NCF Nation: Matt Barkley

Kiffin just never looked the part at USC

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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The problem with coaching USC is you're coaching USC. If you don't really understand what that means, then you're doomed to fail.

That's the lesson learned by Lane Kiffin, who was fired shortly after the team's charter flight landed in Los Angeles early Sunday morning after his team's 62-41 loss at Arizona State, the school announced before any reporter could claim the news story prize.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsLane Kiffin could never quite live up to USC's lofty expectations.
Kiffin went 28-15 in three-plus years while the Trojans were buried under difficult NCAA sanctions, but the key span is the past 11 games. He lost seven of those, essentially starting a downturn just after folks started to wonder if he actually might be a good coach.

If you can recall USC in December 2011, the Trojans were coming off an impressive 10-2 season that included a win at Oregon. Quarterback Matt Barkley shocked many when he announced in front of a strategically placed Christmas tree during a Heritage Hall news conference that he would return for his senior season to take care of "unfinished business."

That, of course, meant a Pac-12 and national title.

The Trojans headed into the 2012 offseason overbrimming with talent and expectations. They were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll. Yet, little thereafter went well. And that falls, not unfairly, on Kiffin.

He just never seemed capable of getting out of his own way and just coaching his collection of athletes, which in just about every case were more physically talented than the guys on the other side of the field.

Did USC have depth issues due to scholarship reductions? Sure. But that didn't change the fact that the area where USC consistently seemed to be most lacking was coaching, in terms of preparation, motivation and execution. And the offensive play calling, which Kiffin refused to give up despite pointed criticism, was fundamentally flawed in one simple way: The plays Kiffin called more often than not didn't work.

He too often tried to be clever or tricky. He also seemed to react poorly when things weren't going well. An early sack or turnover would seemingly spook him into an overly conservative plan. His complicated schemes seemed simplistic and predictable in execution compared to simpler schemes from other Pac-12 programs that seemed more imaginative and effective.

Further, USC had been eclipsed not only in the Pac-12 by Oregon and Stanford, it also had lost ground to its previously struggling rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame. Trojans fans are demanding as a whole, but losing to the Bruins and Fighting Irish is a deal-breaker.

Kiffin was most consistent as a recruiter, even with scholarship limitations. But the downturn even caught up with that. The Trojans presently have only seven commitments, and they are not ranked among the nation's top 40 classes.

USC remains one of the nation's best college coaching jobs. The high school talent in the surrounding area is among the best in the country. The school also has the resources to make the next coach among the nation's highest paid.

Athletic director Pat Haden likely decided to make a decisive move now so he could get a head start on his search. No sense in allowing the ship to continue to sink. He'll immediately start getting back-door feelers from NFL and college head coaches and top assistants -- many probably already have made inquiries. Lots of names will circulate, from Boise State's Chris Petersen, to St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, to Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, to Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

Kiffin was unquestionably burdened with tougher circumstances than many coaches who take over college football superpowers. Yet such an explanation only goes so far in this win-now age.

While he flickered potential during the 2011 season, his ultimate downfall was this: His teams never consistently looked like USC should. And he never consistently looked like a guy who should be fronting USC.
Christian HackenbergAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg, the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, will start the opener at Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Four months ago, Christian Hackenberg was kicking up sand near the dugout as part of the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy baseball team.

He was finding free time, between baseball and classwork, to break out flash cards and study the Penn State playbook -- names of plays and formations on one side and blank on the other, so he could scribble what they looked like. He'd catch himself daydreaming about running through that Beaver Stadium tunnel and launching touchdown passes behind a cheering crowd.

Now? All that studying, dreaming and summer training has culminated in what he's waited to achieve since Feb. 29, 2012, the day he committed to the Nittany Lions: According to sources, he is the starting quarterback at Penn State.

Hackenberg's father had initially weighed the value of a redshirt, but that was before the senior high school season of ESPN's top-rated passer. And a lot has changed in Happy Valley since then. Sophomore Steven Bench, who some expected to be a short-term Band-Aid, transferred to South Florida upon learning he wouldn't receive first-team reps in the preseason. Then juco quarterback Tyler Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts for personal reasons.

Ferguson still held the edge early in camp. But Hackenberg, perhaps the biggest-name quarterback to ever sign a Penn State letter of intent, quickly caught up and impressed the coaching staff. A week into camp, head coach Bill O'Brien said the race became "very even." Less than three weeks later, Hackenberg pulled ahead. He'll be the second PSU true freshman in the last 100 years to be the starting quarterback.

"Christian has come in here and really done a nice job," O'Brien said early on at camp. "He's attentive. He must be staying up late at night studying the playbook because he's come from Day 1 to Day 2 to Day 3 and improved. And he asks great questions in the meetings."

Hackenberg's strong arm dazzled onlookers at last year's Elite 11 and the Under Armour All-America Game, and the baby-faced quarterback already shows more ability to stretch the field than his predecessor, Matt McGloin. During part of an open practice two weeks ago, some reporters muttered "woah" when Hackenberg zipped a pass against his body to the opposite sideline -- right at the receiver's numbers.

Between his arm, accuracy and size -- he is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds -- Hackenberg's potential and raw ability have never really come into question. Talent is oozing from the aw-shucks kid whose father attended high school in Pennsylvania.

Recruiting analysts, opposing players, college coaches and former quarterbacks have thrown almost as much praise Hackenberg's way as they did to O'Brien after an emotional, 8-4 first season. Said Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer: "Christian is a kid you build a program around."

But potential and high accolades don't always translate to success -- at least not immediately. Former No. 1-rated QB Matt Stafford struggled as a freshman at Georgia and threw 13 interceptions and seven touchdowns. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen threw seven scores to six interceptions. USC's Matt Barkley had a 15:14 ratio of TDs to interceptions in his first season. ESPN rated each the No. 1 quarterback in his respective class, and all are in the NFL.

So what does that mean for Hackenberg? That future greatness does not necessarily equate to immediate success. Opposing high school coaches have said Hackenberg struggled diagnosing disguised coverages, and the schemes and talent of Big Ten defenses will obviously lie in stark contrast to those Hackenberg saw in high school.

McGloin didn't have the strongest arm but he was a great decision-maker, throwing 24 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2012. Hackenberg is not expected to top those numbers this year, but he is expected to show promise.

