Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats

Pac-12 morning links

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
8:00
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Cogito ergo sum.

Leading off

As we hit the one-week countdown for the start of the Pac-12 season, it never hurts to go back and see where things stand with your head coach.

As the Pac-12 blog wrote a few months back, it’s possible that we might make it through 2014 without a coaching change. Maybe. Since 10 of the 12 teams have changed coaches since the start of the 2011 season, nothing is for certain.

A key determining factor is always how coaches stack up against top competition. And the Wall Street Journal Online released an interesting chart of every coach in the Power 5 (plus Notre Dame) and their record against AP Top 25 teams.



They also had some flattering things to say about Stanford coach David Shaw:
The best winning percentage (.778). Granted, it is a relatively small sample size—Shaw has been a head coach for only three seasons, and he took over a strong program — but 18 ranked opponents in three years is a ton. Urban Meyer has faced seven in two years at Ohio State. (Also, two of Shaw's four losses were in overtime.)

Here’s how the Pac-12 coaches shake out (career/at current school), plus I tossed in what I think was the biggest win. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong:
  • Rich Rodriguez 16-26 and 3-7 (beating No. 5 Oregon in 2013)
  • Todd Graham 6-12 and 3-5 (beating No. 14 UCLA in 2013)
  • Sonny Dykes 0-9 and 0-5 (N/A)
  • Mike MacIntyre 0-10 and 0-3 (N/A)
  • Mark Helfrich 2-1 and 2-1 (Beating No. 16 Washington in 2013)
  • Mike Riley 13-39 and 13-39 (Beating USC in 2006)
  • David Shaw 14-4 and 14-4 (Beating Oregon in 2012)
  • Jim Mora 5-5 and 5-5 (Beating USC in 2012)
  • Steve Sarkisian 8-18 and 0-0 (Beating USC in 2009)
  • Kyle Whittingham 9-13 and 9-13 (Beating No. 4 Alabama in the 2008 season/2009 Sugar Bowl).
  • Chris Petersen 8-4 and 0-0 (Beating No. 11 Oklahoma in the 2006 season/2007 Fiesta Bowl).
  • Mike Leach 13-38 and 1-7 (Beating No. 1 Texas in 2008).

In digging up some of these old games, I had to go back through and watch some highlights of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. So, so awesome.

All-Americans

ESPN.com will be releasing its preseason All-America team later today. CBS Sports released its Wednesday. I’m not going to give out any spoilers on ours, but we have more Pac-12 players. And thus, ours is superior, said the Pac-12 writer.

Oregon center Hroniss Grasu is the only Pac-12 player on offense, while the defense has a trio of Pac-12 players in USC defensive end Leonard Williams, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery is the selection at kick return.

Keep an eye out

The Senior Bowl Watch list is out, and of the 350 players, 40 are from the Pac-12. All of the names you’d expect are on it. You can see the complete list (sortable by school, conference and position) here.

More must-see TV (Take 2)

On Wednesday, we brought you a couple of links with must-see games in the league. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News also popped up his can’t-miss games in the league this year. They are what you’d expect. Stanford, Oregon, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, a dash of USC. However, Wilner opted to list his chronologically, rather than ranking them. Shrewd, Mr. Wilner. Very shrewd indeed.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

A fun little story from Chris Foster of the LA Times on a trio of teams experiencing Rose Bowl droughts. The premise is that UCLA has a good shot at the Rose Bowl this year. But they haven’t been there since ’99. But that’s not as long as Cal, Oregon State or Arizona State. Any post that can weave in Frankie Avalon, The Beatles and Bill Clinton is worth five minutes of your time.

Always cool to see walk-on players getting signing their scholarships. Five Sun Devils got theirs yesterday.

And finally, the Bruins had a guest speaker at practice yesterday ... Den-freaking-zel. King Kong ain’t got (horse pucky) on him.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
8:00
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And I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I'd probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.

Leading off

Previews, previews, previews. Lots of them hit the web yesterday. Fox, SI and Athlon all had major Pac-12 pieces.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel, who picked the Washington Huskies to win the North Division and Oregon to finish third.

Here’s Mandel’s take on the Ducks:
The string of 11- and 12-win seasons can’t go on forever, and despite the return of star quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ once-unstoppable offense showed cracks last year following Chip Kelly’s departure. Oregon’s defense may miss retired coordinator Nick Aliotti.

There’s a couple of ways to interpret this. First, Mandel -- a good friend who knows college football as well as anyone in the country -- is brilliant. And when the Huskies are walking away with the North title, he’s going to have a satisfied grin on his face for the entire offseason. Or, he could be wrong. Nothing wrong with putting yourself out there.

The country seems high on the No. 25 Huskies. For the national voters to place them in the Top 25 after losing their starting quarterback, a Doak Walker finalist running back and a Mackey Award winning tight end speaks to how highly Chris Petersen is regarded as a head coach. And maybe, just maybe those East of the Rockies are starting to pay the Pac-12 a little more national respect.

But as the Pac-12 blog is fond of saying (and so is every single coach in America), the final rankings are the only ones that matter. So a tip of the cap to Mandel for by far the boldest prediction of this preseason.

