NCF Nation: LaMichael James

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.


[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.


LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.
Last year’s Stanford-Oregon game didn’t just break the mold of the rivalry’s previous three matchups. It detonated it with an ordnance of smothering defense and glacial tempo.

Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win was a stark contrast to how the previous meetings had played out since 2009 -- the first game that featured both David Shaw and Mark Helfrich on their respective sidelines.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe trend of high-scoring Stanford-Oregon games was halted last season, as Marcus Mariota and the Ducks couldn't get on track.
No. 3 Oregon takes its nation-leading 18-game road winning streak to No. 5 Stanford Thursday night in a true clash of schematic styles. And there are lessons to be learned from some of the recent matchups -- trends and themes that paint a picture of what could transpire Thursday night.

The teams have split their past four meetings, with Stanford winning at home in 2009 and on the road in 2012. Oregon won back-to-back games in 2010 in Eugene, Ore., and 2011 in Palo Alto, Calif.

In the three games prior to last season, the winning team had scored at least 51 points and the loser had scored at least 30. The margin of victory was at least nine points. It was an annual offensive feast worthy of a league known for putting up points.

But last year’s game flipped the script as the offenses took a backseat to trench warfare, making every point a premium.

“Each game is its own entity,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who was offensive coordinator for the previous four matchups. “One big thing is our programs are a lot more similar than they are different from a number of perspectives. Their offense is different from our offense. But we’re similar in the fact of playing with heart -- playing fundamentally sound. We recruit a lot of the same people.

“But at some point it’s going to come down to our best person and their best person in space or in tight.”

Clichés become clichés for a reason. Some coach somewhere once said “big-time players make big-time plays” and everyone thought it was a profound statement at the time. Then more and more coaches started saying it and the meaning dulled. And in the case of Stanford-Oregon, it’s cliché, but true.

The past four meetings have all been defined by outstanding individual performances. Some were statistically sensational: Toby Gerhart’s 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 2009; LaMichael James' 257 yards and three touchdowns a year later; James again in 2011; and Zach Ertz in 2012.

Others were more understated. But regardless of the total points scored, it still comes down to players making plays.

“The biggest one is, and I hate to put it on one side of the ball because it is a complete game, but when we make the open-field tackles and don’t miss them, we have a chance,” Shaw said. “And then the two wins, the common denominator is making big plays. Toby Gerhart ripping off some big runs. Chris Owusu had a huge touchdown pass. Ryan Whalen had a huge catch to get us in the end zone. Zach Ertz last year was huge. Then Kevin Hogan's mobility. He ran for a touchdown and could escape and slide and find Zach off schedule. Defensively, we have to make those open-field tackles and line up and not be out of position.”

Thursday’s showdown is a true struggle of strength versus strength when you consider the following:

  • Oregon hasn’t scored fewer than 35 points in its past 10 games -- the last time coming in the 17-14 loss to Stanford last season.
  • Stanford hasn’t allowed more than 30 points in its past 17 games, the nation’s second-longest active streak.
  • The Ducks have won 18 straight on the road -- their last loss coming to Stanford in 2009.
  • Stanford has won 13 straight at home, its last loss in Palo Alto coming to Oregon in 2011.

There are dozens of notable sidebars to this matchup. Obviously, Stanford’s defense versus Oregon’s offense is the storyline that garners the most attention. But this is also a Heisman showcase game for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, just as it was for Andrew Luck in the 2011 loss to the Ducks. There are the recent struggles of Stanford’s offense and the inconsistencies of Hogan, who made his first career road start last year at Autzen and was lauded as one of the game’s heroes for his poise on the grand stage. There is Oregon’s defense -- so smothering and so in the shadow of the offense.

Stanford’s top priority is and always will be to stop the run. But the Ducks have also developed a dangerous downfield passing attack that wasn’t as developed last season. No Oregon wide receiver had more than 500 receiving yards last season. This season Josh Huff (703) and Bralon Addison (609) give the Ducks' offense an added dimension that Stanford will have to account for. And then there is the always-accurate Mariota, who hasn’t thrown an interception since the first half of last season's Stanford game.

Defensively, the Cardinal are very good at getting to the quarterback without having to send extra blitzers. No team in the country has more sacks over the past two years when sending four or fewer rushers at the quarterback.

“They have some guys up front that really try to control the line of scrimmage,” Mariota said. “They have done an awesome job all year of being physical. But I think our offensive line is up to the challenge. They are going to go out and play their best and we’ll do our best at executing.”

The recent past between these teams might not be entirely prologue. But history tells us that big-time players will make big-time plays -- if you'll pardon the cliché.
And on the 27th month, the NCAA shall speak on Oregon, Chip Kelly and L'Affaire de Willie Lyles.

And those pronouncement will produce... what?

