Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats

Spring practice has begun its roll around the Pac-12, so the table is set for a bevy of position battles that should last the course of the entire offseason. That means it's time to highlight the key fights around the conference.

The quarterback cases

A year after the Pac-12's "year of the quarterback," the conference sees its marquee position enter a state of transition this spring. Plenty of top-flight talent has departed, but an influx of emerging signal-callers has the potential to take at least some sting out of the exodus.

Oregon's saga will generate the most headlines. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is gone, while electrifying dual-threat talent Vernon Adams has transferred to Eugene, Oregon, from Eastern Washington. Coach Mark Helfrich's succession plan isn't determined yet, though: Jeff Lockie was last season's second-stringer, and he'll have a chance to get a jump on Adams -- who can't enroll until fall -- during spring practice.

Less than an hour up the road, Oregon State is tasked with replacing all-time Pac-12 passing leader Sean Mannion. The Beavers are confronted with a traffic jam of their own at the position, as seven quarterbacks currently pack the roster. Luke Del Rio was Mannion's backup last year, so he's a popular name right about now. Expect plenty of maneuvering as the entire stable adapts to Gary Andersen's new offensive system.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCan UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel earn the starting quarterback job over highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen?
Jerry Neuheisel made a memorable start in Brett Hundley's stead against Texas in 2014, but that might have been just a prelude to what's expected to be a fierce offseason quarterback battle at UCLA. Josh Rosen, one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation, has also entered the Westwood fray.

Intrigue extends further into the conference. Luke Falk will likely be Connor Halliday's successor at Washington State, but the fates of incumbents Cyler Miles (Washington) and Travis Wilson (Utah) are far from settled. K.J. Carta-Samuels looks to steal the reins in Seattle. At Utah, Kendal Thompson's challenge of Wilson for the starting job, which raged throughout most of last season, will continue following Thompson's recovery from injury.

The defensive battles up front

Stanford, the Pac-12's best defense three years running, is currently competing to reload a unit that lost eight starters following 2014. The most painful attrition for the Cardinal has happened along the defensive line, where all three of last year's starters are graduating. Coach David Shaw actually wishes he had more competition there, since injuries have reduced Stanford to only three healthy players at the position. But Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas will be back, and the fight to replace Henry Anderson and David Parry will rage on in due time.

Washington, meanwhile, is tasked with replacing six members of a front seven that was stocked with pro talent in 2014: Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson, John Timu, Andrew Hudson, and Evan Hudson. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, and ouch -- all of those guys are leaving. That's a tough rash of losses. Brace for a free-for-all of competition in Chris Petersen's second year. Meanwhile, a few hours to the east, two spots are open on Washington State's defensive line.

The offensive trenches

Most of Cal's rising offense returns in 2015, but there's a big battle for Chris Adcock's vacated center position between Matt Cochran and Addison Ooms. Both Arizona schools should see spirited competition among the offensive hogs, too. The Wildcats must fill three holes up front, including center. Carter Wood is the front-runner there, and Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa throws his name into the tackle ring. He is 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- that sounds fun.

Arizona State tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are both gone, setting up a critical reloading effort to ensure that Mike Bercovici is well protected next season. Evan Goodman and Billy McGehee seem to be the early leading options, but nothing is a lock at this point.

Colorado has lost both starting offensive guards to graduation, and there are four bodies currently competing for those two spots.

Skill-position central

The running back room always seems to be crowded at USC, and Javorius Allen's departure has set the table for a wide-ranging battle this offseason. Allen was the Trojans' leading rusher, but the next six performers on the ground-yardage list come back in 2015. Justin Davis and Tre Madden are the only two scholarship backs returning, and they'll be joined by a trio of freshmen from Steve Sarkisian's monster 2015 recruiting class -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware.

Of course, the departures of Nelson Agholor and George Farmer have also opened matters up at receiver for USC. Expect plenty of explosive fireworks there: JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson are just two of the exciting names on the Trojans roster.
Every team has players who have to step up this spring. Whether it's scout guys trying to become backups, backups trying to become starters or starters trying to become all-conference, every player should feel like he has something to prove. If they don't, someone behind them will.

That said, there are some positions/players who really have to something to prove. Chris Low is taking a national look at some players. Here are five more within the conference (in no particular order).