Some other previews:

SI’s Lindsey Schnell has Oregon and UCLA playing in the Pac-12 title game -- a common pick among most media, including the Pac-12 blog -- UCLA’s Myles Jack as the league’s defensive MVP. That’s another fairly bold prediction considering the quality of players like Leonard Williams, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Shaq Thompson, Hau'oli Kikaha and Jack’s teammate, Eric Kendricks. That’s going to be a fun award to keep an eye on throughout the season.

NFL.com’s college football blog pays homage to the quarterback depth in the Pac-12, and Bryan Fischer taps Kevin Hogan as the league’s breakout player in 2014.

Schedule accordingly

A couple different posts have come out over the last two days about must-see games. Let’s put it this way – if you plan on watching Oregon, Stanford or UCLA, you’re covered.

First up, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports has his annual list of the 25 most intriguing games of the 2014 season and five of the 25 involve Pac-12 teams. From his list:
  • No. 2 Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
  • No. 4 UCLA at Texas (Sept. 13)
  • No. 7 Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
  • No. 14 Oregon at UCLA (Oct. 11)
  • No. 17 USC at Stanford (Sept. 6)

Next up is Athlon Sports, which posted 25 must-see games specific to the Pac-12. Here’s their top 5:
  • No. 1 Stanford at Oregon
  • No. 2 Oregon at UCLA
  • No. 3 Michigan State at Oregon
  • No. 4 USC at UCLA
  • No. 5. Stanford at UCLA

You can see some interesting opinions in terms of placement. But for the most part all of the major games are covered.

Rank’em

Athlon also came out with its rankings of the top 37 players in the Pac-12.

Here’s what their top 10 looks like:
  1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
  2. Leonard Williams, DE, USC
  3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
  4. Ifo-Ekpre Olomu, CB, Oregon
  5. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
  6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
  7. Taylor Kelly, QB, ASU
  8. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
  9. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
  10. Jaelen Strong, WR, ASU

The top four are identical to what the Pac-12 blog had for its Top 25 players. Though we lumped a trio of receivers in our 5-10 and gave the nod to Agholor over Strong for his special teams contributions.

Also, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News released his all-conference projections for 2014. Not a lot of surprises, though it’s interesting to see UCLA’s Jordon James get the nod over Oregon’s Byron Marshall.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

One member of the Stanford coaching staff told me he believes center Graham Shuler could be better than both of the guys who preceded him.

 

And speaking of reunions, these guys are back together. This could get interesting.

 

Pac-12 morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
8:00
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I ain't got a dime but what I got is mine. I ain't rich, but Lord I'm free.

Leading off

For most of the offseason (pretty much since Utah’s Travis Wilson was cleared for action), we’ve been working under the assumption that the Pac-12 would have 10 returning starting quarterbacks. Those assumptions were confirmed Monday when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham announced that Wilson held off a late charge from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

At the very least, this means Utah has some depth at the quarterback spot – something that has haunted the Utes since joining the conference. And Whittingham told reporters after practice that Thompson has “earned the right to play,” meaning we’ll probably see him at some point and in assorted situations. Interpret that how you will.

Here are a few links on Wilson:
We’ll also be taking a closer look at Wilson later today in our returning starting quarterback series (and I would have gone into scramble mode had Thompson been named the starter).

Getting drafty?

Surely it’s too soon for a 2015 mock draft, right? After all, the college football season hasn’t started. But if CBS’s Dane Brugler is anywhere near accurate (he himself admits a lot of these are shots in the dark), then the Pac-12 is in for a big season.

His projection has 10 Pac-12 players going in the first round, including five in the top 11. Here’s his list:
That would be outstanding for the conference. Here’s a chart I’ve maintained for a few years (just for you, because you’re special), and as you can see, 10 players would be a considerable upgrade from what the league has seen over the last 14 years (though 2003 was a pretty good year). Out of the playoff?

Speaking of early projections, it doesn’t look good for the Pac-12 as far as reaching the college football playoff this year, according to CBS Bracketologist Jerry Palm, who writes:
In this projection, the Pac-12, which is arguably the second best conference, is excluded. That is based on the thought that the league will beat each other up enough that its champion may be too damaged to get a spot. Obviously, that remains to be seen.

Of course, this story was posted prior to the news that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller might miss the season. This certainly isn’t a time for to celebrate injuries -- even if you are a Michigan fan -- because injuries stink. But we can’t ignore the fact either that the Pac-12 benefits from a weakened Ohio State team. It’s an unfortunate fact. But a fact nonetheless.

Team notes/practice reports
Getting social with media

As far as alternate uniforms go, we’ve seen worse. And the more I look at ASU’s, the more I like them.



The San Francisco Chronicle’s new Cal beat writer, Mike Vernon, takes us inside the life of a running back for six seconds.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
8:00
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Good morning. You might have noticed a little change in the way we’ve been doing links the last couple of weeks. Ted gave you a quick heads up in his mailbag last week that things would be changing. From here on out, they’ll be right there waiting for you when you wake up in the morning.

But on the Pac-12 blog, we’re going to add a twist. Moving forward, I’ll be manning the links in a column format, tossing in some opinion and analysis of stories the Pac-12 community will be talking about. This is a work in progress, so tweet at me with what you’d like to see: quote of the day, tweet of the day, etc. Do you want me to keep the literary and pop culture quotes? Let me know your thoughts.

