Pac-12: Case Keenum


My Heisman Trophy ballot has changed every week for the last couple of months.

I'm not surprised there are more than three players going to the trophy presentation.

Five players were invited to New York for Saturday night's Heisman Trophy presentation -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor, tailbacks Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Trent Richardson of Alabama and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu of LSU.

It's a shame the Heisman Trust didn't have room for three more quarterbacks because Houston's Case Keenum, USC's Matt Barkley and Boise State's Kellen Moore were just as deserving.

With five finalists going to New York, it figures to be one of the closer votes in recent Heisman Trophy history.

The closest vote in Heisman Trophy history came just two years ago, when Alabama tailback Mark Ingram edged Stanford's Toby Gerhart by only 28 points. Ingram received 227 first-place votes, Gerhart got 222 and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the second runner-up, received 203.

Given the number of finalists and their geographical regions, we could have another really close finish on Saturday night.

Luck, the runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton last season, entered the 2011 season as the Heisman Trophy favorite. His performance didn't slip much this season, as he completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,170 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

I still feel Luck might be the most valuable player on any team in the country. Without him, there's no way the Cardinal is ranked No. 4 in the country and playing No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Luck has done more with less, as Stanford lacks the game-changing playmakers that other teams have.

But Luck might still be the second-best quarterback in New York. Griffin, who is widely known as RG3, completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 3,998 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 644 yards with nine touchdowns.

Without him, the Bears wouldn't have beaten TCU, Oklahoma and Texas. Griffin's one drawback: He had a late interception that sealed the Bears' fate in a 36-35 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 1 and threw two picks in a 59-24 loss at Oklahoma State on Oct. 29. But with everything else RG3 has done this season, it's easy to give him a mulligan for the miscues.

LSU defense
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRunning back Trent Richardson has been at his best in Alabama's biggest games.
I still believe Richardson is the best player in the country. He looked like the best player on the field in No. 2 Alabama's 9-6 loss in overtime to No. 1 LSU on Nov. 5. He had 89 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards in a game where every yard mattered. He finished the season with 1,583 yards with 20 touchdown runs and three touchdown catches. He's also Mr. Dependable, not losing a fumble in his past 520 touches and only once in 614 career touches.

Ball has been a scoring machine for the No. 10 Badgers this season, running for 1,759 yards with 32 touchdown runs and six touchdown receptions. His 38 total touchdowns are one shy of matching former Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record of 39 set in 11 games in 1988. Ball's production helped lead the Badgers to a Jan. 2 date against Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Mathieu fell off my ballot after he was suspended from playing in the Tigers' 45-10 victory over Auburn on Oct. 22 for smoking synthetic marijuana. But his big plays helped the Tigers overcome deficits in each of their last two victories, over Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Mathieu -- aka the "Honey Badger" -- is the best player on the top-ranked team. He leads the Tigers with 70 tackles and has forced six fumbles and recovered five. He also is the most dynamic punt returner I've seen since Florida State's Deion Sanders. Mathieu has scored four touchdowns -- two on fumble returns and two on punt returns.

To penalize Mathieu for one foolish mistake wouldn't have been right. After all, Newton was briefly ruled ineligible at Auburn last season and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James of Oregon was suspended from playing in last season's opener.

Luck a Walter Camp finalist

November, 30, 2011
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Stanford QB Andrew Luck is among five finalists for the Walter Camp Football Foundation 2011 College Player of the Year Award.

The other finalists are Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, Houston QB Case Keenum, Alabama RB Trent Richardson and LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu.

The 2011 Walter Camp Player of the Year recipient, who is voted on by the Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches and sports information directors, will be presented live on Dec. 8 during the 6 p.m. ET edition of ESPN SportsCenter.

Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, now playing in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers, won the award last year.

Pac-12 rewind and look ahead

September, 5, 2011
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Taking stock of the first week of games in Pac-12 history (and perhaps the last first weekend of games in Pac-12 history).

[+] EnlargeCalifornia quarterback Zach Maynard
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuCalifornia quarterback Zach Maynard recovered nicely after an early interception.
Team of the week: California was far from perfect in its 36-21 win over Fresno State -- the offensive line struggled at times -- but the Bears, singled out by some as a potential game one upset victim, made a solid statement against the Bulldogs that they might be a factor in the Pac-12 North Division. The biggest piece of news was the solid play of quarterback Zach Maynard. That he bounced back so well from an early interception might even be more meaningful. His two predecessors were known for letting mistakes linger and affect their performances.

Best game: It shouldn't have been a thriller, but Washington needed a late interception to outlast Eastern Washington 30-27. And it's worrisome that the Huskies were outgained by the Eagles 504 yards to 250. Hey, guys, how about a little pass defense?

Biggest play: Sure you've seen the highlight of UCLA receiver Nelson Rosario's 54-yard reception against Houston, ESPN's Play of the Day on Saturday, though it came in a losing effort. Rosario, turned around with his back to the endzone in tight coverage, grabbed the ball with his right hand, then trapped it on the back of the Cougars defender to make the catch. An instant classic. Now, Nelson, how about becoming consistent on routine plays?