Evan Goodman, OT, ASU

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriSpring practices should assist Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon in finding his mojo again.
Goodman was one of the most sought-after recruits in Florida. Dennis Erickson started recruiting him and Todd Graham closed the deal. Now it's time for the former four-star to live up to the hype. He has the frame at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds. And with Jamil Douglas leaving, the Sun Devils just happen to need a left tackle. Quarterback Mike Bercovici will be only as good as his protection. Goodman must win this job convincingly.

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona

We could say this about a lot of quarterbacks. So feel free to insert a “duh, Gemmell” after you read this. But what makes Solomon an interesting case is that the first-year starter actually regressed as the season went on. Consider his first nine games: 25 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Over his final five, he had just three touchdowns and two picks. The opponents, of course, have something to do with that: Washington, Utah, ASU, Oregon and Boise State weren't slouches. But the poise he showed seemed a bit shaken at the end. This spring would be a great time for him to re-establish himself as a steely team leader -- especially with changes coming across the offensive line.

Samson Kafovalu, DL, Colorado

Remember the name? He played in 17 games as a true freshman and sophomore and tallied three sacks in 2013. But academic and personal issues kept him off the team in 2014. He's back. And he has to win the trust of his coaches and his teammates before jumping into what should be a starting role. According to one Colorado staffer, he's been "tossing linemen around like rag dolls." His return could provide a much-needed boost to a defense that ranked last in the Pac-12 in rush defense last season, allowing 204.8 yards on the ground per game.

Destiny Vaeao, DL, Washington State

After losing a couple of top-notch wide receivers in Vince Mayle and Isiah Myers, guys such as Dom Williams and Gabe Marks come to mind ... especially with Washington State looking for a new QB. But the Cougars also took a hit on the defensive front with Toni Pole graduating and Xavier Cooper jumping to the NFL. Vaeao has started the past two years and has shown some glimpses, tallying 3.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks last season. But as the only returning starter on the line, the staff is looking for more production from him in 2015.

Travis Feeney, LB, Washington

The obvious choice here is quarterback Cyler Miles. Maybe in Year 2 at the helm, things click for him and the offense. But what he won't have in Year 2 is the benefit of a veteran front seven backing him up. That's why Feeney, the lone returner in that front seven, is in such a critical position. While guys such as Keishawn Bierria, Azeem Victor, Joe Mathis and Elijah Qualls jockey for spots along the front seven, it will be Feeney the coaches will look at to assume the leadership role. The Huskies' defensive talent drain leaves plenty of questions. It's up to Feeney to step up, lead the front seven and answer them.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

ARIZONA WILDCATS:
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
CALIFORNIA BEARS:

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
COLORADO BUFFALOES:

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
OREGON DUCKS:

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
OREGON STATE BEAVERS:

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
STANFORD CARDINAL:

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
UCLA BRUINS:

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
USC TROJANS:

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
UTAH UTES:

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
NOTES/OBSERVATIONS:

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.

Spring questions: Arizona

February, 23, 2015
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process of the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced and returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

In honor of the alphabet, we start with Arizona.

1. Will Solomon take a step forward? The good news for the Wildcats -- great news, really -- is that Rich Rodriguez, with rising sophomore Anu Solomon, will have a returning starter at QB for the first time in Tucson. He and QB coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith have produced such impressive results with Matt Scott, B.J. Denker and Solomon in one year, you have to expect that a second season of seasoning and refinement in the system will yield a significant amount of improvement behind center. That's the suspicion, but now Solomon needs to make it happen. Solomon started the 2014 season impressively and peaked at midseason, but he faded late in the year, particularly against Oregon and in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. That suggests defensive coordinators figured out what made him uncomfortable and exploited it. Moreover, as a laid back sort, he's going to need to take more of a vocal leadership role. It's one thing eclipsing expectations of what a redshirt freshman starter can do. It's another to advance to an all-conference sort of player.

2. Who will fill three big O-line holes? The Wildcats must replace four-year starting offensive tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele as well as their best lineman in 2014, second-team All-Pac-12 center Steven Gurrola. Senior Carter Wood, a former walk-on who started the Fiesta Bowl for the suspended Gurrola and is best known for throwing up on the ball against Oregon, will get first crack at center. California transfer Freddie Tagaloa is an option at tackle, and at 6-foot-8 and 330 pounds with starting Pac-12 experience, he looks the part. T.D. Gross and Lath Fresh were the backup tackles last year. With three experienced returning guards in Cayman Bundage, Lene Maiava and Jacob Alsadek there also are some options for shuffling.

