Pac-12: California Bears

Pac-12 morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
10:00
AM ET

Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.

The difference between winning one game and five games in a college football season is competence -- showing up with legitimate Power 5 conference players and knowing what you're doing. The difference between winning five games and winning nine or 10 or 11 games, pushing into the top 25 and competing for championships is, as every coach will tell you, "the little things."

Well, that and budding NFL talent at most positions, but you get the point.

California improved from a dreadful 1-11 in coach Sonny Dykes' first season to 5-7 in 2014. The 2013 record in every way reflected how terrible the Bears were, particularly on defense, and the record last fall showed dramatic improvement in just about every area. With 17 returning starters, second most behind UCLA in the Pac-12, it's not difficult to project forward to 2015 in a positive way.

[+] EnlargeLasco
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesDaniel Lasco leads the Bears' ground attack, finishing for 1,115 yards and 12 TDs last season.
"We don't set limits," Dykes said of rising expectations. "If we start talking about success for us being eight wins, nine wins, then we might be selling ourselves short."

Dykes, whose Bears began spring practices this week, then started listing things that matter for his team: fewer stupid penalties, third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball, the ability to operate a "4-minute offense," which can slow down from an up-temp, no-huddle base scheme and possess the ball, assert its will and finish off the game clock in victory formation.

He then added, "We've also got to stop onside kicks and Hail Marys."

Ah, a dose of humor is good. Cal fans, perhaps, get the reference? A little game at Arizona? Losing the fourth quarter 36-14, the final six coming on a Hail Mary pass from Wildcats redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, making his first Pac-12 start, following a successful onside kick? A 49-45 defeat that became the most obvious weekend to point to when bowl eligibility was ultimately missed?

Of course, fortune smiled at Cal more than a few times in 2014, too, just ask Washington State and Colorado fans. A missed 19-yard field goal from the Cougars? Cal's defense, the worst in the Pac-12, producing a goal line stand?

The benefit of winning and losing creatively is teachable moments and valuable experience, and that experience as well as improving depth is a big reason why Cal stacks up as a North Division dark horse. You've got a third-year starter at quarterback in Jared Goff, an NFL prospect, a deep crew of receivers and an underrated 1,000-yard rusher in Daniel Lasco. While the offensive line doesn't stack up as dominant, it should be at least serviceable.

The defense? In 2013, it combined injuries, youth and a lack of direction to become one of the worst crews in the conference's past decade. Last season, it was still young and still had injury problems, but it was sound and lined up correctly.

"It didn't show up statistically on defense, but we were a lot better than the year before," Dykes said. "We played harder and lined up better and we were more fundamentally sound. We weren't good by any stretch of the imagination but we were much improved."

In Year 2 under coordinator Art Kaufman, the expectation is the unit should advance from bad -- 39.8 points per game -- to at least middling. Dykes talks about having 19 defensive linemen on the roster and 14 linebackers, which compares favorably to the almost comically unworkable five he had in 2013.

"That's what real football teams have," he said. "For the first time in two years, we have depth in spots. We're still a little thin at safety but seven DBs are coming to help us."

The issue is pass defense. While the Bears' run defense was mostly solid, opposing QBs tossed 42 touchdown passes last season, which is five more than any other FBS team yielded. Cal's 8.1 yards per attempt ranked 115th in the nation. Yes, those numbers are as bad as they sound.

A big reason for all that success through the air? No pressure. While the Bears were decidedly undermanned at safety, they also managed just 16 sacks, which ranked 113th in the nation. That's why the Bears really need JC transfer Devante Wilson to quickly develop, senior Kyle Kragen to come back strong after missing last year due to injury and sophomore Noah Westerfield to mature. Those three ends could make up for oft-injured Brennan Scarlett's transfer to arch-rival Stanford.

Then when you combine Mustafa Jalil and the promising James Looney, a transfer from Wake Forest, inside, you have a potentially solid D-line, which can make up for a potential youth moment in the secondary.

The defense doesn't have to be dominant for the Bears to advance in the Pac-12 pecking order -- Goff, Lasco and company should average 40 points per game. But it does need to get better. Dykes, not surprisingly, seems confident that Old Blues are going to see improvement everywhere, and that should translate to the North standings.

