Pac-12: Aaron Rodgers

You may have noticed this story Monday from Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN Stats & Info. It's a nice breakdown of how the 2013 class of quarterbacks across college football might be one of the best ever. Kraemer offers five reasons why:

  1. The best teams of 2012 return their quarterbacks
  2. The best passers are returning
  3. A diverse array of NFL talent
  4. Little QB turnover in SEC
  5. Award winners back on campus

We're going to take this and, point-by-point, give it a Pac-12 rinse.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanOregon QB Marcus Mariota showed that he was more than just a strong runner last season.
The best teams of 2012 (in the Pac-12) return their quarterbacks: Yep. Stanford (12-2), yes. Oregon (12-1), yes. Oregon State (9-4), yes (and yes). UCLA (9-5), yes. Arizona State (8-5), yes. It should come as no surprise that the top six teams in our post-spring power rankings all have their quarterback coming back. In fact, there were only four teams last year that started the same quarterback in every game (Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington) and those are four of our top five teams in the rankings.

Thus, it's not by chance that the five of the bottom six in the power rankings have an ongoing quarterback competition. That's not to say that a school like USC, which has too much talent to be sitting in the bottom half of the rankings, can't quickly make a jump to the top once their quarterback situation is resolved.

And the same goes for No. 6 Oregon State -- which is fortunate to have two capable starters competing. I don't know who first opined that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one. I don't buy it. Ask any coach in the bottom half of the power rankings if they'd prefer zero quarterbacks who have won games or two. I think we all know the answer.

The best passers are returning: Yep. Marcus Mariota led the Pac-12 in efficiency and Taylor Kelly wasn't far behind. Matt Barkley was third, Brett Hundley was fourth and Sean Mannion was fifth. However, it's worth noting that Kevin Hogan's efficiency would have ranked him slightly above Hundley had he appeared in more games in 2012 (the cutoff was appearing in 75 percent of the games, Hogan was at 71). That means five of the top six quarterbacks in efficiency are back.


A diverse array of NFL talent: Yep. Anyone who thinks Mariota is just a running quarterback failed to witness his 32 touchdown passes and league-best 68.5 completion percentage. He will fit nicely into any NFL offense.

Same for Kelly (29 touchdowns, 67.1 completion percentage) and Hundley (29, 66.5). Hogan should be well-versed in the pro-style attack (and NFL scouts love quarterbacks who know the pro-style/West Coast coming out of college) and if Mannion (if he wins the job) bounces back, he's got the prototypical NFL pro-style frame.

And let's not forget Keith Price, who we're expecting to have a nice bounce-back year. He was extremely efficient in 2011 (33, 66.9) so the potential and athleticism is obviously there.

Little QB turnover in the league: Well, the Pac-12 can't make that claim with six starting jobs still in doubt and potentially five schools starting a fresh-faced QB.

Award winners back on campus: Yep. Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year (Mariota). First-team quarterback (Mariota). Kelly, Hogan and Hundley were honorable mention.

While it's true that this might shape up as one of the greatest years in college football history for quarterbacks, it's equally true that the Pac-12 might have its best crop of quarterbacks in league history.

The Pac-12 has sent at least one quarterback to the NFL since 1995 and at least one has gone in the first round in nine of the past 16 drafts. There was 2003 when Carson Palmer (USC) and Kyle Boller (Cal) both went in the first round. 1999 was a strong year with Akili Smith (Oregon) and Cade McNown (UCLA) going in the first round and Brock Huard (Washington) going in the third. Three times the Pac-12 has had four quarterbacks go in the draft (2005, 1991 and 1989).

2004 comes to mind as a pretty darn good collection with Aaron Rodgers (Cal), Matt Leinart (USC), Derek Anderson (Oregon State), Andrew Walter (ASU), Kellen Clemens (Oregon), Trent Edwards (Stanford), Drew Olson (UCLA) and Alex Brink (Washington State).

It's a little too early to start speculating about who is going to go and who is going to stay. But based on what we've seen from this crop in the past nine months, it's possible the 2013 class will be right up there in the conversation as one of the best collection of quarterbacks ever in the league.
I think I've got a frush.

BERKELEY, Calif. -- While California has hired two coaches over the past 12 years, it didn't hire them to do the same job.

Jeff Tedford took possession of a dilapidated and unlivable house on college football's skid row in 2001. Sonny Dykes this winter moved into a nice home in a posh neighborhood that needs some minor interior renovations.

Sure, Cal went a dreary 3-9 last season, its second losing season in three years, which got Tedford fired. But he took over a program that went 1-10 in 2001, played in a crumbling stadium that averaged 30,000 in attendance and featured some of the worst facilities in major college football.

Dykes has inherited a team that went 82-57 under Tedford and plays in front of 55,876 fans even during a 3-9 season. And the facilities? Sparkling. Brand freaking new. Among the best in the Pac-12 and the nation.

Tedford made the Bears respectable and then made a push for the top of the Pac-10. That initiated the process -- glacial in pace -- of facility upgrades. But he couldn't reach the top of the conference. The program plateaued and then reversed course. In 2004, it seemed certain Tedford would get the Bears to their first Rose Bowl since 1959. In 2012, the Rose Bowl seemed infinitely far away, and it didn't help that stricken Old Blues had to watch crosstown rival Stanford win the darn thing.

Enter Dykes.

"Jeff had a rebuilding job. His job was different," Dykes said. "He made this place credible. He made people take notice and say, 'Cal is a good job. You can do things at Cal.' If it hadn't been for his success, we wouldn't be sitting in this facility right now. He did a great job with the program. They kind of fell off the last couple of years, but he's what made this place a good place."

Dykes is expected to make it a great place.

That won't be easy. Stanford and Oregon are in the way, for one. Washington and Oregon State, potential top-25 teams in 2013, also are looking to take the proverbial "next step." And that's just the North Division.

