Pac-12: Chris Petersen

Washington finished 8-6 in Chris Petersen's first season this fall and more than a few Huskies fans were pretty grumpy about it. They expected more.

Now, you could make an argument they were right to be irritated. The Huskies had a lot of talent, particularly on defense, and Petersen's reputation when he was lured away from Boise State was that he got more out of his team's talent, not less.

Or you could make an argument that eight victories -- even in a 14-game season -- is pretty darn good for a program that has averaged just 5.42 wins over the past 14 years and has won more than eight games just once during that span (2013).

Yet whether you are a grumpy, hopeful or resigned Huskies fan, we bring you tidings of great joy. Washington will rise again. We, the perspicacious team known as the "Pac-12 blog," view the Huskies as the Pac-12 program with the most upside from its present state.

Why? More than a few reasons.

Washington has not only been elite before, it's an all-time top-25 program. It won the 1991 national title and has won 15 conference championships. When we mention those 14 years of averaging 5.42 wins, we make a cutoff after the Huskies' 2000 season, in which they won the Rose Bowl, finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country. From 1980 to 2000, the Huskies won seven Pac-10 championships.

Of course, the Huskies' good friends in Eugene, Oregon, those low-key, humble Ducks, are politely raising their hands and gently protesting, "With all due respect ... live in the past much?"

Ah, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism, which Huskies fans can share, perhaps after asking Oregon fans if they'd like to know what it's like to actually win a national title.

For one, Husky Stadium might be the Pac-12's best stadium. Heck, it might be among the nation's best venues since its $280 million renovation that was completed before the 2013 season. It's on campus, it's big -- seating 70,000 -- and its location on Lake Washington with fantastic views of the snow-capped Cascade Mountains is postcard worthy.

It won't be difficult for Petersen to recruit to that stadium, which ranked third in the Pac-12 in attendance this fall at 64,508. Further, it is just the centerpiece of a program with A-list facilities.

Finally, we are certainly not even close to changing our "buy" rating on Petersen after one middling year, pretty much the only middling year of his career, and the first year in which he was a head coach in unfamiliar surroundings. Here's a guess his list of "What I Learned in My First Pac-12 Season" is fairly lengthy.

Unfortunately for our desire to be immediately right with this projection, the Huskies might, in fact, take a step back next season, despite the North Division looking wide-open after Oregon. Washington is replacing just about every defensive playmaker and its offense has even more questions, starting at quarterback but including a rebuilding offensive line.

Still, in terms of its long-term prospects, we're betting on Petersen to shortly push Washington back into the Pac-12 and national hunt.
Colorado gets an early -- and chilly? -- start to spring practices Monday, leading the Pac-12 out of the gate.

Not to be caught off guard, here are five major issues confronting the North Division as spring practices begin.

Here's what we had to say about the South.

1. Oregon post-Mariota: The Ducks are not only replacing their quarterback, they are replacing the best player in program history. Heck, Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, is one of the greatest players in Pac-12 history. Oregon was good before Mariota and will be good after him. Still, he's been behind center for three years, so this is a significant transition. Further, with many suspecting the starting job is Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams' to lose, and he won't arrive until the summer, that means the establishment of a post-spring pecking order won't even approach an endgame. The guy with the most at stake is junior Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup the past two years. He needs to make a strong statement with his play and leadership. If he does, it could give him a meaningful advantage when Adams arrives.

2. QB questions: The Ducks aren't the only North team uncertain at QB. In fact, only California with Jared Goff and Stanford with Kevin Hogan are set 100 percent behind center. Oregon State is replacing Sean Mannion in what figures to be a wide-open competition, one made more wide open by the departure of Mike Riley and arrival of Gary Andersen. While Washington has a returning starter in Cyler Miles, he was inconsistent in 2014 and could face a challenge from K.J. Carta-Samuels and touted true freshman early arrival Jake Browning. At Washington State, Luke Falk did a good job stepping in for an injured Connor Halliday -- he's certainly the front-runner to win the job -- but Mike Leach isn't going to hand him the starting spot by any means.

3. A new sheriff in Corvallis: Riley shocked just about everyone when he bolted for Nebraska after 14 seasons -- including the last 12 -- leading the Beavers. It wasn't an overwhelmingly sad departure, though, as more than a few Beavers fans had grown frustrated with the recent state of the program, particularly when compared to rival Oregon. The hiring of Andersen away from Wisconsin also seemed like a bold move, one that generated plenty of enthusiasm among the boosters. But Andersen will be adopting new schemes on both sides of the ball with a roster full of uncertainty. With a getting-to-know-you phase, spring will be much different in Corvallis this year.

