Pac-12: Brock Huard
The biggest issue is whether things will continue in their elite trajectory after the departure of coach Chip Kelly for the Philadelphia Eagles. Folks can believe that Mark Helfrich can step in seamlessly, but when the Ducks face Nicholls State on Aug. 31, it will be the first anyone has seen of Helfrich as a head coach.
So you don't really know, because you can't know.
Still, the Ducks clearly are a national-title contender. At least, that's the conclusion of ESPN analyst Brock Huard.
(Yes, Huard is a former Huskies quarterback. At some point can we acknowledge that his sporting background doesn't color his analysis, which I typically find insightful?)
Oregon is one of 10 teams ESPN.com's Insider's college football experts have examined based on their having the best odds to win the BCS title this season, according to Brian Fremeau's post-spring projections .
Huard gives three pros and three cons for the Oregon case . You have to be an Insider to get the details, but here are his judgements:
Three reasons why Oregon can win the national title:
- Their quarterback -- and offense as a whole -- will again be dynamic.
- The pieces are in place for new coach Mark Helfrich to succeed right away.
- The schedule sets up nicely.
- There are some concerns at the linebacker spot.
- The depth isn't as strong as it usually is.
- The kicking game could be an issue.
Two cold November nights have undone Oregon's ultimate goal the past two seasons. This campaign, a Nov. 7 matchup at Stanford could very well have the conference division title and much more on the line. The conference's most effective, established system paired with the conference's best quarterback should prove to be the difference this November.
So you'd have to say that Huard is onboard with the Ducks playing the final game of the season.
- The best teams of 2012 return their quarterbacks
- The best passers are returning
- A diverse array of NFL talent
- Little QB turnover in SEC
- Award winners back on campus
We're going to take this and, point-by-point, give it a Pac-12 rinse.
Thus, it's not by chance that the five of the bottom six in the power rankings have an ongoing quarterback competition. That's not to say that a school like USC, which has too much talent to be sitting in the bottom half of the rankings, can't quickly make a jump to the top once their quarterback situation is resolved.
And the same goes for No. 6 Oregon State -- which is fortunate to have two capable starters competing. I don't know who first opined that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one. I don't buy it. Ask any coach in the bottom half of the power rankings if they'd prefer zero quarterbacks who have won games or two. I think we all know the answer.
The best passers are returning: Yep. Marcus Mariota led the Pac-12 in efficiency and Taylor Kelly wasn't far behind. Matt Barkley was third, Brett Hundley was fourth and Sean Mannion was fifth. However, it's worth noting that Kevin Hogan's efficiency would have ranked him slightly above Hundley had he appeared in more games in 2012 (the cutoff was appearing in 75 percent of the games, Hogan was at 71). That means five of the top six quarterbacks in efficiency are back.
A diverse array of NFL talent: Yep. Anyone who thinks Mariota is just a running quarterback failed to witness his 32 touchdown passes and league-best 68.5 completion percentage. He will fit nicely into any NFL offense.
Same for Kelly (29 touchdowns, 67.1 completion percentage) and Hundley (29, 66.5). Hogan should be well-versed in the pro-style attack (and NFL scouts love quarterbacks who know the pro-style/West Coast coming out of college) and if Mannion (if he wins the job) bounces back, he's got the prototypical NFL pro-style frame.
And let's not forget Keith Price, who we're expecting to have a nice bounce-back year. He was extremely efficient in 2011 (33, 66.9) so the potential and athleticism is obviously there.
Little QB turnover in the league: Well, the Pac-12 can't make that claim with six starting jobs still in doubt and potentially five schools starting a fresh-faced QB.
Award winners back on campus: Yep. Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year (Mariota). First-team quarterback (Mariota). Kelly, Hogan and Hundley were honorable mention.
While it's true that this might shape up as one of the greatest years in college football history for quarterbacks, it's equally true that the Pac-12 might have its best crop of quarterbacks in league history.
The Pac-12 has sent at least one quarterback to the NFL since 1995 and at least one has gone in the first round in nine of the past 16 drafts. There was 2003 when Carson Palmer (USC) and Kyle Boller (Cal) both went in the first round. 1999 was a strong year with Akili Smith (Oregon) and Cade McNown (UCLA) going in the first round and Brock Huard (Washington) going in the third. Three times the Pac-12 has had four quarterbacks go in the draft (2005, 1991 and 1989).
