video
SAN DIEGO -- During the postgame news conference at Qualcomm Stadium following USC’s 45-42 win over Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl, Nebraska interim head coach Barney Cotton was asked to comment on the play of USC true freshman Adoree' Jackson.

“What’s the number?” Cotton asked. “I’m not a name guy.”

After Saturday night, here’s guessing Cotton will remember the name.

Whether he was returning kicks, catching touchdowns or making plays in the secondary, Jackson was one of the most exciting and dynamic players on the field Saturday.

[+] EnlargeJackson
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesFreshman Adoree' Jackson was Mr. Excitement for USC, burning Nebraska for a 98-yard kickoff return TD and a 71-yard receiving TD in the Trojans' Holiday Bowl win.
Minutes after Cotton, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian took the podium -- along with Jackson, quarterback Cody Kessler and defensive end Leonard Williams -- and he offered this on Jackson:

“I keep battling [defensive coordinator] Justin Wilcox because I want him on offense,” Sarkisian said. “He would have had four touchdowns if he was playing on offense.”

That drew a “yep” from Kessler and a playful head shake from Williams.

USC will likely lose two of its marquee offensive players to the 2015 NFL draft. No one will be shocked when running back Buck Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor make their believed intentions official. If the Holiday Bowl was in fact their respective swan songs, then they exited nicely. Allen rushed for a game-high 152 yards and two touchdowns, while Agholor hauled in seven balls for 90 yards and a score.

But USC’s up-and-comers showed the offense is going to be just fine if -- or when -- those guys leave. Jackson opened the USC scoring with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter. He added three catches for 73 yards, including a jaw-dropping 71-yard touchdown from Kessler. Actually, it was a 1-yard pass from Kessler. Jackson did the other 70 on his own.

But it wasn’t just Jackson making plays. JuJu Smith had three catches for 66 yards. Bryce Dixon caught four balls for 44 yards and a touchdown. The Trojans used 11 true freshmen in significant roles this season, including eight who have combined for 58 starts. Consider that number, with the fact that USC suited up just 50 scholarship players for its bowl game, and it’s not unreasonable to think USC should contend for the Pac-12 South Division next season.

“Our future -- and I’ll say it again -- is ridiculously bright,” Sarkisian said. “We’re going to continue to get better and continue to recruit. We’re going to recruit great players. We’re going to develop the players that we have in our program. We’re going to compete for championships. That’s why you come to USC. Get ready for 2015.”

As for the game itself, it was typical Holiday Bowl: High-scoring and high on drama. Even when the Trojans went up 45-27 near the end of the third quarter, there weren’t many who felt the issue was resolved.

Sure enough, Nebraska scored at the end of the third and midway through the fourth to cut the game to 45-42. It wasn’t until Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s Hail Mary with one second left on the clock was harmlessly batted away by Agholor that the Trojans could celebrate. Some might recall Arizona State's topping USC earlier this season on a last-second Hail Mary.

“We’ve been through it,” Sarkisian said, which drew a laugh from the room. “We got JuJu and Nelson on the field. Nelson made a heck of a play to go attack the football. At the end of the day, I mean, you can only get burned so many times, I guess. You know? So let’s just get the ball on the ground. That’s kind of what I was hoping for.”

The game was accented by one big play after another, as the teams combined for 1,040 yards of offense -- including a bowl-record 38 points in the third quarter. Armstrong threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in a contest that felt more like a Pac-12 conference game than a Pac-12/Big Ten bowl.

“I was proud of them and the way they responded offensively because we didn’t totally chuck our game plan [when trailing],” Cotton said. “I’m glad we stuck with doing what we had done to get there, and we just came up a little short at the end.”

Instant Analysis: USC 45, Nebraska 42

December, 28, 2014
Dec 28
12:20
AM ET
videoSAN DIEGO, Calif. -- As new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley watched from the stands Saturday night, the team he's taking over couldn't cap a comeback against a team from his former conference. The USC Trojans held on for a 45-42 victory over Nebraska in a wild shootout in the National University Holiday Bowl. Here's how it all went down at Qualcomm Stadium:

How the game was won: On big plays -- because it was the Holiday Bowl. Defenses need not apply. The Trojans were the faster, more athletic team (though not by much), and it showed in the form of explosive plays. Adoree' Jackson scored on a kickoff return and a long touchdown reception. Buck Allen turned 4-yard runs into long touchdowns. Four of USC's touchdowns were 20 yards or longer. That's not to say Nebraska didn't have some explosive moments of its own, as the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards offense.

Turning point: Trailing 45-42 with 2:31 remaining, Nebraska went for it on fourth-and 3 at the USC 31 but was turned away. The Trojans took over and were able to milk down enough clock to preserve the three-point win. A last-second Hail Mary effort from Nebraska fell short as time expired.

Game ball goes to: Jackson, a true freshman, was the most dynamic player on the field. His 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave the Trojans a 7-3 lead after Nebraska jumped ahead on a field goal. Then he took a Cody Kessler pass 71 yards that stretched USC's lead to 31-17 in the third quarter. Oh yeah, he also added six tackles on defense.

Key stat: The teams combined for 38 points in the third quarter, a Holiday Bowl record. Considering the Holiday Bowl's penchant for crazy, that's pretty impressive.