4. Getting defensive: The biggest difference between the Pac-12 North and South divisions heading into spring is defensive turnover and/or questions. The South welcomes back a lot of defensive starters, while the North doesn't. Oregon State has just two defensive starters coming back and Stanford has just four. While Washington has six, it also loses three first-team All-Pac-12 performers in LB Shaq Thompson, OLB/DE Hau'oli Kikaha and DT Danny Shelton. Oregon has seven coming back, but it's rebuilding its secondary and replacing end Arik Armstead. Washington State has nine starters returning but it has a new coordinator in Alex Grinch after Mike Breske was fired. Cal has eight starters coming back, but it played lousy defense in 2014, ranking last in the conference with 39.8 points per game. North defenses figure to get a lot of attention this spring.

5. Year 2 for Chris Petersen: Perhaps the Pac-12's biggest story last spring was the arrival of Petersen, who was lured away from a celebrated run at Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian, who bolted for USC. Petersen inherited a team that looked talented enough to make a run at the North title, or at least make a legitimate challenge to the Oregon-Stanford domination. It didn't come to pass. The Huskies were inconsistent on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense, and finished a lackluster 8-6 after a rotten performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State. The 2015 Huskies have just 12 position-player starters returning, so they will have many depth-chart questions to address this spring. On the plus side, there should be a good deal of familiarity between players and coaches, both in terms of scheme and approach. This looks like a year of transition for the program, but Huskies fans will be looking for signs of growth under Petersen that would suggest good things happening in the future.

Season review: Washington

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
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Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

Washington Huskies

Offense: First-year head coach Chris Petersen is widely considered one of the most creative offensive minds in the nation, but the Huskies offense struggled in 2014 under coordinator Jonathan Smith, the one-time overachieving Oregon State quarterback. While Washington QB Cyler Miles did a good job of protecting the football, the Huskies didn't produce much in the downfield passing game and ended up ranked eighth in passing efficiency, 10th in yards per play (5.4) and ninth in points per game (30.2) in the conference. The Huskies entered the season with high expectations on offense -- a veteran line and promising skill players -- but the production just wasn't there. Grade: D

Defense: The defense started the season with four bona fide superstars: LB Shaq Thompson, DT Danny Shelton, OLB/DE Hau'oli Kikaha and CB Marcus Peters. While the secondary after Peters was a significant question, owning one of the nation's most talented front sevens is a heck of a way to start. Yet Peters got kicked off the team for a poor attitude, and the defense ended up solid but not dominant. Shelton and Kikaha put up huge numbers and rightfully earned All-America honors. Thompson, despite also seeing significant time at running back, also earned postseason notice. As a unit, yielding 24.8 points per game (third in conference) and 5.4 yards per play (fifth in conference) is solid but certainly not elite. Grade: B-

Special teams: Kicker Cameron Van Winkle and punter Korey Durkee were above average, while the coverage teams and return teams were mostly mediocre, though it's worth noting the speedy John Ross returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Grade: B

Overall: Petersen's first season certainly fell short of expectations. He inherited a talented roster and, well, he's Chris Petersen. The thought was his detail-oriented management would be a key ingredient in getting the Huskies over the good-but-not-great hump. Didn't happen, at least in Year One. It's possible -- likely? -- that such a drastic change in management styles from Steve Sarkisian to Petersen requires more than a year of acclimation. No one is seriously doubting Petersen's abilities, but an 8-6 finish that included a horrible effort against an inferior team in the bowl game was pretty deflating after the euphoria folks felt upon Petersen's hiring. Grade: C-

Other Pac-12 reviews:

Washington State
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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Oregon fans... is it time to pull out the ole Billy Baroo? As Judge Smails said, "Wooooo.... Billy, Billy, Billy... This is a biggie!"

To the notes!

Dan from Los Angeles writes: What are your thoughts on the Jim Mora handshake after the game? I thought it was tacky and lacked class.

Ted Miller: I thought Mora had every right to be angry with how Kansas State conducted itself while UCLA was in victory formation at the end of the Alamo Bowl. Hurdling the pile and leading with the helmet in that situation, as a K-State player unquestionably did, is not only dangerous it's -- oh, by the way -- illegal.

It's also bush league, false tough-guy football. My hope is Wildcats coach Bill Snyder in some way punished Dante Barnett after the game. It's also too bad Snyder hasn't stepped up and explained that Mora had a right to be angry and that his player was unquestionably in the wrong.

Because there is no question -- despite all the faux, 100 percent agenda-driven defenses speciously spouting "playing hard until the clock strikes zero" -- of Barnett's actions being wrong. You do not do what he did. Period. Hush.

That said, Mora -- and he has acknowledged this -- didn't handle the handshake as well as he could or should have. Further, this was Bill Snyder on the receiving hand of a rude dismissal, so Mora was pretty doomed from a purely reactive social media standpoint to get buried on Twitter. Snyder is not only a Hall of Fame coach -- one of the greatest of all time, in fact -- he also is a classy, ethical leader of young men.

