NCF Nation: UCLA Bruins

Media Days are here: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
7/24/14
8:00
AM ET
We're halfway through Pac-12 media days, which continue Thursday at the Studios at Paramount in Hollywood. Here's a look at who is on tap for Day 2:

Thursday's schedule: Leading off


The big "news" of the day was that Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 conference in 2014. Predictions aren't always solid -- unless they come from the Pac-12 blog.

Still, it's noteworthy that 24 of 39 writers (including the #pac) all picked the Ducks to win -- especially since Stanford is the two-time defending champ. The Cardinal will be up Thursday, so no doubt coach David Shaw will be asked for a reaction.

More Levi's games?

During the Stanford nonconference primer, the Pac-12 blog lamented the fact the Cardinal and San Jose State put the Bill Walsh Legacy game on hold. Now it looks like talks have started again.

According to Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News, initial conversations have started to reboot the game. Here's what San Jose State coach Ron Caragher had to say:

"There's some fringe talk about it," Caragher said. "Has anything been finalized? Not necessarily. But I think it'd be great."

The Pac-12 and Mountain West are already heavy scheduling partners. But for Bay Area fans, this game holds some special significance. Would be nice to see it up and running again.

Healthy and happy birthday

Cal safety Stefan McClure, oft injured in his career with the Bears, tells Sportswatch.com he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make his move from cornerback to safety. (He also plugs his birthday).

Cal obviously suffered through a bumpy 2013. A lot of that had to do with injuries on defense. So a healthy McClure is welcome news for the Bears.

Oregon storylines

Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet broke down his big three major storylines of media days. His thoughts:
  1. Oregon picked first
  2. Marcus Mariota in high demand
  3. Derrick Malone making improvements
Strike a pose

Just because the Cardinal weren't on the podium Wednesday, doesn't mean they (and the other five teams) didn't have media days responsibilities. You can see Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan doing his best Blue Steel here:

 
Landing spot for Bruggman

Former Washington State quarterback Tyler Bruggman is going to land at Louisville, according to InsidetheVille.com.

In case you missed it a week ago, Ted Miller broke down what that means for the Cougs.

Enjoy Day 2! We'll be tweeting again all day.

Media Days takeaways: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
7/23/14
8:57
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Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 1 of Pac-12 media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsRich Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he hasn't determined who will start at QB for Arizona this fall.
Kevin Gemmell: Arizona still doesn’t have a quarterback. Not that that’s shocking. We knew it was going to take awhile for Rich Rodriguez to find the right guy to run things in 2014. But with a really talented stable of wide receivers ready to break out and get all freaky on secondaries, you’d think he’d be at least a little bit closer to whittling down his pecking order. You’d be wrong: “Even if I knew who the starter was, I wouldn’t tell you all. Why would I tell you and tell our opponents? I really don’t know who not just No. 1 is, but I don’t know who No. 1, 2 or 3 is.” Maybe it’s a lot of coachspeak and he knows exactly what the offense will look like. Maybe he really doesn’t know. Feel like we’ve been here before …

Chantel Jennings: I knew there was a high interest in USC this year, but I guess I didn’t realize how high. The reporter crowd around Steve Sarkisian was about three times as large as for any other coach who attended today (including Mark Helfrich, whose team is the favorite for the Pac-12 title). Obviously, it’s USC and by nature, people will care. But with the program being back on track, a new coach, some exciting players and a new offensive scheme, the Trojans are going to be in a complete pressure cooker. Quarterback Cody Kessler talked about how last year -- and the amount of change and adversity they faced -- will help them this season. Yes, certainly the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” argument is valid. But how much stronger is USC? And are the Trojans strong enough to put up a fight in the South? Are they strong enough to handle the growing pains under a first-year coach? Are they strong enough to handle the increasingly high expectations of the public?

Kyle Bonagura: When it comes to quarterback play, believe the hype. And while, by nature, these types of events exist almost primarily to generate hype, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the quarterbacks have a chance to be considered one of the best conference groups in college football history. That’s not hyperbole, either. There have been comparable years if you take a look at the top five or six, maybe, but to have 10 returning quarterbacks — and so many decorated players among that group — might be unmatched.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway

Gemmell: Oregon and Washington fans might not like this, but the chances their bitter rivalry will grow frostier are slim. When asked about his relationship with new Washington coach Chris Petersen, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich offered this: “My relationship with Pete will be great forever. I’m going to hate him on certain days and some days he’ll hate me, whether it’s recruiting or on game day. But the guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won’t change. I know that’s going to make both of our fan bases very unhappy.” But it’s oh-so bromantic.

Jennings: The event today had a few different activities set up for the players, including a game of corn hole (for you non-Midwesterners, you’ll know this as "the game with the angled boards with holes in them that you try to get bean bags in"). I, myself, am a connoisseur of the sport and will challenge anyone. However, I wasn’t too impressed with some of the guys and coaches playing today. Especially some of the QBs. You can throw a football 60 yards, but you can't toss a bean bag 20 feet? C’mon.

Bonagura: The conference’s new buzzword is “innovation.” Commissioner Larry Scott used it nine times in his lengthy opening remarks to begin the day and seems focused on using the conference’s home near Silicon Valley to help aid the use of technology in as many ways as possible. He specifically referred to a partnership with AT&T, Sporting Innovations and Stanford that includes the development of an app that will supposedly make more information — videos, stats, etc. — more accessible to fans while in attendance. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on how innovative this innovation ends up being, but long term it’s not a bad thing.

Best quote of the day

Gemmell: Had a nice little chat with WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe about the fallout from the bowl game and what he thinks when he hears someone use the expression, "Coug’d it": “For me, Coug’d should mean you just went out there and dominated. I don’t understand where this impression of 'Coug’d it' means you did something in a negative light. Maybe the Urban Dictionary should think about rewriting that definition to 'Coug’d it means completely dominated your opponent.'”

Jennings: Can we just insert Mike Leach’s news conference transcript here? (Follow up: Can we just give Mike Leach a reality TV show?) But really, to give you the full experience … I walked up to the media scrum midway through Leach’s news conference. This is the exact moment I walked in. Enjoy.

“The gnats rarely got too hot, I guess. And then finally this one high school coach, as I'm recruiting there, he says, 'Try this.' Now I have big, old fat lips, so it didn't work very good. But he could fire up a little pucker, kind of blow the gnats off, then they had Skin So Soft [lotion], which is big. And I don't know what that is, but evidently gnats don't like it. They rub that all over [their faces]. But it looked kind of oily, you know? What I think is the gnats don't care about it, but it probably puts a little sheet of oil on there so it's harder to bite you. You don't feel the bite. That's just one guy's theory. I'm sure I'm wrong.”

