NCF Nation: Syracuse Orange

ACC Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
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It's time for a fresh set of power rankings with another week in the books. The top four teams remain the same from last week, but there was some shuffling the rest of the way down.

1. Clemson (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 1): The Tigers did what we all expected in a 52-13 win over South Carolina State. They also ended up moving up one spot in the AP poll to No. 3. Their big win over Georgia in Week 1 remains the crown jewel in the ACC crown after two weeks.

2. Florida State (1-0, 1-0 ACC; last week: 2): The Seminoles were off this past week after beating Pittsburgh in the opener. Let's see what Game 2 has in store for Jameis Winston this weekend against Nevada.

3. Miami (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 3): The Hurricanes had the most impressive win in Week 2, over No. 12 Florida, which vaults them to No. 15 in the latest AP poll. But that win does nothing to change their standing in the ACC. There remains a clear gap between Clemson, Florida State and the rest of the league. Miami looks like it is starting to close the gap, but the Canes still have a long way to go -- especially after their offense struggled for most of the day against the Gators.

4. Georgia Tech (1-0 0-0 ACC; last week: 4): The Jackets were also off in Week 2, so all we have to judge them on is a blowout win over FCS Elon. The next five weeks will tell us what we need to know about this team, as the Jackets prepare to play at Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, at Miami and at BYU. That is one of the most brutal stretches any ACC team has to play this season.

5. North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 7): The truth is, you could flip flop the Tar Heels and Virginia Tech at this point. Despite their victories over the weekend, both have problems that must be addressed. For starters, North Carolina has to get the coin toss figured out. The defense was once again up and down. They need a more consistent, better effort out of that group.

6. Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 5): North Carolina gets the nod ahead of Virginia Tech for this week based on the quality of opponent it just played. The Tar Heels beat an FBS team, Virginia Tech an FCS team. I think we can all agree the Hokies have a formidable defense -- better than North Carolina's -- but the offense still has a ways to go to be respectable. Logan Thomas now has one touchdown pass and three interceptions on the season.

7. Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 6): No. 2 Oregon boatraced the Hoos on Saturday, but the truth is, nobody really expected them to win the game. They stay in the top half of the rankings this week based on their win over BYU in the opener. That win looks a lot better today after BYU clobbered No. 15 Texas. Virginia enters a five-game stretch now with winnable games. If the Hoos can take advantage, they will be looking good for a bowl spot.

8. Maryland (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 8): The Terps have beaten their first two opponents by a combined 90-20 and have not faced much of a test. The opponents' strength has been really weak, hence their spot here. Still, this is a team that has showed off its talent on offense in the first two weeks. C.J. Brown, in his return from a knee injury, ranks No. 3 in the nation in total QBR to lead all ACC quarterbacks. Chew on that one for a while.

9. Duke (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 10): Give the Blue Devils credit for pulling out a road win in Memphis with backup quarterback Brandon Connette this past Saturday. You can write the win off by saying it was "only Memphis," but the Tigers are a rapidly improving team and Duke was on the ropes. Any road win is a good win for a team that won only once away from home last season.

10. NC State (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 9): The Wolfpack get downgraded slightly for struggling to beat Richmond. While it is true the Spiders have caused FBS opponents fits, the Wolfpack nearly handed the game away with their own miscues. NC State had four turnovers, including three inside Richmond territory. Quarterback Pete Thomas struggled, throwing two interceptions. While he did lead the team into field goal range for the game winner, he has some work to do to improve.

11. Boston College (2-0, 1-0 ACC; last week: 14): The Eagles climb out of the cellar for the first time in a long time after their 24-10 win over Wake Forest. You can already see the difference new coach Steve Addazio has made in the program. His team is playing a lot more physically and with a lot more energy. That is best illustrated in Andre Williams, who is now averaging 5.5 yards per carry -- one full yard better than last season. The BC run game has gone from awful to respectable in a matter of weeks. The Eagles have now matched their win total from 2012.

12. Pittsburgh (0-1, 0-1 ACC; last week: 12): The Panthers were off last week, so they stay put here. The good news is they will not have to play a team as strong as Florida State the rest of the way in the ACC. They get New Mexico this week.