Play of the game: The Jackson kickoff return takes top honors in a game with a lot of big plays.

video What's next: Nebraska begins life anew with Riley running the show. Some Trojans -- namely, Leonard Williams, Nelson Agholor and Allen -- have some decisions to make about the NFL draft.
In a game fitting of its Wild West setting, Arizona State survived Duke's pesky upset attempt. The Sun Devils proved better than the Blue Devils in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, securing a 36-31 victory in El Paso. ASU has now posted consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1973, and Todd Graham has won more games in his first three years as coach than anyone else in program history. Meanwhile, Duke's long drought continues: The Blue Devils have not won a bowl game since 1961.

How the game was won: When ASU jumped out to a 20-3 lead midway through the second quarter, it looked as if they were going to run the other Devils out of the building. But Duke battled back using an array of screen passes to burn ASU's aggressive pressure defense, and two quick touchdowns cut the deficit to 20-17 by halftime. This flurry was indicative of how the second half would go: The Sun Devils seemed to have an overwhelming stockpile of explosive weapons on offense, but Duke simply would not die.

After the Blue Devils took a 31-30 lead on the fuel of two trick plays late in the fourth quarter, ASU freshman Kalen Ballage immediately responded with a 96-yard kickoff return. The Sun Devils regained the lead when fellow youngster Demario Richard scored on the next play, and their defense sealed the victory after that. This was a classic see-saw battle down the stretch, and ASU ultimately had more ammunition than Duke.

Game ball goes to: Veteran Jaelen Strong grabbed seven passes for 103 yards in his final ASU game before heading to the NFL, so he deserves acknowledgement here. But the game ball itself must go to the future of the Sun Devil program. Less than a month after turning 18 years old, Richard scored four touchdowns -- including the game winner. He was the dependable force that the Sun Devils turned to whenever they were in scoring range, and he ended up playing a perfect complement to Strong and DJ Foster (121 all-purpose yards)

It was over when: ASU defensive back Kweishi Brown intercepted Duke quarterback Anthony Boone in the corner of the end zone with 45 seconds remaining. The Blue Devils were driving at the time, and they were hungry to deliver a go-ahead score that would give the Sun Devils little time to rebut. But Brown's excellent defense on Boone's lofty fade pass finally stifled Duke's hopes. Prior to that play, the Blue Devils simply wouldn't go away; they had been a combined 14-for-23 on third- and fourth-down conversions.

Stat of the game: Plus-2. That was the turnover margin, and ASU fell on the positive side of it. It's ultimately the reason the Sun Devils prevailed in this football game, because Duke ended up outgaining ASU (400-392) and outperforming them on third and fourth down. Brown's interception, though, was the big play that stopped the bleeding elsewhere and secured a hard-fought win for Graham's club.
A strong season hit a few stumbling blocks to close the year, with losses to Oregon State and Arizona keeping the Sun Devils from a repeat trip to the Pac-12 championship game. But it's obvious that Arizona State has found its groove under head coach Todd Graham and Sun Devils fans are hoping the program can continue reloading through recruiting.

Recruit and return: USC Trojans 

December, 27, 2014
Dec 27
9:00
AM ET
USC lost an opportunity to play for the Pac-12 title with a late-season loss to UCLA, but it has a chance to finish off the final year of NCAA-imposed sanctions with a nine-win season, which would give the Trojans a boost heading into the first signing day since 2011 in which they are able to sign a full allotment of 25 prospects.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

EUGENE, Ore. -- Brian Kelly couldn’t answer it. Paul Johnson couldn’t answer it. Al Golden couldn’t answer it.

No one has been able to answer it. It’s a question that -- so far this season -- has stumped every coach who has been asked it: How do you stop a player whose best statistic is, simply, winning?

That’s exactly what FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is best at.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston (5) on the field before the game
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston is 26-0 in his collegiate career.
Winston hasn’t been a prolific passer this year. He has completed 65.4 percent while throwing 17 interceptions to 24 touchdowns. None of those numbers is as good as they were last year when he won the Heisman.

In most statistical categories Winston doesn’t even rank in the top 15 nationally.

But there’s one thing -- and really, it’s the only important thing -- that he has proven this season to be better at that any other quarterback: winning. And Oregon is hoping that by Thursday the Ducks will have the answer to the Jameis question.

“He’s a winner, no matter what anybody else says,” Oregon cornerback Troy Hill said of Winston. “He’s a winner -- that’s what I respect. I respect his ability to win and clench games and not feel that pressure.”

Five times this season, the Seminoles were tied or trailed an opponent going into the fourth quarter. Three times this season FSU has trailed by at least two touchdowns. By comparison, Oregon has trailed going into the fourth quarter only once and never has trailed by more than 10 points.

But each of the times that FSU has been down Winston has shown the ability to rally himself and his teammates from the deficit. Not only does he come up big for the Seminoles, he does it without fail.

