team squeak out a 44-36 win after the Cougars stormed back to score 29 second-half points.

In chilly conditions, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley completed an efficient 18-of-21 passes for 261 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

UCLA got points in all three phases, returning a fumble for a touchdown and blocking two field-goal attempts, one that was returned for a score.

Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel was knocked out of the game, so Connor Halliday stepped in and threw five touchdowns on 26-of-43 passing.

The victory sets up a showdown for the Bruins against USC next week, with the Pac-12 South champion likely to be decided.

Q&A: Washington State's Jeff Tuel

November, 9, 2012
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It’s been a tough year for Washington State and quarterback Jeff Tuel. But he remains one of the most honest and candid interviews in the Pac-12. For this Friday’s Q&A, he opened up about the team’s struggles, his growth as a quarterback and why he loves football regardless of the record or scoreboard.

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up during what has obviously been a frustrating season?

Jeff Tuel: Just the fact that I get to play this game and I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in. I play this game because I love it. It’s simple. There is no extra motivation needed other than I’m doing what I love to do day in and day out. It’s a blessing.

When a team has the kind of struggles you guys are having, do you start with the little things and try to make small improvements or is there that temptation to try to bite off big chunks to get better?

JT: I think it starts with the little things. Preparation day in and day out. Watching film, watching extra film and making sure your preparation is right, and then it’s on to training and work ethic. A bunch of little things will add up to those big chunks. It’s like that saying a bunch of twigs tied together are real strong. If you can get a bunch of those twigs together, you’ll have improvement.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
AP Photo/Rick BowmerA "delicate" relationship with coach Mike Leach has grown amid WSU's struggles, QB Jeff Tuel said.
What have you learned about yourself as a quarterback this season?

JT: Man, I haven’t really thought about that … . (extended pause) I’ve learned to battle through this adversity and to keep pushing and keep believing and keep my guys focused and to stay positive with everything that’s happened. It’s too easy to put your head down and throw the towel in and put some bad things on tape. But there are always things to be learned from situations like this and there’s always growth to be had. I think I’ve grown a tremendous amount as a quarterback and a person.

What’s the status of your medical redshirt? If you get it, will you return?

JT: The status is it was passed by the Pac-12. Now it goes to the NCAA. So, that’s the status and as far as whether I’ll come back, I haven’t thought much about it. I need to sit down and have a good long talk with my family about it.

How much of a strain is it going to put on the offense this week without Marquess Wilson?

JT: It puts more of a mental strain than anything knowing that we don’t have him out there and his big-play ability. But we also have to have the next-guy-in mentality. We can’t dwell on it. That will do us no good. So we have to move on, play our football and try to put points on the board.

When you and I talked in the preseason, we talked about the relationship with coach Mike Leach. I believe the term you used at the time was “delicate.” How has that relationship evolved?

JT: We’ve learned a lot about each other. He’s learned what I’m about and how I feel and I’ve learned about what he expects out of his players and his quarterback. He and I have really grown in terms of on-field communication and what he expects from me and what he allows me to do on the field and the freedom he gives me. We’ve definitely grown.

What’s the dynamic been like between you and backup QB Connor Halliday?

JT: It’s great. He’s still one of my real good friends on this team and we always have each other’s back. It’s been, since day one and always will be, our motto has been all for one and one for all. He’s got my back and I’ve got his. It’s as simple as that.

What positives do you take out of this year?

JT: I think we did a lot of good things at times as an offense and a defense. We haven’t come together many times as a unit and as a team. If we can find a way to do that, we’re going to be a real good football team. But we’ve come out and played some good football at times and other times we haven’t. I think there’s been a lot of growth that’s happened and I think going into next year we’ll take a lot from it and learn to be prepared and play good football week in and week out.
The Pac-12 typically is the "Conference of Quarterbacks." In 2012, that's still the case. Only it's the "Conference of Quarterback Nuttiness."

Kevin sent me a note on Sunday: "Hey, Nostradamus, here's a curiosity ... 23 different Pac-12 quarterbacks attempted at least a pass this weekend."