Offensive standout: USC wide receiver Robert Woods caught a school-record 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' 19-17 win over Minnesota. A tip of the cap to Oregon State's true freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for 223 and three TDs on 33 carries in the Beavers upset loss to Sacramento State.

Defensive standout: While Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict (three sacks) and Utah linebacker Brian Blechen (two interceptions) put up nice numbers versus FCS foes, Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks piled up a game-high nine tackle with 2.5 coming for a loss -- the 0.5 was a sack -- against a solid Fresno State team. He also broke up a pass as the Bears held the Bulldogs to 218 yards and 11 first downs. It's possible the Bears will have the best defense in the conference.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Erik Folk was 3 for 3 on field goals of 40-plus yards in the tight win over Eastern Washington, connecting on kicks of 53, 47 and 40 yards.

Smiley face: To the Bay Area. Both Cal and Stanford took care of business with solid performances. Sure, San Jose State isn't much, but Stanford was cruelly efficient in dispatching the Spartans. Cal surely raised more than a few eyebrows in the conference.

Frowny face: The state of Oregon. Both Oregon and Oregon State went down, though to very different foes in very different ways.

Thought of the week: Two things we thought we'd see on Saturday that we didn't: An improved UCLA defense and a strong performance from Colorado at Hawaii. The Buffs defense was pretty solid, though the Hawaii offense was rebuilding other than quarterback Bryant Moniz. But the offensive line is a big concern, giving up seven sacks and struggling to open holes for the running game. A struggling offensive line doesn't bode well for Cal's visit. As for the UCLA defense, it played much better in the second half at Houston. We'll see if the first half was an anomaly-- Case Keenum is a pretty good QB, after all -- or the start of a pattern of inconsistency.

Questions for the week: Welcome to "measuring stick" week. There are big nonconference games across the board that likely will establish how the Pac-12 is viewed nationally, particularly after a lackluster opening frame. Will the conference notch a couple of quality wins? Or will it get cut down and see its national perception plummet? Further, Utah's visit to USC is the first Pac-12 game in,well, history. Will the Utes immediately prove they belong?

UCLA continues to confound

September, 3, 2011
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If a psychic had said UCLA would gain 554 yards at Houston, who wouldn't have dashed to Las Vegas with that info?

No way the Bruins lose with that. If their anemic offense does that, then surely their tough defense would provide enough on the other side.

Nope.

Case Keenum threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns, completing 30 of 40 passes, and the Cougars rushed for 159 yards in a 38-34 win that makes coach Rick Neuheisel's already hot seat just a bit hotter.

The Bruins had called the visit to Houston, which they handled fairly easily in 2010, a statement game. While the offense made a statement -- it looks better -- the defense was shockingly bad, at least in the first half.

Making matters worse, UCLA's starting quarterback Kevin Prince was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Richard Brehaut, who was going to see significant action anyway, played well in relief, showing much-improved running ability.

But the first-half hole -- 31-14 -- was too deep.

The bigger question now: Is this hole now too deep for Neuheisel?

Halftime: Houston 31, UCLA 14

September, 3, 2011
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UCLA was supposed to be good on defense and questionable on defense. Turns out it's the opposite, at least based on the first half at Houston.

The Bruins, who saw quarterback Kevin Prince knocked out of the game with a concussion, surrendered 296 yards to quarterback Case Keenum and the Cougars. They might have been able to keep up -- UCLA had 220 yards, including 127 passing yards at the break -- if not for a few dropped passes.

As it is, though, what the Bruins and embattled coach Rick Neuheisel were billing as a statement game is living up to that billing, only in a negative way.

If this pace keeps up and the Bruins get blown out, the hottest seat in the Pac-12 will become scorching.

Pac-12 links: Thomas ready to lead Ducks

September, 1, 2011
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You've got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now I think you're going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You're gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it you're gonna do the same for him. That's a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That's football guys, that's all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
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Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Oregon's biggest issue might not be LSU's D-front: In Phil Steele's unit rankings, he rated LSU's D-line 10th in the nation and its LBs 15th. There's no individual player as disruptive as Auburn's Nick Fairley, but LSU's Tigers are better across the entire front-7 than those Tigers. The Ducks could again struggle to run the ball. But the big problem is the LSU secondary, which Steele rates the nation's No. 4 unit. Auburn's secondary was weak all through 2010, and Ducks QB Darron Thomas picked it apart for 363 yards. But even though LSU lost first-round draft pick CB Patrick Peterson, their defensive backfield is deep and talented. Thomas won't find throwing into it as easy in any event, but particularly without his top-two receivers from a year ago.

[+] EnlargeKelly
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIOregon coach Chip Kelly will need to scheme around a tough LSU run defense and an even tougher pass defense.
2. Will UCLA catch a Case of Keenum? UCLA was dominating Houston last year when it knocked QB Case Keenum out of the game in the second quarter, but Keenum remains a guy who is good enough to win a game on his own. Still, the Bruins should be able to win the battle on both lines of scrimmage, and that should make things easier for QBs Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who both will play. Prince will be on the field to start the game. But will he be on the field to finish?

