Pac-12: Carson Palmer

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If Oregon wins the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 will cap the greatest season in its history, including iterations as the Pac-8 and Pac-10. Perhaps we should toss an "arguably" in there, particularly if the conference's seven other bowl teams go belly-up in some form or fashion, but why be wishy-washy?

After Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the overwhelming winner of the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, the Pac-12 completed a sweep through the award season like some morphing of "Titanic," "Ben Hur" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at the Oscars. Combine Mariota with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright, and the Pac-12 has produced the season's most decorated offensive and defensive players. Not since 2002, when USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman and Arizona State LB Terrell Suggs swept most defensive awards has this happened.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have a chance to make this a historic season for the Pac-12.
Mariota also won the Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the year awards, as well as the Davey O'Brien and Unitas awards as the nation's top QB. Wright won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Further, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard won the Hendricks Award and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award.

Toss in eight players on the ESPN.com All-America team -- from seven different schools -- and six teams ranked in the final pre-bowl CFP rankings and it feels like an unprecedented season for national recognition in the Pac-12.

Well, at least if the Ducks take care of business.

The season Palmer and Suggs were college football's most celebrated players, just two Pac-10 teams ended up ranked, though both were in the top 10 (USC and Washington State), while Colorado, then in the Big 12, also finished ranked. In 2004, USC won the national title, Trojans QB Matt Leinart won the Heisman and California finished in the top 10. Arizona State also finished ranked, while Utah went undefeated, though as a Mountain West Conference member. Obviously, if you fudge with conference membership issues, you can make things look better retroactively than they were in their present time.

In 2000, three teams -- No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Oregon State and No. 7 Oregon -- finished ranked in the top seven. In 1984, the Pac-10 won the Rose (USC), Orange (Washington) and Fiesta (UCLA) bowls and finished with three top-10 teams, including No. 2 Washington, which was victimized by BYU's dubious national title.

So there have been plenty of impressive seasons, just not anything as scintillating as 2014 if Oregon wins the title.

Oregon, of course, hoisting the new 35-pound, cylindrical trophy as the last team standing is hardly a sure thing. First, the Ducks get defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual. While many have questioned the Seminoles this season because every game has been a nail-biter, that doesn't change the fact the nation's only unbeaten Power 5 conference team -- winners of 29 games in a row, no less -- own the fourth quarter. In football, owning the fourth quarter is almost always a good thing.

If Oregon manages to win that CFP semifinal game, the good money is on it getting a shot at top-ranked Alabama in the national title game, though throwing funereal dirt on Ohio State this season has proved difficult. Ohio State is the Count Dracula of college football this season -- perennially undead. That duly noted, knocking aside Alabama -- the game's most dynastic program, led by its most celebrated coach in Nick Saban -- while the Crimson Tide also stand as the bell cow of the dominant SEC would be the ultimate achievement for a team and conference eager to solidify its super-elite standing.

The simple fact that Oregon has not won a national title in football -- and the Pac-12/10 hasn't claimed one since 2004 -- stands out on both literal and symbolic levels. There has not been a first-time national champion since Florida won in 1996, while a Pac-12/10 team other than USC hasn't won one since Washington in 1991. Before that, if then-Big 8 member Colorado's 1990 title doesn't count, it's UCLA in 1954.

So Oregon taking that final step into the light would represent a pretty dramatic development, particularly after the school already upgraded its trophy case with its first Heisman. It would complete a climb started in the 1990s and show other mid-to-low-level Power 5 teams that all they need to transform into a superpower is good coaching, strong administration and a sugar-daddy billionaire booster.

As for the conference in general, it would be a big deal to have a non-USC national title in the coffers, and it would be further validation of the depth and quality of the conference. Last season, for the first time since 2009, the conference didn't finish with a top-five team, but for the first time ever it finished with six teams ranked in the final AP poll. So the Ducks at the top would provide some nice symmetry.

As for the entire postseason, the Pac-12 is favored in seven of its eight bowl games, with UCLA being only a slight underdog to Kansas State, with the line trending down since opening at 3 1/2 points. So the conference is set up for success. Anything fewer than six wins -- including Oregon in the Rose Bowl -- would be a disappointment, an underachievement.

You know, not unlike last season, when the conference went 6-3 and graded a mere "Gentleman's C" from the Pac-12 blog.

While Washington and Oregon State fans will be hard-pressed to force out a "Go Ducks!" and USC fans probably aren't ready to admit a new member to the college football penthouse, if Oregon can make its tide rise to the top -- and roll the Tide along the way -- it will boost all Pac-12 ships.

Greatest season in USC history?

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USC Trojans football has been defined by great teams and great individual seasons for decades. How about seven Heisman Trophy winners, starting with Mike Garrett in 1965 and finishing with Reggie Bush in 2005 -- though there is, of course, an asterisk by Bush's name due to NCAA violations.

ESPN.com launched its The Season package Monday, which looked at the best seasons recorded for each major college football team, and we tapped Marcus Allen's 1981 Heisman campaign as No. 1 for the Trojans. That pick, while we feel pretty good about it, wasn't easy.

SportsNation

Who had the best season in USC's history?

  •  
    37%
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    7%
  •  
    3%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    39%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,090)

That's why we're curious about your takes.

In order to narrow our field to five, we dropped Garrett and O.J. Simpson from the running. Garrett's numbers don't hold up, while we'd just as soon not hear Simpson's name ever again.

So that leaves Charles White, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Bush as choices for you to unseat Allen.

As for Allen, he was pretty spectacular in 1981, becoming the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, a number he shattered with 2,427 yards. He also won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, finishing with 2,683 yards of total offense and 23 touchdowns. In addition, he was the Trojans' leading receiver and set 14 new NCAA records and tied two others. Further, he beat out a star-studded list of candidates: Georgia's Herschel Walker, BYU's Jim McMahon and Pittsburgh's Dan Marino.

A downside? His team finished 9-3 and No. 14 in the final AP poll. A big finish is where White, Allen's tailback predecessor, has Allen beat.

White's USC teams won the Rose Bowl in 1978 and 1979, splitting a national title in 1978 with Alabama and finishing second behind the Crimson Tide in 1979, his senior season. That year, White led the nation with an average of 194.1 yards per game. In the last 10 games of his senior season, he averaged 201 yards rushing per game. He finished with 2,050 yards (including the bowl game) and 19 TDs. His 6.2 yards per carry bested Allen's 5.6, too.

White unseated Oklahoma's Billy Sims, the 1978 Heisman winner, with a dominant percentage of first-place votes (453 vs. 82).

Leinart and Bush were sort of a tandem during USC's dynastic run under then-coach Pete Carroll, nearly leading the Trojans to three consecutive national titles.