Bonagura: “We've got a brand-new facility that's great, but everybody's got new stuff. Oregon changes it out like Porta-Potties. Like every four or five years like we need a new this, and they go do it.” -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on the facilities arms race in the conference

A couple of things to address here: (1) He’s right. As a whole, the conference has done a great job upgrading its facilities across the board. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how each construction project has helped each individual school — mainly from a recruiting standpoint — because it’s about keeping up with the Joneses as much as anything. (2) Who knew RichRod had a working knowledge of Porta-Potty lifespans?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota, a topflight NFL prospect, said he isn't sure if he will turn pro after this season.
Best lie of the day

Jennings: Marcus Mariota said he hasn’t made his mind up on whether or not he’d leave for the NFL after this season. Now, I will say that this is a hard case because it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If he came in and said, “Yep, no matter what happens, I’m out,” then he’d be criticized. So I’m not necessarily criticizing him for this -- he’s saying what he needed to say and that’s the right thing to do. But the moment it came out of his mouth, all the reporters silently went, “Riiiiiiiiiiiight.”

Bonagura: Agree wholeheartedly with Jennings. When asked if this will be his final year at Oregon, Mariota simply replied: “I’m not sure.” He sounded sincere, too, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which he’s not beginning training camp with an NFL team at this time next year. Seeing one of the best talents in college football pass up potentially becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft back-to-back seasons doesn’t happen.

Gemmell: Have to agree with my colleagues. It was nice for Mariota to say there is a chance he could come back for another season. And everyone in emerald land just got all giddy at the prospect of maybe seeing Mariota rocking the "O" beyond 2014. But I think we all know it ain't going to happen. He took out an insurance policy for a reason. Enjoy him while you can for now, Oregon fans. Because he's as good as gone.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I’ve long been a fan of Connor Halliday’s play. Is he reckless sometimes? Sure. Does he throw too many interceptions? Yeah. But I also like a guy who will throw a pick and then on the next drive make the exact same throw for a 60-yard touchdown. I like the moxie. And I thought that confidence came through during his podium session. He fielded all of the questions about turnovers and bowl games and still had time to crack wise about his head coach. You need poise to play for Mike Leach. And Halliday showed me a little of that today.

Jennings: Utah WR Dres Anderson isn’t a guy who has had a ton of media training or been in too many situations in which he’s crowded by the media. But even so, he handled it very gracefully. He was energetic, funny and engaging without seeming disingenuous (which some players do when they’re so over-the-top). He told anecdotes without needed to be asked, “OK, do you have any examples of that?” by reporters. He was a player who it seemed was really just having a bunch of good conversations with strangers.

Bonagura: Cal quarterback Jared Goff was in a tough spot last year getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman on a historically bad team, but you wouldn’t have known that based on his demeanor today. Goff was polished, personable and said all the things you’d want your team’s starting quarterback to say. If there were any doubts about how well he’d evolve into a leadership role, there shouldn’t be. With 10 returning starters at the position, Goff might fly under the radar in the conference, but he’s as talented a young quarterback as there is in the country and has a chance to compete statistically with the nation’s best.

And of course, no recap would be right without a series of Leach tweets:

Considering its long history of Polynesian influence, it should come as no surprise that the Pac-12 led the way with 15 players named to the preseason watch list for the inaugural Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

Headlining the list is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, USC safety Su'a Cravens, Oregon State center Isaac Seumalo, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and BYU linebacker Alani Fua.

The award was established by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class of members in January. That group of seven included Kurt Gouveia (BYU), Olin Kreutz (Washington), Kevin Mawae (LSU), Junior Seau (USC), Jack Thompson (Washington State), Herman Wedemeyer (Saint Mary's College) and Ken Niumatalolo (Navy/Hawaii).

The full breakdown of players on the watch list by conference is as follows: Pac-12 (15), Mountain West (12), Independents (4), American Athletic (1), Big 12 (1) and Sun Belt (1).

Here is the complete list (34 total):
Five finalists will be announced on Nov. 20 with the winner set to be named on Dec. 9.

Media days are here: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
7/23/14
8:00
AM ET
Welcome to Day 1 of Pac-12 media days! The Pac-12 blog will be updating you throughout the day on all of the fun happenings, tidbits and tweet-worthy sound bites -- and probably a few that aren’t tweet-worthy, but we will tweet them anyway.

Here is the schedule of events for today (all times PT):
Thursday's schedule: Who are those guys?

Salem, Oregon, was in the news after Baylor coach Art Briles made a suggestion that people at Dairy Queens in Salem have now heard of quarterback Bryce Petty, whom Briles is peddling for the Heisman. Jake Trotter broke it down, along with an Instagram video from Petty, who boasted that Baylor has the most explosive offense in the country.

He’s right, by the way. The Bears scored 52.4 points per game last season, and Oregon was fourth nationally with 45.5.

Our own Chantel Jennings took a swing at calling Dairy Queens in Waco to see if they knew who Marcus Mariota was. She went oh-fer.

Perhaps it is the wrong venue. Besides Mariota, the Pac-12 has another Heisman hopeful quarterback in UCLA's Brett Hundley. And we most closely associate Southern California with In-N-Out. So the Pac-12 blog called the In-N-Out in Waco to see if anyone had heard of Hundley. Oh wait, there isn’t one. SoCal 1, Waco 0. (But one is coming soon to Killeen!)

No doubt Mariota and Hundley will be asked about the Heisman, and wacky media days questions are the norm. We are just wondering if Mariota or Hundley will send an Instagram or tweet back to Waco. Your move, fellas.

Stiff-arm predictions

Speaking of the Heisman, Athlon released its list of 10 Pac-12 players who should get consideration. Five on their list (Mariota, Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion and Connor Halliday) will be in attendance at media days.

Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is the lone defensive player on the list, but the story also includes five defensive players who should be in the mix but won’t be. One of them is UCLA’s Myles Jack. Don't get us wrong. We love Jack. But as the Pac-12 blog has already noted, we know who the real leader of the UCLA defense is.

Rock the vote

One of the big storylines today will be the release of the preseason prediction. Pac-12 media members are invited to cast their vote on what they think will happen at the end of the season. You can see how the #4Pac voted. (Yeah, that is what we're calling ourselves now. Thoughts?)

