- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Looks like the gang has started up a bracket challenge. Count me in.
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To the notes!
Lucas in Tempe, Ariz., writes: Kevin, I noticed today that in your replacing impact players in the north poll you included two players from one team? This is partly my Coug bias bristling at the fact that there was no Coug on the list (Travis Long) but honestly two players from one team? Where's the logic!?
Kevin Gemmell: The polls are limited to five spots -- so that hamstrings us a bit and someone was going to get left out. Ted and I usually discuss all the polls and poll options before they publish and we picked the five "biggest names" from the North Division. I stipulated this in the South post -- that these players didn't necessarily represent our choices for the "Biggest Shoes" series. I should have stipulated that in the North post as well.
No doubt, Long was a special player for Washington State, as Ted notes here. And I talked with Travis several times throughout the year and enjoyed each conversation. I actually shared an airport shuttle ride with his dad once, which was random, but he seemed like a great guy too in those five minutes from the airport to long-term parking.
But given Washington State's record and the fact that they allowed 33.7 points per game (10th in the conference) he was ruled out. As were players from Cal. That left us with 1) a unanimous All-America tight end; 2) a top-10 draft pick; 3) the league leader in interceptions; 4) Stanford's all-time leading rusher; 5) a lockdown corner who could also go in the first round. Which one would you replace for Long?
Barton in Palo Alto writes: Can you please stop saying that Stanford defense is losing 3 starters? Terrence Stephens did not play at all in the last 3 games at all, and Parry has played in all games for the past 2 seasons. Stanford returns 9 of 11 starters, as I think one usually considers who started at the end of the year as the starter (regardless of the reason). Speaking of which, if you know what the housing rule that Stephens violated was, it would be nice to know. I hope that it was just a mistake on his part, and I really hope Stanford acted as soon as they knew (which seems to be the indication, but is not clear either b/c of how secretive they've been).
Kevin Gemmell: Of Stanford's 14 games last year, they started 10 of them in their base 3-4. The other four they started with a nickelback and the nose tackle was off the field. Stephens started seven of those 10. As you note, Parry started the other three because of Stephens' violations. You can get into semantics if you want -- but we both know Stephens would have started those final three games. He wasn't beaten out for the job. So I feel comfortable saying Stanford is losing three starters. Kyle Murphy started the conference championship game at tight end. I wouldn't call him the starting tight end in 2013 just because he "started" a game at the end of the season.
I've heard rumors about the violations from people I trust -- but nothing I'd publish without firm confirmation from David Shaw. And even then, I'm not sure it's really anybody's business. No laws were broken. No DUI or assault.
As for how Stanford reacted -- they sat an extremely talented defensive lineman for the season finale, the conference championship game and the Rose Bowl. I'd say they acted appropriately and Stephens paid the price.
With all that said, I'm going to miss covering Stephens. Great personality, great quote and a very under-appreciated football player to those who don't follow the league closely.
James in Corvallis, Ore., writes: Hey Kevin, why is it that the pac 12 isn't represented very well in the NFL at wide receiver? It seems like a pass heavy conference would draw more talent at the position than other conferences. When you look at NFL rosters you see a lot of quarterbacks that played in the pac, but not a lot of the receivers they were throwing to. What's the deal?
Kevin Gemmell: I actually don't follow the NFL as closely as I used to -- especially during the college football season since my Sundays are spent on those bowl projections you all love so much. So I didn't have any idea what the number was.
So last night I went through every NFL roster and found that there are 27 Pac-12 wide receivers (by my count) in the league. I didn't go through every single NFL wide receiver and start marking conferences (though I did learn there is a California University of Pennsylvania). But it's interesting that more than half of the NFL teams (18) have at least one Pac-12 receiver on the roster, seven have two or more and the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans share the lead with three each.
Note: I'm not counting Carolina's Steve Smith since he played at Utah well before they joined the league.
Doing some quick math in my head -- you figure the average NFL career is about three years. Each year there are anywhere from five to eight receivers from the league that land on active rosters. So, at any one time, there are approximately 25-30 in the league, give or take. So I guess that number seems about right.
I found this story from 2011 and 28 was the high then. The Pac-12 has since added four wide receivers since the last draft cycle. When you factor in the amount of guys who actually make the league, 27 doesn't seem like all that bad of a number. I might be totally off on this, but it's the best answer I can give on short notice.
Kenny in Portland writes: Kevin, Curious on your thoughts about Brandin Cooks as a Heisman dark horse? Personally, I don't think we'll see anyone other than a QB or RB win it unless they have an out of this world season, but I also don't think it's any less likely for a WR to win than a LB (Anthony Barr) or DT (Will Sutton). Accidental omission on your part or do you not believe him to be up there?
Kevin Gemmell: I've been a big Brandin Cooks fan for a while. And no doubt, he has the potential to be a special player. But there are some things I need to see from him this year before I elevate him into elite wide receiver status. First, he obviously benefited from Markus Wheaton playing opposite him. Wheaton drew most of the safety help over the top which allowed more one-on-one opportunities for Cooks. This year, he's going to be the target of all those double-teams and bracket coverages.
Next, who is going to be throwing him the football? The wide receiver position goes hand-in-hand with the success of the quarterback. And until Oregon State picks one, that's going to be a sticking point.
And for Cooks to truly emerge as a Heisman dark horse, he first has to prove that he's the best wide receiver in the conference. No easy task with the reigning Biletnikoff winner catching passes in the South Division. Then, he has to prove he's the best player in the conference. Again, not easy with guys like Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, Brett Hundley, Marqise Lee and Ka'Deem Carey lurking.
Then, he has to prove he's the best player in the country. So no, Cooks wasn't an accidental omission. And given his position, coupled with all of the players he'll have to leapfrog within the conference and nationally, it seems like a stretch.
Eric in Sammamish, Wash., writes: What are the chances this is the year UW beats the University of Nike Ducks? The Huskies should have a breakout year with so much talent coming back and the offensive line getting Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa, plus they will playing them at home in the new Husky Stadium, where the fans should be fully primed to deafen those clowns in the neon clad uniforms.
Kevin Gemmell: For those of you in need of a translator, allow me.
Eric is writing in code. Here is the actual translation: It's the offseason. I'm annoyed that my team has lost nine straight times to Oregon. There has been too much solidarity of late on the Pac-12 blog with the readers banding together to fight off SEC fans. We once again need to turn against each other. And I'm going to stir the pot.
Eric, don't make me pull out the Ed Rooney youtube clip again.
However, what you say is true -- though calling them clowns really only makes your team look worse for having lost to said clowns. Folks have always pointed to 2013 as the potential breakout year for Washington. The offensive line should be better, they have a stud running back, good wide receivers, an elite tight end (presumably) and a much-improved defense. Is that enough to beat Oregon? The truth is, I don't know. A lot can happen between now and Oct. 12.
How long will Austin Seferian-Jenkins be suspended? I doubt it will be half a season, but you never know. The week before, Washington travels to Stanford. What will their mood be after that game? Will they be riding high as spoilers? Or get thrashed like they did in their last trip to The Farm? Is Keith Price going to return to his 2011 form?
Right now -- based on what we know on March 15 -- I'd be an Oregon lean, simply because of history and trends. But the Ducks have their own set of questions that need answering. We need to see how the defense comes together with two new middle linebackers and how the team comes together under a new head coach.
I will say I do think this might be Washington's best chance in a while. But chances don't equal wins.
Speaking of neon uniforms: Anyone get a look at Notre Dame's hoops unis last night? Looks like the team took a guacamole bath before taking the court.
3hChantel Jennings and Ted Miller
1dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller