Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats

Meaningful early Pac-12 odds

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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So what is the early verdict on the 2014 college football season from those who take more than a casual interest in such things -- as in the Vegas sorts? Glad you asked.

We checked out some early "odds" and ends from a Pac-12 perspective.

First week betting lines (obviously not all games are included).

UNLV at Arizona (-25.5)

Colorado State (pick 'em) at Colorado (in Denver)

Washington (-21.5) at Hawaii

Odds to win 2014-2015 BCS National Championship (from 5 Dimes, unless otherwise noted)

Arizona 100-1
Arizona State 75-1
California 500-1 (Bovada)
Colorado NA
Oregon 49-4
Oregon State 300-1
Stanford 41-1
UCLA 26-1
USC 50-1
Utah 500-1
Washington 75-1
Washington State 300-1

Odds to win the Heisman Trophy from Bovada (23 total players were listed)

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: 5-1 (No. 2 overall behind 2013 winner Jameis Winston: 5-2)
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: 14-1
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: 28-1
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: 28-1
Myles Jack, LB-RB, UCLA: 33-1

Poll: Top spring storyline

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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There hasn’t been a shortage of intriguing storylines this spring in the Pac-12. Then again, there usually aren’t. From quarterback battles to disciplinary issues, the 2014 spring has given us plenty to talk about. But which one stands out as the biggest storyline? That’s today’s Pac-12 blog poll question.

What’s the biggest storyline in the Pac-12 this spring?

Your options:

SportsNation

What is the biggest storyline in the Pac-12 this spring?

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    48%
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    17%
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    17%
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    12%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,395)

Bralon Addison injury: The Ducks lost one of their top receiving threats when Addison tore his ACL in spring practice. There are options for the Ducks, who are never wanting for offensive talent. But Addison seemed poised to build off an outstanding 2013 after catching 61 balls for 890 yards and seven touchdowns -- not to mention his prowess as a return man. This is the third-straight spring a marquee receiver has gone down (Paul Richardson, 2012; Austin Hill, 2013).

USC quarterback: Cody Kessler is USC’s starting quarterback, for now. New coach Steve Sarkisian announced before the spring game that the incumbent had continued to distance himself from challengers Max Browne and Jalen Greene. It wasn’t a total shock -- given Kessler’s year of experience and the fact that he came on strong in the second half last fall. But USC quarterbacks will always garner national attention.

Quarterback questions marks: While 10 Pac-12 coaches have the luxury of having their QB in place already, two schools are still looking for their starter. Arizona has a host of quarterbacks to choose from. And spring has brought little clarity to the situation. At Washington, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams split the snaps, but we won’t know much until Cyler Miles returns from his suspension.

ASU’s defense: Every team has to replace a few key players, but the Arizona State Sun Devils essentially have to replace its entire starting defense. With nine starters gone from last season’s defense gone -- including two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year Will Sutton -- the competition level was upped to see who is going to step in.

Stanford's RBs: Being a starting running back at Stanford means big production. The Cardinal have had a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2008, so whoever replaces Tyler Gaffney is probably in for a big season. Though coach David Shaw told the Pac-12 blog earlier this month he’d prefer to have a committee approach, a natural No. 1 will likely emerge. Who that is, however, remains a question.

Pac-12 lunch links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.

Pac-12 leads leagues in QB starts

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Keeping with our theme of Pac-12 quarterbacks -- and numbers donated to the Pac-12 blog by the Arizona State sports information department -- Jeremy Hawkes and Jordan Parry compiled a list of returning starts behind center by conference. Not surprisingly the Pac-12, with 10 returning starting QBs, is tied with the 14-team Big Ten for the most returning starters, and the Pac-12 leads the nation in total starts.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country.
Hawkes wrote: "The logic we used was based around the quarterback who would be considered the 'primary' quarterback by season's end last season. Quarterbacks who were injured early in the season when they were considered the primary quarterback and return this year are also counted on the list (like David Ash at Texas)."

The Pac-12 not only welcomes back 10 starting QBs, it welcomes back 198 total starts, topped by 31 from Oregon State's Sean Mannion. Seven of the returning Pac-12 QBs have more than one season's worth of starting experience, too.

The Big Ten features 10 returning QBs and a cumulative 158 starts. The 14-team SEC only welcomes back five starting QBs with a combined 68 starts. Ohio State's Braxton Miller has the most career starts among returning quarterbacks with 32.

Further, notes Hawkes, "Also notable is that aside from Miller, Rutgers' Gary Nova (28 starts), Mannion (31), Taylor Kelly (27), Brett Hundley (27) and Marcus Mariota (26) are the four most seasoned QBs among all BCS teams (along with Bo Wallace at 26 starts at Ole Miss)."

Here's the list.

Pac-12 (10)
Sean Mannion, Oregon State: 31
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: 27
Brett Hundley, UCLA: 27
Marcus Mariota, Oregon: 26
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: 19
Connor Halliday, Washington State: 19
Travis Wilson, Utah: 16
Cody Kessler, USC: 14
Jared Goff, Cal: 12
Sefo Liufau, Colorado: 7
Total: 198 starts

Big Ten (10)
Braxton Miller, Ohio State: 32
Gary Nova, Rutgers: 28
Devin Gardner, Michigan: 21
Joel Stave, Wisconsin: 19
Connor Cook, Michigan State: 13
Jake Rudock, Iowa: 13
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: 12
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana: 8
Danny Etling, Purdue: 8
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota: 4
Total: 158 starts

Big 12 (8)
David Ash, Texas: 21
Bryce Petty, Baylor: 13
Jake Waters, Kansas State: 13
Jake Heaps, Kansas: 9
Sam Richardson, Iowa State: 8
Clint Trickett, West Virginia: 7
Davis Webb, Texas Tech: 6
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: 5
Total: 82 starts

SEC (5)
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: 26
Nick Marshall, Auburn: 14
Brandon Allen, Arkansas: 12
Justin Worley, Tennessee: 10
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: 6
Total: 68 starts

ACC (4)
Anthony Boone, Duke: 15
Jameis Winston, Florida State: 14
David Watford, Virginia: 12
Terrel Hunt, Syracuse: 10
Total: 51 starts

American Athletic (5)
Paxton Lynch, Memphis: 12
John O'Korn, Houston: 11
P.J. Walker, Temple: 7
Mike White, South Florida: 5
Casey Cochran, Connecticut: 4
Total: 39 starts
And I've been up all night, I might sleep all day;
Get your dreams just right, and let them slip away.

Pac-12 recruiting roundup

April, 23, 2014
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It’s been about a month since we last checked in on the recruiting front. The Bears have gotten on the board with two commits in the last week, ASU added a hometown quarterback, UCLA added a third ESPN 300 player, the Trojans picked up a commit from the No. 3 offensive tackle and the Huskies got a commitment from the nation’s No. 4 pocket passer.

Here’s a look at where each school stands in the recruiting game.

Arizona

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Taren Morrison, RB, Mesa, Ariz.; Darick Holmes Jr., RB, Westlake Village, Calif.; Ricky McCoy, TE, Fresno, Calif.; Finton Connolly, DT, Gilbert, Ariz.

Arizona State

2015 commits: 5
Player(s): Morie Evans, WR, Huntsville, Texas; Bryce Perkins, QB, Chandler, Ariz.; Nick Ralston, RB, Argyle, Texas; Tony Nicholson, Ath., Grand Prairie, Texas; Raymond Epps, TE, Yuma, Ariz.

California

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Austin Aaron, WR, Napa, Calif.; Malik Psalms, CB, Chino Hills, Calif.

Colorado

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): T.J. Fehoko, DE, Salt Lake City; N.J. Falo, OLB, Sacramento, Calif.; Dillon Middlemiss, OG, Arvada, Colo.

Oregon

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Zach Okun, OG, Newbury Park, Calif.; Jake Breeland, WR, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Oregon State

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Tyrin Ferguson, OLB, New Orleans; Treshon Broughton, CB, Tustin, Calif.; Kyle Haley, OLB, Anaheim, Calif.

Stanford

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Arrington Farrar, S, College Park, Georgia; Christian Folau, ILB, Salt Lake City; Rex Manu, DT, Mililani, Hawaii.

UCLA

2015 commits: 6
Player(s): Josh Rosen, QB, Bellflower, Calif.; Alize Jones, TE-Y, Las Vegas; Tevita Halalilo, OG, Moreno Valley, Calif.; Jaason Lewis, ATH, Virginia Beach, Va.; Victor Alexander, OLB, Jacksonville, Fla.; Bolu Olorunfunmi, RB, Clovis, Calif.

USC

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Chuma Edoga, OT, Powder Springs, Ga.; Ricky Town, QB (PP), Ventura, Calif.; David Sills, QB (PP), Elkton, Maryland; Taeon Mason, CB, Pasadena, Calif.