Further, there are some things that need to be cleaned up, not the least of which is team academics.

Cal is the nation's most celebrated public university. It's difficult to walk around campus without running into someone wearing a Nobel Prize medal. Yet the football program not only ranked last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate last season at 48 percent -- 5 percent behind No. 11 Arizona -- it ranked second worst among automatic qualifying conference teams, 1 percent ahead of Oklahoma, where folks believe the Nobel Prize is something a person gets for visiting the "Rock Rose Capital of the World."

On the football side of things, the Bears seemed mired in a general malaise over the past few seasons. Quarterback play, upon which Tedford built his strong reputation, was mediocre to bad post-Aaron Rodgers. Further, when Cal lost, it didn't mess around. Over Tedford's final four years, the Bears lost 16 games by at least 17 points. That happened while the Bears nonetheless remained a major pipeline to the NFL.

Top-to-bottom talent didn't seem like the problem. It seemed like the Bears had become a bit of a head case. Chief among Dykes' first-year tasks is creating a mentally tougher team.

"This is not a traditional rebuilding job," Dykes said. "But some things do need to be rebuilt. I think the psyche needs to be rebuilt. Maybe expectations need to be rebuilt. We need to do a good job of balancing athletic and academic success."

As for X's and O's and quarterback woes, Dykes and his spread-guru offensive coordinator Tony Franklin averaged 51.5 points per game last season at Louisiana Tech, with quarterback Colby Cameron ranking 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency while throwing 31 TD passes with just five interceptions.

Too pass-happy? The Bulldogs averaged 227 yards rushing, which ranked 17th in the nation. Dykes, who also coached Nick Foles as Arizona's offensive coordinator before going to Louisiana Tech in 2010, has the offensive bona fides, without question.

In terms of putting it all together at an elite academic institution -- Cal fans might want to cover their ears -- Dykes sees a pretty good model playing ball a bit to the south.

"The thing Stanford has done is they've done it the right way," he said. "Their kids are graduating. They've proven you can have high academic standards and still have success on the field."

Dykes says his charge is "not about building a team; it's about building a program." That means creating a culture aimed at long-term and high-level success.

Yes, more than a few Old Blues have related to Dykes their singular wish to experience a Rose Bowl before they die. Tedford used to joke that many Cal fans wanted the Rose Bowl more than a national title.

Tedford took over a team that hadn't posted a winning season in eight years. He made winning seasons the standard. Now Dykes is charged with pushing the Bears back into the national rankings and into the Pac-12 title picture, while maintaining high academic standards.

And if he produces a Rose Bowl victory, they'll probably build a statue of him outside remodeled Memorial Stadium.

Pac-12 Christmas gifts: North Division

December, 19, 2012
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It's time to hand out Christmas gifts to each Pac-12 team.

For some, there's a whole lot of "Tis the season!" For others, there's some, "Bah, humbug!"

But the Pac-12 blog loves all its teams, from the George Baileys and Elfs to the Grinches and Bad Santas.

Further, as everyone knows that giving is better than receiving, we feel you should participate. Just send us a note on what you'd like to give your team here, and we will publish your thoughts on Christmas Eve.

I've got the North Division. Kevin will be along soon with the South Division.

California: A Mr. Quarterback. Since Aaron Rodgers' career ended in 2004, Cal has struggled to find consistency at quarterback. New coach Sonny Dykes is an offensive guru and everything, but if you're looking for consistency, this is your guy. Er, electronic toy.

Oregon: A block from De'Anthony Thomas. If Thomas had just turned around and gotten in Stanford safety Devon Carrington's way on Nov. 17, Ducks QB Marcus Mariota's 77-yard, first-quarter run would have turned into a 92-yard touchdown against the Cardinal. And the Ducks might be getting ready to play Notre Dame for their first national title, a game in which they'd be significantly favored.

Oregon State: Pink slips for Jason Garrett, Andy Reid, Romeo Crennel, Norv Turner, Rex Ryan, etc. Why? Any Beavers eager to see Oregon coach Chip Kelly leave the state?

Stanford: Coach David Shaw gets a gift certificate to Pearl Vision, which he can then forward to the officials who screwed up the calls at the end of the Cardinal's overtime defeat at Notre Dame.

Washington: For Washington QB Keith Price we'd get this appropriate DVD collection, which might inspire him to regain his 2011 form. And for Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, we have this. Not the poster. The real thing!

Washington State: For Cougars coach Mike Leach, we offer Linda Kaplan Thaler's and Robin Koval's self-help book, "The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness." And to keep him from yelling at us about how lame that gift was, we'd also give him the three-movie "Pirates of the Caribbean" collection.

Jeff Tedford doomed by Cal's recent slide

November, 20, 2012
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For much of the past two seasons, as Jeff Tedford sat firmly on the proverbial hot seat, the question was whether California could afford to fire its winningest coach. There was no buyout in Tedford's contract, so it would cost nearly $7 million to dispatch him, and that didn't include paying off his coaching staff.

And, of course, there were issues of loyalty. Tedford transformed a program that went 1-10 and played in a crumbling, half-empty stadium the season before he arrived, building it into a consistent winner that could afford massive facility upgrades.
On Tuesday, Cal administrators concluded that they couldn't afford not to fire Tedford, who completes the longest continuous, and current, tenure in the Pac-12 with an 82-57 record in 11 seasons in Berkeley.

The reasons for the not-unexpected firing are obvious. Tedford is 15-22 overall and 9-18 in Pac-12 play since going 8-5 in 2009. The Bears went 3-9 this year, the worst record of Tedford's tenure, including a five-game losing streak to end the season. Crowds at newly remodeled Memorial Stadium were dwindling, threatening Cal's Endowment Seating Program, which was supposed to play a central role for financing the stadium renovation.

