Chat: CFB Saturday Live

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
7:00
PM ET
On the first full day of the college football season, we'll be with you for more than 14 hours here at CFB Saturday Live.

From 9 a.m. to noon ET, get ready for game day while chatting with 12 of our reporters scattered throughout the country. Then from noon to 8 p.m. ET we'll be bringing in real-time reaction and analysis from dozens of our experts about all of the games. And finally, join us back in a live chat at 8 ET to discuss the evening slate as it happens.

Happy Friday. That goes for you, too, Washington State.

Well, mostly. Hey, next round's on Gemmell? That help? Thought so.

Follow me on Twitter, where I wax and wane between sympathetic, antagonistic and sarcastic.

To the notes!

Devon from Mesa, Arizona, writes: When Todd Graham was hired at ASU, the national media focused only on his nomadic past and the admittedly less-than-ideal way he left Pitt. But since then, he's been nothing but extremely loyal and impressive as the Sun Devils' coach, improving the play on the field, the quality of recruiting, the discipline in the program, and the morale of the fan base. But even after winning the South and the conference coach of the year honors last year, most media picks ASU as no better than fifth in the Pac-12 this season. What more does he need to do to convince the national media to get past the one-year stint at Pitt and to start giving Graham some respect for the outstanding program he's building in Tempe?

Ted Miller: Well, fifth in the Pac-12 is good enough to be 19th in the preseason AP poll and 18th with the coaches, slightly ahead of their 2013 finish, so it's not exactly like the national media is hatin' them some Sun Devils. Further, fifth is only down two spots in the conference from last year, when ASU finished third in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and Oregon.

Why down two spots? Quick: Name four defensive starters. Ah ha! Yes, pretty much completely rebuilding your defense with unknown quantities is something the national media picked up on. It's not personal. It's business. The media goes all Missouri on you: You've got to show us. While Graham has recruited well, he's not in Alabama or Florida State territory, where he gets the benefit of the doubt with his true and redshirt freshmen and JC transfers.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsTodd Graham and Arizona State have some rebuilding to do, but the pollsters have given the Sun Devils some respect.
Speaking of JC transfers, and I don't want to seem thin-skinned here, but the Pac-12 blog received gobs of "your an idiot" [sic] hate mail this offseason from maestros of the message boards fans telling us how stupid we were for not understanding how dominant front-seven stalwarts Dalvon Stuckey and Darrius Caldwell were going to be.

How's that working out? Not to be snide about academic non-qualifiers but we've written over and over again about the love affair folks seem to have with the idea of touted players who have yet to play a game or even practice. Previously we termed it, "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent." Or IDIOT. Yes, we just tittered at our own snarky joke. So sorry for that.

So the reason the Sun Devils slipped in the preseason projections is the defense looks suspect. It's nothing more complicated than that.

Did we learn anything about the Sun Devils -- defense or otherwise -- during their 45-14 stomping of Weber State on Thursday? Nope.

How can Arizona State improve its place in the national pecking order? Beat UCLA at home on Sept. 25, a Thursday night game that should have a significant national audience. A 4-0 start for Graham and the Sun Devils would earn them a top-10 ranking.

Ah, did you notice something about this answer, though? I didn't bring up Pittsburgh and all that muckety-muck. Know why? I've moved on and I think most writers have, too. Graham was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year last year and has shown no interest in moving out of Tempe. I think that narrative has seen its last whimper, at least until he seems to again show a wandering eye


Eric from Vallejo, California, writes: Hi, longtime Ducks fan here. Saw my first game at Autzen in 1970.The two biggest conference games for the Ducks are with UCLA on the road, and Stanford at home. I have noticed that nobody has commented on the fact that the Ducks get two extra days to prepare for UCLA and one extra day to prepare for Stanford. (UCLA's game before meeting the Ducks is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Thursday. Similarly, Stanford's previous game is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Friday.) It could be the difference-maker! The scheduling gods smiled on the Ducks this year. How significant do you think the extra days of rest and prep will be for the Ducks on their two most important conference games?

Ted Miller: Oregon's schedule is undoubtedly favorable. It starts with missing USC and Arizona State, a pair of top-25 teams from the South Division, and it includes having Michigan State, Washington and Stanford all come to Autzen Stadium.

And your point about extra days of preparation is entirely valid. I'm imagining UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone reading this and going, "Well that stinks," then telling Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, and that troika proceeding to trash the coaches' offices, throwing chairs out the window and kicking walls before they throw themselves on their knees and bellow in unison, "Why! WHY?! Oh, why doth thou forsake us, oh great scheduling gods?!"

It might not happen exactly like that, but it would be cool if it did.