The Nittany Lions have had their fair share of busts and underachieving quarterbacks over the years -- Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, Anthony Morelli and Kevin Newsome, to name a few -- but this Lions group also has something different nowadays, namely O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

O'Brien molded McGloin, a former walk-on, into a player the Big Ten blog thought deserved consideration for the Davey O'Brien Award. What can he do with the best true freshman quarterback prospect in the nation, one who turned down teams such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia?

We'll start to see at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Who is this year’s Johnny Manziel in the Pac-12? In other words, which player could come out of nowhere and win the Heisman from the conference? Well, if we knew, he wouldn't be coming out of nowhere in the preseason, now, would he?

Perhaps it is better that the Pac-12’s elite players are coasting below Mr. Heisman's persnickety radar. After all, front-runner status hasn't been kind to the Pac-12 the past couple of years. Two seasons ago it was Andrew Luck -- a shoo-in from the day he announced his return to take home the Heisman. Last year, it was Matt Barkley who had the unpropitious front-runner title pegged on him.

Luck carried the title much longer in his final season. Barkley, however, quickly gave way to Geno Smith, who in turn gave way to Collin Klein, who in turn fell to Johnny Football.

[+] EnlargeMarion Grice
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's Marion Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns last season.
So how about the Pac-12?

Marcusy Football?

Marqy Football?

DATy Football?

Ka’Deemy Football?

Bretty Football?

Not exactly phonetically pleasing.

Within the Pac-12, there aren't many dark-horse candidates. There are some front-runners who immediately come to mind: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, USC’s Marqise Lee, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. But none of them are considered national front-runners with Manziel (maybe?) back to defend his title, Braxton Miller coming off a perfect season, AJ McCarron and his ridiculous 30-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and Teddy Bridgewater soaking up his share of hype.

You can make a case for all five in the preseason. Mariota and Thomas will be playing for a top-five team, which always helps garner the necessary attention from the national media, and they should continue to put up video game numbers. Hundley is one of the most exciting players in the league, and with a year of maturity, many are anxious to see just how far he can lead the Bruins. Lee was last year’s Biletnikoff winner and is arguably the top skill player in the country. Carey was last year’s national leader in rushing. Solid credentials for all.

But this is about the sleepers. The guys who are so under the radar they're practically stealth. So who are they?

You have to start with ASU’s Marion Grice, who is going to continue putting up fantastic dual-threat numbers as a runner and receiver. He’s packed on more weight and ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said they've expanded the playbook now that he and quarterback Taylor Kelly are a year into the system. (Probably not a bad idea to keep an eye on Kelly, either).

Stanford’s Kevin Hogan could also be a sleeper. Like the Oregon duo, he’ll be on a high-profile team that is going to get plenty of national exposure with showdowns against Oregon, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame on the 2013 docket. He’s not as flashy as the other players and his numbers might not be as lofty, but he’s asked to do a lot more behind the scenes than a lot of other quarterbacks. That was Luck’s brilliance, as well as his Heisman curse.

The appearance of Manti Te’o in New York last year proved defensive players aren't immune to getting some attention in the spread era. So UCLA’s Anthony Barr and ASU’s Will Sutton certainly deserve to be in the conversation if we’re talking defensive players. Both should be atop the national defensive rankings in sacks and tackles for a loss. But both will have to play well enough to surpass the well-deserved hype of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and overcome the public perception of the Pac-12 when it comes to defense. As I’ve written previously, the Heisman is all about subjectivity and perception. (Full disclosure, I have Clowney No. 1 on my preseason Heisman ballot).

Finally, a guy who I think is really a long shot -- but should be getting more love than he is -- is Oregon State running back Storm Woods. In the Beavers’ first six games against FBS opponents in 2013, they face only one defense that ranked in the top 20 last year in total rushing yards allowed (Utah), and only one other in the top 50 (San Diego State). The opportunity will be there early in the season for Woods to make a name for himself. He’s got four of five offensive linemen coming back (including an outstanding center), an offense that wants to be more balanced, and a quarterback-to-be-named who is a veteran and knows the offense. He’s also really, really good.

It’s probably best not to put all your hopes into one of these guys winning the Heisman. For now, it’s safer to track the conference front-runners. But don’t sleep on these guys, either.

The next Stormy Football is just waiting to breakout.

Rivalries in the Pac-12

August, 12, 2013
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There are special rivalries -- Army-Navy, Auburn-Alabama, Ohio State-Michigan, USC-Notre Dame -- to which all college football fans tip their caps.

But every college football rivalry is great -- and bitter -- for those who are invested in one team or the other.

The Pac-12 is a league of natural rivalries, as teams are grouped in regional pairs. Even the newbies -- Utah and Colorado -- have a history with their Rumble in the Rockies.

But instead of looking at Pac-12 rivalries in terms of history, let's look at how they stand heading into 2013.

Top rivalry: When UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr rearranged the body of USC QB Matt Barkley during the Bruins' 38-28 victory last year, a great rivalry woke up. There is no comparable rivalry in the country where city pride is at stake. And it's so much more fun when both teams are nationally relevant. Jim Mora has the Bruins on a notable uptick, while things at USC with Lane Kiffin are iffy. The Trojans have dominated this one of late and historically, but the momentum might be swinging. We'll find out a lot Nov. 30. It's fair to say that game will be very, very important to Kiffin.

Rivalry on the rise: The Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State has always been bitter. The schools have a long and adversarial history that supersedes football concerns. In fact, the problem has been football. Rarely have both teams been good, so the rest of the college football nation didn't pay much attention. But with two new coaches, the Wildcats and Sun Devils both appear on the uptick. Further, it's fair to say the relationship between Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham isn't terribly warm. It's not likely coaching on opposite ends of the state will provoke a reconciliation.

Rivalry fading: Not to sound like the Pac-12 blog is trolling, but Oregon-Washington isn't what it used to be. Oh, no two fan bases go back and forth with such zeal as the Huskies and Ducks, but a rivalry loses some of its luster when it becomes one-sided and, well, Huskies... what do you want me to say? Nine consecutive wins for Oregon by at least 17 points sort of lowers the tension, eh?

Of course, this one might bounce to the top category in 2014 if Washington ends its inglorious streak on Oct. 12 when the Ducks make their first visit to fancy new Husky Stadium.
The Manning Award is going all sabermetric, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information's new Total Quarterback Rating (QBR).

