Pac-12: Brock Osweiler

Pac-12 players in the Super Bowl

February, 3, 2014
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Another Super Bowl is in the books, and Pac-12 alumni played a major role in the Seattle Seahawks' 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos. Is it any surprise that the team with the most Pac-12 players won the game? (Hint, hint, Mr. Elway).

In all, there were 16 active players on both rosters: 11 for the Seahawks and five for the Broncos. There are other Pac-12 players on the rosters or practice squads, but they were either injured, suspended or inactive for XLVIII.

The standout was former USC linebacker Malcolm Smith, who was named MVP for an inspired defensive performance. The Pac-12 had hit a bit of an MVP dry spell. After John Elway (Stanford) won the MVP in 1999, the league went more than a decade without having an MVP. Now it has two in the last four years after Aaron Rodgers (Cal) was MVP of XLV, and now it's Smith's turn.

Here’s a look at how the the Pac-12 alumni performed.

Seattle Seahawks
  • Doug Baldwin, WR, Stanford: Started at wide receiver. Led the Seahawks with five catches for 66 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown. Also had an assisted tackle on special teams.
  • Derrick Coleman, RB, UCLA: Recorded one tackle on special teams.
  • Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington: Caught four balls for 65 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown.
  • Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal: Started at running back. Carried 15 times for 39 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown.
  • Brandon Mebane, DT, Cal: Posted three tackles, including a tackle for a loss.
  • Zach Miller, TE, ASU: Started at tight end. Had one catch for 10 yards and recovered an onside kick.
  • Mike Morgan, LB, USC: Appeared, but did not record any stats.
  • Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Started at left cornerback. Posted three tackles (two solo) with one pass defended. Left game with an injury in the fourth quarter.
  • Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Crowned Super Bowl MVP. Returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown and recovered a fumble to go along with 10 tackles (six solo) and a defended pass.
  • Walter Thurmond, CB, Oregon: Started at cornerback. Posted three tackles (one solo).
  • Max Unger, C, Oregon: Started at center.
Denver Broncos
UCLA and USC are uncomfortably intertwined more than just about any other college football rivalry. They share a city, not just a state. Many of the players know each other, having played together or against each other during their high school careers in Southern California. Many of them cross paths on a regular basis around town.

More often than not, they exchange a fist bump and leave the posturing stares to overzealous fans. And they do chat. So yes, it's likely that during the four days since USC fired Lane Kiffin, the topic has come up and there's been a degree of Bruins curiosity.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley has accounted for 10 touchdowns this season for UCLA.
Or not.

While UCLA second-year coach Jim Mora has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Kiffin's plight, he also denies that his players give a flip about the goings-on across town.

"We don't worry about that stuff," Mora said. "We don't talk about it. We don't think about it. It's not in our orbit. That's another team. We worry about our team. Our players worry about our team. They couldn't care less what's going on over there. It doesn't matter to us. It's not going to affect us. We don't play them until late November. It doesn't matter to us. It's a nonfactor."

Mora has a point, too. Any focus on USC distracts from the present purpose: His team pays a visit to Utah on Thursday as the No. 12 Bruins open their Pac-12 schedule with a South Division showdown.

It's an interesting matchup with more than a few notable connections.

Start with UCLA’s win in last year’s meeting, with the Bruins bouncing back from a blowout loss to woeful California the week before. At the time, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman, was beginning to establish himself as a budding star. In the opposite huddle, true freshman quarterback Travis Wilson was making his first career start. Wilson would throw for more yards than Hundley -- 220 versus 183 -- but was far less efficient. And Hundley just killed the Utes defense with his running, accounting for 68 yards on 15 carries.

Hundley's offensive coordinator is Noel Mazzone, who was hired by Mora because of the work he did with Brock Osweiler running an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense at Arizona State.

This offseason, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham decided he wanted to adopt an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense. So he hired Mazzone's former boss at Arizona State, Dennis Erickson, who is one of the fathers of the up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense.

Erickson has done wonders with the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Wilson, whom Mora this week compared to the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Osweiler, who is now with the Denver Broncos.

UCLA's offense, very good last year, is putting up ridiculous numbers this season with Hundley in his second year as a starter. It ranks second in the nation in total offense (614 yards per game) and third in scoring (52.7 points per game). Balance? The Bruins are 13th in the nation in rushing (284.3 YPG) and 12th in passing (330 YPG). Efficiency? UCLA leads the nation with an eye-popping 68 percent conversion rate on third down.

Said Whittingham: "They are doing everything right on offense."

Yet perhaps no offense in the nation is as improved as Utah's. Last year, the Utes averaged 324 yards and 26.7 points per game. This year, they are averaging 505 yards and 42 points per game. Utah passed for a conference-worst 190.7 yards per game in 2012. This year it's 286 yards per game. The Utes had 16 touchdown passes all of last season. They have nine through four games this fall.

