Pac-12: Oregon State Beavers

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
2:30
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Happy Friday! Happy August! Football happens this month.
Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

SportsNation

Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    41%
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    22%
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    10%
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    6%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,252)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 12.

Thursday, Nov. 13
Saturday, Nov. 15
My choice: Free pass

Why: Only two-thirds of the league is active this week, so rather than force-feeding a game down you’re throat, we’re going to leave you to your own devices and pick the game that is best for you. The Pac-12 blog isn’t copping out by not picking one. But rather all four have their own element of interest that it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong. So Sean Hein, go to Tucson with a clear conscious and enjoy the game.

For starters, you have the Bears visiting the Coliseum. I’m just as curious as everyone else to see what both teams are going to look like this late in the season. Has Cal found its footing with Sonny Dykes and are all of those yards the offenses is gaining translating into points? Or is his seat hotter? And we’re nearing the end of Steve Sarkisian’s first season as USC’s head coach. With a big game against UCLA looming next week, it’s going to be interesting to see exactly where the Trojans are at this late in the game.

The last time Washington went to Tucson, the Huskies got whipped 52-17 behind four Matt Scott touchdown passes. Last year they returned the favor with a win at home -- though it’s safe to say those trips to the desert haven’t treated the Huskies well the last couple of seasons. By this point in the season, chances are these two teams will be jockeying for bowl placement, adding an extra element of excitement for both fan bases.

The same can be said for ASU’s trip to Oregon State. Unless there has been catastrophic setbacks, both of these teams will likely be bowl eligible by this point in the season (or will need this game to become bowl eligible) so any game down the stretch takes a sense of urgency. And when you combine two of the top quarterbacks in the league in Sean Mannion and Taylor Kelly, you have the makings of an exciting offensive showdown.

And finally there is a rematch of one of the biggest upsets in the Pac-12 last season. If Arizona over Oregon was No. 1, then Utah over Stanford was 1A. Yet despite getting that “signature” win they’d been looking for since joining the league, the Utes weren’t able to capitalize on it as they were plagued (again) with quarterback injuries. The Pac-12 blog was extremely impressed with the game plan then-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson cooked up for the Cardinal. It will be interesting to see if Dave Christensen takes a similar tack.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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There's a place up ahead and I'm goin'. Just as fast as my feet can fly. Come away, come away if you're goin'. Leave the sinkin' ship behind.
video
While one recruit will never truly make or break a recruiting class, some come closer than others. Every Pac-12 program has a must-get recruit in mind, whether it's a national standout whose commitment would rock the recruiting landscape, a star at a position where that program simply cannot miss, or a local prospect who can't be allowed to leave the area.

Our list of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 continues.

No. 20: Washington DT Danny Shelton

2013 stats: Started all 13 games, made a career-high 59 tackles, recorded a pair of sacks and blocked two kicks.

Why he's ranked here: The first of four Washington defensive players who will appear during the countdown, Shelton -- who is listed at 6-foot-2, 339 pounds -- is as imposing a defensive lineman as can be found in the country. An All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection a year ago, he enters his senior year with 115 career tackles and is an elite defender against the run.

Shelton has started the past 28 games for the Huskies, including a stretch last year in which he played through a left shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. If Washington takes the next step under new coach Chris Petersen, Shelton will likely be a main reason. Looking down the road, he has the potential to be one of the first defensive tackles selected in the 2015 NFL draft and has also twice been named first-team Academic All-Pac-12.

No. 19: Oregon State OL Isaac Seumalo

2013 stats: Integral part of the offensive line that blocked for QB Sean Mannion as he set the Pac-12 single-season record with 4,662 yards passing.

Why he's ranked here: From the day Seumalo stepped foot onto the Corvallis, Oregon, campus, he has been one of the Beavers’ best players. He didn’t redshirt in 2012, has started all 25 games he’s played in and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago playing predominately at center. He’s already been named to the preseason watch lists for the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award. Where Seumalo winds up on the line this year -- he started a pair of games at right tackle last year -- is still to be determined and will likely have as much to do with the development around him as anything else.

At Pac-12 media days last week, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said he’s thinking of pairing Seumalo with Sean Harlow at the two guard positions. “I'd like that picture physically inside against all the interior guys that we see in there,” Riley said. It could take some time before that situation gets ironed out because Seumalo is still recovering from a foot injury he suffered during the Hawaii Bowl that kept him out of spring practice. Riley doesn’t anticipate the injury will keep him out during the regular season, but didn’t rule out the possibility he could sit the first week against Portland State.