There's no question extra preparation time, as well as extra rest/recovery time, is an advantage. While there's no obvious proof of a pro-Ducks scheduling conspiracy, you never know.


Jim from Los Angeles writes: I think Myles Jack is a much better linebacker than running back. I'd rather seem him play defense and only occasionally play offense. How do you think UCLA can best utilize Jack's talents?

Ted Miller: Jim... last name... Mora?

I think that's UCLA's plan, particularly with Jordan James back from injury. Recall that the reason Jack saw action at RB last year was because of injuries in the backfield, most notably to James, who ranked among the national rushing leaders early in the season.

But Jack also might offer a good change of pace to a more physical runner, particularly near the goal line. I expect him to get touches on offense in specific packages but I also don't think anyone has illusions about where his primary position is -- on defense, where he's got an NFL future.


Craig from Independence, Oregon, writes: Do you think Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota will be NFL quarterback(s)? Both seem to have the physical makeup of one, but are they NFL material?

Ted Miller: Yes.

They are different, but they both will be early draft picks -- perhaps both going in the first round this spring -- and I suspect both will have good NFL careers.

Both have NFL arms. Both are tall, which the NFL values. Both are smart enough to learn an NFL playbook. Mariota brings a run/scramble element, while Mannion is a traditional guy who stands tall in the pocket.

I've learned through the years that my skills predicting NFL careers are limited, not unlike NFL GMs. But I'd be surprised if both don't end up as NFL starters.


Fleecemonkey from San Carlos, California, writes: Did no one do any independent source verification before reporting the Josh Shaw story? Is that not the journalistic standard? I ask out of sincere curiosity. No snark intended. When I wrote a piece for the NY Times Sunday Review, I had to provide documentation for every fact. Does sports journalism adhere to different practices?

Ted Miller: While all forms of journalism should adhere to basic 101 standards, these are complicated times for the profession. Things move faster than they once did. As in immediate fast. You get information you believe is from a good source and you tend to go with it ASAP. It used to be you could double- and triple-source and provide depth and perspective on breaking news because your only time constraint was the deadline for the AM edition. Now, for better or worse, there's a battle for Twitter turf.

That's a different bird than what you did for the NY Times Sunday Review, which I'm guessing was a non-deadline feature or long-form story that can be thoroughly fact-checked because there's time to do so.

In this case, team captain Josh Shaw, a senior with a good reputation, told coaches and administrators at USC that he jumped off of a second-story balcony and hurt his ankles because he was trying to save his drowning 7-year-old nephew. There was no reason, at that point, to view Shaw with suspicion, to see him as someone who would manufacture an outrageous lie. He had no history of deceit or questionable conduct within the program, at least as far as we know.

How did USC get fooled? Read this. It does a good job of explaining.

Then USC, using its official website, published a story with quotes from Shaw and coach Steve Sarkisian. That put the seemingly legitimate information out there, and beat writers felt they needed to react for their publications as soon as possible, probably knowing it would be of national interest. At that point, just about everyone was planning a follow-up. That would be the deeper and more detailed -- and more sourced -- picture of an act of heroism and the young man who performed it. .

Things moved pretty quickly thereafter, though not before many of us were captivated -- hook, line and sinker. As it was, the feel-good story became a stinking pile of manure.


Costi from Phoenix writes: While a lot of optimism always inevitably floats around at the beginning of the season (which I love, of course). I want the pessimistic side of your analysis as well. I want to know what team or teams do you think is most likely to underwhelm, fall well short of expectations, or simply just surprise people with how thin or bad they are? I mean, sure, the Bears and Buffs are most likely to be the worst teams at the end of the season, but everyone expects that. Which Pac-12 team projected to contend is most likely to fall well short of expectations?

Ted Miller: After watching Washington State lose Thursday to a Rutgers team that I thought it would roll over, I think all the favorites have plenty of room to self-destruct. Heck, many Pac-12 teams are just a few injuries away from massively reduced capabilities -- see Oregon with QB Marcus Mariota last year.

What could go wrong? How about this.

  • Arizona: What if QB play is poor and the defense gets exposed?
  • Arizona State: What if the rebuilt defense is lousy?
  • California: What if the team starts slowly and quits on Sonny Dykes?
  • Colorado: What if the voids left behind by WR Paul Richardson and DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe prove too much?
  • Oregon: What if the receivers and secondary underwhelm?
  • Oregon State: That O-line is questionable, and Brandin Cooks is in the NFL.
  • Stanford: Losing four starting O-linemen and the biggest producers on defense could actually be a problem.
  • UCLA: Sophomore slumps on both lines, a loss to Texas and a team unprepared for disappointment.
  • USC: New systems and a lack of depth, as well as swirling preseason controversies.
  • Utah: Still not ready for prime time Pac-12 play.
  • Washington: New systems, new QB, new RB and a young secondary.
  • Washington State: No run defense; no running game.