"Dennis has his handprints all over that," Mora said.

Obviously, the linchpin has been Wilson, whom Whittingham admits has thus far exceeded expectations. Wilson is simply a different player than he was as a true freshman trying to negotiate a Pac-12 schedule.

"I think there are quite a few differences," Whittingham said. "No. 1, his confidence level, his poise level, his command of the offense. He's playing very confidently right now. He's really progressed and matured a lot faster than any of us thought he would. His numbers and Hundley's numbers are almost the exact same."

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsUtah QB Travis Wilson has seen improvement this season working with Dennis Erickson.
That is -- perhaps surprisingly -- true. Wilson is third in the Pac-12 and 15th in the nation in passing efficiency, while Hundley is fourth and 16th. Hundley ranks 11th in ESPN's Total QBR, while Wilson is 16th. Hundley is averaging 282.7 yards passing per game with eight TDs and three interceptions, while Wilson is averaging 279.5 YPG with nine TDs and three picks.

Wilson has rushed for 257 yards, Hundley for 157.

"That will be an intriguing matchup, to see how the quarterbacks match up against each other," said Whittingham, making an accurate statement that no one would have said in August.

When you add up all these sparkling numbers, you figure this game won't end up 21-14, with the teams combining for less than 700 yards of offense.

Of course, the defenses will have their say, too. The Bruins have a clear advantage there, yielding 18 points per game compared to 24.2 for the Utes, but it's difficult to truly measure things based on the nonconference schedule.

As always, turnovers will be a key, something that typically starts with quarterback play. But also pay attention to third down. As previously noted, the Bruins are great at converting them on offense, but they also are pretty salty thwarting them on defense (26.7 percent). The Utes convert just 35 percent of their third downs and are at 36.6 percent on third-down defense.

For UCLA, this is the first step toward winning the South Division. Utah, on the other hand, is trying to gain traction in Year 3 in the conference. The previous two years, the Utes started Pac-12 play at a dismal 0-4. Beating the Bruins not only would prevent them from heading toward that early-oh-fer direction again, it would make a strong statement.

As in: The Utes now have a Pac-12 QB, so now they are ready to advance in the conference pecking order.

Q&A: UCLA's Brett Hundley

October, 19, 2012
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UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is off to a pretty good start in his college career. He ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions and is one of the most exciting young players in college football. During the bye week (and in between classes) he took a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his play so far, his expectations moving forward and what play tops his personal highlight reel.

What's your personal assessment of your play through the first seven games?

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireBruins QB Brett Hundley has used the bye week to concentrate on the fundamentals.
Brett Hundley: I've done all right. I honestly feel I can do a lot better. But I have a lot of growing to do and a lot of work to put in. I'm not where I want to be yet and I understand that I have a lot of room to grow and improve.

What's been the toughest part of the job?

BH: Time management, man. It's crazy. Before school started we had our first four games there was still a little bit of time. But once school started, man, it was hard. Time management is huge. You have to get it down to every single minute of the day.

What are you doing really well?

BH: Just being coachable and learning every week and being able to progress each week. Regardless of the outcome -- whether we won or lost -- I think I'm able to learn and take constructive criticism and learn from it and try to get that much better.

Is there something specific you're focused on in the bye week?

BH: Probably getting back to fundamentals. That's the big thing. Making sure my footwork is correct. Making sure my reads are correct. Basically going over all the little things and fundamental things.

How much of the offense are you running? Has coach [Noel] Mazzone pretty much opened up the playbook so you have access to every play in the offense?

BH: Oh yeah, for sure. Coach Mazzone is a great guy and I trust him with everything and he trusts me with everything. The playbook is open. We're throwing in things he used to run with Brock [Osweiler]. There are a lot of different looks we can give. The playbook is open. We just have to be able to execute.

When you and I talked in the spring, you talked about how excited you were to operate this offense. Now that you've been at it for a while, is it as fun as you hoped it would be?

BH: Oh yeah. I love this offense. Even when we were practicing in spring ball, I was loving it then and I'm loving it now. It's an offense where I can throw the ball around and get it into our playmakers' hands. And when I need to, I can tuck it and take off with the ball. This is a sweet offense. I love it.

If you were putting together a personal highlight reel so far this season, what would be the No. 1 play?

BH: Ah man. I love the first play at Rice [a 72-yard touchdown run on UCLA's first offensive snap of the season]. That was one of my favorite plays of the season. Then there's another play -- which wasn't personally me. I was throwing a block. I love doing that. It was for Johnathan Franklin during the Nebraska game. Just being able to run and smack somebody and open it for Jet cutting it across the backfield. That was a blast.
Arizona State is a program that could use some fixing. So it only makes sense that they turn to a mechanic.