18. Washington CB Marcus Peters

2013 stats: Recorded 55 tackles, 5 interceptions, defended 14 passes and recovered 2 fumbles.

Why he's ranked here: Along with USC defensive end Leonard Williams (first team), Peters (second) was one of two defensive players to receive first- or second-team All-Pac-12 honors as a sophomore last season. His five interceptions (tied for fifth) and 14 passes defended (tied for first) were among the best numbers in the conference. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Peters the Huskies’ most important player on defense this season as the lone returning starter in the secondary. For new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, Peters will ideally serve as a measure of consistency while the rest of the secondary takes shape early in the season.

Peters has the attention of NFL scouts, too. Among underclassmen, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Peters as the No. 2 corner in the country Insider and currently has him as the No. 19 player on the Way-Too-Early 2015 Big Board Insider. Peters has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

17. Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha

2013 stats: Among the conference leaders with 13 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.

Why he's ranked here: What Shelton means to the Huskies on the interior, Kikaha means to the pass rush. In 13 games a year ago, Kikaha recorded 13 sacks to rank second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford's Trent Murphy, who led the nation with 15. Not only did his sack total rank second in the conference last year, but it fell just 1.5 sacks shy of Jason Chorak’s single-season school record from 1996.

Kikaha finished last season on a high note when he was named defensive MVP of the Fight Hunger Bowl after he registered three sacks, nine tackles and a forced fumble in Washington’s win against BYU. With an inexperienced secondary playing behind him, Kikaha’s role as a pass-rusher will be even more important this year, especially considering the level of quarterback play expected across the conference.

16. Stanford S Jordan Richards

2013 stats: Recorded 69 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and defended 3 passes.

Why he's ranked here: The top-ranked safety in the conference (at this point Richards is still a more proven commodity than USC's Su'a Cravens), Richards will be an All-American candidate playing in what has the potential to be one of Stanford’s best secondaries in years. Even playing next to Ed Reynolds last season, who left early for the NFL and was drafted by Philadelphia in the fifth round, Richards proved to be the most consistent player in the Cardinal’s secondary. He’s fast enough to stay with players in coverage and strong enough to step into the box and help against the run.

Richards is currently on the watch lists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award and was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection the past two seasons. With Reynolds gone, Richards will see extended playing time next to a different safety for the first time in his Stanford career. As things sit, Kyle Olugbode, Zach Hoffpauir and Kodi Whitfield figure to be the top three candidates for that role and none of them has much experience -- or in Whitfield’s case, no experience as a safety in college football.

The countdown

25-21: 25. Stanford DE Henry Anderson; 24. Utah WR Dres Anderson; 23. USC S Su'a Cravens; 22. Oregon RB Byron Marshall; 21. Arizona WR Austin Hill
Over the past few weeks, ESPN writers and analysts sat down to rank the top 100 football players in the country based on their own predictions of the kind of contribution -- both quantitatively and qualitatively -- they’d make to their team in this upcoming season.

We perused about 460 different players who hailed from each position group and conference across the country and ranked those players on a scale of 0-10. If we thought a player would be a “stellar contributor,” we ranked him somewhere in the 8-10 range.

A “solid contributor” earned a 4-7 ranking and a “contributor” (meaning, he’ll certainly contribute but not to the level of the others who were listed on the voting sheet) was given a 0-3. Their averages were found and then ranked and we were left with the top 100 players.

Twenty players from the Pac-12 made their way on to the list, including two players in the top 10 (both of which are from the same team -- can you guess whom?). This week, we’ll be counting down those 100 players. Keep your eyes here as we begin our march toward the 2014 season.

Media Days takeaways: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 2 of media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

Gemmell: I think it's pretty notable that Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery -- a guy on the Biletnikoff watch list and a guy coach David Shaw called one of the most explosive players in college football -- probably won't play in Week 1. Shaw identified it as an "arm" injury for Montgomery, who didn't participate in spring ball. Shaw said it's likely they will take it slow for fall camp and might keep him out of Week 1. Translation: "We're playing UC Davis and should be fine without him." Because a week later they play USC. And they will need him for that game.