Without further ado, to the links:

Leading off

The big news over the weekend was obviously the release of the preseason AP Top 25. Half of the teams in the league are ranked: Oregon (3), UCLA (7), Stanford (11), USC (15), ASU (19) and Washington (25).

The exact same six ended last season ranked: Oregon (9), Stanford (11), UCLA (16), USC (19), ASU (21) and Washington (25).

We all expected Oregon and UCLA to be in the top 10. And with the considerable hype Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley have received, the Pac-12 blog wouldn’t have been shocked if both were top five.

Washington should be pleased to be ranked, considering it lost its starting quarterback, running back and Mackey Award-winning tight end. That ranking is a clear reflection of Chris Petersen’s presence, because a Pac-12 team losing that much offensive firepower usually doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt with voters.

ASU should feel pretty good about being in the top 20 -- especially after the way it closed out last season and the departure of nine starters on defense.

Doug Haller offers an interesting perspective on the Sun Devils:
This marks the first time since 2008 that the Sun Devils have made the preseason poll.

Certainly, nothing stinks about that except ... This isn't always a good thing for the Sun Devils. The last six times they made the AP preseason poll -- a stretch dating to 1998 -- they didn't finish in the final AP Top 25 poll.

The Trojans should also feel pretty good about their spot at No. 15. Voters don’t appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the Steve Sarkisian era. Sounds like a lot of folks are buying in.

And as for the Cardinal, this is just more fodder for head coach David Shaw to play up the nobody-believes-in-us card, which his team often embraces.

Practice reports
  • Christian Caple offers some thoughts on Washington’s scrimmage.
  • Jeff Faraudo reports Sonny Dykes is feeling pretty good after Cal’s closed scrimmage. Some good player notes included as well.
  • Lindsey Thiry quotes USC’s Josh Shaw, who says the Trojans aren’t ready “for a game quite yet.” No need to panic. The Trojans don’t have to play tomorrow. But after they dispatch Fresno State (yeah, we're going out on a limb), they better be ready for Stanford in Week 2. Love that two ranked Pac-12 teams are squaring off that early in the season. And by the way, Shaw looks yoked in the video.
  • Tough news for the Buffs, who confirmed over the weekend that safety Jered Bell is done for the year.
  • We've been talking about 10 starting quarterbacks coming back. But there seems to be some controversy in Salt Lake City.
Nice/interesting reads
A little fun

The Beavers closed out their scrimmage over the weekend with a little slip-and-slide action. Don’t see Mike Riley on the tarp. I’m guessing if there was a double-double at the other end, he’d be sliding.

And finally, for everyone who has been to San Bernardino or covered a UCLA camp, we can all relate to Ryan Kartje.

 
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is mad. And by mad, we mean in both senses of the word -- angry and crazed. He was vexed when practice began Wednesday and he was volcanic when it ended. With each, er, colorful verbal explosion, the collective shoulders of reporters a football field or so away from the closed practice slumped just a little bit more.

There would be no affable exchange of pleasantries about his quarterback competition or any breezy banter on sundry topics that typically are covered during a post-practice media session. While many coaches' calculated fits of pique during practices are pure motivational theater -- and there was some comic element to Rodriguez's stomping around like vintage Earl Weaver hounding an umpire -- there is no question his cataclysmic frustration is genuine. He expects more from his players than they are giving him and he can't stand it that they are not responding to his challenge.

"I'm allowed to be mad," he harrumphed to reporters. "It's my right."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports"You have no chance to win unless you get good quarterback play. You can't win a championship," Rich Rodriguez said. "I don't think you can have a winning season unless your quarterback play is pretty good."
He was then asked -- carefully, softly -- if this was just one bad practice among many great days of growth during preseason camp.

"I ain't seen enough growth anywhere. Nowhere," he groused.

So, yeah, don't expect much of a revelation about the Wildcats' quarterback competition, which officially remains a wide-open race between four guys, though most observers see redshirt freshman Anu Solomon as the leader at present. That conclusion is based on Solomon getting the most reps with the first-team offense. Senior Jesse Scroggins, the consensus leader after spring practices, missed a lot of offseason work because of injuries suffered after a automobile accident. Jerrard Randall, the most physically talented of the four, continues to struggle with the mental side of the Wildcats' scheme, while Connor Brewer is steady but brings the least to the table athletically.

Rodriguez is on edge because the winnowing is coming. Must come. With a scrimmage Saturday, he and offensive coordinator Rod Smith both said they want to narrow the field heading into next week. That means tightening the screws in practice, and that process often means delivering an earful and seeing how the recipient of said verbal projectiles reacts. As Rich Rod often says: He wants his guys to become comfortable being uncomfortable.

"I've never been one to treat [a quarterback] with kid gloves," he said a few hours before said practice. "I don't worry about their confidence. Hell, I'm worried about my confidence."

Rodriguez has an interesting team, one that has some holes but also has enough returning talent to become a factor in the Pac-12's South Division -- if it gets solid play behind center. With a deep and talented crew of receivers and one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines, the guy who ends up winning the job will have a lot to work with.

