Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Take 2: Pac-12 Top 25 issues, looking ahead
By Ted Miller
After this week -- national signing day! -- we will officially turn our attention forward to 2014. But before we do that, Kevin and I revisit our thoughts on our final list of the top 25 players in 2013.
Stanford's Trent Murphy, who led the nation with 15 sacks, was No. 6 on the Pac-12's final countdown.
Ted Miller: The Pac-12's Top 25 players countdown was mostly a civil affair between your Pac-12 reporters. Kevin made a preliminary list, and it mostly stuck -- names and order. There was no bloodshed as there had been in years past. It was an odd experience.
It doesn't seem our list this postseason is terribly controversial. There are some questions about placement. Arizona State fans are a little bent about LB Carl Bradford and WR Jaelen Strong being left out. I already noted that leaving out Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha was the toughest call for me.
As for our controversies, Kevin and I went back and forth a little on the top two, but not much. I think at one point, one of us said, "Look, we've got to include Myles Jack." I think the Anthony Barr vs. Trent Murphy debate is legit. Barr is probably headed to a more sparkly NFL career, but Murphy had the best season of just about any defensive player in the nation.
So, Kevin, with that as an intro, which do you feel like were our toughest calls or controversies? And, like me, are you having withdrawal from not getting pilloried in your email box?
Kevin Gemmell: Some, but it’s not nearly as mean-spirited as it was last season. As you noted, mostly a few ASU fans making a case for Bradford. Also, one about why we put Brett Hundley ahead of Taylor Kelly, even though Kelly was the coach’s pick for second-team all-league. I’ll hit that in my mailbag later this afternoon.
I do think the fact that you and I have a penchant for quarterbacks came back to bite us ever so slightly this season. And I say ever so slightly because it’s the difference between No. 1 and No. 2. I made a push for Ka’Deem Carey to be No. 1. The more I think about it, I should have fought for Carey a little more than I did.
Marcus Mariota was outstanding, per usual. But there was an obvious drop-off in his numbers and the Ducks’ performance as he dealt with a knee injury. That’s not his fault. And I’m certainly not pointing a finger at a player who gets injured. I’m simply stating a fact.
But when you look at Carey’s consistency every week, I think you can make a very compelling argument that he was the No. 1 player in the Pac-12. And you combine that with his surrounding cast, a new quarterback, a Biletnikoff semifinalist on the bench with a knee injury, he truly had to carry that offense. And he did so, with tremendous success and without complaint.
Am I losing sleep over it? No. He’s No. 2. But that really was the only point that you and I went back and forth on for a while. And in the end, our favoritism for quarterbacks won out.
It’s a bit too early to start putting together our preseason Top 25 list for 2014. But I know, once again, it’s going to be quarterback-dominated. One player I expect to see on there is UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. I look at these lists -- preseason and postseason -- and I’m baffled that Kendricks is never on there. But I’m also left with the same question we ask our readers when they complain: “Who would you take off?”
So I’m making a declaration here and now. Kendricks will be on our preseason top 25. Better get on board with that, Miller.
We’ve only got eight players coming back, so I’m seeing some interesting wiggle room on next fall's preseason list.
You could make the case that Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey was the best player in the Pac-12 in 2013.
Ted Miller: I hear you on Carey vs. Mariota. Even while I was pitching Mariota, I had a voice in my head saying that maybe Carey should be No. 1. His consistency was remarkable, while Oregon team had a disappointing finish.
I shouted down that voice because the QB position is so important, particularly in this conference.
Carey was the best running back in the country. Mariota, while ranking No. 1 with ESPN.com's total QBR, probably rated third. But I think most seasons, the third-best QB in the nation is a more valuable player than the No. 1 running back. At least unless that running back is truly special, as in Barry Sanders, Reggie Bush or Adrian Peterson.
So I think it's reasonable to stagger guys a bit by position. And, again, I leaned on my ole, "Who would I draft first" for my college football team. I think if you lined up all 12 Pac-12 coaches, Mariota would be the top overall pick in the conference.
But, again, that was my personal quest for a distinction.
As for next year, I think the first question is: Do the eight returning guys from this list simply move up into the top eight spots for our preseason 2014 list? Maybe, maybe not. Not yet prepared to make that call.
You mentioned Kendricks. Any other thoughts about how things might look in August?
Kevin Gemmell: As for the preseason top 10, I certainly see Mariota, Hundley and Kelly in our top 10. I’m taking a wait-and-see on Sean Mannion. When he’s hot, there's no doubt he belongs in the top 10. When he’s off, he’s really off. Having talked with him last week, I know he’s dedicated to working on his consistency. He’s a player who could start the year in the teens, but end up in the top 10 on the postseason list. Then again, if a wide receiver doesn’t step up and the running game doesn’t get moving, he might get left off at the end of the season.
I like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to be in our top 10. And Jordan Richards is another name that always seems to get left off these lists despite strong performances. Strong will be there, but I was OK leaving him off the postseason list in favor of Josh Huff.
Austin Hill is a guy who, like Paul Richardson was this year, we have to wait and see. If he comes back strong from the injury that kept him out of the 2013 season, I could see him in the top 25.
It’s pretty remarkable when you look back at where we were in August to where we are now. Could you have imagined a season when Marqise Lee -- the defending Biletnikoff winner -- and De’Anthony Thomas -- one of the most explosive players in all of college football -- would be left off the final 25? Injuries were obviously a big part of that. But I think it again speaks to the talent depth in the Pac-12. On both sides of the ball.
A tip of the cap again for this yearly exercise in teamwork. Feel pretty good about our final product and looking forward to what they readers have to say when they weigh in with their top 25.