Will the sanctions prove harsher than expected, thereby poleaxing the Ducks off their newfound perch among the nation's elite? Or will the sanctions prove manageable, perhaps causing discomfort but not ending the Ducks' quasi-dynastic run in the Pac-12?

We shall see. Folks in Eugene have been consistently optimistic, and it would rate a surprise if Oregon is hammered. Still, you never know with the NCAA.

The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) will announce its findings in a teleconference with reporters at 11 a.m. ET. The man who shall describe the Ducks' sanction fate will be Gregory Sankey, associate commissioner of the SEC.

SEC? Uh oh. (Of course, we kid!)

The committee's full report will be released to the media 30 minutes before the teleconference.

Oregon's troubles began in March 2011 when Yahoo! reported the Ducks made payments to dubious Texas-based scouting service operator Willie Lyles, who had close ties to several Ducks recruits, most notably running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk. Things got murkier when it was discovered that Oregon apparently received very little of value for its $25,000.

Yet the NCAA rules on the use of scouting services at the time were vague enough that Oregon could claim it was operating in a gray area. This became one of the complicating elements as the school attempted to negotiate a summary judgment with the NCAA. That and the fact Lyles had significant relationships with several other schools, schools that had not been hit hard by NCAA sanctions.

Oregon agreed to seven major rules violations, and in October offered to self-impose several penalties, including the loss of three scholarships over three years, recruiting limitations and two years of probation.

The COI, however, rejected the attempt to reach a summary judgment, which forced Oregon officials, including former coach Chip Kelly, to appear before the committee in late April in Dallas.

"We have been informed by the NCAA that the Committee on Infractions report on the University of Oregon will be released tomorrow," the Oregon athletic department wrote in a statement. "Until we have received and reviewed the report we will not comment."

Oregon will have 15 days in which to file an appeal if it is unhappy with the ruling.

As for the severity of the penalties, it's difficult to guess, but Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard makes a good point here:
In a statement that accompanied the October 2012 summary disposition proposal, the Ducks acknowledged that “errors were made and that we will improve” but also that “our coaches did nothing to intentionally gain unfair advantages.”

The NCAA’s enforcement staff -- essentially the prosecutor, while the Committee on Infractions was judge and jury -- agreed during the summary disposition attempt that “the violations were not intentional in nature.” But it also argued that the Ducks nevertheless had “an obligation to ensure that the activities being engaged in comply with NCAA legislation.”

"Intention" matters, and finding a lack thereof is good for Oregon.

It's also notable that the NCAA enforcement staff didn't yoke Oregon with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" charge, instead going with the less worrisome "failure to monitor."

On the other hand, Oregon may fall under repeat violator status due to a 2004 case that was ruled a major violation after assistant coach Gary Campbell, who is still on staff, had improper conduct in the recruitment of running back J.J. Arrington.

Oregon folks would contend the NCAA taking more than two years to resolve this matter is a penalty in itself, with the glacial pace of an investigation allowing a dark cloud of the unknown to shadow the school for an extended period of time.

That dark cloud of the unknown, however, will be removed Wednesday. Whether it gives way to a tornado of sanctions or sunny skies -- or something in between -- remains to be seen.
Toby Gerhart preceded him at Stanford. Then came Oregon's LaMichael James, casting a big shadow for two seasons. While 2012 seemed like it set up well for Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to finally see his name on the college football marquee, he's nonetheless looking up at Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in the pecking order of Pac-12 running backs.

Taylor has practically become famous, in fact, for being overlooked and underrated. It's a perception that is frequently noted just before a coach or player praises Taylor for his all-around skills as well as his character.

"For some reason, I don't know why, I think he is extremely underrated," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose Ducks play host to Taylor and Stanford on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireStepfan Taylor needs just 203 more yards to become Stanford's all-time leading rusher.
Said Stanford coach David Shaw, "He epitomizes what we are all about."

Taylor, a Doak Walker Award semifinalist, is hardly anonymous. You don't become the first player in Stanford history to record back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and be known only as What's His Name.

He is 169 rushing yards from reaching 4,000 in his career and 203 yards from breaking the school's career rushing record held by Darrin Nelson. Taylor’s 36 career rushing touchdowns are third all-time on The Farm. He needs one more to tie "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell for second.

Taylor presently ranks 22nd in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 with 106.1 yards per game. He's also the Cardinal's second leading receiver with 28 catches for 184 yards and two scores. Last week in the win over Oregon State, Taylor fumbled for the first time in nearly a calendar year, snapping a streak of 261 consecutive rushes without a fumble dating back to Nov. 26, 2011.

Oh, and he can block, too.

"He's the best pass-blocking running back in our conference, and it's not even close," Shaw said.