13. Wake Forest (1-1, 0-1 ACC; last week: 11): The Deacs were supposed to be better this season with so many veterans returning, but they looked completely lost against BC. The defense got gashed on the ground. The offense could not run, nor could it execute the option effectively. Not sure why coaches insisted on sticking with it when it was not working. Their inability to run the ball was a bugaboo last season, and it looks to be the same this season.

14. Syracuse (0-2, 0-0 ACC; last week: 13): The Orange have been the biggest disappointment in the ACC so far based on the first two games. No doubt they played a tough schedule to start against two Big Ten teams, but they were not even competitive in a loss to Northwestern this past weekend in which Drew Allen got benched after throwing four interceptions and the defense gave up 581 yards of total offense. Scott Shafer has some serious questions to answer before the season gets away from him.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 2, 2012
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West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5) vs. Syracuse Orange (7-5)

Dec. 29, 3:15 p.m., Bronx, N.Y. (ESPN)

West Virginia take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Bowl matchups love to produce ready-made storylines, and you’ll find plenty of interesting ones in Yankee Stadium on Dec. 29 for the Pinstripe Bowl. West Virginia won’t renew its Backyard Brawl rivalry with Pitt, and it won’t earn a BCS bid that looked possible with a season that began with five consecutive wins, but it will get a chance for redemption.

WVU suffered an embarrassing loss to Syracuse last season on the way to the Big East title, and the Mountaineers will encounter their old buds in the Big East once again in the Bronx. Geno Smith has never beaten the Orange, but he’ll get one last chance in his final game as a Mountaineer.

Smith won’t win the Heisman, but he’ll lead the nation’s No. 8 offense along with Biletnikoff finalist Stedman Bailey and all-purpose superstar Tavon Austin. Austin nearly broke the NCAA record for all-purpose yardage with 572 yards against Oklahoma, highlighted by 344 rushing yards. The Mountaineers made waves in their Orange Bowl blowout win in Year 1 under Dana Holgorsen, but a leaky defense proved to be their downfall in a Big 12 well-stocked with powerful offenses.

Syracuse will offer another test for the WVU defense. The Orange led the Big East in total offense by more than 40 yards per game and boast a 3,500-yard passer in Ryan Nassib and a 1,000-yard rusher in Jerome Smith. Can WVU’s defense get some redemption in its final outing of the season?




Syracuse take by Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: When the Orange started the season 2-4, their bowl prospects looked extremely dim. Though quarterback Ryan Nassib had put up some big numbers, the Orange had a major turnover and penalty problem. Coach Doug Marrone called himself out, saying all the mistakes were on him.

Well, whatever introspection he did -- and whatever he said to his team -- worked.

Syracuse closed the year with five wins in its final six games -- including a surprising 45-26 victory over then-No. 9 Louisville -- to claim a share of its first Big East title since 2004. Here is all you need to know about the dramatic difference in turnover margin.

In the first six games of the season, Syracuse won the turnover battle once -- and won only two games. In the final six games of the season, Syracuse won the turnover battle five times. The Orange won five games. It also is no coincidence that the Syracuse run game got going in the second half of the season--– Jerome Smith had four 100-yard games and finished with 1,000 yards on the season.

Interestingly enough, the brutal nonconference schedule this team played ended up helping it find a way to win at the end of the year. Syracuse started the year with losses to USC, Northwestern and Minnesota. But late in the season, the Orange went on the road and upset Missouri -- truly understanding what it would take to win.

In the end, Nassib led the Big East in passing with a career-high 3,619 yards, tossing 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Alec Lemon had a career-high 1,063 yards, and Syracuse ended up with its first 1,000-yard running back and 1,000-yard receiver since Michael Owens and Rob Moore in 1989.
1. The connection between Texas A&M and Alabama runs through the legendary Bear Bryant, who coached at College Station for four seasons before he returned to his alma mater in 1958. When the Aggies make their first SEC appearance in Bryant-Denny Stadium, 24 of Bryant’s former A&M players will be there as guests of Alabama. Not to be outdone, 40 former Crimson Tide All-Americans will attend as guests of their alma mater as well.