Meet Taylor Kelly, starting quarterback, drag racer, gear head.

When he's not running the Sun Devils' offense, he's running cars on the quarter mile back in his hometown of Eagle, Idaho. He runs a Toyota Supra, a BMW M3 and a Nissan 240SX. He's hit 129 miles per hour and covered the quarter in 10.9.

Pretty fast. And if something breaks, the wrenching gene kicks in and he fixes it.

[+] EnlargeArizona State's Taylor Kelly
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesCar enthusiast Taylor Kelly won the race to be Arizona State's starting quarterback.
That's sort of like his new job with the Sun Devils. Earlier this week, Kelly was named the victor of a three-quarterback competition and will start when ASU opens next week against Northern Arizona.

Kelly takes the helm of an offense that was big on numbers -- but also big on disappointment, particularly down the stretch when they dropped the final five games. Through the first eight games, when things were cranking, the Sun Devils averaged 36 points per game. During the losing streak, that number dropped to 29.

Something was broken. And now Kelly has to fix it.

"It's really about guys being focused and paying attention to every little detail and every play," Kelly said. "Focus on your job. If you do that and do your job, it can all come together. You never know when a big play can happen. But it's the little things that have to happen before a big play can."

Coming out of spring ball, Kelly was considered an underdog in the competition that included Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici. Eubank is the most athletic of the three. Bercovici, who backed up Brock Osweiler last season, was the better pocket passer. Kelly is a blend of the two. He can make plays with his feet, and he says his offseason training allowed him to get stronger in the passing game. That's what won him the job.

"I worked really hard throughout the summer," he said. "The main thing I needed to work on was my vertical shots and my arm strength and getting comfortable with me taking those shots. That was the key for me this summer. I studied a bunch of film and really got comfortable with the offense and my feet and reading the defenses.

"In camp, I felt a lot more comfortable with the guys and the offense and reads. I just came out and cut it loose."

But Kelly probably won't be an every-snap quarterback. Eubank has shown so much potential and athleticism that new head coach Todd Graham has been adamant about getting him on the field. Expect the Sun Devils to have a few different looks that give Kelly a breather and Eubank a chance to show off his talent.

"We'll definitely have some packages for him," Kelly said. "I think it's going to be exciting. We'll be giving the defenses different looks and I think it's going to be really good."

After NAU, the schedule picks up with Illinois at home, at Missouri, home to Utah and then at Cal. Those last two pose two of the toughest defenses in the conference. But Kelly knows he has the team behind him.

"The guys respect me and I respect them," he said. "We have a good group. The guys are focused on the little things. That's what [Graham] keeps preaching and guys are buying into it -- the team concept. Working together as one unit. That, more than anything, will take us really far this year."
There were two sorts handicapping Arizona State's quarterback competition.

There were the Mike Bercovici guys: "Dude can throw the rock." And there were the Michael Eubank enthusiasts: "Dude is a specimen."

You'd be hard-pressed to find many in the Taylor Kelly camp. I know: "Who?" you say.

Well, guess who's pulled ahead in this three-way competition?

Yep, Kelly.

Coach Todd Graham told the Arizona Republic that Kelly would start if the Sun Devils played this weekend.

From the Republic:
The coaching staff will continue to evaluate all three quarterbacks, especially during Saturday's scrimmage at Camp Tontozona.

"By no means do we think anybody's out of the competition," Graham said. "We have this week, and Saturday's scrimmage is going to be big, but right now, throughout the camp, Taylor's the guy who has managed the ball the best. And I'll be real honest with you: Coming in, he wasn't."

The player with the most to lose is Bercovici, a sophomore and the 2011 backup to Brock Osweiler. Eubank, a redshirt freshman, is going to see action -- potentially significant action -- because of his running ability and general upside.

Kelly is a split-the-difference option. He's a better runner than Bercovici and a more polished passer than Eubank. During spring practices, however, he seemed a clear No. 3. Now it's only clear that he used his offseason well and made himself better.

Is it just me or is there a lesson in there for young players who find themselves looking up from the bottom of the depth chart and ignored by media reports?

The Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers

May, 30, 2012
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Taking a cue from the guys at the Big Ten blog, who recently looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers in that conference in 2012, I thought it would be worth a look at the Pac-12 group.

For the B1g boys, 3,000 yards might seem like a bench mark. In the Pac-12, it's more common, given the brand of football played in the league and seemingly never-ending parade of amazing throwers and catchers who grace the Pac-12 each year. Heck, the conference had two 4,000-yard passers on 2011 in Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler.