"Last year I think we showed we are taking steps in the right direction," Dykes said. "By no means are we where we are going to be or where we want to be. But we are certainly a better product and we return virtually our entire football team. We're fired up about this year."
Ole Miss and Cal have agreed to play a home and home series that will take place in 2017 and 2019.

The Pac-12 vs. SEC showdown will begin on Sept. 16, 2017, in Berkeley, California, before shifting to Oxford, Mississippi, on Sept. 21, 2019. It will be the first such meeting between schools on the football field in their history.

For Ole Miss, the game fulfills an SEC obligation to schedule at least one nonconference game against an opponent from a Power 5 conference. Cal does not have any such scheduling requirement under Pac-12 rules.

Hugh Freeze's Rebs ended last season 9-4 and ranked 17th in the final AP Poll.

The Bears, meanwhile, finished 5-7 in coach Sonny Dykes' second season leading the program.

With the Ole Miss series penciled in, Cal has also moved its series with another SEC program, Auburn, back a year. Instead of the series beginning in 2019, the Bears will now travel to Auburn on Sept. 19, 2020, before hosting the Tigers the following season at California Memorial Stadium on Sept. 18.
Way back in mid-November we proclaimed 2014 the "Year of Close" in the Pac-12. At that point -- two weeks remaining in the regular season -- 34 games had been decided by eight or fewer points, which was already more than the 28 from the year before.

The final tally? Forty-three games were decided by eight or fewer points, which is a lot. There were a lot of close games in 2012, and the final number then was 36.

While there's certainly debate among statistically minded analysts about what close wins and losses mean, most poop on the party and call it happenstance that will even out over the years. If your team won a lot of close games last year, it figures to see a drop in that number the next fall as it regresses to the mean. And vice versa.

College football observer and magazine publisher Phil Steele is a big believer that teams that lose a lot of close games one year are headed for a turnaround the next. And vice versa.

So, yeah, it seems like reviewing the "Year of Close" might be worthwhile.

We're defining "close" as a win or loss by eight or fewer points (a one-possession game). We looked at the South Division on Tuesday. Now it's the North.

California

Record in close games: 3-4

Interpretation: Close games take many forms. The Bears led Northwestern 31-7 before nearly blowing it. They led Arizona 31-13 and did blow it, via a 47-yard Hail Mary that capped a stunning 36-point fourth quarter from the Wildcats. They also snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Colorado and Washington State, couldn't close the deal in an upset bid against UCLA, couldn't complete a huge comeback against USC and got outlasted by BYU in the season finale that cost them a bowl berth. It was a crazy year, indicative of a program that was dramatically improving after an awful 1-11 2013 season. While the Pac-12 blog believes Cal, with 16 position player starters back, could continue a strong upward trend in 2015 -- a notion supported by the information here -- the "Ted Miller" portion of the blog realizes he's not allowed to say nice things about Cal because that only spells doom for the Bears.

Oregon

Record in close games: 1-1

Interpretation: Oregon doesn't really play close games. Or, at least, when the Ducks win, they tend to blow teams out, even good teams -- see Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Arizona (take 2) and Florida State this past season. Oregon played two close games in 2014, the same number it played in 2013 and 2011 and one more than it did in 2012. It got pretty lucky against Washington State, as a few -- cough, cough -- things went the Ducks way late in the game (any feelings there, Cougs?). The 31-24 loss to Arizona wasn't decided until deep into the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to see if things are any different, post-Marcus Mariota, but the dearth of close Oregon games preceded him. The Ducks are 4-5 in close games since 2010, by the way.

Oregon State

Record in close games: 3-2

Interpretation: The Beavers won close games they should have won by more against Hawaii and Colorado. They lost close games to Utah and Washington State that could have transformed the season. They notched one shocking upset -- 35-27 over then-No. 6 Arizona State -- with an inspired second-half comeback that seemed to come from nowhere. The Beavers lost in double OT to Utah because they couldn't stop RB Devontae Booker. They lost to Washington State because they got sliced and diced by redshirt freshman QB Luke Falk, who was making his first career start. There were plenty of "what ifs?" in both those games, but no more than those from Colorado and Arizona State.

