NCF Nation: Silas Redd

3-point stance: Bridgewater's future

December, 18, 2013
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1. It has been a foregone conclusion that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will leave a year early to go to the NFL. That Bridgewater said he has made no decision is interesting. He has already gotten his degree. The reasons to stay would be loyalty to friends and to coaches, or to enjoy a last year of college, or to become more football-mature. History is pretty clear: quarterbacks benefit from playing that extra year in college. I hope that Bridgewater withstands the pull of the NFL for one more year. But that’s hard to do.

2. The grumbling about Kirk Ferentz at Iowa has quieted again, now that the Hawkeyes went 8-4 and finished tied for second in the Big Ten Legends. Ferentz’s teams are almost metronomic in the way they swing from mediocre to good and back again. That’s maddening to fans in this day and age. But Ferentz re-established Iowa as a program that plays sound, fundamental football. Ferentz and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma began the same season, 1999, at their current jobs and had the same kind of 15th season: overachieving, with big finishes.

3. The rise of USC redshirt sophomore tailback Javorious Allen is fascinating when juxtaposed against the injury struggles of his teammate, senior Silas Redd. Allen came on strong in the back half of the season and finished with 699 yards and the team MVP award. Redd left Penn State on the cusp of the 2012 season, in what appeared to be an escape from Penn State’s NCAA sanctions. In two seasons at USC, Redd rushed 248 times for 1,281 yards. As a sophomore at Penn State in 2011, Redd rushed 244 times for 1,241 yards.

USC’s improved offense under Coach O

November, 13, 2013
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Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
USC has improved offensively since Ed Orgeron took over for Lane Kiffin as head coach.
In an interview with ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell, USC RB Javorius “Buck” Allen described USC’s transition to interim coach Ed Orgeron, “It hasn't been difficult. We all love Coach (Orgeron). He's a player's coach. He loves us, and he wants to see us happy and have fun. We really play off of that, and we want to win for him.”

USC is 4-1 under Coach Orgeron and its offense seems to have found an identity. USC has turned to its run game, led by Allen and Silas Redd, which has opened up the passing game for Cody Kessler and the Trojans.

Orgeron’s return to the run
USC is averaging 181.2 rush yards per game under Ed Orgeron, which is comparable to its average in the first five games of the season under Lane Kiffin. However, the Trojans are running more often on early downs and finding success in doing so.

In their past five games, the Trojans have run on 70 percent of their first-down plays, an increase of eight percentage points from their first five games. They have averaged 5.8 yards per rush and gained a first down on 22 percent of their first-down rushes in those games.

Success on first down has resulted in increased efficiency on third down. USC ranked 112th in the FBS through its first five games with a 28 percent third-down conversion rate. With Orgeron at the helm, the Trojans have increased that rate to 36 percent, including 52 percent in their past two games.

Buck Allen’s emergence
The biggest difference in USC’s running game has been the emergence Javorius “Buck” Allen. According to sources, Allen was one of USC’s most productive backs in training camp, but he did not get many carries at the start of the season. Those carries went to Tre Madden and Justin Davis, who were both productive, but recently went down with injuries.

Even before the injuries to Madden and Davis, Allen was given a chance by Ed Orgeron. In five games under Orgeron, Allen has gained 327 yards, including at least 130 in each of his past two games. He is averaging 8.8 yards per rush and has added an element of speed that complements the bruising style of Silas Redd.

Allen’s speed has allowed him to turn the corner on opposing defenses. He is averaging 11.4 yards per carry outside the tackles and seven of his 23 rushes have gained at least 10 yards. Overall, he leads the Trojans with seven rushing touchdowns, including four outside the tackles, despite ranking fourth on the team with 51 carries.

Improved QB play
Under Orgeron, USC is attempting more passes per game and its average pass distance is one yard farther downfield than when Lane Kiffin was the head coach.

Orgeron and new play caller Clay Helton have cut back on USC’s bubble screens, which were a staple of Lane Kiffin’s offense. After attempting more than five screens per game under Kiffin, USC has attempted just nine screens in five games (1.8 per game) under Orgeron and have relied more heavily on the arms of their quarterbacks.

Cody Kessler has responded to the increased responsibility by posting a 65.5 opponent-adjusted QBR in his past five games. He completed 81.6 percent of his passes and averaged 11 yards per attempt in his past two games against Oregon State and California.

The most noticeable difference for USC’s quarterbacks is on third down. In their past five games, they have converted a first down on 32 percent of their passing plays (pass attempts + sacks) and have a 54.1 Total QBR on third down. In comparison, they converted 22 percent of their passing plays and had an 11.1 third-down Total QBR in the first five games of the season.

USC’s quarterbacks will be challenged on Saturday against Stanford’s stout defense. The Cardinal rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and are coming off of a game in which they held Oregon’s Marcus Mariota to a season-low 46.5 Total QBR.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