You put this all together, and the most popular conclusion is that Taylor's payoff will be in the NFL, where his toughness, ability to run between the tackles and diversity of skills will be more fully appreciated.

"Oh, gosh, I think he's a really, really good player. I really like him," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think he's an NFL back. He's powerful, he's quick, he's smart, he's durable. He just keeps pounding at you. Of course, that's kind of Stanford's mentality, and he fits into it really well."

Riley knows firsthand. The Beavers own one of the nation's toughest run defenses, but Taylor gashed it for 114 yards on 19 carries in a 27-23 victory last weekend. However, it was a screen pass at the end of the third quarter that earned Taylor the most kudos. He took the short dump pass 40 yards for a critical touchdown that started the Stanford comeback, and just about every Oregon State defender had a shot at him but couldn't get Taylor down, most notably safety Anthony Watkins, whom Taylor dispatched with a brutal stiff-arm at the 12-yard line.

As for Taylor being underrated and underappreciated, the person who seems to care least about that is Taylor.

"I don't really think about that," he said. "I feel like people who watch football recognize what I do. I just go out there and play my game, control what I can control. That's the main thing. And try to get the win. That's my main focus."

Said Shaw, "He's the last person who wants to talk about himself."

Taylor might have to talk about himself if the Cardinal upset the No. 2 Ducks. By just about every estimation, Taylor will have to come up big for Stanford to have a chance. Stanford must run well and possess the football against a beaten-up Oregon defense, thereby keeping the Ducks' explosive offense on the sidelines.

Oregon pounded the Cardinal the previous two years, both times handing Stanford its only regular-season loss. While Taylor said, "It's the next game on our schedule; it just happens to be Oregon," he also admitted veteran Stanford players might have something of a "chip on our shoulder" when it comes to the Ducks.

And Taylor might be ready for his national close-up.

If he were to put up big numbers in a win over Oregon on Saturday, here's a guess that he'd become suddenly popular among fans of many college football teams, including Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 5, 2012
Taking stock of Week 10 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: In August, Oregon was supposed to be the supporting actor in the red-letter showdown with USC in the Coliseum. Instead, it's the Ducks who have emerged as the national title contender, and that was made clear by their thunderous offensive showing in a 62-51 victory. The 730 total yards and points were the most ever compiled against a Trojans defense.

Best game: It was a weekend of blowouts, so there wasn't much in terms of nail-biters. But the offensive firepower in the USC-Oregon game -- 1,345 yards of combined offense -- was highly entertaining, unless you are a purveyor of fine defense. Of course, both defenses had proved themselves as at least solid in the previous eight games, so the offensive explosion seemed to be more about outstanding execution than breakdowns.

[+] EnlargeBarner
Kirby Lee/US PresswireUSC had no answers for Oregon and Kenjon Barner, who rushed for 321 yards and five TDs.
Biggest play: Arizona State had just gone up 19-10 at Oregon State early in the second quarter. The Beavers' new starting QB, Cody Vaz, wasn't clicking. The Beavers looked to be in trouble at home. Then running back Terron Ward, filling in for an injured Storm Woods, went 53 yards for a touchdown. It was the first strike in a run of 26 consecutive points for the Beavers, who overcame a number of key injuries to keep trucking in the Pac-12 pecking order.

Offensive standout: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner quite simply posted one of the all-time great performances by a running back in Pac-12/10/8 history when he rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns against the Trojans. It shattered LaMichael James' school record (288 yards) and is the fourth-best total in conference history. That he did it on the road in such a big game is what makes it truly special. And it likely firmed up his status as a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

Defensive standout: UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks is the best defensive player you might not have heard of. In the Bruins' 66-10 bludgeoning of Arizona, he piled up 11 tackles -- nine solo -- with two sacks. He leads the Pac-12 and ranks 25th in the nation with 9.67 tackles per game.

Special-teams standout: Are you kidding me? Reggie freaking Dunn... what have you been eating? Dunn returned a third -- THIRD! -- kickoff in the past two games 100 yards for a touchdown in Utah's blowout win over Washington State. Three 100-yard kickoff returns in a season is an NCAA record, as is his four in his career.

Smiley face: Stanford QB Kevin Hogan was given an opportunity and took advantage. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns and led the Cardinal with 48 yards rushing in a blowout win over Colorado. Sure, it was Colorado, but Hogan has stepped up his play while Josh Nunes has been unable to tame his inconsistency. If he takes over as the Cardinal's starting QB, as expected, it will be because he earned it with his play.

