Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Two-star Scoobs: Oregon

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
We all know that recruiting is an inexact science, and Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright proves the point, as Wright's Twitter handle -- TwoStarScoob -- testified while the true sophomore unanimous All-American became the nation's most decorated defensive player, winning the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards.

That is the focus of this series. We'll run through each Pac-12 team and highlight a player who was low on star rating when he arrived on campus but became a critical guy.

Up next: Oregon

Two-star Scoob: QB Marcus Mariota

Recruiting ratings: two stars; three stars, No. 12 QB; No. 34 QB.

Recruiting analysis: It’s hard to be seen by recruiters when you’re living on the islands. Mariota learned this lesson very quickly (plus, he was a backup most of his high school career, which doesn’t exactly help visibility). If there was one thing that’s recruiting analysis absolutely got on point and saw in Mariota, even as a high schooler, it is this: “He appears to be at his best when the launch point is moved and he can make plays on the run or when improvising.”

On campus? After redshirting during his freshman year, Mariota went on to become the most decorated player in Oregon history. Not bad for a two- or three-star guy, eh? During his three-year career he completed 66.8 percent of his passes for a total of 10,796 yards. He accounted for 134 touchdowns (105 passing, 29 rushing) while throwing just 14 interceptions and tallying just 27 fumbles (he lost only 11). As a passer, his yards-per-pass-attempt improved in each season: 8.0 as a redshirt freshman; 9.5 as a redshirt sophomore; 10.0 as a redshirt junior. And though his yards per rush this season were actually a career worst (5.7 yards per carry), he tallied 15 rushing touchdowns, a career best. Over the last three years Mariota accrued the best average adjusted QBR of any quarterback (88.8), and he finished this season with another FBS-best, 90.8.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
So, Peter, you've become a pirate.

Leading off:

Super Bowl media day has come and gone. With it there were a few notable appearances and quotes by some former Pac-12 players (there are 18 former conference players and five former conference coaches between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots). Notes/team updates/recruiting nuggets:
Just for fun:

On Tuesday, Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici and safety Jordan Simone attended Super Bowl media day to add to some of's coverage of the event. We'll have a story later on today with Bercovici's thoughts on the day and his advice to other reporters (now that he has such a deep understanding of the profession), but as a preview to some of the in-depth and exclusive content you'll get from the Bercovici-Simone media team, check out this tweet:

We're sure it was enlightening. Someone get this man a Pulitzer.
In Mark Schlabach’s Way Too Early Top 25 for the 2015-16 season, he had Oregon listed as the No. 5 team.

Six Pac-12 teams were listed in the Top 25 which got our writers talking. Was it too high? Too low? Just right? Turns out Ted Miller thought it was just right and Chantel Jennings thought it was too high.

So, let the Goldilocks debate begin…

Miller: Before we look at what Oregon has coming back in 2015, let’s look at who the Ducks are in the big picture: Oregon has become one of THOSE programs.

Oregon has won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top-11 for seven consecutive years. It has finished ranked in the top five in four of the past five years. When we write that Oregon is one of THOSE programs, we mean that you put the Ducks in the preseason top 10 without much in-depth analysis just because the odds overwhelmingly favor you ending up being correct. And we all want to end up being correct.

Unless I am picking Oregon football games, but that is another matter entirely.

Now I know Oregon must replace the greatest player in program history, quarterback Marcus Mariota, at the most important position. That won’t be easy. But the Ducks played for a national title in 2010 without Mariota and won 44 games over the four seasons before Mariota lined up behind center. The Ducks became one of THOSE programs before Mariota. They will remain that way when he jumps to the NFL.

Yet the Ducks even merit a top-10 ranking if you don’t grant them special privileges as one of THOSE programs. The offense welcomes back the nation’s best set of skill players at running back, receiver and tight end. The offensive line loses three starters, but it welcomes back seven guys with starting experience. The defense takes hits at all three levels, but there is young talent that might actually give the Ducks an upgrade athletically, particularly in the secondary.

When I look at the likely 2015 depth charts of potential top-10 teams, I see Ohio State and TCU looking pretty darn salty. After that, most teams have at least a couple of big questions, just like Oregon.