Utah

2015 commits: 7
Player(s): Jake Grant, OT, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Tuli Wily-Matagi, ATH, Kahuku, Hawaii; Donzale Roddie, WR, Paramount, Calif.; Chayden Johnston, K, South Jordan, Utah; Brandon Snell, WR, Miami; Corey Butler, WR, Wilmington, Calif.; Zach Lindsay, OT, Kaysville, Utah.

Washington

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Jake Browning, QB, Folsom, Calif.; Trey Adams, OT, Wenatchee, Wash.; Myles Gaskin, RB, Seattle.

Washington State

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Thomas Toki, DT, Mountain View, Calif.; Austin Joyner, RB, Marysville, Wash.
The Pac-12 replaced a third of its coaches prior to the 2012 season. Half of the Pac-12 South changed skippers, with Rich Rodriguez going to Arizona, Todd Graham to ASU and Jim Mora to UCLA. In the North, Mike Leach took things over at Washington State.

Per the hard-working, number-crunching folks at Arizona State, 27 schools changed coaches that year, and six of them have already made additional changes. Here’s a look at the coaching records of those coaches hired between December 2011 and January 2012.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTodd Graham has proven to be one of the best coaching hires made after the 2011 season.
20-6: Fresno State (Tim DeRuyter); Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin)

19-8: UCLA (Jim Mora)

18-9: Arizona State (Todd Graham)

16-9: Toledo (Matt Campbell)

16-10: Arizona (Rich Rodriguez)

15-10: North Carolina (Larry Fedora)

15-11: Rutgers (Kyle Flood); Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze)

13-12: Houston (Tony Levine)

13-13: Pittsburgh (Paul Chryst)

12-14: Colorado State (Jim McElwain)

9-16: Washington State (Mike Leach); Tulane (Curtis Johnson)

7-17: Memphis (Justin Fuente)

7-18: New Mexico (Bob Davie)

6-18: Illinois (Tim Beckman); Akron (Terry Bowden)

4-20: Kansas (Charlie Weis); Hawaii (Norm Chow)

The purpose of the post, coming from ASU, is to show that the Sun Devils believe they hit a home run with the Graham hire, which of course was much maligned at the time. Ironically enough, so was the hire of the guy who ranks one win ahead of Graham, UCLA’s Mora. While Rodriguez and Leach were celebrated hires at their respective schools, Graham and Mora weren’t met with as warm of a reception.

And yet all four have done a fine job in their own right, given their respective situations. Mora has a South Division championship, a bowl win and a pair of victories over rival USC. Graham has a South Division championship, a bowl win, and a pair of victories over rival Arizona. After missing the postseason in 2011, Rodriguez has come in and given the Wildcats back-to-back bowl victories. And after a rocky first year, Leach brought the Cougars to the postseason for the first time in a decade.

So while there are varying degrees of success, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that all four schools found the right guy. Each has excited the fan base -- and donors -- because all four programs have either had facility upgrades or they are on their way.

And while the balance of power still lies with Stanford and Oregon in the North, the trio of coaches in the South have upped the competition level significantly. The UCLA-USC and ASU-Arizona rivalries will always take center stage. But how great have the UCLA-ASU games been the last couple of years?

Because all four hires were so high profile at the time, the coaches will always be measured against each other. But two seasons in, all four schools have to be feeling pretty good about their choice of coaches.
Welcome to the mailbag, where no question is dumb. Except for the dumb ones.

Jaime in Los Angeles writes: Your poll was interesting about anointing a quarterback. Where do you come down?

Kevin Gemmell: If you can, you should, without question. Coaches, however, don’t always have that luxury.

This is an interesting season for Pac-12 quarterbacks because there are potentially 10 starters returning. That’s pretty rare for a conference. But it’s also a relief to 10 coaches who don’t have to deal with Ted texting them at 2 a.m. inquiring who their starting quarterback is going to be. (Now he just texts me).

To have a starting quarterback in place post-spring -- if it’s the right quarterback -- can be a blessing. He’ll lead the way in the weight room. He’ll call his receivers up to go throw for no other reason than he wants to throw. He’ll bond with his guys and they’ll start to respect him off the field.

Now for the two schools that don’t have a starter coming back -- Arizona and Washington -- there is no reason to rush things. During this time, Chris Petersen and Rich Rodriguez will be getting feedback from their strength coaches about how the quarterbacks interact with the other players. Who is stepping up and being a leader? Who do the guys respect? Who do they respond to? It’s not just about the Xs and Os.