But those two are gone -- and so are their head coaches, coordinators and offensive schemes.

Here are the members of the 3K club last season:

  • Foles, Arizona, 4,329
  • Osweiler, Arizona State, 4,036
  • Matt Barkley, USC, 3,528 (returning)
  • Andrew Luck, Stanford, 3,517
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 3,328 (returning)
  • Keith Price, Washington, 3,063 (returning)
[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC's Matt Barkley seems like a sure bet to throw for 3,000-plus yards this coming season.
Now let's look at the conference quarterbacks in 2012 and see who has the best chance of cracking the 3K mark.

Matt Scott, Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's spread option is primarily run-first, and I couldn't find a 3,000-yard passer to his credit as a head coach. The closest anyone got was Denard Robinson, who hit 2,570 in 2010. History says probably not.

TBD, Arizona State: Another up-tempo, run-first offense -- though Todd Graham has had more success in the air. G.J. Kinne hit 3,650 passing yards for Tulsa in 2010, but that was also his second year in the system. With a workhorse running back like Cameron Marshall, a deep running back corps and a green quarterback, 3K seems unlikely.

Zach Maynard, Cal: Just 10 more yards. Just one more little swing pass or one broken tackle and Maynard would have joined the 3K club after throwing for 2,990 yards last season. All indications are that he had a good spring, and he looks more comfortable in the offense. Plus, he's got one of the best receivers in the country in Keenan Allen. Maynard should get there.

TBD, Colorado: Tyler Hansen ( who is now gone) almost got there last season, throwing for 2,883 yards even though his leading receiver in catches was running back Rodney Stewart (who is now gone). Toney Clemons (who is now gone) led in yards, and Paul Richardson (who is out for the season with a knee injury) was second. The odds are slim that Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman will improve off Hansen's numbers with so much turnover.

TBD, Oregon: Does it really matter? Darron Thomas knocked on the door last season with 2,761 yards. But establishing the pass isn't exactly priority No. 1 for the Ducks. Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of De'Anthony Thomas, who can turn 5-yard passes into 50-yard completions. But with the Ducks carrying a 62-38 run-pass percentage last season, it's unlikely they'll stray from that formula, which means it's unlikely a new quarterback will reach 3K.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: One of six quarterbacks in the conference last season to break 3K, Mannion threw for 3,328 yards in his debut campaign. Vows from coach Mike Riley to re-commit to the running game should actually enhance Mannion's numbers. And with receivers like Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks on the outside, there is no reason to think he won't top 3,000 again.

TBD, Stanford: Despite a run-first, pro-style attack, Luck still threw for 3,517 yards. The Cardinal were 55-45 in their run-pass ratio last season, and a lot of Luck's aerial success came from his ability to successfully sell play-action and distribute the ball among many position groups. But the top three receivers (Griff Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener) are gone, and you can't bank on the new quarterback being as efficient as Luck. Expect a healthy dose of running back Stepfan Taylor, meaning Luck's replacement probably won't break 3K.

TBD, UCLA: The Bruins joined Utah last season as the only teams that did not have a passer ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in the conference. That will change this season with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone -- the architect of Osweiler's 4K season. The ball will be in the air a lot more than it was in the pistol offense. But seeing as there is so much uncertainty still -- and we could see multiple quarterbacks this season -- it's too tough to call. If one guy starts the entire season, I could see it.

Matt Barkley, USC: Yes, yes, 3,000 times, yes.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: I'd say it's 50-50 for Wynn at this point. The Utes have a very good running back in John White, and coach Kyle Whittingham likes the control game. But Wynn did toss 2,334 yards in 2010 in 10 games. If DeVonte Christopher has the big season many are predicting, and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson dials up the aggressiveness, I could see it happening. As always, unfortunately, every conversation regarding Wynn has to be stipulated with an "if he stays healthy" until he proves otherwise.

Keith Price, Washington: Had it not been for a career-high 438 passing yards against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, Price would have come up way short of the 3K club. But he's in. And without Chris Polk to lean on, we could see Price's passing numbers go up. Prior to the bowl game, he only had one 300-yard game. He has a good chance to repeat as a 3,000-yard passer, but it's not a lock.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Mike Leach hasn't named him the starter, but, come on. He lit it up in the spring, and showed to be a quick study in learning the new offense. With a deep and talented crop of wide receivers -- headlined by Marquess Wilson -- and an offense that throws three out of every four times, Tuel should easily clear 3K.
And think of the summers of the past; adjust the base and let the Alpine blast.
Pop in my CD and let run a me rhyme; and put your car on cruise and lay back cause this is summertime.

Pac-12 links: Leach shoots a Bear (really)

May, 18, 2012
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Happy Friday.