But the Ducks merit a high preseason ranking based on what is coming back as well as for their earned status as being one of THOSE programs.

We all want to end up correct, right?

Jennings: I’ll agree with you on one thing, Ted: After Ohio State and TCU the other eight teams are kind of a toss up. But even with that, I’m not sure Oregon should really be in the top 10.

I like how you glossed over the whole “No Marcus Mariota” issue in a quaint 24 words but I think it merits more than that. No matter what way you toss -- redshirt freshman, redshirt junior, transfer player -- the Ducks’ signal caller next year is going to be inexperienced in Oregon’s system. I haven’t been sold on Jeff Lockie yet. Yes, the third-string QB thing worked for Ohio State last season but that’s the exception, not the rule. I don’t think Oregon has a QB on its roster that is as talented as the Buckeyes’ third-string guy (whomever that might be now).

Just look at last year’s Way Too Early Top 25. Of those 10 teams, six finished in the final AP poll of the 2014 season, meaning four did not. When looking at a QB comparison of those two groups, it’s pretty stark.

The average adjusted QBR of teams that didn’t finish in the top 10 was 68.4 while the average adjusted QBR of teams that did finish in the top 10 was 81.3. So yes, Oregon loses its best player ever at the most important position and it’s a position that has proven to be one that keeps teams in or drops them out of the top 10. Show me a QB on Oregon’s roster that can keep it in a game or the top 10 and maybe I’ll take back this point. But I haven’t seen it yet.

Past that, I’m not sold on the other offensive playmakers either. Yes, the Ducks are stocked at running back but at wide receiver? Not as much. I was impressed with Charles Nelson during the latter part of the season but we’ll see how he does once opponents really start to game plan against him. Can he be as effective?

And we’ll see if or how much Devon Allen's injury hampers him. Darren Carrington is a question mark. Bralon Addison missed an entire season which is either going to make him really hungry or really rusty.

Then defensively, Oregon loses its two best players in the secondary, a huge part of its linebacker group and its most athletic pass-rusher. This is not a plug-and-play defense and it’ll be another mismatched group of veterans and youth next year. We saw what that provided this season -- lots of miscommunications with lots of big plays given up.

This year, the Ducks had Mariota to make up for that. Next year, they won’t.
Oregon has firmly entrenched itself in the upper echelon of college football. It is no longer just a team out West that competes with the Alabamas and the Florida States of the world. Other teams compete with the Oregons of the world.

And though a national title still eludes the Ducks, they’ve secured themselves a spot with the elite of the elite heading into the 2015 season. It's a place that carries with it the expectation that a program does not simply rebuild after each season it reloads with talented players waiting in the wings and highly ranked recruiting classes.

Oregon has proven it can sustain its talent level from season to season, but there's an added pressure facing the Ducks this offseason as they begin life without Marcus Mariota.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lockie
AP Photo/Eric GayJeff Lockie is one possible replacement for Marcus Mariota, though a transfer could come in to compete for the job.
Is there any way to classify the challenge this offseason as anything other than a rebuilding effort after losing a player like that?

It's glaringly evident what Oregon is losing and what it needs to replace.

On the offensive side of the ball, Oregon loses five starters from its national title lineup, most significant of which is Mariota, who, to be fair, probably counts as anywhere from four to six starters.

While the Ducks have a plethora of skill players returning, it will be a rebuilding effort to find the next Oregon quarterback. And whoever steps into that spot -- whether it’s a transfer or Mariota’s 2014 backup Jeff Lockie -- is going to be under a magnifying glass. There’s no way that anyone will fill Mariota’s shoes but the difference between Oregon thriving, surviving or hemorrhaging in 2015 rests largely on whomever is going to be Mariota’s “replacement.”

The saving grace for the Ducks is that there will be playmakers around him -- though, exactly how many and when they will all be available to practice is unclear.

If wide receiver Darren Carrington’s suspension for the national title game was in fact drug-related, he could face further suspension. It's unclear when wide receiver Devon Allen will be able to return from a leg injury suffered in the Ducks' win over Florida State. Wide receiver Chance Allen has chosen to transfer, though at best he would’ve been a backup to Charles Nelson next year.