In 2004, Leinart led the Trojans to an undefeated national title run, including a dominant victory over Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Orange Bowl. He became just the third QB in three decades to lead his team to back-to-back national titles. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,322 yards with 33 TDs and six picks. A three-time All-American, he was 37-2 as a starter and placed third in the Heisman race in 2005, when Bush won over Texas' Vince Young.

As for Bush, it wasn't just numbers for him. A human highlight film, he's probably the flashiest of all USC Heisman winners. He led the nation in 2005 with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game and ranked fourth in the nation with 133.85 yards rushing per game. He finished with 1,740 yards rushing and an eye-popping 8.7 yards per carry with 16 TDs. A great receiver, he also had 39 receptions for 481 yards and two scores. He returned punts and kicks as well. He set a Pac-10 record with a spectacular 513 all-purpose yards against Fresno State and earned perhaps dubious honors as the namesake of the "Bush Push" against Notre Dame.

Finally, there's Palmer, a four-year starter who suffered through some lean years before leading the 2002 Trojans to the opening of their dynastic run. He won all Heisman voting regions after he passed for 3,942 yards with 33 TDs and 10 picks, completing 63 percent of his passes.

Palmer also didn't have anyone to lean on while winning over voters. He was the first West Coast winner of the award since Allen. Palmer mostly rewrote the Pac-10's passing record book and went on to become the first pick of the 2003 NFL draft.

That's a pretty scintillating list. So how do you rank them?
You may have noticed this story Monday from Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN Stats & Info. It's a nice breakdown of how the 2013 class of quarterbacks across college football might be one of the best ever. Kraemer offers five reasons why:

  1. The best teams of 2012 return their quarterbacks
  2. The best passers are returning
  3. A diverse array of NFL talent
  4. Little QB turnover in SEC
  5. Award winners back on campus

We're going to take this and, point-by-point, give it a Pac-12 rinse.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanOregon QB Marcus Mariota showed that he was more than just a strong runner last season.
The best teams of 2012 (in the Pac-12) return their quarterbacks: Yep. Stanford (12-2), yes. Oregon (12-1), yes. Oregon State (9-4), yes (and yes). UCLA (9-5), yes. Arizona State (8-5), yes. It should come as no surprise that the top six teams in our post-spring power rankings all have their quarterback coming back. In fact, there were only four teams last year that started the same quarterback in every game (Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington) and those are four of our top five teams in the rankings.

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.
I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.
Say what you want about the flagging reputations of former USC quarterbacks, but at least they keep things interesting.

One of the big questions for the 2013 NFL draft this week is the fate of Matt Barkley. Will he still get picked in the first round or will his stock continue to tumble?

Barkley seemed to -- finally? -- reveal some frustrations this week in a series of interviews in which he questioned coach Lane Kiffin's play-calling in 2012.

See here. And here.

But he wasn't the only former Trojan making news.

Mark Sanchez spoke up about the New York Jets acquiring Tim Tebow last year, and the media circus that the organization seemed to embrace. That, of course, created a new, if more modulated, media circus.

That wasn't the oddest bit of "news."

Former USC quarterback Mitch Mustain, who backed up Sanchez and Barkley after transferring from Arkansas, is the subject of a new documentary. It's narrated by former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, which adds to a slightly strange texture in itself.

What's it about? Well, it's called "The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain," which strikes me as a bit melodramatic. Mustain, who had an undeniably live arm, had one problem: His ability to select football programs.

When Mustain decided to leave Arkansas, where he was mismatched with head coach Houston Nutt, he could have become the starter for about 100 or so teams. But he chose USC, which simply had better quarterbacks on hand. End of story, at least on the USC end.

The Arkansas stuff, however, is fairly rich.

Meanwhile, Matt Leinart is a free agent, Carson Palmer signed with Arizona -- perhaps to be closer to the Pac-12 blog -- Matt Cassel is with the Minnesota Vikings, Aaron Corp is on the Buffalo Bills roster and John David Booty is out of the league.

Not many schools can list so many NFL QBs, but that operates as a negative when the success rate is so low.

The cumulative affect of all this mediocrity and odd drama -- fair or unfair -- is freight for Barkley.

His draft stock is not just about a disappointing season and over-heated questions about his arm strength, which is certainly NFL-adequate. It's guilt by association: USC QBs and their recent history in the NFL is pretty lousy.

USC's QB past shouldn't mean that much. Barkley should be evaluated, positively or negatively, on what he has done, who he is and his potential. But that dubious lineage will make more than a few NFL GMs skittish.

But all it takes is for Barkley to end up back in the first round. We shall see.

Playoffs? We're talking about playoffs!

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My typical response to people asking about a potential college football playoff has long been "don't hold your breath." Mostly because lots of powerful folks with a variety of agendas around college football -- from college presidents to bowl executives -- don't want one.

But there's been some movement of late that suggests we are closer today to some sort of playoff than, well, perhaps we've ever been. Most notably, the Big Ten exploring a four-team playoff.

That doesn't mean we're there or even that a playoff is around the corner, but the very fact it's being discussed seriously -- and publicly acknowledged -- is meaningful.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Bob Stanton/Icon SMIOne can only wonder how Andrew Luck and Stanford would have fared the past two seasons in a playoff for the national title.
And the Pac-12's position? Let's call it "open-minded."

"As a conference we haven't taken a position," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday. "We are open-minded and we'll look at some creative approaches here with a fresh set of eyes. I am confident we can improve upon postseason college football. I am encouraged hearing ideas coming out of the Big Ten."

But, Scott added, it's fair to say the the Pac-12 -- just like the Big Ten -- wants to protect the best asset in college football: The Rose Bowl.

Still, the thought of a college football Final Four is exciting.

Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel decided to explore the idea with the notion that some might point out picking four teams for a playoff will be no less controversial than picking two for the BCS title game. So he went back through BCS rankings history and evaluated each potential four-team playoff. His analysis is interesting and certainly worth a look.

And, of course, many of those scenarios would have increased the Pac-10/Pac-12's chances of winning another national title (or two).

First, Mandel's conclusion:

So when we total it up, a four-team playoff would have been more effective than the stand-alone title game 10 times in 14 years. That's certainly progress. But it's also true that the controversy won't fade. While there have been just three seasons (1999, 2002, 2005) in which the BCS title-game matchup was deemed universally satisfying, there were only four in which the four-team field was controversy free.

Yet with the lone exception of a clunky 2008 season, the debates we would be having over Nos. 3 and 4 would be easier to digest than some of the gross injustices that have plagued the 1 vs. 2 game.


So a four-team playoff looks better than the format we presently have.

That acknowledged: Where does the Pac-10/12 stand in Mandel's look back through BCS history?

Well, the conference wouldn't have been in a Final Four in 1998, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, though USC and Utah would have been part of a controversy in 2008, and the Trojans also would have been part of the 2007 discussion.