Rodriguez knows why reporters are obsessed with his quarterback competition. For one, the Pac-12 has 10 returning starters at quarterback and Cyler Miles is the front-runner at Washington, so Rodriguez's situation is the most wide-open and intriguing. He also doesn't resist the notion that fans and media should be obsessed because he readily admits you can't compete in the Pac-12 without a good QB.

"You have no chance to win unless you get good quarterback play. You can't win a championship," he said. "I don't think you can have a winning season unless your quarterback play is pretty good."

Solomon's apparent rise, though not yet decisive, comes with a notable advantage over Scroggins: It would mean that for the first time in Tucson, Rodriguez and Smith would have a returning starter for the following season (when Solomon becomes a redshirt sophomore). That's not a present concern, Smith said, but he acknowledges the future benefit.

Rodriguez's and Smith's track record with first-year starters at Arizona so far has been outstanding. Matt Scott, the 2012 starter, earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and is playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. B.J. Denker might have been the conference's most improved player from Week 1 to the end of the 2013 season, transforming from a liability to a QB who outplayed Oregon's Marcus Mariota in the Wildcats' upset victory over the Ducks.

Solomon was a touted recruit after a spectacular career at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. His team went 57-3 and won four state titles with Solomon as a four-year starter. He passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns with just 17 interceptions. Yet he seemed overwhelmed as a true freshman, and his naturally mellow demeanor sometimes didn't mesh with the high-strung Rodriguez, who wants his QB to be a take-charge sort. Solomon also had a tendency to mix a few forehead-slapping plays into practices.

"He's not making as many of those ‘oh no' moments. He's been more steady," Smith said. "He's made some progress. He's starting to get comfortable with what we are doing. He's more in control now. He's trying to be more vocal -- that's what he wasn't doing in the spring. He's got some talent. He can make some plays. He can do some things with his mind and arm."

While Solomon was made available to the media for the first time this week, that was the exception for the QBs. It's also clear that Wildcats players have been well-schooled on keeping their evaluations of the QB competition to themselves.

Rodriguez rated the odds as pretty good that he'll play more than one guy early in the season, though he won't pull a starter who's playing well. It also wouldn't be surprising if Randall, an LSU transfer who has two years of eligibility remaining, gets a package of plays because his talent has intrigued coaches.

If Rodriguez's mood doesn't improve, it's also possible we won't know his mind until just before UNLV visits on Aug. 29. Such a thought actually make him grin, though. He recalls how his hiring was announced by athletic director Greg Byrne.

"I might pull a Greg Byrne and tweet it two hours before kickoff," he said.
The only thing the Pac-12 has to fear in the new era of the College Football Playoff is itself. Oh, and other conferences gaming the infant system.

Whatever negative perceptions formerly were held about the Pac-12 -- finesse, pass-first, defense-optional league with half-full stadiums -- are mostly dead. Though there always will be trolling mouth-breathers with tired insults, Pac-12 folks now can show up to the verbal brawl with facts and numbers and game scores and commence to deliver a dose of frenzied verbal MMA that leaves said trolls whimpering for mercy.

OK, perhaps that's going overboard. But the Pac-12 deserves credit for two things: (1) Its rating as the nation's No. 2 conference (2) Making things tougher on itself than any other conference.

The overwhelming national consensus is the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC. As ESPN Stats & Information noted in January, "Overall, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and five teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's Football Power Index. As a result of its strength in the computers, the Pac-12 was the clear No. 2 conference in the Power Rankings."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsThe Pac-12's $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and Fox has been followed by an influx of big-name coaches like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez.
It wasn't just ESPN. Jeff Sagarin ranked the Pac-12 No. 2 in 2013. Phil Steele ranked the Pac-12 the No. 2 conference in 2012 and 2013, and also projected it as No. 2 in 2014. Athlon Sports did the same. In fact, if there is a conference rating system that ranked the Pac-12 anything different in 2013 and projects a lower rating this fall, we haven't seen it.

Another vote in the Pac-12's favor comes from an unquestionably unbiased -- cough, cough -- constituency: Pac-12 coaches.

"[The SEC] should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But to go through the Pac-12 and win a national championship may be the most difficult thing to do because of our schedule."

Ah, that's the worrisome rub. No other conference rides the scheduling tricycle like the Pac-12: 1. Challenging nonconference slate; 2. Nine-game conference schedule; 3. Conference championship game.

While some conferences have improved their nonconference scheduling, they don't play nine conference games. The Big 12 does play nine conference games, but it doesn't play a championship game. Pac-12 coaches aren't shy about noting that a conference team, in almost all cases, will have to play at least 11 quality games -- one tough nonconference foe, nine conference games and the Pac-12 title game -- to earn a spot in the CFP. No other conference can claim that.

There is a big reason the other conferences can't: They don't want to.

"Fair or unfair, whatever the words you want to use, we play a nine-game schedule and a conference championship game and other conferences don't on purpose," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "There is obviously a reason for that."

That's the big issue for the Pac-12 heading into the season. There is no longer a worry about respect or the perception of the Pac-12. Rather, it's about how unscathed a conference champ can hope to be against such a demanding schedule, and whether the committee will stick to its stated insistence that strength of schedule will be paramount. When a conference plays eight of the nation's 13 toughest schedules, as the Pac-12 did in 2013, the challenge to go unbeaten or even to lose just one game is far greater.

