Pac-12: Boise State Broncos

Shaw, Petersen share mentoring role

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
7:30
PM ET
When Stanford and Washington kick things off Saturday afternoon, Mike Sanford will be nearly 1,400 miles away in Colorado Springs. Boise State’s new offensive coordinator will be going through the Broncos’ final preparations for their game with Air Force, but there’ll also be a part of him wondering what’s going on in Seattle.

Without the two head coaches opposing each other at Husky Stadium -- Stanford’s David Shaw and Washington’s Chris Petersen -- Sanford wouldn’t be where he is today. Not from a philosophical coaching standpoint, nor from a literal one.

As Stanford’s quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator last year, Sanford was preparing for the Rose Bowl when it was announced that Steve Sarkisian was leaving Washington to return to USC. The potential domino effect immediately piqued his interest.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkBoth coaches in Saturday's Stanford-Washington tilt, David Shaw (pictured) and Chris Petersen, had a profound effect on Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford's career.
“I always thought that Coach Pete would be a good fit [at Washington],” said Sanford, a former Boise State quarterback who had Petersen as a position coach for four years. “And if he went to Washington that probably meant there would be a whole new staff at Boise State.”

Since spending time as a graduate assistant at UNLV in 2005-06 under his father, Mike Sanford Sr., Sanford made it abundantly clear to those he worked with that he could eventually return to Boise. Until being hired onto David Shaw’s first staff at Stanford in 2011, he made every attempt to make that happen.

“Anytime [Petersen] had an assistant coach opening on staff, he knew he could expect a text or a phone call from me,” Sanford joked this week. “Him and Coach Shaw both received plenty of text messages from me over the years about jobs.”

However, it wasn’t until Petersen officially left Boise and was replaced by Bryan Harsin, also a former Boise State quarterback, did Sanford see a real possibility for a return. Nearly a year earlier, on Christmas Day 2012, shortly after he accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State, Harsin reached out to Sanford about becoming the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator.

“I really thought about it, but I didn’t want to leave Stanford after just two years,” Sanford said. “'At some point,’ I told him, ‘I think this might happen for me to work with you.’ Sure enough, when he got hired at Boise State, I texted him and asked if had time to talk.”

Harsin didn’t need any convincing. Sanford, widely considered one of the brightest young coaches and recruiters in the country, was a big coup for the first post-Petersen staff at Boise State.

But before he pursued it fully, Sanford first went to Shaw.

“I was really quite nervous having that conversation with Coach Shaw about this job,” he said. “I went in there asking him for advice, more so than saying, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I asked him what he’d do in my situation and he was great.

“He told me, ‘There’s nothing like coaching at your alma mater, if anyone knows that, it’s me. You got to take this job; it’s a great opportunity for you. You love that place.'”

That sealed it.

“Mike was really instrumental in our success here,” Shaw said. “And if there was one place he loved as much or maybe slightly more than Palo Alto, it was Boise. Being a Boise State alum ... he and his wife always loved it there. They talked about retiring there and that’s where they wanted to live and raise their children. So when the opportunity came up for him, it was too good to pass up.”

Support like that part of why Sanford credits Shaw as one of the three most influential coaches he’s ever been around, with the other two being his father, who is now the head coach at Indiana State, and Petersen.

"Playing for Coach Petersen I just respected everything about him as a coach," Sanford said. "The biggest thing about him was the unbelievable standard he had for himself, the offense, the quarterback position. You wanted to strive, strive, strive to put forth a performance that what worthy of meeting the standard he set out there."

For Petersen, Sanford’s rise in the coaching ranks has come as no surprise.

“I’ve really enjoyed watching his career progress and climb and all of that and I had no doubt that he would do some good things and get to where he wanted to be one day,” Petersen said. “Once he got through the process of playing and all those things and sat down and figured out what he wanted to do, he put his sights on the bullseye and was charging hard.”

And thanks to an assist from Petersen, he's back where he wanted to be.
Chris Petersen's first game-week news conference for the Washington Huskies on Monday was unremarkable, which was imminently predictable and the way he wanted it. His predecessor, Steve Sarkisian, now at USC, was effusive and quotable, sometimes even revealing. Petersen aspires toward affably dry. He's not going to open up about his sentiments as he makes what is a potentially momentous transition into the big leagues.

He didn't provide any deep thoughts about what it might feel like to take the field at Hawaii on Saturday leading Washington instead of Boise State, where he experienced incredible success and became a fixture, a nationally respected figure, a two-time national coach of the year celebrated for getting less talented players to consistently beat college football's big boys.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen said coaching in the spotlight of the Pac-12 won't change his demeanor.
Yes, he is excited, as he has been for every season opener he's experienced. No, he's not looking back nostalgically over how far he's come, nor looking forward eagerly to where he might go. One suspects he doesn't pour out his emotional thoughts and concerns into a diary every night before going to bed.

The angst-inducing competition of the Pac-12? Sparkling, overflowing Husky Stadium? Big-time pressure? The ever-present shadow of Don James, his one and only benchmark? Whatever. To Petersen, it's football and nothing more, his version of Nick Saban's mighty "The Process."

A momentous transition? Baah. You ask Petersen if this present moment is special or big for him, he swats the idea aside.

"No bigger than any other year," he said. "They are all big. Like I told you guys way back when I first started coaching in front of 300 fans, I had the same exact feelings. It doesn’t change. You’re competitive. You want to do your best for your guys. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re on, where you’re at. My focus never changes on that.”

That sort of thinking comes out of the many business and leadership books and articles Petersen has digested through the years: Simplify the task at hand to what it truly is and ignore all that is extraneous. Media and fans may overlay seasons and games with epic meaning but that's just frosting on a cake. Petersen only sees a football team he's preparing for a football game and when he's done Saturday it will be the same thing the next week. And so on.

Yet I will 100 percent guarantee you that Petersen's brain has considered the notion of personal legacy. While he's resistant to it -- particularly talking about it -- and probably good at blocking out such thinking as something that is detrimental to his moment-to-moment and day-to-day mental process, he knows that there's a historical ledger kept on college coaches.

He knows that if he wins big at Washington, he'll become a Hall of Fame coach, a guy who is remembered. A statue guy. A bronze bust guy. Like James.

Again, he's not dwelling on that, but it undoubtedly was part of his contemplation when he started chatting with Washington AD Scott Woodward about replacing Sarkisian. If Petersen wasn't interested in challenging himself, in advancing himself, in aspiring toward something he couldn't do at Boise State, he wouldn't have taken the job. Petersen accepted a brighter spotlight, which he hates, to have a chance to win it all.

There is nothing wrong with ambition, and Huskies fans should be giddy that Petersen, while probably not as flushed with it as Saban or Urban Meyer, is now accommodating his own. For the proverbial "next step" at Washington is all about championships, Pac-12 and otherwise. The way things have gone of late in this conference, you win the first, the national stuff will take care of itself.

Sarkisian took an 0-12 team and made it a top-25 team that finished 9-4. So for a team to improve on 9-4, it posts double-digit wins, right? It goes from No. 25 to No. 15. Or higher. And so on.