The teams set up for the biggest falls are everyone's favorites: Oregon and UCLA. While I don't see either faltering in a massive way, it wouldn't shock me if one or the other ended up outside the top 10. Because both have such high expectations, that first defeat might include a hangover that causes loss No. 2. Or even No. 3.


Gary from La Grande, Oregon, writes: Ted, you've been catching a lot of heat for ending the best-case/worst-case scenarios. So, I thought you might feel better to know that I couldn't stand 'em.

Ted Miller: Yes, Gary, I now feel great. Thanks.
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- What feels better -- scoring a touchdown or sacking a quarterback?

Saturday, when the Beavers take on Portland State, Oregon State defensive end Obum Gwacham -- who’s currently listed as the back up right end behind Dylan Wynn -- has the opportunity to answer that question.

Typically the people who find the end zone and the ones who take quarterbacks to the ground are not the same people. For the past three seasons, Gwacham has been a slot receiver for the Beavers. But he wasn’t heavily used due to other players stepping up and a few nagging injuries. He appeared in 38 games and only caught 11 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown, which triggered the move to the defensive line.

And with the move, and his one touchdown catch in hand, he could move into a select group who knows which is better -- TD or sack? There are actually quite a few guys who could help Gwacham find the answer.

Since 2000, there have been 96 players who’ve both recorded a touchdown reception and tallied a sack during their college careers (starting with the 2000 season) according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the Pac-12, over that same time span, there have been 12 players to accomplish both. And at Oregon State? There has only been one other -- Gabe Miller.

Like Miller, several of those players who were able to accomplish both were tight ends. The transition from tight end to defensive end seems a bit more manageable and one that makes a certain amount of sense. But to go from slot to pass-rusher? That’s a bit more difficult.

Oregon State defensive line coach Joe Seumalo first brought up the idea last season and knew that if Gwacham committed to changing his diet and exercise routines, that he’d be able to successfully make the transition to the other side of the ball -- and into the trenches -- by the fall.

This meant that Gwacham needed to spend more time with strength and conditioning coach Bryan Miller, who stressed one principle: Don’t panic.

“If they’re a good athlete, if they have good genetics, if they take care of going through the steps in a logical manner, it should happen,” Miller said. “When people hit the panic button … a lot of times it backfires.”

Lucky for Miller, Gwacham had the athletic ability, genetics and level head to take the process step-by-step.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Obam Gwacham
Courtesy of Oregon State athleticsObum Gwacham before
The next step was getting Gwacham to focus on his nutrition, and a big part of that was getting Gwacham to eat at the right times of the day. It's harder than it sounds considering Gwacham was balancing football, classes and a personal life.

Breakfast, Miller explained, was the most critical because it’s so easy for most people -- especially tired, college athletes -- to skip breakfast. Then, Gwacham needed to make sure he was eating immediately after the workout and then another solid meal 45 minutes after the workouts. Those foods don’t even account for big, nutritious lunches and dinner, plus a high-caloric snack before bed.

“The whole process of gaining weight,” Miller said, “is you being uncomfortably full at every meal. A lot of people go to dinner and eat a big dinner and think, ‘Oh my, I’m so full,’ but you look at the rest of the meals through the day and it was nothing. They have to do that at every meal.”

On top of that, he needed to do fewer speed workouts and more lifting.

After focusing on those elements through the winter, the spring season wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be, Gwacham said. He was able to hold his ground for the most part even though he was lined up against offensive linemen who were pushing 300 pounds. Meanwhile, Gwacham’s body -- still moving up the scale -- was south of those numbers, sometimes by nearly 75 pounds.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Obum Gwachum
Courtesy of Oregon State athleticsObum Gwacham after
But he pushed that aside and tried to focus on making himself as comfortable as possible as fast as possible in the spring so everything would come as second-nature in the summer and fall.

“I kind of thought of it as: as a receiver, I was always going up against a DB -- you’ve got to give them a move and try to get by them,” Gwacham said. “It’s almost similar with playing D-end. The guy you’re going up against is a little bigger, he could be a little quicker but I feel like I’m more athletic and I think I’m faster than them so I have to use what I have to work to go against them.”

Last March, Gwacham weighed in at 220 pounds with 7.1 percent body fat. In July, he finished at 240 pounds and just 7.9 percent body fat, meaning he gained 19.4 pounds of muscle.

Miller said he has seen players gain more weight than Gwacham was asked to gain, but the fact that he retained his speed and explosiveness through the whole process is incredibly impressive.