3. Who lines up with Scooby? Though the linebacking corps surrounding all-everything defender Scooby Wright returns intact, the defense must replace both starting defensive ends -- unless the NCAA grants Reggie Gilbert an extra year due to medical hardship -- and three of five starters in the secondary. The secondary has some promising youngsters returning, such as corner Cam Denson, and the apparent move of junior to be DaVonte’ Neal to corner is intriguing. JC transfers are likely to help, most notably the touted Anthony Fotu on the D-line and safety Paul Magloire. Arizona has played decent to good defense with less than A-list talent under Rodriguez. The question is can it continue to advance after suffering some personnel losses.
Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
Not all recruitments are created equal, as some see prospects commit to their dream school early and never waver, while others have more twists and turns than a Formula 1 race. Taking a look through the recently released 2015 Ultimate 300, we spotlight five of the more interesting recruitments in the Pac-12, alphabetically by prospect.

Prep for the 2015 season for a few teams is right around the corner as players begin to hit the field over the next few weeks for the start of spring practices.

That means that some players' campaigns for the 2015 player of the year starts ... now (at least in the Pac-12 Blogosphere).

Marcus Mariota -- even last spring -- was the clear-cut frontrunner for the award. This year, it's not as obvious. There are a few players that stand out, and then there's always the possibility for a dark horse candidate, someone to burst onto the scene out of nowhere.

SportsNation

Who will be the 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year?

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    10%
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    30%
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    8%
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    23%
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    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,415)

So, who do you think walks away with next season's player of the year honors?

1. UCLA RB Paul Perkins

Perkins led the conference in rushing yards in 2014 (1,575 rushing yards). His 121.2 rushing yards per game still put him front of Oregon State and Washington State's team rushing totals per game. His 6.3 yards per carry was a Pac-12 best, and with the UCLA offense looking a little different next season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jim Mora relying even more on Perkins to carry the load. Could that be enough to propel him to the top of the Pac-12?

2. USC QB Cody Kessler

Kessler will be right there with Perkins, fighting for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and the player of the year honors. Kessler didn't get as much attention this season as some other QBs in the conference despite leading the Pac-12 in completion percentage (69.7) and finishing second in passing touchdowns (39), but in 2015 he should be the talk of the town, especially considering how many weapons the Trojans will have around Kessler.

3. Arizona LB Scooby Wright III

Wright was the defensive darling of the postseason award circuit in 2014 picking up the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, and many others. He was the 2014 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, which sets him up well for a step up -- player of the year -- in his next season. But the other players on this list are talented and, no surprises here, they're all offensive players and every talented defensive player will tell you how much more they have to do to get the same amount of love as an offensive skill player (every single lineman will say this, too). But with 14 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 2014, it's a pretty safe bet to expect more of Two Star Scoob in 2015.

4. Oregon RB Royce Freeman

With another offseason under his belt, Freeman is going to appear even more prepared for the college game (which is kind of a scary thought). He tore apart Pac-12 defenses this season -- 1,113 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns versus conference opponents in 2014. Whoever starts for the Ducks at quarterback is going to have their ups and downs -- that's to be expected of a first-year starter. Expect Oregon to lean more on the run game -- meaning Freeman -- to get its offense going.

5. Other

The battle for the fourth spot in this poll was highly contested (but due to technology, only five names could be put into this poll which is why the voting is relatively limited). Utah running back Devontae Booker was right there with Freeman, especially when considering what Booker did this season and knowing that 2015 is his last hurrah. He burst onto the Pac-12 scene as a relative unknown and finished second in the conference in rushing yards per game (116.3). Cal quarterback Jared Goff was under serious consideration. When looking at the strides he made between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it's wild to think what he might look like as a junior. Arizona running back Nick Wilson was also in the conversation. Though Freeman was the freshman running back that garnered the most attention in the Pac-12 last season, he wasn't the only one. Wilson -- another year older, another year stronger -- is going to be a force in the conference in 2015, too.
A quick check of the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300 reveals a strong Pac-12 quarterback presence toward the top of the list. The three conference quarterbacks in the top 25 are tied for the most players at one position from one conference.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.

With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.


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Top performances: Nick Wilson

February, 13, 2015
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We conclude our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

Up next: Frosh shows up in Nick of time

Who and against whom: Arizona true freshman running back Nick Wilson slices and dices a typically stout Utah defense in a 42-10 road victory.