A few more ballots from other media members:
A lot of folks are thinking we’re going to see Oregon-UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game. The Pac-12 blog agrees.

Graham confident

Anyone want to take a guess at the over/under for times Todd Graham is asked about his defense at media days? Probably the same number of times Rich Rodriguez will be asked about quarterbacks.

But just because the Sun Devils lose nine starters on that side of the ball doesn’t mean Graham isn’t confident, as he tells Doug Haller.

The Sun Devils ranked seventh in the conference last season in scoring defense, yielding 26.6 points per game.

National view

Finally, Tim Sullivan of the (Louisville) Courier-Journal offered some thoughts on the impact of paying college athletes, in light of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s comments Monday. Looking forward to what Larry Scott has to say on the subject.
The Pac-12 didn't win a national championship in any of the marquee sports this year -- football, men's or women's basketball or baseball -- but it still won more national championships than any other conference.

The conference claimed 10 national titles, six for the men and four for the women, the most for any conference for either gender. It is the 13th time in the last 14 years the conference has led or tied all leagues in NCAA championships won. It also is the most men’s titles for the Pac-12 since winning seven in 1997-98. It marked the seventh time the conference has totaled double digits in NCAA titles, a feat no other conference has achieved.

The SEC came in second with six NCAA titles (including a shared crown in women’s gymnastics). The Big Ten tallied five national titles this season, the ACC claimed four and the Big 12 two (including a shared title in women’s gymnastics).

In addition to the 10 titles, Pac-12 teams recorded six runner-up finishes and at least one team placed in the top four in 22 championships. In eight championships, there were at least two teams among the final four, including in women’s water polo where all four were Pac-12 teams.

From the news release:
This year’s championships add to an impressive tradition for the Pac-12. With 469 total titles, Conference teams have, by far, claimed the most national championships in the country all-time, over 200 more than the next closest league (Big Ten - 266). Only three institutions across all divisions have won at least 100 NCAA titles all-time and all three are Pac-12 members. UCLA leads the way at 110, followed by Stanford with 104. With USC’s men’s tennis win, the Trojans became the third school to reach the century mark.

The moniker “Conference of Champions” has been earned by the number of titles, but also the depth of success. Pac-12 teams have won championships in 28 of the 36 Division I sports the NCAA sponsors and has reached double digit titles in 19 of those sports. Overall, the Pac-12 has claimed more NCAA titles in 49 of the last 54 years and finished second five times. It has also claimed at least six titles every year but one since 1981-82.

And here is the national title tally:
OREGON (3): Men’s Outdoor Track & Field; Women’s Indoor Track & Field; Men’s Indoor Track & Field

UCLA (2): Women’s Soccer; Women’s Tennis

USC (2): Men’s Water Polo; Men’s Tennis

CALIFORNIA (1): Men’s Swimming & Diving

COLORADO (1): Men’s Cross Country

STANFORD (1): Women’s Water Polo

Pac-12 Media Days lineup

June, 18, 2014
6/18/14
7:00
PM ET
Media Days (yes, it's two days this year!) are a little more than a month away, and schools have announced who will be the face of their programs at the event, also known as Kevin and Ted’s super-fun happy place.

The festivities kick off on Wednesday, July 23 at the Paramount Theatre in Hollywood. Here’s the lineup for each school:
First thought, lots of quarterbacks. And that’s to be expected given the talent coming back in the league this year at that position. The Pac-12 blog has speculated that this might be the greatest assembly of signal-callers in league history.

I also think it’s interesting that Arizona State is the only program bringing two offensive players. With only two regular starters returning from last year’s defense, that figures to be a point of concern for the Sun Devils as they try to repeat as South Division champs. The league doesn't have any specific policies about what combination of players a school can bring.

We’ll have more posts and details as the event draws closer. Start getting your hopes up. Football is just around the corner.

Position U: Kicker

June, 18, 2014
6/18/14
10:30
AM ET

Who really deserves to claim the title of “Kicker U” for the 2000s?

1. Ohio State (80 points): The Buckeyes placed first among place-kickers and tied for ninth at punter thanks to an award winner in each category. The high-point man who helped Ohio State win the “Kicker U” label was Mike Nugent, who won the Lou Groza Award, was a two-time All-American and All-Big Ten pick and was picked in the second round of the 2005 draft. Punter B.J. Sander won the Ray Guy Award and was drafted in the third round before enjoying a short career with the Green Bay Packers.

Award winners: B.J. Sander, Guy (2003); Mike Nugent, Groza (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Nugent (2002, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Dan Stultz (2000), Adam Groom (2002), Mike Nugent (2002, 2004), B.J. Sander (2003), Josh Huston (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: B.J. Sander (Round 3, 2004), Mike Nugent (Round 2, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

2. UCLA (72 points): A pair of consensus All-Americans (Justin Medlock and Kai Forbath) and a Lou Groza Award (which Forbath won in 2009) helped UCLA push toward the top of the rankings. Medlock was also drafted in 2007 and has spent portions of several seasons on NFL rosters, while also kicking at times in the CFL.

Award winners: Kai Forbath, Groza (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Justin Medlock (2006), Kai Forbath (2009).
First-team all-conference: Nate Fikse (2001, 2002), Justin Medlock (2004, 2006), Aaron Perez (2008), Kai Forbath (2009), Jeff Locke (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Justin Medlock (Round 5, 2007), Jeff Locke (Round 5, 2013).

3. Colorado (64 points): Three-time all-conference pick Mason Crosby -- also a consensus All-American in 2005 -- accounted for nearly all of Colorado’s point production at place-kicker. He went on to become a sixth-round draft pick and has set several franchise records as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Mark Mariscal also added some points by winning the Ray Guy Award and becoming an All-American and all-conference selection in 2002.

Award winners: Mark Mariscal, Guy (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2005).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Flores (2001), Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2004, 2005, 2006), John Torp (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mason Crosby (Round 6, 2007).

4. Michigan State (62 points): With six first-team All-Big Ten selections -- including three-time honoree Brandon Fields, who was also a consensus All-American in 2004 -- Michigan State takes the No. 3 spot. The Spartans have also had two punters drafted since 2001, which is a rare feat for a college program, as well as kickers Dave Rayner and Craig Jarrett.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Brandon Fields (2004).
First-team all-conference: Brandon Fields (2003, 2004, 2006), Brett Swenson (2009), Aaron Bates (2010), Dan Conroy (2010), Mike Sadler (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Craig Jarrett (Round 6, 2002), Dave Rayner (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Fields (Round 7, 2007).