Of course, this issue won't be solved today, or even in the next couple months. The ultimate answers will be delivered in January when four semifinalists are picked and seeded.

So then, how did the Pac-12 gain ground in the perception battle -- one that has the conference starting with six teams ranked in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, including three in the top 11 with two others receiving votes?

The easy answer: money. The $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and Fox was a game-changer. That money has flowed into facilities improvements and more aggressive investments in coaching -- head coaches and assistants. A concomitant influx of A-list coaches, most notably Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Chris Petersen, has boosted the conference's Q-rating. Those coaches also have been able to hire and -- critically -- retain key assistants with competitive salaries, such as Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell ($700,000), UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm ($650,000), Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave'a ($275,000) and USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (north of the $800,000 he made at Washington), among others.

No team has had a better, and perhaps more unfortunate, seat while watching the Pac-12 improve than Utah. The Utes joined the conference in 2011 as a program that had posted two unbeaten seasons and won two BCS bowl games as a member of the respected Mountain West Conference. Though they went a solid 4-5 in conference play in 2011, they slipped to 3-6 in 2012 and 2-7 in 2013, with lineups that might have been better than the 2011 squad.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Eric GayOregon's Marcus Mariota is part of an impressive group of returning QBs in the Pac-12 this season.
"The thing that has been very apparent with the Pac-12 in 2011 when we entered, is the Pac-12 now is far superior from top to bottom," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The progress this conference has made in the last few years is phenomenal."

What separates the Pac-12 this season -- and could make it a legitimate threat for the No. 1 conference -- is behind center. Not only does the conference welcome back 10 starting quarterbacks, a majority of those are NFL prospects.

"I've never seen anything like this," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You have multiple guys that you could say could be the No. 1 pick overall in the draft. You have multiple guys in the conference that could be All-Americans and lead the nation in quarterback rating or lead the nation in passing."

The most notable quarterbacks are Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley, Heisman Trophy candidates blinking brightly on NFL radars who lead teams favored to win their respective divisions. Hundley will get an early showcase game against Texas, and Mariota and the Ducks play host to Michigan State, the Big Ten favorite, in Week 2. And the Ducks and Bruins could meet each other twice this season.

But they also must contend with Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, USC's Cody Kessler, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Washington State's Connor Halliday, Utah's Travis Wilson, California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau, each capable of posting a spectacular individual performance that could spawn an upset.

The Pac-12 is plenty hyped heading into the 2014 season. There is no perception problem. There might, however, end up being a reality problem. If the Pac-12 champion ends up with two losses, and the selection committee has a handful of Power Five conference teams with one or fewer defeats, the Pac-12 could get a respectful tip of the cap but end up out of luck in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
8:00
AM ET
Answer. That you are here -- that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Best Pac-12 stadium entrances

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
5:00
PM ET
video
If you are a college football fan, you love your team and you love the moment it runs onto the field inside your beloved stadium. It's a moment filled with frenzy, excitement and hope. It's the only moment of the game when you are absolutely guaranteed something worthy to cheer for.

And, unfortunately, you are not qualified to objectively judge how cool your team's entrance is. Sorry. You are biased.

We are not. We are stone-cold objective. We are eggheaded employers of pure science. We used advance analytics, HUGE super-computers and a Zeus' personal "Super-Awesome Thinking Cap" to make the following list of best stadium entrances in the Pac-12.

But feel free to disagree.

6. UCLA: The improved quality of play under Jim Mora has made the Rose Bowl again a true home-field advantage, but what caught our eye about the Bruins is the new entrance videos. The roaring contest with Oski was particularly amusing.

5. Washington: Husky Stadium has always been one of college football's great atmospheres, and the renovation of the stadium was nothing short of spectacular. Further, the place is very, very loud. You've got a downhill tunnel, the siren going off and a crowd going nuts. Great entrance.

4. Arizona State: The Sun Devils put on the best set piece of anyone, starting with Sparky beaming down from the sun, swaggering through Phoenix with a dust storm behind him and then stomping the opposing team's bus. The team then takes the field with plenty of pyrotechnic support. It helps that quality play under Todd Graham has helped fill the stadium up before kickoff.

3. Oregon: While it lacks size, Autzen Stadium is the most consistently intense venue in the Pac-12. With Oregon moving from nouveau riche to established national power, the Duck mascot riding a motorcycle ahead of the Ducks running onto the field is on the cusp of earning its "Iconic Image" credential, college football section.

2. USC: The Trojans are the Pac-12's clear leader in pageantry, a program whose traditions are readily identifiable across the country. From the band and music to Traveler, to Tommy Trojan stabbing the field, USC's pregame traditions are part of the historical tapestry of the game itself. And when the Trojans emerge from their downhill tunnel onto the field of the Coliseum, it's pretty darn cool.