2. Sugar Bowl chief executive officer Paul Hoolahan told me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Thursday that the loss of the BCS Championship once every four years was “a tough pill to swallow.” Once the commissioners recognized the income generated by the BCS bowls, it was only a matter of time before the commissioners reclaimed the postseason as their own. “The middleman was benefitting a little bit more than was intended,” Hoolahan said.

3. Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, whose team gave up 42 points earlier this season to Matt Barkley and USC, reiterated Thursday that he believes Louisville sophomore Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback the Orange will play this season. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is no slouch. Syracuse, which in the four seasons prior to Marrone’s arrival never averaged 300 yards per game of total offense, has gained more than 500 yards in four games this season.

Video: Gameday crew makes picks

September, 22, 2012
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Ricky Carmichael, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit make their picks for the Syracuse-Minnesota and Rutgers-Arkansas games.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
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Welcome to Week 2. Ted went 9-2 in Week 1; Kevin went 8-3. The difference was Kevin picking a Washington State upset of BYU.

Friday

Kevin: Utah 35, Utah State 10. The Utes will see a stronger offense than they saw last week, but it won't matter much because the defense is so solid. Love the emergence of Jake Murphy and the increased attention to the tight ends.

Ted: Utah 28, Utah State 17. It won't be as easy as last weekend but the Utes will be in control on both sides of the ball. Expect quarterback Jordan Wynn to take a few more shots downfield.

Saturday

Kevin: Cal 31, Southern Utah 14. Maybe this is the week Memorial Stadium sees a victory. The last one was on Oct. 23, 2010. Cal should win based on its athletes alone.

Ted: Cal 35, Southern Utah 10. The Bears should get a couple of injured guys back on defense, which should help. Playing angry might help, too.

Kevin: Washington State 28, Eastern Washington 14. The Cougs let me down last week, but I'm cautiously picking them again this week. I think the offense gets going. The defense actually showed some life in the second half against BYU, giving hope that it will carry into this week.

Ted: Washington State 35, Eastern Washington 24. If I were picking an FCS team to play, the Eagles might be the last one I'd pick -- just ask Washington. There's a reason the Cougars have avoided their neighbors since 1908. Still, I suspect the Cougs' offense will get going this week.

Kevin: Colorado 21, Sacramento State 10. Colorado did some good things last week, but was just too inconsistent. The younger players should have the jitters out of their systems and the Buffs should be able to run the ball against an FCS team. If not, things are worse than we thought.

Ted: Colorado 33, Sacramento State 17. This qualifies as a must-win, and I suspect the Buffs will take care of business in a focused fashion.

Kevin: USC 45, Syracuse 17. No issues for the Trojans this week -- they'll cruise. Wouldn't be surprised to see a little more balance on offense this week, considering they are on the road again next week at Stanford and they'll probably want to test drive the run game.

Ted Miller: USC 48, Syracuse 20. It will be interesting to see how many of the three injured USC defensive starters return this week. I suspect things will look more polished on both sides of the ball. Ditto on what Kevin said about running the ball.

Kevin: Wisconsin 21, Oregon State 17. Tough to gauge the Beavers since they didn't play in Week 1. And though Wisconsin struggled last week, it's never easy to start the season against a ranked opponent.

Ted: Wisconsin 34, Oregon State 24. Was tempted momentarily to pick the upset, but then I remembered that Montee Ball is back. For those who don't know, he's really good. I doubt the Beavers' defense, though improved, can contain him for four quarters.

Kevin: Oregon 49, Fresno State 21. Taking into account that Oregon's fifth-string players will be in by the second quarter, I'll give the Bulldogs three touchdowns throughout the course of the game. Ducks breeze through another one.

Ted: Oregon 55, Fresno State 24. They say a new quarterback makes his biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. If so, here's a "Yikes!" on behalf of the Bulldogs in advance of facing Marcus Mariota.

Kevin: Nebraska 28, UCLA 27. I saw a lot of good things out of the Bruins in Week 1. I also saw a lot of things that won't fly against the Cornhuskers. I want to pull the trigger on the Bruins, but the youth on the offensive line is still a concern.

Ted: Nebraska 35, UCLA 24. The Bruins will battle, but Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is a third-year starter who appears to have figured it all out. I want to see how the Bruins run the ball and stop the run. Of course, that's all about taking a measure of UCLA's physicality up front.