T-5. Baylor (56 points): Baylor places almost solely because of one player: mid-2000s standout Daniel Sepulveda. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner scored 44 points by himself, which is greater than the score for every other program in the punter rankings except one (No. 2 Michigan State, which had 48).

Award winners: Daniel Sepulveda, Guy (2004, 2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Sepulveda (2006).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Sepulveda (2004, 2006), Derek Epperson (2009), Spencer Roth (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Daniel Sepulveda (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

T-5. Oklahoma State (56 points): Between Quinn Sharp’s three all-conference selections at punter and two at place-kicker, Dan Bailey's 2010 Groza Award and Matt Fodge’s 2008 Guy Award, Oklahoma State fared well at both kicking positions.

Award winners: Matt Fodge, Guy (2008); Dan Bailey, Groza (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Dan Bailey (2010), Quinn Sharp (2010, 2011, 2012 at punter; 2011, 2012 at place-kicker).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

7. Florida State (54 points): A pair of Groza Award wins (by Graham Gano and last season by Roberto Aguayo) helped Florida State place third solely among place-kickers and sixth overall. Aguayo helped extend the Seminoles’ streak of first-team All-ACC place-kickers to three consecutive years after Dustin Hopkins earned the honor in 2011 and 2012. Since Aguayo was only a redshirt freshman last fall, there is a good chance the streak will continue. Punter Shawn Powell was the Seminoles' only All-American during this stretch.

Award winners: Graham Gano, Groza (2008); Roberto Aguayo, Groza (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Shawn Powell (2011).
First-team all-conference: Dustin Hopkins (2011, 2012), Shawn Powell (2011), Roberto Aguayo (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dustin Hopkins (Round 6, 2013).

8. Georgia (52 points): Give Mark Richt credit: In his 13-plus seasons as Georgia’s coach, he has rarely been without a consistent place-kicker. Players like Blair Walsh, Brandon Coutu, Billy Bennett and most recently Marshall Morgan have given Georgia a consistent scoring threat in the kicking game. And Drew Butler had one of the best seasons by any punter in SEC history when he won the Ray Guy Award in 2009.

Award winners: Drew Butler, Guy (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Drew Butler (2009).
First-team all-conference: Billy Bennett (2002), Brandon Coutu (2005), Drew Butler (2009), Blair Walsh (2010), Marshall Morgan (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Brandon Coutu (Round 7, 2008), Blair Walsh (Round 6, 2012).

8. Miami (52 points): Another program with two punters who were drafted (Matt Bosher and Pat O’Donnell, both in the sixth round), Miami hasn’t had a punter win the Ray Guy Award or earn an All-America nod, but the Hurricanes do boast four all-conference punters since the turn of the century. Bosher was also an all-conference place-kicker in 2010.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Freddie Capshaw (2000, 2001), Todd Sievers (2001, 2002), Jon Peattie (2003), Matt Bosher (2009 at place-kicker, 2010 at punter), Pat O’Donnell (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Matt Bosher (Round 6, 2011), Pat O’Donnell (Round 6, 2014).

10. Florida (48 points): Chas Henry, who won the Ray Guy Award and was a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC pick in 2010, accounted for 24 of Florida’s 30 points at punter. The Gators also had a pair of place-kickers (Jeff Chandler and Caleb Sturgis, a two-time all-conference pick) drafted.

Award winners: Chas Henry, Guy (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Chas Henry (2010).
First-team all-conference: Chas Henry (2010), Caleb Sturgis (2011, 2012), Kyle Christy (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jeff Chandler (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Caleb Sturgis (Round 5, 2013).

REST OF “KICKER U” RANKINGS
46 – California; 44 – Auburn, Nebraska, Utah, Wake Forest; 42 – Georgia Tech; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Pittsburgh, Tennessee; 34 – Iowa, Louisville, Maryland; 32 – BYU, Texas A&M, TCU, Wisconsin; 28 – LSU, Michigan, Oregon State; 26 – USC, Virginia Tech; 22 – Arizona State; 16 – Ole Miss; 14 – Arizona, Penn State, Texas; 12 – Alabama, Duke, Illinois, Kansas State, Kentucky, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington State; 8 – Virginia, West Virginia, Boston College; 6 – Indiana, Oregon, Rutgers, Stanford; 2 – Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt; 0 – Clemson, Iowa State, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi State, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Washington.

Position U: Tight ends

June, 17, 2014
6/17/14
11:30
AM ET

Who really deserves to claim the title of “Tight End U” for the 2000s?

1. Miami (84 points): While it has been relatively quiet since its positional heyday early in the 2000s, Miami still easily tops this list. With seven tight ends drafted, including first-round picks Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen, the Hurricanes far surpassed the next closest programs at the position. They don’t get extra points for this, but they also produced arguably the top tight end in the NFL today in 2010 third-round pick Jimmy Graham, who's now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

Award winners: Kellen Winslow, Mackey (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Kellen Winslow (2003).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Shockey (2000, 2001), Kellen Winslow (2002, 2003), Greg Olsen (2006).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jeremy Shockey (2002), Kellen Winslow (2004), Greg Olsen (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Everett (Round 3, 2005), Jimmy Graham (Round 3, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dedrick Epps (Round 7, 2010), Richard Gordon (Round 6, 2011).

2. Iowa (66 points): Dallas Clark leads the way thanks to a 2002 season after which he won the John Mackey Award and was a consensus All-American. But Iowa had a consistent run of tight ends in the 2000s, with first-round pick Clark and five others getting drafted -- most recently third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz, who was the fifth tight end selected this year.

Award winners: Dallas Clark, Mackey (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Dallas Clark (2002).
First-team all-conference: Dallas Clark (2002), Brandon Myers (2008), Tony Moeaki (2009), C.J. Fiedorowicz (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dallas Clark (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Scott Chandler (Round 4, 2007), Tony Moeaki (Round 3, 2010), C.J. Fiedorowicz (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Erik Jensen (Round 7, 2004), Brandon Myers (Round 6, 2009).

3. Missouri (64 points): Missouri hasn’t had as much success placing tight ends in the pros as some of the other top programs on this list, but the Tigers have an award winner (Chase Coffman won the 2008 Mackey Award) and three consensus All-American tight ends (Coffman, Martin Rucker and Michael Egnew) since 2000. Not too shabby.