As for the conference's relevant years, the Final Fours would have gone like this:

  • 2011: No. 4 Stanford (11-1) at No. 1 LSU (13-0); No. 3 Oklahoma State (11-1) at No. 2 Alabama (11-1).
  • 2010: No. 4 Stanford (11-1) at No. 1 Auburn (13-0); No. 3 TCU (12-0) at No. 2 Oregon (12-0).
  • 2005: No. 4 Ohio State (9-2) at No. 1 USC (12-0); No. 3 Penn State (11-1) at No. 2 Texas (12-0).
  • 2004: No. 4 Texas (10-1) at No. 1 USC (12-0); No. 3 Auburn (12-0) at No. 2 Oklahoma (12-0).
  • 2003: No. 4 Michigan (10-2) at No. 1 Oklahoma (12-1); No. 3 USC (11-1) at No. 2 LSU (12-1).
  • 2002: No. 4 USC (10-2) at No. 1 Miami (12-0); No. 3 Georgia (12-1) at No. 2 Ohio State (13-0).
  • 2001: No. 4 Oregon (10-1) at No. 1 Miami (11-0); No. 3 Colorado (10-2) at No. 2 Nebraska (11-1).
  • 2000: No. 4 Washington (10-1) at No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0); No. 3 Miami (11-1) at No. 2 Florida State (11-1).

Which years would have presented the best opportunity for the conference to have won another title?

Well, just about everyone -- outside the state of Louisiana -- agrees that USC was the true national champion in 2003, and this four-team playoff would have made that clear with a pair of double-digit Trojan victories. (Please, don't even argue. Just go look at the rosters).

Not sure that Stanford wouldn't have been a better matchup with Auburn than Oregon was and then we might have seen a Stanford-Oregon rematch for the championship in 2010.

I think Oregon in 2001 was a clear No. 2 behind a Miami squad that was one of the best college teams of all time. And Washington was the fourth-best team in 2000, even with a home win over the Hurricanes.

2002 is perhaps the most interesting year, at least in terms of how a playoff would change things. The Trojans, with two losses, didn't deserve to play in the BCS title game. But, by season's end, you might recall that Carson Palmer and company were truly dominant. They obliterated a very good Iowa team 38-17 in the Orange Bowl, and it's worth nothing that Iowa team rolled through Big Ten play -- AND didn't play Ohio State in the regular season.

One of the gripes about a playoff is how it might discount the regular season. That would be a side effect of a four-team playoff because you almost certainly would see, on occasion, teams with multiple losses ending up winning the national championship over teams that were previously unbeaten.

Of course, you don't see many folks griping about the primacy of the regular season after the Super Bowl, do you?

Arizona becomes WVU Southwest

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The first thing someone needs to buy Rich Rodriguez's staff at Arizona? A road map. And maybe some green plants to ease their acclimation to desert life.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Chris Morrison/US PresswireWith his hiring done, new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, left, and his coaching staff can focus on adjusting to life in the Pac-12.
Rodriguez completed his staff hires Wednesday, finally announcing that he'd lured Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia, as well as two other Mountaineers defensive coaches: David Lockwood (defensive backs) and Bill Kirelawich (defensive line). He also hired Spencer Leftwich (tight ends), who was at Pittsburgh this past season.

This is a good -- and proven -- staff. Casteel's 3-3-5 defense seems a perfect fit for the Pac-12, and Rodriguez seems to have gotten all the guys he wanted. If you know the backstory, that didn't happen at Michigan, and more than a few folks will tell you that's a major reason why things didn't work out.

My single critique: It's too bad Rodriguez couldn't find a way to retain Tim Kish, a respected defensive coach who did a good job holding the Wildcats together as interim coach after Mike Stoops was fired.

If Rodriguez had retained Kish, then he would have taken pressure off offensive line coach Robert Anae, Rodriguez's only assistant with any substantial West Coast experience. None of the new coaches even visited Tucson during the interview process, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Going forward, when these new coaches need to know, say, where San Diego is or whether Portland is north or south of Seattle, the only guy who will know the answers without taking out a map is Anae.

We kid, of course. But Rodriguez did take a specific route when hiring his staff: He hired his guys and didn't worry about their regional experience or about preserving much continuity with the previous staff.

Wait that's not completely fair. Casteel did graduate and get a master's degree from California University. That it was in Pennsylvania and not Berkeley, we will overlook.

You can read the staff bios here. You will see a lot of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Michigan as well as some Louisiana, Indiana and Florida. Oh, there's a smattering of UNLV, UTEP and New Mexico State, but the Pac-12 experience is about zero.

That will, at least in the short term, lead to challenges. Recruiting is about relationships, and those will need to be built up, particularly with West Coast high school coaches. Further, there will be a lack of familiarity in conference play. Stoops told me before his second season that the quality of quarterback play and the top-to-bottom sophistication of conference offenses was a shock to his Big 12 sensibilities. It all felt like rumors and hype, then he started to watch film and game plan.

No offense to the Big East, but Casteel didn't see many Carson Palmers, Aaron Rodgerses, Andrew Lucks or Matt Barkleys during his 11 years at West Virginia. Quarterbacks who can put the ball wherever they want to create myriad challenges for a defense.

Further, there's the culture shock. Kirelawich (pronounced Kerr-LAV-itch) has been at West Virginia since 1979. Bill, let me be the first to say this: It's a dry heat. I've been to Morgantown just once -- a college road trip, one that went quite well I might add -- and from my vague memory it is nothing like Tucson. Nothing.

For example: Morgantown is called "Tree City USA." Tucson is not. Cactus? Tucson has plenty of those. Trees, not so much.

Good Mexican food, though. Gents, I recommend getting these guys to cater one of those long staff meetings.

Still, my guess is Rodriguez and his staff feel a sense of adventure and newness. The unfamiliarity might turn out to be invigorating. And the Pac-12 blog is firmly on record that a head coach needs to have complete faith in the members of his staff.

A significant part Rodriguez's backstory at Michigan -- an unquestioned failure -- was of constant undermining by a variety of forces. That won't be part of the story here.

Rodriguez got his men. Now all they have to do is lead Arizona to its first Rose Bowl.

Mailbag: Ohio State fan holiday wishes

December, 23, 2011
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Other than USC fans celebrating the return of Matt Barkley, there was a lot of sourness in the pre-Christmas mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Mark Twinbridges, Mont., writes: Have you read the full NCAA report on the two schools [USC and Ohio State]? I cannot believe you would write such an inane piece if you had read the reports. Comparing the OSU situation to the USC violations is like comparing a dog to a rabid wolf. USC used impermissible benefits to recruit, that strikes at the very heart of NCAA rules. Then the university hindered the investigation at every turn.

Ted Miller: Yes, I have read both reports.

You wrote: "USC used impermissible benefits to recruit." Wrong.

You wrote: "Then the university hindered the investigation at every turn." Wrong.

You made two points. Both were wrong. And if you had read the USC report, or really any news stories about USC's NCAA violations, you would know that.

But I am sorry that you found my story "inane."