  • Notre Dame: The Irish went up 27-24 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing drive Winston completed 5-of-6 passes for 64 yards and Karlos Williams scored from 1 yard (set up by Winston’s terrific passing).
  • Louisville: The Cardinals went up 21-7 at halftime. In the first half Winston averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt. In the second half he completed 15-of-25 passes for 284 yards, averaging 11.4 yards per attempt -- more than twice his first-half average. The Seminoles outscored Louisville 35-10 in the second half.
  • Miami: With just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Florida State trailed 26-23. On the ensuing possession Winston completed 2-of-3 passes for 31 yards, setting up a 26-yard touchdown run from Dalvin Cook. Leading up to that drive, Winston had averaged 7 yards per pass attempt, on that drive he averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt.
  • Boston College: They were tied up at 17 leading into the fourth quarter. The Eagles got within field goal range but missed the field goal, giving FSU a chance to go up with just under five minutes remaining. On that possession Winston completed 3-of-3 passes for 33 yards. Leading up to that drive he averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt. On the game winning drive he averaged 11 yards per attempt.

His ability to win games is unmatched this season and certainly something that gives Oregon -- which saw its fair share of ups and downs at the beginning of the year -- some pause.

It has even garnered the recognition of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“Whenever they’re down, he’s going to make that play for them to win that game,” Mariota said. “He’s that type of player.”

The Oregon defense respects Winston’s rare ability just as much as Mariota.

“It’s a different trait,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said of Winston’s winning abilities. “A lot of players play well in the clutch and he’s one of those guys who finds a way to win.”

So what’s the key?

“Throughout the game we have to find a way to finish toward the end of the game,” Armstead said. “Even if we jump out early or it’s a fight game going back and forth, we’ve got to find a way to finish at the end of the game.”

Easier said than done. But if the Ducks can do it, they not only will earn a spot in the national title game, they will be the first to answer that question in two years.
Some things to watch between USC and Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, Saturday).
  1. Nebraska must stop the rush: When Nebraska loses, it’s usually because it is having trouble stopping the run. In the Cornhuskers’ three losses this year, they’ve allowed an average of 350 yards on the ground. Giving up 408 yards to Melvin Gordon didn’t exactly help that average, either. But when they allow their opponent to average more than 4 yards per carry, they are 0-3. USC’s Buck Allen was third in the Pac-12 with 111.4 yards per game.
  2. Let Kessler be Kessler: USC quarterback Cody Kessler has a plus-32 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season (36-4). That's the third highest in FBS this season. And when he looks to Nelson Agholor, Kessler finds him better than three of every four tries (76.4 percent). That's the best completion percentage for a QB/WR duo among Power 5 schools. When he looks to Agholor beyond 15 yards, Kessler is 18-of-25 with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
  3. Ameer versus the world: When Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah faces seven or fewer defenders in the box, he’s averaging 7.2 yards per rush. However, when teams stack the box with eight or more defenders, that number drops drastically to 3.4 yards per carry. This presents the game-within-the-game chess match, because Abdullah has 791 yards rushing between the tackles and 731 yards when he hits the edge. USC had one of the top rush defenses in the Pac-12, allowing 3.9 yards per carry and 132.5 yards per game. The Trojans did, however, yield 18 touchdowns on the ground, which ranked in the bottom half of the conference.
  4. Who is motivated? Always a popular topic in bowl season. Despite the surprise hire of Mike Riley, Bo Pelini continued to leave chaos in his wake. Plus, interim coach Barney Cotton might already have one foot out the door on his way to joining Tony Sanchez at UNLV. USC, by all accounts, had an up-and-down season with a couple of "what if?" moments. Are they happy to be in a bowl under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, or are key players already eyeballing the NFL combine?
Happy Friday Day After Christmas. Hope you got everything you wanted and didn't drink too much egg nog.

And, no, your gift to me has not yet arrived. Sure it will be here soon.

Follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Matt from Sunnyvale, Calif., writes: While eight of the Pac-12 teams are in the midst of bowl season, the other four are prepping for the holidays. In analyzing the conference's "worst" team (according to thy mighty power rankings), how would the Buffs have stacked up in any of the other Power 5 conferences this year? Besides playing in the SEC West, I think they could have an extra 2-4 wins under their belts in the ACC or Big Ten. How do the Buffs matchup to the Kansases, Purdues or Wake Forests of the Power-5 conferences? Bonus question: Clancy Pendergast has to get a look for DC at CU, no? Would be a great addition!

Ted Miller: If Colorado hired Clancy Pendergast it would instantaneously upgrade its defense, a schematic equivalent of checkers to chess, no question. Guessing he'll have some options this offseason, though.

The first part of your question is interesting, though I may extrapolate on it my own way -- as I am wont to do.

When you ask, "How would the Buffs have stacked up in any of the other Power-5 conferences this year?" my overriding thought is the Buffs would have been far better off as long as they didn't play in the SEC West. In the SEC East, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, the Buffs would have won more games. They lost four Pac-12 games this season by five points or less, and two of those defeats were to teams that remain nationally ranked.

In fact, we're going to crown Colorado the best worst Power-5 conference team.

In the interest of fairness, here are the candidates.
  • Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7 ACC): Ranked 127th in the nation in points per game (14.8) and rushing yards per game (39.9). Lost to Louisiana Monroe. Best win was 6-3 in double-overtime over Virginia Tech.
  • Purdue (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Lost to Central Michigan. Best win was at Illinois. Lost six straight to finish season.
  • Iowa State (2-10, 0-9 Big 12): Lost to North Dakota State. Gave up 38.8 points per game, which ranked 118th in nation. Best win at Iowa 20-17. Lost six straight to finish season.
  • Vanderbilt (3-9 0-8 SEC):Lost to Temple. Ranked 106th in the nation or worse in passing yards, rushing yards, points for and points against. Best win? Massachusetts?
  • Colorado (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Lost to Colorado State. Ranked 120th in the nation in points allowed (39.0 -- yeah, time to change coordinators). Best win? Hawaii.