It's crazy. We're at Week 11, and many Pac-12 teams need a "Hello, my name is ..." sticker on their quarterbacks' chest.
  • Colorado, Oregon State and Stanford have either changed starting quarterbacks over the past two weeks or are about to make a change.
  • Arizona and California are likely to have new starting quarterbacks on Saturday due to injury.
  • It looks as though when we emerge from the weekend, only five Pac-12 teams -- Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington -- will have started the same quarterback in every game.


Further, consider the youth movement.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan may see an increase in looks as the Cardinal deploy a new package in their offense.
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireRedshirt freshman Kevin Hogan will make his first start for the Cardinal on Saturday against Oregon State.
Last weekend, the conference's three freshman starters -- Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Utah's Travis Wilson -- combined to complete 60 of 72 passes for 763 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. That works out to a 210.8 efficiency rating.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, is No. 1 in the nation with a 174.49 mark.

Meanwhile, most of the conference's veteran quarterbacks are struggling. In the Pac-12's pass efficiency rankings, the bottom six includes two seniors and three juniors.

In the preseason, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price looked like the sure first- and second-team All-Pac-12 quarterbacks. Not so much any more.

While Barkley is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 30 TD passes -- eight more than any other conference quarterback -- few would describe the preseason Heisman front-runner's season as successful.

Price has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).

When quarterbacks have been the story this year, it's often been about benchings.

Stanford-Oregon State is a critical showdown of North Division teams, but the Cardinal just replaced Josh Nunes with Kevin Hogan, and Cody Vaz will make his fourth start but just his second as the Beavers' No. 1 quarterback over Sean Mannion. (Vaz started two games after Mannion suffered a knee injury.)

Experience at quarterback is typically viewed as critical for success. That has not proved true this year. Mannion, Price, Cal's Zach Maynard, Colorado's Jordan Webb, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays and Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday each owned significant experience entering the season. And each has been underwhelming.

Whereas, when you toss Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly into the mix, it's mostly the young, first-year starters out front. You might even include Arizona's fifth-year senior Matt Scott in that pool as a first-year starter.

There's still plenty of football to be played. Barkley still might end up first-team All-Pac-12.

But the first 10 weeks in the "Conference of Quarterbacks" has taught us two things: 1) There are no sure things; 2) If you don't like your quarterback, wait a week. Things might change.

Utah rolls over Washington State

November, 3, 2012
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The Utah Utes continued their second-half surge -- not unlike the Utah Utes of 2011 -- and blew out the visiting Washington State Cougars 49-6.

The victory leaves the Utes (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) needing two wins in their final three games to keep their streak of eight straight postseasons alive. Washington State coach Mike Leach, however, sees his run of 10 bowl games in 10 seasons come to an end as the Cougars (2-7, 0-6) have been eliminated from postseason contention.

John White ran for two touchdowns and caught a third from quarterback Travis Wilson, who was an efficient 17-for-21 for 171 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. White carried 18 times for 101 yards and had touchdown runs for 47 and 2 yards.

Utah moves to 11-0 when White carries for at least 100 yards.

I can't leave out Utah's Reggie Dunn, who returned the opening kickoff of the second half 100 yards for a touchdown. Dunn returned two kickoffs for 100 yards last week. A pair of Coleman Petersen field goals and a 9-yard touchdown run from Lucky Radley rounded out the scoring for the Utes.

Washington State and Leach's vaunted Air Raid offense again struggled. The Cougars were held to 255 total yards by a stingy Utah defense, which forced a pair of turnovers, including an interception by Reggie Topps, and six sacks.

It was almost the third time this season that Washington State's offense had been kept out of the end zone, but a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Tuel to Kristoff Williams on the game's final play prevented the shutout.

Utah's offense, however, didn't have many issues against a Washington State defense that had shown some improvement in recent weeks. The Utes totaled 453 yards of offense, including 205 yards on the ground.

"We're starting to figure it out," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the Pac-12 Network after the game. "We've still got work to do, but when you look at the last four weeks, I think we've taken a step forward in each of those four weeks and we're closer to where we need to be."

