NCF Nation: Utah
2002: No. 9 Washington (finished 7-6)
2001: No. 11 Oregon State (finished 5-6)
2009: No. 12 Cal (finished 8-5)
Easy to remember each of those teams.
The 2002 Huskies featured quarterback Cody Pickett, who passed for 4,458 yards that season, and wide receiver Reggie Williams. The season began with a last-second loss at Michigan due to a massive coaching blunder that cost the Huskies the game. Said then-coach Rick Neuheisel: "We switched substitution groups, which we're going to kick ourselves about for a thousand years."
The Huskies seemed to lose their mojo, but they then rallied for three consecutive wins to finish the regular season -- Neuheisel memorably created the "Northwest Championship" -- over Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State to earn bowl eligibility.
That Oregon State team was touted -- Sports Illustrated ranked the Beavers preseason No. 1 -- after an 11-1 finish in 2000, with quarterback Jonathan Smith and running back Ken Simonton returning. Things immediately fell apart with a blowout loss at Fresno State. A 1-3 start, in fact, featured a 38-7 home loss to UCLA.
As for Cal, at least one writer [insert uncomfortable cough] celebrated the 2009 Bears as a potential national title contender. (They were stacked with talent: backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu, linebackers Mike Mohamed and Devin Bishop, cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, etc.) After a 3-0 start, the Bears headed to Oregon ranked sixth.
SPLAT! Cal goes down 42-3. The next weekend, just in case we didn't get the message, USC ripped the Bears 30-3 in Berkeley. Suffice it to say, there was nothing subtle about Cal's unmasking.
Here's this year's preseason top 10. So who becomes the bust this year?
5. Boise State
6. Florida State
8. Texas A&M
9. Oklahoma State
Here's our way, way too early prediction on how things may stack up.
And yes, if Oregon beats LSU in Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 3, we will immediately shake things up. And add a bowl game.
Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Washington vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Utah vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: Arizona vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: UCLA vs. Big 12
Note: These don't exactly correspond to our Power Rankings, which will be released later.
Of course, the reports of Texas A&M bolting to the SEC might have been premature but not necessarily inaccurate in terms of what is eventually going to happen.
Conference expansion, it seems, is not dead. At least rumors thereof are not.
So what does that mean out West?
It could mean nothing. Texas A&M could bolt the Big 12, and the Big 12 could replace the Aggies with Houston and things would stay fairly stable.
Who thinks that's the endgame? Me neither.
The big prize has been and will continue to be Texas. If another round of expansion roulette begins a few years before everyone thought it might, count on Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott making use of his speed dial with Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds.
I mostly agree with Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman:
I expect the six BCS conferences to fold into three: Pac 16, Big Ten and the SEC. And I still think if A&M leaves and the Big 12 chooses not to expand, a nine-team league won't work, Texas and others will join the Pac-12, and the Longhorn Network will be allowed under the current Pac-12 television package that already includes six regional networks: Arizona, Southern California, Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Mountain network with Colorado and Utah.
While Scott has been quoted as saying the Longhorn Network can't work in the Pac-12 framework of equal revenue sharing and the conference's total ownership of its network and regional networks, anything can be made to work if the money is right.
Texas with an equal slice of the Pac-12 pie and its own network separate from the Pac-12 is a huge win for the Longhorns, yes, but Texas in the Pac-12 -- or whatever it would then be called -- is a huge win for the Pac-12. A give-and-take negotiation, in the end, would mean more revenue for everyone, which is the ultimate goal here.
That said, plenty of folks with a dog in this hunt are saying that's not going to happen, such as Texas Tech president Guy Bailey.
"Here's the deal, what the Pac-12 offered last year, and I think they would be open to this year, is a package deal," Bailey told [Fox Talk in the Morning on KJTV 950 AM in Lubbock]. "You'd have to have four schools and Texas is the cornerstone to that. Remember, the issue last year came down to the Longhorn Network. The University of Texas wanted its own network for tertiary rights and the Pac-12 doesn't allow that. We can cut that out right there. I don't foresee that happening."
In other words, there's lots of intrigue here. The wheels are spinning in the heads of many conference commissioners, school presidents and athletic directors at present. It would seem there is weakness in both premature, impulsive action but also in being cautious and reactive.
Which is why I'm betting Scott is perfectly comfortable with these developments (or temporary non-developments). He wanted a Pac-16 in the first place. He's been on record for a long time espousing the likelihood of "super conferences." This is his comfort zone.
Scott isn't sweating this. He's grinning.
By this we mean which player goes from an above-average player to an all-conference sort? Here's some guess, one per team.
(And we don't want to include any players from this list).
DT Justin Washington, Arizona: Washington started fast as a redshirt freshman in 2010 then got banged up. If he stays healthy and takes a step forward, he's got a chance to be all-conference.
WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: The 6-foot-4, 222-pound senior has always looked the part. He just didn't play it. He played it this past spring, and he should put up big numbers in an offense that wants to throw it a lot.
WR Paul Richardson, Colorado: Richardson is an A-list receiver on a team without much depth at the position. If he stays healthy, he's got a good shot to approach -- or eclipse -- the 1,000-yard receiving mark.
LB Michael Clay, Oregon: Smart and athletic -- very quick -- Clay saw a lot of action last year, and he did nothing to suggest he won't meet high expectations.
S Lance Mitchell, Oregon State: There are a lot of good safeties in the Pac-12. Mitchell, an NFL prospect, might be the most underrated of them all.
OLB Chase Thomas, Stanford: Very quietly piled up 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons but only earned honorable mention all-conference honors. Expect an upgrade when he gets double-digit sacks this fall.
DE Datone Jones, UCLA: Jones is like a super-secret guy who only folks who've watched UCLA practice the past two years know about. He was a nice player in 2009 who was expected to break out last year. Then he missed the entire season with a broken foot. If he stays healthy, he WILL be an all-conference player. Write it down.
DE Nick Perry, USC: Another talented guy -- the junior is firmly on the NFL radar -- who's been consistently riddled by injuries. If he stays healthy, he and Jones will be opposite each other on the all-conference team.
DT Star Lotulelei, Utah: At 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, he looks the part. By the end of the 2010 season, he played the part, too. Coach Kyle Whittingham believes he's a budding star in more than his name, and we concur.
OT Senio Kelemete, Washington: A two-year starter, he's the Huskies' most experienced O-lineman. Coach Steve Sarkisian has been singing his praises for a long time. A breakthrough year?
SS Deone Bucannon, Washington State: He led the Cougars in tackles as a true freshman and made plenty of big plays (see: two interceptions and two forced fumbles). He also made some mistakes. Expect the mistakes to go down and the big plays to go up.
Stanford's Andrew Luck, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles each could be first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Luck is almost certain to go No. 1 overall. Oregon's Darron Thomas, Oregon State's Ryan Katz, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Washington State's Jeff Tuel also are experienced, talented guys with plenty of upside.
But don't sleep on the running backs, either.
The conference welcomes back five backs who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last fall, including Oregon's Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner, LaMichael James. That crew includes Washington's Chris Polk, Colorado's Rodney Stewart, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. Those are five backs who ranked among the top-38 in the nation in rushing last fall, including three in the top 13.
(And, by the way, if Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and California's Shane Vereen hadn't opted to enter the NFL draft a year early, the conference also would include the nation's No. 21 and 23 rushers from 2010).
Further, only California, Oregon State, Utah and Washington State have questions at the position. USC is stacked with talented backs, whether senior Marc Tyler (913 yards, nine TDs in 2010) comes back from suspension or not. Arizona State's Cameron Marshall (787 yards, nine TDs) is one of the most underrated players in the conference, and Arizona's Keola Antolin (668, seven TDs in 2010) has rushed for 1,830 yards and scored 21 TDs in three seasons.
Further, many of the backups -- Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Washington's Jesse Callier, Arizona State's Deantre Lewis or Kyle Middlebrooks, Stanford's Anthony Wilkerson and UCLA's Derrick Coleman (or Malcolm Jones/Jordan James) -- are talented and experienced (other than James, a redshirt freshman).
So conference of quarterbacks, conference of running backs -- both are positions of power.
Perhaps the Pac-12 in 2011 is now the Conference of Backfields?
Feel free to disagree.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
RB Chris Polk, Washington
TE David Paulson, Oregon
WR Juron Criner, Arizona
WR Jermaine Kearse, Washington
OL Jonathan Martin, Stanford
OL Matt Kalil, USC
OL David DeCastro, Stanford
OL Ryan Miller, Colorado
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah
K Erik Folk, Washingon
DE Nick Perry, USC
DT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington
DE Junior Onyeali, Arizona State
LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
LB Mychal Kendricks, California
LB Chase Thomas, Stanford
CB Cliff Harris, Oregon
CB Nickell Robey, USC
S T.J. McDonald, USC
S Delano Howell, Stanford
P Bryan Anger, California
PR Cliff Harris, Oregon
KR Robert Woods, USC
And coaches on the hot seat play hot seat games, and ESPN.com's Ryan McGee sees a handful for the conference.
Here's what he has to say.
UCLA Bruins at Houston Cougars, Sept. 3
On the Seat of Heat: Rick Neuheisel
The Sweater Vest of the West hasn't been able to get his alma mater up to speed as quickly as he did conference foes Colorado and Washington. In the 2008 season opener, the former Bruins quarterback led his team to a then-stunning OT win over Tennessee, but he has posted a record of 13-23 since. The lone high point during that time was last year's win at Texas, which, like the Tennessee win, wasn't all that impressive in retrospect.