The award announced its 30-man watch list on Thursday, basing the list on the top 30 returning quarterbacks according to the QBR.

The list includes four Pac-12 quarterbacks: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion

The winner will still be selected by a voting panel, which includes national media and each of the Mannings, after the bowls.

Total QBR measures a quarterback’s contributions to scoring on each play (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, and penalties) accounting for game context (down, distance, yard line, time remaining, and score) and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale where 50 is average.

“Total QBR uses all of a quarterback’s plays and accounts for the context of the game and quality of the defenses faced,” ESPN Stats & Information Sr. Director Jeff Bennett said in a statement. “We are excited to bring a more complete rating system to the fans to allow for fairer comparisons of quarterbacks who play in different types of systems and face various levels of competition. We’re pleased that a national award like the Manning Award has seen the value of our new Total QBR for college.”

The Pac-12 blog chatted with Bennett last week, and he had some numbers that would interest Pac-12 fans.

First, Mariota ranked second in the nation in QBR behind only Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner.

Second, recall the controversy over the Pac-12 blog ranking former Arizona quarterback Matt Scott No. 4 in our postseason top-25 players list?

Consider it no longer a controversy. Consider the Pac-12 blog correct and the Scott critics incorrect.

Scott ranked second in the Pac-12 and ninth in the nation in QBR. Case closed.

Winning!

The same could be said over the controversy over Matt Barkley at No. 14, though perhaps not as strongly. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the nation in QBR.

So you can now retract all those bad things you said about the Pac-12 blog. And it was Kevin's fault we didn't include Desmond Trufant.

Oh, and here's the Manning Watch List.

We've already noted that ESPN contributor Phil Steele loves USC this season, and he further quantifies that here when he considers whether to pick an over or under on predicted win totals provided by the Las Vegas Hilton.

He loves the over with USC at 9.5 (Win totals do not include conference championship and bowl games).

He writes:
Obviously, the Trojans were a huge disappointment last year, becoming the first preseason No. 1 team to finish outside of the Top 25, but the current team has much better depth. Outside of quarterback, they've improved at nearly every position. Their schedule is also more favorable, as they avoid Oregon and get Stanford at home. Currently Vegas has them favored in 10 of their games, while I have them as a favorite in 12. Another overlooked factor in this win total is that the Trojans play 13 regular-season games this year. They could lose three games and still cash on the over.

These are good points. Based on talent, the Trojans are a threat to win 10 or more games.

Some are down on USC for three reasons: 1. The departure of QB Matt Barkley; 2. The 2012 implosion; 3. Lane Kiffin's hot seat. These are not impossible issues to rectify. In fact, if Kiffin returns to his 2011 coaching form, all three will be solved. And let's not forget USC should be in better shape on defense with coordinator Clancy Pendergast running his 3-4 rather than Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2.

On the downside, Steele thinks you should go with the under for Utah at 5.5 wins.

He writes:
Making the step up to a BCS conference has not been easy for the Utes. After going 48-14 in Mountain West play from 2003-2010, they have gone just 7-11 in Pac-12 play the past two years. It does not get any easier for Utah this year after avoiding both Oregon and Stanford the past two years. Both the Ducks and Cardinal appear on their schedule, which I rank as the 12th toughest in the country. Currently, I have the Utes rated as an underdog in nine of their 12 games this year, and while I respect the job Kyle Whittingham has done, with only 12 returning starters, the Utes will find it difficult even matching last year's five wins.

Steele's take is based on a lack of returning starters and the schedule, which seem like reasonable grounds for analysis. The key for the Utes is getting better play at quarterback with Travis Wilson.
UCLA receiver Shaquelle Evans and a couple of teammates enjoyed watching his fellow Bruins win the NCAA baseball national title over Mississippi State this week.

"It's always good seeing your school do something great," he said. "We watched them dominate. They basically made Mississippi State submit. That's how we teach football -- to make our opponents submit."

The Pac-12 blog will submit that life is pretty darn good these days in sunny Westwood. Not only did the school win its 109th national title -- first in baseball -- it also is cuddling up every night with the Victory Bell after beating arch-rival USC 38-28 last fall, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.

[+] EnlargeShaquelle Evans and Josh Evans
Richard Mackson/US PresswireAfter running past USC last season, Shaq Evans and the Bruins are looking to maintain their momentum.
The Bruins, who went on to win the Pac-12's South Division, are again relevant in football. Toss in a pair of strong recruiting classes under second-year coach Jim Mora, not to mention an epically disappointing season across town at Heritage Hall, and it's not difficult to see why there's plenty of optimism around the program.

That starts with the win over USC, particularly when you consider where the programs stood at the end of 2011. USC beat the Bruins 50-0 and finished 10-2. Just about everyone projected the Trojans as 2012 national title contenders. Meanwhile, the Bruins were mocked for playing in a bowl game with a losing record and a fired coach. The hiring of Mora was not immediately embraced by a skeptical fan base who were dreaming of Kevin Sumlin.

Beating the Trojans -- the telling image being linebacker Anthony Barr's monstrous fourth-quarter sack of Matt Barkley -- transformed an enduring dynamic, with the Trojans strutting and the Bruins simmering with jealousy.

"It means the world," Evans said. "After 50-0, man, I didn't know if I wanted to be here any more. But after beating them, it was a great feeling. We knew if we beat them, the floodgates open for this program. You could tell with recruiting, people leaving them to come to us. It changes our program around. And it's going to keep going forward."

Still, the Bruins have flashed potential before, only to stumble back into an inconsistent pattern.

Former coach Rick Neuheisel notched a 27-24 upset over Tennessee in 2008, his first game as the Bruins coach. They lost their next game 59-zip at BYU. A 3-0 start in 2009 yielded to a five-game losing streak. The Bruins posted a physically dominant blowout win at Texas in 2010 but lost two weeks later 35-7 to a California team that would finish 5-7, the first of three consecutive losses.

Up and down. Up and down. Which always ends up, at season's end, feeling mostly down because it invites, "What could have been?" navel gazing.

Evans, a fifth-year senior, is well-aware of this. Even last year, there were some bafflingly disappointing performances -- a 43-17 loss at Cal and the faceplant against Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

"The buzz around campus is good but we are not satisfied with what we did last year," he said. "9-5 is obviously an upgrade from 6-8, but we felt like we should have gone 12-2. This year, we're trying to go 14-0."