Over the past four seasons, California lost 16 games by at least 17 points, and it is riding a three-game losing streak in the Big Game to Bay Area rival Stanford, which could end up in its third consecutive BCS bowl game this January.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireJeff Tedford's Bears lost their final five games to finish 3-9 -- the head coach's worst season at Cal.
The program has been in a downward trend and showed no signs this season of reversing that negative momentum. Fans were turning away just when they -- and their money -- were needed most. So, it was decided, a coaching change was critical to reverse the tide.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, one that required a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a complex set of factors,” Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. “Ultimately, I believed that we needed a change in direction to get our program back on the right track. Cal football is integral to our department and our university, and its influence can be felt well beyond the walls of Memorial Stadium."

So what's next? Well, Cal first has to decide how much it's willing to pay.

Tedford's 2012 salary is $2.3 million, which is a lot to most of us but not that much among elite coaches, particularly when you adjust for the Bay Area's cost of living. That's like making $1.6 million if you lived in Tuscaloosa, Ala. If Cal wants to pursue, say, Cincinnati's Butch Jones, they'd have to pay him $2.3 million just to match the value of Jones' current $1.6 million salary.

A front-line head coach likely will cost at least $2.5 million to $3 million. And then you have to hire his staff. Top coordinator salaries have risen to between $500,000 and $1 million. Washington is paying defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox $750,000 this year.
So this could get expensive.

Of course, the Bears also could do what they did when they hired Tedford away from Oregon: Find a hot coordinator.

Names you likely will hear: Wilcox, Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.

Bears fans have been frustrated by Cal's QB play since Aaron Rodgers went to the NFL. Well, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone rebuilt two offenses -- and two QBs -- in the past two seasons (at Arizona State and now with the Bruins).

Then you could trot out some other hot names in no particular order: Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky; and Gary Andersen, Utah State.

And coordinators: Kirby Smart, Alabama; Chad Morris, Clemson; Todd Monken, Oklahoma State; Brent Venables, Clemson; Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina; Kalani Sitake, Utah; Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State.

Or Cal could look to the NFL.

From the Cal statement: "Barbour said that a national search for a new head coach, which will be aided by the firm of DHR International, will begin immediately. She did not indicate a timetable for hiring a replacement, adding that Cal Athletics will have no further comment on the search until a new coach has been selected."

Tedford will land on his feet. He is plenty respected among other coaches. Don't be surprised if he lands another job in a major conference. Or the NFL.

He has proved he can build a program. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978 to 2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford suffered just two losing seasons in 11 years and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993.

But football is a zero-sum game. You either win or you lose. Tedford set an early pattern of winning, but losing was the recent trend. The program seemed to plateau, then slide.

Further, Stanford's fortunes were rising, as were other Pac-12 teams with new coaches, such as UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State.

In the big business of college football, losing isn't accepted, particularly when rivals are winning.

Pressure mounts on Tedford, Cal

October, 3, 2012
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No one argues that Jeff Tedford hasn't done a lot for California. He took over a team that went 1-10 in 2001 and played its football in a half-empty stadium and built a winning program from scratch that played in a full one.

As a business decision, the hiring of Tedford in 2002 has more than paid off. His winning 28 games from 2004-06 created an enlarged fan base. That fan base, enlivened by winning, developed expectations.

And no one argues that those expectations have not been met over the past two-plus seasons. Not by a 1-4 mark at present, nor a 13-17 record -- 7-13 in Pac-12 play -- since going 8-5 in 2009.

Not anyone, including Tedford.

"We're definitely not where we want to be," he said. "We're not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We're going to attack this and work hard at it and stay together."

In August, athletic director Sandy Barbour told CBS Sports that "Jeff Tedford is not on the hot seat."

That might have been true then, but that was before the Bears opened the stadium that had just undergone $330 million in renovations with a loss to Nevada. That was before USC handed Cal its 12th defeat by at least 17 points over the past three-plus seasons. That was before the Bears were beaten by 10 at home by Arizona State, a team they defeated on the road last year and which fired its coach shortly thereafter.

It's not difficult to defend the big picture of Tedford's 11-year tenure, the longest continuous employment of any Pac-12 coach. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978-2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford has suffered one losing season -- 5-7 in 2010 -- and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993. Finally, Tedford is 7-3 in the Big Game against rival Stanford.

Yet, again, the focus isn't on the big picture. It's the recent history. Cal hasn't finished a season nationally ranked since 2008. There are two Big Game losses in a row and a rising Stanford playing in consecutive BCS bowl games.

Further, there are four new coaches in the Pac-12 who have boosted their programs to varying degrees. The Bears host No. 25 UCLA and Jim Mora on Saturday. Todd Graham has the Sun Devils on the cusp of a national ranking. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez led the Wildcats to a victory over Oklahoma State. And Mike Leach provided a boost of enthusiasm among Washington State fans in the off-season.

Many Old Blues -- and young ones -- feel a sense of stagnation and malaise. And, with five of the next seven games against teams that are currently ranked with no off week, there's not a lot of hope the Bears can rally for a winning record and earn a bowl berth, as they did after an 0-3 start to Pac-12 play last year.

So what went wrong?

The obvious answer is quarterback play, which is where Tedford built a sterling reputation.

In 2004, Aaron Rodgers finished ranked eighth in the nation in passing efficiency and the Bears went 10-2. In 2006, after struggles the previous season with Joe Ayoob, sophomore Nate Longshore ranked 28th in the nation in passing efficiency, led the Bears to a 10-3 finish and was widely hailed as a future early NFL draft pick.

In 2007 -- Cal fans might recall some of this -- the Bears won a thriller at Oregon, 31-24, and rose to No. 2 in the nation behind LSU. In fact, LSU opened Week 8 with a loss to Kentucky. Cal was poised to rise to No. 1.