3. A Gray day for the USC defense: USC shouldn't have too many problems with Minnesota, but the biggest question is will the Trojans again show flashes of playing good defense. Golden Gophers QB MarQueis Gray is a bit of a mystery. He's being billed as a dual threat -- the sort who has given USC trouble in the past -- but he seems more like a 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete who can run some option and scramble. His passing is decidedly questionable. The Trojans figure to crowd the line and dare Gray to throw. That means a secondary in man-coverage. Recall that the secondary got beaten a bunch in 2010.

4. Maynard debut: You look at California's depth chart and you think, "If these guys are any good at QB, they might be pretty tough." That's the pressure on Zach Maynard in his debut against a solid Fresno State team. If Maynard puts up good numbers, the Bears no longer will be so easy to write off in the Pac-12 North.

5. Buffs, hit Moniz: Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz put up huge numbers in 2010: 5,040 yards passing with 39 touchdowns. The Buffs secondary is suspect. Not a great combination. But a good way to protect a suspect secondary is with a good pass rush. While Moniz is a good athlete who can run, the best way for Colorado to end its 18-game road losing streak is to pound on Moniz and not give him time to throw. The good news on that: The Warriors have just three starters back on offense, one of whom is an offensive lineman.

6. The Price of confidence: Washington QB Keith Price makes his debut as Jake Locker's replacement against Eastern Washington, which is hardly a patsy. Sure, the Eagles are an FCS team. But they also are the defending FCS national champions and they are the preseason No. 1 team in FCS football. Warning! Warning! The key thing here is for the Huskies to show up focused and take care of business. For Price, he wants to play within himself, get comfortable and build his confidence because the competition will ramp up quickly.

7. Cougars grinning: Washington State is going to beat Idaho State. Not a big deal. What's a big deal is being 1-0 for the first time since 2005. What is a big deal is a team getting some early momentum, which it hasn't had in in coach Paul Wulff's first three seasons. The Cougs need to go out and pound on Idaho State. They need to walk away feeling good about themselves.

8. Luck and Shaw: Stanford is going to pound San Jose State. But the key thing for Cardinal interests is getting Luck some numbers and then sitting him, and letting Shaw get comfortable with his new job fronting the program.

9. Utah, Arizona State and Oregon State -- just win: The Utes, Sun Devils and Beavers each face weak, FCS foes. Each is going to win. And each faces a far more formidable foe the next week. The key is taking care of business, staying healthy and getting refocused. Starters eating orange slices in the third quarter is good, too.

10. Defense wins championships: OK, so what if LSU's defense thwarts Oregon's offense? The Tigers offense, particularly with Jarrett Lee at QB, is hardly scary. One of the often forgotten elements of the 2010 national title game against Auburn is the Ducks did about as good a job as anyone of slowing down QB Cam Newton. Lee is no Cam Newton. There is no law saying Oregon can't win a game 17-13. The LSU defense might stop the Ducks offense, but what if the Ducks defense is even more in control against perhaps the worst offense they will face all season?

Houston step one for UCLA, Neuheisel

August, 30, 2011
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UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was asked at Pac-12 media day how he and the Bruins could restore sagging confidence in the program this season and get fans to return to the Rose Bowl. His answer was surprisingly straight-forward.

"Beat Houston," he said of the Bruins opening game.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesRick Neuheisel's Bruins are looking for a fast start against Houston in Week 1.
"Because we play the next week against San Jose State. So if we can go on the road and beat Houston and do so in an impressive way, look like we're a well-coached, sound, fundamental football team, I think they'll come out the next week and be excited. If we can find a way to win that one, the next one's against Texas. It can happen that fast. It doesn't take long to win back your constituency. They just want to know there is reason for your optimism. So, we just got to come out of the gate ready to play."

The solution: A fast start, starting with a road trip to Houston.

Of course, the Bruins blew Houston out 31-13 last season. Sure, the Cougars lost quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter, but UCLA led 21-3 at that point and was dominating the action. So the Bruins have, and probably should, beat Houston on Saturday, though playing on the road is never easy.

Further, one of the oddities during Neuheisel's three years back in Westwood, where he won a Rose Bowl as the Bruins quarterback, is the program's infuriating fits and starts. Just when one is ready to write them off and throw a handful of dirt on the Neuheisel tenure, a run of success appears. And just when folks want to theorize about a turned corner, Neuheisel and the Bruins go rear-end-over-tea-kettle.

Recall Neuheisel's debut: A thrilling home victory over Tennessee. What happened next? A 59-zip humiliation at BYU became the first of three consecutive losses.

In 2009, UCLA started 3-0. Then it lost five in a row. Then it won three of four to become bowl eligible and won a bowl game, albeit over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl.

And last fall, after an 0-2 start that included a humiliating 35-0 home loss to Stanford, the Bruins not only beat Houston, they then won at Texas and extended their winning streak to three games with a comeback victory against Washington State. A turnaround, perhaps? Nope. They lost six of seven to finish 4-8 for a second time under Neuheisel.

So what's the larger meaning of the opener at Houston when Neuheisel sits atop many lists of coaches on the hot seat?