So while I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of anointing a quarterback, I also know that if you don’t have one in place you shouldn’t force the issue.




Tim in Salt Lake City writes: Kevin, Which Pac-12 programs do you expect to benefit the most from new rules allowing coaches to work with players over the summer?

Kevin Gemmell: I could give you the “duh” answer, and that’s all of them. Because obviously it’s going to benefit every team. But if you’re looking for the impact on just this upcoming season, I think it’s a huge asset to every team with a young or new quarterback. An Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington, etc.

The rule offers an additional eight hours per week (assuming student-athletes hit certain academic benchmarks) and up to two of those hours can be spent in the film room. That means extra time studying formations, cutups, etc. It gives a Sefo Liufau and Jared Goff extra time to review what they did right and wrong in 2013. And it allows one of Arizona’s 17 quarterbacks to gain that little extra knowledge that might make the difference. It could either be catch-up for Cyler Miles or the difference between starting or sitting on the bench for Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams.

The physical aspect of it is important, also. It’s a way to make sure guys are sticking with their regimen. And for a team like, say, Colorado, which has dramatically needed to improve its physical strength (and made strides in 2013), it’s another few hours of supervised work.

Since you’re writing from SLC, this will be especially helpful as the Utes adjust to their third offensive coordinator in three years. Even for Travis Wilson (assuming he’s the guy), it’s a similar system in terms of concepts, but with probably just enough tweaks from the previous one that a little extra film time would be beneficial.

There isn’t a coach out there who thinks more time during the summer is a bad thing. If for no other reason than just to remind them to do the right thing when they go out at night. I remember a conversation I had once with Mike Leach about players getting into to trouble in the offseason, but because of limited contact, coaches can’t always babysit. Will this new rule stop players from getting into trouble? No. But maybe it stops one from having one too many pops and creating a ruckus.

This is a good thing developmentally for all parties involved on and off the field.




Ryan in NYC writes: Kevin, saw your interview of the UCLA DC. You looked pretty sharp in that coat and tie. But seriously, aren't you guys getting a little tired of the relentless "happy, happy and more happy" spin coming from the UCLA camp? I mean, isn't it pretty clear that they've assumed this position that they won't say anything negative or even something not deemed positive about their program? I mean come on man. I can understand their energy and focus. They have a chance at a really good year. But everybody has concerns and questions, let's be fair. Finally, I think the way they ended recruiting is a reason why they need to be careful. They did a poor job of managing expectations and fell on their faces. Yes, college football fans are passionate, but we're not stupid. Be frank and candid. We know they have a shot at something special, but nothing is perfect, right? Just an observation, not a question. Peace out.

Kevin Gemmell: I found it interesting, Ryan, that you opted to chime in this week regarding the UCLA coverage. Because since I visited both LA schools last week, there was an equal amount of USC stuff -- yet you’re choosing to focus on UCLA. Fascinating.

First, thanks for the kudos. But as someone kindly mentioned in the comments section, I could stand to drop a couple of pounds. So that was appreciated.

As for the message, I got a lot of the same positive thinking at USC as I did at UCLA. Heck, Steve Sarkisian essentially said USC is historically due for a big run. That seemed pretty positive.

Except for maybe the Week 1 news conferences, you won’t find a time when players and coaches are as optimistic about their programs as they are now. Same goes for fans, who are scanning the schedules right now and checking off perceived wins. This is, of course, a dangerous exercise (see Utah-Stanford/Oregon-Arizona etc.). But it’s fun to do.

Yes, I happen to think UCLA is going to be pretty darn good in 2014. And though we haven’t filled out our preseason ballots yet, I’m strongly considering the Bruins as the No. 1 team in the South.

But you’re right. Every team has questions and concerns. The Bruins still need to figure out what’s going to happen at right tackle. They need to find a way to replace Anthony Barr’s production. They need to settle on the running back situation and see just how much the secondary has grown up from last season.

I have no problem with players and coaches putting a positive spin on their team in April. But if a team is 0-5 in October, then the happy-go-lucky chatter gets a little old.




Cougar Brian in Stumptown writes: Hey Kevin, any word on the status of Gabe Marks and DaQuawn Brown in Pullman? Mum seems to be the word, and both are touching the three pillars of Coach Leach's no-nos. Hope all is well, friend!