2004 comes to mind as a pretty darn good collection with Aaron Rodgers (Cal), Matt Leinart (USC), Derek Anderson (Oregon State), Andrew Walter (ASU), Kellen Clemens (Oregon), Trent Edwards (Stanford), Drew Olson (UCLA) and Alex Brink (Washington State).
It's a little too early to start speculating about who is going to go and who is going to stay. But based on what we've seen from this crop in the past nine months, it's possible the 2013 class will be right up there in the conversation as one of the best collection of quarterbacks ever in the league.
In fact, the Pac-12 is hot on that list: Arizona's Nick Foles, Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley are shortly off to the NFL (though Barkley, a true junior, could return if he wanted, as could Luck, a redshirt junior, but Luck has already said this is his last year).
But the reality of college football is that one group of stars will shortly be replaced by a new group.
So Huard takes a look at the next wave. On his list, he includes Washington sophomore Keith Price, who is tied for the Pac-12 lead with 23 TD passes and is rated third in passing efficiency in the conference.
Filling the shoes of top-10 NFL draft pick Jake Locker seemed like a formidable task at the beginning of the season, until the guy teammates call "Teeth" (because all he ever does is smile) decided to throw 23 touchdown passes in his first eight games and play at a level of efficiency Locker never realized while at UW.
Price sounds like Avery Johnson when you talk to him but plays like Charlie Ward when you watch him (the latter comparison being one that Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian has used often in describing his star sophomore).
In general, the Pac-12 seems like it will still be fairly stocked at QB in 2012, if not as star-studded. Besides Price, Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, Oregon's Darron Thomas, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Washington State's Jeff Tuel will be back.
Arizona will be in good hands with Matt Scott, who looks like he will successfully redshirt this year, or Tom Savage, a former starter at Rutgers. California and UCLA will have plenty of experience at the position, just a bit much of the wrong kind.
Colorado, Stanford and USC will be breaking in green starters.
I particularly like the last trick shot. Huard practiced that on me when I was last in Bristol.
Here's what you want to know after watching the video.
ESPN Front Row: How many takes did you have to use for each trick shot?
Huard: We did all six trick shots in less than 45 minutes of taping. Some of the targets were easier to hit than others, but we managed to make most of them in less than five throws.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly is not a rivalry guy. The hated Washington Huskies visiting Kelly's Ducks on Saturday? Pffft.
"We have 12 rivalries," Kelly said.
Fact is, the Huskies-Ducks rivalry, long one of the nastiest and most underrated in the nation, has dramatically shifted. Washington was once the power that barely even noticed Oregon, which hated the Huskies sense of entitlement -- and winning -- in the Northwest (and a certain UW vote in 1948 on who goes to the Rose Bowl was a bit of an issue, too). But in the mid-1990s, things started to change. Oregon became competitive, and Huskies' fans didn't like that. The rivalry may have peaked when Rick Neuheisel became Washington's coach in 1999. Ducks fans already disliked Neuheisel from his days of Colorado, so it was a perfect stir to an already boiling pot.
Those were fun times because both programs were national powers. The rivalry mattered.
Now? Not so much. Oregon has won six in a row in the series, each by at least 20 points. The Huskies appear to be headed toward an eighth-consecutive non-winning season. They are coming off an embarrassing 41-zip loss to Stanford inside a stunned Husky Stadium. Moreover, struggling quarterback Jake Locker, the unquestioned face of the program, will be out Saturday due to a broken rib, and redshirt freshman Keith Price will make his first career start in boisterous Autzen Stadium.
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, therefore, fielded no questions about the glorious rivalry with the Ducks during a lengthy news conference Monday.
"I think more important for our program right now is focusing on us and not necessarily on the Oregon Ducks," Sarkisian said.
Meanwhile, Oregon, after finishing ranked in the top-11 the previous two seasons, is a national title contender. It's got bigger things going on than trash-talking a team that it's favored to beat by five touchdowns.
"Every game in this league is a challenge for everybody," Kelly droned. "Our concentration is solely on next week's game and that's playing Washington."
Oh, but the Huskies-Ducks hatred is still there among the fans.