That next step for Petersen means eclipsing Oregon and Stanford in the North Division. Then it means winning the Pac-12. At that point, eyeballs will be firmly affixed to something like what happened in 1991. Yeah, the whole thing. It's not unrealistic. It's happened before, and Petersen arrives as a guy with an impeccable coaching resume, better even that what James had when he went west from Kent State.

Petersen isn't going to go 92-12 over the next eight seasons and match his Boise State record, but the reasonable expectation is he will build Washington into a Pac-12 power. Again.

And if he falls short, if the Huskies don't advance in the North, don't move up in the top 25? That, too, would be reflect upon his coaching legacy, which would end up good but not great.

So call it an overly dramatic media play if you want, but Petersen at Washington is momentous. It's about a very good coach measuring himself for greatness. It will be interesting to see if he ends up with that statue.
Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.

Mailbag: USC vs. Washington staffs

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Doing so just makes everything better. Promise.

To the notes!

 




Don from Any place other than Pullman writes: Am I alone in feeling excited about Chris Petersen, but uninspired by his chosen staff? He doesn't seem to have hired anyone with significant Pac-12 experience. I'm concerned about their ability to recruit big-time athletes to UW and their level of preparedness of the weekly grind that they never experienced at BSU. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Ted Miller: Petersen brought most of his Boise State staff to Washington -- six of nine coaches -- which is what most head coaches do when they change jobs. For one, familiarity and loyalty are important among coaches, and Petersen surely believes that he's not the only reason the Broncos had such a long run of success.

Two guys who were not at Boise State last year, receivers coach Brent Pease and linebackers coach Jeff Choate, were at Florida in 2013 but had previously coached at Boise State. And there's one spot still open.

Meanwhile, former Washington coach and new USC coach Steve Sarkisian brought five coaches from his Huskies staff to USC, and they joined Clay Helton and Tee Martin, holdovers from Lane Kiffin's staff. Sarkisian then hired Tim Drevno away from the San Francisco 49ers to coach his offensive line.

Petersen, at least with only one void remaining, opted not to retain any of Sarkisian's assistants.

A few weeks back, we declared Washington the winner over USC in terms of the PR surrounding both head coaching hires. You could say that the second round of the PR battle between the programs goes to the Trojans, though this is obviously a superficial and subjective judgement.

In terms of general name-recognition and "prestige" hires, USC ended up ahead. This is a really, really good USC coaching staff, though I'm not sure Sarkisian wouldn't have been better off retaining defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

The big blow to Washington was losing Tuiasosopo, an all-time great Husky. When I wrote on Dec. 13 that he was expected to follow Sark, plenty of Washington fans called me an idiot because they thought Tuiasosopo, the Huskies' interim coach during the Rose Bowl, would take a job with Petersen. He could have -- he was offered the tight ends job -- but didn't.

Yet, Don, you are mistaken when you say these guys don't know the Pac-12 and won't be up to the grind. As noted, Pease and Choate were in the SEC this year, and plenty of Petersen's assistants have Pac-12 experience. Heck, DBs coach Jimmy Lake has coached DBs at Washington before.

Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith played quarterback at Oregon State, leading the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame after the 2000 season. Linebacker coach Bob Gregory played at Washington State and was a successful defensive coordinator at California, and he also coached at Oregon and Washington State.

If you have faith in Petersen's head coaching skills, that would include having faith in his ability to evaluate coaches and assemble a staff.

Finally, it's all about what happens going forward, not PR victories. As we previously noted, the public relations and perception winner before either staff has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

 




Josh from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Was it just me or was the Rose Bowl a little hard to watch with David Shaw's stubborn play-calling? For someone so highly thought of in coaching circles, Shaw certainly didn't give his team much of a chance to win. I think your article about what Stanford can improveon is missing David Shaw reflecting on his play-calling decisions and playing big games too conservatively. Remember his play-calling in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago? Taking the ball out of the best QB in the nation's hands in the final drive? Will this affect the NFL's opinion of him?

Ted Miller: No, this will not affect the NFL's opinion of him. Nor will it affect most folks' opinion of Shaw. He's one of the nation's elite coaches. Know how we know this? He's 34-7 and has won consecutive Pac-12 titles.

Stanford has an identity, and sticking to that identity is a big reason for that 34 above. Why does Shaw keep calling power running plays, even when they are not working? Because that strategy in the past has helped get to that 34.

Now, this doesn't mean the Pac-12 blog is immune to the "I'm Smarter Than The Coach Syndrome?" No. Absolutely not. I've questioned Shaw's play-calling in tweets. I questioned the end of the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. I've also questioned Chip Kelly's play-calling. Heck, I've questioned just about every coach I've covered.

Know why? Because it's part of my job to kibitz in areas where I'm a decided amateur, just as it is a prerogative of fans to do the same. It's part of the reason we watch the games, fantastically putting on the headset and immersing ourselves into the strategy of what works and doesn't work.

One of two things happen when a play is called: 1. It works; 2. It doesn't work. In the case of No. 2, folks often second-guess.

Let me give you an example. I didn't like Shaw's call on fourth-and-1 at the end of the Rose Bowl -- a dive for fullback Ryan Hewitt to the left side that was stopped for no gain. What would I have done? I would have said, "There's no way we drive methodically for a touchdown here." I would have run play-action and had QB Kevin Hogan look deep for the receiver who was not covered by Spartans all-world cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

And, if Shaw had done that, he would have been: 1. A genius if it worked; 2. A questionable play-caller who should have run power if it didn't.

Stanford was a very good, but imperfect team this year. Michigan State simply outplayed the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.

 




Ben from Denver writes: What greater meaning for the Pac-12 do you see after the Rose Bowl loss? Was everyone delusional that the Pac-12 was so strong this year? Until yesterday, I assumed Stanford would win the Rose and that Oregon would have handily beaten Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, UCF and Baylor had they made the BCS cut, but now I really doubt it. Is Oregon Stanford's big game? They seemed to play at a higher level against the Ducks, but in many other games this year, and especially the Rose Bowl, they looked pedestrian. Is there something in the Midwest water that helps non-Badger quarterbacks have career games in the Rose? See Cooks/MSU and Pryor/OSU. Do you see the Rose Bowl loss leading to an overall lower expectation or ranking for the Pac-12 and thus a tougher road to a playoff spot next year?

Ted Miller: As I previously noted, Stanford's Rose Bowl loss served as more of a validation for how good Michigan State was than as potential ammunition to say that Stanford and the Pac-12 were overrated.

The reason folks thought the Pac-12 was good this year was because it went 28-8 against FBS foes in nonconference games and it was loaded with All-Americans and NFL prospects at nearly every position.

While fans and media inevitably read too much into bowl results, bowls often operate as a separate entity from the regular season -- see Texas Tech's inspired performance against a bizarrely uninterested Arizona State team.