Kevin Gemmell: As of right now, both guys are practicing with the team. Leach hasn’t addressed it much, other than when he was asked about Brown during his pre-spring news conference and he offered up this:
We’re going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds. I mean, right now it’s appearing most of what’s come out and been spewed around has been greatly embellished so we’ll just have to see how all that comes out.

Marks was limited for the first couple of practices, but has been full go the rest of the way. Though he didn’t participate in the scrimmage on Saturday. I talked to someone in the know Monday and they said they didn’t think that was because of disciplinary reasons.

My guess is that when the legal side of everything gets worked out in the coming weeks, we’ll have a clearer picture of what punishments await. And don’t forget that Leach has already booted a few guys from the team in his two-and-a-half-year tenure.

Worth noting that, from the folks up there I’ve talked to, Connor Halliday is having a great spring, along with receivers Vince Mayle and Dominique Williams. Mayle has leaned up and is “running around and through people,” according to one person I talked to. So if Marks isn’t able to go, the corps is looking pretty good. And so is the quarterback.

Lunch links: Remembering Tillman

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:30
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There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out ... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Ball security in the Pac-12

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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Teams that commit the fewest turnovers generally win more football games. Teams that turn the ball over frequently generally lose more football games. These are fairly safe axioms to live by, because more often than not they hold true.

But not always, especially in the sometimes-backward Pac-12, where the offense is fast and furious and the defense is underrated.

An examination of turnover margin in the league the last three seasons reveals some very interesting results, trends and trend-busters.

Here’s how Pac-12 teams have shaped up the last three seasons:

Some intriguing takeaways (pun intended):
  • Stanford, the two-time defending conference champion, is well known for its hard-nosed defense. Yet in 2013, it had a turnover margin of zero (19 takeaways, 19 turnovers) and the Cardinal are in the lower half of the league the last three seasons in total turnovers generated. Worth noting, however, that Stanford also takes care of the ball better than anyone in the league, with a conference-low 54 turnovers in the last three seasons.
  • Oregon has more takeaways than any team in the conference the last three seasons, including a robust turnover margin of plus-21 for the 2012 season (tops in the league for a single-season over that three-year stretch). Wait a second: Doesn’t Oregon catch flak for not playing defense? Huh. The Ducks are second in the league behind Stanford with just 57 turnovers over the last three seasons.
  • Only Arizona State, Oregon and Washington had a positive turnover margin in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • Only California, Colorado and Washington State had a negative turnover margin in all three seasons.
  • Stanford is the only team to have a zero margin in a season during the last three years.
  • ASU is the only team in the league to have at least 30 takeaways in all three seasons.
  • During that three-year stretch, only two teams have created more turnovers than Oregon State. During that same stretch, only two teams have committed more turnovers than Oregon State. So while the Beavers' 83 takeaways look great on paper, the 80 turnovers don’t. Makes sense that in the Beavers' best season, 2012, they had a plus-8 margin with 31 takeaways and 23 turnovers. In its worst, 2011, it was minus-8 with 23 takeaways and 31 turnovers.
  • Washington State has the most total turnovers (86) in the last three years. But Colorado has the worst turnover margin. Worth noting that last season the Buffs cut their margin down to minus-3 from the minus-19 in 2012.
  • USC tied with Colorado in 2012 for most turnovers in the league (34). So despite 71 takeaways the last three seasons, their 69 turnovers gives the Trojans only a plus-2 margin. Worth noting that after back-to-back seaspns of negative turnover margin in 2011 and 2012, USC was on the plus side last season at plus-5.
  • Arizona reached the plus side of the turnover margin last season (plus-4) after back-to-back seasons of negative margin in 2011 and 2012.
  • The most turnovers in a season in the three-year stretch was from Washington State, which had 35 last season.
  • The most takeaways in a season in the three-year stretch was by Oregon, which had 40 in 2012.
  • Washington’s much-maligned defense of 2011 still finished the season with a plus-1 turnover margin. Though during the last two seasons under then-coordinator Justin Wilcox (now with Steve Sarkisian at USC), the Huskies are plus-12.
  • The fewest turnovers in a season in the last three seasons is 16 – both from Washington and UCLA last season. Stanford is the only team in the conference to be in the teens in turnovers all three years.
  • Until last season, Utah had been solid at getting takeaways. It led the Pac-12 in turnovers and turnover margin in 2011 (33 takeaways, plus-10 margin). Even in 2012, the Utes were on the plus side, but failed to make a bowl game. Last year Utah dipped to minus-9.