Frowny face: The state of Arizona didn't distinguish itself on the road this past weekend. Arizona, coming off an impressive win over USC, got pummeled by UCLA 66-10. Arizona State jumped to an early lead at Oregon State but was overwhelmed in the second half. The Sun Devils have lost three in a row since a 5-1 start that had fans crowing. The Wildcats were thinking South Division crown after consecutive impressive wins over Washington and USC. Now both have fallen in the South pecking order. These teams' fans, who get along just grandly, have been going back and forth this season about which team is better, often forcing the poor ol', innocent Pac-12 blog into the middle of their squabble. What's become clear is the final verdict will only be delivered on Nov. 23 when they meet in the Territorial Cup.

Thought of the week: We will learn a lot about USC's resilience and Lane Kiffin's coaching in the next month. The Trojans have suffered through a supremely disappointing season, but there is still a lot to play for. They still could end up in the Rose Bowl. All they need to do is win out. At the very least, they could win the South Division. But is that enough to motivate the Trojans to continue to work hard to get better? Will these guys stick together under Kiffin and continue to fight? This team could collapse and end the season with five consecutive defeats. Just imagine: USC at 6-6. In the preseason, the Trojans looked like a potentially dominant national title contender. Now they are in danger of falling out of the national polls ... and on their face. But, hey, this is football. If you can't make the scoreboard smile at you, it's your own fault.

Questions for the week: If Oregon goes to the national title game, which Pac-12 team will do enough to play its way into the Rose Bowl, if any? The Rose Bowl wants a Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup, but for the Pac-12 to get a second BCS bowl team -- and an at-large selection to the Rose Bowl in this scenario -- it must push a team into the top 14 of the final BCS standings. It appears we have four candidates, but none is a sure thing by any stretch: Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC. Oregon State will play Stanford this weekend. UCLA will face both Stanford and USC this month, and already has lost to Oregon State. USC, which already has lost to Stanford, and Oregon State only would meet in the Pac-12 title game. It will be interesting to see whether a team makes a charge and rises in the standings, or whether this becomes a muddle and no one qualifies.

Oregon poised to remove USC as top power

October, 29, 2012
Getty ImagesA win this weekend for Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota over USC and QB Matt Barkley could represent a power shift in the Pac-12.

Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?

The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.

USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.

But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.

Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.

Au contraire.

Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.

USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.

Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.

And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.

So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?

USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.

Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."

While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.

But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.

So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.

Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.

Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.

It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.

Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.

And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.

Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"
It's Oregon's bye week. What else are we going to talk about? Which Ducks back has the better shot at winning the Heisman?

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas is averaging 9.2 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch.
Ted Miller: With De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner, it's pick your poison. Both are players who tax a defense. But the Heisman Trophy has always been about more than being good and posting good numbers. Barner very well could win the Pac-12 rushing title, but that's sort of what Oregon running backs do. The Ducks have been the best rushing team in the conference since Chip Kelly first showed up in 2007.

What Thomas has is pizzazz. When he gets the ball, everyone holds their breath. It's the Reggie Bush effect. At any moment, not only could Thomas go yard, he could go yard in a way that makes folks go, "Are you kidding me? I've got to see that again!"

Truth is, Thomas has been fairly quiet of late. He has solid numbers as a receiver, runner and return man, but they certainly aren't going to wow you. His numbers must get better for him to be considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.

I believe they will. And I believe they will when he posts spectacular, Are-You-Kidding-Me? plays in big games, such as he did in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. I believe the Black Mamba is about to provide a series of deadly strikes as the Pac-12 race heats up. He's going to get Arizona State. Then he's going to get Colorado. Then, with the entire nation watching, he's going to -- snap! -- get USC.

Those plays will pile up on "SportsCenter." Those plays will form a portfolio of spectacularness. Those plays will offset a lot of other guys’ fancy-pants numbers.

Thomas will get himself invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony not because of numbers. He will get there due to his highlight reel.

Kevin Gemmell: When we decided on this topic, the first thing that popped into my head was that it smacked of an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch -- the old Bob Swerski’s Superfans. In one sketch, a question was posed: “Da’ Bears versus Da’ Bulls?” And the answer was this (imagine the Chicago Southside accent): “The senseless waste of pitting these two mighty forces of nature against each other, like matter versus anti-matter, will be a tragedy, not only for the teams involved, but for our planet. All nations must band together, to ensure that such a conflagration never takes place.”

Obviously when you are comparing Thomas and Barner, you are comparing two phenomenal football players.

[+] EnlargeKenjon Barner
Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesKenjon Barner has 127 touches on offense and 10 TDs to De'Anthony Thomas' 61 and 9.
First off, there is nothing fancy-pants about the way Barner does his work. He grinds when he has to, but he also has the big-play potential. For the record, Thomas’ longest rushing play this year is a 59-yard touchdown. Barner’s is an 80-yard touchdown. You don’t go 80 yards without a little pizzazz of your own.