  1. The big one: No. 5 Stanford will host No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in a game that is sure to send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and BCS Standings. A win for the Ducks likely re-catapults them back over Florida State and into the No. 2 spot of the BCS rankings -- the outcome of Alabama-LSU pending. A victory for the Cardinal keeps their national championship hopes alive, but they’d still need some help along the way to pass Ohio State and Florida State. This is just the second time that two Pac-12 teams have met while ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. The last time was No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Oregon in 2007.
  2. [+] EnlargeByron Marshall
    Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall leads the Oregon rushing attack at Stanford on Thursday night.
    Edges matter: Per the brilliant number crunchers at ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal will have to contain the Ducks when they try to run outside. Oregon averages 8.7 yards per rush outside the tackles, second among all AQ teams behind Wisconsin. Last season, Stanford forced Oregon to run 63 percent of the time between the tackles. And when the Ducks did get outside, the Cardinal were able to contain them to the tune of just 29 yards, 1.9 yards per rush and 1.3 yards before contact. In Oregon’s other games last season, they averaged 108.1 yards per game outside the tackles.
  3. The other side of the ball: We know about Oregon’s offense. We know about Stanford’s defense. How about when roles are reversed? The Cardinal offense hasn’t been all that productive of late, averaging just 21.6 points over its past three games. Oregon’s defense yields just 16.9 points per game -- seventh-best in the country. Turnovers will obviously be a premium for both defenses. Stanford has a zero turnover margin with 11 takeaways and 11 giveaways. Oregon, however, is plus-13 with 23 turnovers gained to 10 turnovers lost.
  4. Quotable: Always good for a one-liner, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked earlier in the week about De’Anthony Thomas’ comments that he expects the Ducks to score at least 40 points. “I don’t have an issue with that,” Shaw said. “He’s a confident young man, and they put it on film. They’ve done it. So I have no problem with that if that’s his mentality. I’m just glad he only said 40.” Seeing as Shaw has a penchant for the us-against-the-world approach for his team, here’s betting he had a different message for his defense behind closed doors.
  5. South showdown (1): UCLA heads to Tucson, where it hasn’t won since 2003 -- the first year of the Karl Dorrell era. Both teams have already achieved bowl eligibility. Both teams sit at 3-2 in conference play. Now it becomes a question of pecking order. Ka’Deem Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games, which is tops in the FBS. The Bruins snapped their two-game losing streak with a win over Colorado last week. Brett Hundley posted the third game of his career with two rushing and two passing touchdowns and he accounted for 345 yards of total offense. Keep an eye on how things play out in the first 30 minutes, because the Bruins are 13-0 under coach Jim Mora when they lead at the half.
  6. South showdown (2): The Sun Devils look to strengthen their foothold on the South with a trip to Utah -- a team they blasted in Tempe last season. In fact, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he has “horrible memories” of last season's loss and called it one of Utah’s poorest performances since joining the Pac-12. The obvious sidebar here is it’s the first time Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is facing the team he used to coach. But Whittingham said Erickson is a pretty even-keeled guy and he doesn’t expect sentiment or emotions to play a role. Whittingham also said that quarterback Travis Wilson is healed from his hand injury and won’t wear a glove. Across the field, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming off of a seven-touchdown game on the road at Washington State.
  7. Trojans rolling: Since making the coaching switch from Lane Kiffin to interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Trojans have gone 3-1, including a convincing 31-14 win last week on the road at Oregon State. For the second time this season USC had a pair of running backs post 100-yard games with senior Silas Redd rushing for 140 yards and Buck Allen collecting 133 yards (8.3 yards per catch) and 3 TDs. Allen was USC’s fourth different back to rush for 100 yards this season. Marqise Lee is also coming off an outstanding performance, grabbing five passes for a season-high 105 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Beavers. Cal is still looking for a conference win, but should have some more confidence after an improved showing last week against Arizona.
  8. Bowl eligible: So far there are six teams already bowl eligible (Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA) with two more on the verge of becoming eligible this week. USC, because of the 13-game regular season schedule sits at 6-3 overall and needs to pick up a win at California to get a spot in the postseason. Washington is at 5-3 with a visit from Colorado. Both teams are favorites, which would give the league eight teams headed to the postseason with the legitimate potential for two more (Utah and Washington State). Both have four wins and Colorado still has an outside shot. Cal is the only Pac-12 team eliminated from bowl eligibility.
  9. Star power: Two of the nation’s elite offensive playmakers square off in Seattle when Colorado visits Washington. Buffs wide receiver Paul Richardson has 57 catches for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and continues to close in on several of Colorado’s single-season receiving marks. Washington counters with running back Bishop Sankey, who enters the week as the nation’s No. 3 rusher, averaging 145.3 yards per game. He’s coming off a career-best 241-yard performance against Cal and ranks fourth nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.
  10. Taking a breather: There are two teams on bye this week with Oregon State looking to refocus after dropping back-to-back games against Stanford and USC and Washington State taking its second bye week in the past three. The Beavers, who are already bowl eligible, close the season with two of their final three on the road; at ASU, home to Washington and at Oregon for the Civil War. With four wins, the Cougars need to win two more to teach the postseason. They are also on the road for two of their past three with dates at Arizona next week and home to Utah before closing out the Apple Cup in Seattle.
On Thursday morning, the best thing Week 10 had going for it was that it was right before Week 11. It was seven more days of watching the water boil till we could get to the Oregon-Stanford showdown -- the game we’ve been speculating about and talking about and writing about and blogging about and message-board-flaming about for the past nine months.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Matt Cohen/Icon SMIKa'Deem Carey rushed for his 11th straight 100-yard game in Arizona's win over Cal.
Week 10 was supposed to be filler material; B-roll compilation highlights; a stop-gap to sate us before the game we all want to see. But as it turned out, Week 10 was pretty darn entertaining. For what little buck there was, there was decent amount of bang.

Nothing was particularly earth-shattering or landscape-altering. But there was just enough entertainment value and drama to remind us why we tune in to every Pac-12 game. Not just the ones with ranked teams.

Taylor Kelly was nothing short of brilliant with his seven-touchdown performance in Arizona State's victory Thursday at Washington State. It wouldn’t be a Halloween game without something scary happening. And the scary happening in Pullman was that the Sun Devils scored 55 points and Marion Grice didn’t have a single touchdown.

USC took its Corvallis curse and shoved it right down Oregon State’s front seven as Silas Redd and Buck Allen combined for 273 rushing yards. The Trojans are now 3-1 since the coaching change.

California gave Arizona a scare and was an onside kick away from making things really interesting. But Ka'Deem Carey did what Ka'Deem Carey does best and rushed for his 11th straight 100-yard game -- tops in the FBS.

And UCLA got back to form against a Colorado team that came to play. The drama in Pasadena, Calif., wasn’t breathtaking, but Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau looked extremely poised, and there was a sense that, even down 18 points in the fourth quarter, the Buffs believed they could win. And yes, even in defeat, it’s nice to see a little swagger out of the Buffs. I like seeing Liufau, a true freshman, shove back when Anthony Barr, a probable top-five draft pick, was penalized for excessively slamming the quarterback. I like the entire Colorado offensive line rushing to its quarterback's defense. And I like that Barr came right back and hit Liufau on the next two plays.

The Sun Devils look like the team to beat in the South, but USC and Arizona have climbed back into the hunt and UCLA isn’t going to go gently -- especially after knocking off some of the rust from its two-game losing streak to Stanford and Oregon.

We can pretty much eliminate Oregon State from the race in the North after it lost another conference game. Combined with the loss to Stanford, the Beavers are in a pretty deep hole. It’s not impossible, but they’ll have to run the table over their final three games against ASU, Washington and Oregon, plus get a little help along the way.

However, the next Pac-12 game to be played will feature the Nos. 2 and 5 teams in the country. The speculation will soon come to an end and will be replaced with actual results. Said results could be a 21-point Oregon win or a three-point Stanford victory. Neither would be completely shocking.

The Ducks and Cardinal have split their past four meetings, with each team winning once at home and once on the road. The Cardinal got the better of the rivalry last year in one of the most thrilling games of the 2012 season. Two years ago in Palo Alto, Calif., it was the Ducks who dominated with a 23-point victory.

The wait is almost over. We can officially stop looking over the horizon and focus on the game that could have massive Pac-12 and BCS implications.