"It's an important game for us," Neuheisel said. "Will it make or break our season? Absolutely not. But it will help get us on the right track believing things are going our way."

What UCLA needs to rekindle fan support is consistency -- a feeling that the Bruins are playing up to their potential on a regular basis. While this doesn't look like a 10-win team, it certainly has the talent to earn bowl eligibility, maybe even work its way into the South Division race.

If you look over the depth chart, there is a decided sense of "maybe."

Start with the Bruins leaving preseason camp a mostly healthy team for the first time under Neuheisel. Then there's a defense that looks sneaky good on all three levels (a healthy Datone Jones at end and Patrick Larimore at MLB could prove transformative for a unit that couldn't stop the run last fall). On offense, the Bruins have a solid offensive line, particularly when Jeff Baca returns this month, and plenty of speed and depth at the skill positions.

Quarterback? That's the big question, and not just because Neuheisel has opted not to name his starter until late Tuesday (it's likely to be Kevin Prince over Richard Brehaut).

As for the hot seat talk, Neuheisel said it hasn't been a distraction.

"If you are asking if I am feeling it from outside, the answer is 'no,'" he said.

While Houston won't provide a definitive answer on Saturday, it is fair to say this. Neuheisel will take a step toward saving his job with a victory. And he'll go the opposite way with a defeat.

Quick look at first week's games

August, 29, 2011
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Each Pac-12 plays this week, though for some just barely -- plenty of FCS foes.

The slate is, obviously, led by Oregon-LSU. Next week, things ramp up considerably.

Here's a quick look (all times ET).

Thursday, Sept. 1

Montana State at Utah, 8 p.m. (KJZZ): Utah should record a blowout in its first game as Pac-12 team. Will be interesting to see how well quarterback Jordan Wynn throws after shoulder surgery, but here's a guess he doesn't play four quarters. Up next: USC.

UC Davis at Arizona State, 10 p.m. (FS Arizona): The Sun Devils get a warmup before a marquee nonconference foe comes to town. Up next: Missouri (Friday).

Saturday

Minnesota at USC, 3:30 p.m. (ABC): Minnesota arrives with new coach Jerry Kill. Trojans should do exactly that against perennially rebuilding Big Ten foe. Up next: Utah.

UCLA at Houston, 3:30 p.m. (FSN): Bruins figure to get a full dose of Cougars quarterback Case Keenum, who had a season-ending knee injury in last season's game at the Rose Bowl. Bruins need to get out of gate fast. Up next: San Jose State.

Sacramento State at Oregon state, 4 p.m. (OSUBeavers.com): Oregon State gets a warmup game before a big nonconference trip. Needs to get healthy. Up next: at Wisconsin.

San Jose State at Stanford, 5 p.m. (CSNBA): The debut of new coach David Shaw. And the first date of Sir Andrew Luck's royal tour. Up next: at Duke.

Idaho State at Washington State, 5 p.m.: Cougars will be 1-0 for first time since 2005. Up next: UNLV.

E. Washington at Washington, 7 p.m. (Root NW): Huskies might want to take the defending FCS champs -- and preseason FCS No. 1 team -- seriously. Up next: Hawaii.

Fresno State versus California, (CSNCA): Cal and new quarterback Zach Maynard tries to get off to a fast start at Candlestick Park. Up next: at Colorado.

Oregon versus LSU, 8 p.m. (ABC): Winner might rise to No. 1. Which team overcomes offseason distractions and starts season with huge bang? Up next: Nevada.

Northern Arizona at Arizona, 10 p.m. (FS Arizona): Wildcats get warmup before big nonconference test, which is a good thing with five new starters on the offensive line. Up next: at Oklahoma State (Thursday)

Colorado at Hawaii, 10:15 p.m. (ESPN2): Buffaloes try to end 17-game road losing streak in new coach Jon Embree's debut. Up next: California.

Best case-worst case: UCLA

August, 22, 2011
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Fifth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: UCLA

Best case

Someone forgot to tell Datone Jones UCLA's visit to Houston was supposed to be about the quarterbacks.

Jones provided three of the Bruins six sacks against Case Keenum, while Bruins starter Kevin Prince turned in a solid, unspectacular performance in UCLA's 28-24 win.

"I read in the Pac-12 blog that Jones was supposed to be good, but against my better judgment I chose to ignore the Pac-12 blog," Keenum says. "I have learned my lesson. Dude's a beast. Jones, not the Pac-12 blog, who I hear is very nice."

Prince and most of the other starters sit out the second half of a 55-10 win over San Jose State. Up next is Texas, which comes to town talking about revenge for the 34-12 whipping administered by the Bruins last year when the Longhorns were ranked seventh.

"We want revenge," Longhorns quarterback Garrett Gilbert says. "We're Texas. You're not supposed to mess with us, particularly if you wear pastels, though my mother thinks I look good in powder blue."

Prince passes for 250 yards and two scores and rushes for 85 in a 35-21 Bruins victory.

"Does that guy only play well against us?" queries Texas coach Mack Brown.

It's not an unfair question. But it's one Prince answers well at Oregon State, running for a score and passing for another in a 30-27 victory. UCLA, at 4-0, moves up to No. 15 in the national polls.