I love a good DAT highlight as much as the next guy. And I still have him in the top five on my Heisman ballot. But I have Barner higher, for the simple reason that I think, right now, Barner is the more valuable player for the Ducks and therefore a better Heisman candidate.

And as he continues to get about three carries for every one that Thomas gets, he’s only going to distance himself. I’m totally on board with the idea that every time Thomas touches the ball, your heart skips a beat. But the longer he goes without those jaw-droppers -- and the more Barner keeps piling up 100-yard games -- the tougher it’s going to be for Thomas to close the gap.

Anyone concerned that Barner couldn’t fill the deep crevasse left by LaMichael James (by the way, that never should have been a concern) should rest easy knowing that in six games, Barner has 727 yards, is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and has nine rushing touchdowns. Some Thomas highlights might end up on "SportsCenter," but it’s a good bet that they will be preceded by two Barner touchdowns as part of a 150-yard performance.

The Heisman isn’t all about numbers. But that’s a huge part of it. And the fact that Barner has them and Thomas doesn’t simply can’t be ignored.

Ducks hang out, have fun, get good

July, 16, 2012
Oregon is good. Has been for three years. Probably will be again this fall. The popular explanations for why Oregon is good typically include team speed, Chip Kelly and Nike money.

I think this Rob Moseley article here presents a fuller picture. It's about culture.
In three weeks, the Ducks will open preseason camp, and spend a month preparing themselves to contend with the best the Pac-12 Conference has to offer. Over the previous several weeks, on the other hand, the competition has been in-house, with the UO football team split up into small squads for the summer and pitted against one another in everything from class attendance and weight-room improvements to a three-point shooting contest and hamburger cook-off.

Read the entire article. While many teams have similar set-ups during, cough-cough, "voluntary" summer workouts, Moseley's story paints a picture of a team that probably does prefer to be together.

Much was made of USC's "culture of competition" when Pete Carroll led the Trojans' dynastic run of nearly three consecutive national titles. The media fawning, which included plenty of treacle from yours truly, seemed to go a bit to Carroll's head. He, for example, included a trite poem in the media guide about "Winning forever." Of course, shortly thereafter -- following a couple of whippings from conference foes, including Jim Harbaugh -- he bolted to the NFL just ahead of major NCAA sanctions.

Still, culture matters. Not as much as good players. Not nearly as much. But it matters significantly.

When I was a columnist in Seattle, folks who covered the Seattle Mariners would often gather in the clubhouse and note how the players were a bunch of drips -- whiny, selfish, mentally weak. There was an obvious leadership void. You could say those guys stopped having fun because they were losing, but, really, they were whiny, selfish and mentally weak on opening day.

In recent years, with the rise of independent sports blogs and statistical research, the true value of immeasurable concepts such as chemistry and leadership have been questioned. Everything is now numbers and formulas. And some of the numbers produced to explain Oregon's rise with Kelly's offense are interesting and revealing, probably more so than paeans to "Win the Day."

And you can overstate chemistry and leadership. It's certainly much easier to get along during Rose Bowl preparations than, say, during a five-game losing streak. But when I talked this spring to a number of Arizona State players -- and a few ex-coaches -- about what went wrong after a shocking Nov. 5 loss to UCLA, I received a wide variety of descriptions of awful chemistry. Some fairly specific descriptions, by the way. The Sun Devils were talented enough to win 10 games in 2011 (which Pac-12 team, other than Oregon and USC, had a better of troika of quality wins than Missouri, USC and Utah?). They went 6-7 for reasons other than a lack of talent.

Perhaps Moseley's story stood out to me only because Pac-12 media day is coming up next week, and that means every team will have stories touting its extra-super-special offseason.

I'm pretty jaded. I like to think I'm not a sucker for propaganda. But after reading Moseley's story, I'm more inclined to believe the Ducks of 2012 will look much like they did the previous three seasons than I was before reading it, even without LaMichael James and with a new QB.

Does that mean they win at USC on Nov. 3? Heck if I know. But it certainly falls into the Ducks' positive ledger when considering possible outcomes.
The wake-up call came in 2010.

Curtis McNeal hadn't done much in his USC career to date. He redshirted in 2008, had six carries for 33 yards in 2009. He returned a few kickoffs, made a couple of tackles on special teams. He wasn't on the fast-track, but he certainly wasn't under the radar.

Then he became academically ineligible in 2010. Football, what he describes as "the easy stuff," wasn't going to be in his life unless he figured out how to make grades. At a crossroads, he decided to start addressing academics the way he does football: with everything he's got.

[+] EnlargeCurtis McNeal
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireUSC's Curtis McNeal rushed for 1,005 yards and a 6.9 yards per carry average last season.
"I gained a lot of mental toughness during that time," McNeal said. "I just stepped up to the plate and told myself nothing is going to be handed to me. I have to work for it. That's pretty much what I did ... it was frustrating, but it was a wake-up call. The way I go about football, I should go about that in all aspects of my life. If I'm serious about football, I should be serious about school. It made me grow up and be more responsible."