Jennings: There were plenty of good nuggets that came out of Day 2, but I was particularly interested to hear that UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, the reigning Offensive/Defensive Freshman of the Year, put on 15 pounds of muscle during this offseason. That's a lot of weight for a kid who already hit (and ran) pretty darn well. It'll be interesting to see how a bigger and stronger Jack does in Year 2 with Jim Mora and the Bruins.

Bonagura: For a media day, it was actually pretty quiet. The big news was clearly Washington coach Chris Petersen's decision to suspend projected starting quarterback Cyler Miles for the Huskies' opener against Hawaii, but even that will have little impact on the season. No one is expecting that to be much of a game regardless of who's under center for Washington. If anything, the move could end up helping the Huskies from a football standpoint because they'll get much-needed game experience for whoever ends up being the backup and give Miles extra time to digest the new coaching staff's system after missing every practice and meeting during spring ball.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway?

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesHow long does Todd Graham have to stay in Tempe for rumors about a departure to subside?
Gemmell: Todd Graham caught a lot of flak -- I mean A LOT of flak -- when he jumped from Pitt to Arizona State. He had a reputation as a program hopper always looking for the best opportunity. When most jobs became available, Graham was always rumored (usually unsubstantiated) as wanting to move on. Well, he's not, and he addressed that Thursday. Coming into his third year (a longer tenure than five other Pac-12 coaches, mind you) he says he's committed to ASU for the "long haul" and could see himself retiring in Tempe. His house is paid off, he's got pretty good continuity with his staff and he's winning. Sounds like the makings of a long and happy relationship. But if he does leave on his own, is three years fair? Five? Time to let the "Todd Graham is gonna jump ship" storyline go.

Jennings: Cue the campfire and Kumbaya, please. Everyone is becoming bff's.

Not only is this year going to hold one of the deepest crops of quarterbacks in a single conference ever, this could also be one of the closer groups of quarterbacks ever. So many of these guys attended the Manning Passing Academy together -- Sean Mannion and Brett Hundley roomed together at the camp. And through the two media days, there just seemed to be so much bromance. You've got the guys in other conferences who say, "Yeah, he's a good player and I respect him" but it felt like this group genuinely could become fraternity brothers or something. Sure, they're going to take the field and try to destroy each other's teams, but I also feel like -- if given the chance -- most of them would sit down for a dinner together the next day.

Bonagura: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is ready for the spotlight. And maybe he's been ready, but it's going to be brighter this year. This was my first chance seeing Hundley handle a throng of media attention, in person, and he came off like a seasoned pro. Other players were similarly impressive, but with the festivities being held in Southern California, Hundley drew the most attention and it didn't faze him. Forget the fact that he's one of the most exciting players to watch in the country, there are plenty of reasons why he's an easy player to root for.

Best quote of the day?

Gemmell: I asked Colorado defensive end Juda Parker, of the 10 returning quarterbacks which one does he most want to sack. He responded with this gem: "The one I WILL sack is Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He's my classmate and we went to high school together. I'm looking forward to it. I'll probably give him an extra nudge and say, ‘We'll talk about this after the game.'"

Jennings: I was walking by a group of men when one of them announced, "That's why you don't raise raccoons." I should've stopped and completely put myself into the conversation because, let's be serious, this could've been one of the most interesting points of the day. But I was on a mission and decided to find coffee that it was easier to just input my own thoughts as to why they were talking about that. I'd like to imagine it was something like, "We need to achieve world peace and ... that's why you don't raise raccoons."

However, I would also like to imagine that at one point in time Mike Leach attempted to raise a raccoon.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora's not budging from UCLA if he has any say in it.
Bonagura: UCLA coach Jim Mora was asked about his commitment to the school and after a long-winded answer, he finished with: "I'm staying there until they kick me out. That might be tomorrow, who knows. I've been kicked out before. But I'm staying until they kick me out."

Going to go out on a limb and say UCLA is not going to fire Jim Mora tomorrow. So modest, Jim.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I've known Stanford safety Jordan Richards for a while. We've talked a lot and done several videos together over the years. And I'm always impressed with his poise and confidence. I love how much he loves football. A lot of defensive players I talked to over the last couple of days admitted they have a tough road ahead with all of the offensive talent in the league. Richards shrugs it off and says it's the quarterbacks who have to prove themselves worthy of all the praise. I like that.