Arizona State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 6-7

2011 conference record: 4-5 (T 3rd, South)

Returning starters

Offense: 4; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Cameron Marshall, OT Evan Finkenberg, WR Jamal Miles, LB Brandon Magee, DT Will Sutton

Key Losses

QB Brock Osweiler, WR Gerell Robinson, WR Aaron Pflugrad, C Garth Gerhart, LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Colin Parker, S Clint Floyd

2011 statistical leaders (*returner)
Rushing: Cameron Marshall* (1,050 yards)
Passing: Brock Osweiler (4,036 yards)
Receiving: Gerell Robinson (1,397 yards)
Tackles: Colin Parker (75)
Sacks: Vontaze Burfict (5)
Interceptions: Clint Floyd (4)

Spring answers

1. He's selling, you buying? New head coach Todd Graham describes himself as an "old school" guy, meaning no swearing, no jewelry, yes sir, no sir ... that kind of stuff. His practices are intense, as is the fast-paced offense he's installing. Players talked about being a little shell-shocked by how he does things and the discipline he demands. But so far, they seem to have taken to it.

2. Oh, line: Once thought to be a concern for the Sun Devils after losing three offensive linemen from last year's squad, Graham has gone out of his way to note how good the unit looks. They are set at left tackle with Evan Finkenberg, a two-year starter, but he's versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. Andrew Sampson has 20 consecutive starts. Jamil Douglas, Kody Koebensky and Brice Schwab should fill out the line.

3. Back attack: The Sun Devils have something special in running back Cameron Marshall, who should flourish with Graham's downhill running offense. Behind him is a deep, talented group, but little is known about the pecking order. Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison, Deantre Lewis, Marion Grice and incoming freshman D.J. Foster all figure to play some sort of role. Worth keeping an eye on Marshall's surgically repaired foot as well. He's expected to be 100 percent by fall. While this might be ASU's deepest group, there is still some uncertainty to how it will all look in Week 1.

Fall questions

1. QB question mark: Graham hinted that the coaching staff is closer to a decision on their quarterback than they are probably letting on publicly. Still, the public at large is no closer to knowing whether it will be Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank or Taylor Kelly running the show. Each has their own unique skill sets, but fans are calling for Eubank, who many have dubbed a Cam Newton replica.

2. Magee back? The return of linebacker Brandon Magee, who was limited in spring as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles that kept him out of 2011, would be a monumentally huge step in the right direction for the Sun Devils. And for Graham. Magee is not only a talented linebacker, he's a locker room guy who commands the respect of his teammates. They'll usually step in line with him. And if he's good to go, it would be a big step for the Sun Devils on and off the field.

3. New offense, new(er) receivers: Jamal Miles returns as the second-leading receiver (60 catches) and is a dynamic player, but there isn't a ton of experience at the position as the Sun Devils said goodbye to five scholarship receivers. Projected starters Rashad Ross and Kevin Ozier combined for just 29 catches between them last season. J.J. Holliday, A.J. Pickens and Kevin Anderson all figure to be in the mix as well. Plus there are more coming with the recruiting class and their impact remains to be seen.
Our topic today: Which team that has a TBA at quarterback is in the best shape?

The choices: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. (We're leaving Washington State out because Jeff Tuel is a heavy front-runner, no matter how coy Mike Leach is about things).

Kevin Gemmell: Oregon -- by far -- is in the best shape of the teams yet to name a quarterback. For starters, they have the most exciting player in the conference in De'Anthony Thomas. Regardless of whether Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota wins the job, Thomas is going to take a 2-yard swing pass and turn it into a 50-yard touchdown. Probably a few times. He's going to make the new guy look really, really good.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly might not know who Oregon's starting QB will be, but he can be sure that he'll have a talented supporting cast on offense.
And it's not like the Ducks have a history of rebuilding projects whenever Chip Kelly needs a new quarterback. How'd Darron Thomas work out? A berth in the national championship game and a Rose Bowl victory. Not bad. Same could be said for obscure JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli, who only led the Ducks to the 2010 Rose Bowl.

The offensive line should be fine protecting him with key returners like Hroniss Grasu, Carson York and Nick Cody. Plus, Oregon rotates offensive linemen so liberally the quarterback is going to have fresh bodies flanking him.

There are plenty of weapons already in place for the starter-to-be. Be it Josh Huff (status pending), tight end Colt Lyerla, who is a star on the rise, and Kenjon Barner to carry the load on the ground.

When you look at the rest of the teams sans starting quarterbacks, there are just too many questions to confidently say it's going to be a smooth transition. UCLA and ASU are starting from scratch with new coaches and new systems. Colorado is probably headed for a long season and Andrew Luck's successor has to replace -- well -- Andrew Luck. Good luck with that (pun, definitely not intended).