Stanford

Record in close games: 1-3

Interpretation: Our top candidate for transformative "What if?" games might be Stanford. The Cardinal dominated USC but lost 13-10. It simply blew it at Notre Dame, losing 17-14 on a 23-yard game-winning TD pass on fourth-and-11 in the final minute. It lost a double-overtime slugfest to Utah. And its one close win, 20-13 over Washington, was truly an in-complete-control statistical performance ruined by sloppy play. If you look at how Stanford played over the season's final three games after the loss at Utah, you see a team that came together in an impressive way, most notably in a 31-10 crunching of No. 8 UCLA, which kicked the Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game. There's a pretty good chance you might see the Cardinal reverse that close game record in 2015, which could again put them in North contention.

Washington

Record in close games: 2-3

Interpretation: The above number is actually worse than it appears, at least if you think the Huskies shouldn't be playing close games with Hawaii and Eastern Washington, an FCS team. Those are the two close victories. The 20-13 loss to Stanford wasn't actually that close, as the Cardinal dominated but played a sloppy game, though the Huskies failed fake punt in the fourth quarter was the game's most memorable moment. The 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State in the bowl game also wasn't much of a nail biter, as the Huskies rallied after trailing 24-0 in the first half. The 27-26 loss to Arizona, however, was a certifiable heartbreaker. The Huskies had the game won but a late fumble when Chris Petersen opted to hand the ball off instead of taking a knee set up the Wildcats game-winning, 47-yard field goal on the game's last play.

Washington State

Record in close games: 2-3

Interpretation: The Cougars blew fourth-quarter leads against Rutgers in the season opener, which set the tone for a mostly dreary season. The 38-31 defeat to Oregon was laden with "What ifs?" and a few questionable calls, but the Cougars got the same good fortune in the 28-27 win at Utah. Those two games sort of cancel each other out, particularly when you consider how good the Utes turned out to be. The most crushing -- and meaningful -- loss was to California, a game in which QB Connor Halliday broke the NCAA passing record. The Cougars went down 60-59 when kicker Quentin Breshears missed a 19-yard field goal wide right with 19 seconds. If the Cougs had won, they would have won consecutive quality games and improved to 3-3. Instead, it became the first of four consecutive losses. The lone bright spot of the season's second half was redshirt freshman QB Falk playing brilliantly in his first career start, a 39-32 win at Oregon State.
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 looked at the South earlier today, and now we turn our attention to the North. If you’re curious how your team did last year, here are the numbers for the South and the numbers for the North.

California

Turnovers committed: 20
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-20 (50 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 69
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

Oregon

Turnovers committed: 11
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 3-11 (27 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 13
Games without committing at least one turnover: 7
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 5

Oregon State

Turnovers committed: 14
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 9-14 (64 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 43
Games without committing at least one turnover: 3
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

Stanford

Turnovers committed: 21
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 6-21 (28 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 38
Games without committing at least one turnover: 1
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 7

Washington

Turnovers committed: 17
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-17 (58 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 53
Games without committing at least one turnover: 5
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 2

Washington State

Turnovers committed: 25
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 18-25 (72 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 114
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 1
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. Earlier today we looked at the Pac-12 South. Now we look at the North. 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.

California

Turnovers created: 17
Scores vs. opportunities: 9-17 (52 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 65
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 2
Games without points after turnovers: 4

Oregon

Turnovers created: 34
Scores vs. opportunities: 25-34 (73 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 164
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 1
Games without points after turnovers: 2

Oregon State

Turnovers created: 18
Scores vs. opportunities: 11-18 (61 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 60
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 3
Games without points after turnovers: 1

Stanford

Turnovers created: 16
Scores vs. opportunities: 8-16 (50 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 44
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 5
Games without points after turnovers: 1

Washington

Turnovers created: 29
Scores vs. opportunities: 18-29 (62 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 109
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 3
Games without points after turnovers: 1

Washington State

Turnovers created: 8
Scores vs. opportunities: 6-8 (75 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 34
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 5
Games without points after turnovers: 2

Pac-12 morning links

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
9:00
AM ET
What are you doing?

Self-realization. I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "I drank what?"

Leading off

Today is signing day. Let the hype machine begin. Bring forth the hats, the puppies, the nerd nation glasses and a world of props we haven't thought of yet. Be excited about the four- and five-star players that head to your school. But let our Two-Star Scoobs series remind you that sometimes the most unheralded players can make the biggest impact.

And as Chris Foster notes, it's good to sign high-star players. But it's how they are developed that makes the difference.

We start with the news that linebacker Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah), a five-star recruit by some services (No. 92 in the ESPN 300) committed to USC on Tuesday. You can watch the full announcement -- complete with confetti -- here.