Award winners: Chase Coffman, Mackey (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Martin Rucker (2007), Chase Coffman (2008), Michael Egnew (2010).
First-team all-conference: Martin Rucker (2006), Michael Egnew (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Rucker (Round 4, 2008), Chase Coffman (Round 3, 2009), Michael Egnew (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


4. Wisconsin (64 points): One All-American (Lance Kendricks in 2010, when he led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches), six first-team All-Big Ten picks (Kendricks, Garrett Graham twice, Mark Anelli, Travis Beckum and Jacob Pedersen) and six drafted players helped Wisconsin nearly earn the runner-up spot in the tight end rankings.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Lance Kendricks (2010).
First-team all-conference: Mark Anelli (2001), Travis Beckum (2007), Garrett Graham (2008, 2009), Lance Kendricks (2010), Jacob Pedersen (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Owen Daniels (Round 4, 2006), Travis Beckum (Round 3, 2009), Garrett Graham (Round 4, 2010), Lance Kendricks (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mark Anelli (Round 6, 2002), Jason Pociask (Round 5, 2006).

5. Georgia (62 points): It doesn’t have the national awards to show for it, but Georgia seems to boast an outstanding tight end nearly every season. The best example of that is how the Bulldogs keep placing tight ends in the pros – starting with Randy McMichael, Ben Watson and Leonard Pope and leading all the way up to Arthur Lynch, who just went to the Miami Dolphins in the most recent draft. The Bulldogs have built an impressive legacy at the position that looks to continue.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Randy McMichael (2001), Leonard Pope (2004, 2005), Martrez Milner (2006), Orson Charles (2011), Arthur Lynch (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ben Watson (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Randy McMichael (Round 4, 2002), Leonard Pope (Round 3, 2006), Martrez Milner (Round 4, 2007), Orson Charles (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Arthur Lynch (Round 5, 2014).

6. BYU (56 points): Independents Notre Dame and BYU are hurt in these position rankings by not being members of a conference -- thus they couldn’t earn points for all-conference selections, although BYU did as a member of the Mountain West up through 2010. In fact, the Cougars earned 36 of their 56 points by having six tight ends named to the All-MWC team between 2001 and 2009. Notre Dame certainly belongs higher on the list, considering that it has had nine tight ends drafted, including first-round pick and 2012 Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Dennis Pitta (2009).
First-team all-conference: Doug Jolley (2001), Jonny Harline (2005, 2006), Dennis Pitta (2007, 2008, 2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Doug Jolley (Round 2, 2002), Dennis Pitta (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tevita Ofahengaue (Round 7, 2001), Spencer Nead (Round 7, 2003).

7. Virginia (54 points): Heath Miller is a one-man wrecking crew here, single-handedly accounting for 38 of Virginia’s 54 points thanks to a Mackey Award-winning season in 2004 when he was a consensus All-American and went on to become a first-round draft pick. Miller also won All-ACC honors in 2003.

Award winners: Heath Miller, Mackey (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Heath Miller (2004).
First-team all-conference: Heath Miller (2003, 2004), John Phillips (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Heath Miller (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Luzar (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Billy Baber (Round 5, 2001), Tom Santi (Round 6, 2008), John Phillips (Round 6, 2009).

8. Stanford (48 points): Stanford is arguably the top program for tight ends right now, but that’s a fairly recent development. Of the six Cardinal tight ends drafted since 2001, four have been since 2010, led by second-round picks Coby Fleener and 2012 All-American Zach Ertz. Stanford posted a rare double in 2013 when Ertz and Levine Toilolo were both picked in the draft’s first four rounds.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Zach Ertz (2012).
First-team all-conference: Alex Smith (2004), Coby Fleener (2011), Zach Ertz (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Teyo Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Alex Smith (Round 3, 2005), Coby Fleener (Round 2, 2012), Zach Ertz (Round 2, 2013), Levine Toilolo (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jim Dray (Round 7, 2010),

9. Colorado (46 points): Colorado hasn’t had much to brag about on the football field over the last several years, but the Buffaloes are still hanging on in the tight end rankings. Daniel Graham’s outstanding 2001 season (including a Mackey Award and a consensus All-America designation prior to becoming a first-round draft pick) is a big reason why Colorado makes the top 10.

Award winners: Daniel Graham, Mackey (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Graham (2001).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Graham (2001), Joe Klopfenstein (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Daniel Graham (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Joe Klopfenstein (Round 2, 2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Quinn Sypniewski (Round 5, 2006), Nick Kasa, Round 6, 2013).

10. UCLA (46 points): As with its fellow No. 9 on the list, Colorado, UCLA can thank a single player for its spot in the top 10. Marcedes Lewis accumulated 32 of the Bruins’ 46 points with a 2005 season when he won the Mackey Award, was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 pick and then went on to become a 2006 first-round draft selection.

Award winners: Marcedes Lewis, Mackey (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Marcedes Lewis (2005).
First-team all-conference: Mike Seidman (2002), Marcedes Lewis (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Marcedes Lewis (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Mike Seidman (Round 3, 2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jeff Grau (Round 7, 2002), Bryan Fletcher (Round 6, 2002).

REST OF “TIGHT END U” RANKINGS
44 – Notre Dame; 40 – Clemson; 38 – Arizona State, Florida, Louisville; 34 – Oregon, USC; 32 – Minnesota, North Carolina, Purdue, Rutgers; 28 – Tennessee; 26 – Oklahoma; 24 – N.C. State; 22 – Kentucky, Washington; 20 – Arkansas, Maryland; 18 – Penn State, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech; 16 – Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas; 14 – Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State; 12 – South Carolina; 10 – California, LSU, Michigan State, Oregon State; 8 – Boston College, Northwestern; 6 – TCU, Utah, Duke, Syracuse; 4 – Alabama, Kansas, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech; 2 – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Mississippi State; 0 – Auburn, Baylor, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Washington State, West Virginia
Things are good for UCLA this summer. For one, in advance of preseason practices, the Bruins can recline by the pool and reflect on having defeated USC in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. That span, by the way, is also the last time preseason expectations were this high.

As in Pac-12 and national championships high.

The reclamation project that Jim Mora has wrought, one that had Texas eyeballing him in the winter before he signed a new contract with UCLA, seems to be gathering momentum rather than peaking.

“It feels great, but at the same time, this is where I believe we are supposed to be," linebacker Eric Kendricks said of the swirling enthusiasm in Westwood. "All the hard work me and my teammates have put in, I feel like we were supposed to end up in this situation.”