But Longshore had hurt his ankle at Oregon. He was replaced by Kevin Riley against Oregon State. No need to rehash what happened next.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard, Jeff Tedford
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIZach Maynard hasn't borne out promises by coach Jeff Tedford, right, that Cal's quarterback was much improved entering his senior season.
Quarterback play at Cal would never be the same. Longshore's career never delivered on early promise, and Cal quarterbacks haven't ranked higher than 61st in passing efficiency since 2006.

As for the present, senior Zach Maynard, who was touted by Tedford as vastly improved in the preseason, is 94th in the nation in passing efficiency. He's been sacked 25 times, most in the nation, so that doesn't help, but he has not seemed to rise to the occasion as a player or leader. He was suspended for the early portion of the opening loss to Nevada, had a heated sideline exchange with Tedford during the Southern Utah game and, last weekend, was caught on camera yelling at his offensive linemen.

But it's not just the offense by any stretch. The defense is giving up 30.2 points per game, which ranks 10th in the Pac-12. It's last in the conference in rushing defense, 11th in pass-efficiency defense and 11th on third down.

All of this has led to plenty of negativity around the program, which makes life difficult for Tedford. While Tedford said he doesn't "read it or get into" the speculation about his job status, he can't ignore the topic in the locker room.

"It's important to address it with the team," Tedford said. "They do live in it and around it."

If the negative chatter -- and losing -- eventually makes Tedford's position untenable, it will be costly to fire him. Tedford is paid privately and not with state money, and, as Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has pointed out, there is no buyout in his contract.

Writes Wilner:
[Tedford] is signed through the 2015 season, and the Bears would owe him his annual salary ($2.3 million) for each year left on the deal if he’s terminated.

So a change this winter would cost nearly $7 million, and that’s only for Tedford.

Add the expenses involved in turning over the coaching staff -- approx $1.5 million for Tedford’s assistants and at least that for a new group -- and we’re talking $10 million for a complete overhaul.

That means several wealthy folks would have to be highly motivated to get rid of Tedford.

Still, there are plenty of folks who are on Tedford's side. He's run a clean program, has graduated players and has built a program that justified massive facilities upgrades, which he was promised upon his hiring and has patiently waited for. And he's been loyal to Cal, turning down several suitors in both the NFL and college ranks through the years.

Entering the season, it seemed that Tedford still had some leeway. If he produced another winning season, the odds were he would be safe.

Few entertained the idea of the team cratering. Few imagined a season that could be Tedford's worst.

No one argues that Tedford hash't earned patience. A program's winningest coach deserves that. Plenty of it.

The question for the powers that be at Cal, however, is when that patience runs out. It's not a question anyone in Berkeley wants to entertain -- everyone wanted to win in 2012 -- but it's clearly out there looming, unwanted yet real.
We're saying goodbye to the BCS today, even though the BCS isn't going away until 2014. Oh, well.

So what are the Pac-12/10's best and worst BCS moments?

Best

The Pac-12 has won one BCS national title (though just about everyone believes USC to be the "true" 2003 national champion). So that has to be conference's best BCS moment: USC's undisputed 2004 championship.

The 2004 Trojans were dominant with quarterback Matt Leinart; running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White; receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett; and a defense led by defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson and linebacker Lofa Tatupu. They outscored foes 496 to 169.

In the BCS national title game in Miami, they stomped Oklahoma 55-19 and made USC a repeat national champ under Pete Carroll.

Honorable mentions
  • In 2000, Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and Oregon State whipped Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Pac-12 has produced two BCS bowl teams four times, but this is the only year it won both games.
  • While Utah was not a member of the Pac-12 in 2004 and 2008, it's worth noting the Utes capped undefeated seasons both years with wins in the Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh and the Sugar Bowl over Alabama.


Worst

Not to make this all about USC, but the worst BCS moment was USC's exclusion in 2003, despite being ranked No. 1 in both major polls.

Those who had eyes knew that the Trojans were the nation's best team. But the computer chips liked LSU and Oklahoma better, even though the Sooners were fresh off a 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.

The AP poll would go on to crown USC the national champion, as did the Football Writers Association of America, after it whipped Michigan in the Rose Bowl. As for the coaches poll, it was contractually obligated to vote LSU No. 1 after its ugly win over Oklahoma. Three coaches, nonetheless, showed courage, rebelled and voted USC No. 1.

Honorable mentions
  • In 2001, Nebraska was picked over Oregon to play Miami for the national title, even though the Cornhuskers were stomped 62-36 by Colorado in their final regular-season game. The Ducks went on to whip Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, while Nebraska got bludgeoned by the Hurricanes 37-14.
  • In 2004, Texas coach Mack Brown lobbied hard for his Longhorns to eclipse California in the national polls. It worked, as the 10-1 Longhorns climbed past the 10-1 Bears and quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the standings for no justifiable reason and thereby finagled their way into the Rose Bowl, where Cal hadn't been since 1959.

Early entry frosh impact?

March, 6, 2012
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It's common now for true freshmen -- particularly quarterbacks -- to finish up high school early and show up at their new football homes in time for spring practice. More often than not they get a head start learning the offense or defense but rarely immediately jump into starting roles.

Still, some true freshmen make an immediate impact.

There appears to be some consensus out there which Pac-12 true freshmen on hand this spring are headed for playing time in 2012: California quarterback Zach Kline and Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead.

Just Monday, Cal coach Jeff Tedford tried to tamp down expectations for Kline, but assessments Tuesday from CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated won't do anything to dampen the hype.