That, too, is without question.

I know those who see the world through "My Team Wrong or Right" glasses, or those who simply hate Mora/UCLA on reflex -- thinking of a wide-eyed segment of USC fans here -- are going to counter with a bunch of nonsense and call me biased. Might be more accurate to say I'm biased toward K-State, where I enjoyed one of my favorite college football weekends of all-time last year, but I simply call them like I see them. And, making this easy, is the situation being an objective, black-white, right-wrong call.

Mora is a very emotional guy. I like that about him. I've irritated him several times and received his notorious grumpy treatment. Doesn't bother me in the least. Part of my job. He also is thoughtful and cares about his players.

That -- the emotions and caring about his players -- got the best of him in this instance.


Angelo from Ripon, Calif., writes: With the combined loses of week 14 and the bowl season in the SEC, is it safe to say that we won't have to weather another year of SEC hype and inflated preseason rankings?

Ted Miller: Nope. Most will view the SEC's decline this season as temporary -- even a blip -- and not without justification.

No question the Pac-12 and Big Ten are the winners this bowl season, that is almost as much about an SEC slide as their own success. The Pac-12, as well-argued here by Barry Tramel of the The Oklahoman, distinguished itself as the No. 1 conference, and the Big Ten is the biggest gainer in terms of improving its previously waning image.

Yet if you asked most folks -- as in those who aspire toward covering college football as objective observers -- the SEC will still be the No. 1 conference over the long haul. As in: If you had to bet $1 on which conference will win the most College Football Playoff national titles over the next 10 years, most would pick the SEC. That is based on a combination of money, fan passion and geography that is favorable to recruiting.

The general hope, again among those who aspire to objectivity, is that we are now entering a cycle with more apparent parity, in which the other Power 5 conferences at least seem to be on more equal footing. It's not good for the game for one conference to win seven consecutive national titles, as the SEC did.

For example, if the SEC wins three or four of the next 10 national titles and the other four conferences split up the other six or seven, that would be a much better trend.

More than a few of us saw this coming, in large part because of the SEC's recent NFL attrition.

All this said, I still fully support your joyous trolling of SEC folks, who have dished it out with zeal for, oh, the past decade.


Mush Huskies from Portland writes: 8-6. A few plays against Stanford and a different "chart" against Arizona, and the Huskies are sitting at 10-4. But that didn't happen, so we're still 8-6. A new coach, lots of transfers, blah blah blah... there's still a lot of supposed talent on this team -- just look at the recruiting classes -- not great, but respectable. But I repeat: 8-6. Can someone please explain how the Huskies have been "rebuilding" since Owen 12 in 2008?

Ted Miller: In 2000, Washington won the Rose Bowl and finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3. Since then, it has yielded the Northwest to Oregon and been mostly irrelevant nationally.

Why? Poor management at the administrative level, poor coaching decisions, getting eclipsed in the facilities arms race, middling recruiting, and the rise of other Pac-10/12 teams -- such as those pesky Ducks.

Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the team into respectability, but he only got the Huskies to nine wins and a final top-25 ranking in his final season before bolting to USC. Chris Petersen inherited a good if flawed team, one that probably underachieved this season. It was not the debut Huskies fans had hoped for, but it's justifiable to excuse much of what went wrong to an adjustment period between team and coaching staff.

The Huskies now might have the best stadium in the Pac-12, so facilities are no longer an issue, and savvy administrator Scott Woodward is about as football-friendly an AD as there is. Petersen's reputation suggests he will build a power in Seattle. Yet what Washington has coming back in 2015 doesn't look like a top-25 team, or one that can win the North.

Though Washington fans probably don't want to hear it, it doesn't appear likely that Petersen will deliver a quick fix. So, after 14 years of waiting, Huskies fans might just have to wait a little longer.


JT from Boston writes: Dealing in hypotheticals -- if Oregon blows out Ohio State, what is the reservation with putting Oregon up there as one of the all time great teams in College Football? Don't get me wrong, I (as a Duck fan) have my reservations -- but to blow out teams consistently is impressive (and unprecedented in recent years on such a consistent basis). Is it due to Oregon not being a traditional power house? Or that they don't have a roster filled with first day draft picks? Or has the general public (the Press included) just come to expect that when the Ducks win, they win big? To consistently perform and win by double digits, seems worthy of being put into the category of one of the all time great teams

Ted Miller: All-time great teams, for one, go unbeaten. That's pretty much the criterion for teams like 2001 Miami, 1972, USC and 1995 Nebraska, which make up my personal top three (I don't even look at teams that weren't fully integrated, as, for example, 1972 USC would have brutalized, say, 1961 Alabama).

But this Ducks team can distinguish itself as the first team to win the CFP, which would mean winning consecutive games against top-four teams. It certainly could view itself as the "truest" national champion in recent memory.