Offensive coordinator Scott Frost has proven playmakers such as Nelson, Royce Freeman, Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Dwayne Stanford at his disposal, but who will be getting the ball in their hands remains the biggest question mark.

Plus, all five of those guys would need to stay healthy, which the Ducks couldn’t manage to do this year.

If there is a silver lining to be found in Oregon’s injury woes it is the experience several young players along the offensive line received in 2014, when they were called upon as part of Oregon's “next man up” mantra.

The Ducks’ O-line personnel shuffles were almost unbelievable. What was the team's most experience unit heading into the season was decimated by injuries, though the Ducks managed to spread that experience around by featuring a different starting lineup in nearly every single game. Only one player started every single game this season. It was Hamani Stevens and, to be fair, it was at two different positions.

As a result of the constant reshuffling in 2014, Oregon’s projected spring depth chart in 2015 features five players who started games. That means something.

“The guys who have played quite a bit should have a level of understanding, a level of confidence,” Helfrich said of the offensive line. “At the same time, they better compete, because there's some guys both on campus and some guys that will be in the mix that will compete their tails off for that playing time.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Oregon loses five starters. Three of the four starting linebackers return, which helps defensive coordinator Don Pellum -- who also coaches the linebackers -- in helping the defense progress faster.

But the Ducks lose one of their best pass rushers in Arik Armstead, who despite only tallying 5.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks in 2014, has been pegged as a potential first-round pick on athleticism alone. Though there was frustration from the fans with Oregon’s “rush three, drop eight” system at times, it proved to be effective enough as the Ducks gave up 6.8 yards per pass attempt.

Tony Washington, the one linebacker Pellum will need to replace, was second on the team in tackles for loss, but that’ll likely be more of a reshuffling and reloading effort.

However the secondary will be a true test. Three of the four starters this season were seniors: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan and Troy Hill. Between them, Oregon loses 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 10 interceptions, 33 pass breakups and 43 passes defended.

That is no small task for secondary coach John Neal and it’s going to require a total overhaul in personnel, leaving freshmen and sophomores to fill in quickly. Oregon gave up 49 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season (there were only 14 teams in the country that gave up more) and if that trend continues, it’ll be disastrous as the Ducks won’t have an offense that can make up for it like they did in 2014.

The offseason is crucial for Oregon and how its program is judged. How much of Oregon's success was due to a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime player? Being part of the nation's elite means being able to withstand such losses.

Oregon is in that group, but the only thing harder than getting there is staying there. We're about to find out whether the Ducks can protect against a drop-off.
Oregon returned to the top of the Pac-12 after a two-year hiatus and qualified for the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014. The Ducks humiliated Florida State in the Rose Bowl but eventually dropped the national championship to Ohio State, setting up an intriguing reloading challenge entering 2015.

Position to improve: There's a plethora of possibilities here -- receiver drops hurt Oregon badly against the Buckeyes, and the Ducks' defense wasn't a juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination -- but a massive departure means that focus zeros in on the marquee position: quarterback.

Why it was a problem: Well, it wasn't a visible problem in 2014 -- Marcus Mariota delivered the best season in program history and won the Heisman Trophy while he was at it. But the depth behind No. 8 was a huge question mark, one waiting to strike whenever Mariota would no longer be available. It's rearing its head now that life after Marcus has begun.

How it can be fixed: Speculation that Ohio State's Braxton Miller or Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams Jr. could transfer to Eugene has darted through Twitter, but nothing substantive has backed up that gossip as of right now. Assuming an incoming transfer doesn't answer Oregon's quarterback question mark in one swift blow, an interesting competition awaits.

Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup this past season, is just one of the names involved. Morgan Mahalak and Ty Griffin are two other current roster possibilities, while touted dual threat commit Travis Waller will be joining the program soon. Oregon hasn't struggled to attract talent to its sparkling facilities. Addressing the gaping quarterback question mark and avoiding the dreaded post-Mariota vacuum is about properly identifying and successfully grooming the great one's successor.

Early 2015 outlook: When evaluating and predicting Oregon's quarterback situation, remember just how much supporting talent the Ducks return offensively: Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner, Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford, and Evan Baylis are all expected to contribute in 2015. The cupboard most definitely is not bare; coach Mark Helfrich just needs an effective point guard to distribute the ball to all of that explosive talent.