The Big 12 champion, Baylor, got whipped by Central Florida. SEC superpower Alabama got whipped by an Oklahoma team that lost to Texas by 16 and Baylor by 29.

I don't think anything that happened in the bowls or this season will diminish the general perception that the Pac-12 probably remains the No. 2 football conference behind the SEC. I certainly don't think there will be any negative ramifications heading into 2014 and the first year of the College Football Playoff.

 




Tony from La Jolla, Calif., writes: I sure hope you've noticed how solid the Arizona recruiting effort has become after the easy win over a brutal BC squad in the Independence Bowl. After snatching Jalen Tabor from Bama and Jordan Poland from SC, surely this vaults Arizona into the top 10 nationally and to the very top of the Pac-12 for 2014 recruits. Still, however, the most important recruit still "unsigned" is a two-time consensus all-American that could be the final piece in a Pac-12 South championship, a spot in the title game, and an outside shot at making the Final Four. Things are great at Arizona now; it's time to jump on the bandwagon. If Carey stays, this team should be your pick to win the South (especially if Hundley and Mora leave UCLA.) What say you?

Ted Miller: I have noticed. Rich Rodriguez is making his big move, it appears.

ESPN.com currently ranks Arizona No. 16 in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-12. It also interesting that the Wildcats good friends from up north, the Arizona State Sun Devils, are No. 18 and No. 2 in the Pac-12. That, to me, is both surprising and amusing. We have something else for these two fan bases to trade barbs about!

As for your "unsigned" recruit, I'd rate the odds remote that RB Ka'Deem Carey returns, and I'd personally strongly advise him to leave for the NFL draft. He has nothing left to accomplish at the college level and running backs have a short NFL shelf life. Even the best ones don't play into their 30s.

The bigger question for the Wildcats contending in the South next year is quarterback. Who's it going to be?

But after two years watching Rich Rod and QBs coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith work wonders with Matt Scott and B.J. Denker, I'm thinking even modest expectations at the position would be pretty darn high.

So, yeah, I'm starting to see Arizona as a true South Division darkhorse.

 




Robert from Santa Clara, Calif., writes: So a friend and I are having an argument about the effects of Stanford's Rose Bowl loss. My friend Jason is arguing that "If Stanford won the Rose Bowl, some of the winning pot money is split among the Pac-12 and therefore Cal could get a small share."

Ted Miller: When Stanford lost the Rose Bowl, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour was handed a pot of gold by a leprechaun dressed head-to-toe in tie-dye pajamas, who proceeded to sing:
Nine mile skid on a ten mile ride,
Hot as a pistol but cool inside.
Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a bind,
Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

Of course, while singing, said leprechaun did that back-and-forth swaying dance that frat guys do at jam-band concerts, one that the Pac-12 blog was last seen doing in 2004 in Seattle at a Drive-By Truckers show.

What we mean to say is that, win or lose, the Pac-12 got $17 million for the game, which is split equally among the conference programs.
Here's our take on Oregon State's win over Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

It was over when: It never really got started. Oregon State dominated on both sides of the ball from bell to bell. When Oregon State went up 38-6 with eight minutes left in the third quarter, sportswriters everywhere started typing (cough, cough).

Game ball goes to: The Beavers as a whole. There really wasn't a standout player in this win -- well, other than Oregon State CB Rashaad Reynolds (see below) -- but what was notable was a team that had lost five in a row playing perhaps its most complete game of the season. While it has been a tough year for Mike Riley, the bowl performance clearly suggests he has not lost his locker room.

Key stat: Oregon State, a team that struggled to run the ball and stop the run all season, averaged 5.9 yards per carry while the Broncos averaged 4.1 yards per carry. That reveals how the Beavers owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Oregon State rushed for 195 yards, Boise State 155.

Unsung hero: Reynolds returned fumbles 3 and 70 yards for touchdowns in the first half as the Beavers took charge of the game. Not sure if that qualifies as "unsung," but it was a pretty efficient way to make life easy for the Beavers.

What it means for Oregon State: It means Riley and Oregon State end 2013 with a winning record and a bowl win, as well as a team that sets up well for 2014. The Pac-12 North again won't be easy next fall, but what's coming back next August in Corvallis -- even without early NFL entries Brandin Cooks and Scott Crichton -- looks stronger than what came back last August.

What it means for Boise State: While Boise State fans will fret the first post-Chris Petersen performance, this bowl game doesn't mean much for the program. Sure, plenty of folks will be skeptical whether the Broncos can continue to be nationally relevant. But it's up to new coach Bryan Harsin and the Broncos as a whole to show the doubters it will be business as usual for the top non-AQ power. That can only happen next fall. And, by the way, the Broncos have a lot coming back.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, click here.

Hawaii Bowl preview

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
9:00
AM ET


Oregon State will take on Boise State on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: Both teams have quarterback questions, though of a very different nature. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion put up big numbers this year for the one-dimensional Beavers, but he threw 11 of his 14 interceptions over the final four games. Will the time off get him back up to speed? Or will he again struggle with accuracy and decision making? Boise State has junior Grant Hedrick behind center, the backup to suspended starter Joe Southwick. The good news for the Broncos is Hedrick has been the starter since Southwick hurt his foot on Oct. 19 against Nevada. He went 4-2 and mostly played well.

What to watch: Oregon State is terrible against the run. It ranked 11th in the Pac-12 and 91st in the nation in run defense, yielding 193.2 yards per game. But that's not the worst of it. Opposing runners averaged 5.2 yards per carry, which ranked 107th in the nation and last in the conference. Boise State running back Jay Ajayi is outstanding. He rushed for 1,328 yards and 17 TDs, averaging 5.9 per carry this year. Meanwhile, the Broncos struggle against the pass, with opposing quarterbacks completing 64 percent of their throws for 248.4 yards per game. The Beavers with Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks should be able to take advantage.

Why to watch: It will be interesting to see how both teams react, because the more motivated and focused team likely wins. Oregon State is riding a dispiriting five-game losing streak, due in large part to a back-loaded schedule. Is it enough motivation knowing a victory gives the Beavers a winning record and a loss means a losing one for the third time in four seasons? For the Broncos, they are playing their first game since coach Chris Petersen, who built Boise State into a national power, shocked some when he bolted for Washington. They will be led by interim coach Bob Gregory before Bryan Harsin takes over. The Broncos should be motivated to show the nation the program will continue to thrive against AQ foes, even without Peterson.

Predictions: Kevin: Oregon State 38, Boise State 35. Ted: Boise State 38, Oregon State 35.

Hawaii Bowl prediction

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
8:00
AM ET
Kevin went 1-1 over the weekend. Ted went a yucky 0-2.

Kevin now leads Ted by two games with seven bowls remaining, his record sitting at 76-18 while Morose Miller is 74-20.