So as you can see, there is obviously some correlation between turnovers and wins/losses. The three Pac-12 teams that didn’t make the postseason last season -- Cal, Colorado and Utah -- each had negative turnover margins.

But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule that the team that has the most turnovers will lose every game and the team with the most takeaways wins. Stanford is a perfect example of that, winning the league last season with an even margin. You don’t need a lot of takeaways to play great defense, but it doesn’t hurt, either.
The biggest theme for the Pac-12 in 2014? Passing, passing, passing.

As you surely know if you frequent the Pac-12 blog -- typically considered the University of Oxford of the Internet -- we've been typing pretty regularly about the returning QB talent in the Pac-12. As in 10 returning starters, a group that includes a handful of national awards candidates.

That alone would support the notion of big passing numbers this coming fall. But there's more!

  • The Pac-12 is extremely deep at receiver.
  • The Pac-12 is questionable at running back.
  • The Pac-12 loses many of its top sack leaders from 2013.
  • The Pac-12 loses many of its top interception leaders from 2013.

Thus the formula: Experienced QBs plus questionable running games plus questionable pass defenses equals big passing numbers.

Of course, that probably means the teams that can run the ball well and play good defense are going to end up leading the conference.

But here are the supporting facts:

Returning rushing leader from 2013: No. 5 Byron Marshall, Oregon (1,038/86.5 yards per game)

2014 challengers: D.J. Foster, Arizona State; Thomas Tyner, Oregon; Jordan James, UCLA; Javorius Allen, USC.

Breakdown: The Pac-12's top four rushers from 2013 are gone and most conference teams are uncertain that the position. In fact, Foster might be the only certain No. 1 option this coming fall.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon State's Sean Mannion is one of 10 returning QBs in the Pac-12 for 2014.
Returning passing leader from 2013: Sean Mannion, Oregon State (4,662/358.6 ypg)

2014 challengers: Marcus Mariota, Oregon; Brett Hundley, UCLA; Taylor Kelly, Arizona State; Connor Halliday, Washington State; Jared Goff, California.

Breakdown: With 10 QBs coming back from 2013 -- a number of whom have national pedigrees -- the Pac-12 is as deep at the position as it has been in recent years. And with Arizona and Washington, the two teams with legitimate QB competitions (assuming Utah's Travis Wilson is given the green light by doctors), the supporting casts around the new QB will be strong. As noted: big passing numbers this fall, across the board.

Returning receiving leader from 2013: Dres Anderson, Utah (1,002/87.7 ypg)

2014 challengers: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State; Nelson Agholor, USC; Chris Harper, California; Ty Montgomery, Stanford.

Breakdown: Despite losing the three most productive pass catches from 2013 -- Brandin Cooks, Paul Richardson and Josh Huff, not to mention Marqise Lee -- the conference is overbrimming with receiving talent. Arizona, California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State welcome back most of their top guys from 2013, and Arizona State, USC and Utah also are potentially strong at the position.

Returning sacks leader from 2013: Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington (13)

2014 challengers: Tony Washington, Oregon; Kevin Anderson, Stanford; Leonard Williams, USC; Nate Orchard, Utah.

Breakdown: Kikaha and Washington are the only returning guys who ranked among the conference's top-12 in sacks in 2013 (another good sign for conference QBs?). One of the biggest injuries this spring was Utah losing OLB Jacoby Hale.

Returning interceptions leader from 2013: Steven Nelson, Oregon State (6)

Challengers: Marcus Peters, Washington; Greg Henderson, Colorado; Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona; Su'a Cravens, USC; Ishmael Adams, UCLA; Jordan Richards, Stanford; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon.

Breakdown: Only two of the top eight interception leaders is back in 2014 (another good sign for QBs?). A few guys to watch out for: Arizona State's Damarious Randall, Stanford's Alex Carter, UCLA's Fabian Moreau and USC's Josh Shaw.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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You picked a dangerous mall to host a game show in. I hear the Easter bunny was accosted this morning.
Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Jake from Spokane writes: What do you think Chris Petersen should do with Cyler Miles and Damore’ea Stringfellow? I know Miles wasn't charged and Stringfellow got off easy, but don't you think he should make an example out of them?

Ted Miller: Yes. And no.