Among those five, we'd rank Colorado first, Iowa State second, Purdue fourth, Wake Forest third and Vanderbilt fifth.

Bruce from Salt Lake City writes: If you could create a bowl this year -- we will call it TEDwrites Bowl -- and pit two Pac-12 teams against each other, which matchup would you like to see (again)? Also, what are the big plans for the summer?

Ted Miller: If I could replay one game this year it would be Stanford at Notre Dame. I can't help but wonder if the Cardinal's 2014 might have been much different if they didn't urp so horribly in South Bend. You could say the same about their Week 2 loss against USC, but the Trojans were a much better team than the Fighting Irish.

As far as matching Pac-12 teams, you'd of course like to see teams that didn't play each other have a go: Stanford-Arizona, Oregon-Arizona State, USC-Oregon and Utah-Washington.

It also would be fun to rematch some meaningful rivalry games: USC-UCLA and Arizona-Arizona State.

But if I were to pitch a Pac-12 matchup for a bowl game, it would be USC versus Washington: The Steve Sarkisian Bowl.

The winner gets a ninth win -- no seven-win seasons here! -- and you'd either get a dose of hush to Husky fans who ripped Sarkisian when he bolted Washington for USC or you'd get a really grumpy crew of Trojans fans dealing with lots of purple crowing.

My big plan for the summer? Other than my evil plan for world domination? Reducing my sanctimony, reading more classics of English literature and caring less about politics.

David from Calgary writes: It seems like another regular season of football has come and gone. With the postseason in front of us, do you think this could be the year where the #Pac12Fans will finally start rooting for the conference as a whole and not just their individual team?

Ted Miller: Yes and no.

No, Pac-12 fans don't seem predisposed to be as regionally united as those from the Southeast. No, you won't get too much cheering from Huskies and Beavers fans if Oregon wins the national title.

But there is some burgeoning collectivism among Pac-12 fans. You see it all over ESPN.com, when Pac-12 fans troll the SEC posts almost as gleefully as SEC fans troll the Pac-12 posts. ESPN, by the way, thanks you for your trolling compulsions.

Beyond that, if the Pac-12 goes 7-1 in bowl games and wins the national title, I'd bet Huskies fans would use that against SEC fans in an argument, as long as they didn't have to say, "And Oregon beat Alabama for the national title." They'd just say, "And a Pac-12 team beat Alabama for the national title."

The abstraction might be palatable, as opposed to the celebration of a specific rival team.

And you can bet that if Oregon wins the national title, particularly over the Crimson Tide, a "Pac-12! Pac-12!" chant will erupt in Cowboys Stadium, an acknowledgment and counter to the "SEC! SEC!" chant we've heard so much over the past decade.

Viewer's Guide: Hyundai Sun Bowl

December, 26, 2014
Dec 26
4:30
PM ET
Which Devils are better, the Blue ones or the ones that come from the Sun? We'll find out Saturday when 9-3 Duke meets 9-3 Arizona State in El Paso for the Hyundai Sun Bowl. This is a chance for both teams to reach that coveted 10-win mark. Here are three storylines to watch in the battle between David Cutcliffe and Todd Graham:

1. Who will best shake off disappointment?

The 2014 trajectories of these teams mirrored each other. Both Arizona State and Duke entered Nov. 15 with identical 8-1 records. The Sun Devils dreamed of a berth in the College Football Playoff, while the Blue Devils were on track for a spot in the ACC championship game. The November chill was not kind for either squad of Devils, as each group lost two of three games in a critical stretch that month. Arizona State dropped bitter decisions to Oregon State and archrival Arizona, while Duke lost a close one to Virginia Tech before being pulverized 45-20 at home by hated North Carolina. It's time to shake off the "what could have been" syndrome, and the team that does this best will be in line for that 10th win.

2. Can the Blue Devils take the next step?

Arizona State is the favorite here, so it is expected to win. But Duke's program stands to gain more with a victory. In fact, the Blue Devils have not won a bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl, and they haven't defeated a Top 25 team from outside the ACC since 1971, when they took down Stanford. Those are streaks of 53 and 43 years, respectively, that Cutcliffe's program can break with a win in El Paso against an explosive Sun Devils team. Such a victory would certainly represent progress for Duke after it finished last season with a heartbreaking 52-48 bowl loss to Texas A&M.

3. Duke's Crowder versus ASU's Strong

The Sun Bowl is a chance to see two talented receivers square off. Jamison Crowder's 276 career receptions and 5,402 all-purpose yards are both third among active FBS players. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound speedster had 78 catches this season, three more than his aptly named 6-3 counterpart Jaelen Strong, who announced earlier this week that he'll be entering the 2015 NFL draft. Though Crowder and Strong feature distinctly contrasting styles, both receivers are potential game-changers with the ability to make up-and-down quarterback play look spectacular. Even if their contributions don't mark the difference in this game, they'll certainly be worth a watch.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon knew that keeping quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy this season was a must if it wanted to make the College Football Playoff.