Yet the 2013 season, a transformative one for UCLA, wasn't so easy for Kendricks. While the Bruins were asserting themselves, their star middle linebacker struggled through a variety of injuries -- kidney, shoulder, back and ankle. He played through most of them, but the bum ankle forced him to undergo surgery and miss the dominant Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has 332 career tackles, even though he was slowed by injuries in the 2013 season.
Winning eases pain, but it doesn't cure it.

“Last season was probably the hardest season I’ve ever been a part of," Kendricks said of his personal travails. "It was a learning experience for me having to play through pain. It made me mentally tougher. I was playing for my teammates. That was the main reason I was out there trying to fight my butt off.”

Even with the injuries, Kendricks -- who has started 28 games -- didn't have a bad campaign. He still ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game. He again earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Still, when folks thought of a UCLA defense that -- finally? -- was developing some grit, they tended to start with Anthony Barr and true freshman Myles Jack, Kendricks' fellow linebackers, and then perhaps move on to a defensive front speckled with young talent.

Kendricks has been a tackling machine in the past three seasons with 332 career stops -- his 150 tackles in 2012 were the most by a UCLA player since 1978 -- but it's fair to say his junior season didn't play out how he would have scripted it. If his season had followed a logical progression from his sophomore production, he would presently be sharing top billing with Jack as the Bruins' defensive stars and probably would have earned preseason All-American attention.

Yet when asked about the finding himself outside the spotlight, Kendricks gives it a rhetorical shrug.

“I could care less," he said. "As long as I do my job, I think the film and the numbers speak for themselves. As far as attention I get from NFL teams, that will take care of itself. I don’t need any of the spotlight, honestly.”

A healthy Kendricks is an NFL prospect. For one, he's got good bloodlines. His father, Marv, led UCLA in rushing in 1970-71. His older brother Mychal, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 at California, is a budding star for the Philadelphia Eagles. Both brothers are listed at 6-foot, but Eric Kendricks is a leaner version (230 pounds vs. 240).

As to who's faster, Eric said this about a 40-yard race between the two: “He might win one without pads, but I’d win one in pads.”

The brothers talk frequently, and Eric is eager to learn about the NFL game and what it takes to play on Sundays. The general gist he's picked up is that everyone is a spectacular athlete, so it's your focus and preparation that separates you from the competition.

That lesson also applies to the current Bruins as they eyeball big goals. Preseason expectations don't mean squat. They don't block and tackle and make plays. No one is ceding the South Division to the Bruins.

Of course, Kendricks and his teammates know that. That, however, shouldn't stop them from enjoying the burgeoning excitement.

Or expressing to each other on a regular basis what it means to presently own the series with USC.

"Yeah," he said laughing. "That is awesome."
1. The SEC released Monday its schedule rotation for nondivisional conference opponents, laying out in stark terms the cost of playing only eight conference games a year. For instance, Texas A&M players who enroll this fall will play UCLA twice (2016-17) and never play Georgia or Vanderbilt (the fifth-year guys will get Kentucky in 2018). Or this: Missouri plays at Kyle Field this fall, and the Tigers won’t return to College Station before 2026, when this year’s first-graders will enroll in college. That’s conference play?

2. I can’t recommend highly enough the breakdown of Big Ten balance sheets that my colleague Matt Fortuna began Monday in a four-part series. The numbers are staggering, yes, but the explanation of expenditures by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis provides depth and detail to the amount of resources afforded to scholarship student-athletes. I’m for giving them full cost of attendance, but as Fortuna highlighted, the increase in services provided by schools over the last decade is staggering.

3. At the Tulane commencement Saturday, Wynton Marsalis used words and his horn to give graduates a compelling message. But the best moment came when university president Scott Cowen singled out former Green Wave defensive back Devon Walker, paralyzed in a game two years ago. When Cowen asked spectators and Walker’s fellow graduates “to show our love and our respect for this incredible young man,” they responded with a 40-second standing ovation.
This week, Michigan State and Arizona State announced a home-and-home series for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, which got the Pac-12 blog thinking about what other dream nonconference matchups we’d like to see in the next few years.

Obviously, Oregon-Alabama is one that has been talked about for years and one that we never saw during the BCS era. Perhaps those teams will have the opportunity to see each other sometime soon, but until then, if schedules weren’t an issue and the Pac-12 blog were off scheduling everyone’s games, there would be a few interesting home-and-home matchups in the near future.

Jennings picks Washington-Oklahoma

As much as we want to see some Pac-12-SEC matchups, I’m going to throw a Pac-12-Big 12 matchup into the mix.

First of all, there’s some history there between Washington coach Chris Petersen and Oklahoma. Sooners fans surely haven’t forgotten the 2007 Fiesta Bowl when Petersen’s Boise State upset Oklahoma, 43-42. I think every Oklahoma fan would love to see their team get a crack at taking down Petersen again, even if it’s at another school. And for Washington, it’s an opportunity for a program that has become nationally relevant to take the field against a perennially storied program.

These two teams met in 2008 and the Sooners absolutely stomped the Huskies. It was Bob Stoops’ 100th win and it happened in Seattle, so Huskies fans probably remember vividly what it felt like to be shut out in the first half before stumbling to a 55-14 loss. It was the Huskies’ biggest loss at home since 1929, so I’m positive fans from both Norman, Okla., and Seattle would pack in to see this rematch.

On top of that, the storylines leading into this home-and-home would be really intriguing. It’d be one of those David-Goliath matchups that I think would actually be pretty evenly matched once the two teams hit the field. Yes, Oklahoma has seven national titles. Washington only has two. Oklahoma has five Heisman winners. Washington has never had a Heisman winner. Oklahoma has 44 conference titles. Washington has 15. But, with Petersen building Washington into a program that I think will be able to compete at a very high level in the next few seasons and Stoops keeping his program where it is, this is a matchup I would absolutely love to see.

Bonagura presents the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten challenge

No doubt a Washington-Oklahoma game would be full of intrigue. I like that pick, count me in.

When I was messing around with several options, I decided to go a different route. Instead of one game, here’s my proposal for a Pac-12 vs. Big Ten challenge. For the sake of making this more fun (and relevant), this hypothetical challenge would take place this year.

They're not all perfect -- some far from it -- but there are several intriguing matchups worth talking about in May. Plus, there were about 15 other combinations that were tough not to include.

Listed in alphabetical order by Pac-12 school:

Arizona vs. Michigan: Who isn’t watching Rich Rodriguez vs. Michigan? Anyone? Also, this game must be at the Big House.