Our Tom Luginbill offered some thoughts on Gustin in this insider piece. Insider But because I'm that great of a guy, here's a little snippet:
Gustin is a spectacular athlete for his size, and the sky is the limit in terms of potential. While we could see him play early as a sub-package pass-rusher or pressure linebacker, he will likely need time to develop the nuances of a position before becoming an every-down player.

The Salt Lake Tribune also has a piece from the announcement.

Lots happening today, so you can tune in to ESPNU from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a full day of coverage. Yours truly will be in Long Beach for Iman Marshall's announcement (No. 4 on the ESPN 300) and then heading up to USC. If you don't follow me already on Twitter, click the necessary buttons and hang out for the ride.

Closely watched will be the landing spot of Cordell Broadus, who is eyeing USC, UCLA and ASU. The AP also has a list here of some big-name recruits to keep an eye on.

Also, an interesting piece from USA Today on how much schools are spending on recruiting.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The JFF section of the morning links isn't just for the wacky and the hilarious. It's also for stuff that's just really, really cool. Like this tweet from ASU:

Pac-12 morning links

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
9:00
AM ET
Listen to me, Hillary. I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist, only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island, who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.

Leading off

On Monday morning, the Utah Utes put their coordinator questions to bed with a series of staff announcements.

The school announced that former defensive line coach John Pease has been lured out of retirement -- again -- by head coach Kyle Whittingham to serve as the team's defensive coordinator. They also promoted Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding to co-offensive coordinators, a role Roderick previously held.

In the statement from the school, it said that Whittingham wouldn't discuss the hires until they hold their signing day news conference on Wednesday. Makes sense ... he's got some stuff to do in the next 24 hours.

Also notable is the title promotion of Dennis Erickson to assistant head coach. He'll continue to work with the running backs.

Here's our news story on the hires and other staff changes. The Salt Lake Tribune has a story here, and some notes from the Deseret News.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel (aka N-E-Heisel) tests the UCLA gymnastics team on their football knowledge. Funny stuff.



You want a quote from recalcitrant media-phobe Marshawn Lynch in advance of Super Bowl XLIX? Here's one that stretches nearly 100 words.

"My mom raised me by herself with no help, basically," Lynch told USA Today in 2007 before he was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills. "She worked three jobs for me, and it's not just what she did for me but (for) my older brother and my two younger siblings.

"She made it to each and every one of our games. That was kind of hard, because I'm playing, my little brother had a game and, probably later that night, my sister might have a basketball game. And she would still manage to go and be able to feed us and clothe us and pay the bills. She's just my Superwoman."

Sounds like a selfish guy with misplaced priorities, eh?

This very reporter had a pleasant chat with Lynch not so long ago. Well, it was nearly a decade ago, about Lynch becoming a college superstar similar to USC's Reggie Bush and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson. Lynch had two responses. First, he didn't want the attention. Second, who is Adrian Peterson?

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMarshawn Lynch can laugh and have fun ... within the circle of people he trusts.
"I really don't pay much attention to football when I'm not practicing or playing it," Lynch said in 2005. "I don't really keep up with football, period."

Lynch has been called many things. Some just love his "Beast Mode" on the football field and that's all they care about. His cousin, NFL quarterback Josh Johnson, has heard people refer to Lynch as a "thug," seemingly oblivious to the racist connotations of the term as well as the irony that the foundation Johnson and Lynch founded is expressly aimed at helping inner-city youths escape the so-called "thug life." The NFL believes he's a problem. He has been fined twice for grabbing his crotch after scoring touchdowns, most recently when he was fined $20,000 for making the gesture after scoring a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

Lynch also was fined $100,000 earlier this year for not talking to reporters. He did not speak after the NFC title game, and that's making required media interviews in advance of the Super Bowl a front-and-center issue -- a media storm, in fact -- a consequence that puts his desire to avoid the glaring spotlight and his unyielding will to do things his way at loggerheads.

He's never liked talking to reporters, which isn't unusual for star athletes, but Lynch's refusal has spiraled into the ultimate tempest in a teapot. It's a controversy that feasts on itself and will be resolved only when Lynch spouts cliched pabulum for a few minutes to reporters who will immediately become bored with the very thing that they clamored for over the past few months.