Interlude... (insert sigh).

Yes, the mailbag was inundated with angry rants from Ohio State fans this week. It was frustrating. Not because I was repeatedly called names. I've grown to enjoy that part of this job for some perhaps masochistic reason. No, it was because the amount of factually incorrect assertions was mind-numbing. Sure, a lot of it was Buckeyes fans who are of the "my school, wrong or right, I don't care about the truth, I just attack, attack, attack anyone who doesn't subscribe to my worldview" sort of fans. Every team has those, and they are part of the wonderful tapestry of college football.

But what bothered me was the number of seemingly intelligent folks who just don't know what they are talking about. Many of you may recall that some weeks ago, I wrote I was done dealing with the amount of ignorance surrounding USC's case with the NCAA. It was time to move on. I am so sick of writing about USC's NCAA case. I really, really wanted to move on. But, alas, I can not.


Jay from San Diego writes: At first I thought your article was meant in a joking manner. Then I realized you were actually being serious. I'm sure some of the people who follow you will eat your "piece" up but it appears blatantly misinformed & devoid of intelligence. The above link regards your article.

Ted Miller: First off, I like Eleven Warriors. Probably one of the best fan blogs out there. I even appreciate a mostly gentle touch while they ripped apart my article.

But here's the problem: The very first line of critique is factually incorrect. "A player getting over $X00,000 in impermissible benefits." No USC player got that. Reggie Bush's parents lived for free in a fancypants house in San Diego provided by would-be agents, but it's a matter of record that extra benefits provided to Bush didn't approach $100,000. A minor distinction? Well, the distinction between player and parent certainly worked out for Auburn and Cam Newton in 2010.

It is correct that I often used "patronizing closed door language." That is because the door is closed. When I wrote "everybody in college sports knows" USC was treated unfairly, it was an overstatement to make a clear point that just about everybody knows this. I've talked to many, many people who have a professional awareness of USC's case. I've talked to people who sat in the room with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions hearing with USC. Everybody thinks USC got screwed, not just USC folks. And, when I've talked to folks who might say differently, I've always been able to easily win the ensuing argument by stating the facts.

I don't intend that to sound arrogant. It's not brilliant rhetorical ability. It's the facts. Let me show you an example of facts.

Eleven Warriors includes this link, which is a comparison done by another Ohio State fan site of Ohio State's case with USC's and others before the NCAA.

Eleven Warriors writes this: "And 'impossible not to conclude Ohio State case was far more severe.'? USC's took four years to complete, largely in part because USC stifled the investigation. Ohio State's was done in under a year."

The link provided by Eleven Warriors, however, includes this: "While the mainstream media has been trying hard to push the 'USC fought the NCAA' meme, it's absolutely not true. USC’s former student athletes, and the agents and representatives therein, may not have worked with the NCAA, but the University absolutely did. That is even expressed (apparently) in the Notice of Allegations, where the NCAA thanked USC for their help and support. In fact, pages 56 and 57 of the NCAA Public Infractions Report."

So ... facts, you know?

How did the "USC didn't cooperate" storyline begin? Well, it likely emerged from a perception of USC's self-defense. USC administrators found it difficult to stomach the idea that they were supposed to know what was going on in San Diego with a player's parents and men who were: 1) unaffiliated with the school; 2) not even actual agents who might be known in the industry.

Yes, USC was not obsequious. Yes, USC, in fact, aggressively defended itself. Yes, USC, in fact, probably hurt it self by actually WINNING THE ARGUMENT.

From the link and written by an Ohio State fan: "For the most part, USC makes a fantastic case regarding the issues that it denied wrong doing..." and, "It is easy to believe that USC got hammered beyond what they deserved."

I'm not going to spend 1,500 words debating the particulars of the Ohio State case. After coach Jim Tressel was sacked, it seemed the sanctions the Buckeyes received were not unreasonable. My point was merely they made the ruling against USC even more unreasonable. And, yes, I think the Ohio State case was worse than USC's, and if you cleared a room of Buckeyes and Trojans fans and asked folks to make a ruling, I suspect they'd agree.

Let me share a story that will annoy USC fans but many will find interesting. During a flight delay last year, I was cornered at an airport by an administrator from a major program outside the Pac-12. He made fun of me as a "USC fanboy" because of my rants against the NCAA ruling against the Trojans. But we started talking. Turned out he agreed with just about all my points. (He just didn't like USC.)

He told me, after some small talk and off-the-record, that "everybody" thought USC got screwed. He said that he thought the NCAA was trying to scare everyone with the ruling, but subsequent major violations cases put it in a pickle.

Then he told me that USC was punished for its "USC-ness," that while many teams had closed down access -- to media, to fans, etc. -- USC under Pete Carroll was completely open, and that was widely resented. There was a widespread belief the national media fawned on USC because of this. Further, more than a few schools thought that the presence of big-time celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell, at practices and at games constituted an unfair recruiting advantage for the Trojans.

It wasn't against the rules, but everyone hated it. This, as he assessed his own smell test, was a subtext of the so-called atmosphere of noncompliance that the NCAA referred to -- an atmosphere that oddly yielded very few instances of noncompliance around the football program even after a four-year NCAA investigation.

But you'll note that Snoop and Will are no longer hanging around USC, which now has strict access guidelines.

Another point people keeping making to me: USC's case involved three sports and involved a lack of institutional control. That is not an invalid point, but this is the Pac-12 football blog. It doesn't cover basketball or tennis. And the violations connected to the basketball recruitment of O.J. Mayo shouldn't have, say, cost USC an extra 15 football scholarships. That's not how the process works, based on NCAA policy.

Anyway. The pointlessness of debating moot points was supposed to be the gist of my original column. What's done is done; all this is academic. Some Ohio State fans will read this and go, "Oh, interesting." But many others will simply go, "Idiot." And that's fine.

But, Buckeyes fans, would it help if I just wished you a Merry Christmas?


Josh from Fairbury, Neb., writes: Hey Ted, big news for USC with Matt Barkley returning for his senior season. It's a little early, but how do you see the Heisman award situation panning out next year in the Pac-12? I've personally always considered Barkley to as good (if not better) than Andrew Luck. Who else from the Pac-12 conference might be a Heisman hopeful for 2012?

Ted Miller: Barkley is No. 1. If I were to crown a No. 2, it would be Oregon's do-everything offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas.

It's entirely possible the player who wins the Trojans-Ducks matchup next fall will be headed to New York as a result.


Brian from Kent, Wash., writes: I am trying to find the Pac-12 record book for all passing stats and seeing how close Matt Barkley is to shattering all of them, can you help me out?

Ted Miller: Barkley set the Pac-12 single-season record for TD passes this year with 39, breaking Matt Leinart's mark of 38 set for USC in 2003.

Barkley has 80 career TD passes. He needs 20 in 2012 to break Leinart's conference record of 99 -- which is 14 more than anyone else before him.