Jennings: I'm going to give some major props to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan here. One reporter asked Hogan about Mariota and Hogan went on a diatribe about how great of a person and player Mariota is. I'd imagine there are a lot of players out there who get sick of their same-position guys being talked about constantly (and having questions pitched to them about said guys), but Hogan couldn't say enough good things about Mariota. And yes, that says plenty about Mariota, but I think it says even more about the type of person Hogan is.

Bonagura: Relative to the rest of the players who were brought to Hollywood over the past two days, Juda Parker was one of the players I knew the least about. About 30 seconds into a chat with him, it became clear he's headed for big things. Time will tell if that's in professional football -- he's got a chance -- or in something else, but he expressed how important it was to develop skills during his time at Colorado that'll help both on the football field and "in a cubicle." It was obviously more detailed than that, but let's just say he served as an impressive ambassador for Colorado.

Cornhole was one of the activities available for the players and coaches at Pac-12 media days. If you could pick a threesome to play corn hole with, who would you pick and why?

Gemmell: Isn't this one obvious? Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler. Leave the coaches out of it. Stick with the three of the four most accurate quarterbacks in the Pac-12 from last year. Hundley led the conference with a 66.8 completion percentage. Mannion was second with 66.3 and Kessler was fourth at 65.4 (Keith Price was third at 66.2). The name of the game is accuracy. I want the guys who aren't going to miss.

Jennings: I'd pick Hundley as my teammate, because he and Eric Kendricks swept their competition -- 7-0, according to the leaderboard -- and I'm going to assume that the Heisman-contending QB was a big part of that. And for the competition, I'm going to pick Steve Sarkisian and Mark Helfrich -- the two coaches that are likely going to battle Hundley the most for the top spot in the south division and the championship game. Overall, there'd be plenty of real rivalry happening and I love some good trash talk (which I'm hoping there'd be some of). Plus, if we lost, I'd convince Hundley to just walk around throwing footballs at people and saying it was because he's the Campus Enforcer.

Bonagura: For my teammate, I'm choosing Sean Mannion. If his 68 career touchdown passes aren't reason enough, I'm putting a lot of stock in his recent victory in the Air-It-Out Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy. That event showcased his accuracy against several of the nation's best quarterbacks including USC's Cody Kessler and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, both of whom were also in Hollywood this week. As for who we're playing against, I want Mike Leach on my side of the pit (is it a cornhole pit?) purely for entertainment value and Sonny Dykes on the other to provide a reunion for the close friends.
For his career, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion has officially carried 84 times for minus-498 yards. That's an average of minus-5.9 yards per carry, for those scrambling for a calculator. He has one career rushing touchdown. It came in 2011 and was, naturally, a 1-yard score. Of course, those numbers are deflated by the 61 times he's been sacked. But you get the idea.

Sean Mannion isn't a runner.

And in a conference silly with running quarterbacks and Heisman hopefuls and unprecedented depth at the position, Mannion is the old-school prototypical pocket passer. Big (6-foot-5). Sturdy (220 pounds). And productive to the tune of 10,436 career passing yards and 68 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMISean Mannion's skilled pocket game will probably make him the Pac-12's all-time leading passer by Halloween.
By the time you're buying your Halloween costume, Mannion will probably be the Pac-12's all-time leading passer. And yet that almost seems blasÚ with excess of quarterback talent in the league this year. He's not a Heisman frontrunner, or, as we've already established, any kind of runner for that matter. That hype belongs to Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.

He wasn't first- or second-team all-conference, despite 4,662 passing yards and 37 touchdowns in 2013. Those honors went to Mariota and ASU's Taylor Kelly. Heck, even Stanford's Kevin Hogan, who operates a pro-style scheme, broke through because the coaching staff designed a special read-and-run option package for him. And with "raid" quarterbacks Jared Goff and Connor Halliday, Mannion isn't even the only pocket guy.

No question, Mannion has NFL talent. He was given a third-round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Board. And with another strong year, he might develop into a first-round talent, given his frame, his understanding of the pro-style offense and his skill set. But in the Pac-12 pecking order, where exactly does he fit in?

"I don't really know. And to be honest, it's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about," Mannion said. "I don't think about pecking order. I feel like when I'm playing well and at my best, I'm as good as or better than anyone. But all I'm worrying about is being the best Sean Mannion I can be. But I also know I'm as good as anyone when I'm at my best."