Last year UCLA romped Houston at home, the game in which Cougars quarterback Case Keenum tore his ACL in the second quarter. Now Keenum is back and playing on his home turf. If he lights up UCLA with the same kind of offense that Neuheisel was supposed to have brought to Westwood, then the sharks shall begin circling, especially with Texas, Oregon State and Stanford coming up in the following four weeks.
Missouri Tigers at Arizona State Sun Devils, Sept. 9
On the Seat of Heat: Dennis Erickson
Erickson's first year in Tempe was a nice one: 10-3 and a trip to the Holiday Bowl to face Texas. Since then, the Sun Devils have yet to make a bowl game, posting an overall record of 15-21 and a Pac-10 record of 10-17. Last year they came close to beating Wisconsin ... and Oregon State ... and USC ... and Stanford. But they lost all four of those games.
This year brings the highest preseason expectations since that first season, as the Sun Devils missed the preseason coaches' Top 25 poll by only three votes. The good news? ASU was 4-0 against nonconference opponents last year. The bad news? The Sun Devils haven't hosted a nonconference BCS school since 2008, a 27-10 thrashing by Georgia.
Washington State Cougars at Colorado Buffaloes, Oct. 1
On the Seat of Heat: Paul Wulff
Wulff keeps trying to convince us that the Cougars are getting better, but their record surely has not. They backed up 2009's 1-11 record with a 2-10 mark last year. In three seasons he has won exactly two conference games. If they go to Boulder for Colorado's first home Pac-12 game and lay an egg against a team with a new head coach, it's likely going to make the folks in Pullman want to look for a new coach of their own.
USC Trojans at California Golden Bears, Oct. 13
On The (Potential) Seat of Heat: Jeff Tedford
The promise of Tedford's early days in Berkeley has started to fade, thanks to a 17-19 conference record over the last four years. If the Bears stumble against what should be a very motivated Fresno State squad on Sept. 3 at Candlestick Park, things could get a little dicey. October 6 brings a trip to Oregon, which figures to be a loss. USC has beaten Cal in seven straight. If the Trojans roll again like they have the last two seasons (48-14 and 30-3), patience with Tedford will have officially worn thin.
(Note: With "underclassmen to watch," we mostly stayed away from guys who made a significant impact in 2010, such as Arizona State defensive end Junior Onyeali, Colorado receiver Paul Richardson or California receiver Keenan Allen).
Underclassmen to watch
Davon Coleman, DE, So, Arizona State: The junior college transfer -- a late signing for the 2011 recruiting class -- might already be the Sun Devils' No. 3 defensive end, and ASU needs him to step up after returning starter James Brooks quit the team.
David Wilkerson, OLB, RFr., California: While fellow outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside might be more heralded, Wilkerson was listed as a starter on on the post-spring depth chart.
Parker Orms, CB, So., Colorado: Orms was the starting nickel back in 2010 before he blew out his knee on the third play of the season-opener against Colorado State. He's now No. 1 at cornerback -- the Buffs more worrisome position -- despite sitting out spring practices.
Scott Crichton, DE, RFr., Oregon State: The Beavers have major questions at defensive end -- a traditionally strong position for their defense. While he didn't come from nowhere, it was a bit of a surprise to see Crichton atop the depth chart after spring practices.
Dietrich Riley, So, SS, UCLA: By the end of the season Riley and Tony Dye might be widely viewed as the best safety combo in the conference. Heck, they might already be.
Dres Anderson, RFr, WR, Utah: Anderson already looks like the Utes' No. 2 option after junior DeVonte Christopher.
Josh Shirley, RFr., LB, Washington: Shirley was such a force as a pass-rusher this past spring, they created a position for him: "Rush" linebacker.
Rickey Galvin, RFr, RB, Washington State: Galvin broke his arm at Oklahoma State on the first play of his college career, which ended his debut season. He's speedy and shifty and the Cougars really need him to provide a running threat to help out quarterback Jeff Tuel.
Hank Hobson, LB, Arizona: The Wildcats have major depth issues at linebacker. Hobson looks like the most ready-made guy in the incoming class. He might not start, but he's a good bet to be the No. 4 guy behind the starting three.
Stefan McClure, CB, California: While many Cal fans are more eager to see 325-pound nose tackle Viliami Moala, the Bears have depth issues at cornerback, and McClure is almost certain to be in the mix.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon: While Oregon needs help at receiver, and at least one one of the incoming guys is almost certain to climb into a prime spot in the rotation, we don't know who that will be. We feel pretty good projecting Lyerla as the Ducks' No. 2 tight end behind David Paulson.