The numbers: Wilson rushed for a career-high 218 yards on 20 carries -- 10.9 yards per rush -- with three touchdowns.

A closer look: If you recall this game, you know that final score is deceiving. Yes, Arizona entered the fourth quarter leading 21-10, but the Wildcats lost starting quarterback Anu Solomon to injury at halftime, and Utah was driving to start the fourth quarter. But the Utes botched a snap at the Wildcats 28 and opted to punt instead of trying a long field goal in the rainy conditions, and Wilson took over. He went 75 yards for a touchdown on a third-and-2 play. He then went 19 yards for another touchdown after the Wildcats picked off Utes quarterback Travis Wilson. In a three minute span in the fourth quarter, Wilson rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on six carries, almost single-handedly taking over the game. It was the most rushing yards ever for a Wildcats freshman, and it keyed a critical victory in their run to the Pac-12's South Division crown. It was Wilson’s third-straight 100-yard game and it made him the first Arizona freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season.

Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
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The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.


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Players come and go.

In a perfect world, the teams only have to reload, not rebuild. But following this season, there are a lot of shoes that need to be filled due to early departures and expected graduations.

But that leaves the question: Will these spots be reloading or rebuilding? Your humble Pac-12 Blog takes a look at some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled entering the 2015 season.

ARIZONA

Biggest shoes: Basically the entire secondary, but we'll go with ... bandit safety Jared Tevis.

The redshirt senior finished the season as the second-leading tackler for the Wildcats (behind Scooby Wright III). His 120 total tackles was fourth-best in the Pac-12, and he was one of just eight defensive players to record 100 or more tackles. Even though the Wildcats didn't have as much defensive depth as they'd prefer to have in Rich Rodriguez's third season, Tevis and others proved that the system certainly can work and produce huge players. He was a do-everything guy for Rodriguez this season, finishing with nine tackles for a loss, four sacks, two interceptions, four pass break ups and two forced fumbles. Certainly, his shoes -- which were all over the field -- are going to be ones that won't be easy to fill.

Stepping in: Paul Magloire/Tellas Jones

Tevis' back up most of the season was a fellow redshirt senior Blake Brady, so the Wildcats will have to look further down the depth chart for someone to fill Tevis' shoes. Brady, as well as redshirt junior Tellas Jones, stepped in for Tevis when he was injured in the Wildcats' bowl loss to Boise State, but don't expect that it will automatically be Jones who takes over at the bandit spot. Arizona Western Community College transfer Paul Magloire enrolled at Arizona in January and will have all spring to fight for that starting spot. He has played all over the field (quarterback, running back, now safety) but the Arizona staff feels like he can fit into the Wildcats' scheme at both the bandit and spur positions, so it'll be interesting to see exactly where he settles in.
How resilient was your defense in 2014?

Last Thursday, we looked at the teams in the Pac-12 and how well they produced points after turnovers. This was the South Division, and here was the North. Now, we look at the flip side.

It can be frustrating when, after a big defensive stand, the offense coughs it up and gives the ball right back. Time for the defense to take the field again, be it inside their own red zone, the 50 or the opponent’s 1-yard line. (Or if you’re Shaq Thompson, just run it back 100 yards.)

Just like offensive points off of turnovers, there are exceptions. Sometimes a team gets a turnover at the end of the half or a game, so the defense doesn’t have to make a stand. So these numbers aren’t completely cut-and-dried. But rather it’s a measuring stick.

We’ll start with South and look at the North later today. If you’re curious how your team did in 2013, here are the numbers for the South and the numbers for the North.

Arizona

Turnovers committed: 18
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-18 (55 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 53
Games without committing at least one turnover: 3
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 5

Arizona State

Turnovers committed: 13
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-13 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 62
Games without committing at least one turnover: 6
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

Colorado

Turnovers committed: 21
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 16-21 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 104
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

UCLA

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 13-16 (81 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 82
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

USC

Turnovers committed: 12
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 6-12 (50 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 42
Games without committing at least one turnover: 5
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 4

Utah

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 9-16 (56 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 55
Games without committing at least one turnover: 4
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

2016 recruits to watch in the Pac-12 

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
9:00
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Signing day for the Class of 2015 just wrapped up, but coaches have been hard at work on the 2016 class for months. Oregon and USC each already have three ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed, and UCLA holds a commitment from the No. 53 overall prospect, tight end Breland Brandt.