Kevin: Oklahoma State 45, Arizona 28. A nice win for the Wildcats last week, but the defense probably isn't ready yet for a high-powered offense like the Cowboys'.

Ted: Oklahoma State 35, Arizona 30. I suspect the Wildcats have a better shot than many suspect, playing at home against a freshman quarterback, with Matt Scott giving Arizona a significant advantage behind center. That said, the Wildcats' track record in two previous meetings as well as a questionable front seven makes it difficult to pull the trigger on an upset pick.

Kevin: Stanford 24, Duke 17. Traveling cross-country is never easy. We saw that last season when Duke hung with the Cardinal in the first half in Durham. The Cardinal have some core fundamentals to fix before next week's game against the Trojans.

Ted: Stanford 30, Duke 17. The Cardinal will play better this weekend on both sides of the ball. And they need to. Duke thinks it has a bowl team and is hungry to earn respect.

Kevin: Arizona State 27, Illinois 14. Color me impressed by the Sun Devils, who showed no mercy in Week 1. There are quarterback issues surrounding the Illini and regardless of who starts for them, the Sun Devils face either a backup in Reilly O'Toole or a limping starter in Nathan Scheelhasse.

Ted: Arizona State 24, Illinois 17. This pick assumes that Scheelhasse won't play or will be severely limited by his bum ankle. The key for the Sun Devils is getting the running game going, whether that's with Cameron Marshall, Marion Grice or D.J. Foster. Or all three.

Kevin: LSU 28, Washington 17. I was impressed with the defense against San Diego State, but if the offense struggles against LSU, it could be a long day. Losing Jesse Callier doesn't help.

Ted: LSU 41, Washington 17: LSU will be able to run and stop the run. Washington won't. While Huskies quarterback Keith Price will have his moments, it's too much to ask him to beat -- or even to be competitive with -- the Tigers on the road.

USC needs to win pretty

September, 5, 2012
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After inspecting film of USC's 49-10 win against Hawaii, coach Lane Kiffin lamented some "normal first-game sloppiness" and was unhappy with his inconsistent offensive line play, which surprised him after the line was sharp in preseason camp.

But an area that surely caused him to raise a worried eyebrow was the struggles at the cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey. With Torin Harris out with an injury -- one of three defensive starters who didn't play against the Warriors -- Anthony Brown, Brian Baucham and Kevon Seymour were beaten a number of times.

Truth is, it wasn't a big deal against a green Hawaii offense adopting a new scheme. USC had two interceptions and allowed only 208 passing yards. But it could be a big deal Saturday against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellTrojans coach Lane Kiffin knows his team must play better against Syracuse than it did in its opener.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib put up huge numbers in the Orange's nail-biting, 42-41 loss to Northwestern. He completed 44 of 65 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns, with all the touchdowns coming in the second half. He also rushed for 30 yards.

"Their quarterback made a ton of plays," Kiffin said.

USC pounded Syracuse 38-17 last season, and the Orange welcome back only 12 starters. They are again picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East. But it's difficult to scoff at 596 yards gained against a major conference foe.

Kiffin admitted that his defense "didn't get tested a lot" against Hawaii. That could change against Syracuse.

Although the Trojans are overwhelming favorites, they also are in a beauty contest at the top of the polls. All wins are not equal. The Trojans need to win impressively to impress voters.

Consider that they fell from No. 1 to No. 2 behind Alabama after the Crimson Tide stomped Michigan. That seems reasonable, seeing that Hawaii is mediocre to bad and Michigan was ranked No. 8, but the Trojans are the first No. 1 team to drop in the AP poll after winning a game by 35-plus points since Penn State in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So surrendering a bunch of yards and points against Nassib and allowing Syracuse to hang around late in the second half could further hurt USC's standing. Don't think that matters? It will if pollsters and computers are trying to make distinctions in December between multiple unbeaten and one-loss teams. Recall: The BCS still yokes college football for two more seasons.

One way the Trojans can keep Nassib in check is by keeping him and the Orange's up-tempo, no-huddle offense on the sideline. The best way to do that is to run the ball. Although the Trojans piled up some nice passing numbers against Hawaii, the running game sputtered with just 81 yards at 3.5 per carry. Last year's starting tailback, Curtis McNeal, got only five carries, and Penn State transfer Silas Redd got nine.