Kevin Gemmell: If I’m an Oregon State fan, Boise State's rushing attack scares me. Jay Ajayi has six 100-yard rushing games this year and four multi-touchdown games. Oregon State’s rushing defense wasn’t particularly stout, yielding 193.2 yards per game and 27 touchdowns – the second-highest total in the conference. Then again, quarterbacks complete 64 percent of their throws against the Broncos, who allow 248.4 yards in the air per game. The Boise State-Fresno State game might offer some comparable insight as Derek Carr threw for 460 yards and four touchdowns. The Broncos are opportunistic, however, with 15 interceptions this season. The question is whether Sean Mannion reverts back to the guy who was on fire the first half of the season, or if he’s the guy who has thrown 11 interceptions in the last four games. I’m leaning toward Brandin Cooks and Mannion blowing up in a high-scoring affair. Oregon State 38, Boise State 35.

Ted Miller: The Beavers and Broncos have two common opponents: Washington and San Diego State. The Huskies blew out both, while the Beavers nipped San Diego State on the road and Boise State lost in overtime, also on the road. While neither result is telling, it does suggest neither team seems clearly superior. Kevin noted the Beavers issues against the run, and that might be exacerbated by the absence of injured LB D.J. Alexander, who had neck surgery. Of course, the Broncos are without starting QB Joe Southwick, who was suspended from the game. His backup, Grant Hedrick, however, has mostly played well when Southwick was hurt in the last half of the season. Boise State is also playing the first game since Chris Petersen stepped down to take over at Washington. The Beavers do have one clear advantage -- the four words and two numbers that will follow. Boise State 38, Oregon State 35.

Mailbag: Bowl, apple controversies

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Santa is watching and you don't want to be added to the naughty list.

George from Phoenix writes: I've read Kevin and your pre-bowl comments on how well the Pac-12 needs to (and should do) in the bowls. "Favored in all games (or 8/9)". "Opponents are overmatched," etc. I believe the hype. Then I read Mark Schlabach predictions yesterday which has the Pac-12 going a measly 3-6, including a loss in the BCS game you have so wisely noted is most important for Pac-12 perception!!!! Should I panic? What's a guy to believe?!?!

Ted Miller: I would say Mark shouldn't get too close to Vegas this holiday season.

If the Pac-12 goes 3-6 in its bowl games, Kevin has agreed to wear nothing but a burlap sack for a week. If the Pac-12 goes 3-6 in its bowl games, I will listen only to Adele songs for two weeks. OK, a week. No… a day. An entire day! An entire work day.

Everybody has opinions. And sportswriters are often asked to pick games. They can go the easy route and pick the favorites over and over again. Or they can try to spice things up by predicting upsets. It's also possible that Mark suspected he'd get a rise out of Pac-12 fans, so he's already 1-0 this bowl season. (George was not the only one to note Schlabach's Pac-12 bowl picks.)

But there might be method to his madness, or at least a justifiable logic.

You have two Pac-12 teams, USC and Washington, going through coaching turmoil. You have an Oregon team that had players complaining about the Rose Bowl now playing in the Valero Alamo Bowl against a Texas team that surely will be trying to win one for outgoing coach Mack Brown.

You have Arizona and Oregon State teams that have been pretty mercurial this season. You have Stanford facing a Michigan State team that is playing as well as any squad in the nation.

There are ways to script a 3-6 bowl season. Even Jon Wilner has the Pac-12 going a meager 5-4.

I think both will be wrong.

But ask Cal and Oregon State fans how often I'm right.


Mike from Springfield, Missouri, writes: I will miss the BCS because it really does make every game more interesting throughout the year. I don't deny that the playoffs will be more exciting than the current bowls. But I think the rest of the regular season will be much less interesting.

I would not have been watching the Iron Bowl this year because I would have known that even with a Bama loss, they would still be in the top four and making the playoffs and still probably be the favorite to win it, and so that game would have been not nearly as big as news as it was. We would then be talking about how it was good for Bama to lose because then they didn't even have to play the SEC title game and would be playing for the national title. Same thing years back when No. 1 Ohio State was playing No. 2 Michigan.

As well as Bama recruits, Bama will always start off ranked high in the polls and so the regular season won't get any headlines til Bama loses twice. I would have probably not watched a game all year this year with as good as Bama was, knowing that it would take two losses for them to not win the title and would probably just watch the playoffs. I think there will ultimately be a lot of fans like me and college football will find out that they had a good thing even with as much controversy as it had (there will always be controversy with a league with 119 teams that doesn't have equal schedules).

Ted Miller: You make a fair point.

On the one hand, by adopting a four-team College Football Playoff compared to a two-team BCS title game, we are increasing the pool and therefore the opportunity. It seems more democratic, eh?

But there are always unintended consequences when change comes to a system. It's possible the biggest beneficiaries of the CFP will be the college football superpowers, teams that get the benefit of the doubt after a loss (or two).

If Alabama, USC, Texas, and LSU (group A) had just one loss, and Duke, Northwestern, Boise State and Texas Tech (group B) also had just one loss, how many teams from group A get into the playoff compared to group B?

If the selection committee is, like the national polls, heavily reliant on reputation, the elite powers will typically get the benefit of the doubt.

When a highly ranked Alabama/USC/LSU/Texas team loses its first game, it won't tumble precipitously in the polls, whereas a Duke/Northwestern/Boise State/Texas Tech that is climbing the polls after being unranked in the preseason doesn't get the same consideration.

Further, as you noted, increasing the pool to four teams over two decreases the value of the regular season, the one undeniable strength of the BCS system.

Many think we're headed toward an eight-team playoff. That sounds far more equitable, but that would reduce the value of the regular season even further -- significantly.

It will be interesting to see how the CFP affects how we perceive and react to the regular season. It's still going to be college football, so it will continue to be awesome. And it will still provoke controversies.

It is possible that those controversies won't be as juicy.


Ryan from Kennewick, Wash., writes: Anything is possible in college football. "Never say never" and "Texas (UT) has unlimited resources" are two things we hear a lot. Even though there are provisions in the UT athletic director's contract to keep him from hiring ASU's staff, what are the chances that Texas uses their "resources" to go after one of them anyway? (Obviously I'm primarily referring to Todd Graham.)

Ted Miller: If Texas really, really wants to hire Todd Graham away from Arizona State, it will go after him. And I personally would have no problem with Graham taking the job because this is the United States of America, and if you are a football coach, you should want to coach at Texas and make $5 million a year.

(Kevin has told me that Texas is the only job that could lure him away from the Pac-12 blog. Mine would be Florida Keys Community College -- because, hey, you're living in the Florida Keys!).

I know there was an agreement between Arizona State and its former athletic director Steve Patterson, now at Texas, that Patterson wouldn't bring Sun Devils staffers with him to Austin.

But this is the United States of America. If you have money and good lawyers, you can make just about anything happen you want.

Other than get Nick Saban.


Scott from London writes: Just wondering what your thoughts are on B.J. Denker's 898 yards rushing and how his propensity to ball-hog on the read option hurt Carey's chances at the Doak/Heisman Awards?I know Carey was still a workhorse, but who should be running the ball? Your All-American RB or your gangly 6-2 QB?

Ted Miller: Everyone needs to read Scott's note with a British accent. I first used my best Jeeves/P.G. Wodehouse then went all Oliver Twisty cockney on it.