As many of you know, I typically side with second chances. I think zero-tolerance is bad policy. Everything should be a case-by-case basis. For one, there's typically two sides to every story, with the less public, after-the-big-headlines side often being closer to the truth -- see past assault accusations against former Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Or Duke lacrosse, for that matter.

I know the self-righteous out there love to tell everyone about their inflexible absolutes with behavior and Puritan standards for character. My experience with people like that is they almost always are full of pooh.

And yet a line I often do draw is at bullying, which the two incidents involving Miles and Stringfellow approximate. A bigger person pushing around a smaller person just because he can is abhorrent. That, to me, does reveal a deep-seated character flaw. The fact that alcohol apparently wasn't involved actually almost makes it worse. When you can't blame the booze, what can you blame, other than a flawed moral compass?

Based on what I know typing this today, here's what I would do if I were Petersen.

First, I would meet with a crew of Huskies seniors who command respect in the locker room and ask their positions on the situation and why they feel that way. I would ask if there were details of the incidents that they knew of or had heard of from reasonably reliable sources that differed from public accounts. I wouldn't ask what they thought I should do, but I would take the measures of their feelings toward both, including whether those feelings were different between the pair.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen hasn't announced the punishment for Washington players Cyler Miles and Damore'ea Stringfellow.
Barring any major surprises, I'd then meet with Miles and tell him he was being conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first game (at Hawaii, so he'd truly be missing a fun trip). I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with strength coach Tim Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third. A quarterback, in particular, is supposed to set a standard in the locker room.

Then, I'd meet with Stringfellow. He too would be conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first three games. I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third.

I'd publicly announce my decision in May or June so it wasn't a big, distracting story right before the beginning of preseason practices. I'd also have both of them meet with the media, though only after a stern session with myself and sports information director Jeff Bechthold, where we'd hammer home talking points about being humble, regretful and accountable while not reviewing too many details of the incidents. Something like, "I know I won't do this again because of how horrible I felt and still feel for hurting someone and embarrassing my family, my school and my team."

I'd also minimize the "put it behind me" talk, which always comes off as lacking regret while suggesting impatience with a justifiable inquisition. Want to win a news conference? Say, "No, I'm not going to put this behind me. I'm going to think about it every day to remind myself of what it feels like to be a bad person, which I never want to feel again."

These situations typically involve a complicated calculus, particularly when the players are key contributors, as both of these guys are. Petersen has a duty to his players, fans, administrators and himself to do what he was truly hired to do: Win. Yes, he should aim to build character and help young men grow into quality adults, but the reality is that comes in second place to winning. Sorry if that bursts your idealistic bubble, but there's a reason why even the greatest teachers aren't paid $3 million a year.

That said, bad apples in a locker room don't help the cause. Sometimes temporary pain -- suspensions or giving players the boot -- helps a program, helps it win over the long term.

My impression of Petersen is he's the clearest of thinkers. While most of us view this as the first big test of his administration, I suspect it feels fairly routine for him.


Tim from Portland writes: Hey Ted, I wonder if I'm the only one thinking that the loss of the Ducks' top four receivers could actually be a good thing. I know we lose a lot of numbers with those four out, but isn't it possible Oregon could go back to the blue-collar attitude they had in Chip [Kelly's] first couple years as head coach? I mean, in those years at least we met or exceeded the expectations for the season.

Ted Miller: Yes, Tim, you are the only one thinking that.

Are you saying that Bralon Addison's blowing out his knee this spring is a good thing? My answer to that: No. One thousand times no. Have you seen Addison play? Before he got hurt, I saw him as a legitimate All-Pac-12 candidate.

And, no, losing your top four receivers is never a good thing, either. Never. Well, unless they all ran 5.0 40s and were locker room cancers.

Also, I'm not sure if I've ever viewed Oregon as a "blue-collar" team. I see Oregon as a cutting edge, fancy-pants team that has the best facilities in the nation and gets to go behind the velvet rope at all the cool clubs.

I'd also like to point out that the Ducks' horribly disappointing season included 11 wins, a dominant bowl victory over Texas and a top-10 final ranking.

Now, if you're saying the Ducks might run the ball more next fall with four returning starting O-linemen, a good crew of tight ends and what should be a dynamic RB combination in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, I could get on board with that.

That said, quarterback Marcus Mariota is an A-list passer. While there are unknowns at receiver, I suspect the cupboard isn't empty. I'd be surprised if Mariota doesn't throw for at least 250 yards per game.