Kiffin said that didn't indicate a change in the backfield pecking order.

"That wasn't on purpose," Kiffin said.

The Trojans probably aren't on upset alert. But when you're in the national championship chase, it's not only about winning it's about winning pretty. So it's important for "first-game sloppiness" to transform into second-game efficiency and dominance.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 2

September, 4, 2012
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There is more movement than we expected with the power rankings, as number of teams underwhelmed in Week 1.

The theme this week? "OK, but let's see what you do Saturday."

You can review the Week 1 power rankings here.

1. USC: A dominant win over Hawaii. And no major injuries. Just what USC wanted.

2. Oregon: The Ducks actually closed the perceived distance between them and USC with quarterback Marcus Mariota's performance. While it was easy to suspect he would be more than a game manager, he pretty much proved it against overmatched Arkansas State.

3. Utah: The Utes did what they needed to do, dominating a bad Northern Colorado team on both sides of the ball. It wasn't pretty all the time on offense, but it was effective.

4. UCLA: It was hardly a perfect, or even a very good, performance at Rice, but the Bruins offense rolled up huge numbers with redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley and the defense pitched a second-half shut out on the road. Now let's see what happens with Nebraska.

5. Washington: The Huskies looked shaky after a strong start against San Diego State, but it was the offense more than the defense that disappointed. The defense, in fact, was the pleasant surprise of the game. Now let's see what happens at LSU.

6. Stanford: The Cardinal gets a big demotion for a poor effort at home against a weak San Jose State team. Part of that demotion is the mediocrity of perceived strengths: The defense and the running game. The Cardinal can move back up if it gets back to its physical ways against Duke on Saturday.

7. Arizona: Quarterback Matt Scott put up huge numbers and the defense exceeded expectations -- albeit exceedingly low expectations -- in an overtime win over Toledo. A decent win, but it didn't provide much reason for hope against Oklahoma State on Saturday.

8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils not only dominated Northern Arizona, they turned in a pretty clean sheet -- one turnover, four penalties for 30 yards. The next two games are measuring sticks with Illinois at home and Missouri on the road.

9. Oregon State: The Beavers didn't play so their debut will be Saturday at home against Wisconsin. Whether the postponement of the opener proves to be a negative or positive will be based on how the Beavers look against the Badgers, who whipped them 35-zip last year.

10. California: The Bears celebrated the opening of their renovated stadium by getting pushed around in a 31-24 loss to Nevada. The disappointing part about it was it's impossible to call it a fluke.

11. Washington State: The Mike Leach Renaissance won't happen overnight, at least based on a flat performance at BYU. The Cougars of Provo looked pretty good, but the way the Cougars of Pullman reacted to early adversity is the real problem.

12. Colorado: Colorado State looked like a game that was a must-win for bowl hopes. So those hopes took a major hit, as the Rams asserted themselves in the second half and seemed to physically handle the Buffaloes on both sides of the ball.

ACC announces future schedule model

February, 3, 2012
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The ACC has announced its future regular-season scheduling formats, which will keep the current divisional alignments the same but eventually include Pittsburgh in the Coastal Division and Syracuse in the Atlantic Division.

The current primary crossover partners will remain with Syracuse and Pitt becoming primary crossover partners with each other.

When Pitt and Syracuse join the ACC (the news release didn't state when that might be), the league will play a nine-game conference schedule. The format will consist of each team playing all six in its division each season, plus its primary crossover partner each year and two rotating opponents from the opposite division. This six-year cycle allows each team to play each divisional opponent and its primary crossover partner six times (three home and three away) while also playing each rotating crossover opponent two times (one home and one away).

Stay tuned for more on this.

Barkley's return means USC is back

December, 22, 2011
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USC, which finished this season 10-2 and ranked No. 5, will have 19 starters returning in 2012 including both specialists and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans welcome back their top rusher, top three receivers, four starting offensive lineman and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireMatt Barkley's decision to return to USC next season makes the Trojans a contender for the national championship.
Also back in 2012: The Trojans' top four tacklers. And five of their top six. And a first-team All-Pac-12 kicker. And a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans looked like a preseason top-10 team a month ago. They looked like the preseason Pac-12 South Division favorites. But when Barkley announced Thursday, "I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player," it sent a shockwave across the college football landscape.