Here's what Bruce Feldman thinks about Kline and Armstead:
1-Zach Kline, Cal, QB: It's been a loooooooong time since Jeff Tedford's team has had a really good QB. That last guy Aaron Rodgers left Cal after the 2004 season and it's been a bunch of misfires since. A lot of those quarterbacks who have had a shot at taking over, came to Berkeley with sizable credentials, but none of the other QBs Tedford has had since arrived more polished than the 6-2, 205-pound Kline. The Danville, CA native who has worked with former Cal coach Roger Theder for years, has good footwork, a quick release and is very accurate. Kline also seems to respond very well to competition. Zach Maynard, who had an up-and-down 2011, is the guy he'd have to overtake. Maynard, Tedford pointed out, did play better late in the season, but Kline is worth watching closely.

The Bears coach, whose teams have not finished in the AP Top 25 five years running now, has tried to temper some of the hype around Kline, by saying Maynard is still the program's starting QB. "I absolutely have concern about that," Tedford told reporters Monday about the lofty expectations on his young quarterback. "There's such a thing of putting too much on a kid early. I want him to come in here and be able concentrate on what he's doing and learn the offense and do his best without all the expectations."

8-Arik Armstead, Oregon, DL: Many projected the Californian as a top offensive tackle prospect, but he signed on with the Ducks, where he's seen Nick Alliotti's D have a lot of success with its' towering D-linemen. The 6-7, 282-pound Armstead, also a terrific basketball player, has a chance to boost a defensive end rotation that needs to replace Terrell Turner.

And here's Sports Illustrated's take:
Zach Kline, QB, Cal: Cal's class suffered major losses after recruiting ace and former defensive line coach Lupoi moved to Washington in January, but the Bears held onto Kline, a highly touted pro-style passer who has been attending camps at Berkeley since he was in the eighth grade. Rivals' No. 44 overall recruit and an East Bay native, Kline is already on campus and will compete for the starting job with incumbent Zach Maynard when camp opens in March.

Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon: Armstead had quite the wild recruiting ride. The five-star defensive end -- who is actually rated higher as an offensive tackle, but will exclusively play defense in college -- committed to USC in June 2010, de-committed from the Trojans in the fall of 2011 and looked like he was headed to Cal until assistant Tosh Lupoi moved to Washington in January. That's when Ducks coach Chip Kelly moved in, impressing Armstead enough to get him to sign and enroll early at Oregon. Rivals' No. 61 player should make an impact both on the field and on the court in Eugene: The 6-foot-8, 280 pound Armstead will also play basketball for the Ducks.

It's not unreasonable to believe that either one of these guys will play in 2012, but the Pac-12 blog remains skeptical as to whether they will log any starts. And if I were betting who gets more quality playing time, it would be Armstead, though there seems to be a nagging consensus that he should seriously consider listening to people -- just about everyone -- and switch to offensive tackle.

Tedford doesn't see de-Kline in Maynard

March, 5, 2012
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Certified workaholic Jeff Tedford actually took last weekend off. He climbed Mt. Diablo with his wife. He got to look around and smell the fresh air. You know: Just breathe.

Heavily, in fact. "She tried to kill me," Tedford quipped.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
AP Photo/George NikitinCal coach Jeff Tedford is confident in returning quarterback Zach Maynard.
It appears that Tedford, however, didn't experience any profound revelations about his quarterback situation atop the mountain. While Bears fans have long been clamoring for the second-coming of Aaron Rodgers -- many teams have, by the way -- it appears they might have to settle for the second-coming of Zach Maynard.

And, yes, Tedford is aware that fans are skeptical about Maynard and are eager to see true freshman Zach Kline, the nation's No. 2 prep quarterback, who graduated early in order to participate in spring practices.

When asked about what Maynard needs to work on, Tedford instead talked about what he did well over the last third of the season.

"I think he's taken big steps understanding what we're doing on offense and I think through his experience he understands how to manage the game," he said.

And when asked about Kline, Tedford tried to put the brakes on runaway expectations.

"While he's a gifted guy, I think we have to be careful to not put too much pressure on him," he said.

Tedford then invoked a name: Kyle Boller. Some of you might recall the nickname applied to Boller by certain wide-eyed Cal fans when he arrived in 1999: Baby Jesus. Yeah, that indicates high -- impossible? -- expectations. Boller was mostly a babe in the woods until Tedford arrived in 2002 and transformed a less than 50 percent passer with 38 interceptions over his first three years into a first-round NFL draft pick.

So, sure, if Kline is lights-out from the beginning, he might get into the mix, but Maynard and Allan Bridgford -- the top two quarterbacks from 2011 -- will be getting the first snaps when practices start on March 13.

"[It's] not much different than it looked before," Tedford said.

What Tedford sees -- and wants to build on -- is Maynard's final four regular season games. What fans who are skeptical see is Maynard's mid-season lull, punctuated by four interceptions vs. UCLA, and a poor performance in the Holiday Bowl against Texas.

Tedford also answered a question concerning persistent rumors of Maynard having academic eligibility issues: "There's nothing there as of now that would say anything different," he said.

As for Kline, Tedford is clearly aware of how hype works and how it can create all sorts of issues, on the field and in the locker room. He wants to avoid that. If Kline is the second-coming -- of Rodgers -- he needs to make that evident by his consistent play on the practice field. He needs to make everyone realize, from Tedford to his teammates, that he's the best quarterback on the roster right now and gives Cal its best chance to win in 2012.

"He's a very good player. There is no doubt about it," Tedford said. "But he's got to go through the bases. It's a different game at this level. We'll see how it goes but I don't think we need to put undue pressure on him."

Couple of notes:

  • Tedford said these players won't participate in spring practices due to injury: cornerback Marc Anthony, safety Michael Coley, center Dominic Galas, cornerback Stefan McClure, defensive end Brennan Scarlett, full back Eric Stevens and running back Dasarte Yarnway.
  • While Tedford is no fan of spring games, the Bears will have a sort of spring game on April 21. It's uncertain of the format and location. Tedford said that if the Bears are healthy, it will be a full-go scrimmage.