And now he's the unquestioned starting running back for the USC Trojans -- an elite fraternity that includes five Heisman Trophy winners (one of which was vacated). And of all the top-tier running backs returning this season, it's McNeal who holds the highest yards per carry.

Consider, seven Pac-12 running backs rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. All of them had at least 230 carries. Except McNeal, who went for 1,005 yards on just 145 carries, giving him a robust average of 6.9 yards per that was second in the conference to only to LaMichael James' 7.3.

But he still doesn't get mentioned among the league's elite backs. USC, as has been well-documented, has some depth questions at the running back position. By no fault of his own, McNeal as a result gets downgraded because of who isn't behind him.

That's fine, says McNeal. He's happy to be the answer to all of the questions.

"This is a great team," he said. "We have great receivers and whenever I touch the ball I just try to make plays. I don't worry about what people say. I know what kind of talent I have and I know what I'm capable of doing."

And then there are the durability questions. After all, he's only 5-7, 190 pounds. Surely, he's too fragile to carry the ball 25 times a game. Isn't he?

"I'm always going to be criticized for my size," he said. "I just need to show everybody that every time I touch the ball, I'm just as good as the guys they praise. You can't let it get to you. You just keep playing and do your job for your team. If you're doing that, you don't have to worry about what anyone else says."

And doing his job is what McNeal is focused on in 2012. The Trojans enter the season with considerable hype and expectation. McNeal says it's not deserved.

"We have nothing to show for it," he said. "We didn't play in a bowl game. We lost two games. We still have things to show people. We're not done yet. That's our mindset. We have a long way to go."

And as many Trojans have done over the past few months, he fell back on coach Lane Kiffin's motto for the season: Prep not hype.

"That's what we live by here is the preparation, not the hype," McNeal said. "We'll be prepared every week and believe in our preparation, believe in our technique and then just go out and play football."

100 Days Countdown: Pac-12

May, 22, 2012

As part of “College Football Live’s” 100 Days Till Kickoff countdown, here’s a look at the top 10 players in the Pac-12.

This list, by the way, may or may not match the Pac-12 blog's preseason top 25, which will be posted later in the summer.

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Best QB in the nation. Would have been a top-10 pick in this past NFL draft. Could go No. 1 overall in 2013. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards, with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2011.

2. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon: Thomas is one of the nation's most explosive players and a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He rushed for 595 yards and seven TDs in 2011, averaging 10.8 yards per carry. He caught 46 passes for 605 yards and nine TDs. He averaged 27.3 yards per kick return with two TDs.

3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Lotulelei may be the nation's best defensive tackle. He likely will be an early first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best D-lineman, he had 44 total tackles, with nine coming for a loss. He had 1.5 sacks, a pass break-up, forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

4. Robert Woods, WR, USC: Woods, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, earned first-team All-American honors from the AP, The Sporting News and was second-team with Walter Camp. He caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards with 15 TDs in 2011.

5. Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Lee might share All-American honors with Woods this season. He stepped up late in 2011 when Woods was hurt, catching seven of his 11 TD passes over the final five games and hauling in 21 passes for 411 yards in the final two -- wins over Oregon and UCLA. For the season, he caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also averaged 28.5 yards on 10 kickoff returns, with an 88-yard TD.

6. Keith Price, QB, Washington: As a first-year, sophomore starter, Price passed for 3,063 yards with 33 touchdown passes, with those numbers ranking second and first all-time for the Huskies. His 66.9 completion percentage and 161.09 passing efficiency rating were both school records.

7. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford: Thomas was first-team All-Pac-12 and an All-American for The Sporting News in 2011. He had 52 total tackles and led the Pac-12 with 17.5 tackles for a loss, three more than anyone else. He was also second in the conference with 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.

8. Keenan Allen, WR, California: Allen earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after ranking second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards. His 103.3 receiving yards per game ranked 10th in the nation and third in the conference. He caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards with six touchdowns and averaged 13.7 yards per reception in 2011.

9. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: Wilson earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 and is an All-American candidate in 2012. He ranked first in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation with 115.7 yards receiving per game. His 12 touchdown receptions ranked second in the conference. His 16.9 yards per catch ranked third. He caught 82 passes for 1,388 yards with 12 touchdowns.

10. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Barner was the nation's best backup running back in 2011 behind LaMichael James. He ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in rushing at 78.2 yards per game. He rushed for 939 yards and 11 TDs in 2011 and caught 17 passes with three other TDs. He has rushed for 1,856 yards and 20 TDs in his career.