Barkley has 9,054 career passing yards. He needs to throw for 2,765 yards to eclipse Carson Palmer's conference record of 11,818.

In other words, unless Barkley gets hurt, he's going to own just about every major career conference passing record by season's end.


Darryl from Oakland writes: I understand the "rah rah" aspect of the SEC, but in reality, shouldn't the USC Trojans be considered the #1 team in the country in the preseason polls for 2012?

Ted Miller: USC likely will get some No. 1 votes but my guess is LSU will be the preseason No. 1. The Tigers' defense has a chance to be even better in 2012 than this year.

And, yes, though it's preposterously early to project, an LSU-USC matchup would be great fun on many levels, including the "rivalry" that was based on LSU finishing No. 2 behind USC in 2003.

Ha! I know at least one head just exploded in Baton Rouge. Some might say that was a split national title.


Garen from Los Angeles writes: Dear Mr. Miller, For the last several years I have dealt with very difficult times in both my professional and personal life. Its hard to find the words to describe how much your blog has meant to me during these times, but it has become much more than just news and entertainment. Day after day, year after year, your blog has provided me with a constant source of escape and relief, and I cant begin to thank you enough for that. I look forward to reading your blog on a daily basis. Than you again for the wonderful job that you do. Happy Holidays and Go Bears!

Ted Miller: Thanks, Garen. You made my day.

The mailbag often highlights people who call the Pac-12 blog names, notes that typically are countered with snarky replies.

But with Christmas coming up this weekend, why not have a nice note to wind things up?

Chow gets his chance at Hawaii

December, 21, 2011
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It's long been one of the difficult questions college football fans ask: Why won't anyone give Norm Chow a chance to run a program?

Chow, widely considered one of the best offensive minds in college football history, got plenty of interviews, most notably of late at Stanford in 2005, and made plenty of "candidates" lists during the annual coaching carousel. He also turned down the head coaching job at Kentucky in 2002 to remain at USC. But, in reputation and reality, he was the perennial bridesmaid.

You'd hear things, of course. All the why-nots. He wasn't terribly good at interviews. He was an Xs-and-Os guy who didn't have people or management skills. Most schools wanted a dashing, young, charismatic guy who could slap backs, enticing a flood of elite recruits and booster checks. Chow was never reputed to be much of a recruiter, something he doesn't particularly enjoy.

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireNorm Chow, 65, is moving up from Utah offensive coordinator to Hawaii head coach.
Chow, 65, is professorial. His personality isn't "big." He's not a commanding presence. He also is stubborn, territorial and not terribly good at coaching politics. He holds grudges — just ask Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and USC coach Lane Kiffin, whom Chow -- not unfairly -- believes pulled the carpet out from under him at USC with head coach Pete Carroll. (Carroll's almost childish jealousy of the credit given Chow during USC's glory days is another story entirely).

It also was perfectly fair to wonder if Chow's being Asian-American had anything to do with the critiques and whispers. His hiring at Hawaii, after all, makes him the first Asian-American head coach of a major football program.

First. That's pretty big, folks, even if most FBS rosters have little to no Asian presence, though if you go with that old standard "Asian/Pacific Islander" category, things change dramatically there.

Not only is Chow, after 39 years as an assistant coach, finally getting his shot as a head coach, he's going home to do it. He was born in Honolulu and is a Punahou School alum. He began his coaching career as head coach at Waialua High School on the North Shore of Oahu from 1970-72. This seems like a good fit, though coaching at Hawaii has built-in challenges, starting with geography.

Chow will serve as Utah's offensive coordinator in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech on Dec. 31 before officially taking over the Warriors. For the Utes, it's a blow, but not a crippling one. Coach Kyle Whittingham brought Chow aboard to install a pro-style offense with a downhill running game, replacing the spread the Utes had long used. After quarterback Jordan Wynn went down in the fourth game against Washington with another shoulder injury, Chow's chief task was managing an extremely conservative, almost run-exclusive offense that didn't mess things up for a very good defense.

Chow did a good job of making running back John White into an effective weapon even when everyone knew he and his 24 carries a game were coming. But the Utes never got the full Chow offense. The expectation here is that Whittingham will look for a guy who believes in the same pro-style, run-first concepts. The Utes don't figure to go back to a spread, though that does seem to be the thing in the Pac-12 after the hiring of four new coaches who all run a version of it.

Utes fans should be more concerned about who's going to play quarterback in 2012. Whittingham is going to make a good hire at OC.

And this day is about Chow.

He's a three-time national assistant coach of the year. He's served as offensive coordinator for three national championship teams (Brigham Young, 1984; USC, 2003 and 2004). He has tutored three Heisman Trophy winners (Ty Detmer, BYU; Carson Palmer, USC; Matt Leinart, USC) and six NFL first-round draft picks.

His resume has always been impressive. Just not impressive enough to overcome the things whispered about him.

Over the past decade, he's been portrayed as a bit of a nomadic mercenary, but keep in mind he was a bastion of stability most of his career, coaching at BYU for 27 years before things turned sour and he bolted to N.C. State in 2000, the first of five jobs he'd hold over the next 11 seasons before landing at Hawaii.

Chow is coming home to get his big chance. No matter what happens at Hawaii, his coaching legacy is secure. But, let's face it, if he retires a big winner in 10 years, he'll surely enjoy at least thinking "I told you so" through a big grin.

QB play has been outstanding so far

September, 12, 2011
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The Pac-12's early-season passing fancy is making it feel like 2002 all over again.

Recall that high-flying season: Six Pac-10 quarterbacks passed for more than 3,300 yards. Seven threw 24 or more TD passes. Five receivers produced at least 1,250 yards in the passing game.

Washington's Cody Picket threw for 4,458 yards. Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer threw for 3,942 with 33 TD passes.

For comparison's sake: In 2010, one Pac-10 quarterback -- Stanford's Andrew Luck -- threw for more than 3,300 yards and three had 24 or more TD passes. And no one eclipsed 1,250 yards receiving.

This past weekend, five Pac-12 quarterbacks threw for more than 350 yards. All told, the conference produced 33 TD passes and just four interceptions.

Eleven of the 12 starting quarterbacks in the conference rank in the nation's top-60 in passing efficiency, and Utah's Jordan Wynn is only lower because of a poor performance in the opener against Montana State, his first game since shoulder surgery. Five quarterbacks rank in the top 23 in passing efficiency. Six are in the top-25 in passing yards per game.

As for the receivers, 10 rank among the nation's top 47 in receiving yards per game, including four in the top-25.

Yes, it's early, and some of the numbers have been rolled up against poor competition, but it's fair to say that high preseason expectations for quarterback play in the Pac-12 undersold the talent, at least based on early returns. It's also fair to say 10 of 12 teams are pretty darn happy with what they're getting at the position, with only UCLA and Oregon State struggling at the position.