It must be noted that the Ducks' offense has been the strong point of this program for a long time now. Though Mariota was unquestionably excellent, Oregon was explosive before his tenure, too. Perhaps its ability to reload at left tackle (the departing Jake Fisher proved extremely valuable there this season, but Tyler Johnstone will be back to man that spot in 2015) and cornerback (starters Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are both gone from a unit that surrendered some damage) also should generate some concern.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
It was a busy weekend in the conference, as 14 prospects made commitments between Friday and Monday night and several others backed out of Pac-12 recruiting classes. It looks as though this could be a sign of things to come, as the conference recruiting race is heating up with little more than a week until signing day.


It's tough to imagine a more exhausting and stressful conclusion to a recruiting process than the one Iman Marshall orchestrated. Over the past 10 days, Marshall has taken official visits to Florida State, LSU and Michigan, as well as hosted several coaches at his home and school. But just like on the football field, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect doesn't appear to be fazed at all by what's being thrown at him.

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Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26

Here's a look at how programs in the Pac-12 are faring on the recruiting trail heading into national signing day on Feb. 4.


Commitments: 28

ESPN 300 commitments: 1

Who they have: The Wildcats hit it big with their top two commitments in ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker and ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Anthony Fotu. Arizona also will add four-star tackle Cody Creason, three-star tackle Harper Sherman and three-star guards Alex Kosinski and Nathan Eldrige to the offensive line. There are a number of skill players on both sides of the ball, including running backs Orlando Bradford and Darick Holmes Jr., cornerbacks Shun Brown, Anthony Mariscal, Samuel Morrison and Dane Cruikshank, wide receiver Cedric Peterson and athletes Antonio Parks and Brion Anduze.

Who they want: There aren't many spots left in this class for the Wildcats, but there are a few important names left on the board. The wide receiver spot could see another addition with Jaylinn Hawkins, though rival Arizona State will put up a fight there. Arizona also will look to continue its run of success in Louisiana, as teammates Arthur McGinnis and Darrell Clark (New Orleans/Warren Easton) are two of the top prospects left for the Wildcats, as well as teammates of Arizona commit Kendal Franklin.

To read the rest of our Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns, click here Insider.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
And in the morning, I'm making' waffles.

Leading off:

The 2015 Senior Bowl has come and gone, and there were plenty of great showings from Pac-12 players. Here's a brief compilation of some of the content you can find regarding the event:
  • CBSSports' Senior Bowl stock report of 10 players who looked good -- one Beaver shows up on this list and it's not the one you're thinking of ...
  • FOX Sports made a list of guys who helped their NFL draft stock the most. On this listing you've got a Husky and a Ute (these are probably the ones you're thinking of).
  • Sports Illustrated had some similar praise to that of FOX Sports. SI's Chris Burke writes that "[Danny] Shelton's showing for the North team solidified his status as a likely first-round pick."
  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution put together a photo gallery of the weekend.
  • Former Wazzu receiver Vince Mayle does a video interview for the Senior Bowl.
  • Former UCLA defensive lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa also did a video interview at the Senior Bowl.
  • Catching up with Sean Mannion following the Senior Bowl.
  • Henry Anderson wrote six "diary" entries from during Senior Bowl week. You can check all of them out right here.
  • Nate Orchard picked up some MOP honors at the Senior Bowl.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

There was some #Pac12Trolling happening Sunday as former Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton decided to comment on Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong's autograph session. Always nice to see a few (fun) shots taken between teammates when it comes to this kind of stuff.


Also, if anyone has a chance, check out Sutton's photo at the top of his Twitter page. It's pretty fantastic. Especially if you're a fan of The Lion King ...

Pac-12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
You've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Call it, Friendo.

Two quotes today... because Happy Friday.

Leading off

In case you suffer from football withdrawals at any point this weekend, take solace in the fact that plenty of elite college talent will be suiting up for the Reese's Senior Bowl this Saturday. The Pac-12 is sending an entire gaggle of representatives to this game. Most will be representing the North team, but UCLA's Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will play for the South.