Arizona State vs. Minnesota: Two programs that have had a steady rise over the past few years.

Cal vs. Purdue: Neither beat an FBS opponent last year. Problem solved.

Colorado vs. Nebraska: For tradition’s sake. Conference realignment ended this rivalry that dated back to 1898.

Oregon vs. Ohio State: Braxton Miller and Marcus Mariota on the same field? Yes, please.

Oregon State vs. Northwestern: Over the last two years, Oregon State is 15-10 and Northwestern is 16-10.

Stanford vs. Iowa: A throwback game in terms of style, Stanford (No. 11) and Iowa (No. 18) were both featured in Mark Schlabach’s Post-Spring Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

UCLA vs. Michigan State: Both schools have national title aspirations in 2014.

USC vs. Wisconsin: A pair of programs that know what it's like to spend New Year's Day in Pasadena.

Utah vs. Indiana: Both fell a win shy of bowl eligibility last year.

Washington vs. Penn State: Like Chantel's UW vs. Oklahoma game, there's a lot of tradition here. Although, it's almost a waste because if these teams are playing each other, one of the nation's best venues would be empty for The Challenge.

Washington State vs. Illinois: Want scoring? Mike Leach's Texas Tech teams scored 49 and 56 points against Tim Beckman-coordinated Oklahoma State defenses in 2007 and 2008.

PHOENIX -- The overriding message coming out of Pac-12 meetings is that major changes in college football governance are now inevitable, even if the details and long-term consequences of those changes remain unclear.

The Big Five conferences will meet in August and almost certainly obtain a new autonomy level within the NCAA structure. At that point, major rules changes, including those that significantly bolster the support and benefits provided to athletes, will start to be formulated. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott intimated that things could move fairly quickly thereafter, so his message to conference coaches and athletic directors was basically to buckle up.

"Quickly is a relative concept, but deadlines are good," Scott said. "I think if we get the autonomy that we've asked for, the commissioners will be setting out a very aggressive timetable to put proposals out ... I expect we'll have a very intensive process over the next four months -- September through December -- where practitioners from our campuses are working on different agendas, including those with a deadline of January, specific proposals that can be voted upon by the 65 schools [in the Big Five]."

So "quickly" might mean?

"The goal is to implement whatever changes we're going to implement for the 2015-16 year," Scott said.

Chief among those would be cost of attendance scholarships, which could vary significantly by team and conference. Scott, however, noted that doesn't create a massive change of direction and complication because the pure value of tuition scholarships also vary by team and conference.

What does need to be implemented to prevent any fudging is a clear formula that all 65 schools apply to calculate the new value of their cost of attendance scholarships.

"I don't think it will that big of a deal, but there will be issues to work through in terms of a common method of determining the full cost," Scott said.

There is a significant degree of consensus within the Big Five conferences for adopting the cost of attendance scholarships, and it appears there is unanimity within the Pac-12.

"These are a lot of things that are going to be costly for us but I think are necessary and in line with what I believe we should be doing for our student-athletes," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, echoing other conference ADs.

While Scott was unwilling to admit that the Northwestern football union challenge and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA were driving the oncoming changes, he did concede the legal challenges to the NCAA governance structure and the publicity surrounding them weren't too far from administrators' minds.

"Is it some of these external challenges driving it? I would say no. There's been a recognition for some time [about these issues]," Scott said. "But I'd say external pressures bring a helpful focus and helpful push to get these things done."

[+] EnlargeLevi's Stadium
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLevi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, could be the new home of the Pac-12 championship game as well.
As for the other major item on the Pac-12 agenda, it was more based on the West Coast: The location of the 2014 Pac-12 championship game. There were earnest discussions over the two days about changing it from a game hosted by the conference's top team to a neutral site, specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

While the potential move was an intriguing idea, it also isn't a done deal.

"I think there was a lot of positive feeling about it," Scott said. "Some objected. There are some pros and cons."

Said Moos: "Personally, I think [Levi's Stadium] is the way to go."

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Shrugged Washington's Scott Woodward: "I'm ambivalent. I trust the league and what they want to do. I have no problem one way or the other."

If the title game is going to be played in the new 49ers stadium on Dec. 5, a decision almost certainly would be announced in June, when the Pac-12 presidents meet.

"If we are going to make the move, it wouldn't be later than that," Scott said.

So it appears that the summer, once a quiet time for college football news, will be anything but that this year.

Bruins looking to break through

April, 30, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- Jim Mora doesn’t have many tells. But on this occasion, he let his hand slip.

While sitting in his office a couple of weeks ago, Mora had just finished explaining how his UCLA Bruins have some goals and hopes for the 2014 season. But he doesn’t necessarily want them made available to the public. Some things are better kept in-house.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora is 19-8 in two seasons at UCLA.
A couple of minutes later, however, he was talking about quarterback Brett Hundley’s decision to return for another year, noting that “those 15 games will do wonders for him.”

15 games.

That would mean in Mora’s mind, the Bruins win the South, win the Pac-12 championship game and advance through the new College Football Playoff and into the national championship game.

Whether it was intentional or Freudian, it speaks to the confidence that Mora has in his program. And regardless of whether it’s actually verbalized, he thinks he’s got a pretty good team that could do some damage on the national stage. Nothing wrong with a coach aiming high -- even if it’s just among his players and in the locker room.

“I think we can be good, but a lot of things have to happen,” Mora said. “We have to stay healthy. We have to capture some momentum early. Before that happens, though, we have to solidify the right tackle spot. I think we have to solidify two or three spots on defense. I think we’re getting there. But we’re not where we need to be. Our focus is very, very narrow.”

Mora’s first two points are applicable to every team. But for a team like UCLA, which exits spring and heads into fall with a lot of positive momentum, they are critical if the Bruins hope to be considered among the league’s A-list teams. With questions at backup quarterback, maintaining the health of Hundley will be paramount. Even an injury that doesn’t knock him out of a game could still stunt the Bruins hopes. We saw that last season with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Establishing a national brand early in the season will also be important. The Bruins should have little trouble when they open at Virginia (2-10 last year) and at home to Memphis (3-9). But the schedule ramps up with trip to play Texas in Arlington, then a week-and-a-half off before traveling to Tempe to face the Sun Devils in a game with significant South Division implications. The last two seasons, the ASU-UCLA matchup has essentially determined the winner of the South Crown.