You still have the big four: Luck, USC's Matt Barkley, Arizona's Nick Foles and Oregon's Darron Thomas. But guess who has the best numbers through the first two weekends? Washington State's Marshall Lobbestael, Jeff Tuel's backup, and Arizona State's Brock Osweiler.

Lobbestael is ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency and 15th in passing yards per game, and Osweiler is 10th in passing efficiency and 13th in passing yards per game.

Oh, and Colorado's Tyler Hansen is seventh in passing yards per game. And Washington's Keith Price, a sophomore, is 14th in passing efficiency.

Price and Osweiler are not the only new guys doing well. California's Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, has been more than solid against two respectable foes. Considering the top question for all three of these teams was quarterback play, things are looking pretty good during 2-0 starts.

Of course, the screws tighten once Pac-12 play begins in earnest, and the grind might get to some of the younger guys.

Still, the early returns are more than promising. The conference of quarterbacks, which could produce three first round NFL draft picks at the position this spring, may turn in one of its best passing years.

Opening the mailbag: Revisiting James vs. Rodgers

November, 5, 2010
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Follow me on Twitter.

Really. You should.

To the notes.

Addicted to Quack from Eugene, Ore., writes: Mr. Ted Bundy, don't you think it's time to write a (rather lengthy) column on how much better LaMichael James is than Jacquizz "Not a Heisman trophy Candidate" Rodgers. There is no possible way, like you did all last year and preseason, that you could still defend your stance that Jacquizz is a better player. Right?

Ted Miller: If I were ranking the top-25 players in the Pac-10 today, yes, I'd rank James No. 1 in the Pac-10. I'd probably put Rodgers No. 3 behind Andrew Luck.

James is having a statistically spectacular season for the nation's best offense. He's a leading Heisman Trophy candidate for a good reason. And he plays for the nation's No. 1 team.

Last year, however, he was mostly a fast guy who did a good job of running fast through huge holes (that's a paraphrase of an opposing coach, by the way, who liked James but said that when I asked him to compare James and Rodgers). This year, James has shown better instincts, less stutter-step and a more physical style -- he probably broke more tackles against Tennessee, Stanford, UCLA and USC than he did all of last year.

His numbers are better than Rodgers' numbers, no doubt.

But, first, give me an honest answer to a couple of questions: 1. How would you rate Oregon's offensive line compared to Oregon State's? 2. How would you rate James' supporting cast compared to Rodgers'?

Further, name the Oregon running backs who didn't thrive in Chip Kelly's spread-option system? Jeremiah Johnson averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2008. That's what James is averaging right now.

Then there's the HUGE difference in competition level each has faced thus far: Rodgers, in seven games, has faced six run defenses ranked in the nation's top-53, including No. 2 Boise State, No. 6 Arizona, No. 9 TCU and No. 15 Arizona State.

James had 94 yards at Arizona State, the only team to hold him under 100 yards. Rodgers rushed for 145 yards against the Sun Devils.

The Sun Devils are the only top-25 run defense James has faced. He's played against No. 40 Stanford, No. 59 USC, No. 83 Tennessee, No. 108 UCLA and No. 119 Washington State. And an FCS school, Portland State.

Just saying.

Rodgers had a fairly mediocre game -- numbers-wise -- at Arizona, a game I covered: 83 yards and a TD on 25 carries. I'd estimate about half came after contact. What I remember is thinking: The dude does it all on his own. And he is a really, really good running back -- cutting and twisting and driving for every yard. He also caught three passes for 41 yards and did an outstanding job blocking for QB Ryan Katz, who had a huge day.

In fact, if we sitting in a room with all 10 Pac-10 coaches -- and some NFL scouts -- there would be number who would prefer Rodgers. Not a majority mind you. But some. (Yes, to be honest, I'd tap James for my team. He's. Just. So. Explosive!).

Rodgers is still a better receiver, though that aspect of his game has been curiously underused this year. And he's a better blocker. James, by the way, has improved in both areas, in large part because he's in his second year as a starter and maturing as a player.

You may have read what UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said about Rodgers this week: “He’s the perfect running back from the standpoint that he’s a great weapon out of the backfield as a pass catcher. He’s a great pass protector … He's elusive as a running back, with the great vision in the zone schemes that they run … He's also very powerful and very difficult to bring down. And he's durable. I don’t know that he's even had a fumble this year [he hasn't]. It’s hard to find any flaw with Jacquizz Rodgers.”

So, as great as James has been this year, don't think he's left Rodgers in the dust, as he has most defenses. Educated, neutral observers don't share that take.

Something James and Rodgers do share: Both are superstars who are team-first guys. Both are humble and understated. Both represent their teams well. And both seem to have no interest in this debate.

At the beginning of the year, Rodgers was 1A and James 1B. Their spots, in my mind, are now reversed.

But Rodgers is still a really, really good back.

So there's your rather lengthy column. Hope you liked it.

Josh from Salt Lake City writes: If Oregon wins out and plays in the NC game against a 1 loss SEC team, Utah and Boise also win out, would the rose bowl prefer to take the Utes as their non-AQ school with the obvious PAC-10/PAC-12 tie ins?

Ted Miller: Interesting question. But it has an uninteresting answer.

From the BCS bowl selection procedure page that I, it seems, review once a day: "If two or more teams from those [non-AQ conferences] satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria."

So unless Utah jumps Boise State in the BCS standings, then the Rose Bowl would tap Boise State in your national championship game scenario.

Jarrod from Happy Valley, Ore., writes: Do you think LaMichael James really has a chance to win Heisman? I mean I know he is good and all, but since the west coast doesn't get much respect do you think that if Oregon wins the National Championship that James will win the Heisman trophy?

Ted Miller: Yes. And his chances might be better today than they were yesterday, because Auburn QB Can Newton is part of an investigation that isn't about how good he is on the field. (Cue Perry Mason music).

The West Coast, by the way, does fine in the Heisman Trophy -- see Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, who all won, and Toby Gerhart finished second in 2009.

And the award is given out before the national title game, though voters will know if the James and the Ducks will play in the title game.

Ric from Seattle writes: Ah C'mon Ted, you should've linked the Bud Withers piece in the Times. For those of us long-suffering Duck fans, it tells the real story of the unbreakable bond between the Ducks and their fans. Unless you've sat thru a 0-0 tie in a rivalry game, you really can't appreciate how far this program has come, nor what true fan love really is.

Ted Miller: OK, here you go.

Withers is always a good read, whether you're a Ducks fan or not.

Kevin from Pullman writes: Did you ever make a top restaurant list for WSU? I know that was a long time ago but I swear I never saw one.

Ted Miller: Well, Kevin, you are just not obsessive enough of a Pac-10 blog patron!

Here's the Cougars list -- a good one, I might add.

And here's a handy link for all of the lists.

Wonder where I will end up Friday night?