James Vaughters, ILB, Stanford: The word most often used to describe Vaughters? "Beast." Stanford is solid at linebacker, but this guy is going to play, and and might well end up suggesting a second-coming of Vontaze Burfict by season's end.
George Farmer, WR, USC: There might be somebody who doesn't believe Farmer is a budding star but I have yet to speak with him. Even USC super-soph Robert Woods talks about Farmer's freakish skills.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: Seferian-Jenkins showed this past spring that he's ready for prime time. He's likely to be the Huskies' starting tight end. A runner-up for the Huskies, by the way, is receiver Kasen Williams, but he will join a deep, veteran crew of receivers.
Here's a look at the candidates, from front-runners to dark horses.
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: James, a Heisman finalist last season, led the nation with 1,731 yards rushing-- 144.25 yards per game -- and ranked second with 21 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. He was Oregon’s first unanimous All-American and he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back. He's set Ducks freshman and sophomore records for rushing.
Not to get caught up in that "college" part of college football or anything but James was first-team All-Pac-10 and Luck was second-team -- All-Academic.
Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk ranked second in the Pac-10 with 1,415 yards rushing -- his 108.9 yards per game ranked 13th in the nation -- and he scored nine touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 180 yards. He also closed the season strong during the Huskies' four-game winning streak to end the season, rushing for 138 yards against UCLA, 86 yards at California -- including the winning fourth-and-1 plunge on the game's final play -- and 284 yards at Washington State, the second-best rushing total in school history. Then, in the Holiday Bowl against a good Nebraska defense, he rushed for 177 yards on a career-high 34 carries and was named the offensive MVP. The rising junior's second-consecutive 1,000-yard season pushed him to No. 6 on the Huskies all-time rushing list with 2,561 yards. And with quarterback Jake Locker gone, Polk won't have to share the spotlight.
Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon: What if Oregon, with a rebuilt offensive line, ends up passing more in 2011? Thomas, a sophomore, first-year starter, completed 61.5 percent of his throws for 2,881 yards with 30 touchdowns. He also rushed for 486 yards and five scores. He ranked second in the Pac-10 and 17th in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns in the national championship game.
Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Barkley is a big-time talent playing on a high-profile team that has done well in the past when it comes to the Heisman. He ranked 31st in the nation and third in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency in 2010. He completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He's got an outstanding crew of young receivers who might help him put up big numbers.
The dark horses
Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Foles led the Pac-10 with 290 yards passing per game. He ranked fourth in passing efficiency -- 34th in the nation -- completing 67 percent of his passes with with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With one of the best crews of receivers in the nation, he figures to be throwing a lot in 2011. If the Wildcats win early -- see a rugged early schedule against ranked teams -- he could start to generate some buzz.
Robert Woods, WR, USC: Heisman winners often come from surprising places. But not too surprising. As a true freshman, Woods caught a team-high 65 passes for 792 yards with six touchdowns. He also averaged 25.6 yards on 38 kick returns, with a 97-yard touchdown. What if he -- instead of Barkley -- becomes the captivating star of a resurgent USC team?
Best Tweeter: Many athletes who tweet are boring. Matt Barkley is not.
Best Tweeter II: Oregon State's Ryan Katz and Barkley might need to have a "tweet off." Does that exist?
Best arm: Lots of Pac-12 quarterbacks can bring it. But if I had to bet who can throw it the farthest and hardest, I'd lay my $1 on Katz.
Thank you, sir, may I have another: Washington State's Jeff Tuel was at his best at the end of the 2010 season, despite getting sacked 51 times. Fifty-one times! Ouch.
Headline madness! No matter who won the starting quarterback job at Washington, a goldmine for headline writers was at hand. Keith Price? Bring on Bob Barker, because the "Price is right (or wrong)" headlines were coming. Nick Montana? How often do you think his sorta-super famous father, Joe, might come up?
Most likely to throw for 4,000 yards: Arizona's Nick Foles has the skills and experience -- plus the deep, talented receiving corps and scheme -- to be among the national leaders in passing yards. The question is whether the O-line, with five new starters, can protect him well enough.
Tallest QB ... in the nation? Seeing over his offensive line shouldn't be a problem for Arizona State's Brock Osweiler. As best as the Sun Devils' sports information department has been able to find out, the 6-foot-8 Osweiler will be the tallest quarterback in the nation this year.
Toughest encore: As a sophomore first-year starter, Darron Thomas: 1) Threw for 30 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions; 2) Earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors behind Luck and ahead of Barkley and Foles; 3) And threw for 363 yards in the national title game. Golly. Just imagine what it means if Thomas is, say, 10 percent better in 2011.