Oregon's transition might not be silky-smooth, but it's going to be a lot easier than the other four teams trying to replace a starter. The schedule works to the Ducks' favor with the first four games at home, which should give the new guy plenty of time to get comfortable. They might find themselves in a shootout at Washington State in the fifth game, but they don't even need to leave the Pacific Northwest until mid-October.

This offense is plug-and-play and whoever gets the job is going to be just fine.

Ted Miller: Sometimes you're screwed on a Take 2 when you go second. Kevin states a strong case. Does anyone really believe the Ducks' quarterback will be a liability this year? The answer is no.

Of course, that level of certainty could be burden, as could taking over the starting job for a top-five team. No team in the nation with uncertainty at QB this spring will be ranked higher in the preseason. Know what a disappointing regular season now looks like in Eugene? 10-2. In other words, this Ducks QB job brings a lot of pressure and high expectations. Being "pretty good for a first-year starter" will rate a fail with many fans.

None of that will be the case at UCLA. Bruins fans are starved for quarterback play that is just north of mediocre. The good news is that they will get at least that this fall. And they may be pleasantly surprised.

Start with this: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. He transformed Brock Osweiler from a basketball player playing football to a second-round NFL draft pick. Mazzone is a charismatic guy -- though a follically challenged one -- who knows how to teach. He's been called a QB guru. Guys like Tim Tebow, Philip Rivers and Christian Ponder seek him out.

[+] EnlargeNoel Mazzone
Chris Williams/Icon SMISophomore QB Ricky Town received an offer from UCLA and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
Then there are the three guys competing. You have the quarterback of the future in redshirt freshman Brett Hundley, and you have two seniors who have seen just about everything in Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. Hundley has tons of potential. He's an athletic guy who's pass-first. Sort of like Osweiler, only 4 inches shorter.

Prince and Brehaut have been maligned by Bruins fans, and not entirely without justification. Both have produced strong games. And both have played poorly. Inconsistency is not a good thing for a quarterback. But both have nothing to lose in their final year of college football. If both are healthy, they can be solid QBs. They certainly are better suited for Mazzone's spread than the pistol they've been running the past two years.

The talent around them isn't bad. There's a good stable of running backs with Johnathan Franklin, Malcolm Jones and the rising Steven Manfro. TE/WR Joseph Fauria is going to be a high NFL draft pick next spring. The offensive line has a chance to be, well, OK.

Mazzone has options here, too. He can hand the job to Hundley, knowing he's got two experienced guys who can play if he needs them. Or he can start one of his veterans and bring Hundley in for special packages, perhaps steadily increasing his reps as the season goes on. (Mazzone, like most coaches, has always said he prefers just one guy, so know that second scenario is mostly me throwing a speculative thought into the air).

Further, whoever wins the job won't be operating under the microscope like the Oregon starter will. Expectations for the Bruins aren't high. If the QB is just solid -- say, ranking sixth or seventh in the conference in passing efficiency -- then he will be widely viewed as succeeding. And if he can get seven or eight wins, Bruins fans will extend new coach Jim Mora's honeymoon a season.

McShay ranks Pac-12 by 'tiers'

April, 10, 2012
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ESPN NFL draft guru Todd McShay has broken down his list of top-100 draft prospects by seven tiers in order of draft grade Insider.

He writes: "The tiers show which portions of the class are deep and which are lean. There are some lean tiers near the top of the board, but the class is solid in Tiers 3 and 4."

His list includes 15 Pac-12 players. Here's how things stack up as well as his explanation for each tier.

Tier 1: These are the elite prospects, those who have the potential to come off the board in the top five overall picks.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (Luck's 99 grade is the best in the draft, two points higher than Baylor QB Robert Griffin III)
3. Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Tier 2: This tier is composed of players who are a notch below elite but are still top-10 quality.
None

Tier 3: The prospects will offer good value between picks 10 and 20.
14. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

Tier 4: These prospects have the tools to be good value picks in the late-first round.
26. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
30. Nick Perry, DE, USC

Tier 5: These are the players teams will begin targeting as value picks early in Round 2 should they fall out of Round 1.
34. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
39. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
50. Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State
52. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California

Tier 6: This tier contains prospects who are worthy of mid-to-late-second-round consideration.
62. Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California
63. Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington
67. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Tier 7: These players rank as solid third-round prospects.
87. Tony Bergstrom, OT, Utah
96. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
100. Trevor Guyton, DE, California
Those who have been told the truth should not be taken for those who have been scorned.