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 10

November, 1, 2012
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

1. Game of the year? Will USC-Oregon live up to all of the hype? This one doesn't smell nearly as sweet with a two-loss USC squad, but there are still playmakers up the ying-yang on both sides of the ball, including the four Pac-12 players getting votes in the ESPN.com Heisman poll. Here's hoping the hype is justified. Then again, last year's Oregon-Stanford game had similar hype and it was a total letdown. USC, however, is a much higher-profile program than Stanford, so even a two-loss USC team versus Oregon is significant.

2. Colorado curse? What do Colorado State, Fresno State, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona State and USC all have in common? They have all lost the week after playing Colorado. Every FBS team that has faced the Buffs this year has gone on to lose the following week. Only Sacramento State has survived the Buffs' curse (and as Pac-12 fans know, Sacramento State is all kinds of awesome). Why is this pertinent -- other than it's a sort of a freaky coincidence? Who did Oregon play last week? Just sayin' … but then again, you could also claim an Oregon curse. Every team that has played them this year ends up in the fetal position, weeping softly with a gallon of Icy Hot on their fannies.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Kenjon Barner
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesKenjon Barner is one of four players participating in Saturday's Oregon-USC game who is receiving Heisman votes in ESPN.com's poll.
3. Flying high: Arizona and UCLA are both coming off of emotional victories. The Wildcats had the huge home upset of USC and the Bruins won at ASU on a last-second field goal. Both were thrilling, if not exhausting performances. They meet in Pasadena on Saturday, and whichever team is able to put last week behind it takes a big step forward in the race for the Pac-12 South crown.

4. Start of something big? Washington's home win against Oregon State was a huge step forward for the program. But can they keep it up? The Huskies close out their season with four straight games against unranked, sub-.500 teams. Last week could have been the start of a five-game win streak to close out the year. For as frustrating as the first half of the year was, an eight-win season would be pretty nice all things considered.

5. Start of something bad? This isn't unfamiliar territory to Arizona State fans, who year after year have seen their team start hot and finish cold. And the Sun Devils seem to be frustratingly keeping to script. After jumping out to a 5-1 mark, ASU has dropped its past two. Now it has to face three ranked teams in its final four. Not saying they won't be bowl eligible, but it might not come until they are back at home on Nov. 17 versus Washington State.

6. Big decision: Oregon State head coach Mike Riley was decisive when he opted for Cody Vaz over Sean Mannion at quarterback. He wasted little time and Vaz has worked the entire week with the first-team offense. Some say good for him for pulling the trigger. Others say this isn't the time to shake up the locker room on a 6-1 team. I'm on the fence. Unless Vaz blows up against ASU -- then it's a great call.

7. Keepin' it tight: Say this for the Sun Devils, they said they wanted to commit to the tight end, and they have. Chris Coyle has 38 catches for 473 yards -- second nationally among tight ends. The national leader is Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Stanford's Zach Ertz isn't far behind with 32 catches for a conference-best 525 yards among tight ends. Expect all three to play major roles this week -- as they have all season. Which one gets the nod for first-team all-conference? Tough call.

8. Maturing quarterbacks: For as tough as Jeff Tuel had it last week against Stanford, he showed some maturity in understanding the offense and was pretty gritty in the loss. Same for Utah's Travis Wilson, a true freshman, who is starting to get a hang of things as well. Age and experience separates these two when they meet in Salt Lake City, but both are in similar situations trying to make weekly progress.

9. More snaps: While Colorado continues its quarterback carousel, Stanford looks to be making a slight change in that direction. Head coach David Shaw said Kevin Hogan will see more snaps this week, outside of the read-option package he has run the past few weeks. Could be Shaw just wanting to get the youngster some work. Could be a move toward a full-fledged quarterback change.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 10

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
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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.

Instant analysis: Stanford 24, Wash. St. 17

October, 27, 2012
10/27/12
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- It counts the same as any other win, but Stanford's 24-17 victory over Washington State on Saturday isn't one the Cardinal will feel all too good about.

Against the Pac-12's No. 11-ranked rush defense, Stanford (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) managed just 120 yards on the ground -- its third-lowest total of the season -- as running back Stepfan Taylor (20 carries, 56 yards) was rendered largely ineffective.