No pressure: If Cal's Zach Maynard is merely average this year -- say he has an efficiency rating of 130 -- the Bears will have a successful season and play in a quality bowl game.
No pressure II: If UCLA's Kevin Prince is merely average this year -- say he has an efficiency rating of 130 -- the Bruins will have a successful season and play in a quality bowl game. And Rick Neuheisel will keep his job.
Pac-12 competition -- California? -- bah! Utah's Jordan Wynn has started one game against a Pac-12 foe. As a true freshman, he completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns in a 37-27 win over California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl and won game MVP honors.
Pac-12 competition -- California? -- eek! Colorado's Tyler Hansen has started one game against a Pac-12 foe. Last fall, he completed 18 of 34 for 166 yards with three interceptions in a 52-7 defeat at California. One of his interceptions was returned 41 yards for a touchdown. One of his completions was fumbled and returned 81 yards for another TD.
Separated at birth? Nick Foles and Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass. Brock Osweiler and Frodo Baggins. Tyler Hansen and Captain America. Darron Thomas and Usher. Ryan Katz and Ron Jeremy. Andrew Luck and Josh Grobin. Matt Barkley and William "Cobra Kai" Zabka. Jordan Wynn and Edward Norton. Jeff Tuel and Bill of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."
Best name? Best name? Well, quarterbacks ultimately are all about Wynn-ing, right? But it pays to be a cool Katz. That said, what Price is a quaretrback willing to pay to win? Of course, often a Prince becomes a king. But let's not forget how important it is to have all the Tuel-s. It's probably best, however, to be Luck-y and good.
That is again the case in 2011. The conference boasts Stanford’s Andrew Luck, USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Nick Foles, who each could become first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Then there’s Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who beat out Barkley and Foles for second-team All-Conference honors in 2010, and talented youngsters such as Washington State’s Jeff Tuel, Oregon State’s Ryan Katz and Utah’s Jordan Wynn.
Oh, but across the country in Conference USA, there’s a crew of quarterbacks that offers something that bests the Pac-12 signal-callers: huge numbers. Four Conference USA passers threw for more than 3,000 yards; just two did in the old Pac-10. Also, three threw 31 or more touchdown passes versus just one in the Pac-10 -- Luck with 32.
So while the Pac-12 may think of itself as the conference of quarterbacks, Conference USA might be able to counter as the conference of passers.
Sounds like a blog debate! Bring on Andrea Adelson!
Ted Miller: Andrea, you have me and many of my Pac-12 blog readers at a loss. You know all about the Pac-12 quarterbacks because they are on TV all the time.
While most are familiar with Keenum’s eye-popping numbers for the Cougars, some of these other names draw blanks. Educate our poorly informed West Coast brains, please!
Andrea Adelson: Yes, Ted, there is a reason C-USA has a Wild, Wild West Division. It is there you will find some of the most prolific passers in the nation -- Keenum, G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, and Kyle Padron of SMU.
Keenum was just picked as the C-USA preseason offensive player of the year for obvious reasons. Your Pac-12 brethren only got a small glimpse of what he could do last season against UCLA -- the game in which he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Keenum got a sixth season and has a slew of NCAA records he is chasing down -- total offense, passing yards, touchdowns, pass attempts and completions. He is in an offensive system that suits his strengths, and he really came onto the scene in 2008 under a certain coach named Dana Holgorsen.
With Keenum out last season, Kinne picked up the torch and was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Kinne actually began his career at Texas before transferring to the Golden Hurricane. Last season he truly blossomed, but he is a different style quarterback than Keenum and Padron. Kinne can run -- he led the team in passing (3,650 yards) and rushing (561). It should come as no surprise that Padron is a gunslinger -- he plays for June Jones after all. And Jones is a master of the run 'n' shoot. But there are quarterbacks in the East who aren't slouches, either. Dominique Davis transferred from Boston College to East Carolina and flourished last season, leading the nation in passing. Austin Davis, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation can run and pass, too. We all know the Big 12 is known for its passers, but C-USA equaled that conference with three players ranked in the top 11 in the nation in yards passing with Davis, Padron and Kinne. The Pac-12 might have the most "quarterback ready" players, but C-USA has guys who know how to put the ball in the air, that is for sure. And who doesn't love offensive fireworks?
So how do you see your guys' NFL prospects stacking up?
Andrea Adelson: None of these guys are first-round prospects, but that does not make them any less impressive as college quarterbacks. All of them are going to carry the "system quarterback" label with them when their careers end. Keenum already gets that when his name comes up in Heisman chatter. Interestingly, he is after the NCAA career passing mark of Timmy Chang -- coached at Hawaii by June Jones. And Jones has a guy in Padron who can sling it, too. Davis is in a system that Ruffin McNeill picked up from his "Air Raid" days at Texas Tech -- a school that has produced prolific passers such as Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury but nobody who tore it up in the NFL. If you want to rank them as college quarterbacks, then Keenum deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best playing today. He is, after all, one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.