Headline in Los Angeles Times: "Neuheisel seat no longer so hot."

Headline in Seattle Times: "Miami scandal? Neuheisel's fault!"

Of course, Prince is no Andrew Luck. Luck, the Heisman Trophy favorite, throws three touchdown passes in a 35-24 Cardinal victory, though Jones does beat All-American tackle Jonathan Martin for a sack.

"Those two are going to be going at it 10 years from now," observes play-by-play man Brent Musburger.

The Bruins nip Washington State on a 55-yard field goal from Kip Smith, but they fall at Arizona in overtime. They beat California at home, which sets up a critical Pac-12 South showdown with Arizona State.

Down 28-21, Prince finds Cory Harkey, who hasn't dropped a pass all season, for a 17-yard TD with 38 seconds remaining.

"I'm going to tell you why we are going to go for two," coach Rick Neuheisel tells his gathered offense on the sideline during a time out. "It's because we need to show everyone who we are right now."

On a quarterback draw, Prince runs over Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the winning points.

UCLA, in a classic let-up scenario, goes down at Utah the following weekend. The Bruins bounce back with a 31-24 win over Colorado.

They head to the Coliseum to play arch-rival USC with the Pac-12 South Division title on the line. If the Trojans beat the Bruins for the 12th time in 13 years, they will be the South champions, even though they're not eligible for the postseason. If the Bruins win, they will be tied for first with Utah and Arizona State, which beat the Utes, but would win a tiebreaker for a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.

"Is it more motivating to win the first South division crown or to stop UCLA from doing it?" USC quarterback Matt Barkley says, repeating a reporter's question. "Well, I'd like to say us winning the division but really there's nothing better than making those guys miserable. Was I even alive the last time they beat us?"

Barkley recovers: "Oh, yeah, you're right. I was alive in 2006."

Jones sacks Barkley three times as the Bruins roll over the Trojans 33-17.

Before the Bruins play top-ranked Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, Neuheisel is named conference Coach of the Year.

Says USC coach Lane Kiffin, "Yeah, I voted for him. He deserved it. He outcoached me."

"Vindicated?" says Neuheisel. "You know what? Tough times don't last, tough people do."

Whispers Prince to a nearby reporter: "He says that, like, five times a day."

Oregon nips the Bruins 33-31 on a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation. The Bruins are invited to the Alamo Bowl, where they whip No. 10 Texas A&M 41-20 to finish 10-4 on the season and ranked 14th.

"We sort of own the state Texas, don't we?" Jones says.

Andrus Peat, Shaq Thompson, Kyle Murphy and Davonte Neal announce commitments to the Bruins the night of the bowl game. The Bruins 31-player class -- six elite prospects are brought in early to count against the 2011 class -- ranks sixth in the nation.

"It was great to cherry-pick Southern California recruiting," says Neuheisel. "So much talent. Glad we had a full allotment of scholarships."

Worst case

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel had pointed to the road trip to Houston as a game his Bruins needed to win in order to establish early-season momentum. If so, the season's momentum starts off flowing in the wrong direction.

Case Keenum, whose season ended in the 2010 game at UCLA, throws for 330 yards and three TDs in a 35-21 win, as the Bruins passing game again sputters with Kevin Prince under center.

Neuheisel repeatedly berates Prince as he walks off the field. "He has to play better," Neuheisel says after the game. "We've taught him what to do. He's just not doing it."

"So the coaching isn't working?" LA Times columnist T.J. Simers volunteers.

The Bruins beat San Jose State 24-10 but get humiliated at home by revenge-minded Texas, which keeps its starters in the game well into the fourth quarter of a 44-10 victory.

"Richard Brehaut will start at Oregon State," Neuheisel says. The Bruins lose 28-17 in Corvallis.

"Kevin Prince will start at Stanford," Neuheisel says. The Bruins lose 51-13 in Palo Alto.

Writes Simers, "I'm trying to figure out who is a worse coach, the Bruins head coach or its quarterbacks coach. It's hard to say who is more clueless."

Neuheisel began the 2011 season on the hotseat. It's clear he's pretty much sitting naked in a pool of lava after a 1-4 start.

"Tough times don't last, tough people do," Neuheisel says.

Neuheisel is fired after a home loss to Washington State. Offensive line coach Bob Palcic is named interim head coach.

The Bruins slog through the rest of the season with Prince and Brehaut sharing the QB duties. It works curiously to perfection in an upset of Arizona State, but the Bruins head to the Coliseum to play unbeaten arch-rival USC at 2-9.

"Do we hope AP voters rank us No. 1 if we finish unbeaten?" USC coach Lane Kiffin asks. "Well, sure. We're pretty good. We just beat No. 1-ranked Oregon. Stanford's only losses this year are to us and Oregon. Arizona State's only loss is to us and Oregon. Notre Dame's only loss is to us, though Stanford will probably beat them. "

It's pointed out to Kiffin that UCLA upset the Sun Devils. "Really?" he says. "How the hell did that happen?"

Matt Barkley throws four touchdown passes as USC rolls the Bruins 42-3. Barkley nips Stanford QB Andrew Luck for the Heisman Trophy. When Oregon beats Alabama in the BCS national championship game, the AP votes USC No. 1.