Post-Cal, Ayoob takes flight

February, 28, 2012
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Joe Ayoob was a much-hyped junior college transfer to California in 2005, but his career never really took flight.

It has now. In fact, Ayoob has etched his name into the record book.

Throwing footballs? Neh. For tossing a paper airplane.

Inside a hanger at McClellan Air Force Base outside Sacramento on Sunday, Ayoob threw a paper airplane 226 feet, 10 inches -- shattering the previous world record record of 207 feet, four inches.

Scoff if you want, but the video is pretty darn cool.

"I grew up making paper airplanes," Ayoob said. "I used to make paper airplanes and throw them all the way home from school when I was little. So it was kind of up my alley. I thought it was a cool idea.

"Some people might think, 'What's the big deal? It's just a paper airplane. But it's a world record. It took a lot of time for John, and it took a lot of time for me working with John to achieve this. ... It's very rewarding, and I'm very proud of this record."


Ayoob had the misfortune of following Aaron Rodgers at Cal. Their similar junior college resumes inspired comparisons that were out of whack and impossible to match. But now Ayoob has something Rodgers doesn't have, though Rodgers' Super Bowl ring and an NFL MVP award are pretty cool, too.

"He may be a little jealous, because I know he's a very competitive guy," Ayoob said. "I'd encourage him to fold a plane and see what he can do. I'm sure, as I am jealous of him, he will be jealous of me. He does things on a much grander scale these days, so it's very cool to see him have all that success.

"But I do have an airplane record on him. I can say that, at least."

Pac-12 owns the NFL

January, 17, 2012
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Pro Football Weekly released its 2011 All-NFL team this week, and it's got an extraordinary amount of Pac-12 flavor.

How much flavor? How about the Offensive MVP (Aaron Rodgers), Defensive MVP (Terrell Suggs), and Coach of the Year (Jim Harbaugh)? How about three offensive players, four defensive players and a specialist?

Here's the team.

Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America
2011 All-NFL Team
Offense
Quarterback
Aaron Rodgers / Packers
Running backs
Maurice Jones-Drew / Jaguars
LeSean McCoy / Eagles
Wide receivers
Calvin Johnson / Lions
Wes Welker / Patriots
Tight end
Rob Gronkowski / Patriots
Center
Maurkice Pouncey / Steelers
Offensive guards
Jahri Evans / Saints
Carl Nicks / Saints
Offensive tackles
Jason Peters / Eagles
Joe Thomas / Browns
Defense
Defensive ends
Jared Allen / Vikings
Jason Pierre-Paul / Giants
Defensive tackles
Haloti Ngata / Ravens
Justin Smith / 49ers
Outside linebackers
DeMarcus Ware / Cowboys
Terrell Suggs / Ravens
Inside linebacker
Patrick Willis / 49ers
Cornerbacks
Darrelle Revis / Jets
Johnathan Joseph / Texans
Safeties
Troy Polamalu / Steelers
Eric Weddle / Chargers

Specialists
Placekicker
David Akers / 49ers
Punter
Andy Lee / 49ers
Punt returner
Patrick Peterson / Cardinals
Kickoff returner
Joe McKnight / Jets
Special-teamer
Matthew Slater / Patriots
Most Valuable Player — Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Defensive MVP — Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs
Coach of the Year — 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh
Rookie of the Year — Panthers QB Cam Newton
Offensive Rookie of the Year — Panthers QB Cam Newton
Most Improved Player of the Year — Giants WR Victor Cruz
Comeback Player of the Year — Lions QB Matthew Stafford
Executive of the Year — 49ers GM Trent Baalke
Assistant Coach of the Year — Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips

Arizona becomes WVU Southwest

January, 12, 2012
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The first thing someone needs to buy Rich Rodriguez's staff at Arizona? A road map. And maybe some green plants to ease their acclimation to desert life.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Chris Morrison/US PresswireWith his hiring done, new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, left, and his coaching staff can focus on adjusting to life in the Pac-12.
Rodriguez completed his staff hires Wednesday, finally announcing that he'd lured Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia, as well as two other Mountaineers defensive coaches: David Lockwood (defensive backs) and Bill Kirelawich (defensive line). He also hired Spencer Leftwich (tight ends), who was at Pittsburgh this past season.

This is a good -- and proven -- staff. Casteel's 3-3-5 defense seems a perfect fit for the Pac-12, and Rodriguez seems to have gotten all the guys he wanted. If you know the backstory, that didn't happen at Michigan, and more than a few folks will tell you that's a major reason why things didn't work out.

My single critique: It's too bad Rodriguez couldn't find a way to retain Tim Kish, a respected defensive coach who did a good job holding the Wildcats together as interim coach after Mike Stoops was fired.

If Rodriguez had retained Kish, then he would have taken pressure off offensive line coach Robert Anae, Rodriguez's only assistant with any substantial West Coast experience. None of the new coaches even visited Tucson during the interview process, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Going forward, when these new coaches need to know, say, where San Diego is or whether Portland is north or south of Seattle, the only guy who will know the answers without taking out a map is Anae.

We kid, of course. But Rodriguez did take a specific route when hiring his staff: He hired his guys and didn't worry about their regional experience or about preserving much continuity with the previous staff.

Wait that's not completely fair. Casteel did graduate and get a master's degree from California University. That it was in Pennsylvania and not Berkeley, we will overlook.

You can read the staff bios here. You will see a lot of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Michigan as well as some Louisiana, Indiana and Florida. Oh, there's a smattering of UNLV, UTEP and New Mexico State, but the Pac-12 experience is about zero.