WSU (2-5, 0-5) outgained Stanford 385-256 and controlled the tempo for most of the game, but a pair of big plays by the Cardinal proved to be the difference. First, a 70-yard touchdown pass from Josh Nunes to Jamal-Rashad Patterson in the second quarter, which came as a result of broken coverage, and then a 25-yard interception for a touchdown from safety Ed Reynolds in the fourth quarter.

The good news for Stanford? Most of the Bay Area -- evident by the sparse crowd at Stanford Stadium -- had their attention on the San Francisco Giants and Game 3 of the World Series.

Here are a few highlights from Stanford's less-than-impressive win:

It was over when: Henry Anderson sacked WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel with the Cougars facing second-and-goal from the 19 with only seconds remaining in the game.

Game ball goes to: Usua Amanam, who had seven tackles, two sacks, two and a half tackles for loss and a pair of pass breakups. He came up with a crucial sack of Tuel as the Cougars faced first-and-goal with under a minute to play.

Stat of the game: Washington State was held to minus-16 yards rushing. The performance by the Stanford defense comes a week after limiting Cal to just three yards on the ground.

Unsung hero: DE Josh Mauro was solid up front for Stanford. He finished with one and a half sacks.

What it means: The Cardinal are officially bowl eligible, but the poor execution by the offense is definite reason for concern. Stanford is nearly assured of another win next week with a trip to Colorado on tap, but with No. 7 Oregon State and No. 2 Oregon after that, improvement will be paramount.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
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A look at a few story lines to keep an eye on this week.

1. Offense, offense, offense: Expect some more when USC travels to Arizona in a very intriguing South Division game. USC's passing attack looked stellar last week, albeit against Colorado, but Matt Barkley and Robert Woods looked more in sync than they have all season. Arizona's offense is pretty good, too. But it was their defense that stood up in the second half against Washington and blanked the Huskies. First team to five defensive stops wins?

2. More on Arizona: If the Wildcats manage an upset and can run the table, then it's possible for them to still win the South Division. If USC loses to Oregon, the Trojans will have three losses. And if Arizona beats UCLA and Arizona State, the Cats will have three losses and Arizona would hold tie breakers over all of them. Big, big game for the Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Rich Rodriguez
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREArizona coach Rich Rodriguez said he's not yet ready to name a starting quarterback for 2013.
3. Also in the South: While Arizona tries to stake its claim as a top team in the South Division, Arizona State and UCLA will look to separate themselves from the pack in an intriguing divisional matchup. It's in Tempe, and the Sun Devils are, of course, coming off their Oregon pasting. This is a critical juncture for Arizona State, and I suspect we'll learn a lot more about them this week than we did last week.

4. Sidebar: Any advantage to UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone returning to face his former team at Arizona State? Probably not, but it's a fun talking point. More interesting is Brett Hundley going back home. He'll probably have a nice cheering section amid the hostile folk who knocked him for abandoning the state.

5. Duel-threat: What to make of Kevin Hogan -- the Stanford quarterback who has seen a few more snaps in recent weeks in an option-read package. The Cardinal are looking for a way to expand their offensive arsenal. This might be a nice little wrinkle.

6. Second-half run? Seems about time that Utah figures out how to win football games. Last year they went on a big late-season run to gain bowl eligibility. They face a Cal team that took a giant step backward in the loss to Stanford last week and it might have been the tipping point for Jeff Tedford's job status. Utah doesn't have any currently ranked teams the rest of the way, so a less-taxing back end could mean they go on a similar run to last year. Or, the bowl streak ends.

7. Speaking of Cal: Three rushing yards? Really? This doesn't strike me as a team trying to play for its coach. The Bears aren't out of bowl contention yet. But if they mirror last week's performance, it will be tough for Tedford to stay in Berkeley.

8. North intrigue: For as interesting as the ASU-UCLA and Arizona-USC matchups are in the South, there are plenty of questions about Oregon State at Washington. Is Sean Mannion going to be rusty? The coaching staff has to be extremely confident in his ability to sit Cody Vaz, who performed very well in his two outings. Washington has been a better team at home this year and CenturyLink is a hostile environment. On paper, Oregon State should win this game -- especially given the way Washington has played on offense. But on paper, Stanford should have won also.