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Mannion, who won skills competitions at both the Elite 11 camp and the Manning Passing Academy. To claim the crown at the Manning Camp, he had to connect with moving golf carts moving at distances of 10 and 20 yards and a "deep ball" cart. Not surprising, Mannion went 4-for-4 on the deep ball. He did, after all, spend all of last year throwing to Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks. And Cooks is faster than a golf cart.

"Yes, he certainly is," Mannion said. "But it was more about getting the ball out of your hand fast and getting your grip and getting rid of it."

This time last year, Mannion didn't even know if he'd be Oregon State's starting quarterback, let alone go on to have a record-setting season. A 2012 quarterback competition with Cody Vaz spilled into the 2013 summer, leaving many to wonder if Mannion would ever develop into an upper-echelon quarterback. He proved more than capable last year, re-writing school and conference records along the way.

"Right now, I feel like I'm as prepared as I've ever been," Mannion said. "Even last year with the whole controversy or competition or whatever, at that time, I felt like I was as prepared as I could possibly be. It was a little tough because you weren't really sure what was going to happen Week 1. But now I'm able to take a deep breath and not worry about that and just keep preparing."

And that means improving on those skills that make him an intriguing NFL prospect. Like getting the ball out quicker -- a skill he shored up at the Manning Academy. It also means playing to his strengths. And Mannion knows what his are ... and aren't. So while other notable Pac-12 quarterbacks will be getting it done in the air and on the ground, Mannion will stick to what he does best.

"College football has transitioned so much more into the spread and the shotgun and running quarterbacks," he said. "I'm not a big runner. So I think I landed in the right spot. There are still a lot of good pro-style systems out there. And this has been, for me, the perfect fit."
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 3

Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Wyoming at Oregon
  • Illinois at Washington
  • Army at Stanford
  • Portland State at Washington State
  • USC at Boston College
  • UCLA vs. Texas (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
  • Arizona State at Colorado
  • Nevada at Arizona
  • Byes: Cal, Oregon State, Utah
My choice: UCLA vs. Texas

Why: What an incredible Week 2 that was. Oregon made a national statement with its convincing win against Michigan State and I can’t believe Stanford-USC ended in another last-minute field goal! That had to be one happy team from the state of California.

For Week 3, let’s take a step out of our comfort zone and travel to a place not normally frequented by the Pac-12 faithful during the regular season -- Texas.

Let’s be honest. Texas isn’t what it used to be. The Longhorns are trying to get back there under new head coach Charlie Strong. But it might take a while.

However, the Texas brand still carries a ton of name value. And a win against the Longhorns at a neutral site (only by name), would be a huge boost for a UCLA program trying to make a splash on the national stage. The Bruins will likely be a top 10 team to start the season. And barring an unbelievable mishap at Virginia or home against Memphis, they will be a team the playoff committee is keeping an eye on when this game rolls around.

From an individual standpoint, this game could also be a big boost for quarterback Brett Hundley and his Heisman candidacy. Voters were already eyeing Marcus Mariota and his five-touchdown performance against Michigan State last week (three in the air, two on the ground). They aren’t going to care much what Hundley does against Virginia or Memphis. But if he goes into Texas and has a huge game, that will definitely give him a boost.

There are also, of course, the rumors that circulated about UCLA head coach Jim Mora when the Texas job became available. Whether those were substantiated or legitimate are irrelevant. They were out there -- and that adds an element of intriguing to this game.

This is a game UCLA should win, thus making it a must-win. If the Bruins want to go to where they hope they will, they have to win this game convincingly. If they do, they will get the benefit of beating a brand-name team, even if the Longhorns are currently re-branding.

Nevada at Arizona has some intrigue because it’s a rematch of the thrilling 2012 New Mexico Bowl. And Illinois’ trip to Washington is another Pac-12-Big Ten showdown. But as far as national interest goes, UCLA-Texas is the game to see this week.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
2:30
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Happy Friday!

Five Pac-12 players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
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There is no shortage of players who will excite on the field in the Pac-12 this season, but it's not all about on-field performance. Whether it's for their off-field contributions or their on-field demeanor, here are five guys worth rooting for even if they don't play for your team.