There'll be a nasty collection of defensive line talent on the North team: Think Danny Shelton, Henry Anderson, Hau'oli Kikaha, and Nate Orchard -- all on the same unit. Seeing that group play together should create a fun dynamic for avid Pac-12 fans who have watched those players terrorize quarterbacks over the past few seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion may have a chance to throw to receivers from Stanford (Ty Montgomery) and Washington State (Vince Mayle).

Other Pac-12 representatives: Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw (USC), Eric Rowe (Utah), Damarious Randle and Jamil Douglas (ASU)

This one will feature plenty of hustle, as it's the final live game opportunity for these seniors to raise their NFL Draft stock.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun
Did you know Ronnie Lott played basketball at USC? That guy needs to be on the football team. Sign him up!

Season review: Oregon

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

Offense: Oregon finished third in the nation, averaging 547 yards per game. With Hesiman winner Marcus Mariota leading the attack, the Ducks were very difficult to stop. He led the nation with an adjusted QBR of 90.8 and threw 42 touchdowns and just four interceptions (really, we shouldn't even count that Hail Mary throw at the end of the title game that was intercepted). Outside of Mariota, weapons emerged amongst the youth of the Ducks. Freshman running back Royce Freeman became the first true freshman in Oregon history to rush for 1,000 yards (1,365 yards, 18 touchdowns), former running back Byron Marshall became more of a slot receiver but caused havoc for opposing defenses with his multiple skills (74 receptions, 1,003 receiving yards, six receiving touchdowns, 52 rushing attempts, 392 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown) and freshman Charles Nelson burst from special teams star to offensive weapon. All of this happened behind an offensive line that saw a new lineup in nearly every game. Though Oregon finished as the runner-up this season, the offense did put up an FBS-best 681 points during the 2014-15 season. Grade: A.

Defense: This is a group that saw its ups and downs. For the most part, the prolific Oregon offense was able to make up for any gaffe the defense might make, but it eventually caught up to the Ducks when they met a defense that was able to slow Oregon's offense (Ohio State). The Ducks gave up 429.7 yards per game this season, but in their two losses that number jumped to 516.5. In their two losses they gave up 53.1 percent of third-down conversion attempts and 80 percent of fourth-down conversion attempts. It's a difficult system, and it took the players a little longer to catch on this season, but in the final month of Pac-12 play and in the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual, the Ducks seemed to be full-steam ahead. The defense was clicking and creating opportunities and turnovers, looking like a grade-A group. But that horrible performance against Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State is troubling, making the grade drop a bit. Against the Buckeyes, Oregon didn't look physical at all and couldn't keep the Buckeyes in front of them. Grade: B+ (overall ... against Ohio State is another story).

Special teams: Oregon's special teams played well this season. Nelson used special teams as a place to show what he could mean to this team, and that alone gives the special teams a bump here. Following kickoffs, opponents needed to travel 75.2 yards to get to the end zone (20th nationally), but on punt returns opponents started about 68 yards from their end zone (106th nationally). The Ducks returned two punts for touchdowns (no kickoffs were returned for touchdowns) and six of Oregon's 27 punt returns went for at least 20 yards. Grade: B+.

Overall: It's hard to look at this group as a whole. The defense had more struggles than the offense, but as a team -- as a whole -- Mark Helfrich's group was pretty well-oiled. The Ducks made the inaugural College Football Playoff and knocked off the reigning champion before playing one of their less physical games of the season in the title game. The kind of consistency needed to go 13-2 is hard to come by, and this team was one that really brought a lot of eyes to the Pac-12. Grade: A.
Strength of schedule is an important part of the College Football Playoff selection process, and cross-league battles are a fun way to gauge the strength of each conference. Here's a look at the 2015 nonconference slate of the Pac-12 North. A look at the Pac-12 South's agenda is coming later today.

September 5
Eastern Washington at Oregon
Weber State at Oregon State
Washington at Boise State
Portland State at Washington State
Grambling State at California
Stanford at Northwestern

Weekend take: Don't forget the 2014 game in which Eastern Washington rolled up 52 points and 475 passing yards at Husky Stadium. The Eagles start their campaign at Autzen Stadium in 2015, so a reloading Oregon team must be sharp right out of bed -- they won't be kicking off their next season with the traditional cupcake gimme.