1. Colorado: Look, I know Colorado has been down since joining the Pac-12, but it's possible its entrance at Folsom Field is the best entrance in all of college football. Why? Why! If you asked that question it's because you haven't seen the Buffaloes' entrance. Colorado tops this list because the team runs out behind a real, live 1,300 pound -- plus or minus -- Buffalo that can reach speeds of 25 mph. Not only is it awesome to watch, there's always just a little bit of the ole potential NASCAR wreck to it. Ralphie often has a mind of her own, and more than a few folks have ended up on the turf -- including her handlers -- while she made her mad dash. Ask Fox reporter Jim Knox (search for it on YouTube). Here's an official look.
I am he as you are he as you are me.

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To the notes.

Clarence from Cincinnati writes: Stanford is 4-9 against Oregon since the turn of the millennium. Stanford's superstar, Andrew Luck, was 1-2 against Oregon (with both losses in the years he was runner-up for the Heisman). Those two losses were lost in an Oregon-dominant fashion (2010: 52-31 at Autzen; 2011: 53-30 at Palo Alto). The 2010 loss was especially critical as it was Stanford's only loss that season. Listening to fans and analysts, one would think that Stanford has dominated Oregon for years, when they have just recently figured out the Oregon puzzle. Is Stanford in the midst of dominating Oregon for years to come, or is it just that Stanford is a solid program that has been able to beat a rival two consecutive times? (As a cross-sport comparison, the Los Angeles Clippers hold two consecutive Pacific Division titles.

Ted Miller: Wait. Are you accusing the media of over-hyping an angle instead of taking a more measured perspective? I am SHOCKED! SHOCKED! that you would say such a thing.

SHOCKED!

You probably think I'd drop a completely irrelevant reference to the Washington-Oregon rivalry and how Washington-Oregon is so much COOLER just to get a rise out of folks. Of course, I would never do that, though you well know that Oregon-Washington is SO much COOLER. (I used my best Eric Cartman voice while typing that.)

First of all, 4-9 since 2001 is irrelevant. The present incarnation of Oregon-Stanford starts with Jim Harbaugh vs. Chip Kelly in 2009, a Stanford upset, by the way, that leaves the relevant count at 3-2 Stanford.

Second, call it fair play. We once wrote -- endlessly, from the Stanford perspective -- on Stanford's "Oregon Problem." So after consecutive Stanford victories in the series and resulting Pac-12 North titles, it only seems fair we reverse our position and give Oregon a Stanford problem.

Further, it's the related nature of both "problems" -- the Stanford defense. In the Ducks' wins in 2010 and 2011, they scored 105 points combined. In their losses the past two seasons, they scored 37 points combined. I can't help but feel those numbers are meaningful.

When Luck lost two in a row to Oregon in his prime, the problem was the Ducks' style and speed, not to mention Kelly's "oh no he didn't!" aggressiveness -- recall that audacious onside kick that transformed the 2010 game. The Ducks seemed to have the Cardinal's number, something that David Shaw didn't deny or hide from, which struck me as a smart coaching move.

Enter Derek Mason. There's a reason he's now the head coach at Vanderbilt. He figured out a defensive scheme that contained the Ducks and didn't allow them to dictate the game's tempo. But it wasn't only about some mystical scheme. Much of the squeeze Stanford put on Oregon's offense wasn't terribly complicated. Mason emphasized containment, winning one-on-one battles, tackling in space and then convinced his defense they were the unstoppable force of nature, not the Ducks.

The buy-in in 2012 in Autzen Stadium was tremendous. And stunning. That carried over to 2013, though I am -- sorry, Stanford fans -- one who believes a healthy Marcus Mariota would have made that game much different.

The reality is these are two elite programs whose annual matchup is even more fun because of the contrast of styles, though the idea that Oregon doesn't play physical football is inane.

Do I believe Stanford will dominate Oregon for years to come? No. I picked Oregon to win the Pac-12 this year -- I picked Stanford last year -- and I think the Ducks will take care of business in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 1.


Jim from Los Angeles writes: I'm curious why you repeatedly state that Taylor Kelly was better than Brett Hundley last season? Yes, I realize that ASU won the South, and that Kelly took second-team honors, but Hundley had the better passer rating (153.7-139.6) and total QBR (82.3-74.9). Factor in UCLA's offensive line injuries and that no UCLA receiver was as good as Jaelen Strong and I think Hundley was noticeably better last year.

Ted Miller: Well, the two main reasons you stated: 1. Kelly was named second-team All-Pac-12 over Hundley by the Pac-12 coaches; 2. He outplayed Hundley in their head-to-head matchup in the Rose Bowl, a game that decided the South Division.

While Hundley's efficiency numbers were better, Kelly passed for more yards per game (259.6 vs. 236.2), produced more yards of total offense per game (303.1 vs. 293.8) and was responsible for more touchdowns (37 vs. 35). The Sun Devils also averaged more points per game (39.7 vs. 36.9).

That said, I think I used the word "nipped" more than a few times to describe any distinction between the two. Both had fantastic seasons with comparable numbers.

Further, you might have noticed this: We rated Kelly No. 5 and Hundley No. 3 in our preseason countdown of the Pac-12's top-25 players.

Hundley is a tremendous talent who still was a little raw last year. I think it's fair to rate Kelly's 2013 season as better, just as I think it's fair to project Hundley to do more this fall. And probably in the NFL, though I've also learned not to count Kelly out.