The Ducks needed to look no further than last season to see how a diminished (even a mildly diminished) Mariota could affect their game plan and alter how defenses attacked the Ducks.

So from that perspective, this season has been successful. Mariota has been -- for the most part -- healthy.

[+] EnlargeCayleb Jones
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe Ducks have been able to overcome a multitude of injuries, but losing Ifo Ekpre-Olomu presents the biggest challenge yet.
It’s just everyone else that hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

First Bralon Addison, Mariota's leading returning receiver, went down in the spring with a torn ACL. Then the injuries to the offensive line started to pile up (and they really haven’t stopped since). Running back Thomas Tyner, defensive lineman Arik Armstead and wide receivers Keanon Lowe and Dwayne Stanford have all missed game time.

And then most recently, the Ducks lost cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu for the rest of the season.

With each injury Oregon’s mantra has stayed the same, as it has with every other college football team in the country: Next man up.

And it's been the same with Ekpre-Olomu. Despite losing the three-time All-Pac-12 selection, defensive coordinator Don Pellum said that the “game plan stays the same.”

“It’s been kind of the theme of our team, I’d say, this year,” Armstead said. “Just persevering through injuries and down times in the year.”

However, despite the multitude of injuries the Ducks have suffered and how good they’ve become at overcoming this type of adversity, the injury to Ekpre-Olomu strikes at the foundation of the team.

With the offensive line suffering injuries and readjusting, the Ducks suffered their one and only loss of the season. But still, that was something that they were able to overcome. And with every offensive line injury and shift, the group became more versatile and able to adjust to a new position and lineup nearly every game.

Ekpre-Olomu’s injury strikes a secondary that had seemed to finally hit its stride. In the final four games of the regular season, Oregon allowed just 32.9 percent of completions to go for more than 10 yards, the fifth-best percentage nationally during that period.

During that same time, Oregon allowed just 44.3 percent of completions to go for 10 yards or a first down, fourth-best nationally.

Now, rather than a player who has been picking up reps throughout the season stepping into a starting spot (like has been the case for the offensive line), it’ll be an inexperienced player, redshirt freshman Chris Seisay, taking over for the Jim Thorpe Award finalist Ekpre-Olomu.

Earlier last week defensive coordinator Don Pellum was asked if Seisay, who has only accounted for 20 tackles (Ekpre-Olomu had tallied 63), was ready for this kind of a challenge in the Rose Bowl.

“I don’t think there’s any question -- we have to go play,” Pellum said. “We have one game. We have to go play, right? That’s the bottom line.”

That is the bottom line.

But the biggest question at that line is whether the Ducks can continue to withstand the onslaught of injuries. Will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

Mariota has stayed healthy. Not everyone else has. Will that still be enough to beat Florida State?

Pac-12 players in the Pro Bowl

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
2:30
PM ET
The initial wave of Pro Bowl selections was announced Tuesday with 12 players from Pac-12 schools among those included.

The Pac-12 ranked third among all conferences behind the ACC (15) and SEC (13). After the Pac-12, the breakdown is as follows: Big 12 (11), Big Ten (11), AAC (6), Mountain West (4), MAC (3), Sun Belt (2), Conference USA (1), independents (1) and seven players from non-FBS schools.

Here is the full list of Pac-12 selections, which will likely grow as players inevitably choose not to play.

Offense
Defense

Special Teams
Much of the focus leading up to the Rose Bowl will be on the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. However, those two aren't ever going to be competing head-to-head on the field at the same time.

Both No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State made it this far because of the talent littered throughout the rosters. While Mariota and Winston have both shown they have the ability to win games on their own, the Rose Bowl could be decided by a player who has been flying a bit under the radar but is poised to make a big splash on Jan. 1.

Here are a few players that haven't been discussed much that could have a big impact on the game.

Defensive players

Oregon: Chris Seisay. First and foremost, he's going to surpass expectations simply because so much more will be asked of him this game than has ever been asked of him. He'll be stepping into the spot vacated by Jim Thorpe Award finalist Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who suffered a career ending injury last week. Seisay, a redshirt freshman, has only accounted for 20 tackles this season due to the fact that he just really hasn't seen the field a ton. Because of this, Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense are certainly going to throw at him quite a bit more. The rest of the secondary is pretty solid -- Troy Hill, Erick Dargan, Reggie Daniels -- so why not take shots at the youngest, most inexperienced guy?

But that's where I think it'll get interesting. I feel like Seisay could have a huge game for the Ducks. Because he'll be targeted more, he'll have a chance to make some big plays (though, he'll also have chances to make some big mistakes), but I think he's going to pull through for the Ducks. Last week, Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said that the game plan wouldn't change for the Ducks. “We lost a great leader, great player, great spiritual leader and everyone has got to -- it's like a hit -- everyone's got to pick it up a little more,” Pellum said. I think Seisay picks up a lot more.