Torsten from Orlando writes: Alright. I think I speak for a lot of Duck fans when I say that I'm tired of pundits (save Fowler and Herbstreit who actually watched the Rose Bowl and have seen other Oregon games in the past few years) from ESPN and other sports outlets saying that Oregon's victory over FSU was a fluke. That FSU is still the better team. That the only reason FSU lost was because they quit. That it wasn't the Oregon defense that stopped FSU but that it was FSU itself. Apparently FSU's lack of defense on every single Oregon possession (save for the very first one) is something to just ignore. Honestly from certain news articles, potentially biased due to them coming from Central Florida, I feel like Oregon fans should be apologizing for the win. All I'm hearing myself is commentators buying into Winston's press conference and his eternal stubbornness about what really happened on New Years Day. Oregon played their hearts out that day, they are going to play their hearts out on the 12th either way that game goes, and its time people started taking notice. Why aren't these same statements being said about an Ohio State team starting a 3rd string QB who beat Bama? A great win for that team but Cardale Jones apparently won the Heisman based on how that game has been viewed. I'm afraid that even if Oregon does get its desired result Monday, the nation will consider that a fluke as well. So what gives?

Ted Miller: Fluke?

A 39-point domination a fluke? Who wrote or said that? I've not heard a single person even hint at that. Can you produce a link? Are you just projecting from FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's universally panned remarks after the game, that were wildly rated as pure doofus on the doofus meter?

Torsten, I suspect that you tend to view your obsessive Ducks fandom through a lens of grievance.

Dude, just enjoy the moment. Your team, which in 1983 played in a game notoriously dubbed "The Toilet Bowl," is playing for the national title for the second time in five years. If someone wishes to call Oregon a fluke, it will do more discredit to the speaker/writer than to the Ducks.


Derrick from Omaha writes: I am a long time fanatic Oregon fan, but always waiting to be disappointed! For the last nine weeks I have waited for the Ducks to "choke" (although with all of the injuries to great players it really would not be choking per se.). For nine weeks I have not only been wrong, but Oregon has demolished teams and covered the spread!! Please, PLEASE! Can I be wrong one more time?? Or should I get set for disappointment?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

You see? That's the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It's not my fault you wouldn't play catch with your father.

You Ducks fans are seeing a whole team of psychiatrists, aren't you?

Sorry. Just thought I'd pull out a couple of "Terence Mann" quotes from "Field of Dreams" to entertain myself.

I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I picked Florida State to win the Rose Bowl. I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I've picked Oregon to beat Ohio State on Monday, because I've convinced them -- along with Cal fans -- of my magical "reverse karma" picking ability. I've got Oregon fans who think I'm a Washington fan because I worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. I've got Oregon fans whose fandom seems to be entirely based on being oppositional to a long list of perceived enemies, me included. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the national media calling them a fluke. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the Ducks choking.

I know Oregon has arrived because its fans are no less crazy than those of Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State.

So congrats on that. And enjoy your national championship as something to celebrate, not something to throw in everyone else's face.

Mailbag: FSU undisciplined; Petersen flop

December, 19, 2014
12/19/14
6:15
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Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag. Pac-12 bowl season starts Saturday. Yay.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Duckzila from Portland writes: The Oregon offense typically feasts on teams that are undisciplined on defense. My perception is Florida State is a team that relies on athleticism and freelances quite a bit on the defense side of the ball. Even when they shut down Georgia Tech in the second half of the ACC championship, they were helped out by an inaccurate quarterback missing open plays downfield. To be fair, I definitely suffer from seeing college football through green and yellow shaded glasses, and haven't watched a ton of FSU games this year. I'm curious if you see the FSU defense the same way?

Ted Miller: No, I don't see Florida State's defense that way.

What I see is a talented unit that was rebuilding after being dominant during 2013's national title campaign, one that was breaking in a new coordinator, one that was then riddled by injuries. I see a defense that is on track to be as healthy as it has been all season against Oregon.

I see a defense that is adept at making adjustments. The Seminoles gave up 174 points in the first half this season. They yielded just 125 in the second half. Oregon's underrated defense gave up 141 points in the first half and 151 in the second half. I see a defense that overcame an offense that was stunningly turnover-prone -- the Seminoles' 27 turnovers would have been the highest total in the Pac-12. Oregon had just eight turnovers this season.

Further, and this isn't a terribly original point: Defenses tend to excel after extended pre-bowl preparation. The extra time helps a defense train its eyes, accustom itself to potential misdirection and create a laser-like focus on its keys. Ducks fans saw that when two offensive juggernauts, Auburn and Oregon, played a low-scoring, 22-19 slugfest for the 2010 national championship.

If Oregon's offense wins the battle with FSU's defense, I doubt we will say it's because FSU was undisciplined. I think we'll say it's because the Oregon offense is just really freaking hard to stop.