Evans will be a key piece if the Bruins are going to approach such high aspirations. He quietly posted a strong season last year, catching 60 passes for 877 yards with a stout 14.6 yards per catch. But in a conference laden with so much talent at receiver, that only ranked 11th (62.6 yards per game).

Further, Evans knows exactly where he fell short statistically, "Touchdowns!" he said before the question was finished.

Evans caught just three, in large part because tight end Joseph Fauria was the go-to guy in the red zone.

"I understood last year that if you've got a guy who is 6-foot-8 and you're in the red zone, he's going to be your primary target," Evans said.

Evans knows this is the year -- his final year before the NFL draft -- in which he needs to show his stuff. And with the departure of Fauria and running back Johnathan Franklin, as well as the expected maturation of quarterback Brett Hundley, Evans should be in position to become a 1,000-yard receiver.

And that likely would include more opportunities to peacock in the end zone (within the parameters of NCAA no-fun rules, of course).

For both Hundley and Evans, that's about refining their respective games. Evans mentions blocking and route running for himself, and accuracy, decision-making and command of the offense for Hundley.

After all, it's an obsessive focus and daily attention to details that will prevent the program from being inconsistent.

"I really believe we are past that," Evans said.

The test of that will be who ends up atop the South Division at season's end. And who owns the Victory Bell.
USC, in terms of national championships, Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans, great traditions and NFL success, might be the nation's preeminent program, apologies to Alabama and Notre Dame.

So calling the Trojans "sleepers" seems, well, odd. But after last season's disaster, which included USC becoming the first preseason AP No. 1 to finish unranked and with six losses, a run at the nation's top-10 isn't being widely projected.

Most folks believe coach Lane Kiffin is simply fighting to keep his job.

But Phil Steele is going against the media grain. He's calling USC one of 10 "surprise" team of 2013 Insider. Surprise, as in a good way, not a 2012 way:
This year, they lose quarterback Matt Barkley, and I only project them as No. 25 in the preseason AP poll. USC actually ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in my ratings in six out of nine categories, which says a lot about the Trojans' talent when the conference features perennial top 10 teams in Oregon and Stanford. USC does have to play both Arizona State and Notre Dame on the road, but it gets Stanford and UCLA at home while avoiding Oregon. Only one of my nine sets of power ratings calls for the Trojans to go unbeaten, but I think this year's squad is more talented and deeper than the 2012 preseason No. 1 squad. The Trojans are way under the radar heading into the 2013 season.

Steele also includes Arizona State on the list, by the way.

But Steele doesn't only see the Trojans as better-than-expected. And not only is he projecting USC to win the Pac-12's South Division. He's ranking the Trojans sixth in the nation.

Here's his USC preview page and his ultimate thoughts (we've replaced some of Steele's abbreviations; he's mainstream enough that losing some of his outstanding publications quirks would be a positive):
[This year] things are pointing upward as they are +2.0 in my Stock Market Indicator, had 2 net close losses and -4 net upsets plus have 15 [returning starters]. For the first time [since]/'04, USC avoids Oregon although they do play Stanford. They are actually deeper at almost every position, making them better equipped to absorb [injuries] (unlike [last year]). Despite their 5-4 [Pac-12] record they were +69.7ypg [in conference play] (4thbest).USC goes from a disappointing team to a Surprise Team (pg 19).

This shouldn't be shocking, by any stretch. Last year's 7-6 finish was a massive underachievement not representative of the talent on hand. Much of that talent is back, and probably a little motivated after last year's embarrassment. There also is a nice influx of talent, not to mention a couple of key players returning from injuries, including outside linebacker Devon Kennard.

Further, the returning talent on defense, particularly the front seven, combined with the arrival of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast bodes well. I suspect the Trojans' defense will be among the top-four in the conference.

Better defense will take pressure off an offense breaking in a new quarterback. That is the big question, though: Quarterback play.

While Barkley didn't have a great 2012 season, at least compared to stratospheric expectations, his skills and experience brought a lot to the huddle.

Still, young QBs have been thriving in the Pac-12 of late -- to name four first-year starters from last year: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly.

Why can't Cody Kessler, Max Wittek or Max Browne do the same?

We should get a pretty good idea of the Trojans' trajectory early on. They visit Arizona State on Sept. 28, a critical game in the South Division pecking order.

By the way, Steele ranked Oregon fifth, Stanford 11th Insider and projects Alabama to play Ohio State for the national title.

The Pac-12's 2,500-yard passers

May, 28, 2013
5/28/13
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Brett HundleyScott Halleran/Getty ImagesOdds are good that UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley will throw for at least 2,500 yards in 2013.
Last year, we looked at returning 3,000-yard passers, so the headline here shows how the Pac-12 has become more run-based, defensive minded of late.

And, of course, the conference's top two passers, Arizona's Matt Scott and USC's Matt Barkley, are both off to the NFL.

The returning members of the 2.5 K Club are:

  • UCLA's Brett Hundley (3,740 yards, 29 TDs, 11 Ints, No. 4 in passing efficiency)
  • Arizona State's Taylor Kelly (3,039 yards, 29 TDs, 9 Ints, No. 2 in passing efficiency)
  • Washington's Keith Price (2,728 yards, 19 TDs, 13 Ints, No. 8 in passing efficiency)
  • Oregon's Marcus Mariota (2,677 yards, 32 TDs, 6 Ints, No. 1 in passing efficiency)


There's a reason why Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State are highly thought of heading into 2013: Proven production returning behind center. And if Washington can get Price back to top form, the Huskies become a top-25 team.

So how does everyone else stack up? Which teams seem likely to get 2,500 yards passing next fall?

Well, there's lots of "To be determined" intrigue.

TBD, Arizona: B.J. Denker will enter fall camp atop the depth chart, but this one is far from over. If USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, who owns by far the biggest arms on the roster, wins the job, the Wildcats are almost sure to pass for 2,500 yards. Coach Rich Rodriguez, though widely viewed as a spread-option coach, showed last year he's comfortable throwing, so Denker or incoming freshman Anu Solomon also could put up solid passing numbers.

TBD, California: New coach Sonny Dykes likes to throw the rock around. Louisiana Tech averaged 351 yards passing per game last year. So whoever wins the QB job -- we're betting on Zach Kline -- will almost certainly hit the 2,500-yard mark.

TBD, Colorado: The Buffaloes struggled to the throw the ball last year, but new coach Mike MacIntyre might solve that, seeing his San Jose State Spartans passed for 332 yards a game last fall. Connor Wood, the frontrunner to win the job, has the arm to throw the ball around, but it's a matter of putting it all together.

TBD, Oregon State: Sean Mannion nearly made the above list, passing for 2,446 yards and 15 TDs with 13 interceptions last year, ranking fifth in the conference in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per game with 244.6. But he's still knotted with Cody Vaz in the competition for the starting job. If one guy starts the entire season, he will put up strong passing numbers because Mike Riley teams always do.

Kevin Hogan, Stanford: The Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in passing last year with just 200 yards per game, but part of that was a scheme that played to a rugged defense and Hogan not winning the job until after midseason. Hogan is plenty capable, and his supporting cast is solid. Expect Hogan to at least hit the 2,500-yard mark.

TBD, USC: Whether it's Cody Kessler or Max Wittek, the USC QB will throw for at least 2,500 yards if he maintains his hold on the job. While Lane Kiffin likes balance, there are too many passing game weapons not to attack downfield, starting with All-American receiver Marqise Lee.

Travis Wilson, Utah: The Utes were last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation in passing in 2012, but Dennis Erickson is now their co-offensive coordinator. One of the original architects of the spread passing attack, it's highly likely Utah will substantially boost the 190.7 yards passing a game it produced last fall. Wilson is fully capable of throwing for 2,500 yards, and the Utes are solid at the receiver position.

Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday still isn't free-and-clear of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, but he's a solid frontrunner in the competition. Whoever wins the job, he will put up big numbers in Mike Leach's "Air Raid" system. The Cougars couldn't stick with a QB last year, going back and forth with Halliday and Jeff Tuel, but they still led the Pac-12 with 330.4 yards passing per game. If Halliday starts 12 games, he'll throw for 4,000 yards.
Jesse Scroggins is a guy who should be able to provide some insight into USC's high-profile quarterback competition. After all, he practiced with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek for a year. He's witnessed their strengths and weaknesses and their makeup and leadership skills.

So, what's his take? Does he like the scrappy Kessler or the big-armed Wittek?

"I don't know and I don't care," Scroggins said. "I'll know when I see them on the field. I got NAU first. I'm not really worried about that game."

Scroggins has his own QB battle to think about, only he's now in Tucson, not L.A. He wants to fill Matt Scott's shoes, not Matt Barkley's.

[+] EnlargeJesse Scroggins
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY SportsAfter spending two seasons with USC, Jesse Scroggins transferred to El Camino College before making the move to Arizona.
The USC parting wasn't completely amicable. Scroggins, one of the nation's top-rated prep quarterbacks in 2010, had some struggles with off-field distractions that hurt his academics, but he rallied in the classroom only to find out that, nonetheless, he was seen by coaches as the odd-man out due to USC trying to fit its roster under NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations. Essentially, he was pushed out the door.

"Certain things happened that shouldn't have happened but everything happens for the best," Scroggins said.

Scroggins went to El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., and put up middling numbers -- 1,148 yards passing, eight touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games -- and arrived at Arizona with a toe injury. That injury sidelined him for most of spring practices. When he made a surprise appearance in the spring game, his first pass was intercepted.

But then he completed 6 of 16 passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns, understandably showing plenty of rust but also flashing at times the ability that made him such a hot recruit. While senior B.J. Denker, who arrived at Arizona with no recruiting pedigree, emerged from spring leading the QB competition, it's far from over.

"I feel like it's all even from today until fall camp starts," Scroggins said. "It's going to be competition until the first game."

One thing is clear: No quarterback on the Wildcats' roster, including touted incoming freshman Anu Solomon, is Scroggins' equal when it comes to arm strength. The Wildcats thrived throwing the ball downfield last fall with the strong-armed Scott. Things wouldn't change with Scroggins behind center.

While coach Rich Rodriguez's offense is widely seen as a read-option that requires a speedy quarterback, which Scroggins isn't, the reality is Rodriguez adapts his play calling for his available talent. Sure, Scott was a good runner, but he led the Pac-12 in passing last fall with 301.7 yards per game. The Wildcats run-pass ratio was even (544 rush, 538 pass).

"Coach Rodriguez's offense goes around the quarterback, whatever your strengths are, that's the type of thing he's going to go with," Scroggins said. "I can run. I just would rather pass first."

Scroggins, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior, said his toe is about "90 percent" and that he's actively running. He expects to be full-go this summer for "voluntary" summer workouts with his teammates, a time when he can build relationships and inspire confidence in him within the locker room.

He's been around long enough to realize that Arizona's locker room is different than USC's.

"Everybody doesn't think they are the guy," Scroggins said. "Guys just want to play football here. It's not about five stars and four stars here. These aren't those type of guys. They have the ability and the skill but we just want to play football rather than talk about it."

Of course, there are folks on the USC end of things who would say the Scroggins of 2010 viewed himself as "the guy." Adversity may have humbled and matured Scroggins, who eagerly noted he's posted 3.0 GPAs his past two semesters.

He called leaving USC "discouraging," but "probably the best thing for me." After a year in junior college, he picked the Wildcats over Arkansas, Wisconsin, Auburn and U-Mass. He was won over by the Wildcats' wide-open scheme, the honest pitch from co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith and the more laid back environment in Tucson.

"I wanted a family environment, something that reminded me of my family," he said.

As for his old "family," yes, Scroggins is excited about the prospect of sticking it to the Trojans in the Coliseum on Oct. 10.

"Definitely," he said.
You may have noticed this story Monday from Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN Stats & Info. It's a nice breakdown of how the 2013 class of quarterbacks across college football might be one of the best ever. Kraemer offers five reasons why:

  1. The best teams of 2012 return their quarterbacks
  2. The best passers are returning
  3. A diverse array of NFL talent
  4. Little QB turnover in SEC
  5. Award winners back on campus

We're going to take this and, point-by-point, give it a Pac-12 rinse.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanOregon QB Marcus Mariota showed that he was more than just a strong runner last season.
The best teams of 2012 (in the Pac-12) return their quarterbacks: Yep. Stanford (12-2), yes. Oregon (12-1), yes. Oregon State (9-4), yes (and yes). UCLA (9-5), yes. Arizona State (8-5), yes. It should come as no surprise that the top six teams in our post-spring power rankings all have their quarterback coming back. In fact, there were only four teams last year that started the same quarterback in every game (Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington) and those are four of our top five teams in the rankings.