Don't be surprised if... California

July, 27, 2010
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Fourth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see California's 2009 prediction here).

Don't be surprised if ... California quarterback Kevin Riley, after an inconsistent career, turns in a solid senior season.

[+] EnlargeKevin Riley
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonKevin Riley struggled in the regular-season finale against Washington, above, and in the bowl against Utah.
Watching Riley during the Bears listless loss to Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl made my head hurt, but the good news is it made me forget about stabbing my eyes out while watching him in the regular-season finale at Washington.

My overriding thought as Cal's extraordinarily disappointing 2009 season thudded to an end: No way Riley can start at quarterback in 2010. No way.

But Riley will start at QB in 2010. And my feeling for what Bears fans can expect from him has changed, and not just because Riley is a stand-up guy and an often amusing interview.

Let's put it this way: Think of yourself at this time last year. If I had written that Sean Canfield would be the first-team All-Pac-10 QB in 2009, you would have flown to Scottsdale and beaten me over the head with a stick. Canfield's resume last summer included: 1. 15 interceptions vs. nine TD passes in 2007; 2. A junior year as a backup with shoulder issues.

Then: Poof! Senior break through.

Former USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy in 2002 after a stellar season. The year before, he threw 13 TD passes and 12 interceptions.

Oregon fans were writing sonnets about Dennis Dixon before he got hurt in 2007. And so was I. Guy was unstoppable. And he became that way despite throwing nine interceptions and just two TD passes in the final six games of 2006.

Before USC's run, it was almost a prerequisite to have experience at QB if a team wanted to compete for the Pac-10 championship. Just look at the conference champions and the first-team All-Pac-10 QBs starting in 2002 and going back: Palmer and Jason Gesser, Joey Harrington, Marques Tuiasosopo, Todd Husak, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf (albeit a junior who finished with 24 career starts), Jake Plummer, etc.

Sure, Riley completed just 46 percent of his passes and was sacked 18 times in Cal's five losses last year. But the Bears offensive line and receiving corps should be better in 2010 because -- just like Riley -- they are more experienced.

Is Riley going to win first-team All-Pac-10 QB? Probably not in a conference with Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Nick Foles.

But the expectation here is that Riley will turn in solid numbers this fall.

Feldman on Jake Locker

May, 4, 2010
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This is an ESPN.com Insider story on Washington quarterback Jake Locker. A lot has been written about Locker this spring but -- as can be expected from Bruce Feldman -- this effort includes many interesting tidbits that you don't get elsewhere.

Some of highlights:

  • "He doesn't play much golf, but he's the best 'Happy Gilmore' drive guy I've seen," said his dad, Scott Locker. "He can do the walk-up [swing] and hit it 350 yards."
  • "Jake would get up Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays early for two years from the time he was 15, so he could go an hour and a half before school and do a sprinter's workout with the track coach to increase his speed," said his dad. "Sometimes, people think it's all God-given, but he's got a lot of work ethic, too."
  • Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian on his USC QBs compared to Locker: "Jake's got the most going for him of all of them. There's one thing that he doesn't have going for him. You look at Carson [Palmer], [Matt] Leinart, [Matt] Cassel, [Mark] Sanchez, even Matt Barkley, those guys were trained by Bob Johnson or Steve Clarkson since they were fifth- and sixth-graders. It was Quarterback 101 in terms of stance, footwork, drop, re-sets, pocket presence, all of the nuances of the position. With Jake, we started all over one year ago. The strides he's made have been amazing. Physical standpoint, he's as good or better than all those guys."
  • Feldman asks: "If Jake Locker ran a 4.9 instead of a 4.4 would people still be talking about his as a top 10 draft pick?" Said UW QBs coach Doug Nussmeier: "Yes, I really think so. He's got a wonderful arm. He can make every throw in the book. When you combine that with his size and speed, it's scary. He's got great velocity. He's his own guy. He's such a unique guy. We're just starting to scratch the surface."
  • Sarkisian said Locker's arm strength compares to Carson Palmer: "It's close. Where Jake's arm can get a little skewed is if you throw in this stadium when the wind gets swirling, it's like throwing in the Meadowlands. Your arm strength can look poor. It's not like throwing at Howard Jones Field on an 80-degree sunny day."

Without Carroll, Barkley 2.0 takes shape at USC

April, 29, 2010
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LOS ANGELES -- When Pete Carroll was hired at USC in December of 2000, Matt Barkley was 10 years old. While the shock of Carroll's departure to the Seattle Seahawks hit Trojans fans hard -- weren't they going to "win forever" together? -- imagine what it was like for a kid from Orange County, Calif., who grew up rooting for the Trojans and became their starting quarterback as a true freshman.

"That's what I grew up knowing," Barkley said. "That's all I knew about. That's all I thought USC football was."

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Charles Baus/Icon SMIMatt Barkley seems to have won over new coach Lane Kiffin.
So it's understandable that Barkley felt "weird" early in spring practices watching Lane Kiffin call the shots and then seeing Carroll on the NFL channel wearing Seahawks colors.

"But I'm embracing the change and I think all the guys on the team are as well," Barkley said.

Couple of reasons for the embrace. For one, there wasn't much choice. Kiffin didn't bring in a warm-cuddly approach. Sad about Carroll bolting? Get over it. Get good or fall down the depth chart.

Kiffin immediately made it clear that Barkley wouldn't be handed the starting job, despite his passing for 2,735 yards and ranking third in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency as -- again, worth noting -- a true freshman.

Further, USC went 9-4 in 2009. It had lost nine games over the previous seven seasons. Carroll's wasn't the only big ego that was wounded last year, and those left behind are motivated to confront their newly empowered doubters, whoever captains the ship going forward.

"Last year was unacceptable, uncharacteristic of USC and this football program," Barkley said. "We expect something greater than that. We hold ourselves to a higher standard."

And, finally, Barkley intimates that -- just maybe -- change is good, particularly for him, considering how consistently mediocre the Trojans' offense was last year under coordinator Jeremy Bates.

He said he understood the concepts of Bates' offense. He said he was physically up to the job. He said that he was confident in himself and his supporting cast. And yet he kept recalling as the season progressed how past USC offenses looked different. You know: Good.

"I was kind of wondering,'Why aren't we there right now?'" he said, leaving it up to the audience to answer the question.

Barkley has appeared a lot closer to "there" this spring. In the last three scrimmages, he's thrown 10 touchdown passes with no interceptions. He's moving better in and out of the pocket. He seems to have quickly grasped Kiffin's offense, which is critical because Kiffin will call the plays.

While Kiffin started out seeming to want to challenge Barkley and perhaps even rattle him a bit and see how he responded to talk of competition, it appears Kiffin has been won over.

"He makes it very easy to forget he's a true freshman," Kiffin said. "I think a lot of people forget that. He's so far beyond a normal kid his age."