Matt from Washington, D.C. writes: Ted-According to ESPN, Washington was tied with FSU for the most All-Americans yet won eight games, none against a high-quality team. With the shadow of Dan Hawkins looming large and so much talent leaving this year, what are the reasons for optimism for UW fans moving forward in the Petersen era?

Ted Miller: It's not unfair to say Chris Petersen's first season was underwhelming, even disappointing. He inherited talent that hinted at 10 wins in the regular season and he won eight. He didn't beat a ranked team and the Huskies struggled against overmatched foes. While he's not one to navel-gaze in front of the media, my guess is Petersen will be as self-critical about himself and his staff as any message board.

So why be optimistic? Well, Petersen went 92-12 at Boise State and won two Fiesta Bowls, a record that far surpasses Dan Hawkins or, really, any coach outside of a Power 5 conference. There's a reason folks so celebrated his hiring. The guy is smart. He's detail-oriented. He has a system. Some of the things that cost the Huskies this year -- such as giving mouthy, me-first cornerback Marcus Peters the boot -- probably will pay off in the long term as Petersen establishes his culture.

Yet Petersen might need to recalibrate some. Playing a Pac-12 schedule is different than playing one or two Power 5 foes a year and trying to earn your big-boy-football bona fides. In the Pac-12, you play a marquee game against Oregon... and then you play a marque game against Arizona State the next weekend.

As much as he's emphasizing "OKGs -- Our Kind of Guys" in recruiting, he's probably going to need a more generous gray area when evaluating prospects, particularly ones who run 4.4-second 40-yard dashes and weigh more than 300 pounds. He also might need to rethink some spots on his coaching staff.

Yes, the Huskies take some huge roster hits heading into 2015, particularly on defense and the offensive line. Eight wins next year probably would be an overachievement. But Petersen wasn't hired for immediate flash. He was hired to return Washington to long-term glory. Those are two different processes, and the latter often includes worse short-term growing pains.


Ramon from Chatsworth, California, writes: The Pac-12 South was an extremely tough division this season. The toughest, if you ask me. With the way the season ended for TCU and Baylor, which Pac-12 south team has the highest chances of being affected, positively and negatively, by their out-of-conference schedule in 2015?

Ted Miller: Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah will be in good shape if the College Football Playoff committee is reviewing their nonconference schedules. Arizona and Colorado will not be.

Here are the schedules.
  • Arizona: UTSA, at Nevada, Northern Arizona
  • Arizona State: Texas A&M (Houston), Cal Poly, New Mexico
  • Colorado: at Hawaii, UMass, Colorado State (Denver), Nicholls State
  • UCLA: Virginia, at UNLV, BYU
  • USC: Arkansas State, Idaho, at Notre Dame
  • Utah: Michigan, Utah State, at Fresno State

Obviously, the Buffaloes are aiming for bowl eligibility, not a berth in the CFP, and have scheduled accordingly. Arizona is another matter, as the Wildcats' nonconference schedule is Baylor-esque and would be viewed dimly by the committee.

Of course, the Wildcats didn't envision they would be in the hunt this season, at least from the past scheduling perspective of athletic director Greg Byrne. If the Wildcats again surge in 2015, their nonconference schedule will be a problem, unless they emerge from the Pac-12 unbeaten.

Plenty of grumpy teams in Pac-12

December, 1, 2014
12/01/14
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It's been another banner year for the Pac-12, one that might even get better if the conference wins its first national title since 2004. Five teams are ranked, eight are bowl-eligible and seven won eight or more regular-season games.

Yet there's a lot of grumpiness out there. As in: The only two fan bases that seem completely satisfied with their seasons belong to the South and North division champions, and Oregon's satisfaction is entirely contingent on getting revenge against Arizona on Friday in Levi's Stadium.

The Ducks were the overwhelming preseason pick to win the North, as they received 37 of 39 votes in the preseason media poll. Oregon also was the decisive favorite to win the conference title, earning 24 of 39 votes. So it's no surprise that the Ducks, led by bell-to-bell Heisman Trophy favorite Marcus Mariota, are eyeballing a spot in the College Football Playoff, the program's first national title twinkling on the horizon.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez's Arizona Wildcats weren't expected to be a Pac-12 contender, but are playing for the championship on Friday.
Meeting high expectations is rarely easy, and second-year coach Mark Helfrich is on the cusp of doing so. Those who questioned whether Helfrich was up to replacing that Magical Football Coaching Leprechaun Chip Kelly have quieted down a bit, though Helfrich's true measure might best come post-Mariota.

As for Arizona, the team that will square off with the Ducks for the Pac-12 title, nobody picked the Wildcats to win the South Division, much less the entire conference. The Wildcats were relegated to fourth in the South in the preseason poll, closer to fifth-place Utah than third-place Arizona State.