But before we do, a tip of the cap to Week 10. Thanks for making things fun. We’re glad we stuck around to watch.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

1. Title game rematch: UCLA and Stanford will face each other for the third time in the last 10 months. Only this time it’s the Bruins who are the higher-ranked team, coming in at No. 9 after Stanford slid to No. 13 following its loss at Utah. Remember all of those side-to-side swing passes that Dennis Erickson and Utah used to keep Stanford off balance? Remember who worked for Erickson at ASU? Yep, Noel Mazzone. And UCLA loves to hit its receivers in the flat. Keep an eye on what happens after the second-half kickoff, as well. The Bruins are outscoring opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this year. Stanford has a 12-game home winning streak -- third longest in the nation -- and is 10-1 at home against ranked opponents since 2009. Stanford hasn’t lost consecutive games since the middle of the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks are expected to be one of the top two teams when the BCS standings are released on Sunday.
2. BCS time: The first Harris Poll of the season was released Sunday and featured four Pac-12 teams in the top 25: Oregon (2), UCLA (9), Stanford (12) and Washington (25). The first BCS standings will be released this week -- which comes on the heels of the announced selection committee for the College Football Playoff that starts next year. We’re all expecting Oregon to be in one of the top two spots. Question is, where will UCLA or Stanford land?

3. North vs. South: Two more critical North versus South showdowns this week with UCLA traveling to Stanford and Washington heading to Arizona State. The UCLA-Stanford game takes center stage for obvious reasons. But Washington-ASU has all the makings of a thriller. This is one of those 50-50 games that either team needs to win to show they belong in the upper tier of the Pac-12. The quarterbacks, Keith Price and Taylor Kelly, are obviously the mechanisms that make their teams go. But Washington running back Bishop Sankey (899 yards) has rushed for at least 125 yards in five of six games and ASU gives up almost 170 yards per game on the ground. Look for him to probably break 1,000 for the season by the final whistle. On the flip side, ASU’s Marion Grice already has 15 total touchdowns. He had 19 last year, so look for him to eclipse that mark in the next couple of games.

4. Making up is hard to do: Colorado will face Charleston Southern this week as a makeup for the Sept. 14 game against Fresno State that was canceled because of severe rain and flooding in Colorado. Charleston Southern is a perfect 7-0 on the year and is receiving votes in the Sports Network FCS College Football Poll. The Buffs are looking to get to 3-3 for the first time since 2010. And they are making a change at quarterback with Sefo Liufau stepping in after going 18 of 26 for 169 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions in relief against Arizona State.

5. No. 5? The Cougars are looking for their fifth win for the first time since 2007. Tough draw, however, this week with a trip to Oregon. The Ducks are averaging 56.8 points per game and are second in the country in total offense with 630.5 yards per game.

6. Taking care of the ball: Speaking of Oregon, quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman frontrunner through the first half of the season, continues to impress with turnover-free performances. Though his completion percentage is down from last year, he hasn’t thrown an interception in 165 pass attempts this year -- which extends a streak dating back to last season of 233 attempts. His last interception was against Stanford. During that stretch, he’s completed 100 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns. Receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have 27 catches each for a combined 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns.

7. Rebuilding the brand: Nothing can unite the USC fan base like a win against Notre Dame. Better yet, a win at Notre Dame. The Trojans won their first game of the Ed Orgeron era and look to follow it up against the Irish. Neither team is ranked, but the names carry a lot of weight. This is a game that could re-energize the Trojans moving forward. Marqise Lee and Morgan Breslin have both practiced and it’s looking like both will play. That should be a huge boost after getting running back Silas Redd back last week.

8. Momentum building? What do the Utes do with their big win over Stanford? Do they keep the momentum rolling? They have to go on the road for four of their next six -- including leaving the state for the first time this season when they travel to face Arizona. The Wildcats are still looking for their first conference win, though quarterback B.J. Denker had a strong statistical performance in the loss last week to USC, completing 28 of 44 passes for a career high 363 yards and four touchdowns.

9. Who needs a running game? The Pac-12’s top two passing offenses square off with Oregon State’s trip to Cal. OSU quarterback Sean Mannion has six straight games of 350 passing yards and the Beavers lead the conference with 433.2 passing yards per game and 25 passing touchdowns. Cal averages 371.3 yards in the air -- second in the league, but just 11 passing touchdowns, third worst. The Bears can move it, they just haven’t been able to convert yards into points.

10. No off week: For the second straight week, all 12 schools will be in action. This was supposed to be a bye week for Colorado, but the Charleston Southern game fills the void. Next week Arizona State and Washington State are on bye. It will be the first of two byes in three weeks for the Cougars, who will have opened the year with eight straight games following this week’s matchup with Oregon.

Patience needed in PSU's QB race

August, 8, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Jesse James shook his head when asked about the quarterback competition.

He offered a blanket statement of "they're both doing good" before attempting to move on to the next question.

"What's the question you're most tired of today?" asked one reporter.

"The quarterback situation," the tight end said with a slight smile.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTyler Ferguson has the edge in Penn State's QB battle, but will he hold off Christian Hackenberg?
Defensive backs, offensive linemen, wide receivers -- everyone was posed questions about Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, the fresh-faced signal-callers who are battling for a starting job. No quarterback was made available to the media on a cool Thursday morning, so their teammates took the brunt of the prodding.

Did players prefer one quarterback to another? What was it like catching a Hackenberg pass compared to a Ferguson one? Who's harder to read? Who's the better leader? Better yet, who's going to start?

Bill O'Brien had an answer for fans and media alike after three practices: "Just hold your horses."

"They're both talented guys and I just want them to continue to grasp what we're trying to do and play the next play," O'Brien continued, adding he might -- or might not -- name a starter in about two weeks. "You're going to make mistakes. Matt McGloin made mistakes, but he's tough. He was resilient -- and that's what these guys need to do."

No position this season is more important than quarterback. McGloin helped lead a seemingly patchwork offense that averaged 29 points a game last season, a touchdown and field goal better than the previous season with such stars as Justin Brown and Silas Redd.

And with nearly the entire offense returning this season, big things are expected out of the new quarterback, whoever it is. So, not surprisingly, quarterback was the big storyline Thursday -- and it'll continue to be the big story until O'Brien does finally name the starter.

A pack of reporters followed the red jerseys like ants to a picnic basket during an afternoon practice. Neither appeared to throw a pass longer than 15 yards during the 45-minute open portion of practice, and few observations could really be made.

Hackenberg showed a strong arm during the short passes and made a nice roll-out throw at one point, garnering praise from O'Brien. But both quarterbacks also drew the ire of the head coach at different times.

"This is a review!" O'Brien yelled after one miscue.

The most surprising moment from Thursday's media day likely came from O'Brien himself. Last season's ESPN coach of the year acknowledged, after three practices, that Ferguson held the edge. That in itself wasn't surprising -- after all, Ferguson enrolled early while Hackenberg did not -- but it came as a slight shock that O'Brien chose to share that tidbit.

Ferguson could use the confidence boost after missing about a month of voluntary workouts and leaving the door a bit more open for Hackenberg.

Cornerback Jordan Lucas didn't pretend Ferguson had no cobwebs to shake off.
"That's with anything, though," Lucas added. "Like if you're coming back from a month of not interviewing anybody, you need to get your questions right and juice yourself back up a little bit. So, coming from a month off, you need to shake a bit off.