On Jan. 12, NCAA president Mark Emmert announces that after a double-secret meeting, all remaining sanctions against USC are revoked. Says Emmert: "It's easy. A Committee of Infractions hearing chaired by former Miami athletic director Paul Dee has zero credibility. I personally reviewed the case. Those penalties were exorbitant. So the Trojans get time served -- a two-year postseason ban. But they will get all their scholarships back."

Kiffin sweeps across the country, tearing away commitments from major powers in every AQ conference.

Says ESPN recruiting guru Tom Luginbill on national signing day, "It might be the best recruiting class in history."

Meanwhile, UCLA hires Paul Hackett as its head coach.

"He has a track record in Southern California," says athletic director Dan Guerrero.

Lots of hot seat games in Pac-12

August, 11, 2011
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There are a lot of hot seats in the Pac-12 this year. In no particularly order, Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, Jeff Tedford at California, Rick Neuheisel at UCLA and Paul Wulff at Washington State.

And coaches on the hot seat play hot seat games, and ESPN.com's Ryan McGee sees a handful for the conference.

Here's what he has to say.

UCLA Bruins at Houston Cougars, Sept. 3
On the Seat of Heat: Rick Neuheisel


The Sweater Vest of the West hasn't been able to get his alma mater up to speed as quickly as he did conference foes Colorado and Washington. In the 2008 season opener, the former Bruins quarterback led his team to a then-stunning OT win over Tennessee, but he has posted a record of 13-23 since. The lone high point during that time was last year's win at Texas, which, like the Tennessee win, wasn't all that impressive in retrospect.

Last year UCLA romped Houston at home, the game in which Cougars quarterback Case Keenum tore his ACL in the second quarter. Now Keenum is back and playing on his home turf. If he lights up UCLA with the same kind of offense that Neuheisel was supposed to have brought to Westwood, then the sharks shall begin circling, especially with Texas, Oregon State and Stanford coming up in the following four weeks.

Missouri Tigers at Arizona State Sun Devils, Sept. 9
On the Seat of Heat: Dennis Erickson


Erickson's first year in Tempe was a nice one: 10-3 and a trip to the Holiday Bowl to face Texas. Since then, the Sun Devils have yet to make a bowl game, posting an overall record of 15-21 and a Pac-10 record of 10-17. Last year they came close to beating Wisconsin ... and Oregon State ... and USC ... and Stanford. But they lost all four of those games.

This year brings the highest preseason expectations since that first season, as the Sun Devils missed the preseason coaches' Top 25 poll by only three votes. The good news? ASU was 4-0 against nonconference opponents last year. The bad news? The Sun Devils haven't hosted a nonconference BCS school since 2008, a 27-10 thrashing by Georgia.

Washington State Cougars at Colorado Buffaloes, Oct. 1
On the Seat of Heat: Paul Wulff


Wulff keeps trying to convince us that the Cougars are getting better, but their record surely has not. They backed up 2009's 1-11 record with a 2-10 mark last year. In three seasons he has won exactly two conference games. If they go to Boulder for Colorado's first home Pac-12 game and lay an egg against a team with a new head coach, it's likely going to make the folks in Pullman want to look for a new coach of their own.

USC Trojans at California Golden Bears, Oct. 13
On The (Potential) Seat of Heat: Jeff Tedford


The promise of Tedford's early days in Berkeley has started to fade, thanks to a 17-19 conference record over the last four years. If the Bears stumble against what should be a very motivated Fresno State squad on Sept. 3 at Candlestick Park, things could get a little dicey. October 6 brings a trip to Oregon, which figures to be a loss. USC has beaten Cal in seven straight. If the Trojans roll again like they have the last two seasons (48-14 and 30-3), patience with Tedford will have officially worn thin.
The Pac-12 is popularly known as the conference of quarterbacks, mostly because it has better quarterbacks than everyone else, at least in terms of NFL potential.

That is again the case in 2011. The conference boasts Stanford’s Andrew Luck, USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Nick Foles, who each could become first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Then there’s Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who beat out Barkley and Foles for second-team All-Conference honors in 2010, and talented youngsters such as Washington State’s Jeff Tuel, Oregon State’s Ryan Katz and Utah’s Jordan Wynn.

Oh, but across the country in Conference USA, there’s a crew of quarterbacks that offers something that bests the Pac-12 signal-callers: huge numbers. Four Conference USA passers threw for more than 3,000 yards; just two did in the old Pac-10. Also, three threw 31 or more touchdown passes versus just one in the Pac-10 -- Luck with 32.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Case Keenum
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCase Keenum is one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.
And that doesn’t even include the return of Houston’s Case Keenum, who passed for over 5,000 yards in both 2008 and 2009 and 44 touchdowns each season. Keenum was lost for the 2010 season in Game 3 after suffering a knee injury at UCLA.

So while the Pac-12 may think of itself as the conference of quarterbacks, Conference USA might be able to counter as the conference of passers.

Sounds like a blog debate! Bring on Andrea Adelson!