Whether the payoff is worth it or not will show itself this season. As a wide receiver, he only scored one touchdown. But on Saturday, he’ll line up in the trenches for the first time. And maybe after he faces Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh, he’ll be able to really know whether it’s more satisfying to score a touchdown or take down a signal caller.

“It’s hard to rank them,” Gwacham said. “After that first sack, I guess we’ll see.”

Solomon to get first snap for Arizona

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Arizona beat UNLV 58-13 last year, and it's a 24-point favorite playing the Rebels at home on Friday. The odds are long that the Wildcats are going to lose.

But that's not what their opening game is about. It's about a potential big reveal at quarterback. It's about getting a glimpse of the present and the future with Anu Solomon -- a promising redshirt freshman who beat out a gaggle of high-profile transfers to win the starting job at quarterback.

Or maybe not. Although coach Rich Rodriguez said Solomon won the job because "he played the best over the last three weeks," he also seemed pretty determined not to hand over the keys to his offense without qualification.

"That doesn’t mean that he plays the whole game and that he will be the starter the rest of the season, but I also don’t want any quarterback to ever go in thinking, As soon as I make a mistake, I’m coming out," he said of his decision. "That’s not going to be the case, either, but I thought he deserved the right to start the first game. I’m confident that Anu will play well, and he will be the starter as long as he plays well and we win."

As ringing endorsements go, that's a light tap on a triangle.

Of course, that's the Rich Rod way. He's not trying to make it easy on Solomon because, as he often says, he wants him to "be comfortable being uncomfortable." Last year, he rode B.J. Denker hard throughout camp and well into the season. The end result was solid play from a guy who seemed overmatched by Pac-12 football a few months before.

As for whether we see Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall or Connor Brewer, that remains to be seen. If the Wildcats are up big at the half, Rodriguez might want to get a look at the other guys. Or he might want Solomon to get as much game experience as possible.

"I decide during the game," Rodriguez said. "If the mistakes are minor and are correctable during the game, then he will stay in. If there are any major mistakes, then I may look to make a change. As long as a guy is playing well, then he will stay in the game."

It will be interesting to see how Solomon responds. Rodriguez often griped about his seeming lack of fire, but that even keel -- not unlike Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's -- might benefit him during game-time pressure.

"The best attribute he carries is his composure," safety Jared Tevis said. "That will be big come game time. I think it’s in his personality and his character. He’s a pretty relaxed guy, and I think that’s where it comes from.”

Although Arizona's nonconference schedule appears weak at first glance, the Week 2 Thursday date at UTSA could prove tricky. For one, all road games are tough. Further, the Roadrunners are a veteran team that challenged Arizona last year, though the Wildcats prevailed 38-13. It will be a legit test for Solomon.

Or whatever combination of quarterbacks Rodriguez decides to go with at that point.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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Happy (football) Friday!

Leading off

So ... Cougs ... what's up?

While Utah and Arizona State cruised to easy victories over FCS teams, the Washington State Cougars fell behind early, came back and took a lead into the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold on in a 41-38 loss to Rutgers. Can't pin this one on the offense. Connor Halliday went 40-of-56 for 532 yards with five touchdowns and one early interception. But the defense broke numerous times, yielding 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Paul James, and a critical special-teams error opened the door for a Rutgers go-ahead score. Ted Miller had a quick take on the game last night. And I don't necessarily want to call out Cougar Brian in a second links post this week, but please leave a comment at the bottom, just so we all know you're OK.

Speaking of special teams, the Utes put on quite the special-teams extravaganza in their 56-14 win over Idaho State -- headlined by Kaelin Clay, who went all Reggie Dunn and returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown. The Pac-12 blog makes it a habit not to get too high on wins over FCS teams. But it was nice to see a healthy Travis Wilson (13-of-18, 265 yards) throw for a touchdown and run another one in (well, dive it in, actually).

The Sun Devils also took care of business against FCS Weber State with a 45-14 victory. D.J. Foster left fans asking "Marion who?" and scored three touchdowns on the ground to go with 147 rushing yards. Same train of thought as above. It's a win. The Sun Devils did exactly what they needed to do and had a drama-free evening.

USC

Perhaps the weirdest Week 1 in college football history got weirder Thursday when USC running back Anthony Brown quit the team and then accused new coach Steve Sarkisian of being a racist on the way out. This comes on the heels of the Josh Shaw "story." Sark addressed that yesterday, saying he shares the blame for helping the initial heroic story take flight. But that there is also potential for Shaw to return to the team this year. The LA Times also has some details of how Shaw's name got linked to a police incident report.

Year of the Oregon quarterback?

