Pac-12: 3-point stance

3-point stance: Larry Scott's climb

November, 5, 2013
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1. It comes as no surprise that the Pac-12 presidents offered commissioner Larry Scott a new contract through the end of the 2017-18 academic year. All Scott has done is taken a perfectly respectable conference and turned it into a financial powerhouse, and the results have shown up on the football field. But I would be gobsmacked if Scott stayed for the next four-plus years. Scott strikes me as a climber always looking for another mountain. And I don’t mean that in a negative way.

2. You can measure Baylor’s rise to national significance in a lot of different ways, from being the nation’s most prolific offense (70 points, anyone) to No. 6 to being a 14-point favorite over long-time tormentor No. 10 Oklahoma. In the 17 years of the Big 12, the Bears have won once, the 45-38 victory when RG3 threw a touchdown pass with :08 to play. But the biggest measure may be that on Thursday night, the tarps that regularly cover portions of 50,000-seat Floyd Casey Stadium are being removed.

3. No. 21 UCF could all but clinch the American at home Saturday by defeating Houston. The Knights and the Cougars are the last two unbeaten teams in league play. With a victory, UCF would have head-to-head victories over the two one-loss teams (No. 20 Louisville is the other) in the league with the best record. Of UCF’s remaining four opponents, only Rutgers (5-3) has a winning record. The American hasn’t been ready for Blake Bortles, announced Monday as a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist. We may find out if America is.

3-point stance: UCLA's growing pains

October, 29, 2013
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1. UCLA started eight true freshmen against Oregon, including three on the offensive line, and played 18 overall against the Ducks. If you are looking for a reason that Oregon scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, it might be physical (how long can 19-year-olds play guys two or three years older?) and it might be mental (close game, big stakes, who’s been there before?). Either way, the Bruins will get a dividend on this investment in, oh, 2015.

2. If you congratulate No. 3 Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher for voting his conscience on his USA Today ballot -- he sounded as if he voted Alabama No. 1 -- and if you applaud him for sitting his starters in the second half against North Carolina State after leading 42-0 at halftime, you may as well congratulate him for getting his team on the field for the opening kickoff. That’s how a coach should act. As the saying goes, Fisher is acting as if he has been there before. Which he has, as an assistant under Nick Saban.

3. Kentucky is 1-6, 0-4 in the SEC, and Wildcats first-year head coach Mark Stoops is trying to remain patient. Only the 48-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama could be considered a blowout. “I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time,” Stoops said at his press conference Monday, “but that’s not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC. You’ve got to be good top to bottom, and you’ve got to be good in critical situations, and most importantly when you’re under pressure situations, our habits, bad habits, come right to the surface.”

3-point stance: Florida State is back

October, 21, 2013
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1. We are fooled easily in the excitement of the moment. Yet Florida State so dominated at Clemson that the 51-14 victory will be one of the seminal moments of the season. It will mark the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston in prime time, literally and otherwise. As good as Winston played, the Florida State defense played better. The Seminoles are back, and what better time? The university that dumped Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden four years ago will honor him this Saturday.

2. The one complaint against the makeup of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee that has merit is that West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, at age 53, is the youngest member. It makes sense that the commissioners wanted gravitas on the committee, and with the presence of members such as Tom Osborne, Mike Tranghese and Pat Haden, they have it. But they made room for a woman and a retired sportswriter. However hard they searched for a member under 40, they should have looked again.

3. The old protocols are butting heads with the new spread offenses, and everyone is groping for the right way to act. Should the offense throw when it’s way ahead? Baylor is averaging 64.7 points per game, and judging by the Bears’ No. 8 ranking, no one is holding that against them. Should the offense throw if it’s way behind? Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti ripped Washington State head coach Mike Leach for throwing 89 times, then apologized last night. No one knows what the rules should be any more.
1. No. 7 Georgia lost two receivers and a tailback to knee injuries Saturday, which is something to which the Dawgs’ next opponent, Missouri, can relate. The Tigers had so many injuries during last season’s 5-7 SEC debut that head coach Gary Pinkel revamped his entire practice and training regimen, eliminating two-a-days and reducing contact drills. Missouri is 5-0, ranked No. 25 and its starters have a missed a total of three games because of injury.

2. Here’s what I noticed about the 13 names reported to be on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Three people have won a national championship (Pat Haden as a player, Tom Osborne as a coach and Barry Alvarez as an assistant). There are more former quarterbacks (four) than former head coaches (three, and Ty Willingham is on both lists). If Stanford comes up for discussion, Willingham and Condoleezza Rice would have to leave the room, but what would West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck do?

3. No. 11 UCLA should move to 5-0 this week by defeating a Cal team that is 0-4 against FBS opponents. That would set up not only a showdown the following week at No. 4 Stanford but it would put the Bruins on the cusp of returning to the top 10 for the first time in eight seasons. Since the glory days under Bob Toledo, when the Bruins appeared in the top 10 in four of five years from 1997-2001, UCLA has appeared in the top 10 for a total of three weeks. A long drought appears to have ended in Westwood.
1. Keith Price, the fifth-year senior quarterback for No. 15 Washington, has matured enough to no longer try to force the big play. Price has learned to love the third receiver. Against Illinois, “he checked it down twice on third-and-long and we got the first down,” Huskies quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo said. “So we talk about, ‘Hey, it’s not sexy, but guess what? We’re still on the field. Coach Sark [head coach Steve Sarkisian] gets to call more plays, and we have a chance to score another touchdown.’”