Thus, it's not by chance that the five of the bottom six in the power rankings have an ongoing quarterback competition. That's not to say that a school like USC, which has too much talent to be sitting in the bottom half of the rankings, can't quickly make a jump to the top once their quarterback situation is resolved.

And the same goes for No. 6 Oregon State -- which is fortunate to have two capable starters competing. I don't know who first opined that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one. I don't buy it. Ask any coach in the bottom half of the power rankings if they'd prefer zero quarterbacks who have won games or two. I think we all know the answer.

The best passers are returning: Yep. Marcus Mariota led the Pac-12 in efficiency and Taylor Kelly wasn't far behind. Matt Barkley was third, Brett Hundley was fourth and Sean Mannion was fifth. However, it's worth noting that Kevin Hogan's efficiency would have ranked him slightly above Hundley had he appeared in more games in 2012 (the cutoff was appearing in 75 percent of the games, Hogan was at 71). That means five of the top six quarterbacks in efficiency are back.


A diverse array of NFL talent: Yep. Anyone who thinks Mariota is just a running quarterback failed to witness his 32 touchdown passes and league-best 68.5 completion percentage. He will fit nicely into any NFL offense.

Same for Kelly (29 touchdowns, 67.1 completion percentage) and Hundley (29, 66.5). Hogan should be well-versed in the pro-style attack (and NFL scouts love quarterbacks who know the pro-style/West Coast coming out of college) and if Mannion (if he wins the job) bounces back, he's got the prototypical NFL pro-style frame.

And let's not forget Keith Price, who we're expecting to have a nice bounce-back year. He was extremely efficient in 2011 (33, 66.9) so the potential and athleticism is obviously there.

Little QB turnover in the league: Well, the Pac-12 can't make that claim with six starting jobs still in doubt and potentially five schools starting a fresh-faced QB.

Award winners back on campus: Yep. Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year (Mariota). First-team quarterback (Mariota). Kelly, Hogan and Hundley were honorable mention.

While it's true that this might shape up as one of the greatest years in college football history for quarterbacks, it's equally true that the Pac-12 might have its best crop of quarterbacks in league history.

The Pac-12 has sent at least one quarterback to the NFL since 1995 and at least one has gone in the first round in nine of the past 16 drafts. There was 2003 when Carson Palmer (USC) and Kyle Boller (Cal) both went in the first round. 1999 was a strong year with Akili Smith (Oregon) and Cade McNown (UCLA) going in the first round and Brock Huard (Washington) going in the third. Three times the Pac-12 has had four quarterbacks go in the draft (2005, 1991 and 1989).

2004 comes to mind as a pretty darn good collection with Aaron Rodgers (Cal), Matt Leinart (USC), Derek Anderson (Oregon State), Andrew Walter (ASU), Kellen Clemens (Oregon), Trent Edwards (Stanford), Drew Olson (UCLA) and Alex Brink (Washington State).

It's a little too early to start speculating about who is going to go and who is going to stay. But based on what we've seen from this crop in the past nine months, it's possible the 2013 class will be right up there in the conversation as one of the best collection of quarterbacks ever in the league.
When something seemingly loud happens, we can't help but stare. The momentum of attention, which of course can be monetized by the media, creates a hungry void that is filled with endless analysis. The end-result is a suffusion of broad statements of "This proves this!"

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Eagles drafted USC QB Matt Barkley with the 98th pick in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
So we have USC quarterback Matt Barkley. It seems now we all should have seen Barkley's precipitous slide in the NFL draft coming. He would have been a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft, not the 98th overall selection he ended up being on Saturday, if he'd only been smart enough not to return to USC for his senior season.

I get it. Hindsight rocks. We'd all be rich, infinitely happy people if we could do a rewind and relive the past, knowing what we know after going through it once before.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's fair to say now that Barkley made a huge mistake. How huge? This is from Sports Illustrated's Peter King:
P.S.: Wondering what that extra year of school cost Barkley? He went 98th overall. Let's say he'd have been the eighth pick a year ago -- that's where Ryan Tannehill went. It's all speculation, of course. But the consensus was he'd have been a top 10 pick. Tannehill's deal: four years, $12.7 million. The 98th pick last year, Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, signed for four years and $2.58 million. Turns out it was a $10.1 million year of school for Matt Barkley.

Ouch.

You business school guys can pencil that out for us over a lifetime. Forget Barkley's second contract. You can't make up a $10.1 million hit.

So, yeah, bad call. Barkley undoubtedly will become a cautionary tale for future players who are debating whether to stay in school or enter the draft early. More than a few folks will insist that if there's a consensus first-round grade for a third-year player, returning merely to make a run at being the first overall pick or a top-10 pick is not a good idea.

Support for that notion comes from the evaluative distance between the end of the regular season and the actual draft. So much happens between December and April that a player, particularly one with great athletic measurables, can dramatically influence the affections of NFL scouts and GMs.

Still, let's look at the Barkley who stood in front of a Christmas tree in December 2011 and smoothly announced his return to USC.

  • There was seemingly no question at that point he would be, at best, the third QB chosen behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Further, you'd think that some of his supposed red flags -- arm strength and foot quickness -- would have revealed themselves at the NFL combine and during workouts, so it's even questionable that he would have won out over Tannehill.
  • Go back to your December 2011 self. Who was the best college QB in the nation? There was Barkley and then a whole bunch of "Who?" and "Neh." Phil Steele's ranking of QBs after Barkley in advance of the season: 2.Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; 3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma; 4. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; 5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee.
  • Ergo, his rating as the top overall QB entering 2012, based on three years as a starter, seemed absolutely secure.
  • Then there were the Trojans around him: 18 starters back from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. That included four starters on the offensive line to protect him and the best tandem of college receivers in recent memory: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

There were only two potential red flags at the time: 1. Injury; 2. The unknown. Both ended up contributing to Barkley's slip.