Video: Brock Osweiler projection

April, 9, 2012
4/09/12
4:00
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Mel Kiper Jr. talks about which round Brock Osweiler will be drafted and which player could move into the top 10 and drop out of the top 10 of the NFL draft.
Points, points, points. This is the Pac-12 after all, where offense rules. Last season, five Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 30 in scoring average. Others, however, weren't as explosive. Colorado (12th in the conference/109th nationally), Oregon State (11/100), UCLA (10/88) and Utah (9/tied for 74th) all had trouble consistently finding pay dirt. So this week we're looking at which of these four teams has the best chance to show significant offensive improvement.

Ted Miller: Oregon State’s offense was bad last year. That’s the obvious bad news. More obvious bad news: It was bad for a fundamental reason: It couldn’t run the ball, ranking 118th in the nation with just 86.9 yards per game. The end result was an offense that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring (21.8 points per game) and 10th in total offense (373.7 yards per game). And while we’re being party poopers, why not note there are only eight healthy offensive linemen this spring, which makes it impossible to field a full second team?

Ah, but we come not to bury the Beavers, but to praise them! This half of the Pac-12 blog is providing Oregon State fans an iron-clad guarantee: The Beavers' offense will be better in 2012. Perhaps much better. And that’s why we believe they will win enough to earn a bowl berth after consecutive seasons at home during the postseason.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Sean Mannion
Jim Z. Rider/US PRESSWIREOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion should see some improvement in his supporting cast as he enters his sophomore season.
Why? Let’s start in the cockpit with quarterback Sean Mannion, who won the starting job as a freshman over returning starter Ryan Katz, only to discover THE NEW CAR! he’d been given the keys to was a Pinto. With little support from a running game to keep defenses honest, Mannion threw a lot but not always successfully, ranking ninth in the conference in passing efficiency with 16 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. But two numbers are notable: First, he completed 64.5 percent of his passes and was sacked just 27 times in 473 attempts. That suggests two things. Mannion is both accurate and has good pocket presence. Accurate? That completion percentage ranked fifth in the conference, ahead of Oregon’s Darron Thomas and Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler. As for pocket presence, the Beavers ranked fifth in the conference in sacks surrendered despite ranking third in pass attempts. And that was with no running game.

Mannion’s supporting cast at receiver is strong. Three of the top four receivers are back, including Markus Wheaton and speedy flanker Brandin Cooks. And essentially the entire cast at running back is back.

So, really, it comes down to the offensive line, where three starters are back, not including tackle Michael Philipp, a 2010 starter who is trying to get a once-promising career back on track. Don’t expect to hear glowing reports this spring. Tackle Colin Kelly and guard Grant Enger, both returning starters, are out with injuries, so there’s a lack of bodies. But in the fall they should be healthy just as a pair of intriguing reinforcements arrive: touted freshman Isaac Seumalo, rated the No. 19 overall player in the nation in 2012 by ESPN Recruiting, and junior-college transfer Stan Hasiak, who saw plenty of action during his tumultuous time at UCLA. Both are potential – even likely -- starters.

Mannion flashed plenty of potential in 2011. He will be far more seasoned in 2012. The offensive line will be better, too, which means at least a mediocre running game to keep defenses from pinning their ears back and going after the quarterback.

In other words, the Beavers offense will be much improved overall in 2012. Now ... about that defense ...

Kevin Gemmell: I'm glad you brought up Osweiler, because he's somewhat pertinent to the team I'm picking to improve offensively -- UCLA.

All together now: "Ding, dong, the pistol is dead." And not a half-snap too soon. Time to make way for the shotgun.

To see where the Bruins are headed on offense, you need only to look back at what Osweiler did the past two seasons with the Sun Devils -- specifically what he was able to do with Noel Mazzone running the show.

Now Mazzone is new coach Jim Mora's offensive coordinator at UCLA. I know there is a multi-quarterback competition in the works. That certainly will have some bearing. But even so, it's almost impossible for the Bruins not improve on last year's 23.1-ppg scoring average with this time-tested offense.

Consider the Sun Devils of 2009, pre-Mazzone: 90th in total offense (334.4 yards per game) and 91st in scoring average (22.3 points per game). Now, look at Mazzone's first season in 2010: 29th in total offense (425.6) and 28th in scoring average (32.2). Last year: 25th in total offense (445.8) and 28th in scoring offense (33.2).

Translation: The guy knows how to move the ball and create points.