It might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes the best thing for a running back is not getting the ball. It's the same when an A-list quarterback has a beastly running back lining up behind him.

Most defensive coordinators will tell you the first thing they do is try to take away what an offense most likes to do. With Arizona, that was hand the ball to Carey. So that means forcing the Wildcats to show they have other threats to worry a defense.

Denker averaged 5.4 yards per rush -- despite losing 121 yards on sacks -- and scored 12 TDs. A defense has to respect that. A read-option keeper from Denker, which was more often successful than not, forced a defense to obsess just a little bit less about Carey. That translated to a few split seconds of divided attention here or there that probably increased the size of holes Carey saw when he got the ball.

I think Arizona fans should be grateful for what they got out of Denker this year. I know he was doubted by just about everyone in August, including me. He became a solid QB for the Wildcats, and his outstanding performance against Oregon was one he should never forget. Not sure anyone made more out of his talents this year than Denker.


Nick from Seattle writes: "Again, this is a Fujis vs. Honey Crisp discussion. But when you look at overall consistency -- "Now you've done it. Now you have absolutely lost all credibility. How dare you suggest Fujis are better apples than Honey Crisp in any way?! Utter blasphemy...

Ted Miller: I told Kevin that if he uses apples-to-apples analogies, he's wading into deep and emotional waters, particularly with Washington fans. And Washington State fans for that matter.

I'm with you on this one. Kevin has lost all credibility -- ALL OF IT! -- when it comes to comparing apples to apples.

(Cue the Fuji apple fans with their outrage and advanced statistical analysis that proves -- PROVES! -- Fujis are just as good as Honey Crisp.)
Oregon State was a team needing a touch of good news.

Losers of five straight -- including a heartbreaking one-point loss to rival Oregon in the season finale Civil War -- the Beavers closed out the year with an uninspired thud after jumping out to a 6-1 start.

Enter Brandin Cooks, the newly crowned best wide receiver in America. When he took home the Biletnikoff Award last week for the top receiver in the country, it was an opportunity for the Beavers to take a step back from the crush of negativity that had surrounded them the last six weeks and re-focus on the things they did well this season.

And a gracious Cooks was sure to tip his cap to everyone who helped make it possible -- including his quarterback, Sean Mannion.

“I have to thank Sean for everything he did to help me get this award,” Cooks said. “This isn’t just for me. It’s for my teammates and it’s for the program. It took a lot of things for me to get this so it all goes to my teammates.”

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion, Brandin Cooks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSean Mannion and Brandin Cooks have formed a productive partnership for Oregon State.
Mannion was a bit more reserved at taking some of the praise. True, Cooks is catching what Mannion tosses. But in Mannion’s mind, it’s all Cooks.

“It’s Brandin’s award,” Mannion said. “It’s not mine. He’s an outstanding player. He earned that award and I’m lucky I get to play with him. When I was watching him on TV, I was really proud to see him win. Not only is he a great player, but I know what kind of guy he is on and off the field. He’s a guy that will do anything for our team. It’s his deal and I’m just lucky I get to tag along for the ride.”

The ride will last at least one more game when the Beavers travel to Hawaii to take on Boise State on Christmas Eve in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Cooks said he’ll make a decision on whether to turn pro probably a couple of days after the bowl game. Mannion said he hasn’t set a timetable for himself.

We know this. When the Beavers are clicking offensively, they can be tough to stop. Through the first seven games they averaged 44.1 points per game. Over the last five that number dipped to 21 points per game. Quality of competition over those last five weeks (Stanford, USC, ASU, Washington, Oregon) certainly has to be taken into consideration.

Mannion and Cooks have already set numerous single-season school records. And they’ve connected for touchdowns 15 times this year and 22 times in their careers, making them Oregon State’s most prolific QB-WR tandem.

After starting the first eight games with 30 passing touchdowns to just three interceptions, Mannion has slipped the final four games with just six touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Cooks said he has all the confidence in his quarterback that he can get them back on track against the Broncos.

“He looks as strong as he did during the preseason,” Cooks said. “He’s on fire right now and he looks like the Sean we all know. We’re confident in him that he’s going to get us this W.”

Added Mannion: “There are a handful of plays I really want back. Unfortunately those resulted in interceptions. But they are simple mistakes. They are things I can correct.”

For as much as Mannion is the leader by default of his position, Cooks has taken on a much stronger role as a voice of the team. That’s something he learned last year studying Markus Wheaton and the way he would lead. There were a lot of questions coming into the season about whether Cooks could get it done without Wheaton on the other side of him. But he took the knowledge Wheaton gave him and applied it to 2013. The end result is a record-setting season and the highest honor someone at his position can garner.

“All the little things he would do he passed down to me and that’s made me the receiver I am,” Cooks said. “I saw the way he acted and how he became the leader of the offense and I tried to do that. He was a huge part of my success.”

And now the Beavers will try to replicate that success for one more game and put a positive stamp on a season that had its share of highs and lows.

“We want to get back to playing good football,” Mannion said. “We got off to a real good start, but even then we really hadn’t played a complete game. We really want to finish on a high note and play a complete game against Boise.”

Bowl primer: Sheraton Hawaii

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
9:00
AM ET
We continue our look at each of the Pac-12’s opponents during the bowl season.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Honolulu, Dec. 24, 5 p.m. PT, ESPN
Oregon State (6-6) vs. Boise State (8-4)

Boise State Broncos

Coach: Bob Gregory (interim)
Record: 8-4, 6-2 Mountain West
Combined opponent’s record: 71-75 (.486)
Common opponents: Both teams lost to Washington and split their games against San Diego State. The Huskies beat Boise State 38-6 in the season opener and then thumped Oregon State 69-27 in late November. Boise State lost to San Diego State in overtime late in November while the Beavers pulled a miracle finish against the Aztecs back in September for a 34-30 win.
Leading passer: Joe Southwick, 151-of-208 (72.6 percent) for 1,654 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Leading rusher: Jay Ajayi, 226 carries for 1,328 with 17 touchdowns
Leading receiver: Matt Miller, 77 receptions for 934 yards with 11 touchdowns
Leading tackler: Ben Weaver, 86 tackles

What to know: We’re not sure who is going to be quarterbacking this team yet. Joe Southwick has returned from an ankle injury, though Grant Hedrick picked up the slack in his absence. Gregory said there are still a lot of details to be worked out. They have identical touchdown-to-interception ratios (12-5), but Southwick has the slightly higher completion percentage. Though Hedrick’s is a solid 68.2.

But the offense goes through Ajayi, an explosive redshirt sophomore, who averaged 5.9 yards per tote.

Eight wins is a disappointing season for the Broncos. After years of BCS busting and top 10 finishes, the Broncos regressed a bit. And then Chris Petersen left for Washington, which led to Wednesday's hiring of Arkansas State’s Bryan Harsin.