Guess what's being celebrated -- again -- at Autzen on Saturday? Yep, "The Pick," the 1994 pick-six interception by Ducks cornerback Kenny Wheaton of Huskies QB Damon Huard, which is widely considered the most important play in school history. Wheaton will be at the game, appearing at PK Park from 10:30 a.m. to noon (PDT), signing autographs, including a T-shirt commemorating the play.
By the way, guess who is the new color guy on Huskies broadcasts? Huard. And guess who's an analyst for the ABC telecast? Damon's younger brother, Brock, also a former Washington QB. And guess who's going to be Brock Huard's co-analyst? Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.
How fun is that? How can you not smile about all that!
Said Kelly, "Harrumph." (We just made that up, but that's a fair translation of whatever he would say).
So do the Huskies have a chance? The short -- and practical -- answer is, no. But, folks, in college football, everyone has a chance, even when a team is missing its starting QB and brings one of the nation's worst defenses into the nation's most hostile venue to face the nation's best offense.
Said Kelly, "They've got really good athletes."
He then spit and let out an mocking laugh.
No, he didn't, but wouldn't it have been fun if he did?
- Arizona is breaking practice with a "Rose Bowl!" Mike Stoops has built a winner -- on the field and in the classroom.
- Doug Haller appears to be making an early bid for the coveted "Most Thorough and Best Organized Practice Report Award." Of course, it's an honor just to be nominated. Also, this guy might break through at receiver.
- What will new coordinator Clancy Pendergast bring to the California defense? The Bears don't buy the pundits' low expectations.
- A top prep QB from Florida makes his commitment to Oregon official. A look at Oregon's secondary -- not sure I agree who will start opposite Talmadge Jackson at cornerback.
- Paul Buker gives us a hard-hitting report on potential supernatural forces that could align against Oregon State. Some Beavers to watch this preseason.
- Stanford training camp battles: Secondary.
- UCLA gets a commitment from a tight end. Some newcomers to watch for the Bruins.
- A positive first impression for USC's newest QB. Watch out for cornerback Shareece Wright.
- Washington is embracing high expectations. The Huskies have a new commercial -- it's funny.
- A transcript of an online chat with Washington State coach Paul Wulff.
- Mike Bellotti and Brock Huard will team up on ESPN West Coast broadcasts this year. If you are from the Northwest, or know the Northwest, that pairing makes you grin. Please, they've got to do the Oregon-Washington game together.
- Arizona, heading into its eighth practice, is increasing the intensity. There are plenty of options at tailback.
- Arizona State's rebuilding offense is feeling positive. Some day one observations.
- California is back at spring practices after spring break, which apparently was fairly rough on some guys. A couple of guys need to hit the books.
- A look at Oregon's depth chart after one day of spring practices. Some notes.
- The NFL tempted but didn't win over Oregon State DT Stephen Paea. Peter Lalich will challenge Ryan Katz for the starting QB job.
- Stanford went back to work for Part 2 of its spring practices: Lots of notes here.
- Checking in at UCLA's pro day. The Bruins are strong at kicker and punter.
- The first practice of the Lane Kiffin Era was similar and different than things under Pete Carroll. Kiffin is more interested now in coaching rather than making headlines.
- More on Washington's new power forward, er, defensive end. Some observations from Brock Huard.
- Washington State is thin at receiver.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved ... the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and everyone goes ahhhhhhhhh.
- Arizona State defensive end Dexter Davis wants to go out with a bang.
- I'll be chatting with California Jeff Tedford on Thursday -- Pac-10 media day -- but you can beat me to the punch and chat with him here on Tuesday.
- Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, rather than quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, might be a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
- Oregon State wants women to know all about football. Checking in on the Beavers' summer conditioning.
- If Stanford wants to notch a road upset that puts it back on the national map, it's going to have to stop this guy.
- Are UCLA and Duke considering a series? In football. If that needed to be clarified.
- How tough is USC's schedule? Probably the nation's toughest when you remove the artificial inflation of most strength of schedule evaluations. The Trojans' fall camp schedule.
- Reviewing Washington's talent at receiver, which has potential.
- Talking state of Washington football with Brock Huard.
- Which teams do Pac-10 media overrate and underrate. Anybody guess Oregon State for that latter?
Final Washington State 31 13 Arizona State 52 Final 15 Arizona 42 17 Utah 10 Final Stanford 38 California 17 Final Colorado 10 2 Oregon 44 Final 19 USC 20 9 UCLA 38 Final Oregon State 13 Washington 37