Ted Miller: That’s the rub, I think, Andrea. While the Pac-12 prides itself on producing NFL quarterbacks, I think we can all appreciate guys who produce thrilling performances in the college game, the game by the way we love most, apologies to the NFL.
So as excited as I am to see Luck this year -- and others -- I also am eager to see what a healthy Keenum does in Round 2 with UCLA. And perhaps we on the West Coast need to branch out a bit in our quarterback appreciation and catch a few Conference USA games this season.
We do, you know, like our passing out West.
But a veteran quarterback can have his own concerns. Here's what the returning starters at the position in the Pac-12 will be fretting about -- though they'd never own up to fretting -- during preseason camp.
Nick Foles, Arizona: Foles has a talented and deep crew of receivers but he also has five new starting offensive linemen in front of him, which not only will be an issue in pass protection but also for creating a running game that will slow down a pass rush.
Tyler Hansen, Colorado: The good news for Hansen is the job is his and he no longer has to worry about the coach's son, as he did under Dan Hawkins with Cody Hawkins. The bad news also is it's all on him, though Hansen seems like the sort who would see that as good news. A more tangible worry for Hansen is a lack of depth at receiver. Paul Richardson can ball and Toney Clemons is solid. After that, things are thin.
Darron Thomas, Oregon: Talk about a debut. Most folks thought Nate Costa was going to win the starting job over Thomas last preseason, but Thomas not only prevailed, he thrived, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and, oh by the way, playing in the national championship game. But now Thomas is playing behind a less-experienced offensive line and without his top-two receivers from 2010, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis. Further, he's the man now, the first guy his teammates will look at in the huddle, though running back LaMichael James also figures to play a significant leadership role. Thomas seems up to increasing his responsibilities, but he can't do it alone. He will need some young receivers to step up, just as he did last year.
Ryan Katz, Oregon State: Katz might have the biggest arm in the conference and he certainly had some impressive moments, most notably a tour-de-force performance at Arizona. But he sure could use the return of a healthy James Rodgers, who was a big help against the Wildcats before he suffered a terrible knee injury. But receivers are not among Katz's chief worries. His offensive line welcomes back four starters, but it underperformed in 2010, both as run- and pass-blockers. And Katz no longer has certainty at tailback, with Jacquizz Rodgers off to the NFL.
Andrew Luck, Stanford: Luck is the best quarterback in the country, but that means many will expect him to be perfect, which he can't be. For one, his dominant 2010 offensive line is replacing three starters. We don't know if the Cardinal running game will match what it did the previous two seasons. That line also protected Luck as well as any line protected its quarterback in the nation. But more pressing for Luck is a questionable crew of receivers. If speedy Chris Owusu is healthy all season, things should work out. But without him, Luck doesn't have any options who can scare a defense. No one stepped up during the spring, which makes receiver perhaps the Cardinal's most worrisome position.
Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley looks poised for a breakthrough in his third year as a starter. While Luck is super special, watching Barkley throw the ball at practice is pretty darn special, too. He's certainly an NFL talent, and he's got plenty of young talent around him at the skill positions to help him put up big numbers this season. But his offensive line was awful during spring practices. Injuries were the chief explanation, but he needs his starting five to stay healthy because there is a decided lack of depth. Offensive line is probably, in fact, USC's biggest question mark.
Jordan Wynn, Utah: First, Wynn needs to worry about himself. He's coming back from shoulder surgery, so he needs to pace himself this preseason, both in terms of not overthrowing and in terms of not seeking out any unnecessary contact. After taking care of himself, Wynn will need to develop chemistry with a receiving corps that is replacing two of its three top guys. Beyond that, Wynn will be paying attention to running back, where the Utes' top two rushers from last season need to be replaced. Utah wants to be a downhill running team, and a hard-nosed running game certainly makes things easier for a quarterback when he steps back into the pocket.
Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Tuel and his receivers are going to be fine -- more than fine if they get some help from an offensive line that struggled horribly in 2010, failing to protect Tuel or to create running lanes for an anemic running game. Tuel did an admirable job handling 51 sacks last fall. But if he gets sacked that many times again in 2011, it's hard to imagine him starting all 12 games.
Last fall, there was uncertainty at Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon.
At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like there would be plenty of ongoing quarterback intrigue. Arizona State was expected to feature another showdown with Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. California was completely wide open with the departure of Kevin Riley. There was a new coach at Colorado, Jon Embree, who said every job was open. UCLA clearly had no clear No. 1. Washington had to replace Jake Locker.
But most of the mysteries were solved by the end of spring practices.