Dramatically exceeding expectations is rarely easy, and third-year coach Rich Rodriguez already has done so. When he wins Pac-12 Coach of the Year, as he most certainly should, it will be a gleaming vindication for him after his unfortunate tenure at Michigan. The man -- and his A-list staff -- can flat-out coach, and that's why Wildcats fans might want to reposition border patrols to the east in order to prevent suitors from invading Tucson, most notably Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley.

After those two teams, however, everyone else seems to have at least a harrumph or two, though odds are good this will be a rare season without a firing.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham started the season on some hot seat lists, but the Utes' 8-4 mark, which includes their first winning record in Pac-12 play, has reignited optimism in Salt Lake City and hushed Whittingham's critics. The season was far from perfect or devoid of "what-ifs?" But there's no question it was successful after consecutive losing campaigns, particularly if the Utes cap it with a bowl victory.

Arizona State, which flashed playoff potential during a five-game winning streak, didn't finish strong. It was upset at Oregon State, and Sun Devils fans have a hard time being happy about any season that includes a loss to That Team From Down South. Still, the Sun Devils entered 2014 with plenty of questions and were burdened with youth and injuries but still finished 9-3. Hard to believe too many clear-thinking folks are truly disappointed with the direction of the program under Todd Graham.

You can pretty much draw a line there between the satisfied and aggrieved, though there's a wide range between disgruntled and DISGRUNTLED.

California and UCLA are interesting cases for different reasons. Cal went 1-11 last year and was pretty much the worst Power 5 conference team. So you'd think a 5-7 finish with four losses by eight or fewer points would rate as significant improvement. UCLA went 9-3 and beat USC, which would qualify as a huge success most years in Westwood.

Yet Cal started 4-1, and Bears fans clearly envisioned bowl eligibility ahead. Also, with Stanford apparently swooning, they anticipated retaking the axe in the Big Game. But after being blown out by the Cardinal, getting clipped at home by BYU to conclude the season and suffering through atrocious defense only a little better than last season, there was hardly a warm glow coming from Bears fans Saturday about progress under Sonny Dykes.

Jim Mora's rebuilding job at UCLA has been justifiably celebrated, but the Bruins began the season as Pac-12 co-favorites and were widely viewed as the conference's second-most-likely team to make the playoff behind the Ducks. In the Pac-12 media poll, they received 37 of 39 votes to win the South and 13 votes to win the conference.

While the season had ups and downs, the Bruins nonetheless were still in position to meet preseason expectations until they went belly-up Saturday against Stanford. The reaction among Bruins fans afterward was a combination of deflation and aggravation, which might actually be better than previous seasons of resignation. But it also shows you how fine the line between success and seeming failure is in the college football paradigm, particularly for teams with championship hopes.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenMike Riley and Oregon State lost to Oregon for the seventh consecutive season.
Many Oregon State fans have risen up against coach Mike Riley after a seventh consecutive loss to Oregon, which ensured a third losing season in five years. His once-secure status is now precarious. While Colorado under second-year coach Mike McIntyre was vastly more competitive this year than the previous two, the Buffaloes actually regressed in terms of overall record, going 0-9 and 2-10 compared to 1-8 and 4-8 a year ago.

Speaking of zigzagging rebuilding projects, Mike Leach was once viewed as Washington State's savior. Now, after a 3-9 finish in Year 3, it's fair to ask if he'll be on the hot seat in 2015. It took just one year for some USC fans to put Steve Sarkisian on the hot seat, and Chris Petersen's 8-5 finish in his first season at Washington rates as a disappointment to most Huskies fans.

How quickly can things turn negative? Just a year ago, at the end of the 2013 regular season, Stanford's David Shaw was the hottest Pac-12 coach and generally rated among the nation's best. He was widely viewed as coveted by the NFL. Now, after a 7-5 finish, more than a few fans -- and pundits -- are wondering whether Stanford's run among the nation's elite is over.

While it's easy to counsel against overreaction one way or the other or to recommend patience, soothing, measured words don't seem to stick the way they used to. Coaching has always been about "What have you done for me lately?" only now that's practically become a week-to-week judgment. The old five-year plan for recruiting and development and scheme adoption is pretty much gone.

The Pac-12 has surged in terms of revenue and national significance since expansion. But despite that -- perhaps because of it -- these are days of angst. Coaches often talk about learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that's becoming relevant advice for most conference fan bases.

Mailbag: Howls over SEC conspiracy

October, 31, 2014
10/31/14
6:30
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Happy Halloween.

I will be Superman this Halloween. Why? I won't have time after work to change into a costume!

My wife loves that joke, even after 1,317 tellings!

To the notes! But not until one last sentence ends with an exclamation point!