Remember that little girl staring at the TV snow in "Poltergeist"? All together now: "They're baaaaack!"

Barkley makes USC a national title contender. Barkley makes things around Heritage Hall feel like it's 2002-2008 all over again. Barkley means Trojans fans can stop thinking about the injustice it suffered when the NCAA whacked it with severe sanctions and start dreaming of BCS bowls again.

Just FYI: Miami on Jan. 7, 2013. What happened the last time the Trojans played in South Florida with big stakes?

Ah, the Oregon fans have just arrived. To borrow a phrase: Not so fast, my friend.

The Ducks are the three-time defending Pac-12 champions. They've got a whole bunch of key guys coming back in 2012, too. They, too, are a certain top-10 team, perhaps top-five. They will be the overwhelming favorites to win the North Division.

Both have highly favorable schedules. USC's nonconference schedule: Hawaii (with head coach Norm Chow!), at Syracuse and Notre Dame. Oregon's is, well, pitiful: Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.

Oh, then there is this little date for both in LA next year. The Pac-12 schedules aren't official yet, but the conference confirmed to the Pac-12 blog that USC and Oregon will play in the Coliseum next fall. That regular-season game, not hard to project as a matchup of top-five teams, very likely could lead to a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, which could be a gateway to the national title game for the winner.

Ducks and Trojans: Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Meanwhile, Barkley, by passing up a chance to be a top-10 NFL draft pick as Matt Leinart and Andrew Luck did before him, immediately established himself as the leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate. His status as front-runner is only slightly less firm than Luck's was last year when he announced a shocking return.

And that point -- thump -- should provide a speed bump of moderation for our foray into admittedly hysterical hyperbole about Barkley and USC. Just about every time you try to write a college football season's story before it plays out, you end up being wrong.

Preseason predictions can be completely off: Oklahoma was the consensus preseason No. 1 this year. Or they can be slightly off: Luck and the overwhelming Heisman favorite in August. Or they can fall just short in the end: USC as the best team in college football history in 2005.

Or, then again, sometimes they are spot-on: USC in 2004 was preseason No. 1 as well as the postseason national champion.

Still, while grand scenarios are merely reasonably conceived potential endings for something that is a year away and laden with unforeseen variables, there is no downside on this day for USC. In fact, it spiderwebs positives throughout the program, from making the future at QB more secure, to bolstering the present recruiting effort, to getting USC fans excited and reinvested again, ready to fill up the Coliseum next fall.

By the way, USC folks aren't the only ones smiling. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is grinning ear-to-ear. He sees another bright, articulate Heisman Trophy candidate who conducts himself with class acting as the face of the conference, as Luck did this past fall. He sees two big ticket national title contenders in 2012, just as the conference's new TV contract kicks in. He's got broadcast partners -- ESPN and Fox -- as well as a new Pac-12 Network that are going to be thrilled that the conference's ratings-driving bell cow is back under the klieg lights in LA.

Toss in four new, high-profile coaches, and there are plenty of sexy story lines for the Pac-12 in 2012.

The week started with USC fans slapping their foreheads over Ohio State's middling NCAA sanctions for severe infractions. It was a frustrating reminder of the seeming cosmic forces that conspired to end the USC dynasty, including Pete Carroll skipping town back to the NFL.

But the week ends with an early Christmas gift for USC. Matt Barkley telling it, "I am staying because I want to finish what I started."

Yes, college football fans across the country pricked up their ears Thursday and thought, "Drat. I hear those darn "Tribute To Troy" drums again."

1. Texas Tech’s 41-38 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma proves that Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville is up to his old ways. In 16 seasons as an FBS head coach at Ole Miss (1995-98), Auburn (1999-2008) and Texas Tech (2010-present), Tuberville has won 13 games against top-10 opponents, five against top-five teams. Tuberville is, overall, 21-33 against higher-ranked teams. I don’t have records for all coaches, but winning two of every five sounds impressive.