That will, at least in the short term, lead to challenges. Recruiting is about relationships, and those will need to be built up, particularly with West Coast high school coaches. Further, there will be a lack of familiarity in conference play. Stoops told me before his second season that the quality of quarterback play and the top-to-bottom sophistication of conference offenses was a shock to his Big 12 sensibilities. It all felt like rumors and hype, then he started to watch film and game plan.

No offense to the Big East, but Casteel didn't see many Carson Palmers, Aaron Rodgerses, Andrew Lucks or Matt Barkleys during his 11 years at West Virginia. Quarterbacks who can put the ball wherever they want to create myriad challenges for a defense.

Further, there's the culture shock. Kirelawich (pronounced Kerr-LAV-itch) has been at West Virginia since 1979. Bill, let me be the first to say this: It's a dry heat. I've been to Morgantown just once -- a college road trip, one that went quite well I might add -- and from my vague memory it is nothing like Tucson. Nothing.

For example: Morgantown is called "Tree City USA." Tucson is not. Cactus? Tucson has plenty of those. Trees, not so much.

Good Mexican food, though. Gents, I recommend getting these guys to cater one of those long staff meetings.

Still, my guess is Rodriguez and his staff feel a sense of adventure and newness. The unfamiliarity might turn out to be invigorating. And the Pac-12 blog is firmly on record that a head coach needs to have complete faith in the members of his staff.

A significant part Rodriguez's backstory at Michigan -- an unquestioned failure -- was of constant undermining by a variety of forces. That won't be part of the story here.

Rodriguez got his men. Now all they have to do is lead Arizona to its first Rose Bowl.

Some JC recruiting notes

December, 19, 2011
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Junior college players are seen as quick fixes. They have less eligibility remaining than that of a true freshman and are often viewed as risky. Some Pac-12 schools barely -- or never -- recruit JC guys. Others recruit a handful every year.

One name: Aaron Rodgers.

OK, a second (and more recent one): John White.

Here's an ESPN recruiting update on what's going on with some of the top JC guys Insider in the nation. It's clear that new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is looking hard at a couple of top prospects.

Writes Corey Long: "With Rich Rodriguez just coming onto the job, he'd like to get some offensive weapons to come in and run his spread option right away. Look for the Wildcats to go hard after former FSU commit De'Joshua Johnson."

Here are some others prospects of note:

Gerald Bowman, S, Los Angeles Pierce
6-foot-1, 215 pounds

Considering: USC, Oklahoma and Miami
One of the nation's top junior college safeties, Bowman was originally an all-state performer while at Philadelphia Imhotep Prep. Bowman has been a two-time all-conference performer while at Pierce. He has taken visits to his top three schools, and also visited Cal. Other offers include Oregon, Ole Miss, Arizona, Tennessee, UCLA and West Virginia.

De'Joshua Johnson, WR/RS
5-10, 155

Considering: Arizona, Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Middle Tennessee and Bowling Green
The former Florida State commit wanted to return to Florida to play college football, but it's doubtful that can happen. Recently it appeared like Middle Tennessee was primed to pull a surprise, but Arizona might be the favorite now. Rodriguez recruited Johnson while coaching at Michigan and has a good connection with prospects from Pahokee (Fla.) High School. Oklahoma also offered Johnson, who earned NJCAA All-American honorable mention as a return specialist.

Mike Pennel, DT, Scottsdale (Ariz.)
6-4, 340

Considering: Arizona State, Kansas State, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Hawaii
Pennel committed to Arkansas earlier in the process but decommitted on Dec. 5. He will not sign until February and that could force him to check out other options. Pennel has taken visits to Arkansas and Texas A&M so far. Pennel had 13 tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble.

Mohammed "Mo" Seisay, CB, Eastern Arizona
6-2, 200

Considering: Arizona, Nebraska, Ole Miss
Seisay made the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2010 while enrolled at Memphis. As of November, he had six interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. Other offers came from Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas State, Illinois and North Carolina.

And here are some notable JC guys who have already committed to Pac-12 teams.

Alexandru Ceachir, OL, Santa Monica (Calif.)
6-5, 300
Committed to Utah

Originally from Moldova (a European country located between Romania and Ukraine), Ceachir played European club football before moving to America. He took an official visit to Colorado and also held offers from Arkansas, Fresno State and Utah.

Kyle Long, OL, Saddleback College (Calif.)
6-7, 290
Committed to Oregon

Long, son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long, originally committed to FSU on a baseball scholarship and later transferred to Virginia to play football. A former ESPNU 150 prospect in 2008 out of Charlottesville (Va.) Saint Anne's-Belfield, Long was a first-team all-conference performer in 2011. He had offers from UCLA, Washington, Auburn, FSU and SMU.

Lunch links: Snub still irks Aaron Rodgers

December, 15, 2011
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No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!

Best case-worst case: California

August, 18, 2011
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Third in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: California

Best case

California fans were giddy well before Zach Maynard completed his 24th consecutive pass against Fresno State in Candlestick Park, but just about everyone wearing blue knew whose revered name had just been knocked from atop the school record book during a 38-17 victory.

"That's true," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "But Maynard runs a lot better than Aaron Rodgers did, so I don't want to compare them."

Colorado was eager to take vengeance for an embarrassing 52-7 loss in Berkeley the year before, but it couldn't stop Maynard and his half-brother Keenan Allen, who caught 11 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-19 victory in Boulder.

After beating the Fighting Blue Hose of Presbyterian 103-4 -- third string centers with bad shotgun snaps! -- the Bears head to Seattle to take on Washington, which has won two consecutive games in the series, the first an embarrassing blowout, the second on a last-second TD that handed Cal a losing record for the first time in nine years under Tedford.