Pat from Arlington, Virginia, writes: I'm not overly worried about the initial playoff ranking, but doesn't it seem absurd that the SEC West gets such a huge boost when every one-loss team has looked flawed at times?

Blaine from Phoenix writes: Hypothetical question: If a Pac-12 school were the reigning College Football national champs, would Arizona State (14), Utah (17) and Arizona (12), all one-loss teams, be ranked say... where Auburn (3), Ole Miss (4) and Alabama (6), also all one-loss teams, are currently located? Or would a national championship for the Pac-12 not change the league's perceived value that much? (Hypothetically speaking.)

Wes from Salt Lake City writes: The playoff rankings are out. I disagree with the blatant SEC bias, but they are what they are. After thinking about it the thing that bothers me about the rankings the most is that the top teams in the SEC all play FCS schools. Is the selection committee really going to penalize those SEC teams for SOS for not losing at this point?

Eric Terrebonne, Oregon, writes: I thought the playoffs and the committee were going to bring about a better system. ... Having Ole Miss in the top four is not a better system. Yes, I understand there is still a lot of football to be played, but this week sets a precedent. This week the committee told the world that playing in the SEC is more important than losing a game. LSU is a good team, but not a great one. Not this year. Ole Miss losing to them should have knocked them out of the top four. Everyone not an Ole Miss or SEC homer knows that. The argument that it was how they lost is fundamentally unsound as I would argue that Arizona is just as good a team as LSU (maybe better) and Oregon didn't make it. Is this what we can expect from the committee?

Ted Miller: Is there a case to be made that the sports media's bias toward the SEC has infected the College Football Playoff selection committee? Yes. So there you go, frustrated non-SEC fans.

[+] EnlargeCollege Football Playoff National Championship Trophy
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThere's still a lot of games to be played before this trophy will be handed out for the first time.
But what are the grounds for that bias, which we can define here as an accumulation of preconceptions based on previous evidence? And is it defensible?

The grounds is the SEC winning seven of the last eight national titles, leading the nation in the production of NFL talent and leading the nation in recruiting rankings. None of those three SEC checkmarks are infallible. The merits of each can be debated. But if you were putting together a conference's resume, you'd like to be able to write those down.

Of course, the committee, via spokesperson Jeff Long, is insisting it will be looking at teams, not conferences. So let's do that with Ole Miss and Auburn compared to the four one-loss Pac-12 teams. We'll include preseason ranking, because that shows what the preseason perception was of a team. We're not including Alabama, because most of the Crimson Tide's heavy lifting is ahead and most of you seem to give 'Bama a pass out of respect.

  • Oregon was No. 3 in the preseason. It jumped to No. 2 after beating No. 7 Michigan State decisively at home. It fell eight spots to No. 10 after losing to unbeaten but previously unranked Arizona at home. After three wins, it presently ranks fifth in the CFP rankings and the AP poll.
  • Arizona was unranked in the preseason and wasn't ranked after a 4-0 start that included close wins over UTSA and Nevada, as well as a Hail Mary to beat California. After winning at Oregon, it jumped to No. 10. But the Wildcats fell six spots to 16th after losing the next weekend at home to USC, which already had lost twice and was unranked at the time. After winning at Washington State, the Wildcats are up to 12th in the CFP rankings and 14th with the AP.
  • Arizona State was No. 19 in the preseason and moved up to 15th after a 3-0 start against weak competition. On Oct. 25, it fell 62-27 to No. 11 UCLA and dropped out of the rankings (though it ended up 26th). After beating USC with a Hail Mary, Stanford and Washington, the Sun Devils moved up to 14th in the CFP rankings and 15th with the AP.
  • Utah was unranked in the preseason. The Utes started 3-0 but followed up a win at Michigan with a home loss to Washington State. However, after winning at No. 8 UCLA the following week, the Utes entered the rankings at No. 24. After tight wins over Oregon State and USC, the Utes moved up to No. 17 with the CFP rankings and 18th with the AP.
  • Mississippi began the season ranked 18th. It moved up to No. 11 at 4-0, though its best wins at the time were over Boise State and Memphis. It beat No. 3 Alabama at home to improve to 5-0, and that bounced the Rebels into a tie with Mississippi State at No. 3 in the AP poll (fourth in coaches). The Rebels remained at No. 3 until losing at No. 24 LSU, 10-7. They fell four spots to No. 7 in the AP poll, but ended up No. 4 in the initial CFP rankings, the No. 2 one-loss team, whereas the AP had the No. 7 Rebels as the No. 5 one-loss team.
  • Auburn began the season ranked No. 6 and moved up to No. 2 after recording quality wins at Kansas State and against LSU. It then fell to No. 6 after losing 38-23 at then-No. 3 Mississippi State, which made it the No. 1 one-loss team. After a bye week and win over South Carolina, it climbed to No. 3 in the CFP rankings and No. 4 in the AP poll.