Ted Miller: Andrea, you have me and many of my Pac-12 blog readers at a loss. You know all about the Pac-12 quarterbacks because they are on TV all the time.

While most are familiar with Keenum’s eye-popping numbers for the Cougars, some of these other names draw blanks. Educate our poorly informed West Coast brains, please!

Andrea Adelson: Yes, Ted, there is a reason C-USA has a Wild, Wild West Division. It is there you will find some of the most prolific passers in the nation -- Keenum, G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, and Kyle Padron of SMU.

Keenum was just picked as the C-USA preseason offensive player of the year for obvious reasons. Your Pac-12 brethren only got a small glimpse of what he could do last season against UCLA -- the game in which he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Keenum got a sixth season and has a slew of NCAA records he is chasing down -- total offense, passing yards, touchdowns, pass attempts and completions. He is in an offensive system that suits his strengths, and he really came onto the scene in 2008 under a certain coach named Dana Holgorsen.

With Keenum out last season, Kinne picked up the torch and was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Kinne actually began his career at Texas before transferring to the Golden Hurricane. Last season he truly blossomed, but he is a different style quarterback than Keenum and Padron. Kinne can run -- he led the team in passing (3,650 yards) and rushing (561). It should come as no surprise that Padron is a gunslinger -- he plays for June Jones after all. And Jones is a master of the run 'n' shoot. But there are quarterbacks in the East who aren't slouches, either. Dominique Davis transferred from Boston College to East Carolina and flourished last season, leading the nation in passing. Austin Davis, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation can run and pass, too. We all know the Big 12 is known for its passers, but C-USA equaled that conference with three players ranked in the top 11 in the nation in yards passing with Davis, Padron and Kinne. The Pac-12 might have the most "quarterback ready" players, but C-USA has guys who know how to put the ball in the air, that is for sure. And who doesn't love offensive fireworks?

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireA number of analysts project Stanford's Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 overal pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Ted Miller: Andrea, those are impressive -- and sometimes HUGE -- numbers. Keenum got knocked out against UCLA, so the Bruins didn’t really get a full taste of him, which they figure to on Sept. 3 in Houston. But that’s the only time Pac-12 fans will get to see any of these guys. In the Pac-12, I’d rate Luck No. 1, Barkley No. 2, Foles No. 3 and Thomas No. 4 in terms of NFL prospects. Luck and Thomas are both outstanding athletes who are capable running the ball. Most folks don’t realize that Luck rushed for 453 yards last year. Barkley and Foles are prototypical drop-back passers.

So how do you see your guys' NFL prospects stacking up?

Andrea Adelson: None of these guys are first-round prospects, but that does not make them any less impressive as college quarterbacks. All of them are going to carry the "system quarterback" label with them when their careers end. Keenum already gets that when his name comes up in Heisman chatter. Interestingly, he is after the NCAA career passing mark of Timmy Chang -- coached at Hawaii by June Jones. And Jones has a guy in Padron who can sling it, too. Davis is in a system that Ruffin McNeill picked up from his "Air Raid" days at Texas Tech -- a school that has produced prolific passers such as Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury but nobody who tore it up in the NFL. If you want to rank them as college quarterbacks, then Keenum deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best playing today. He is, after all, one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.

Ted Miller: That’s the rub, I think, Andrea. While the Pac-12 prides itself on producing NFL quarterbacks, I think we can all appreciate guys who produce thrilling performances in the college game, the game by the way we love most, apologies to the NFL.

So as excited as I am to see Luck this year -- and others -- I also am eager to see what a healthy Keenum does in Round 2 with UCLA. And perhaps we on the West Coast need to branch out a bit in our quarterback appreciation and catch a few Conference USA games this season.

We do, you know, like our passing out West.

Schedule analysis: UCLA

June, 14, 2011
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We're reviewing each Pac-12 team's schedule, and now we move on to the South Division.

Up next: UCLA

Breakdown: six home (four conference games), six road (five conference games)

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3 at Houston (5-7)
Sept. 10 San Jose State (1-12)
Sept. 17 Texas (5-7)

South Division games

Oct. 20 at Arizona
Nov. 5 Arizona State
Nov. 12 at Utah
Nov. 19 Colorado
Nov. 26 at USC

Crossover games

Sept. 24 at Oregon State
Oct. 1 at Stanford
Oct. 8 Washington State
Oct. 29 California

Conference misses

Oregon
Washington

Key stretch: UCLA plays four consecutive South Division foes over the final four weekends of the season, including the season-finale at rival USC. Last year, the Bruins started 3-2 but finished 1-6. Coach Rick Neuheisel can't afford another second-half slide. He needs a strong finish to ensure he's back in 2012.

Trap game: The Bruins open at Houston, a team it handled fairly easily last year, though Cougars quarterback Case Keenum was knocked out in the second quarter with a knee injury. Keenum will be back, and Houston is a different team with him. It won't be an easy opener, particularly on the road, but the Bruins could use some positive early momentum after a tumultuous offseason. They most assuredly shouldn't take the Cougars lightly based on what happened in 2010.

Sure thing: If UCLA loses to San Jose State, Neuheisel might not last until the following Sunday. But that won't happen.