Taylor Kelly, quarterback, Arizona State: Quick, who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback last season -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Arizona State’s Kelly? Outside the Pac-12, the assumption would probably be Hundley, and that would be wrong. Kelly quietly led ASU to the best regular-season record in the Pac-12 last season and has a likely NFL future. His time in Tempe hasn’t been one big party, either. The Master’s candidate volunteers at local schools two days a week and is heavily involved in the Scholar Baller leadership and outreach program, for which he teaches high school students about leadership and character among other things. Kelly is also an accomplished drag racer, but that passion is currently on hold at the request of ASU coach Todd Graham. As a result of his vast car knowledge, Kelly has turned into the de facto mechanic for the ASU football team.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsWhen Marcus Mariota isn't piling up big stats on the field, he can usually be found studying somewhere.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon: After passing up a good shot at being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to return to school, Mariota has all the makings of a Heisman Trophy favorite. And he won’t come with much controversy. If Andrew Luck set the standard for unassuming superstar quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Mariota isn’t far behind. He’s quiet, he’s polite, he’s humble and while pursuing a degree in General Science, he has developed a reputation as one of the most studious athletes on campus. For those looking for reasons to root against him, as an individual, it will be hard to justify.

Toni Pole, defensive tackle, Washington State: When Pole intercepted a Keith Price pass in overtime and nearly returned it for a touchdown in the 2012 Apple Cup, he created a memory Washington State fans will remember for a long time. For many, that is not the only lasting impression he has produced. Pole is a frequent volunteer in the Pullman community, and his philantrophic efforts have included helping to put on “Butch’s Bash,” a holiday party for local kids. He makes trips to the local senior center where he plays games with the residents and is musically inclined. When the Cougars are on the road, he can be found playing the piano in hotel lobbies and has sang the National Anthem at women’s basketball games.

Ty Montgomery, receiver, Stanford: Stanford coach David Shaw has said Montgomery has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but after big junior year with the Cardinal, Montgomery didn’t even consider a pre-graduation jump to Sunday football. He didn’t even ask for an evaluation from the NFL or for a draft-round projection, which is common for draft-eligible players. He chose Stanford largely for academic reasons and chose to stay for the same. As soft-spoken as they come, Montgomery has already been named to the Maxwell and Hornung Award watch lists and is one of the more dynamic kick returners in the country.

Stefan McClure, cornerback, Cal: After a solid true freshman season in 2011, McClure appeared on his way to a great career for Cal. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but it’s not for a lack of talent. He sat out the 2012 season rehabbing a torn ACL, then suffered another torn ACL five games into last season. If there is anyone who could use some good vibes coming his way, it’s McClure.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year’s rankings here.

Up next: Cornerbacks. Considering the talent pool of quarterbacks in the Pac-12, each team’s secondary is going to be tested more and more this season. Teams are really (read: really, really, really) going to want to be good here in 2014.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is back, and considering how much opponents want to throw (though, who knows how much they will actually throw at him), he’s looking at what could be a really, really impressive final season. Through the spring, fellow senior Dior Mathis emerged as the other starter, though Troy Hill could make this an intriguing position battle to watch. Backing up these guys will be Chris Seisay, junior college transfer Dominique Harrison and Stephen Amoako. Elite talent and excellent depth make this one of the best position groups for the Ducks.

Stanford: The Cardinal have a new defensive backs coach in Duane Akina. In his 13 years with Texas he developed two Thorpe Award winners and 14 all-conference defensive backs, and he inherits a stocked pantry at Stanford. Alex Carter -- who sat out this spring -- and Wayne Lyons are both very, very good players who will anchor the secondary. Ronnie Harris will play the outside when Lyons shifts over to cover the slot.

UCLA: Last year at this time, UCLA’s cornerbacks were in the “we’ll see” category. Well, we saw. We liked. The Bruins return Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson -- they combined for 201 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2013. With an offseason to gel as a unit, mature and condition, expect those numbers to grow. If need be, Randall Goforth could play some cornerback, and early enrollee Adarius Pickett and 2014 signee Jaleel Wadood (younger brother of Arizona State cornerback Rashad Wadood) could also contribute.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Steven Nelson has one of the cornerback spots locked down. He recorded 62 tackles, six interceptions and eight pass breakups last season. Opposite him, Larry Scott and Dashon Hunt are vying for the starting spot. Scott has more game experience but spent half of the spring on the sideline nursing a hamstring injury, giving Hunt more and more reps as the spring season went on. And considering these guys go up against quarterback Sean Mannion every day in practice, their learning curves are going to be expedited.