Florida State: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He likely won't receive a ton of snaps, but any contribution from the defensive tackle could prove major for the Seminoles. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher felt the senior lineman was poised for a big season before tearing a pectoral muscle against Clemson in September. He played through the injury during the game, but the tear was bad enough that Fisher said Lawrence-Stample would miss the remainder of the season. So it was a bit of a surprise when Fisher said last week that Lawrence-Stample was ready to practice and should play against the Ducks. Florida State has been thin at defensive tackle all season, and the loss of Lawrence-Stample was a tough blow. Fisher said Oregon's tempo wouldn't give Lawrence-Stample any trouble as he works back into game shape, but the 6-foot-1, 314-pound tackle is likely not going to be able to play a significant number of snaps. Still, even 20 snaps in a reserve role could be pivotal for a defensive line that will need fresh legs deep into the fourth quarter if the Seminoles plan to pull off the upset.

Offensive player

Oregon: Royce Freeman. Yes, I know he's already a player that so many people know. But I think he's going to exceed expectations by having his best game of the season. The Seminoles haven't faced a rushing attack quite like Oregon's. Not only do they have to worry about the rushing attack out of the tailback (Freeman), they have to worry about it out of the quarterback (Mariota) and a slot receiver (Byron Marshall, former running back). There's so much to focus on that I think Freeman might get lost in the shuffle just enough times to really crank off some huge runs.

Florida State has given up 3.9 yards per rush this season, but the Seminoles have also given up 69 rushes of 10 or more yards -- that's one in every seven or eight rushes. And they've shown out when they needed to. FSU held Miami's Duke Johnson to right around his season average in rushing yards per game, while keeping him to just one touchdown run and two rushes of 10 or more yards. But Johnson doesn't have the weapons around him like Freeman has. Freeman is playing his best football right now and has averaged 6.1 yards per rush over the past four games. With each game and practice he, along with Mariota and a constantly reshuffling offensive line, are finding better ways to collectively attack defensive fronts and I think with the extra two weeks of practice we're going to see a huge performance -- his biggest of the year -- out of Freeman. Put me down for it: 180 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns (and one receiving touchdown) at 6.0 yards per carry.

Florida State: Travis Rudolph. The freshman receiver has been brilliant at times this season, dazzling with his footwork and speed. He's also made a few rookie mistakes that have led to Florida State turnovers. Rudolph's talent is undeniable, and the Florida State offense has often looked its best when Rudolph is having a productive game. The Seminoles could use a secondary receiving threat on the outside to complement Rashad Greene, who defensive backs target before every play. Florida State's young receivers have been inconsistent providing help for the senior Greene, who is the most productive receiver in school history. With Greene on the outside and Nick O'Leary on the inside at tight end, there will not be any shortage of opportunities for Rudolph to make a play. Winston has shown he isn't afraid to throw the ball in Rudolph's direction and is not lacking confidence in the freshman. With Oregon's top cornerback out, Rudolph isn't going to have the same caliber of defender standing opposite him either. Even a few catches for 60 or so yards would be a strong contribution from Rudolph and enough to shift some attention from Greene and O'Leary.

Class Rankings: Dec. 23 update

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
3:30
PM ET
video

National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert joins ESPN’s Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. A wild Friday saw four of the nation’s top 150 players announce college decisions.

To read the full class rankings, click here.
Barring any surprises, seven Pac-12 teams will welcome back starting quarterbacks in 2015. Though the list isn't as glittering as it was last year, when 10 starters returned, including eventual Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, it's a strong crew, as good a group any other Power 5 conference will offer up.

That does mean five teams will feature new starters next fall, though that doesn't necessarily mean there will be five wide-open competitions. For example, senior Mike Bercovici is probably more locked into Arizona State's starting job than a couple of returning starters. His potential is a big reason the Sun Devils will be counted among the conference favorites next fall.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
AP Photo/Gus RuelasMike Bercovici threw 12 TD passes with four interceptions this season, and flashed plenty of potential for Arizona State.
Not only is Bercovici a senior competing with four freshmen -- two redshirts -- he came off the bench this season for Taylor Kelly and played well in three starts. He knows coordinator Mike Norvell's offense and owns a big arm that should add a significant downfield passing component.

"I see [playing this season] as a big learning experience," Bercovici said. "Being here for four seasons and, in my fourth season, I finally get to see the field as a backup. I always wanted to prove to my teammates that I’ve been prepared."

He added, "Some of the success I had this year and some of the mistakes I made are all going to help me move on to the 2015 season."

Utah and Washington both welcome back returning starters in Travis Wilson and Cyler Miles, but there figures to be some intrigue this upcoming spring and fall as they try to hold onto their jobs, with Wilson most notably embroiled in a on-going, two-season competition with Kendal Thompson.

Like Bercovici, Washington State's Luke Falk gained valuable experience this season when he replaced an injured Connor Halliday, and he is a heavy favorite to win the Cougars starting job. Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA appear to have wide-open competitions, with the Bruins featuring touted incoming freshman Josh Rosen taking on an incumbent field led by Jerry Neuheisel this spring.

Bercovici was in a tight competition with Kelly heading into the 2012 season, but Kelly won the job and went on to become one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history. That could have sown the seeds of a rivalry between the two, or Bercovici could have transferred. Instead, he and Kelly became close friends.

That is why Bercovici had mixed feelings when he replaced a struggling Kelly in the Territorial Cup loss to Arizona.

"It was definitely tough to see him come off the field as a senior and for myself to come in, but we didn’t really have time to think about that during the game," he said. "Some times you have bad days when things aren’t going your way. It just sucks I couldn’t lead us to victory in that fourth quarter."