Really interesting story from Gina Mizzell of The Oregonian, who asks if this is the best QB combination ever from the state of Oregon:
In a recent survey of former Oregon and Oregon State coaches and quarterbacks, Mannion and Mariota join other combinations such as OSU's Jonathan Smith and UO's Joey Harrington, who each were fixtures from 1999-2001. There was the combination of native Oregonians Kellen Clemens (a Burns-raised Duck) and Derek Anderson (first of Scappoose, then of Reser Stadium) from 2003-04. Farther back, Heisman winner Terry Baker of OSU faced Bob Berry, who led Oregon to three straight winning seasons for the first time in 25 years.

Comparing times and eras is always complicated. What Marcus Mariota is doing is a lot different than what Harrington and Clemens were asked to do. Mannion is the more traditional quarterback here. But the fact that he'll be the league's all-time leading passer in a matter of weeks shouldn't be overlooked either. For what it's worth, a fun debate and a question worth asking.

News/notes/practice reports

Rutgers 41, Washington State 38

August, 29, 2014
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video
Quarterback Connor Halliday's 532 yards passing and five touchdowns was not enough as the Washington State Cougars lose 41-38 to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.


Arizona State 45, Weber State 14

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video D.J. Foster rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona State's 45-14 win over Weber State.

Cougars crumble in fourth again

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Washington State had the lead over Rutgers and a key fourth-quarter defensive stop. All it needed to do was to close the deal with poise. It didn't.

With an ending that surely had more than a few Cougars fans recalling the fourth-quarter collapse in the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State, Washington State dropped a 41-38 decision to Rutgers, an eight-point underdog, because it couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead. Again.

And it couldn't hold that lead because of a critical turnover -- again -- this time a fumbled punt return from typically sure-handed receiver River Cracraft.

Instead of taking over at midfield with a four-point lead, the Cougars handed the ball back to Rutgers, which drove for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Even with that, WSU had plenty of time -- 3:18 left on the clock -- to drive for the winning points. QB Connor Halliday and the passing offense had been outstanding most of the night.

But a sack put the Cougars in a hole, Cracraft couldn't haul in a pass on fourth-and-13, and the Scarlet Knights celebrated on Seattle's CenturyLink Field.

The loss was a hit for the Pac-12 on the opening weekend, while Rutgers immediately pleased its new Big Ten brothers. For the Cougs, it probably lowered preseason expectations that they might take another step forward in the North Division. It would be fair to call a Friday visit to Nevada on Sept. 5 a must-win for bowl hopes.

As for the good, Halliday completed 40 of 56 passes for 532 yards with five touchdowns, shaking off a bad early interception. The bad? Other than fumbling away a chance for an opening victory, the Cougs couldn't run the ball -- they had just six yards rushing -- nor could they stop the run. The Scarlet Knights rushed for 215 yards. Those are not unfamiliar problems.

As fumbling away a lead in the fourth quarter isn't.

#4Pac: Most surprising player in 2014?

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Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what'll be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question, one topic or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet and all contribute our thoughts.

Sometimes, like today, we'll be playing devil's advocate for a specific team, player or idea.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're looking for a player who may surprise the league by becoming a household name. They're already established contributors on their own teams, but they may be poised to join the upper echelon in the league with strong showings in 2014.

Utah QB Travis Wilson

Wilson
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: The best news is Travis Wilson is still playing football. It wasn't so long ago that it appeared his career was threatened by an injury to an intracranial artery. The good news, at least for Utah fans, is that he successfully fought off a legitimate challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

It's not just good news that the Utes will have a 16-game starter behind center. It's that Wilson wasn't handed the job as a sentimental gesture. He competed and won. And he's won over new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. That means Utah, a team that has struggled with quarterback play since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, has an experienced player behind center who has flashed real ability, both as a passer and a runner.

If you're looking for an under-the-radar guy who might surprise you, who might lead a team back toward its accustomed winning ways, it's Wilson.

Recall that Utah, though coming off consecutive losing seasons, was 4-2 after an upset win over Stanford in mid-October of last year. Those two losses came in overtime to Oregon State and by seven points to UCLA, despite a dreadful six interceptions from Wilson. Even with those picks, however, Wilson's efficiency rating at the time was just four points lower than Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who ended up second-team All-Pac-12.

Wilson has something to prove, but he also has the means to prove it. The Utes are going to surround him with good offensive talent, starting with perhaps the Pac-12's most underrated crew of receivers -- underrated in large part because so many other teams are good at the position. He has weapons to help him and a solid offensive line to protect him. Don't be surprised if you're looking at the sparkling Pac-12 QB numbers and see his name ranking in the top half.

Stanford LB James Vaughters

Vaughters
Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Vaughters' arrival at Stanford in 2011 signaled a significant change in the way Stanford was able to recruit. The Cardinal went into Georgia and pried away one of the most coveted recruits in the country.

Vaughters had offers from Alabama, Georgia and just about every big-name school in the country -- so listing him here is not so much a surprise as it is a breakthrough. He bounced around from defensive end to inside linebacker to finally outside linebacker last season when he played opposite All-American Trent Murphy. The results were good -- 36 tackles in 14 starts with four sacks -- but he’s still never quite reached the heights his recruiting profile suggested.

This year, that changes. A.J. Tarpley is going to lead the team in tackles, but Vaughters will be the most physically imposing player on the Cardinal defense and the player most capable of delivering a highlight-caliber hit. At 6-foot-2 and 258 pounds, I fully expect him to push double digits in sacks and turn himself into a legitimate NFL prospect.

Stanford needs that out of him, too. Murphy meant so much to the defense a year ago and with him gone, Vaughters’ role will be key.

USC RB Buck Allen

Allen
Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: All this guy does is take advantage of his opportunities. You tell him he’s under the radar and he runs over the radar on his way to the end zone.

It’s likely we’ll see him shuffle carries with Tre Madden (when he gets healthy) and Justin Davis. But when you look at what Allen accomplished last season, it’s pretty impressive.

After spending the first portion of his career on Lane Kiffin’s do-not-play list (six carries for 32 yards in 2012), he exploded in the second half of last year and turned into one of the most productive backs in the league, earning all-conference honorable mention along the way. He had four 100-yard rushing performances in the final six games and finished the season with 135 carries for 785 yards (5.8 average) and 14 touchdowns.

When you look at what Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo twist did for Bishop Sankey last season in Washington (1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns, in case you forgot) it’s hard not to get giddy about the prospect of a productive back like Allen getting a full season’s worth of carries. Whether he emerges as a solo act or part of a committee, he’s shown to be a back you have to scheme for.

Washington State WR Vince Mayle

Mayle
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Last season, Vince Mayle had 42 catches (539 yards, seven touchdowns) for the Cougars. But this year, I think he might be making a big jump. He became quarterback Connor Halliday’s go-to guy in the spring and based off the bit I saw in fall camp, the chemistry between the two is pretty darn good.

Mike Leach likes to spread the ball around to his receivers and get as many guys involved as possible, but if Mayle is Halliday’s safety net then the quarterback's going to go back to him time and time again.

Mayle has really only played wide receiver for a few seasons (he was a running back in high school and junior college), but with his learning curve, I think this could be a huge year for him. A 1,000-yard season seems a bit of a stretch considering how many wide receivers the Cougars have, but there's no reason he couldn't lead Washington State in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns by year's end.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
5:00
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The college football postseason will be very different this season, with the end of the BCS and the beginning of the four-team College Football Playoff. But there's more!

The CFP selection committee also will pick teams for the Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those are the major bowls not hosting this season's CFP semifinal games. The selections will be based on ... get ready to be shocked ... merit. Well, there are some other considerations, but there won't be any more ridiculous decisions made purely on potential ticket sales. (The national semifinals, by the way, are to be played out at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, 2015, with the winners to vie for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

There also is expected to be more flexibility in the bowl arrangements, with bowls working with conferences to put together the best matchups possible and avoid repeat visits. That seems to be another good thing, though we await its execution.

In any event, here are your Pac-12 bowl projections, made with all the certainty one can muster in advance of the season itself.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (vs. Big 12)
National University Holiday Bowl: USC (vs. Big Ten)
San Francisco Bowl: Washington (vs. Big Ten)
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (vs. ACC)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State (vs. Mountain West)
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State (vs. Big 12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Arizona

* at large
LOS ANGELES -- USC senior running back Anthony Brown called head coach Steve Sarkisian a racist and quit the team Thursday.

Brown posted on his Instagram Thursday morning, "Sark treated me like a slave in his Office...Can't play for a racist MAN!!!!! #Fighton" and posted a similar message on his Facebook.

Sarkisian said he was blindsided by Brown's comments and said Brown never expressed any of those feelings to him when he met him earlier this week.

"As far as what [Brown] said on Twitter, I think it's ridiculous," Sarkisian said. "Any of you guys that know me and if you ask anybody in our building, any of our players -- feel free to -- that's about the furthest thing from the truth. Quite honestly, I'm shocked."

Brown, who has been sidelined most of training camp with an hyperextended elbow, was listed as the sixth running back on the depth chart after switching over from cornerback earlier this month.

"Anthony decided not to play football anymore," Sarkisian said. "We obviously tried to encourage him not to quit. We thought he could be an asset to our team, especially when healthy. We really tried to make it a point to accommodate the position change he wanted. He wanted to move to running back and we did so.

"He unfortunately got injured in training camp and was working his way back and decided he didn't want to play anymore. It's a bit unfortunate because we could have used him. We think he could have helped us."