Threet was forced to retire because of multiple concussions, thereby handing the job to Osweiler. Cal coach Jeff Tedford surprised a few folks when he announced Zach Maynard had eclipsed Allan Bridgford and Brock Mansion. It was clear throughout spring drills that Tyler Hansen was the Buffaloes' best option. And Steve Sarkisian tapped Keith Price over Nick Montana before the spring game.
If you're looking for a potential source for making quarterback decisions before preseason camp, consider former USC coach Pete Carroll. He believed in "anointing" a starter after spring practices because he believed it helped them become leaders over the summer -- see Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez. Notably, Sarkisian chatted with Carroll before tapping Price.
While coaches will still talk about competition, and it wouldn't be wise for any of these guys to take their job for granted, the only team with remaining uncertainty behind center is UCLA, and even then most would project a healthy Kevin Prince -- the incumbent starter who suffered a season-ending knee injury that also knocked him out of spring practice -- is the likely choice.
Still, let's look at where the Bruins' competition stands.
Richard Brehaut: There's no other way to say it: While Brehaut didn't play terribly well after replacing Prince, his passing numbers were better than what Prince did in 2010. That fact has engendered some not unreasonable sentiments that coach Rick Neuheisel has some sort of issue with Brehaut, a summary of which is provided here by Adam Maya (by the way, former offensive coordinator Norm Chow doggedly believed Prince was a better option than Brehaut). While Neuheisel said it was "nothing personal," it is fairly clear that Neuheisel questions Brehaut's complete commitment, which is reflected in Brehaut's apparently incomplete absorption of the offense. Further, knowing Neuheisel and how he works with quarterbacks, I can tell you that those little tirades he seems to have with his quarterbacks after a bad play mostly amounts to Neuheisel asking the quarterback to explain what he was thinking. And if the player doesn't have an answer, it drives Neuheisel crazy. A bad explanation -- "I didn't see the safety cheating over" -- is way, way better than "I don't know."
Brett Hundley: Hundley is the hotshot incoming freshman -- one of the nation's top dual-threat prep quarterbacks during the 2010-11 recruiting season -- whom many fans have been making googly-eyes at. But it ain't easy going from high school quarterback to college quarterback, and it was clear during spring practices that Hundley had a ways to go (though he also had some "wow" moments, too). Hundley was a bit of a long shot in any event, but after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will be out most of camp, his chances of redshirting are now higher than of him winning the starting job. Still, if he comes back strong, he could earn playing time. And if the situation gets desperate, Neuheisel, under pressure to win now, might roll the dice with a true freshman.
Nick Crissman and Darius Bell: These are the two long shots. Crissman's career has been riddled by shoulder injuries, but he had a fairly good spring and he's got some skills. Bell, a JC transfer, is a far better runner than passer. Many Bruins fans probably recall his regrettable debut in relief of Brehaut during a loss at Washington: 0-for-3 with an interception and a tongue-lashing from Neuheisel.
How has the conference changed under Scott?
A conference that was known for its stubborn adherence to tradition expanded by two teams, but only after an attempt to create a 16-team super conference -- a proposition that terrified all the other automatic qualifying conferences -- was left at the altar at the moment vows were supposed to be exchanged. A conference that lagged behind the Big Ten and SEC now owns the richest TV deal among all conferences -- $3 billion over 12 years from ESPN and Fox. A conference that lacked exposure will own a national network and six regional networks, which will ensure every football and men's basketball game is televised.
Much has changed.
With what's happened and will happen, it seemed like a good time to check in with Scott.
So you've expanded the conference, reorganized the officiating, signed a new TV contract and started a network: What's next?
Larry Scott: Well, we've got an awful lot to do in the next year to make this all work and work well. Our championship game has all kinds of operational challenges, given that with home hosting we don't know in which venue it is going to be. A lot of work has to be done on that. We are currently looking at the future of our basketball tournament and evaluating its location. And with what we've just announced, we've got a monumental amount of work to do in terms of building a management team and launching a year from now seven different TV networks, as well as building a digital business, too. The next year is going to be a very busy and challenging one.
With the network: Can you explain the revenue model? How will the conference profit from the national and regional networks?
LS: In its simplest form, there are basically two revenue streams for TV networks. One is subscriber fees, one paid by the satellite or cable or telecom companies [a monthly fee for each subscriber]. And the second is advertising. Those are the revenue streams. There are a lot of costs in terms of production and operations and marketing [which come from the Pac-12 coffers].
The biggest negative response has been from folks with satellite TV: How reassuring to them can you be that they are not going to miss Pac-12 football?
LS: Our vision is that the other satellite companies and cable companies and telecom companies will also take the network. But all we have announced so far is our partnership with these cable companies [Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks]. All I can say to fans is I hope the satellite companies will take it further into discussions, and as deals get done they will be announced.