Then the first half of the schedule wraps up with back-to-back home games against a Utah team it slipped by last season and an Oregon team many expect to win the conference.

The Bruins are expected to start the season ranked in the top 10. And Hundley believes a strong push early could raise their national profile and get them into the top five.

“Two years ago and last year against Nebraska, those games really helped set up our season,” Hundley said. “This year it’s the Texas game. And then at ASU. There’s those big games that can really set the season up for success. Those could make or break us.”

After the Bruins knocked off USC for a second straight season last year, Mora gave an impassioned speech in the postgame news conference about the growth of the Bruins. Since then, they’ve launched a fundraising campaign for their upgraded facilities and the administration ponied up to keep Mora and his staff around a few more years.

The next logical progression would be to win the Pac-12 championship -- no easy task considering UCLA is 0-3 in the last two seasons against Stanford and was beaten 42-14 by Oregon last season. But Mora will say he’s not worried about Stanford or Oregon -- or Arizona State or USC, for that matter. Not yet, anyway.

“Right now the important thing is getting the right guys on the bus and getting it headed in the right direction,” Mora said. “I think we’ve been able to do that. The experience, the pedigree, the passion, the expertise of our staf -- it’s all going in the right direction.

“I think our players are excited because they’ve had a taste of success. They know what it feels like. They want more. They aren’t satisfied. They are still hungry.”

LOS ANGELES -- When Brett Hundley announced in January that he would be returning to UCLA for another season, there was little fanfare compared to how the guy across town did it a couple of years ago.

In a snappy sports coat and reading a prepared statement, former USC quarterback Matt Barkley made his famous “unfinished business” declaration. The band was struck, the song girls bounced, and there was joy across Troy. It was grand and opulent. Regal, even.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Victor CalzadaUCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley has thrown for 53 touchdowns and just 20 interceptions in his career.
Hundley wore a simple UCLA polo shirt. There was no prepared statement. He riffed for about minute then announced his return. There was applause above a smattering, but no band or cheerleaders. He sat at a table made for four, making the 6-foot-3, 227-pound quarterback look smaller than the moment.

There’s nothing wrong with either announcement. In fact, Barkley gets extra credit for taking a shot at the NCAA when he referenced the “negativity and unfairness that was sought to bring down our football program.”

But the clash in styles speaks to the contrast of programs. USC is grandiose and makes no apologies for it. For decades, the Trojans have been the closest thing to West Coast college football royalty. UCLA is more understated. The Bruins had a good run over the Trojans in the '90s. But before and after, they’ve mostly played in USC’s shadow.

Hundley is looking to change that image. It’s one of the reasons he passed up being a possible top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

“We’ve started something really great here,” Hundley said. “I couldn’t run away from that. Not yet. I really wanted to leave the money out of [the decision], which was hard to do. For a while, my head was going crazy. But I came back, and I’m happy with the decision. I have my priorities: bring UCLA back to national prominence and get my degree.”

Over 27 career starts in two seasons, Hundley has helped the Bruins to a 19-8 record. Along the way, the Bruins won the Pac-12 South in 2012 and might very well have usurped the Trojans as team the to beat in L.A., having won back-to-back games against USC for first time since 1997-98.

From an X's and O's standpoint, there isn’t much left for Hundley to learn. It will be his third year in the offense, and his grasp of the concepts is as strong as it has ever been. Now his tutelage focuses on the details on the field and how to be a better leader off it.

For help, Hundley enlisted offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to call in a stable of quarterbacks he has worked with throughout his career -- including Philip Rivers, Brock Osweiler, Tim Tebow and Jeff Garcia. Each spent a day with Hundley, watching film and going over what it means to be an NFL quarterback.

“I wanted to know how to be a better quarterback,” said Hundley, who already holds several UCLA records. “I want to be a complete quarterback. Not just on the field, but off it. Those guys have all done big things. I asked them about the stuff you wouldn’t think to ask, and it really helped me.

“Philip and I watched his game film, and we went back and forth on concepts and situations. Tim Tebow talked to me about the intangibles so in those critical situations your teammates will look to you and trust you and follow your lead. Jeff Garcia and I spent an entire day together. Each week was different, and it was amazing to learn from them.”

As the Bruins prepare to wrap their spring session, Hundley is putting those lessons to work. Already a strong leader, Mazzone and coach Jim Mora said they can see the influence paying off during practices.

“I think he’s got room to improve,” Mazzone said. “But what we’ve really focused on this spring is not so much the X's and O's, but how the great ones handle situations -- on the field and off the field. How they study. How they prepare for games. How they watch film. All of those little things. … He kept asking me, ‘What does it take to be successful at the next level?’ A lot of guys go to the next level. But the key is going there and being successful. That’s why we had those guys work with him.”

With the kind of dual-threat numbers Hundley is capable of, he is going to get plenty of preseason Heisman buzz. As far as he’s concerned, that will take care of itself.

“It doesn’t cross my mind as much as I thought it would,” Hundley said. “Sure, you grow up wanting to win the Heisman. But I’m at a point where if I take care of my business, all that stuff will be there. I just want to work and let the dominoes fall. It’s OK to think about it, because it’s a blessing and you have to enjoy your opportunities. But not so much to the point where it becomes a distraction.”

3-point stance: Pac-12 QB talent

April, 24, 2014
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1. According to ESPN Insider and Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, it’s a thin year for veteran quarterbacks everywhere but the Pac-12. Listing the top pro prospects for the 2015 NFL draft, Savage, speaking with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday, started with Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA, then tossed in Sean Mannion of Oregon State. Not to mention the league has Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Cody Kessler of USC.

2. Dabo Swinney is a good man and a stand-up guy. He is proud of his Christianity and believes it can help others as much as it has helped him. As the coach of Clemson, a public university in a religious state, he is preaching to the choir. I’d bet it never occurred to Swinney that he stepped over the line between church and state, perhaps because the line is blurrier in South Carolina than in Madison, Wis., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is based. If the foundation’s complaint makes Swinney realize again that everyone is not Christian, then the foundation’s complaint is a success.

3. The town of State College is crowdsourcing a statue to honor the late Joe Paterno, and it’s wonderful that the planned site is not far from Old Main, the home of the Penn State administration that removed the original Paterno statue from outside of Beaver Stadium in July 2012. What are the university administrators thinking? Do they understand they never should have made the removal of the statue permanent? Do they understand how much they rushed to judgment to vilify Paterno? When will they do their part to restore Paterno’s place of honor in Penn State history? The locals are doing their part.

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