9. Tough luck: Colorado gets to rebound from its USC whipping by traveling to Autzen. Ouch. Should again be plenty of teachable moments for the Colorado coaching staff and its young team. It's obviously been a trying season for Jon Embree & Co. But for solace, they can look to all the young players Oregon State played with last year and look what one year did for them. Not saying it will happen the same way for the Buffs, but all of this experience will pay off in the years to come.

10. Quarterback shuffle: Jeff Tuel, come on down. You're the next quarterback for the Washington State Cougars. Again. Until you're not. Again. Is anyone going to hold that job for the rest of the year? Perhaps the better question: Does Washington State get a conference win this year?

11. Looking ahead? We all know what's on the horizon for the Ducks and Trojans next week. Obviously, USC can't overlook Arizona's high-powered offense. That would be silly. For Oregon, more than likely they'll run the first team to a ridiculous first-half lead and then yank the starters as they've been doing in almost every game this year. Little to no chance of an upset this week, so if either team can afford to sneak a peek, it's the Ducks.

Tuel, Leach hope 'musical QBs' is over

October, 24, 2012
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It's clear Mike Leach has made a big impact at Washington State. Just not in terms of wins. At least, not yet.

The Cougars head to Stanford on Saturday looking for their first Pac-12 victory in five tries. And they are unlikely to get it.

But Leach's impact is notable in terms of his demanding nature and tendency to give unfiltered evaluations when things aren't as he wants them to be. Some of his players apparently weren't terribly focused during a bye week practice last Tuesday. So they earned some extra work. A lot of extra work.

A dramatic change from past years? Yep.

From Mike Price to Bill Doba to Paul Wulff, Washington State coaches haven't been known for being terribly harsh and demanding with their players. In fact, the first term that comes to mind with those three is "nice guys." Leach isn't like that troika.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Jake Roth/US PresswireJeff Tuel is hoping he can help get the Cougars back on track.
“It’s been a pretty dramatic transition," quarterback Jeff Tuel said. "It’s much different than what we were before. I think you’ve seen just by the number of guys who aren’t here anymore that started here with this season, there’s a high demand for production and if you’re not going to produce then you’re in the wrong place, basically. So it has been a dramatic change. And it’s for the better."

That change for the better didn't suit 17 players who are no longer with the team, either due to quitting or being given the boot since Leach was hired last December.

Against Stanford, Tuel will make his first start since facing Eastern Washington on Sept. 8. His back-and-forth with Connor Halliday at the position has been one of the reasons the so-called "Air-Raid" offense has yet to find its high-flying rhythm.

"We ended up in a situation where we've played musical quarterbacks," Leach said. "I think if we'd had one guy that was settled in I think we would have been a little better."

Perhaps it's Tuel's time? He admitted this week that he wasn't comfortable with the offense early in the season. He was tentative, and that's something Halliday is not. He also wasn't comfortable making checks at the line of scrimmage, which meant the Cougars were often running plays into a defense that was well-positioned.

A huge problem has been the success of what Tuel called "cover-8" against the Cougs. That means opposing defenses have been dropping eight into coverage against a pass-first offense, feeling confident that the three linemen can stop the Cougars' running game and still get pressure on the QB.

If a defense can do that, well, that's not good for an offense. It means the defense thinks its three linemen are better than the offense's five blockers.

"When we've had success this year, we've been able to run the ball against it," Tuel said. "It's tough to throw it every single down and be successful."

Ah, but here's a problem with that. The Cougars are 119th in the nation -- second to last -- in rushing offense, with a measly 40.6 yards per game. Or about an eighth of Oregon's ground production per game.

It might be a good time to toss this in: Stanford, fresh off holding California to 3 yards rushing in a Big Game victory, is No. 4 in the nation in run defense (77 yards per game). The Bears entered the contest averaging 195 yards on the ground per game.

So, yeah, this one doesn't stack up well for the Cougs.

Still, Tuel has hope. Hope that he holds onto the starting QB job and hope that the Cougs get off the canvas.

"I want to lead this team to some victories," he said. "Like I said last week, a bowl game still isn’t out of reach, believe it or not. People from the outside looking in can say it is, but it’s not with us. With the position I’m in it’s my job to take us there and I’m going to keep believing until it’s out of reach.”

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