All four of Boise State’s losses came on the road this year (at Washington, Fresno State, BYU and San Diego State), so perhaps a trip to a different time zone won’t be great for the Broncos. Worth noting, however, that their strongest win of the year was probably at Utah State against an Aggie team that went to the conference championship game.

Key matchup: Oregon State’s front seven is surely going to be tested by the Boise State running game, but you have to think the Broncos’ secondary is equally challenged by the Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection. Outside of maybe Fresno State’s Davante Adams (122 catches, 1,645 yards, 23 touchdowns), the Broncos probably haven’t seen a receiver like Cooks (120, 1,670, 15). A lot of it will come down to Mannion’s decision making. After throwing just three interceptions in his first eight games, he has 11 in his last four.

Mailbag: Sark or Petersen?

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
5:30
PM ET
I had a few letters about the Pac-12 being shut out of the Heisman conversation. But I don't think I could have said it any better than my esteemed colleague. So I'll let that serve as the official Pac-12 response.

To the notes!

Jon in Seattle writes: Kevin, in response to your article regarding Chris Petersen's first news conference, your conclusion accurately sums up our impression. As a die-hard Washington fan and having spoken to many others, we weren't bothered by the way he answered the question about beating Oregon. It was a fun but silly question and any answer would have ultimately been meaningless, so it was refreshing to see him refuse to bite the bait and stick to the heart of his message. This is especially true in contrast to Sarkisian, who made many promises upon arriving here. As you said, Petersen has a process, he has a plan, and beating Oregon is an extension of its execution. We like what we're hearing. And hey, the guy is 2-0 against Oregon already. Of course, you won't hear him bragging.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen hit all the right notes in his introductory news conference at Washington.
Kevin Gemmell: A Husky fan agreeing with me? Mark the date and time, folks. Satan is snowboarding.

There’s nothing really to say in that situation that is going to be productive. I found him to be extremely charismatic during his first news conference. He was fiery but controlled. He said all of the right things without overstepping.

I think back to when I was covering Brady Hoke and his move from San Diego State to Michigan. He, too, was fiery, and he made some promises regarding his new team and the team that wears scarlet and gray. Things aren’t going so hot right now in Ann Arbor. It’s one thing to fire up your fan base with promises. But when you don’t follow through with them, they are just empty words.

Petersen portrayed confidence and there was not a moment when I thought to myself, “OK, buddy, we’ll see.”

I really liked what he had to say about not being too hands-on with this team during the bowl season. I think that’s the right call. This is the 2013 Huskies. He’s not a part of that legacy.

I don’t know Petersen yet. I’ve talked with him once or twice on teleconferences and in news conferences, but I don’t have any sort of relationship with him. But I’m looking forward to getting to know him. And if he’s anything like the man he projected himself to be on Monday, I’m pretty sure three years from now we’ll look back at that day and realize that nothing he said was empty.

Eddie in Los Angeles writes: I grew up in Boise, attended Washington and live in Los Angeles. I’m a fan of all three teams. How should I feel?

Kevin Gemmell: Grateful that it’s neither raining nor snowing where you live?

If you truly are a fan of all three teams (and let’s be honest, you have to lean a little toward one or the other or the other when they play head-to-head) then you should feel pretty freaking blessed.

Divorces are ugly -- especially when a coach leaves a program voluntarily for another one. But this series of separations couldn’t have gone any smoother. You can’t be bitter at Petersen for leaving Boise State, especially after he delivered you a 92-12 record. You can’t be bitter at Sarkisian leaving after taking an 0-12 program and making it a postseason regular. And you can’t be disappointed with the hire of Sarkisian at USC.

If you are really a fan of all three programs then you should probably be feeling pretty good right about now.

Henry in San Juan Capistrano writes: Think about it. Had ASU not earned the right to play in the Pac-12 championship game and just sat home, they would be in the top 10 in the BCS and maybe the top 10 in the AP. They should make some rule that says the teams in the championship games can't move down from their previous position if they lose. Mizzou got hosed in this way as well.

Kevin Gemmell: Pretty specious reasoning. Because if ASU hadn’t earned the right to play in the Pac-12 championship game that means they would have lost another conference game somewhere along the way -- more than likely at UCLA or home to Arizona -- and they would have dropped in the rankings. I think they actually would have slipped further in the rankings had they lost a regular season game rather than a conference championship. Voters tend to respect teams a little more for making their league’s title game.

As for rules changes, I’m not a huge fan of that. You play the game. If you win, you move up. If you lose, you move down. C’est la vie. You don’t like it, don’t lose. You’ve earned the right for an extra game. And no one is saying that if you win, you shouldn't move up in the rankings. ASU would be in the top six or seven had they beaten Stanford. And you probably wouldn’t have complained. It’s got to be able to work both ways.

I know what you’re getting at. But I don’t think it’s feasible.

Trev with a Left Coast bias wrote: I understand it might be geography for why the Allstate Sugar Bowl would pick Oklahoma, but wouldn't you rather have a possible setting of what was originally thought to be the BCS title game matchup? My opinion is the SEC told the Sugar Bowl that they don’t want to have Oregon for two reasons: 1) Don't want to give extra money to the biggest threat (Pac-12) and 2) What if we lose? Your thoughts?

Kevin Gemmell: I think geography played a significant role. I think the fact the SEC and Big 12 are starting a scheduling alliance next year played a role. I think the attitude of some of Oregon’s players toward the Rose Bowl played a role. And I think the fact Oregon didn’t look particularly good in November played a role.

Like the rest of the world, I would love to have seen Alabama-Oregon happen -- even if it wasn’t for the national championship. It would have been a TV ratings home run -- somewhere between the finale of M*A*S*H and the 2009 Super Bowl.

There is no greater conspiracy theory here. And truth be told, I’m not sure the Oregon team as it stands today is the best product the Ducks could put on the field.

I’m sure there was some politicking going on behind the scenes. And by the way, for everyone who says ESPN controls college football, don’t think this would have been a ratings boom for my bosses. It goes to show that it’s ultimately the committees that make the decisions based on what’s best for their bowl and their respective tourism bureaus.

Erik in Bangkok writes: Kevin, simple question: Why do you rank Michigan State higher than Stanford? Taking into account strength of schedule and also your expectations of their head-to-head outcome.

[+] EnlargeStanford
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsStanford figures to have its hands full with a Michigan State team that's on a roll.
Kevin Gemmell: Simple answer, because I knew it would tick off Erik in Bangkok. Neither of these teams was going to go to the national championship game. And I happened to think it’s impressive that Sparty knocked off a team that hasn’t lost in 24 games. I don’t care what people say about Ohio State’s streak -- winning 10 games in a row is hard to do. Going undefeated for a full season is really hard and doing it for almost two years is ridiculous in this day and age.

Obviously, strength of schedule is important. That's why I have a team that lost to two unranked teams in my top five. I recognize and have written countless times how difficult the Pac-12 schedule is.

I was very impressed with both teams in the conference title games. And the difference between No. 4 and No. 5 in my book is pretty insignificant. In fact, I think Stanford has an edge having been to the Rose Bowl before and my first impression is that the Cardinal win that game.