The least interesting thing about Lynch is probably what he will say when -- if? -- he speaks. The most interesting thing is that just about everyone who knows or has played with him only has good things to say about him. The negative public image as it is often articulated seems to say more about the speaker than Lynch himself, a construct of folks who don't actually know the man.

“There’s no question," said Jeff Tedford, Lynch's former coach at Cal. "I think it’s a total misconception of Marshawn. I think it comes across that he’s selfish. It’s totally the opposite. He’s never wanted attention put on him. He’s a quiet guy, he’s to himself, unless he’s within his circle of trust. Then he’s got a great sense of humor. Loves to laugh and have fun.”

To Tedford, the quintessential Lynch moment was when he commandeered a stadium cart on the Memorial Stadium field in 2006 after the Bears beat Washington in overtime. He waved a Cal flag and celebrated with fans. It was fun-loving and, yes, just a tad rebellious (Tedford was immediately told by administrators it couldn't happen again because of liability issues). It's probably also worth noting that Lynch played the game on two sprained ankles and rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including the 22-yard game winner.

There's also depth to Lynch beyond "Beast Mode" and an array of fun-loving instances that became public, such as his commandeering a bottle of whiskey from a fan during the Seahawks Super Bowl parade last winter. There's strong loyalty within his circle of trust.

Tedford was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator this year but was forced to take a leave of absence due to heart trouble. Early on, he received a text from Lynch -- he calls Tedford "Bossman" -- checking in on his health.

“He’s a real caring guy," said Tedford, who is back on his feet and now the head coach of the B.C. Lions in the CFL. "But people don't get to see that side of him."

In the biopic film "Ali," about former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali -- now perhaps the most beloved figure in all of sports -- Ali is asked by a skeptical reporter if he was going to be "the people's champion." While Ali's approach with the media was obviously different from Lynch's, what he said probably explains a lot about why Lynch conducts himself how he does.

Said Ali: "I'm definitely gonna be the people's champion ... but I just ain't gonna be the champ the way you want me to be the champ. I'm gonna be the champ the way I wanna be."

Lynch has a right to be the way he wants to be. He has a right not to speak to the media, just as the NFL has a right to fine him for not doing so, though excessively escalating the dollar amount seems dubious.

It's important to remember that speaking or not speaking to the media doesn't define Lynch as a person and it certainly doesn't make him a bad guy. His mother, Delisa, is probably no more a fan of the crotch grabs than the NFL. It's also possible that Lynch deep down wishes he could hit a reset button on how things have spun forward.

Lynch -- quirks, flaws, unassailable physical talent and all -- is his own man. One day, he might change his perspective and how he conducts himself, but we -- those outside the circle of trust -- are not going to change it for him.

At some level, that's pretty damn cool. Pretty damn American, in fact.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
9:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

The end of the college football season also means it's time for the NCAA convention. Having covered it last year in SoCal, I can tell you it was a non-stop laugh riot. OK, I kid. It can be a little dry. But it's also very important.

And as the Power 5 conferences (Pac-12, SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten) move into the age of their newly-granted autonomous governance model, there are going to be some significant changes. Chief among them is full cost of tuition. That's just one of the topics that's on the table at this year's convention near Washington D.C.

Part of the restructuring also involves student-athlete feedback. Here are the three Pac-12 representatives.

Luke Cyphers put together a really informative Q&A style article for espnW that's worth your read if you have any interest in the future of collegiate athletics. And it's not just football-centric, it's men's and women's sports across the board.
On Saturday afternoon, the Power 5, their pockets filling with new FBS playoff cash, will propose several new rules under a new voting system. A group of presidents, athletics directors, faculty and athlete representatives will decide on new concussion protocols, boosting scholarship grants to cover the "full cost of attendance," extending scholarship guarantees beyond a one-year commitment, and increasing players' options to buy insurance to hedge against career-killing injuries.

George Schroeder of USA Today has a nice summary of the first day here.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Utah kicker Andy Phillips is ready for the preseason watch lists to come out.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
8:00
AM ET
A word to the not very wise. You will never win an argument with a Borgia and a leopard in the room.

Leading off

Now seems like an apropos time to share this story.

Following Pac-12 Media Day, before the start of the 2013 season, Ted Miller and I were on a bus with Marcus Mariota and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu being shuttled from the event to the airport. Ted and I were trying to come up with our preseason top 25 list of players during the 20-minute ride. (Looking at it now, that's a pretty darn good list, by the way, in terms of talent).