The 2011 Pac-12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
Our All-Pac-12 bowl team has two quarterbacks and a position we made up. And it wasn't easy to pick the defense, because many of the conference defenses underwhelmed during a 2-5 bowl run.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireEven Andrew Luck would admire Washington QB Keith Price's seven-touchdown effort in the Alamo Bowl.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
: Luck completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
QB II Keith Price, Washington: It's impossible to leave Price or Luck out. Price completed 23 of 37 passes for 438 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions in the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. He also rushed for 39 yards and three scores. Those numbers typically would eclipse what Luck did, but Baylor might have the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon: James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor rushed for 177 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.
WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: Robinson caught 13 passes for 241 yards with a TD in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State.
WR Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon: Tuinei caught eight passes for 158 yards and two scores in the Rose Bowl victory.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford: Ertz caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal's Rose Bowl loss.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The unanimous All-American dominated Oklahoma State's D-linemen in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinal rushed for 243 yards.
OL Mark Asper, Oregon: Asper is the senior cornerstone of a line that led the way for 345 yards rushing in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory.
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah: The senior tackle helped RB John White gain 115 tough yards against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
OL Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: The Ducks freshman center made all the right line calls against Wisconsin.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: The Huskies gained 620 yards and didn't allow a sack in the loss to Baylor.
Freak: Our special position for De'Anthony Thomas, who scored TDs on runs of 91 and 64 yards in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Black Mamba also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kickoffs for 125 yards.

K: Giorgio Tavecchio, California: Tavecchio capped a strong senior season with a 47-yard field goal in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas.
RET: Rashad Ross, Arizona State: Ross returned the third-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a TD against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

DL Josh Shirley, Washington
: While it's difficult to recognize anyone from the Huskies defense against Baylor, Shirley did sack Robert Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, three times.
DL Trevor Guyton, California: Guyton had five tackles, with two coming for losses, and a sack in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DL Star Lotulelei, Utah: The Utes DT had six tackles and a fumble recovery and generally blew up the middle of the Georgia Tech line in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory. He was named Most Valuable Lineman.
LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Zumwalt had 10 tackles, including two for a loss, and an interception in the Bruins' loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
LB Kiko Alonso, Oregon: The Ducks LB had five tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, with a sack and a key interception in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win. He was named Defensive MVP.
LB Michael Clay, Oregon: The Ducks LB had 13 tackles, including two for a loss, and a critical fumble recovery in the Rose Bowl victory.
LB Mychal Kendricks, California: Kendricks had 10 tackles, including 1.5 for losses, in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Mitchell had five tackles in the Rose Bowl, but his most important contribution was forcing a Wisconsin fumble on the Ducks 27-yard line with four minutes left in the game. Perhaps even more important than that, he inspired coach Chip Kelly to jump up and down in a wonderful -- and slightly goofy -- show of spontaneous emotion (search YouTube for "Chip Kelly jumping").
DB Clint Floyd, Arizona State: Floyd had seven tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception in the Sun Devils' loss to Boise State.
DB John Boyett, Oregon: Boyett had a bowl-high 17 tackles and half a sack in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin.
DB Marc Anthony, California: Anthony had four tackles, one coming for a loss, and two pass breakups against Texas.

P Sean Sellwood, Utah: Sellwood averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Taking a look back at some of the best and worst moments from the Pac-12's bowl season.

Best overall performance (team): We're a field goal away from flipping a coin between Stanford and Oregon. But the Ducks won, and to the victor go the spoils. Say what you want about Wisconsin being overrated; Oregon beat a very good team with one of the most productive college running backs in history, and the Ducks did it on a major stage.

Best offensive performance (individual): Keith Price outdueled Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, passing for 438 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for three more scores. And the Huskies lost! Someone on the Washington defense better be carrying his books around campus until the start of next season.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireWashington's Keith Price passed for 438 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for another three touchdowns in a losing effort against Baylor.
Best offensive performance (team): As good as Washington's offensive show was against Baylor, Oregon did it against a tougher opponent and under a brighter spotlight. LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas both went for more than 100 yards, Lavasier Tuinei turned in season highs in catches (eight) and yards (158) to go with two touchdowns and the offensive line had its way with Wisconsin.

Best defensive performance (individual): In the conference's five losses, teams gave up an average of 41 points. Still, Cal first-team all-conference linebacker Mychal Kendricks did all he could to limit Texas to 21, notching nine solo tackles (10 total) and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Best defensive performance (team): Pass.

Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Andrew Luck's one interception was the lone stain on an otherwise fantastic performance, in which he completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. He was 15-of-15 on all of Stanford's scoring drives and 4-for-4 on the final drive that set up the almost-game-winning field goal.