GQ from Los Angeles writes: Ted, you must be a baseball writer also and vote for the Hall of fame. Regardless of what you think about a person, you cannot ignore a person's accomplishments. As bad a person that O.J. Simpson turned out to be, ignoring what he did on the football field makes this conversation a farce. It's like saying Hitler wasn't a great politician. Sports are based on statistics and many sports writers are not qualified to make social judgments. That is not what they were hired to be.

Ted Miller: Wow. Steroids. Alleged murder. Hitler.

I wrote about 400 words on this, then cut it and came up with this briefer conclusion: I am qualified to make the social judgment on this blog that O.J. is out. If you wish to celebrate O.J., start your own blog.


SirTrojan from Camas, Washington, writes: Ted, Please pass this on to Ms. Jennings. Her piece on music choices for Pac-12 coaches was, on the whole, amusing and well thought-out. However I have a major beef with her selection for USC's music. What would happen if Arthur Bartner were to read that column and become inspiried to incorporate "Let It Go" into the band's repertoire? With the penchant the Spirit of Troy has for playing a singular song over and over and over and over and over (you get the clue) I would swear off all allegiance to USC immediately! You see, I have a 2 1/2-year-old girl whose singing makes Rosanne Barr sound like Michael Bublé. Can you guess her favorite song that assaults my ear drums morning, noon and night? This could quickly spiral downward. Please don't let me end up homeless in Fargo, N.D.

Ted Miller: SirTrojan wins the award for note that made me grin this week.

No. 1, I bet your wife would give you a frowny face for writing: "... I have a 2 1/2-year-old girl whose singing makes Rosanne Barr sound like Michael Bublé." The rule I've found with moms and their child's singing is it sounds like an angelic chorus, at least until we dads are officially advised otherwise... and best to get that in writing.

No. 2, I knew my 5-year-old was truly my son when "Let It Go" came on the radio -- briefly -- and he went, "Gaaaaaaa... Dad, I hate this song.... change it. Oh, the horror... the horror..."

(The "Heart of Darkness" reference may be an embellishment on my part.)

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 7, 2014
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Children need encouragement. So if a kid gets an answer right, tell him it was a lucky guess. That way, he develops a good, lucky feeling.

Top 10 Pac-12 seasons

August, 7, 2014
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ESPN.com has been looking at the greatest seasons in college football history this week -- overall and by team.

Today, we look at the 10 greatest seasons in Pac-12 history. And, yes, we made the overall success of a player's team part of our evaluation.

Feel free to disagree.

(Note: It was a management decision to exclude great Utah and Colorado seasons that occurred outside of the conference. So no Rashaan Salaam nor Alex Smith).

1. Marcus Allen, USC (1981): He was the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, piling up 2,342 yards in 12 games. Finished with 2,683 yards of total offense and 23 TDs. He won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

2. Matt Leinart, USC (2004): The Heisman Trophy winner as a junior, he became just the third QB in three decades to lead his team to back-to-back national titles. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,322 yards with 33 TDs and six interceptions.

3. Jim Plunkett, Stanford (1970): Stanford's only Heisman winner, he piled up 3,189 yards of total offense and was responsible for 22 touchdowns. He led the Cardinal to the Pac-8 title and an unset of No. 2 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

4. Charles White, USC (1979): White led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 final ranking on his way to the Heisman Trophy. He led the nation with an average of 194.1 yards per game, finishing with 2,050 yards and 19 TDs.

5. Terry Baker, Oregon State (1962): He won the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award, passing for 1,738 yards and 15 touchdowns, and producing 2,261 yards of total offense. His 24 total TDs led the nation. The Beavers won their final seven games, finished 9-2 and won the Liberty Bowl.

6. Reggie Bush, USC (2005): While his name is shrouded in controversy and his 2005 Heisman Trophy was officially taken away, you can't take away what he did on the field, which included nearly leading USC to a third consecutive national title. He led the nation with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game and ranked fourth in the nation with 133.85 yards rushing per game, which included a stunning 8.7 yards per carry.

7. Gary Beban, UCLA (1967): UCLA's only Heisman winner, he piled up 1,586 yards of total offense and 19 touchdowns. The only downside is he went 1-2-1, including losing to USC, in his final four games.

8. Ryan Leaf, Washington State (1997): Forget for a moment his NFL flop and post-football shenanigans, he was brilliant in 1997, leading the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl in 67 years. He passed for 3,968 yards and was responsible for a whopping 40 TDs. Finished third in Heisman voting.

9. Steve Emtman, Washington (1991): He was the centerpiece of one of the greatest Pac-10/12 teams of all time, a Huskies crew that dominated foes on its way to a 12-0 record and a split national title with Miami. He won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy and was the Pac-10 defensive POY. The consensus All-American finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman, leading a defense that yielded 9.58 points per game.

10. Terrell Suggs, Arizona State (2002): Suggs set an NCAA record with 24 sacks on his way to becoming a unanimous All-American, Bronko Nagurski Award winner, Lombardi Award winner and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. He also had 31 1/2 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles. The downside is the Sun Devils went 8-6 and weren't terribly good on defense as a whole.

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 6, 2014
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The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It's really not my fault.