Ekpre-Olomu was extremely helpful -- particularly when it came to the receivers -- but he also had an opinion on pretty much everyone we listed off. Mariota, not so much. All he would do was compliment each player and talk about how great they were. His main contribution to the conversation was, "Man, that guy's really good. Oh him, he's really good. That guy is really, really good." Ask Mariota about a fourth-string walk-on center, and he'll tell you he's got Rimington potential. That's just the kind of guy he is.

When we told him he was No. 1, he flashed the same humble smile -- an ah shucks-y grin with a mouth full of humility -- as when he accepted the Heisman Trophy last month. Then he thanked us with a handshake and told us it was a great honor.

He's the same guy after Year 3 as he was after Year 1 ... only now he has a lot more touchdowns and hardware.

Mariota's college career came to an end Wednesday when he announced he's entering the NFL draft. And after three years of watching him perform on the field and talking to him off it, the Pac-12 blog can say the honor was all ours.

Here's some reactions, both nationally and within the conference. News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Oregon's senators had to pay up to Ohio's senators. Here's the story.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
8:00
AM ET
This is the end. My only friend, the end.

Leading off

Now, we begin the long and slow march until the 2015 college football season. But fear not, the Pac-12 blog isn't going anywhere. We've got recruiting, spring ball and spring meetings to kill the time -- a long with plenty of debate about rebuilding teams and the ensuing chaos that is sure to be the Pac-12 South.

As we transition to the offseason, we first look at the final AP rankings and how the Pac-12 fared.

Oregon (2), UCLA (10), ASU (12), Arizona (19), USC (20) and Utah (21) all closed out the year ranked in the Top 25. That's five of six teams from the South in the top 21. Four of those five teams won their bowl game and three of them beat teams from other Power 5 conferences. Stanford also received votes and was the unofficial 27th team.

The same six appeared in the USA Today poll in a few different orders: Oregon (2), UCLA (10), ASU (14), Arizona (17), Utah (20) and USC (21).

You can see the complete polls here.

As we wrote last week, regardless of the outcome of the title game, this was an extremely strong year for the conference. Chantel has a story on the final conference power rankings coming out later today.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

In case you missed it, ASU grad Jimmy Kimmel had a bold prediction for the national championship game.

We continue 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: Throwing the Booker at the Beavers

Who and against whom: Utah RB Devontae Booker was pretty much the entire Utes' offense in a 29-23 double-overtime win at Oregon State.

The numbers: Booker rushed for a Pac-12-season high 229 yards on 32 carries -- 7.2 yards per carry -- with three touchdowns

A closer look: This might be the sneaky-important game that led the Utes to a successful season. It was sandwiched between marquee and equally nail-biting wins over UCLA and USC, but it also was a time when things were highly uncertain at quarterback with Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson. Wilson had been benched at UCLA and Thompson started against the Beavers but yielded his spot to Wilson after halftime. The passing game was poor with both behind center, as the Utes only threw for a measly 62 yards. But they won nonetheless because the Beavers couldn't stop Booker. Booker had a long run of 53 yards and scored TDs in both overtimes -- 15 and 19 yards -- with the latter carry giving Utah the win. It was the fifth-best rushing total in school history for the JC transfer, who has yet to announce whether he will enter the NFL draft this spring.

Final 2014 Pac-12 Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
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Pac-12 morning links

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
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Don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries;
And everybody hurts ... sometimes.

Leading off

So, there was a football game last night. Chances are, you already know the outcome. Yes, Oregon lost, and lost badly at that. But the real question on everyone's mind is whether quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota will depart for the NFL, where he's expected to be a top-five draft pick.

Kicking off the coverage is John Canzano of The Oregonian, who writes that the way Oregon lost might actually inspire Mariota to come back for another season.

Writes Canzano:
Will he do what Chip Kelly ultimately could not? Will he do what any other college football player in America would not? Will Mariota enroll in a post-graduate program and tell the other 27 juniors on this Oregon roster that he's coming back for another season?

Unthinkable, right? Impossible, right? Absurd, I'd be the first to say. Yet I find myself typing this sentence: If Mariota comes back for another season, the Ducks will get back here.

A few more championship game links: News/notes/team reports

Note: I'll do my best to get a story for each team as much as possible in the offseason, but some days there just isn't news. Just for fun

Chris Traeger weighs in.



And then there's this ... uhm ...

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