Maynard throws three TD passes, Isi Sofele and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson both eclipse 100 yards rushing and the Bears defense sacks Huskies QB Keith Price four times in a 31-13 drubbing.

"I am struggling with this," types GooooooooooBEARS -- a longtime anti-Tedford gadfly -- in the comments section of the Pac-12 Blog. "For so long, I have been hating on Tedford. But... well. I just need to be alone for a little bit to get back in touch with myself."

A 15,000-word essay appears on the California Golden Blogs -- complete with 15 different charts and graphs -- that claims to mathematically prove that Maynard is the reincarnation of Samuel Adrian "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh.

"It actually pencils out nicely," says Tsit-Yuen Lam, Berkeley Mathematics Professor of the Graduate School Emeritus. "I still think Tedford should go for it on fourth down more often, but that's a topic for another day."

The Bears go nose-to-nose with No. 1 Oregon before falling 24-20, becoming the first team to hold the Ducks below 50 points.

A 55-yard field goal with four seconds left from Giorgia Tavecchio bests USC, 27-24. After a 30-20 win over Utah, the 6-1 Bears move up to 10th in both major polls.

The Old Blues starting thinking Rose Bowl. But those dreams get torn apart during a mistake-laden upset loss at UCLA. Fans consider a bandwagon jump.

"Hey, gang, I recommend keeping a level head," types GooooooooooBEARS. "We love our team. We love our coach. We must have faith and support them. Unite, Blues! We've only begun to fight!"

The Bears pound Washington State and Oregon State, which sets up the Biggest of Big Games against No. 1 Stanford, which is fresh off a victory over previously-No. 1 Oregon.

Tedford walks into a team meeting on Monday. He wordless flips on cut-ups of the 2010 Big Game, which featured Cal picking a pre-game fight then showing no fight while the Cardinal bludgeoned the Bears 48-14, Stanford's most lopsided win in the rivalry in 80 years. He shows QB Andrew Luck running over safety Sean Cattouse. He shows a post-game interview of then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh: "Our guys really kept their cool and I think that was a big difference today. They kept their poise. I don't like that kind of football where you try and talk and intimidate. ... Just play football. Shut up and play football."

Tedford then turns to his team: "Shut up and play football."

Cal upsets the Cardinal 35-27, with Cattouse sealing the deal with an 87-yard interception return of a Luck pass.

The Bears nip Arizona State to finish the regular season 10-2. They then whip Texas 45-3 in the Alamo Bowl. Cal fans spend most of the game, which was decided by halftime, serenading Longhorns coach Mack Brown, who in 2004 talked his team into the Rose Bowl over a more deserving Cal squad.

Cal earns a final No. 9 ranking.

Wisconsin blows out Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and immediately thereafter offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro as well as linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas opt to join Luck in the NFL draft a year early. Coach David Shaw steps down to pursue a career on Wall Street, and athletic director Bob Bowlsby brings back Walt Harris, "to take care of unfinished business."

Worst case

Zach Maynard was brilliant for three quarters. Then, early in the fourth against Fresno State, he falls awkwardly out of bounds.

Cal wins 28-20, but Maynard suffers what is notoriously called a "high ankle sprain."

Brock Mansion gets the start at Colorado, and the Buffaloes get their revenge for their 2010 beatdown in Berkeley, beating the Bears 24-21.

After pounding Presbyterian, Cal falls 28-20 at Washington.

"I think we'll get Zach back after the bye week at Oregon," says a hopeful Jeff Tedford.

Maynard does return at Autzen Stadium, but he's sacked six times and is noticeably limping in the fourth quarter. He also throws two interceptions.

With Mansion back under center for Cal, USC rolls over the Bears inside half-empty AT&T Park. At 2-4, things start to get tense in Berkeley.

"Is it just me, or are things tense in Berkeley?" a one sentence post on the California Golden Blogs queries.

Tedford opts to start Allan Bridgford against Utah, and Bridgford is solid in a 28-24 victory. He then leads the Bears to a win at UCLA, which evens their record at 4-4, but he gets hurt in the second quarter against Washington State. Maynard comes off the bench but isn't sharp. The Cougars prevail on a late Jeff Tuel TD pass.

The first "Cal needs to fire Tedford" column appears in the San Jose Mercury News. The column says, "Tedford led the Bears back from oblivion, but then he hit a plateau. Instead of rising above that plateau, the program has redirected to another unhappy valley. Credit Tedford for what he accomplished but he must be held accountable for what he hasn't. Not only has he failed to maintain a winning program, he now has led it back to losing."

Tedford refuses to engage the topic, but his players rally around him and beat Oregon State 20-17, kicker Giorgio Tavecchio giving Tedford the game ball after he kicked a late winning field goal.

But that rally doesn't last through the Big Game. David Shaw, coach of unbeaten, top-ranked Stanford, perhaps showing a bit more mercy than his predecessor, yanks his starters early in the fourth quarter of a 38-10 victory.

The Bears, with Maynard at quarterback and still needing just one win to earn bowl eligibility, play with surprising verve at Arizona State. But they fall 24-20

"It's not Coach Tedford's fault," receiver Keenan Allen says after a second-consecutive 5-7 finish. "Players win or lose games. And if we'd had Zach healthy the entire season, we'd have won a lot more games and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

But too many Cal fans have turned against Tedford. Athletic director Sandy Barbour announces that "with great regret" she is terminating him.

Tedford sits out a year before being hired by the Oakland Raiders, whom he leads to a victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Stanford wins the national championship, whipping Alabama 41-10.

"What the heck -- I'm coming back!" announces quarterback Andrew Luck, which inspires every Cardinal to do the same and not leave early for the NFL draft.

Barbour hires Eugene F. Teevens III -- most know him as "Buddy" -- to replace Tedford. "I thought he was so close to doing some good things at Stanford," Barbour explains.

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