Worst offensive performance: Both Cal and UCLA faced fairly tough defenses in Texas and Illinois, respectively, and their 24 points combined reflected that. (For the record, Washington had 35 by halftime and Oregon had 28 at the half.) But the nod goes to Cal for 7 rushing yards on 36 attempts. That's 0.2 yards per carry. ASU was actually worse with minus-11 rushing yards, but at least it put up 24 points (well, 17 if you take away Rashad Ross' 98-yard kick return).

Worst defensive performance: As a conference, Pac-12 teams gave up an average of 455 yards in their bowl games. Washington was the worst offender with 777 yards yielded.

Best bang for buck: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. Two carries, two touchdowns, 155 yards and a 77.5 yards-per-carry average.

Best supporting cast: While Price was fantastic, lest we forget that Chris Polk ran for 147 yards, Jermaine Kearse caught five balls for 198 yards and a score and Devin Aguilar added two receiving touchdowns.

Best holiday spirit: Cal certainly got into the season, giving the ball away five times to Texas.

Best "Oh jeez" moment: Stanford running back Jeremy Stewart taking out teammate Ty Montgomery after he tried to run a kickoff out of the end zone. Stewart, a fifth-year senior, stopped the true freshman right at the line and dropped him, much to the chagrin of 69,927 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Worst "Oh jeez" moment: Watching Dennis Erickson try to call a timeout when ASU had fourth-and-goal at the Boise 1-yard line. Then watching his face as Jamar Taylor picked off Brock Osweiler and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

Video: LaMichael James going pro

January, 6, 2012

Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller talks about the decision by Oregon running back LaMichael James to forego his senior season and go pro.

LaMichael James to enter draft

January, 6, 2012
As expected, Oregon junior running back LaMichael James will enter the NFL draft.

James' decision was first reported by The Oregonian on Dec. 15.

James, a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner, will finish his career as the best player in Oregon history and one of the best running backs in Pac-12 history. His 5,082 career yards rushing and 53 TDs rank second all-time in the conference. He was the first running back to eclipse 1,500 yards rushing three consecutive years.

His obvious replacement would be talented junior backup Kenjon Barner, but Barner also is considering entering the NFL draft.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Here is the list of Pac-12 players who have opted to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, ASU
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Matt Kalil, LT, USC
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Nick Perry, DE, USC
Chris Polk, RB, Washington
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler is expected to shortly announce that he also will enter the draft.

Returning starters in 2012

January, 6, 2012
Do you believe in the primacy of returning starters for determining preseason pecking order? Well, if so, you'll enjoy this effort from College Football Matrix, which has broken down returning starers by conference for all FBS teams.

While measuring returning starters is an inexact science -- the common way is at least five starts the previous season -- the list is revealing. And it suggests that the SEC and Big 12, the two best conferences in 2011, will again thrive in 2012.

Big 12 teams average 17 returning starters, tops in the nation. The SEC averages 16.7. The Pac-12 is last among AQ conferences with just 13.8.

The Big 12, big on offense, has the most coming back on offense: 7.9. And the SEC, big on defense, has 7.6 coming back on defense.

The good news is nine of 12 Pac-12 quarterbacks are coming back, including USC's Matt Barkley, though that number falls to eight if Arizona State's Brock Osweiler opts to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Be forewarned: There is some imprecision on this list. It says Colorado's quarterback is returning; Tyler Hansen is not. And it lists Washington State as having just seven returning starters; by my count, the Cougars welcome back 18. So that was a miscalculation. I went through every Pac-12 team, and you could quibble the numbers a handful of times, so the numbers aren't absolute.

Here's my tally (* means quarterback coming back). It averages out to 14.8 starters returning for the conference. Keep in mind it doesn't including returning starters who were hurt this season, such as Arizona State linebacker Brandon Magee, and does include players who still might announce for the NFL draft, such as Osweiler, Oregon running back LaMichael James and Washington running back Chris Polk.

Arizona (12)
Offense: 6
Defense: 6
specialists: 0

Arizona State (11*)
Offense: 5
Defense: 4
specialists: 2

California (11*)
Offense: 6
Defense: 5
specialists: 0

Colorado (13)
Offense: 4
Defense: 7
specialists: 2

Oregon (16*)
Offense: 7
Defense: 7
specialists: 2

Oregon State (17*)
Offense: 8
Defense: 8
specialists: 1

Stanford (12)
Offense: 5
Defense: 6
specialists: 1

UCLA (16*)
Offense: 8
Defense: 7
specialists: 1

USC (19*)
Offense: 9
Defense: 8
specialists: 2

Utah (18*)
Offense: 9
Defense: 7
specialists: 2

Washington (15*)
Offense: 8
Defense: 7
specialists: 0

Washington State (18*)
Offense: 8
Defense: 9
specialists: 1