"But it's just like riding a bike. It never leaves."

Hopefully, for Ferguson, that comes back within the next two weeks. O'Brien said he's been impressed with just how quickly Hackenberg has improved from one practice to the next so, although Ferguson holds the edge, that definitely doesn't mean he's a lock to become the starter.

O'Brien will face questions about his quarterbacks every time he speaks with fans or the media. Ditto for any Penn State players. But, for now, the quarterbacks need to show one characteristic: resilience.

And for everybody else? Patience.

Walter Camp watch list announced

July, 19, 2013
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The Walter Camp Award, given annually to the best player in college football, announced its 50-man watch list on Friday, and it includes nine Pac-12 players.

Price is obviously making the list based on his 2011 reputation. You could make an argument UCLA QB Brett Hundley and Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly deserve inclusion.

Here's the complete list:
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Antonio Andrews, RB, Western Kentucky
Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Kolton Browning, QB, Louisiana Monroe
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona *
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina *
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
David Fluellen, RB, Toledo
Phillip Gaines, DB, Rice
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
John Hubert, RB, Kansas State
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami Fla. #
Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State
Marqise Lee, WR, USC *
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan *
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M *
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M #
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama *
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Louis Nix III, DE, Notre Dame
Casey Pachall, QB, TCU
Keith Price, QB, Washington
Silas Redd, RB, USC
Bradley Roby, DB, Ohio State #
Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State #
Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame #
Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
Jason Verrett, DB, TCU #
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

* 2012 Walter Camp First Team All-American
# - 2012 Walter Camp Second Team All-American

3-point stance: O'Brien's hopscotch career

June, 11, 2013
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1. Not every quarterback who transfers has the success of a Russell Wilson, who used the graduate transfer rule in 2011 to leave NC State and lead Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl. Last year, Danny O'Brien left Maryland for Madison and tried to repeat Wilson’s feat. Instead, O’Brien lost the starting job and got buried on the depth chart. Now he's leaving Wisconsin, according to media reports, and his high school coach is lamenting that O'Brien has had four college head coaches in four years. Well, whose fault is that?

2. More quarterbacks transfer because of ego than at any other position. Two of the top running backs this season, Lache Seastrunk of Baylor and Silas Redd of USC, transferred to their current schools not because of ego, but indirectly because of the NCAA. Seastrunk started out at Oregon with the help of Willie Lyles, whose recruiting service prompted an NCAA investigation of the Ducks. Redd left Penn State after the NCAA penalized the Nittany Lions so severely last August.

3. According to SEC blogger Chris Low on Monday, Vegas odds have favored Alabama for 41 consecutive games. The streak dates to BCS Championship Game against Texas in 2009. I’m sure Pete Carroll’s USC teams were favored for more consecutive games. Remember, oddsmakers are the original crowdsourcers. They make odds with an eye on getting the public to choose sides evenly. But given the difficulty of the SEC, and given that Crimson Tide was 25-16 against the line in those games, the public’s unwavering faith in Nick Saban’s teams is remarkable.
Lane Kiffin and Co. have released their official post-spring two-deep depth chart. And not surprisingly, there aren't a lot of surprises.

One of the most watched quarterback competitions in the country lists Max Wittek OR Cody Kessler OR Max Browne. Leaving us with what we knew a month ago. It's going to be Wittek OR Kessler OR Browne.

Steve Bisheff of WeAreSC makes his case -- and a compelling one at that -- for Kessler, who clearly had the strongest spring of all three quarterbacks.
Despite Kessler's clear advantage coming into the (spring) game, Kiffin had Max Wittek starting with the first unit at the Coliseum on Saturday. And even after Kessler outplayed his main competitor, throwing for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions compared to Wittek's 145 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, Kiffin insisted that no quarterback had emerged as a front-runner for the position and that he won't name a starter until the fall.

Sticking with the offense, there was already an assumed pecking order at wide receiver, but it's more solidified now. Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell are behind Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee. Nelson Agholor will start opposite Lee with De'Von Flournoy and George Katrib backing him up.

Some intrigue at running back with Silas Redd at the top, but the starting gig is listed as Redd or Justin Davis or Tre Madden. Same for the fullback, which lists Soma Vainuku or Jahleel Pinner as the starter.

So while the entire offensive backfield is a grab bag of "ors," there is at least some solidarity on the offensive line, where four of the five starters appear to be in place. Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk make up the left side with Marcus Martin at center and John Martinez at right guard. The only spot still in doubt is at right tackle between Kevin Graf or Chad Wheeler.

The new-look 52 defensive front has Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin at the outside linebacker spots (that's going to be a scary combination, by the way) with Leonard Williams and George Uko (also a darn good tandem) at the ends. Nose tackle is still up for grabs between Antwaun Woods or Cody Temple.

In the secondary, where there are almost as many holes as there are questions -- little has been determined. Three of the four starting spots have an "or" attached to them. Only Anthony Brown looks like the inked-in starter. Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour are battling for the other corner spot and Demetrius Wright or Leon McQuay III are battling for free safety. Josh Shaw and touted freshman Su'a Cravens -- who missed a significant portion of spring drills -- will head into fall battling for strong safety.
While quarterback competitions are typically front-and-center during Pac-12 spring practices, there are always other interesting spring storylines.

Here are two.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Harry How/Getty ImagesUSC coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with several new assistants, a new defensive scheme, and uncertainty at quarterback.
Ted Miller: It was a horrible, no-good, rotten, very bad 2012 season for USC coach Lane Kiffin. And the 2012-13 offseason has been no picnic either. Some Trojans fans wanted Kiffin fired. Just about all were frustrated. Justifiably so, by the way.

Lane: Welcome to spring, the season for rebirth! Time to turn the page. Or, perhaps, pick up an entirely new book.

At the very least, the situation at USC is interesting. One of the nation's premier programs is front-and-center for many of the wrong reasons, but there is enough talent on hand for Kiffin to turn things around and shut up his critics.

Interesting plot lines? Kiffin will be breaking in four new assistant coaches, including a pair of new coordinators, his defense will be transitioning from a 4-3 base to a 3-4, and he's looking for a new quarterback for the first time in his tenure.

There's a lot going on. Lots of questions. Lots of doubt, too. Yet negative momentum isn't irreversible.

What if the Trojans have an exceptional spring?

What if Clancy Pendergast shakes things up and, suddenly, the defensive guys are playing hard and fast in a sound scheme they understand? And what if the offense, nonetheless, makes plenty of plays because the quarterbacks are sharp and the line is manning up? What if the fitness level of the Trojans improves? What if offensive tackle Aundrey Walker breaks through, realizing his future NFL contract will be based on performance, not measurables? What if Devon Kennard proves a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as we believe he is? What if guys like Marqise Lee, Hayes Pullard, Silas Redd, Dion Bailey and Kevin Graf step up as leaders? What if receivers George Farmer and Victor Blackwell decide they don't want to be left in the dust behind Lee and Nelson Agholor? What if running back Tre Madden says, "Hey, remember me?"