Brown had six starts and 43 tackles during his USC career. He was limited due to injuries last season and only saw action in two games at cornerback after suffering ankle injuries against Hawaii and another against Notre Dame.

Chat wrap: CFB Opening Day Live

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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After nearly eight long months, college football is back in our lives. To celebrate tonight's opening slate of games, 12 of our writers chatted it up with you the fans for three hours.

Here's how it went...

The skies may or may not open over Seattle on Thursday ... and not with rain.

With the Washington State Air Raid offense traveling across the state to face Rutgers, it’s almost certain there will be a show -- directed by Mike Leach and starring Connor Halliday (with a slew of supporting actors in the form of receivers one through nine in the Cougar offense).

In Leach’s third year at the helm of the Cougars and Halliday’s third year in leading the offense, there seems no better game to get the season kicked off on the right foot.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonThe Cougars will expect more out of Connor Halliday in his third year starting under coach Mike Leach.
With the Cougars focused on making the postseason and winning a bowl game this season, they need to make a good first impression. Most signs point to that being likely against Rutgers.

Because not only does Halliday have three years of experience in the Air Raid offense and a herd of wide receivers to toss to, he’s also going against one of the least-experienced groups of defensive backs he’ll face all season.

At corner, the Scarlet Knights will be starting Justin Goodwin -- a recently converted running back -- and Gareef Glashen, who started just six games last season. At safety, Rutgers has Lorenzo Waters (24 career starts) at strong safety and another element of inexperience in free safety Delon Stephenson (one start in 2013). And like most teams, Rutgers is going to have to delve deeper into its defensive back depth to keep up with the clip at which Washington State gets fresh receivers into the game.

Last year, Rutgers allowed 170 passes of 10 or more yards and 58 passes of 20-plus yards. On third downs, opponents converted on 39 percent of pass plays and on fourth downs, opponents converted on 58 percent of pass plays.

Sounds like a perfect storm for Halliday, right?

And even if he weren’t facing an inexperienced secondary right out of the gates, one would assume that he’d be taking a marked step forward simply because it's his third year in the program with Leach.

Previous quarterbacks under Leach have excelled in their third seasons. At Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury went from 25 touchdowns in his second season under Leach to 45 touchdowns in his third full season. And though his completion percentage slightly dropped between those two seasons, he also attempted about 200 more passes in 2002 than he did in 2001.

Most of Graham Harrell’s statistics stayed pretty similar between Seasons 2 (2007) and 3 (2008) of being a full-time starter under Leach, however one area of marked improvement was in his touchdown-to-interception ratio, which dropped from one interception for every 3.4 touchdowns to one interception for every five touchdowns. Certainly Halliday, who had one interception for every 1.5 touchdowns last season could help out the team if his ratio improved like Harrell’s did.

So keep your eyes to the sky in Seattle on Thursday because the Halliday Show is coming to town and chances are it will be better than last season.
A new season is finally here. Here's what to watch in the Pac-12 in Week 1.

1. What’s the best storyline in Week 1?

Kevin Gemmell: The best storyline in Week 1 is that we have to go through it to get to Week 2. With five FCS teams on the docket and only three FBS opponents who went to bowl games last year (Rutgers, Colorado State and Fresno State) there isn’t a ton to get excited about from a big-picture perspective. Meanwhile, Michigan State at Oregon and USC at Stanford tease us from a distance.

Individually, there are a couple of good ones -- particularly Colorado vs. Colorado State. While most of the league will be easing into Week 1 with glorified scrimmages, the Buffs jump right in with a rivalry game. It’s in important tone-setter for Mike MacIntyre and a game worth getting fired up over, even if you aren’t a Colorado fan. And if you have any sense of conference pride, lest we forget Colorado State vs. Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl last year?

Kyle Bonagura: More than anything, we can celebrate that there is actual football to be played. It’s a lousy slate of games, but a lousy slate is better than what we had the last seven-plus months.

Chris Petersen’s debut at Washington is probably the most intriguing storyline from a conference and national perspective considering what he’s meant to college football over the past eight years. It’s always interesting to see how a team looks under a new coach, but even more so in Petersen’s case considering his profile.

Of course, Hawaii doesn’t figure to put up much of a fight, so the team we’ll probably learn the most about in Week 1 is Cal.

2. Which player are you most interested in watching?

[+] EnlargeJeff Lindquist
Steve Dykes/USA TODAY SportsWith a strong performance in Hawaii, Jeff Lindquist could end up keeping the starting job.
Gemmell: I’m actually going to go with two, plus a position group. I’m going to be closely eyeballing the two new starting quarterbacks -- Arizona’s Anu Solomon and Washington’s Jeff Lindquist. Both of their starts might be temporary, or they could be in it for the long haul. Rich Rodriguez said it’s likely Solomon won’t be the only quarterback playing. But if he plays well enough to keep others off the field, that would be a solid first game.