Analysis: This is a tough schedule with two nonconference games UCLA could easily lose. Houston is a Conference USA favorite, and Texas can't possibly be as bad as it was in 2010. Further, the Longhorns figure to be be highly motivated to take revenge for an embarrassing 34-12 home loss last fall. Still, the schedule could be worse. Five conference games on the road isn't good, but missing Oregon and Washington -- two teams that whipped UCLA in 2010 -- works in the Bruins favor. Oct. 15 -- midseason -- is a good time for a bye. The elements figure to be an issue in only one road game -- at Utah on Nov. 12 -- and the home schedule could yield some fruit. It's hard to believe the finale at USC won't be meaningful for the Bruins bowl hopes and, perhaps, for Neuheisel's future.

Pac-10 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 20, 2010
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If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

1. Oregon: Ducks slapped Portland State aside just like they should. The matchup Saturday at Arizona State is suddenly a lot more interesting based on how the Sun Devils played at Wisconsin.

2. Arizona: A signature win against Iowa that was significant because the Wildcats were physically dominant, and when the screws tightened they asserted that dominance while the Hawkeyes wilted.

3. Stanford: Wow. That was just mean what Stanford did to Wake Forest. Seems like Jim Harbaugh was still mad about the officiating in Winston Salem last year. Andrew Luck, the nation's third-rated quarterback, has 10 TD passes vs. zero interceptions. Is it just me or is Luck good?

4. Oregon State: The win against Louisville was inconclusive as to how good the Beavers are. The game at Boise State on Saturday could make a significant statement, though.

5. USC: You know that annoying hourglass you look at when your computer is making you wait? That's what we have with the Trojans. Folks continue to be eager to write them off. I'm not so sure that's wise.

6. Arizona State: An excruciating, what-might-have-been loss at Wisconsin. But the important take-away is this, Sun Devils: You guys look like a bowl team now. Now, what can you do vs. Oregon?

7. California: Ah, Cal. There is so much we want to say. But the salient fact is this: Nine games remain. Make a stand.

8. UCLA: There was blood in the water, but the Bruins responded with an impressive win against Houston (and, by the way, UCLA established dominance well before Case Keenum went down). Now the schedule eases up with ... a visit to Texas.

9. Washington: Three things came out of the home blowout loss to Nebraska: 1. The Cornhuskers are very good; 2. Washington's rebirth should eyeball .500 before it aspires to grand expectations; 3. The "Jake Locker is overrated" contingency is dancing in the streets over Locker's career-worst performance on the big stage.

10. Washington State: The big question for the Cougars is will they muster four-quarters of fight in every game the rest of the season. The Pac-10 blog continues to believe, if they do, that will eventually yield a tangible reward.

Pac-10 predictions: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
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Went 8-0 last week but it was an 8-0 that felt like USC's 2-0. Sorta "neh."

Season record is 15-3. To the picks.

Friday

California 38, Nevada 30: Warning, warning, warning, Cal Bears! Nevada is not a push-over, particularly not at home. The Wolf Pack has averaged 592 yards and 50 points in its first two games. Cal fans, if you want my advice, you should feel nervous about this one.

Saturday

Iowa 28, Arizona 24: Arizona is better on offense and Iowa is better on defense, but the Hawkeyes are better-er on defense than the Wildcats are on offense. That said, this one should be far more competitive than the game in Iowa City last fall.

Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17: Expect Wisconsin to have a significant advantage in time of possession, and that's why I think the Sun Devils defense will wear down in the second half. I also think the Sun Devils earn respect on the road in a tough venue and feel pretty good going forward about their chances of surprising some folks in the Pac-10.

USC 41, Minnesota 17: I am picking USC to roll for a third week in a row. Why do I think I might be correct this time? Well, for one, as in the previous two games, USC has a lot better players. And, second, I think the Golden Gophers are about as uninspired as a team can be, see a narrow victory over Middle Tennessee and a loss to South Dakota.

SMU 41, Washington State 24: What the Cougars need is a soft nonconference schedule that helps them build confidence. What they've got is a road game at a good SMU squad that will be highly motivated after its mistake-filled loss last year in Pullman.

Nebraska 28, Washington 21: The Huskies are going to challenge the Cornhuskers. But they aren't going to beat them.

Oregon State 35, Louisville 24: Beavers QB Ryan Katz will be comfortable at home, and that means distributing the ball to his playmakers, the Rodgers brothers, who are going to hang up some big numbers.

Oregon 1,000, Portland State 3: And then the second half starts. No, actually, my guess is Chip Kelly doesn't want to play his starters much after halftime.

UCLA 27, Houston 24: Just when you think the Bruins are going to go belly-up, they will rally and win. It will make a huge difference that Kevin Prince got a full week of practice. Not to mention that Houston QB Case Keenum is questionable with a concussion.

Stanford 45, Wake Forest 24: The Wake Forest defense gave up 48 points and 487 yards to Duke. Duke isn't terrible or anything, but you'd think QB Andrew Luck will represent a slight step up from sophomore Sean Renfree. And the Cardinal should be pretty salty based on how things went in the second half last year in Winston-Salem.

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