That said, he sees the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Duke on Dec. 27 as being "Taylor's game."

"This is the last time he’ll be in a Sun Devils uniform," he said. "I know he’s going to go out with a bang.”

After that, though, Bercovici will be eager to fill the ensuing vacancy behind center for a Sun Devils team expected to be in the South Division and national mix.

"This team knows this is my job moving forward," he said.

Here is how the Pac-12 sets up at quarterback for 2015, pending any unexpected NFL early entries.

2015 RETURNING STARTERS

Arizona: Anu Solomon

The skinny: Though Solomon was impressive as a redshirt freshman first-year starter, he wasn't terribly efficient, ranking 61st in the nation in Total QBR and 55th in standard passing efficiency. So there is plenty of room to get better. The good news is 1,000-yard rusher Nick Wilson will be back, as will a strong crew of receivers. The offensive line has some notable holes.

California: Jared Goff

The skinny: He threw for 331 yards per game with 35 TD passes and just seven interceptions as a true sophomore. If you are looking for a player who could breakout as a national name next fall, Goff might be your man. He has an NFL future. He also has a strong supporting cast coming back on offense -- nine returning starters -- including a deep and talented group of receivers.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau

The skinny: He passed for a school-record 28 touchdowns, but also led the Pac-12 with 15 interceptions and was briefly benched late in the season. That said, the true sophomore has talent and will likely improve as a third-year starter as the young players around him grow up. It also would help him and the Buffs if receiver Nelson Spruce returns for his senior year instead of entering the draft.

Stanford: Kevin Hogan

The skinny: Hogan ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in QBR, despite being a third-year starter with a strong group of experienced receivers. Though the Cardinal running game and offensive line was a disappointment, there were plenty of times when Hogan was inconsistent in terms of both throwing and decision-making. What Stanford wants is for Hogan to return for his senior year and play like he did against California and UCLA for an entire season. Coach David Shaw said Hogan, who was dealing with tough family situation during the season, would be the starter if he returned and wouldn't face a challenge from touted freshman Keller Chryst.

USC: Cody Kessler

The skinny: If he opts to return for his senior season, Kessler will be an All-American candidate after throwing for 36 TDs with just four interceptions and ranking sixth in the nation in QBR. If there is one criticism of Kessler, it is that he feasted on inferior foes, but didn't turn in an A-list performance against ranked teams, most notably an ineffective showing against UCLA. He should greatly benefit from the maturation of a number of young but talented players forced into action this fall, most notably on the offensive line.

Utah: Travis Wilson

The skinny: This might be the Pac-12's most interesting quarterback situation. Wilson is set to become a four-year starter, but he also might not return to the Utes for his final season. That's because coaches might want to go with Kendal Thompson, who briefly replaced Wilson in the starting lineup before getting hurt. If that's the case, Wilson can transfer with no penalty, because he is set to graduate in 2015. Utah looks like it's going to be stacked on both sides of the ball next fall -- 16 other position-player starters are set to return -- but quarterback remains the issue, as it has since Utah joined the Pac-12.

Washington: Cyler Miles

The skinny: Miles also could face a challenge for his starting spot, though the rising junior also flashed ability at times while doing a good job of protecting the football -- see just three interceptions -- and played better the second half of the season. And who might provide a legitimate challenge, as no other quarterback on the roster appears capable of unseating him. It will be interesting to see how quickly touted incoming freshman Jake Browning picks things up this spring.

2015 COMPETITIONS*

Arizona State: Mike Bercovici, Sr; Manny Wilkins, RFr; Coltin Gerhart, RFr.; Brady White, Fr.; Bryce Perkins, Fr.

The skinny: Bercovici is more certain here than a couple of the conference's returning starters. He gained valuable experience this season replacing an injured Kelly, throwing 12 TDs with four interceptions, and flashed plenty of potential, including A-list arm strength. Though the Sun Devils have stocked up on young quarterbacks, including a pair of touted incoming freshmen, Bercovici is almost a certainty here.

Oregon: Jeff Lockie, Jr.; Ty Griffin, RSo.; Taylor Alie, RSo.; Morgan Mahalak, RFr., Travis Waller, Fr

The skinny: Lockie was Mariota's backup this season and has thrown 30 passes in his career -- one TD! -- which means he will have more experience than Mariota did when he took over as a redshirt freshman. It also was a strong indicator of a pecking order when Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs opted to transfer after spring practices, as they were both behind Lockie. Both Alie and Mahalak, however, have skills, and Waller is expect to be around this spring to join the fray. And perhaps there will be a wild-card transfer?

Oregon State: Luke Del Rio, So.; Brent VanderVeen, Jr., Nick Mitchell, RFr.; Marcus McMaryion, RFr., Kyle Kempt, RSo.

The skinny: This one is wide open. Not only is there no clear leader, but you also have a new coaching staff under Gary Andersen with new schemes. VanderVeen started the season as Sean Mannion's backup, but Del Rio took over that spot about three game into the season. He threw 18 passes in mop-up duty, making him the only Beavers quarterback with any game experience. Might Andersen try to lure away Austin Kafentzis, a four-star quarterack from Sandy, Utah, from his commitment to Wisconsin, where Kafentzis originally planned to enroll early to play for Andersen? And what about James Pensyl, a 6-foot-7 hurler from Land O'Lakes, Florida, who committed to Mike Riley?