You've talked before about your belief that there's another wave of expansion ahead. Any insights as to what that might look like?
LS: No, I really don't have any insights or predictions about how and when. But I still believe, the way I have consistently said, that over time further consolidation will make sense. I couldn't begin to predict when that might happen.
Do you think it's likely the big conferences will eventually break away from the NCAA?
LS: I certainly hope not. There's no talk about that going on now that I know of. But we've got a very interesting and creative time coming up, with [NCAA president] Mark Emmert, a new leader, and trying to set a new agenda, trying to engage presidential leadership. It will be interesting to see if the NCAA can be more nimble and responsive and bold in terms of creating a reform agenda than has been heretofore.
Speaking of the NCAA, there's been a lot of frustration at USC about first how harshly it was treated, then by how the NCAA has handled other major violations cases, most notably Ohio State. Has anyone explained to you this apparent double standard?
LS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We don't know what the final outcomes of some of the other cases will be, the ones you're probably referring to. But I certainly think the USC decision was a harsh one, and my view is that it's important from a standards perspective that there not be a double standard and that people be treated fairly and evenhandedly. That's what we will be looking for.
The Pac-12 has a TV deal that is more than competitive and now it has new networks. Is the conference on equal footing with the SEC and Big Ten, or is there more catchup ahead?
LS: I guess it depends on how you look at it, what metrics you're looking at. But I feel extremely good about where we are, from an exposure standpoint, from a revenue standpoint and from a competitive standpoint.
The SEC has won five national titles in a row. Is the consensus among commissioners from other conferences that the SEC plays better football, or is this just a historical cycle?
LS: I'm probably not the best historian in terms of analyzing the cycles of college football, but definitely they've been a real powerhouse. You have to admire their recent run. But if you look at USC in our conference, it's probably been the strongest program over the past decade. It depends on how you look at it. Long term, I see it being very competitive. I think there will be trends and cycles.
You've been on the job a couple of years now. Can you tell me what the biggest surprise has been about your job?
LS: It's probably been the amazing amount of potential. I took the role in the first place because I was inspired by the vision of Pac-12 presidents. I thought it was a great opportunity. Now that I've gotten to see under the hood, to see how much potential there is for change and uplift, it's been a very pleasant surprise.
Still, one of the controversial aspects of the Pac-10 and now the Pac-12 -- a nine-game conference schedule hurts a conference in the computer and human polls and makes for fewer bowl-eligible teams -- is becoming more the standard, not the exception.
The big question: Will the SEC follow suit?
Answer: Don't hold your breath. Not if the conference isn't forced to by the other automatic qualifying conferences making up the BCS, which should do exactly that in order to standardize scheduling. Otherwise, the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 are competing on a more challenging playing field than the SEC and ACC, which also plays eight conference games.
Why would the SEC resist a nine-game schedule? Lots of reasons.
For one, it doesn't need a ninth conference game, like Pac-12 athletic directors would have you believe they do. SEC fans are so dedicated to their teams, they will sell out their home stadiums even to see a directional school. So why would SEC teams potentially give up an easy home win for a potential road loss?
SEC athletic directors are well aware that when their teams go West, they more often than not get stomped -- just ask Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi State (tip of the cap to LSU for traveling and winning, by the way).
Some SEC folks will get all magnanimous and tell you that playing East Patsy State helps the Fighting Petunias financially. So its about noblesse oblige.
What it's really about is making life easier for the SEC. The top teams get an extra easy win, and the extra patsy means the bottom SEC teams can schedule four wins annually. That means the SEC bottom-feeders can schedule all the way to two games short of bowl eligibility.
Then, when eight or so teams are bowl eligible, pundits will be wowed by the depth of the SEC.
Further, the top-line SEC teams strength of schedule will be boosted by beating conference teams that schedule their way to a winning record or at least four wins.
Finally, eight conference games helps get teams preseason rankings, which is invaluable to the perception of a conference as well as the fortunes of its individual teams.
For example, take Mississippi State. Here's what they did last year. The Bulldogs have improved under Dan Mullen, but they would have been a middle-of-the-road team in the Pac-10 in 2010. They didn't beat any good teams, but they ended up 9-4 due to scheduling and finished ranked a wildly-inflated 15th.
And that earned them a No. 20 preseason ranking in the coaches poll, which the Bulldogs figure to maintain because they've scheduled four easy nonconference victories again: Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tennessee-Martin.
No offense Mississippi State, but we'd love to see you schedule a game out West. You might enjoy a trip away from Starkville.
While we tweak in jest -- we're all friends here, right? -- this is a substantive issue.
Starting in 2017, you will have three conferences playing by one set of rules. And two others playing by another. That isn't good for college football.