Here are five uncommitted 2016 prospects to watch in the West region who will be of particular interest to Pac-12 programs.


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Pac-12 morning links

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
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You're gonna need a bigger boat.

Happy Friday.

Leading off

February 4 is long gone, but don't think that the drama of national signing day has vanished with the date. UCLA is still at the center of some national attention because linebacker Roquan Smith, one of their touted Wednesday commits, hasn't faxed his national letter of intent to Westwood. Smith is reportedly concerned that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has been in talks with the Atlanta Falcons, news that leaked shortly after Smith's commitment to UCLA but before his pledge to the Bruins became binding.

Smith may feel fortunate that he's not in the same boat as Ohio State recruit Mike Weber, who found Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving to the NFL after he was locked into Urban Meyer's program.

In the case of Smith, UCLA, Georgia, Michigan, and Texas A&M are still technically alive in the battle for his services, and the saga will likely stretch into next week.

"[The recruiting period] isn't over until the end of April," Smith's coach said. "So there's no rush."

So in case any Pac-12 recruiting fans thought signing day would present a cut and dry finish to the 2015 cycle, think again. We're going to overtime, and it'll be a while longer before the drama fully subsides and the pre-spring ball vacation is here.

News/notes/team reports
  • Arizona's DaVonte' Neal is changing positions to help a thinned-out Wildcats defense. Read about the switch here.
  • .One of Arizona State's biggest victories this recruiting season came through the signing of defensive tackle prospect Joseph Wicker.
  • Is Cal football trying to mimic how Stanford recruits?
  • Colorado's series with an in-state rival is likely to end after 2020.
  • More signing day aftermath: This piece examines Oregon's slow-and-steady recruiting style.
  • A developing Oregon State trend: Polynesian players. The Beavers just signed eight of them.
  • Offensive lineman Kevin Reihner has exercised a graduate transfer to Penn State, and David Shaw indicated that he's not the only Stanford player who's been mulling his future options.
  • Chronicling UCLA's Jeff Ulbrich/Roquan Smith saga.
  • When it comes to recruiting, Steve Sarkisian has finished strong at USC.
  • Grading Utah's coaches for their 2014 performance while looking ahead to 2015.
  • Chris Petersen believes he has something special at Washington in Jake Browning.
  • Washington State has lost wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons to Oklahoma.
Just for fun

Here's another "my, how times have changed" glimpse at college football, featuring a former USC Heisman Trophy winner.

The turnover battle is the consummate game within the game. You want them. Coaches love them. They can be momentum-swinging game-changers.

However, they can also be wasted drives. Sure, a turnover is nice because you take the ball out of the hands of the opposing offense. But if you can’t turn those turnovers into points, you’re just using clock. And with so many up-tempo offenses in the Pac-12, that’s not always that big of a deal.

Obviously, points off of turnovers aren’t the end-all-be all. Sometimes a turnover can end a game, such was the case with Scooby Wright stripping Marcus Mariota or J.R. Tavai’s strip-sack of Kevin Hogan. No points were scored, yet it decided the outcome. Washington State was one of the best teams in the conference at converting turnovers into points (75 percent). Problem is, the Cougars only forced eight all year.

So don’t take the following stats as cannon. Rather, they are a decent indicator of how your team did in 2014 at turning turnovers into points. We’ll start with the Pac-12 South and hit the North later today. And tomorrow, we’ll flip the script and look at points allowed following a turnover.

If you’re curious, here are last year’s totals so you can see if your team improved or regressed.

Arizona

Turnovers created: 26
Scores vs. opportunities: 18-26 (69 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 110
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 2
Games without points after turnovers: 3

Arizona State

Turnovers created: 27
Scores vs. opportunities: 22-27 (81 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 142
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 4
Games without points after turnovers: 3

Colorado

Turnovers created: 11
Scores vs. opportunities: 4-11 (36 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 20
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 5
Games without points after turnovers: 3

UCLA

Turnovers created: 16
Scores vs. opportunities: 11-16 (68 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 69
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 5
Games without points after turnovers: 3

USC

Turnovers created: 23
Scores vs. opportunities: 12-23 (52 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 83
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 1
Games without points after turnovers: 5

Utah

Turnovers created: 21
Scores vs. opportunities: 16-21 (76 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 84
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 1
Games without points after turnovers: 0
Note: Utah was the only Pac-12 team to score off a turnover in every game in which they forced one.

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