Washington: In Marcus Peters (55 tackles, five interceptions, 14 PBR in 2013) the Huskies have a very, very good cornerback on their hands. Opposing quarterbacks probably aren’t going to throw at him a ton, which brings the second starter into question. The starter opposite Peters will be the one put in bigger situations (at least until he proves himself as a lockdown cornerback. If he doesn’t, the passes will keep coming). Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly and former Alabama transfer Travell Dixon had the first shot at the job in spring ball, and the Huskies will get four freshman cornerbacks in the fall to add to that group. It is a young group, but expect Peters -- who we think could be one of the best defensive backs in the Pac-12 this season -- to pull along whoever plays the opposite spot.

Colorado: Senior Greg Henderson is the most experienced defensive player returning to the Buffs this season, and his history of steadily improving through his Colorado career is a good sign that this season will be his best. On the other side, Colorado is still going through a position battle with junior college transfer Ahkello Witherspoon (who had an interception three pass breakups in the spring game) and Kenneth Crawley (who played in 11 of 12 games last season for the Buffs). Chidobe Awuzie also returns, making cornerback one of Colorado's deepest positions.

WE’LL SEE

USC: A coaching change and a lot of questions about players made this a hard decision between Good Shape and We'll See. With the pure talent the Trojans have, it will be surprising if this is not a productive group, but that potential doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Kevon Seymour has one starting spot. He ended last season on a high note and played well in the spring, but has had a very up-and-down career. Can he sustain this recent production? We’ll see. Opposite Seymour, there is a battle brewing between Josh Shaw, Chris Hawkins and possibly Adoree' Jackson. This might be the group with the most upside and the most downside (basically, the most unknowns) of any cornerback corps in the conference.

Arizona: Earlier this spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez said he wasn’t as excited about his secondary’s depth as he wanted to be. Considering the Wildcats play with a five defensive back system, that is not great. But, they have Jonathan McKnight to anchor one side. He started all 13 games for the Wildcats last season and led the team with eight pass breakups. The other side is still a question mark as the team tries to replace Shaquille Richardson.

Utah: Expect to see a lot of nickel from the Utes as they prepare for life-after-Trevor-Reilly. Eric Rowe -- the team’s third-leading tackler in 2013 -- is back and has secured one of the starting spots. He is the fastest defensive back on the team (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) but the other starter remains a question. Utah likes sophomore Reginald Porter (10 tackles in 2013) and senior Davion Orphey (eight starts, 33 tackles in 2013) but they could see competition from incoming players like Travonne Hobbs and Casey Hughes.

Arizona State: ASU lost both cornerback starters in Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson following the 2013 season. Nelson accounted for 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups, and Irabor tallied 54 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. Their backups -- Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood -- finished the spring atop the depth chart. Those two combined for just 32 tackles in 2013. There is always the argument that these two will step right into their mentors’ shoes as they have had time to learn, but the verdict is still out on how effective these two will be.

Washington State: The Cougars have taken major steps forward under head coach Mike Leach. At some point the cornerbacks need to follow suit (especially considering what they face in practice every single day). The Washington State secondary is in a major rebuilding period after losing cornerbacks Nolan Washington and Damante Horton. The only player with any kind of experience is Daquawn Brown, but beyond him it could be a lot of youth in the secondary.

Cal: The Bears have new defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who helped USC win national titles in 2003 and 2004 (in those two seasons the Trojans gave up just 239 passing yards per game) so there is certainly not a lack of talent and experience on the coaching end. But on the field, it’s a different matter. Cameron Walker -- who had to play safety last season because of injuries -- will return to cornerback and start alongside Stefan McClure. Both have experience at safety, which should help the defense be more dynamic, but again, that alone doesn’t necessarily propel the group into good or great shape this season.

Other position reviews:
As much talk as there has been (including here at the Pac-12 blog) about how good the offenses in the conference will be this season, Thursday's release of the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation's best defensive player, and Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best interior lineman, shows the Pac-12 measures up well against other conferences in defensive talent, too.

The Pac-12 led all conferences with 18 players on the Nagurski list, edging out the SEC (16), Big 12 (13), ACC (12) and Big Ten (10). For the Outland Trophy, which includes a mix of defensive and offensive players, the Pac-12 ranked second with 11 players behind the SEC (19).

Stanford's Henry Anderson, USC's Leonard Williams and Washington's Danny Shelton are on both.

Here are the Pac-12 players that were included:

Nagurski (defensive player)
Outland Trophy
Other watch lists

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
2:30
PM ET
I would rather learn what it feels like to burn than feel nothing at all.

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