Still, Kiffin doesn't appear eager to mythologize Barkley, as Carroll did -- recall all that "outlier" talk that some reporters (cough, cough) ate up. In fact, one of the first things Kiffin told Barkley was he believed the quarterback was chubby.

How did the golden boy former super-recruit respond to that?

"He's bought into our conversations about changing his body," Kiffin said. "His body fat is way down. He's dropped weight and worked extremely hard. He's moving around completely different than he was a year ago on film."

Fact is, Barkley was fairly solid last year, though his 14 interceptions were more than any other Pac-10 quarterback. Watching him this spring -- the liveliness of his arm, his mechanics and accuracy -- it's easy to wonder if he might end up being mentioned along with Washington's Jake Locker and Stanford's Andrew Luck as the best quarterback in the conference by season's end.

When asked what he is working on, he mentions subtleties: mastering protections and check-downs, anticipating blitzes and coverages. He also seems to now better understand that, as cool as he might be, it's a mental and emotional challenge to be the USC quarterback, a position that produced two Heisman Trophies and three top-10 draft picks under Carroll.

"Being a quarterback here -- I don't consider it pressure -- but it has that weight from the fans, from the media, from even the students here at school," Barkley said. "You know that coming in. There's only one quarterback. You have to take that responsibility."

As for that quarterbacking legacy and all the acclaim -- and awards and NFL attention -- that come with it, Barkley ranks them behind a goal that will, in any event, have to be accomplished first in order for him to join the ranks of Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez.

"Getting back to the point where winning is the only thing we know and not accepting anything less," he said.

Pac-10 games of the decade

January, 20, 2010
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Lots of extraordinary games to choose from, as well as many ways to ascribe greatness: the size of the stage, the competitiveness of the game and the overall strangeness.

And we made the executive decision not to make this a list of USC upset losses -- other than the biggest one of those.

10. Oregon 56, Arizona State 55 (2 OT), 2000: Many of you are drawing a blank, but the ones who saw this one are jumping out of their chairs and going, "Oh man. That one was nuts." Both teams scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. The teams combined for 1,228 yards, 663 of those for the Sun Devils. Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington threw six -- SIX! -- touchdown passes, including three in the fourth quarter, the last of which tied the score with 27 seconds left after the Sun Devils gave away a critical fumble. Arizona State freshman QB Jeff Krohn threw five TD passes, by the way. ASU lost the game when coach Bruce Snyder decided to fake the extra point and go for the two-point conversion in the second overtime. It failed, leaving fans in Tempe stunned.

9. Washington State 30, USC 27 (OT), 2002: Any of you Cougars fans able to muster the memory of kicker Drew Dunning's slide on his knees at Martin Stadium? Dunning sent the game into overtime with a 35-yard field goal and then made the game-winner from the same distance in a victory that was critical to the Cougars' run to the Rose Bowl. The game featured a brilliant quarterback duel between Carson Palmer and Jason Gesser -- Gesser passed for 315 yards, Palmer for 381 -- and a dominant performance from Cougars defensive tackle Rien Long, who went on to win the Outland Trophy. Between this game and the 2006 Rose Bowl, USC lost just once.

8. Oregon 44, Arizona 41 (2 OT), 2009: If Arizona had won this game, we now know the Wildcats would have played in their first Rose Bowl. The Wildcats led 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, but then the game went crazy. With red-clad Arizona fans encircling the field, Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tied the game in regulation with six seconds left with a touchdown pass to Ed Dickson. Masoli then won it in the second overtime with a 1-yard run. Masoli ran for three TDs and passed for three more.

7. Stanford 24, USC 23, 2007: Greatest upset in Pac-10 history? Maybe. Stanford was a 41-point underdog playing its backup quarterback at No. 2 USC, which had won 35 in a row at home. But Trojans quarterback John David Booty, who foolishly played -- and was allowed to play -- with an injured throwing hand, threw four interceptions, while Stanford's Tavita Pritchard led a clutch, game-winning drive, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mark Bradford on fourth-and-goal with 49 seconds remaining.

6. Oregon 37, Oregon State 33, 2009: It was the Civil War for the Roses, with the Ducks earning a berth in the Rose Bowl after slipping a game crew of Beavers. While the return of Ducks running back LeGarrette Blount was significant -- he scored a critical touchdown -- the game belonged to redshirt freshman running back LaMichael James, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for 166 yards, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who ran over Beavers safety Lance Mitchell to convert a fourth-and-3 play from the Beavers' 33 with 3:41 left as Oregon ran out the final six minutes with its final drive.

5. California 31, Oregon 24, 2007: Sixth-ranked California, featuring a stellar performance from receiver DeSean Jackson, outlasted No. 11 Oregon in a game between two teams that each would at one point rise to No. 2 during the season, though both ultimately crumbled. The game turned on a strange play as the Ducks were on the cusp of tying the score. With 22 seconds to go, Dennis Dixon found Cameron Colvin near the goal line, but Colvin fumbled trying to reach the ball into the end zone when he was hit by Marcus Ezeff. The loose ball went through the end zone and was ruled a touchback and possession for Cal.

4. Washington 33, Oregon State 30, 2000: It was the greatest game no one saw because of the late, West Coast kickoff at Husky Stadium. And at the time its magnitude wasn't clear. The critical play of the back-and-forth affair happened when Washington defensive tackle Larry Tripplett caught Ken Simonton for a three-yard loss on second-and-1 from the Huskies 26-yard line with 42 seconds left. The Beavers panicked and mistakenly spiked the ball -- they had a time out left -- and then Ryan Cesca missed a 46-yard field goal to tie. It was the Beavers only loss of the season; they crushed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. They would have played Oklahoma for the national title if they had prevailed. And the win helped the Huskies win the Rose Bowl tiebreaker.

3. USC 23, California 17, 2004: No. 7 California had a first-and-goal on top-ranked USC's 9-yard line with under two minutes left. At that point, Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers had completed 29 of 31 for 267 yards and a touchdown. But the Bears couldn't punch it in, with USC registering a sack and forcing three incompletions. It was the closest call of the season for the best team of the USC dynasty.

2. USC 34, Notre Dame 31, 2005: The infamous "Bush Push" game. No. 9 Notre Dame was about to knock off top-ranked rival USC and make Irish coach Charlie Weis a national sensation, but Matt Leinart led a drive for the ages in the waning moments as the Trojans prevailed, scoring the winning points when Leinart got a little extra help from Bush on his second effort on a quarterback sneak.

1. Texas 41, USC 38, 2006 Rose Bowl: Perhaps the great game in college football history, particularly considering that the stakes were a national title for two unbeaten teams and the field was packed with talent and future high draft choices. Vince Young almost single-handedly willed his team to the victory -- he ran for 200 yards and passed for 267 more -- and denied the Trojans a third consecutive national title. USC walked away with a laundry list of "what ifs," but the ultimate result was a 34-game winning streak coming to an end.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

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