"The unknown" includes that old scouting adage that a guy can have "too much film." If a guy duplicates his great play from a previous season, scouts will wonder why he didn't dramatically improve. And woe unto him whose numbers drop.

But the now-marginalized reasons for Barkley's return also were sound:

  • Win the Heisman Trophy.
  • Win the national title.
  • Enjoy another year of college as USC's QB, which is a nice thing to carry around the idyllic campus, before taking on real world stresses of playing a game for a living.
  • Become the first QB taken in the 2013 draft, which is typically in the higher reaches of the top-10.

At the time Barkley made his decision to stick around, there were few naysayers about his and his team's prospects. That everything went so completely rear-end-over-tea-kettle still boggles the mind if you aren't one of those people who pretends you saw it all coming a year ago.


All this said, with a few exceptions, my long-held belief on this is a player should enter the draft as soon as possible. "Stay in school!" sounds nice, but a guy can always go back to school.

That position, however, is not all about merely jumping into the draft when your stock is seemingly high. It's also about age. It's better to start earning a (substantial) paycheck at, say, 21 than 22, if it is available to you. The career clock doesn't tick very long in the NFL, and an extra couple of million can help later in life.

Consider two Pac-12 players who had less fanfare this draft cycle but are probably nearly as disappointed as Barkley: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner and Stanford OLB Chase Thomas.

Both opted to return for their senior seasons in order to improve their NFL draft prospects. It appears neither did, with Barner going in the sixth round and Thomas going undrafted. My hunch is they would have done better last spring.

Both now have an additional year of wear-and-tear on the bodies without getting paid, which is particularly an issue for Barner because running backs see their productivity drop substantially at 30. Barner just turned 24.

Ultimately, a disappointing draft doesn't make or break an NFL career. Ask Tom Brady. I think just about every conversation I had with former Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck circled back to his annoyance at being picked in the sixth round, watching QBs he felt were inferior to him get picked before him.

Barkley, who has seemingly led a charmed life at quarterback, might get a boost from having a chip on his shoulder (a Chip Kelly one, at that). Maybe "Angry Matt" will turn out better than "Breezy Matt."

The NFL draft is often confounding. It is laden with risk and reward on both sides of the process. Barkley took on a defensible risk and things didn't go as he hoped. That's notable, but it's also an annual occurrence.

As for Barkley, you'd think that at some point in his life he will encounter a greater adversity than being picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
Five Pac-12 players were selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.

Here's the chart:


So... what's our take?

Thanks for asking.

Kevin Gemmell: I must say, very, very interesting first round. And one that I think most Pac-12 fans can be relatively pleased with. The five players drafted Thursday night are the most since the league sent six in 2008. So that's progress.

Two things really stood out as surprising to me. First, it's not that Dion Jordan went third overall to the Miami Dolphins. It's that he went to a 4-3 defense. Perhaps Jeff Ireland is a huge fan of the Pac-12 blog and was reading our Take 2 from a few weeks ago. And if that's the case, you're welcome, Jeff.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the first round to select Oregon's Dion Jordan.
Jordan is pretty good at stopping the run -- but it's not the strength of his game. As every draftnik in the world noted before and after the selection, he's a beast at speed rushing off the edge, but has some work to do in other aspects of his game. They also made the apt comparison to former Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor. Fitting since both players have similar frames and skill sets. He had an OK career, so maybe it all works out.

The second thing that surprised me was that Star Lotulelei was not the first defensive tackle taken. We figured he could go pretty much anywhere in the top 15 -- most mocks had him where he landed at No 14 to the Carolina Panthers. One pick earlier, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets. I admit I don't know a ton about Richardson. I just know that Lotulelei graded out higher, had a comparable 40 time (though it was inconsistent because it was at a pro day, not the NFL scouting combine) and he had eight more reps on the bench. Maybe it's just personal preference, but I was pretty surprised he wasn't the first defensive tackle off the board.

Liked the pick of Oregon's Kyle Long by the Bears. They are getting a versatile player who could really fit in at any position across the line after he gets a little seasoning. We've seen him slowly creep up in mock drafts -- starting several months ago in the third-round range -- and that buzz was legitimized with his pick at No. 20.

And I liked that Atlanta had Desmond Trufant targeted and they traded up to get him. It was a need position and they jumped at the chance to get an NFL-ready starter. Good pick.

Datone Jones is a guy Ted and I have been talking about for a couple of years now -- how we just kept waiting for him to breakout. And then UCLA switches to the 3-4 and he blows up. He could be a real solid player for years in Green Bay's 3-4 front.

Overall, I'd call it a fair-to-good first day for the Pac-12.

Ted Miller: Of course, the big question many will ask is how did the Pac-12 compare to the other conferences.

Here are the first-round numbers. Yes, there will be SEC crowing, with some justification.

  • SEC – 12
  • ACC – 6
  • Pac-12 – 5
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Independent – 2
  • MAC – 1
  • C-USA – 1
  • Big East - 1
  • Big Ten - 1

The SEC's 12 picks ties the record set by the ACC in 2006. Don't forget the SEC now has 14 teams. Or, for that matter, the Big 12 has 10.

My first-round takeaways? Well, the above numbers are meaningful.

The SEC? Well. I'll let you guys try to explain those away. (Good luck with that.) I tweeted this story the other day, and I think it well relates how SEC dominance, once a chimerical creation from a region that often doesn't fret the truth getting in the way of a good story, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The bottom, however, is almost as telling -- see the Pac-12's Rose Bowl partner, the Big Ten with just one selection. That certainly validates the perception that conference has slipped, something we've seen on the field in recent years.

As for the five Pac-12 picks, I had a nice conversation with Jordan at the Fiesta Bowl about how his fortunes had turned. He seemed genuinely awed by it. And grateful. After the game, I was standing there when his mother worked here way through the crowd to give him a hug. Apparently it was raining inside University of Phoenix Stadium.

One of the things I always think about on draft day is how through-the-looking-glass strange it's got to feel for guys, at least the reflective ones. Sure, most top picks get fronted money by their agents, so they've been living the life for a few months. But when it becomes official, a guy in his early 20s suddenly become certifiably rich.