Most people are expecting Lindquist to be a one-game guy before gracefully yielding the floor to Cyler Miles. Maybe. But if he looks really, really sharp against Hawaii, he might make it tough for Chris Petersen to pull him heading into a sneaky tough game against a very good FCS team (Eastern Washington) in Week 2. I’m guessing Lindquist will fight tooth and nail to hold on to his job.

I’m also fascinated by the running back competition at Stanford. Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders are listed as Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, with Ricky Seale and Remound Wright on the back end. David Shaw said he wants to be more by-committee centric this season, so watching which of those guys fill what particular niches will be interesting to see develop.

Bonagura: Oregon RB Royce Freeman. If some of what I’ve read is to be believed, Freeman is basically the real-life version of a create-your-own video game player with 99 ratings across the board. He cannot be tackled! He cannot be caught from behind! He’ll be the case for why one-and-dones should exist in college football! Deep breathes, everyone. Let’s let him play a game first. But, yeah, if he comes close to the hype, we’ll have another exciting player to watch in the Pac-12 the next few years.

3. Will any of the Pac-12’s ranked teams need to break a sweat?

Gemmell: Nope. A lot of people seem to think UCLA might have some trouble in Virginia simply because of the distance and time change. Maybe they are a little sloppy in the first quarter (hey, it happened to Oregon last year). But that’s also to be expected in Week 1.

USC has had some external distractions this week, but Fresno State is breaking in a new quarterback and the Trojans rolled the Bulldogs in their bowl game last year. Washington is playing a Hawaii team that hasn’t gotten off the mat in a few years and the rest are FCS teams.

Bonagura: These games are in August, of course there’ll be sweat. Oh, the question wasn’t to be taken literally? Well in that case, no chance. Predicted average margin of victory for the six ranked teams in action: 38.2.

4. Are there any wrinkles we can expect to see from Stanford and Oregon Week 1?

Gemmell: There are two schools of thought here: 1. Be as vanilla as possible. Don’t give anything away. Or, 2. Put as many wrinkles as possible on film so the Michigan States and USCs of the world have to spend extra time preparing for it.

Well, I guess there’s a third option: just play. Guessing that’s what Oregon and Stanford will do.

Bonagura: Neither team has much -- if anything -- to gain by introducing stuff that hasn’t been apart of their offenses the past few years. Stanford is introducing four new starters on the offensive line so the priority against UC Davis is get that group as ready as possible before the big showdown with USC next week. My guess is the Cardinal get Kevin Hogan some work throwing the ball early before it runs power 50 straight plays to end the game. Or something like that.

5. Who has the most to gain/lose in Week 1?

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsHow will Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans respond to the distraction from the Josh Shaw fiasco?
Gemmell: Right now, all eyes are going to be on USC and its new head coach. It’s been an embarrassing week for the Trojans. Remember what happened last time this team felt embarrassed? Ed Orgeron pulled them together and unified them. Can Steve Sarkisian do the same? If the Trojans go out and roll Fresno State -- as they are expected to do -- then that will help settle the discord that has crested this week in the wake of the Josh Shaw fiasco. Winning, as they say, is the ultimate deodorant. And a fresh broom sweeps clean. But what if they struggle? What if it’s a one-score game? Or, dare we think it, what if they lose? What if they come out looking flat and discouraged and sloppy? Much of how Sarkisian is perceived to handle his locker room will be determined by this game.

Bonagura: We’re all assuming Washington QB Jeff Lindquist’s start against Hawaii will just be a one-time thing and that’ll he’ll head to the bench once Cyler Miles serves a one-game suspension, but what if Lindquist goes out and completes something like 35 of 39 passes for 450 yards and five touchdowns? It’d be hard to come back the following week with a different quarterback. And if Lindquist struggles, he could have a tough time getting back on the field.

6. Whose name will become better known by Saturday night?

Gemmell: If you hadn’t heard, there is a vacancy in the USC secondary. You might know the name Adoree' Jackson in passing when it popped up around recruiting time. USC knows what he can do. And the rest of the conference is going to see on film what all the fuss is about. He’ll see more time on defense following Josh Shaw's suspension, but he’s also probably going to catch a few passes and return a few kicks. The Trojans see him as that special of an athlete that he can impact the game in all three phases.

Bonagura: Richard Mullaney is a well-known name amongst Oregon State fans, but elsewhere in the conference the Beavers’ group of receivers was known as Brandin Cooks and Everybody Else last year. Look for Mullaney to establish himself as QB Sean Mannion's go-to receiver as a precursor of a big year to come.

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