Pac-12's lunch links

August, 4, 2014
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“There are no chainsaws in New York! You need to go to Long Island, or New Jersey. You don't wanna go to New Jersey.”
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the last couple of weeks we've been looking at each week during the 2014 season and picking the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we picked two).

Start planning accordingly as the Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip concludes.

Welcome to Week 14.

Friday, Nov. 28
  • Arizona State at Arizona
  • Stanford at UCLA
Saturday, Nov. 29
  • Notre Dame at USC
  • Utah at Colorado
  • Oregon at Oregon State
  • Washington at Washington State
  • BYU at California
  • Byes: None
My choice: Stanford at UCLA, Washington at Washington State

Why: We had a partial rivalry week last week with The Big Game and USC-UCLA and part two spills into the final week of the season. Depending on kickoff times, you might be able to swing the Friday-Saturday double. So for the sake of argument, let’s just say we could pull that off.

For the Friday game, it only makes sense to pick Stanford and UCLA. They are regarded as two of the top three teams in the conference and, perhaps like in 2012, we might see these two teams again in the conference title game a week later. There won’t be any lack of star power, either, with some of the top offensive and defensive players in the country squaring off on both sides of the field. Not to mention two of the league’s elite coaches.

As for the rest of the games, well, trying to justify or validate one rivalry over another is a futile practice that the Pac-12 blog does not wish to engage in. You’d be hard-pressed to convince an Arizona fan to take in the Apple Cup instead of the Territorial Cup. So we’re not going to even bother.

We all know Rich Rodriguez has some work to do to gain some ground on Todd Graham, who holds a 2-0 edge in the series since both coaches were hired. The Civil War has been one-sided (though last year’s game was pretty awesome) and the Colorado-Utah series is coming along -- though I’m not sure it’s reached “rivalry” status yet. Of the two nonconference games, Cal-BYU is what it is and USC-Notre Dame comes on the heels of the Trojans showdown with UCLA. Could be a big two-week swing in terms of public perception for Steve Sarkisian.

Of the remaining games, we’re going with the Apple Cup simply because it’s exciting to see a new coach indoctrinated into the rivalry. We all know what happened in Mike Leach’s first season. And the Huskies, of course, returned the favor last year.

This time around you have Chris Petersen at the helm, facing an Air Raid offense that will likely be putting up some big offensive numbers behind Connor Halliday and his cast of receivers. If the Cougars want to build off of the momentum of last season, beating a Petersen-led team would certainly be a good way to establish themselves as major players in the North.

There should be plenty of jockeying for bowl position going on as well. Whether it’s teams like Oregon, UCLA and Stanford fighting for a spot in the conference championship game, or teams like Utah or Washington State looking to become bowl eligible (and everything in between).

This is one of those weeks where you can’t go wrong because of your allegiances to your team. But big picture, Stanford-UCLA should be thrilling and the Apple Cup presents some fascinating storylines.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the road trip. You can review the complete list here.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 13.

Saturday, Nov. 22
  • Arizona at Utah
  • Washington State at Arizona State
  • USC at UCLA
  • Colorado at Oregon
  • Oregon State at Washington
  • Stanford at California
  • Byes: None
My choice: USC at UCLA

Why: Steve Sarkisian was brought to USC for one sole purpose – to regain the glory of the program. The first step toward that is re-establishing dominance in their backyard. Because for the past two seasons, the Bruins have been the dominant team in the Los Angeles.

It was only three seasons ago (2011), that the Trojans were smacking the Bruins around to the tune of 50-0 – their fifth straight win in the series. But that all changed when Jim Mora and Co. topped the Trojans, 38-28, in Pasadena in 2012 and then marched into the Coliseum and whooped USC, 35-14, last year. The power shift was as blunt as an Anthony Barr blindside sack.

Cue Sarkisian, a top lieutenant of the Pete Carroll era who brought Washington out of obscurity and is now trying to resuscitate a USC program that hasn’t been bad -- but it hasn’t lived up to expectations, either. And there isn't much time for a honeymoon. The expectation is to win -- and beat rivals -- immediately.

By Week 13, Brett Hundley should be in the thick of a Heisman race while the Bruins will likely be trying to wrap up the South Division for the third time in four seasons (yes, USC fans, the Pac-12 blog recognizes the asterisk of 2011, relax). Question is, will USC be trying to do the same?

Nothing would spark this rivalry more than both L.A. schools battling for the South crown. The Trojans should be well-established with their new up-tempo scheme and Nelson Agholor is one of the most dynamic receivers in the country, making his game-within-the-game battle with Fabian Moreau and the UCLA secondary that much more thrilling.

There are plenty of compelling story lines within this game. But none better than the simple fact that an outstanding USC-UCLA rivalry is a good thing for the Pac-12. When both teams in the conference’s largest market are ranked, that’s a good thing. And when both teams are fighting tooth and nail (along with the rest of the conference and country) for the top recruits in Southern California, it ups the ante for everyone.

Right now, UCLA is THE team in Los Angeles. It’s been a while since anyone has said that. Sarkisian, whose hiring was met with a courteous golf clap, could go a long way toward reuniting a fractured fan base with a victory over UCLA. On the flip side, Mora could further carve out his legacy with a three-peat.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

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