Dave from Tucson writes: Ted, thanks for some good, informative articles on football. Just a minor reporting point on this: "...Not when you consider what Rodriguez and Smith have done with their past two first-year starters in Matt Scott and B.J. Denker." Actually, Matt Scott had beaten out Nick Foles to start the 2009 season and started two games before being benched for Foles. Denker also started a game and played the entire game against Colorado in the 2012 season when Matt Scott was down with a concussion. Matt Scott was not a first-year starter in 2012 and Denker was not a first-year starter in 2013.

Ted Miller: I think you're mixing up "first-time" and "first-year."

Both Scott and Denker had started games and seen action before ascending officially to the starting job, but neither was a returning starter, which is typically defined as starting at least five games during the previous season. Nick Foles preceded Scott as the 2012 starter, and Scott preceded Denker as the 2013 starter.

And, just as Washington QB Cyler Miles, despite starting at Oregon State, was not the Huskies' starting QB in 2013. That was Keith Price.


Mr. Elizabeth Bennet from Salt Lake City writes: I enjoyed the quote you added to your lunch links from April 16. I wonder what your thoughts are on how Jane Austen would have commented on the state of college football, given all the clamoring for change that has happened and the widening gap of aristocracy between the conferences? Also, which "Pride & Prejudice" character best describes each Pac-12 football coach/team? It seems like the Pac-12 blog does a good job as the Elizabeth Bennet of the college football world, offering witty, but insightful commentary on the society within college football.

Ted Miller: I think it's a universally acknowledged truth that Jane Austen would have been a heck of a sportswriter, full of sense and sensibility as well as persuasion. While some -- mostly those who haven't read her -- probably see her as some sort of "chick-lit," the reality is she's a wonderfully biting observer of how folks behave, not to mention underrated when it comes to humor.

As for Austen and college football, she's already commented. You may not know this, but Lady Bertram in "Mansfield Park" is the personification of the NCAA, a novel, by the way, that includes these two felicitous quotes:

  • Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
  • A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.

As for the "Pride and Prejudice" request, I'm not going to wander down that road -- who wants to be Wickham or Collins or Lydia? -- but I will say Chip Kelly had plenty of "Darcy" in him.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starting quarterback this week, though he noted that Kessler will have to continue to defend the position against competition from redshirt freshman Max Browne during fall camp.

It wasn't a big surprise. After all, Kessler was the 2013 starter and acquitted himself fairly well, particularly over the second half of the season with Clay Helton calling plays instead of deposed coach Lane Kiffin.

Still, Sarkisian is following in the philosophical footsteps of his mentor, Pete Carroll, who believed it was best to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practices.

As we've noted a few times, Carroll called this "anointing." He believed that by anointing a starting quarterback in the spring, that allowed the QB to carry authority into the offseason. Teammates would recognize the crown on his head, as they might not if two or more candidates officially remained on even footing.

The anointing ended intrigue. It ended media speculation players would read. It ended an offseason rivalry that might split players into bailiwicks, based on personal preferences both on and off the field.

So Sarkisian has his way of doing it.

Then there's most other coaches. They prefer keeping their cards close to their chests. They like the intrigue. They like the prolonged competition. They want to measure offseason work and mental toughness. Who gets better from April to August? Who seems to take control of the locker room or huddle on his own, without the anointing from a coach?

SportsNation

Is it better to announce a starting quarterback after spring practices or wait until the end of fall camp?

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    69%
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    31%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,235)

So we have the two true QB competitions in the Pac-12 this spring: Arizona and Washington, where neither Rich Rodriguez nor Chris Petersen is likely to give us a firm idea of their starter until perhaps as late as the week before the season opener.

Of course, there's not 100 percent purity of approach here. If Kessler hadn't outplayed Browne, Sarkisian almost certainly wouldn't have made an announcement. And if Rodriguez or Petersen were sitting on an Andrew Luck-type talent right now, they probably would go ahead and pull the trigger and announce him as the No. 1 guy.

Fact is, the present consensus is neither Arizona nor Washington has any clear pecking order. The Wildcats have four guys who didn't separate themselves this spring, and the Huskies still have to see where the suspended Cyler Miles, the 2013 backup, fits into their plans.

Yet there is a clear philosophical difference here.

So what do you think? Is it better to anoint a starting QB after spring practices in order to give him a leadership role over the summer, or is it better to wait as long as possible to foster uncertainty and, therefore, continued competition?

Lunch links: Any sleeper teams?

April, 17, 2014
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