What if Kiffin simultaneously refocuses and relaxes? What if he uses his capable brain to be smart, not a smart aleck, to be creative, not sneaky? What if he realizes the media is not an enemy, but just a bunch of folks trying to do their job whom he should humor with vague though sometimes amusing answers?

There are a lot of "What ifs?" with USC and Kiffin. It's not difficult, by the way, to talk yourself into believing a bounce-back is entirely possible.

That's what is interesting. Kiffin 2.0 was 2010 and 2011, when he seemed to find his rhythm as a coach after controversial stints with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers. Kiffin 3.0, was 2012, a complete face-plant.

This spring presents us with Kiffin 4.0. It could prove to be the most important transition of his career as a head coach.

And that is interesting.

Kevin Gemmell: Besides quarterback battles -- which I think are always the most exciting position battles there are -- I'm most curious to see how the running back battle is going to play out at Stanford.

When you look at a Stanford squad that is very heavy on upperclassmen -- on both sides of the ball -- you have to wonder if all of the pieces are in place for Stanford to make a legitimate run at the national championship.

I wasn't sure before, but with the addition of Tyler Gaffney to the running back corps, I'm warming up to the idea that the Cardinal could challenge any team in the country for a BCS championship -- if they can get out of their own conference (or division for that matter) -- which anyone will tell you is no easy task.

It's no surprise that Stanford's primary offensive weapon is the quarterback. Not because of what he does with his arm -- but because of what he does when he goes under center -- checking out of bad plays and putting the offense in the best possible play against the defense shown. This allows running backs to flourish. Andrew Luck was phenomenal at it. Kevin Hogan should get better.

So, when Hogan turns to handoff on power right or power left, who is going to be the primary ball carrier? Anthony Wilkerson has shown bursts and outstanding top-end speed. But injuries have slowed him, and playing behind Stepfan Taylor the past few years didn't allow him to really break out following his strong true freshman season. Gaffney is a rock and hard to bring down. He's the kind of guy who could carry the ball 10 times for 4.5 yards a pop.

Barry Sanders is an interesting X-factor. He obviously was a high-profile recruit because of his name -- but beyond that, he's supposedly a pretty darn good back. Maybe he ends up winning the job and can be a 15-carry type of guy.

Then you have Ricky Seale, a shifty runner with great vision who has been trapped at the bottom of the depth chart, but continues to receive praise from David Shaw. Remound Wright and hybrid Kelsey Young are also in the mix.

Whoever is Shaw's go-to back, he'll have the benefit of running behind an outstanding offensive line that is only going to get better with David Yankey -- an All-American and last year's Morris Trophy winner -- moving back to his natural position at guard. And Shaw has said he plans to keep Ryan Hewitt at fullback -- giving the running backs a cadre of blockers that rivals any other in the country.

By season's end, this could be your national championship team. The question is, which back will carry it there?

Big Ten's best moments from 2012

January, 14, 2013
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The Big Ten had a mostly forgettable season in 2012, and most are anxious to turn the page to 2013. But the fall did provide some memorable moments around the league.

Here are a few …

Miller's mastery: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller put himself on the Heisman Trophy radar with dazzling moves and long runs, but his most memorable play covered only a yard. Facing third-and-goal, Miller looked like he would be stopped on a zone-read play, but he executed a video game-like juke, scooted past Penn State All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges and leaped into the end zone for the touchdown. The score gave Ohio State a 21-10 lead, and the Buckeyes went on to win 35-23.

Barry's back: After Bret Bielema surprisingly left Wisconsin for Arkansas three days after winning the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers needed a coach for the Rose Bowl, and the seniors knew where to turn. They asked former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez to lead the team, and Alvarez quickly agreed. Alvarez provided several great moments during his month as coach, including a ridiculously entertaining news conference in which he delivered the quote of the year in the Big Ten: "I won't use a search committee. Most search committees use me." The return tour culminated with Alvarez strolling the sideline at the Rose Bowl, just like old times.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesLe'Veon Bell's hurdle was one of the few bright spots in Michigan State's season.
Penn State punctuates season: Few expected much from Penn State after a turbulent summer that brought severe NCAA sanctions and a mini exodus that included star running back Silas Redd. But first-year coach Bill O'Brien and a steadfast senior class kept the team on track. Following an 0-2 start, the Lions won eight of their final 10 games to finish in second place in the Leaders division. The season culminated in an emotion-charged senior day in State College, as Penn State honored the seniors on the stadium facade and the Lions outlasted Wisconsin 24-21 in overtime. Fittingly, kicker Sam Ficken, whose struggles led to Penn State's Week 2 loss at Virginia, hit the game-winning field goal from 37 yards out.

Roundtree to the rescue: Michigan found itself in serious danger of dropping its first home game under coach Brady Hoke as it took possession at its own 38-yard line with no timeouts and 18 seconds left. Needing a field goal to tie Northwestern, quarterback Devin Gardner heaved the ball downfield toward senior receiver Roy Roundtree, who amazingly faced only single coverage. The pass appeared to be too far, but Roundtree battled defensive back Daniel Jones, tipped the ball in the air and then made an amazing catch at the Northwestern 9-yard line. Michigan went on to win in overtime and keep alive its hopes for a Legends division title.

Buckeye backups rise: Ohio State recorded the sixth undefeated, untied season in team history, but it wouldn't have happened without some huge performances from little-used players against Purdue. The Buckeyes were on the ropes, trailing Purdue 22-14 with 47 seconds left, no timeouts and the ball at their own 39-yard line. Quarterback Miller was in the hospital getting his neck examined. Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the offense downfield and found a diving Chris Fields for a touchdown with three seconds left. Fields' first touchdown grab set up a 2-point conversion, and Ohio State went on to win in overtime.

Ball becomes touchdown king: Montee Ball's senior season didn't start off well, as the Wisconsin star was the victim of an assault this summer and struggled in September. But Ball provided his typical late-season surge and put up excellent numbers in Big Ten play (1,168 rush yards, 16 TDs). He set several records down the stretch, none more significant than the NCAA's all-time touchdowns record, which he secured on a first-quarter scoring run Nov. 24 at Penn State. Although he didn't make it back to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back.

Osborne leads Nebraska out of tunnel: Tom Osborne announced his retirement as Nebraska's athletic director in September, and the team honored its living legend before its final home game Nov. 17 against Minnesota. Osborne, who coached the Huskers from 1973-97, joined the team for its famous tunnel walk and led the Huskers onto the field before an adoring crowd at Memorial Stadium. Although Osborne certainly isn't going anyway, the emotional tribute allowed Nebraska fans to recognize him one final time.