UCLA: Jerry Neuheisel, Jr., Asiantii Woulard, RSo.; Mike Fafaul, RJr., Aaron Sharp, RFr., Josh Rosen, Fr.

The skinny: Neuheisel was Brett Hundley's backup this season, and came off the bench to lead the Bruins past Texas. He is a capable, charismatic guy who probably relishes the idea of being counted out by many due to the arrival of Rosen. Rosen, however, is the guy many will be watching. Perhaps the best quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, he will participate in spring practices when he can immediately put himself into the mix.

Washington State: Luke Falk, RSo.; Peyton Bender, RFr.; Tyler Hilinski, Fr.

The skinny: Falk started fast then faded a bit after coming off the bench to replace the injured Connor Halliday, but he is the overwhelming favorite here. In four games, he threw for 1,859 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with six of those picks coming in his last two games. Still, he didn't look like a walk-on. He looked like an A-list redshirt freshman suddenly thrust into action who was struggling against good teams. Coach Mike Leach won't make it seem like Falk is locked in during spring practice, but it's his job to lose.

*Listed year in school is for 2015
Coming strictly from a win-loss standpoint, Colorado’s second season under coach Mike MacIntyre would be evaluated as a complete and utter failure. And in the results-driven world of college football, maybe that’s fair -- 2-10 is 2-10, right?

Except that would also be lazy, and fail to take into account the magnitude of the mess left by previous coach Jon Embree, whose 2012 team might have been the worst Power 5 team in the country. The cupboard wasn’t just bare for MacIntyre, it was rotting at a dump. This was never going to be a quick turnaround, and -- much like the case when he arrived at San Jose State in 2010 -- a lot of losing would have to precede winning. That should have been well understood even before the Pac-12 South transformed into the country’s it division with five ranked teams.

There will come a time when MacIntyre’s job should be more heavily evaluated by wins and losses -- maybe even next season -- but to do so this year would ignore tangible headway.

[+] EnlargeMike Macintyre
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesColorado coach Mike Macintyre on his team: "You build from the ground up. That's what we did at San Jose State and that's what we're doing here, and I believe we have the foundation set now."
"I think [playing in the Pac-12 South] makes it harder to notice progress maybe in the win column, but I do see progress," MacIntyre said. "I think everybody that’s watched us play every game has noticed progress. Now is that the answer we want? No way. We want to win football games, and we will next year."

The theme that followed Colorado from its first game to its last was its inability to finish. In six of its 10 losses, Colorado held a second-half lead, and four times those leads came in the fourth quarter or overtime. But saddled with the Pac-12’s youngest roster and minimal depth, the Buffs repeatedly found new ways to give them up.

"I think even people who don’t really follow Colorado were like, 'Oh my gosh, they just barely got beat again,'" MacIntyre said. "Everybody was kind of pulling for us in a way."

MacIntyre’s six wins in two seasons is the same total he had after two years at San Jose State, which won 10 games in Year 3 (the 10th came after MacIntyre already left for Colorado) and finished No. 21 in the AP poll.

"You build from the ground up. That’s what we did at San Jose State and that’s what we’re doing here, and I believe we have the foundation set now," MacIntyre said. "I think we can start punching through in some of those close games and we’ll win some of those close games."

Offensively, Colorado was usually good enough to give itself a chance. It averaged 28.5 points and 439.2 yards per game, which both rank as the program’s best marks in at least a decade. Sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau set the school record with 3,200 yards passing, and junior receiver Nelson Spruce caught a school-record 106 passes and 12 touchdowns.

It wasn’t just all about the passing game, either. Colorado’s 154.6 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry both rank as its second-best averages since 2004. There are still obvious areas where progress needs to be made on offense, but those concerns pale in comparison to the other side of the ball. Only two Power 5 teams -- Cal and Texas Tech -- gave up more points per game than Colorado (39.0), and none gave up more yards per play (6.55).

On Monday, Colorado parted ways with defensive coordinator Kent Baer and defensive line coach Andy LaRussa, both of whom were announced as part of the initial staff at UNLV under new coach Tony Sanchez. Baer and LaRussa both made the move with MacIntyre from San Jose State.

Last week, MacIntyre said he wanted the staff to return in tact, but noted that everyone will have to make their own decisions on different opportunities that come up.

"The assistant-coaching world is an interesting place," he said. "I lived in it for a long time, and there’s all different reasons for different things happening."

Considering how poorly the defense played, it stands to reason that Baer -- who made $$450,000 in Boulder -- and LaRussa might have been encouraged to seek out other options, but regardless of the circumstances that led to their departures, it’s easy to see how a coaching change could be beneficial. There is no immediate timetable for when their replacements will be hired.

When the new coaches are added, they will step into an improved situation from a personnel standpoint. Colorado added three junior college players to its defense last week and loses just two seniors. MacIntyre estimated about 60 percent of the defensive snaps were played by freshmen and sophomores, and that group will have "eight or nine good players" added to the mix, who will either be new to the team or coming off injury.

"We need to make a big jump on the defensive side," he said. "I definitely think we will. That’s not a hope, that’s a definite."

But will that translate to wins? We'll see.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12