The third pick last year, Cleveland's Trent Richardson, got four years at $20.4 million. Just imagine yourself at 23 having a conversation about $20 million. And how it's a bit low.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsMatt Barkley could be the next Pac-12 alum off the board.
As for the rest, the Panthers got a steal with Star Lotulelei at No. 14. The Panthers just put a checkmark in the box for the middle of their defensive line. And I think Jets fans will remember in a very Jets fans way that the Jets took Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson a pick before the Panthers.

Oregon O-lineman Kyle Long at No. 20 was a mild surprise, but the Bears probably swooned over his obvious upside. You can't beat his bloodlines either.

The Trufant pick clearly validates the Pac-12 blog at the expense of Washington fans. See... we told you he was good.

Wait. I may not be recalling that accurately. Two words: Kevin's fault.

And Jones, whom we've been touting pretty much since he arrived at UCLA, obviously found his rhythm over the past year.

As Kevin noted, there are a lot of good Pac-12 players left on the board, including a substantial handful who figure to get selected in the next two rounds. Things should continue to be interesting, starting with who steps up and picks USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
It didn’t take long for there to be some drama in the 2013 NFL draft. And former Oregon Duck Dion Jordan was right in the middle of it.

Jordan, the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the No. 3 pick ... much to the surprise of the ESPN draft coverage crew. And Jordan.

After offensive tackles went first and second, Jordan was the first defensive player taken in the draft when the Oakland Raiders traded the pick to the Dolphins.

Jordan’s selection was met with mostly positive, yet still mixed responses. Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden and Chris Berman praised Jordan’s athleticism and ability to rush off the edge. But they also questioned whether that’s worth the No. 3 overall pick. Obviously, the Dolphins thought it was.

Many believed that former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now the head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, was going to take Jordan with the fourth pick. Instead, the Dolphins moved one spot ahead, leaving Kelly to take Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.

“I was surprised ... I wasn’t expecting that,” Jordan told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber. “I’m very blessed. I’m going to bring tremendous athletic ability … I’m ready to get in there and work with the guys.”

Jordan, Oregon’s highest drafted player since Joey Harrington went No. 3 overall in the 2002 draft, was the first of what turned out to be five first-round picks for the Pac-12 on Thursday night. It was the most first-round picks since the league had six in 2008.

After the Jordan selection, things quieted down for the league until the 14th pick, when the Carolina Panthers selected Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. He was the second defensive tackle taken in the draft after Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets.

“He is a space-eater,” said Kiper after the selection. “He’s a stay-at-home type defensive tackle. He won’t give you a lot of pass rush. But he’s strong. He’s quick. He’s a tough kid. I thought a very good player, but the pass rush wasn’t there.”

ESPN's Pat Yasinskas has a good breakdown of what this means for the Panthers.

The second “surprise” pick of the draft also involved a Duck – when the Chicago Bears drafted Oregon offensive guard Kyle Long.

Said Kiper: “He has the kind of skill set you want. [But] he needs a lot of coaching ... he’s a developmental prospect … [His] versatility and mean streak intrigued a lot of people.”

Just two picks later, the Atlanta Falcons traded up to get Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant at No. 22. After posting a 4.38 at the NFL scouting combine -- third fastest among the defensive backs -- his stock jumped from early second round to first-round selection.

Said Kiper: “He’s an instinctive ball hawk. A guy I think really got better as his career moved along … this is a need area and [Atlanta] went up aggressively to get him.”

UCLA defensive end Datone Jones became the league’s fifth selection when the Green Bay Packers took him at No. 26. ESPN's Jon Gruden was a fan of the pick.

“If you’re into combine workouts, you’re into Datone Jones. Because he dominated the combine,” Gruden said. “The arrow is going up on this kid. He’s my sleeper of the first round. He has NFL movement skills ... he can play on a tight end. He can play inside. And the Packers need a dominant inside defender. Good pick.”

There is still plenty of intrigue looking ahead with names like Zach Ertz, Robert Woods, Matt Barkley, Keenan Allen, Matt Scott, Brian Schwenke, Steve Williams, Markus Wheaton, Jordan Poyer, David Bakhtiari, Chase Thomas, Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin and about a dozen more from the league still on the board.

Settle in for a draft-filled weekend.
Say what you want about the flagging reputations of former USC quarterbacks, but at least they keep things interesting.

One of the big questions for the 2013 NFL draft this week is the fate of Matt Barkley. Will he still get picked in the first round or will his stock continue to tumble?

Barkley seemed to -- finally? -- reveal some frustrations this week in a series of interviews in which he questioned coach Lane Kiffin's play-calling in 2012.

See here. And here.

But he wasn't the only former Trojan making news.

Mark Sanchez spoke up about the New York Jets acquiring Tim Tebow last year, and the media circus that the organization seemed to embrace. That, of course, created a new, if more modulated, media circus.

That wasn't the oddest bit of "news."

Former USC quarterback Mitch Mustain, who backed up Sanchez and Barkley after transferring from Arkansas, is the subject of a new documentary. It's narrated by former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, which adds to a slightly strange texture in itself.

What's it about? Well, it's called "The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain," which strikes me as a bit melodramatic. Mustain, who had an undeniably live arm, had one problem: His ability to select football programs.

When Mustain decided to leave Arkansas, where he was mismatched with head coach Houston Nutt, he could have become the starter for about 100 or so teams. But he chose USC, which simply had better quarterbacks on hand. End of story, at least on the USC end.

The Arkansas stuff, however, is fairly rich.

Meanwhile, Matt Leinart is a free agent, Carson Palmer signed with Arizona -- perhaps to be closer to the Pac-12 blog -- Matt Cassel is with the Minnesota Vikings, Aaron Corp is on the Buffalo Bills roster and John David Booty is out of the league.

Not many schools can list so many NFL QBs, but that operates as a negative when the success rate is so low.

The cumulative affect of all this mediocrity and odd drama -- fair or unfair -- is freight for Barkley.

His draft stock is not just about a disappointing season and over-heated questions about his arm strength, which is certainly NFL-adequate. It's guilt by association: USC QBs and their recent history in the NFL is pretty lousy.

USC's QB past shouldn't mean that much. Barkley should be evaluated, positively or negatively, on what he has done, who he is and his potential. But that dubious lineage will make more than a few NFL GMs skittish.

But all it takes is for Barkley to end up back in the first round. We shall see.

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