Northwestern's bowl bonanza: Bowl games are no longer rarities for Northwestern, but the program's inability to win a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl cast a shadow over its recent accomplishments. The Wildcats finally got the bowl monkey off of their backs by thumping Mississippi State 34-20 on Jan. 1, setting off an emotional celebration for Pat Fitzgerald and his players. In a jubilant locker room the team tore apart the stuffed monkey that had symbolized its postseason futility. The victory gave Northwestern just its third 10-win season in team history, and made Fitzgerald the program's all-time winningest coach (50 victories).

Bo knows: After Ohio State humbled his Nebraska team Oct. 6 in Columbus, coach Bo Pelini calmly delivered a statement that would carry the Huskers to a Legends division title. "We need to win out," Pelini said. "We have six weeks. And we need to win the next six football games. Get to Indianapolis." And indeed they did, as Nebraska shook off the blowout loss and became Team Comeback, rallying to beat Northwestern and Michigan State on the road and Penn State at home. The Huskers embraced the urgency of the situation and made it to Indianapolis for the league title game.

Le'Veon's leap: Michigan State didn't have many memorable moments, and neither did the Big Ten during nonleague play, but Spartans star running back Le'Veon Bell provided one in the season opener against Boise State. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound junior hurdled a Boise State defender on Michigan State's third play from scrimmage, delighting the Spartan Stadium crowd. It became somewhat of a signature move for Bell, who racked up 266 yards on a whopping 44 carries against the Broncos in the first of many workhorse-like performances this season. Michigan State won the game 17-13, giving the Big Ten one of few solid nonleague victories.

Iowa's Weis-man: Like Michigan State, Iowa fell short of expectations this season and struggled to generate offense. And like the Spartans, the Hawkeyes could hang their hat on a big, bruising ball-carrier, although one few anticipated would do much this season. Fullback Mark Weisman, a walk-on who transferred from Air Force, announced himself with a 113-yard, three-touchdown performance in a Week 3 win against Northern Iowa. Weisman racked up 623 rush yards and eight touchdowns during a brilliant four-week stretch before being slowed by injuries.

What we learned in the Pac-12 bowls

January, 9, 2013
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1. The Pac-12 is top-heavy: Well, duh. The top two teams in the conference, Stanford and Oregon, both won their games -- BCS bowl games at that -- doing exactly what they did to get there in the first place. Stanford won the Rose Bowl with physical play and Oregon, not exactly lacking in physicality either, ran circles around Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. The middle of the conference, however, didn't fare as well. Oregon State and South champ UCLA both tanked in their games against Big 12 opponents.

2. North-South split: While the consensus is that the North Division is the stronger of the league's two divisions, the results in the postseason have it as a draw. The North went 2-2 and the South went 2-2. North representatives Stanford and Oregon won, while Oregon State and Washington lost. From the South, the Arizona schools both pulled off wins, while the Los Angeles schools face-planted. The fact that the North schools won BCS games certainly carries more weight.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Bishop Sankey
Josh Holmberg/USA TODAY SportsWashington's Bishop Sankey ran past Boise State for 205 yards -- one of several impressive bowl performances from Pac-12 running backs.
3. Pac-12 running backs are awesome: The conference's ground game was on full display in the postseason. In five of the eight games, a Pac-12 running back went for at least 100 yards and three backs gained more than 150 yards -- Arizona State's Marion Grice (159), Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (172) and Washington's Bishop Sankey (205). Even the backs who didn't gain 100 yards -- Stepfan Taylor and Silas Redd -- had respectable games. The only real back to have a down day was UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, who had just 34 yards on 14 carries in the Holiday Bowl. When you're facing a run blitz almost every play, that can be tough. As a group, the backs averaged 24.8 carries for 143.8 yards per game with nine total touchdowns -- three from Carey, two from Grice and Oregon State's Storm Woods and one apiece from Taylor and Sankey.

4. There's a one-point safety? Full disclosure: I had no idea this rule existed. In my 17 years in this business, I have never come across this. But apparently when a blocked PAT is recovered, taken into the end zone and then the player is tackled in the end zone, the result is a one-point safety for the kicking team. Thanks to that Oregon-Kansas State game, aren't we all a little smarter now? The rule is as obscure as it is enlightening.

5. Coaches are committed: Chip Kelly is sticking around -- at least for another year. David Shaw is sticking around -- for an undisclosed amount of time. Jim Mora is sticking around -- as far as we know. All three coaches took a ride on the to-the-NFL rumor roller coaster -- Kelly reaching the highest velocity -- but all three are back. Kelly picked up the phone, and then hung up. Shaw signed an undisclosed contract extension and Mora apparently hasn't entertained any offers to return to the league despite rumored interest from at least one NFL team -- San Diego. High-profile coaches are a good thing for the league. And when they stick around, that's even better.

6. Kerplunk: USC's bowl season ended much the way the regular season did -- historically horrific. USC became the first preseason No. 1 in history to lose six games and the first since 1964 to finish unranked. Remember when we were talking about how devastating it would be if they lost two? Well, the Trojans lost five of their final six, including an embarrassing performance against Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. History will look at USC in 2012 as one of the worst -- if not the worst -- wastes of talent college football has ever seen, while the rest of the country will look upon them with a schadenfreudeian smile. It was, in a word, unacceptable.

7. Pac-12 isn't No. 1: The SEC finished the bowl season 6-3 and Alabama won the national championship. Yes, it is the best conference in college football. The question of who is No. 2 can rage between the Big 12 and the Pac-12. Texas and Baylor beat Oregon State and UCLA, respectively, in non-BCS games. Oregon beat Kansas State in a BCS game. The Pac-12 is heavier at the top; the Big 12 probably has more depth. The Pac-12 went 4-4 and the Big 12 went 4-5. You can argue the ACC belongs in the Nos. 2, 3, 4 conversation as well. Its teams went 4-2, won a BCS bowl game, Clemson knocked off a top 10 team and the ACC won its only head-to-head game against the Pac-12 (see the aforementioned kerplunk). You can't make an argument for the Pac-12 being No. 1. But you can make a case for it falling anywhere between 2 through 4.

8. How 'bout them kickers: For as much guff as Pac-12 kickers took during the regular season -- and there was guff a'plenty to go around -- they actually showed up in the postseason. Pac-12 kickers completed 10 of 12 field goal attempts (83 percent). Stanford's Jordan Williamson exorcised his Fiesta Bowl demons and clutched up with a 47-yarder and a 2-for-2 performance for the Cardinal (who won by six points). And the accuracy level was much higher than the league's 67 percent (148-of 218) in the regular season. The eight schools playing in bowl games were 104-of-154 on the season (67 percent), so this was a much better showing all around.

Best case/worst case: Pac-12 bowls

December, 13, 2012
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Our assignment is to pose a best-case and a worst-case scenario for every Pac-12 bowl team.

So here goes.

Arizona

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 15: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5), 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Arizona rolls 40-28, as quarterback Matt Scott goes out with a bang that raises NFL eyebrows, and running back Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 195 yards to sew up the national rushing title.