I honestly didn’t sweat over it that much, and you shouldn't either. I thought Michigan State finished the season stronger with nine straight wins and so I ranked accordingly. My gut tells me Stanford is the better team. But from a rankings standpoint, I thought Michigan State closed stronger. It will work itself out in the final ballots.

RedditCFB in Minneapolis writes: Well, it's official: With the BCS Era coming to a close ('98?-13) there have been 878 bowl games in the BCS Era and the SEC & Pac-12 only met ONCE! How do we fix this? Is there a way to get a new bowl in Wally World so the SEC won't be as afraid of travel? The terrible bowl tie-ins have not significantly improved under Larry Scott (one of his few flaws).

Kevin Gemmell: Bowl games aren’t designed to provide the best possible matchup. They are designed to be the best possible matchup while also bringing in money to the city that hosts them. You’ll notice all of the Pac-12’s contracts are regionally based -- with the Valero Alamo and Hyundai Sun bowls being the longest trek. And even that isn’t too far of a hike.

It’s dollars. They want as many people to come to their city for as long as possible, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, go to amusement parks and spend money. While you’re in town, maybe take in a football game.

The National University Holiday Bowl probably doesn’t like having to take teams from Los Angeles because fans drive down to San Diego, watch the game and then drive home that night. They want people in hotel rooms for five days with trips to Sea World and the zoo and LegoLand.

How many Washington fans would go to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl? The first year? It might be filled. But what about the third and fourth years? These Pac-12 SEC matchups would look great on TV. And from my leather chair, I’d love to drink it all in. But the travel (see previous question), specifically the fan support and filling the stadium, simply wouldn’t be there on an annual basis.

Damon in Seattle writes: Who won? USC or Washington?

Kevin Gemmell: Honestly, Damon, I hate these questions. But I understand why people ask them. Because they want to feel better about the decisions their team made. You're looking for some closure from the previous administration and a reason to feel good about the new one.

Washington won because it snagged the big fish that many others couldn’t hook. USC won because it got someone from the USC family. Washington won because there is little to no chance the program takes a step back with Petersen as the head coach. USC won because the program will probably take a step forward under Sarkisian.

Is that sufficient? Because there's no right or wrong answer for at least a few years.

Until all the coaching staffs are in place, until there are three or four recruiting cycles under these guys, questions like “who won?” are fairly irrelevant. Ask me again in four years. I’m sure I’ll have a better answer.

Rudy in Houston writes: I said once "don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion!" Kevin, you didn't and ran the table! Congratulations!

Kevin Gemmell: I'd like to thank Ted Miller for not believing in me, my wife who doesn't care, and the good people at the Scripps Ranch Starbucks who still charge me full price for a cup of coffee despite a perfect media ballot.

Mailbag: Did USC or Washington win?

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, Pac-12 championship and coaching carousel edition.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?

Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?

The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.

Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.

Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.

As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.

Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.

Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.

So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.

Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.


Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?

Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.

A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.

Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.

The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.

But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.

In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.

Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.

But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.


Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?

Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.

That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.

Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.

And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.


Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.

Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.

The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.

Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.

The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.


Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?

Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.

Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.

I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.

Petersen will be challenged in Pac-12

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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Major narratives in college football change quickly. Just as the midseason hyperventilating surrounding the BCS title game typically sounds nothing like the end-of-season hyperventilating about the BCS title game, so do narratives almost immediately evolve on coaching changes.

Washington formally announced the hiring of Chris Petersen away from Boise State on Friday, answering one of the major annual questions in college football: Will Chris Petersen ever leave Boise?

[+] EnlargePetersen
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsChris Petersen won 92 games in eight years at Boise State.
The hiring, rightfully, will be widely celebrated, particularly among those wearing Huskies purple.

With a list of big-name targets after Steve Sarkisian opted to bolt for USC on Monday, athletic director Scott Woodward moved quickly and decisively. He checked in with UCLA coach Jim Mora, who thought seriously about the job before re-upping with the Bruins. Rumors briefly flew over Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, a Don James disciple. Then two names emerged: Petersen and Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who worked under Sarkisian from 2009 to 2011.

Both would be good hires, but Petersen is the big fish, the guy who spurned many previous overtures because he liked living and coaching in Boise. He has won five conference titles and two BCS bowls while winning 88 percent of his games (92-12) over eight years with the Broncos.

This hiring will create immediate buzz across the country. Huskies fans, many of whom were growing impatient with Sarkisian not challenging Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North Division, probably view themselves as being in a better place today than they were just after finishing the regular season 8-4. They would like to thank USC for poaching their former coach, as well as apparently passing on Petersen in favor of Sarkisian.

But that narrative will shortly shift as well. Words, spin and column inches celebrating Petersen's arrival will eventually give way to actual games. While Petersen is a great hire on paper, he is not a certainty. This is new territory for him. Coaching Boise State in the WAC and then the Mountain West is not the same thing as coaching the Huskies in the Pac-12.

For one, he will no longer be primarily recruiting proverbial diamonds in the rough who are overlooked by major powers and then taking time to develop them. He now must go after elite players who have offers from USC, Stanford, Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama. It's a different type of recruiting with different challenges and different potential pratfalls.

Of course, the biggest difference will be the schedule.

At Boise State, Petersen built a national power by gaining nationwide attention on a near-annual basis with an early-season victory over a marquee AQ conference foe -- Georgia, Oregon, Virginia Tech, etc. -- then running the table through a weak conference. It was a nice formula for non-AQ success, and the magical win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2006 season gave the Broncos national credibility that trickled down through the years.

While there were plenty of naysayers, Boise State earned a spot at the adult table. The general feeling was an undefeated Boise State deserved a shot at the big boys, even if it never was invited to the championship game.

Much deserved credit for that goes to Petersen, who reached many short lists of the nation's best coaches, alongside guys named Nick Saban, Chip Kelly and Urban Meyer.

Petersen, however, will need a new formula in the Pac-12. There are no Wyomings, New Mexicos or Colorado States in his new conference, which is as deep in quality players, coaches and teams as it has ever been.

He has never coached a team that faced a Pac-12 grind of nine conference games. He's never led a team through a back-to-back-to-back slate of Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, as the Huskies did during a midseason three-game losing streak that turned fans sour.

We know Petersen, 49, is smart. We know he's an offensive innovator. He is the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award as national coach of the year. He seems to be good at evaluating talent, both with players and assistant coaches.

Nonetheless, we don't know for sure if he has the coaching chops to consistently win at this level. Or win big enough to make himself the long-term answer at Washington, though it's perfectly reasonable to believe he will be. Just recall how things went for the former Boise State head coaches who preceded Petersen in bolting for AQ jobs, Dirk Koetter to Arizona State and Dan Hawkins to Colorado. At the time, both were widely viewed as fantastic hires. Neither succeeded.

To be fair, the only sure things in college football right now are Saban and Meyer.

Speaking of assistant coaches, Petersen's first big recruiting job will be persuading defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to stick around. Wilcox could follow Sarkisian to USC, though his contracted $1 million buyout is pricey, even for the Trojans, or he might end up a head-coaching candidate, starting with the place Petersen just left.