2. We may be able, once and for all, to decide what is more indicative of quality: losing to top-10 teams or losing close games to good teams. All we have to do is find a bowl game in which Auburn, which has lost to three teams currently in the top 10, can play Miami, which has two last-minute losses to teams in the top 12 (the Hurricanes’ third loss came by eight points to Maryland). Let’s get the bowl projection boys, Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards, to work on that.

3. USC returned to the AP Top 25 for the first time in seven weeks. The media poll is the best measure of the Trojans, given that their NCAA postseason ban renders them ineligible for the BCS standings. USC’s 31-17 victory at Notre Dame, where it hasn’t lost since 2001, should give the Trojans some cred in the street (previous best win: Syracuse) and in the mirror as they prepare for No. 6 Stanford, their first ranked opponent.

3-point stance: No solace for Toledo

September, 27, 2011
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1. In 1940, when Cornell received five downs to score and beat Dartmouth, 7-3, Cornell offered a forfeit and Dartmouth accepted. In 1990, when Colorado got five downs to beat Missouri, 33-31, Buffaloes coach Bill McCartney flat refused to offer a forfeit. Colorado went on to a share of the national championship. From selfless to selfish to a shrug: Syracuse beat Toledo, 33-30, because of an officiating error and both sides agree that NCAA rules don’t allow a remedy. A rule change may create more problems than it would solve. That’s little solace for the Rockets.

2. The matchup of Alabama coach Nick Saban versus Florida coach Will Muschamp, a former assistant to Saban at LSU, will gain a lot of attention as the No. 3 Crimson Tide prepares to play the No. 12 Gators. Keep this in mind: in his 16 seasons as an FBS head coach, Saban has lost 53 games. As far as I can tell, none of those losses came to a team led by a first-year head coach. That seems more relevant than the discussion of Saban losing to a protégé.

3. No. 7 Wisconsin has committed two turnovers in four games, No. 4 Stanford one turnover in three. What do they have in common? Savvy veterans running their offenses. The Badgers’ Russell Wilson, a fifth-year transfer from North Carolina State, has thrown one interception in an offense he didn’t really learn until August (freshman Joe Brennan threw the other pick). The Cardinal’s Andrew Luck has thrown one interception, which bounced off a Stanford receiver’s hand. Sometimes, it’s not what a quarterback does. It’s what he doesn’t do.

Final: USC 38, Syracuse 17

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
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Is Matt Barkley a Heisman Trophy candidate?

Barkley completed 26 of 39 passes for 324 yards with five TDs and no interceptions as USC put together a solid four-quarter effort in a 38-17 crushing of Syracuse.

Barkley has nine TD passes and one interception in the Trojans' 3-0 start.

The Trojans figure to face a more substantial test in their first road game at Arizona State next weekend, a big Pac-12 South Division contest, considering USC already beat Utah.

Of course, USC can't play in the Pac-12 title game. But it can win the South Division.

Syracuse rushed for just 73 yards.

3-point stance: New rule has teeth

August, 12, 2011
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1. The NCAA has increased the minimum Academic Progress Rate (APR) from 925 in a given year to 930 over a rolling four-year average. More important, the penalties for not making the minimum include a postseason ban. I did the math for the six AQ conferences from 2007 through 2010 and found nine schools that failed to reach 930: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisville, Minnesota, Ole Miss, Purdue, South Florida, and Washington State. If the rule were effective immediately, they wouldn’t be bowl-eligible. That rule has teeth.

2. The Syracuse coaching staff has been a man down for 10 days after offensive line coach Greg Adkins got waylaid by an attack of pancreatitis. Adkins returned to meetings on Wednesday night, and after a medical procedure next week, will return full-time soon. While head coach Doug Marrone is glad that Adkins is returning to health, he has had a blast returning to coach the offensive line. “I don’t think the kids had fun,” Marrone said. “I had fun.”