Worst case: Scott gets knocked out of the game early and backup B.J. Denker looks overwhelmed, raising questions about the future at QB. Carey rushes for 35 yards and loses the rushing title as Nevada rolls 42-21. Michigan fans hit the message boards with a litany of "I told you so" about Rich Rodriguez.

Washington

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Dec. 22: Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: In a "Welcome back!" performance, QB Keith Price throws for 295 yards and three touchdowns -- matching the total TD passes the Broncos have yielded all season -- and runs for another score as the Huskies end 2012 with a statement victory that bodes well for 2013. The Huskies' hot offseason topic is how high the preseason ranking will be.

Worst case: Washington starts slowly as it has much of the season, then gives up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead as Price throws multiple interceptions. Boise State wins going away 38-17, and the Huskies' hot offseason topic is whether coach Steve Sarkisian has plateaued.

UCLA

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 27: UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5), 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: That the Bruins score 45 points is not unexpected. That Baylor is held to just 17 points is unexpected. UCLA dominates on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Brett Hundley looks like a budding Heisman Trophy candidate. After the game, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Xavier Su'a-Filo both announce they are returning for the 2013 season. Says Barr, "Unfinished business? Naaah. I just like playing with these guys."

Worst case: Baylor rolls over UCLA in a 55-30 win, as the Bruins' defense can do nothing to slow the Bears, while Hundley throws three picks. Barr and Su'a-Filo opt to leave for the NFL, as does coach Jim Mora, who is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, Dec. 29: Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon State throttles the Longhorns 31-13 with stifling defense, but the big story is Cody Mannion -- or is it Sean Vaz? -- throwing four touchdown passes and making a strong case to be the 2013 starter.

Worst case: The Beavers become the only team that couldn't run on Texas this year, and Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz both throw two interceptions in a 30-10 defeat. Meanwhile, Oregon State makes both Case McCoy and David Ash look like superstars. "Well," say all the national commentators. "This makes a strong case for the Big 12's superiority over the Pac-12. But we've still got to see the Fiesta Bowl."

Arizona State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco, Dec. 29: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Best case: Arizona State uses its superior speed on both sides of the ball to throttle Navy 48-17. After the game, consensus All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton announces he's returning for his senior year.

Worst case: Navy's triple option wears down the Sun Devils in a 28-17 victory. Even worse, the Sun Devils turn the ball over five times and commit 12 penalties for 105 yards, including two personal fouls. They look like the 2011 team, not the 2012 version under new coach Todd Graham.

USC

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31: USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7), 2 p.m. ET, CBS

Best case: Matt Barkley looks like, well, Matt Barkley, throwing five touchdown passes as the Trojans roll 40-10. As for the defense, coordinator Monte Kiffin goes out in style, with the Trojans holding Georgia Tech's option to just 225 total yards. Head coach Lane Kiffin announces after the game that he has hired Bob Diaco away from Notre Dame to be his defensive coordinator.

Worst case: Barkley tries to play but reinjures his shoulder, and the Trojans fold thereafter, ending a horribly disappointing season with a 38-17 loss. After the game, receiver Robert Woods, running back Silas Redd and cornerback Nickell Robey announce they will enter the NFL draft. Lane Kiffin also announces the hiring of Nick Holt to run the Trojans' defense.

Stanford

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1: Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5), 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Stanford dominates on both sides of the ball in a 30-10 victory, holding the Badgers to just 79 yards rushing and 210 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while running back Stepfan Taylor rushes for 145 yards and a score. After the game, linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and tight end Zach Ertz announce they will be returning for their senior seasons.

Worst case: Montee Ball rushes for 197 yards and two scores as Wisconsin pushes the Cardinal around in a 24-17 win. The Badgers sack Hogan four times, overwhelming the Cardinal's offensive line. After the game, Skov, Gardner and Ertz announce they will enter the NFL draft. Coach David Shaw is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles, and Walt Harris is rehired.

Oregon

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 3: Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon starts fast and never lets up in a 51-20 blowout, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 187 yards and two scores and quarterback Marcus Mariota throwing for three TDs. The Ducks sack Collin Klein five times and grab two interceptions. "I'm sure glad we didn't play them in the regular season," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder says afterward. Shortly after the game, Ducks coach Chip Kelly signs a lifetime contract, opens practices and promises to be more patient with hypotheticals and other sorts of irritating questions.

Worst case: The Kansas State defense throttles the Ducks' offense, and Klein throws three TD passes in a 30-13 victory. The Ducks rush for only 101 yards. "Oregon struggles in these big games," say the national commentators afterward. "And this really makes the Pac-12 look bad." Kelly is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota quits football to become a professional surfer. John Mackovic is hired to replace Kelly.
Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was a victim of his own success when it came to winning Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.

Tressel never claimed the award despite dominating the league during most of his Buckeyes tenure. If Tressel had a down year midway through his run at Ohio State, only to get the team back to a league title or a BCS bowl the following year, he would have had a better chance.

In many ways, the Big Ten Coach of the Year award is about what happened the previous season or the previous offseason rather than the actual season for which the honor is presented. Recent history also shows first-year coaches who bolster programs have a good chance for the award.

Urban Meyer
Pat Lovell/US PresswireUrban Meyer led the Buckeyes to a rare 12-0 season in his first season at Ohio State.
And that's why Ohio State coach Urban Meyer might never win it.

Penn State's Bill O'Brien on Tuesday swept the Big Ten Coach of the Year honors -- the Hayes-Schembechler award (voted by the coaches) and the Dave McClain award (voted by the media). O'Brien guided Penn State to an 8-4 record in his first season.

He beat out another first-year Big Ten coach, Meyer, who went 12-0 in his first season in Columbus, including a road win against O'Brien's Lions. Buckeye fans were hopeful Meyer would be the first Ohio State boss to win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors since Meyer's mentor Earle Bruce got it in 1979.

O'Brien's selection stems primarily from the way he kept Penn State afloat after a turbulent summer that brought severe NCAA sanctions on the program, followed by the departures of several key players, including star running back Silas Redd. After an 0-2 start that had many writing off Penn State for the foreseeable future, O'Brien guided Penn State to wins in eight of its final 10 games (6-2 in Big Ten play).

Although Penn State actually won more games in the previous season -- the Lions' nine wins later were vacated -- O'Brien's work under such unusual circumstances made him a deserving candidate.

But it begs the question: Will Meyer ever win the award?

Unless Ohio State takes a surprising step backward during his tenure, probably not.

Let's look at the recent winners of the McClain Award.