Wilcox was Petersen's defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009. They could prove a powerful tandem in Montlake.

There also is a not unreasonable Pollyanna side to this. Maybe when Petersen gets an A-list program with A-list facilities and A-list revenue he becomes an even better coach? Maybe he becomes Washington's Nick Saban.

Or maybe he becomes the second coming of Don James.

Sarkisian critics get their wish

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Lane Kiffin only became USC's coach in 2010 because Steve Sarkisian didn't want to leave Washington. "It wasn't the time," he told me.

On Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, however, the time was right, as USC hired Sarkisian to replace Kiffin, two good friends who coached the Trojans' offense together under Pete Carroll.

It's an interesting and perhaps surprising hire. It will receive a mixed reaction.

More than a few Washington fans, while grateful that Sarkisian led the Huskies back from a long-term tailspin that crashed and burned with an 0-12 season in 2008, were growing impatient. The program hadn't taken the proverbial next step, hadn't yet made a move against the Oregon-Stanford hegemony in the Pac-12's North Division. The Huskies went 7-6 three years in a row and only gained a Sarkisian-high eighth win Friday with a victory over Washington State in the Apple Cup regular-season finale.

So more than a few Washington fans will receive the news with: "Good riddance."

That such sentiments, arguably emotional and unreasonable, exist, and Sarkisian was fully aware of them, is probably part of the reason he deemed it time to leave Washington.

So Sarkisian's Huskies critics get their wish: a new coach.

The search could be concluded quickly if athletic director Scott Woodward opts to promote defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who almost certainly will follow Sarkisian to USC if Washington doesn't hire him. Wilcox is a true up-and-comer, a young but proven coach who built quality defenses at Boise State, Tennessee and Washington.

Of course, there is a big-fish candidate the Huskies might make a run at: UCLA coach Jim Mora. He played for Don James at Washington and has long been a favorite among more than a few boosters who wanted to hire him previously, when Mora was in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian turned around Washington but had trouble reaching the next step.
Mora said a few weeks ago that he has never interviewed for the Huskies job or been approached by a representative of the school. UCLA and Mora have been a good match, and the Bruins almost certainly would do everything they could to retain him.

For one, Mora has beaten USC twice in a row, including a 35-14 blowout Saturday. Second, it would send a bad message about the pecking order in Los Angeles, no matter the recent results, if USC hired away the Washington coach, and then Washington hired away the UCLA coach. Do the transitive property on that one.

Another big-fish name that will pop up: Boise State's Chris Petersen. While his name has been attached to every major coaching vacancy since Petersen started working magic for the Broncos -- including USC, UCLA and Washington before it hired Sarkisian -- there might be some legitimacy in his candidacy for the Huskies.

Boise State slipped decidedly in the national pecking order this fall, going 8-4, which included a loss to Washington. With the advent of the four-team playoff in 2014, Boise State might find itself outside looking in among the national powers even more than it did under the BCS system. If Petersen was ever going to leave Boise State, this might be the time. While he didn't seem like a good fit for the hurly-burly of Los Angeles, laid-back Seattle might be more to his liking.

Another current coach whose name is sure to come up is Tim DeRuyter, who has done a fantastic job rebuilding Fresno State. The Bulldogs went 9-4 his first season and are 10-1 this year, and was seen as a likely BCS buster from a non-AQ conference before they lost to San Jose State on Friday.

Another intriguing possibility is Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The former Idaho quarterback was Sarkisian's offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011 before being lured away by Nick Saban in 2012. He was highly thought of even before he spent two years under Saban -- a pair of seasons where he's been privy to Saban's celebrated "The Process."

There is no lack of strong possibilities for the Huskies.

Many Washington fans will be disappointed about Sarkisian leaving. A vocal minority will celebrate it.

The bad news for sportswriters? USC and Washington don't play again until 2015, so the emotions won't be as raw when the programs clash for the first time, with Sarkisian adorned in cardinal and gold instead of purple.

Mature Huskies head to Illinois

September, 11, 2013
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Washington made a strong statement with its season-opening win over Boise State. The Huskies dominated a ranked team on both sides of the ball in a 38-6 victory, and that's why they vaulted to No. 19 in the AP poll.

Steve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Tom HauckAfter an impressive win against Boise State, Steve Sarkisian's Huskies can take another step forward with a victory against Illinois in Chicago on Saturday.
Yet, one game does not make a season, and a faceplant against Illinois on Saturday at Solider Field could be all the more damning. Everyone saw what the Huskies can do when they play well, so a bar of high expectations has been set. Crashing into that bar now would feel like a major underachievement, a failure of focus and mental toughness.

And Huskies coaches, players and fans are well-aware of their team's struggles on the road. They are 3-10 away from Seattle over the past two seasons so a visit to a Central Time Zone to take on a better-than-expected Illini team, which is 2-0 after whipping Cincinnati, presents another test for a program trying to take a step forward after three consecutive 7-6 seasons.

Coach Steve Sarkisian thinks he's found a cure for the road woes and inconsistency of his program: Maturity. He's repeatedly said he believes this is his best team since he took over the Huskies in 2009. That's based on talent, but growing up is also a part of it.

"As much or more than anything, our football team has really matured over the last few years," Sarkisian said. "This is as mature as we’ve been since I’ve been here."

That maturity revealed itself against Boise State, but it also is about the practice and preparation. That needs to be consistent with every opponent, and the Illini will present challenges, particularly to the Huskies' defense.

Illinois senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been lights out thus far working under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who was fired last year after coaching at Western Michigan for eight seasons. Scheelhaase has passed for 728 yards in two games, with six touchdowns and just one interception. He's completing 74 percent of his throws with a sturdy 10.6 yards per attempt.

Sarkisian called the Illini offense "dynamic," and noted that six different players have produced plays of 30 or more yards.

"We have to try to find a way to affect the quarterback, whether it’s via pass rush or disguising our coverages," Sarkisian said. "Because when he gets comfortable, they’re really hard to stop."

As for the Huskies' offense, it's hoping to get the same results from quarterback Keith Price, who was dynamic himself against Boise State, overcoming an early interception to throw for 324 yards and two touchdowns. Price also gets a key weapon back as All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will play at Illinois after being suspended from the Boise State game due to a spring DUI.

The Huskies looked deep at receiver against the Broncos, but Seferian-Jenkins offers a big target who should be particularly valuable in the red zone.

“Austin’s obviously a very talented player," Sarkisian said. "He’s a weapon for us in the passing game and the running game. He’ll have a significant role in the game plan to catch the ball, whether it’s short, intermediate or long."

While the Illinois offense has put up impressive big numbers, its defense also has, but not in a good way. It's yielded 431 yards per game. Southern Illinois scored 34 points against the Illini in the season-opener.

A mature, nationally-ranked team goes into Chicago and takes care of business decisively. That's the next test for the Huskies as they try to take another step forward in the Pac-12 and national pecking order.

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