I talked earlier this week with Brett Hundley, one of those quarterbacks in the hunt for the starting gig, he says this offense is much simpler and allows the quarterback to play more quickly and think less. Makes sense. And whoever wins the gig will have an experienced running back in Johnathan Franklin beside him. The fifth-year senior was 24 yards short of a 1,000-yard season despite an impressive 5.9 yards per carry average.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireSophomore Brett Hundley could prove to be UCLA's most athletic option at quarterback.
But this offense is about moving the ball in the air. And finding three or four receivers to consistently perform is going to be just as important as finding the right guy standing five to seven yards behind the center. Mazzone has said he's not married to four- or five-receiver sets. So bona-fide talent Joseph Fauria should get plenty of chances to catch the ball from the tight end position. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray are the likely wide receiver trio. But unlike the previous offense, the receivers won't be square pegs in round holes. This offense should accentuate the speed and athleticism that UCLA always seems to have, but never knows quite what to do with it.

The Bruins were in the bottom half of the nation in sacks allowed last year, but the return of tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, who is back after an LDS mission, should help bolster the line. All indications out of spring are that he looks solid. Jeff Baca and Greg Capella both saw significant playing time last season (Capella started 14 games and Baca 13), so that experience should help cut back on the sacks.

Now, to the quarterback spot. Kevin Prince has the most experience, followed by Richard Brehaut. Both are seniors. But there is a call from fans to completely cleanse themselves of the previous regime and start fresh with Hundley, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback who might be the most athletic of the bunch.

Whoever wins the job is destined for a pretty good season. Because given Mazzone's history of turning slugs into sluggers, UCLA looks like the team to drag itself up from the Pac-12's offensive cellar.

Jim Mora, UCLA get rolling

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
12:00
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Not unlike his pop -- "Playoffs? Playoffs?!" -- Jim Mora can be kind of a grump. Not in a "I hate the world" sort of way. More in a football coach-y way.

Which is why I got a kick out of Jon Gold's description of Mora from spring practice No. 1 for UCLA -- Mora's first practice since his ugly departure from the Seattle Seahawks.
The huge smile on Jim Mora's face after the first practice of UCLA's spring football campaign really told the whole story. Perhaps no one was more excited to be back out on the field than he was.

It's been more than two years since he's been on the practice field -- two years, three months, as Mora pointed out, and yes, it appears he's been counting -- and he took out all his frustration on his throat. He was more hoarse than an auctioneer by the time he addressed the media, after spending 2+ hours sprinting everywhere on the field.
[+] EnlargeJim Mora
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceOne of Jim Mora's first challenges will be sorting out the Bruins' situation at quarterback.
Every coach is motivated to win. For one, it's the only way to avoid getting fired. But the very circumstances surrounding Mora's hiring -- his being a lifelong NFL coach who's been out of the game for an extended period of time -- could actually become a positive here. For one, he's hungry to re-enter a competitive environment. Instead of feeling entitled, he's grateful for an opportunity. He's eager to teach, which is more a part of the college game than in the NFL. And, though he likely would never use the term, he also wants to take control of his coaching legacy. Yes, Mora is well aware that some doubt him.

Of course, we typed just about the exact same thing when Rick Neuheisel returned to his alma mater to redeem himself in 2008. At the time, I must confess I -- wrongly -- felt a high degree of certainty he would succeed. (Though, as I've told Neuheisel, I was skeptical about the initial mix of coaching personalities around him, notably the so-called dream team of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker.)

It seems like we've been talking about a "culture change" with UCLA football since the declining years of the Bob Toledo administration, which ended nearly a decade ago. But that's Mora's chief task. It's the Point A even before Mora and the Bruins can turn their attention to that school across town, whose (again) rising fortunes don't make anything easier in Westwood.

Gold provides a nice preview of specific -- and less philosophical -- issues the Bruins face this spring. More than a few fans would say the chief task is developing competency at quarterback, which is the primary challenge for new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Mazzone is best known for transforming Arizona State's Brock Osweiler from a basketball player who dabbled at quarterback into a potential first-day NFL draft pick this spring.

Gold's take on the quarterback competition is interesting. While many Bruins fans -- and not a few reporters -- are eager for the newness of touted redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to overtake the more experienced but inconsistent Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, Gold sees Prince and Brehaut as the front-runners.
Brett Hundley and T.J. Millweard will vie for the position in spring ball as well, but it will likely come down to the two seniors, Prince and Brehaut. Prince gets the first snaps, but Brehaut should follow close behind. If one of them shows tremendous consistency with the short pass and develops a good rhythm early, it will go a long way in the coaches' eyes. They're certainly going to be looking out for it.

A single practice, particularly one not in full pads, doesn't reveal much. But here are three positives culled from reports from those on hand: 1. A demanding practice tempo -- a recurring theme among just about every observer -- should make it hard for the malaise of past years to endure; 2. Left offensive tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, fresh off an LDS mission, looked fit and motivated. That could be transformative for the O-line; 3. Mazzone wants to spread the field. He needs guys to catch the ball. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria are fully capable of helping him do that. Now he only needs four more guys.

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