Brady Hoke, Michigan, 2011

Backstory: Michigan went 7-6 in 2010 under coach Rich Rodriguez, who was fired following the Gator Bowl after a historically poor three-year run. Hoke came in from San Diego State and guided Michigan to an 11-1 record and a Sugar Bowl championship.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State, 2010

Backstory: Michigan State tumbled to a 6-7 finish in 2009 and had a highly publicized off-field issue that decimated its roster for the Alamo Bowl. Dantonio guided the Spartans to an 11-1 regular-season mark in 2010.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, 2009

Backstory: Iowa improved from 9-4 in 2008 to 11-2 in 2009 and won an Orange Bowl championship. The 2009 season truly showed the Hawkeyes had escaped a down stretch from 2005-07.

Joe Paterno, Penn State, 2008

Backstory: Penn State went from 9-4 the previous season to an 11-1 regular-season mark, a Big Ten title and a spot in the Rose Bowl (all wins later were vacated). The Lions were in the national title talk for much of the 2008 campaign.

Ron Zook, Illinois, 2007

Backstory: Illinois went from 2-10 in 2006 (4-19 in Zook's first two seasons) to a Rose Bowl berth in 2007. The Illini knocked off then-No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus.

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin 2006

Backstory: Bielema was in his first year as a head coach and led Wisconsin to an 11-1 record in the regular season (12-1 following a bowl victory).

Joe Paterno, Penn State, 2005

Backstory: The Lions had endured losing seasons in three of the previous four years, and calls for Paterno's retirement had increased. He then shocked everyone by guiding Penn State to a Big Ten championship and an Orange Bowl title (both later vacated).

See the pattern here?

The award either goes to first-year coaches or coaches who have bolstered a team's win total from the previous season.

Meyer did both at Ohio State, which went from 6-7 in 2011 to 12-0 this season. But O'Brien ultimately was judged to have overcome more challenges at Penn State.

Tressel's best chance for the award came in 2002, when Ohio State went from 7-5 in his first season to a 13-0 regular-season mark (and an eventual national title). But Iowa's Kirk Ferentz instead earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors for guiding Iowa to a share of the Big Ten title a year after going 7-5.

Ferentz topping Tressel in 2002 reminds me a lot of O'Brien topping Meyer this season.

Given the trajectory of Ohio State's program under Meyer and the standard set by the 2012 team, it seems unlikely the Buckeyes will take a big step backward -- so Meyer can then bring them forward and win the award -- any time soon.

Meyer has won two national titles and several top coaching honors, including the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award in 2004. But don't be surprised if like Tressel, he'll go through his Ohio State career without ever being named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. The Ineligibles overachieved under great coaches: We won't see Ohio State or Penn State until next fall, but both teams went out on positive notes to end seasons in which they overachieved. Aside from die-hard Buckeyes believers, who expected Ohio State to go 12-0 and record just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history? Even fewer people expected Penn State to go 8-4 after a tumultuous offseason that featured the exodus of running back Silas Redd and other key players. And when the Lions started 0-2, most folks wrote them off. But Bill O'Brien and his team never lost faith and surged through most of the Big Ten season. It was fitting that kicker Sam Ficken, whose struggles at Virginia led to Penn State's loss, had the game-winning field goal Saturday as the Lions beat Wisconsin in overtime. O'Brien exceeded all expectations in his first season as a head coach, recording the most wins ever by a first-year Lions boss. Will he be Big Ten Coach of the Year? The only other worthy candidate is Urban Meyer, who took a seven-loss Buckeyes team with significant depth issues and transformed it into one of the nation's best.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireBill O'Brien faced tough questions from prospective recruits, but the Penn State coach and his staff kept a top-25 recruiting class together.
2. Michigan isn't really back: Sure, the Wolverines have dug themselves out from the Rich Rodriguez-created crater, and they had a charmed season end in a Sugar Bowl title last season. But in terms of beating really good teams, the ones that signify Michigan once again has a place among the nation's elite, Brady Hoke's crew is still looking for a breakthrough. Michigan won a respectable eight games, but its four losses in the regular season -- Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State -- came against the best four teams it played. The Wolverines were extremely fortunate to beat a good Northwestern team and a mediocre Michigan State squad on their home field. While it was nice to end the losing streak against Ohio State last season, Michigan beat the worst Buckeyes team we've seen in more than a decade. The offense still seems hamstrung in some ways by the Denard Robinson era, though the emergence of Devin Gardner is promising for the future. There are signs Michigan is close, and the renaissance on defense under Hoke and Greg Mattison can't be denied. But it'll take a bit longer for Michigan to truly claim it is back, although a Jan. 1 bowl victory against an SEC foe would help.

3. Rex Burkhead still can make an impact: This hasn't been the season the Nebraska senior running back envisioned, but he can still play a major role in how it turns out for Big Red. Burkhead returned to the field in the second half Friday against Iowa after Nebraska's offense stumbled and fell behind 7-3. In his first appearance since Oct. 20, Burkhead racked up 69 yards and Nebraska's only touchdown on 16 carries. He might not be 100 percent, but he showed the skills that make him beloved in the Cornhusker State, particularly on a grinding 9-yard run to pick up a first down after Nebraska was pinned inside its own 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Nebraska had hoped to get through the Iowa game without Burkhead, but when the team needed him, he delivered. He likely will play a bigger role this week against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Burkhead had 86 rush yards against the Badgers in the Big Ten opener, the only full game he has played this season. He could be the boost Nebraska needs to win its first league title since 1999 and possibly win the Rose Bowl, too.

4. Danny Hope's players didn't quit on him: Many Purdue fans have seen enough of fourth-year coach Danny Hope, but Hope has plenty of allies in his locker room. The Boilers easily could have quit after dropping their first five Big Ten games -- four blowouts (three at home) plus the heartbreaker at Ohio State. Some teams projected to do much more would have gone in the tank. But Purdue rallied behind Hope and gutsy quarterback Robert Marve, who played despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and won its final three games to secure a bowl berth. The product rarely looked pretty, and even Saturday's Bucket game against Indiana featured some bang-your-head-against-the-wall moments. But Purdue's players never stopped fighting and will head somewhere warm for the holidays. Whether Hope joins them remains to be seen, but he deserves some credit for keeping the team afloat during such a difficult stretch.

5. Bowl practices will be crucial for Big Ten teams: We don't know the bowl matchups yet, but they will be daunting for the Big Ten, which will be without two of its best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) in the postseason. For the league to avoid another bad bowl performance, several teams must take significant steps during bowl practices. Michigan State has the defense and the running back (Le'Veon Bell) to win its bowl game, but it needs quarterback Andrew Maxwell and a young receiving corps to develop. Coach Mark Dantonio hinted this week that his offense needed an update to keep up with the times. Maybe that can start next month in earnest. Minnesota has to get healthy and re-establish its offensive identity behind true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, who will benefit from the 15 practices. Wisconsin also will have a chance to iron out its offensive issues, while a young Northwestern team that made major strides this fall must make another before facing what should be a heavily favored SEC foe in Florida. Michigan also gets some extra time to figure out its vision on offense with Gardner and Robinson.

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