2. Among the 170 semifinalists for the National Football Foundation’s Campbell Trophy -- the Academic Heisman -- are prominent FBS players such as quarterbacks Aaron Murray of Georgia and Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois; offensive linemen Spencer Long of Nebraska, Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma and linebacker Max Bullough of Michigan State. But if any of them beats out Penn State center John Urschel, who’s teaching undergraduate math, then he’s one smart cookie. The NFF will whittle the candidates down to 16 finalists, each of whom will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship, on Oct. 31.

3. The Little Brown Jug may not be important at Michigan, which has lost it only three times in 44 years. But that’s exactly why Minnesota cherishes the Jug. The last time the Gophers won it, in 2005, then-head coach Glen Mason got off the plane from Ann Arbor and drove the Jug straight to dinner at Manny’s, the best steakhouse in Minneapolis. Patrons gave Mason and the Jug a standing O, then oohed and aahed and took photos with it all night. That’s what a trophy game should be all about.

3-point stance: Battle for Iowa

September, 12, 2013
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1. In four-plus seasons at Iowa State, Paul Rhoads may be 4-15 against ranked teams. He is 9-15 against the other nine teams in the Big 12. The Cyclones may have opened the season by losing to FCS cross-state opponent Northern Iowa, 28-20. But Iowa State has defeated Iowa the last two seasons, by a field goal each time. That’s called job security. The Hawkeyes come to Ames Saturday having won only five of their last 16 games. It may be mid-September, but there’s a lot at stake.

2. Despite the hysteria generated by Texas’s defensive meltdown and the subsequent firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ pulse remains slow and steady. Dodds said again this week to the Austin American-Statesman that head coach Mack Brown has his full support. He has said it for the last three frustrating seasons. That hasn’t stopped the job speculation. That never stops the speculation. One day, of course, Brown won’t be the head coach at Texas. You should live so long.


3. There’s plenty of feel-good stories at Colorado, which is 2-0 after going 1-11 last season. My favorite among the Buffs is junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who has traveled a long road to lead the FBS with 208.5 receiving yards per game (21 catches, 4 scores). Richardson missed a good chunk of 2011 with one knee injury, and all of 2012 with another. He’s back, he’s healthy and the Buffs, under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre, have a pulse.

3-point stance: Changing direction

September, 11, 2013
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Three turnarounds in progress:

1. The third coordinator in three seasons has been the charm for Illinois senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Illini head coach Tim Beckman snapped up Bill Cubit, fired after eight seasons (51-47) by Western Michigan, and the difference in Scheelhaase has been huge. He is completing 74 percent of his passes this season as opposed to 60 percent last year, and 10.6 yards per attempt, nearly double last year’s 5.6 yards per attempt. Illinois is 2-0 and making the Big Ten Leaders look a lot tougher.

2. Boston College head coach Steve Addazio, who always acts as if he takes his Red Bull intravenously, has injected life into the Eagles, who seemed like a team more talented than the 2-10 record that got Frank Spaziani fired a year ago. BC has matched its win total of last season thanks to a newly aggressive defense under coordinator Don Brown. The Eagles have eight sacks in two games. Last season, they had eight sacks.

3. Utah is 2-0 for the first time in three seasons thanks to an offensive explosion (100 points in two games) that reflects the touch of new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson, the longtime passing guru who won two national championships at Miami. Sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson has more than doubled his 2012 QBR (92.0/41/7) with five touchdowns and no picks this season, as opposed to seven and six, respectively, a year ago.

3-point stance: First impressions

September, 2, 2013
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Three-Point Stance, It’s Only One Game, But … Edition

1. … Washington backed up the confidence that head coach Steve Sarkisian placed in a team that has been 7-6 for the last three years. The Huskies moved back into their home after a $280-million renovation and looked as if they couldn’t have been more comfortable. The 38-6 victory over Boise State, the Broncos’ first loss by more than six points in six years, is evidence enough. But the 592 yards of offense without suspended preseason All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a sign that the Pac-12 North may be the best division in the FBS.

2. … the union of LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger appears to be a success. Mettenberger completed 16-of-32 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown, nearly doubling his raw QBR of a year ago (74.6/3did 9.3). Moreover, Mettenberger put up those numbers against TCU, year in and year out one of the toughest defensive teams in the nation. Mettenberger made big, precise throws, putting them in places where defenders couldn’t reach them. That’s what NFL quarterbacks do.

3. … Oklahoma may be out of its long defensive slump. The team that allowed at least 34 points in four of its last five games whitewashed Louisiana-Monroe, 34-0. That’s the Sooners’ first shutout in three seasons, and came against a team that went 8-5 last season and has eight returning offensive starters, including four-year starting quarterback Kolton Browning. The Sooners allowed 166 total yards and only 2-of-16 third-down conversions. In other words, they looked like a Bob Stoops team.

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