Chris Petersen's return to Boise supplies an early marquee nonconference battle. Washington's visit will be the Broncos' first game since their Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona, so this is an early opportunity for the Pac-12 to exact some revenge for that defeat. It's tough to play on the blue turf, though, and the Huskies are confronted with enormous questions entering next season. Can they replace loads of star power on the defensive end, or can they find the offensive productivity to mask those big losses? The season opener will mark a trial by fire for Petersen's crew in his second year at the helm.

Stanford's trip to Northwestern pits two of the top academically performing programs in college football against each other. The Wildcats lead the nation with a 97 percent graduation rate, while the Cardinal aren't far behind at a stellar 93 percent. On the field, Stanford looks to have the definite edge, but this game is certainly a much bigger challenge than their 2014 opener against UC Davis.

September 12
Oregon at Michigan State
Oregon State at Michigan
Sacramento State at Washington
Washington State at Rutgers
San Diego State at California
Central Florida at Stanford

Weekend take: The action heats up in Week Two, as the Pac-12 North faces only one FCS opponent (Sacramento State). A trip to East Lansing promises to be an early sink-or-swim test for new Oregon quarterback Jeff Lockie. The Ducks must find their footing fast if they aspire to return to the College Football Playoff next season. Coincidentally, both schools from the Beaver State will play in Michigan on the same day. New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will make his home debut against new Oregon State coach Gary Andersen in Ann Arbor. That promises to be a potential tone-setting game for two programs looking to get up off the mat under new regimes.

Washington State will have its chance for revenge against Rutgers following a heartbreaking loss in Seattle this past year, while Stanford kicks off a rather exotic home-and-home with Central Florida. The Knights are in the midst of a very successful stretch, so that could be a hard-hitting match-up against a Stanford team harboring high hopes entering 2015.

September 19
Georgia State at Oregon
San Jose State at Oregon State
Utah State at Washington
Wyoming at Washington State
California at Texas

Weekend take: As league play approaches, the North's nonconference slate in the season's third week isn't quite as illustrious as the Saturday prior. But there's still some sizzle here: Cal's visit to Texas will certainly remind Bears' fans of their 2004 BCS nightmare, when the Longhorns jumped their team in the final regular season rankings. This shut the Bears out of their best Rose Bowl chance in decades, and one can bet that this game means a little something extra to the program because of that whole episode. This also happens to be a critical game for Sonny Dykes' team, which will be gunning for bowl eligibility under its third-year coach.

In other action, Washington shouldn't sleep on Utah State -- the Aggies have been on a successful run of their own over the past few seasons.

November 28
Notre Dame at Stanford

Weekend take: This one is obviously very far away, but if Stanford proves it can maintain systematic defensive success while carrying over its late-season offensive spark into 2015, it may mean a whole heck of a lot. The Cardinal and the Irish have delivered dramatic finishes in two of the past three seasons, and Stanford will again be looking for revenge here. It should be noted that David Shaw's club has a strong 2015 nonconference schedule -- this clash with Notre Dame caps off a slate that also includes Northwestern and Central Florida.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
Leading off:

The NCAA is investigating 20 colleges, according to Brad Wolverton of the The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wolverton reports that 18 of the cases are with Division I programs, so Pac-12 fans should certainly pay attention. Even if it's not affecting one of your programs it might be affecting a program that you're playing in 2015.
The cases are at various stages, from preliminary inquiry to awaiting a hearing with the Division I Committee on Infractions, and they involve a variety of missteps, including allegations that players received impermissible assistance from professors, academic advisers, or people outside of an athletic department.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun: did a fun #ExplainThe90s theme today on Twitter and the results are quite entertaining. Anytime there's a 90's throwback, the Pac-12 Blog is there, so we're all about this.

Four schools remain in the mix for ESPN 300 defensive tackle Rasheem Green. Arizona State, Miami, Oregon and USC will battle all the way until signing day for the nation's No. 41 prospect. With two weeks to go and one visit left, things are heating up for the big lineman.