3. When the Southwest Conference died in the mid-1990s, legend has it that Baylor got a seat in the Big 12 lifeboat because the governor at the time, Anne Richards, had a Baylor degree. I bring this up because the current governor and presidential-candidate-to-be, Rick Perry, is a Texas A&M alumnus. How much does that contribute to the emboldened talk among Aggies about bolting from Texas and the Big 12 to the SEC? Of course, it never takes much to make an Aggie swagger.
1. A few years ago, head coaches began bestowing exalted titles on their top assistants to make the program look good and make the assistants feel better. But I wonder if that came back and bit North Carolina. John Blake was more than Butch Davis’s top recruiter. Blake was “assistant head coach.” Blake got busted for lying to the university and to the NCAA, and for taking money from the late agent Gary Wichard. When your “assistant head coach” does that, it looks bad before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

2. Temple coach Steve Addazio told me a nice story on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday about his son Louis, a 6-3, 232-pound tight end who signed with Syracuse in January. When I asked Addazio how he let his son get away, he laughed. Turns out that when Addazio was an assistant at Syracuse a decade ago, eight-year-old Louis told him that someday he wanted to play for the Orange. What dad is going to mess with his kid’s dream?

3. ACC blogger Heather Dinich’s item this week about the large number of former FBS players now playing for Division II North Alabama coach Terry Bowden reminded me of a story that Terry’s dad loves to tell. When Bobby Bowden coached at Howard (Samford) some 50 years ago, he would get a call from Tuscaloosa to come watch Alabama practice. Bear Bryant had decided which players he couldn’t use. Bobby would watch practice, evaluate, and ask them to play for him. It’s almost Life Father, Like Son.

Pac-10 is the No. 2 conference

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
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The Pac-10 chant for the 2010 season: "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!"

Hey, it could be worse.

It should come as no surprise that the SEC reigns supreme in ESPN Stats & Information final college football conference rankings for 2010. Sure, the SEC was only 5-5 this bowl season, but it won a fifth consecutive national championship -- with a fifth different team in the BCS Era -- and finished with six teams in the final AP poll.

The Pac-10 blog has taken issue with the almost reflexive assumption of SEC supremacy a number of times in the past, mostly because the Pac-10 blog -- humbly -- only wished to educate the ignorant. The Pac-10 blog, however, will only tip its cap to the SEC this year.

The SEC was way ahead of the Pac-10 in the final tally, while the Pac-10, No. 3 Big 12 and No. 4 Big Ten were fairly tight. More than a few folks from the Big 12 might give the final rankings a "harrumph." The Big 12, after all, had five teams ranked in the final top-25, the Pac-10 just two.

In an interesting twist, it is the Pac-10 that appears top-heavy compared to the Texas-Oklahoma conference. With No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford, the Pac-10 is the only conference with two teams ranked in the final top-five, but after that no other teams ended up in the top-25, and only one, Washington, received any votes in either final major poll.

And that was just a single vote in the Coaches poll. FYI: Steve Sarkisian was a voter this season.

The Pac-10 is helped in the conference standings by bowl victories against teams ranked in the final AP poll: Stanford against No. 16 Virginia Tech, the ACC champion, and Washington against No. 20 Nebraska, the Big 12 North champ. Further, the Pac-10 posted nonconference wins against Iowa, Notre Dame and Hawaii -- all three received votes in both final polls -- as well as Syracuse and Louisville, which both won bowl games. Victories against Texas, Colorado, Wake Forest, Tennessee and Houston don't carry as much weight as they would in most seasons, but they contributed to a strong 17-12 overall record versus FBS foes and a 12-7 mark against AQ conference foes.

While some are hung up on the Pac-10 only producing four bowl-eligible teams -- it actually was five; USC was just ineligible because of NCAA sanctions -- the tough nonconference schedules and the nine-game conference slate are mostly responsible for that. Arizona State, which lost by a single point at Wisconsin, would have been bowl eligible if San Jose State didn't break a game contract to chase a payday with Alabama, and the same could be said of Oregon State if it didn't schedule a pair of top-10 nonconference foes (No. 2 TCU and No. 9 Boise State).

The Pac-10's arduous schedule is accounted for, by the way, in the highly respected Sagarin Ratings, which rank the Pac-10 No. 1.

Still, the Pac-10 wasn't No. 1 in its final year before it becomes the Pac-12. The SEC earned the top spot after beating the undefeated Pac-10 champion for the national title.

Again, a tip of the cap. No trash talk.

One last thing, though: Oregon-LSU, Sept. 2.

Buckle up.

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