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The debate has already begun swirling in regard to Pac-12 play in 2015. So writers Chantel Jennings and David Lombardi sat down to debate what team is the early frontrunner in both the North and South Divisions of the Pac-12.

They started with the North…

Lombardi: Stanford’s offense didn’t click until the very end of the 2014 season, and that cost them. But when it finally came together against UCLA, the Cardinal looked like a 10-plus win team. With most of the offensive pieces returning, expect the Stanford attack to carry its late success over into next season. Sure, there’ll probably be some drop-off on the defensive end -- eight starters depart -- but since the Cardinal actually improved defensively this season after losing a ton of talent, who says Lance Anderson’s system can’t reload again?

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWith Kevin Hogan and a bunch of contributors returning, Stanford might have the offensive firepower to cruise to a Pac-12 North title.
Jennings: I'm totally with you David, I think the Cardinal are going to be very strong next season and will look and play better than they did in 2014. It's just so crazy, though, because I feel like the Pac-12 North in 2015 is going to be like the Pac-12 South in 2014. It's such an open race and cases can be made for many different teams. A lot of people think Oregon will be a strong challenger again, but I'm not sold on the Ducks yet. Jeff Lockie hasn't looked like a confident QB to me yet and even with so many weapons around him, if there isn't a confident QB running that offense it's not going to be very efficient. Plus, the defense loses a ton of starters and that defensive performance against Ohio State gives me very little to go on for what that group will look like next season. I think Gary Andersen could get a good thing going at Oregon State. I covered Luke Del Rio when he was a high schooler and he impressed me then, so I think he could do big things with the Beavers. Heck, if California makes as big of a jump from 2014 to 2015 as it did from 2013 to 2014, who's to say the Golden Bears couldn't be a dark horse? And with a new defensive coordinator and with what Luke Falk showed at the end of the 2014 season, could Washington State make a push? Honestly, is there any team in the North that doesn't have a shot?

Lombardi: I see that you’re taking the prudent approach, Chantel, but I’m going to go out on a limb and take the foolish one: I think that Stanford is in a good position to emerge as a clear winner. I know, I should have learned my lesson from the minefield that was the Pac-12 South this past season. Given the post-Marcus Mariota uncertainty at Oregon, there's a chance that the North will follow suit and lose any semblance of order this next season.

But at the end of the day, I still think that the Ducks and the Cardinal are a cut above the rest of the division. Andersen will need time at Oregon State, Cal still needs to prove that it can play competent defense, Washington is losing considerable star power on defense, and Washington State is in a similar boat as the Bears.

Until I see tangible on-field proof from those programs, Stanford and Oregon are the two frontrunners in my book. You mentioned most of the questions facing the Ducks, but I think the loss of Jake Fisher is particularly huge: They gave up an average of six sacks per game when he didn’t play in 2014. The Ducks must reload quickly, because I think the schedule really lines up in Stanford’s favor. Aside from missing Arizona State and Utah, the Cardinal get Oregon at home.

Jennings: That's all fair. But remember when we started this season and Brett Hundley and UCLA were the favorite in the South? After that it was USC... Arizona State... and then Arizona. This is the #Pac12AfterDark. No one even considered Utah as anything other than an afterthought. Yes, maybe Stanford is a cut above the rest, but this is the conference gave us multiple Hail Marys, this is the conference that gave us insanity after everyone on the East Coast thought it was safe to go to bed. Maybe Stanford is going to be the most talented team in the Pac-12 North next season, but I'm not sure if that's enough to really make me buy them as the eventual representative in the Pac-12 championship game. I think we're going to have a crazy, crazy season, which makes me want to go with a dark horse candidate.

Lombardi: I just have to see to believe, Chantel, and I haven’t seen any convincing signs of life from the rest of the Pac-12 North in a long, long time. In fact, Oregon and Stanford have combined to go 39-1 against the other four Pac-12 North teams this decade (I’m including 2010 in that tally). The only blemish on that record is Stanford’s 2012 loss to Washington. That’s staggering, and for me it’s convincing: The Cardinal and Ducks own this division until proven otherwise.

Jennings: And I think there’s a solid shot that in 2015 “otherwise” could occur.