If you take all of this from point to point, you can see how the committee arrived at their first rankings. The two unbeaten teams, Mississippi State and Florida State, are Nos. 1 and 2. Auburn, with a high initial ranking, two quality wins and a loss to the No. 1 team, is the No. 1 one-loss team. Ole Miss, with the undeniably impressive win over Alabama and a tight loss at LSU, is a solid No. 4, if you don't get hung up on the timing of the LSU loss being just a week ago.

Remember: Hasn't everyone been asking the pollsters to not react -- overreact? -- so dramatically to one week's results but to see the season as a totality?

So, Pat, I mostly agree with the committee's staggering thus far for the one-loss teams, which I honestly view as pretty irrelevant with so many quality games ahead. Do I think Oregon would beat the Mississippi schools? Yes. But I also thought Oregon was going to beat the pooh out of Auburn in the 2010 BCS national title game, so what the heck do I know?

And, Blaine, do I think if Oregon or Stanford had won the national title last year, it would have buoyed Arizona, Arizona State and Utah? Maybe. Maybe the Pac-12 should win a national title and see if that happens.

And, Wes, yes, I do think Mississippi and Mississippi State fans should be worried about their nonconference schedules. If one or the other ends up with the same record as, say, Pac-12 champion Oregon, they will lose out. I'm not so confident that would be the case with Auburn, which won impressively at K-State.

But let me conclude with something. Alabama fans... I think there's a Texas booster whispering in Nick Saban's ear again. And is that an Auburn fan about to paint the Bear Bryant statue blue? Yeah, you better run over there.

OK. Pac-12 fans, you'd much rather have the Pac-12 champion play one of the Mississippi schools in the College Football Playoff than Alabama. Trust me on this.


Matt from Washington, D.C., writes: Ted -- pretty harsh words for Mr. Bowden regarding his thoughts on Former Secretary Rice's credentials to serve on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. In your view, what makes her well qualified to serve on the committee? Agree she is a very accomplished person, but aside from being a fan and occasionally assisting with Stanford recruiting, what makes her especially well qualified to determine who should be in the playoff?

[+] EnlargeCondoleezza Rice
Kevin Jairaj/CFP ImagesCondoleezza Rice is among the 12 people that will decide which teams will play in the College Football Playoff.
Ted Miller: First off, let's stop acting like evaluating the quality of football teams is only possible for those who possess some sort of super-secret wisdom that arrives via a mystical unicorn made of rainbows and taffeta only after you have played or coached the sport. Those wild, heroic stories of fraternal dances of players and coaches, dressed only in leather loin cloths, bathed in coconut oil, frolicking in fields of tulips, pounding bongos, man-hugging and singing odes to the smell of grass and linebacker theory are unproven myths, no matter what Pat Dye says.

What makes Condoleezza Rice qualify to sit on the committee is she is smart and she cares and she loves football. Further, with a committee of 12, it's important to have a diversity of skill sets. If you had 12 Nick Sabans in the room, it would be a disaster. Rice likely will challenge preconceived notions, offer a different perspective and she won't be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.

Finally, it's also valuable to have someone who can facilitate negotiations, interpret a vast array of often conflicting reports and keep a group of bickering jocks surfeited with testosterone on task.

Now, if she were trying to write about Pac-12 football, well, that requires a batch of superhuman qualities available only to those who have passed through black holes and read the Dark Matter Scrolls of Pacitwelvitus.


Tom from Seattle writes: Shaq Thompson went from being more than a sometimes running back on Saturday. He had 21 carries for 98 yards and only played defense a handful of times. Should Coach Pete be reprimanded for taking a first-round pick off the field or lauded for trying something different?

Ted Miller: I think Chris Petersen is doing what most coaches do: He is scratching and clawing and racking his his brain trying to win. He apparently believes, at present, playing Shaq Thompson at running back instead of linebacker gives him his best chance to win.

How should we measure Petersen's decisions? Winning.

If the Huskies' defense sags and the running game only improves marginally, then the move probably wasn't a good one. If the defense continues to play at a high level and Thompson solves the running-game woes, then the move is a good one.

Am I surprised by the move? Yes. But keep in mind I have not been visited by the mystical unicorn made of rainbows and taffeta. At least not since 1986, when the Westminster Wildcats captured Georgia's Region 5-AAA title by beating Marist senseless.


Tim from Atlanta writes: I know rooting doesn't affect the outcome, but it makes the games more fun -- so, who should Ducks fans be rooting for this weekend in the South division showdowns? The team that beat Oregon (Arizona) or the Ducks' second-best win (UCLA)? The team the Ducks play in barely a week (Utah), or the team they hope to play in about a month (ASU)? (Obviously understanding that the most important rooting is to be done in favor of our own team.) Basically, what's better for the Ducks if we project to a scenario where the committee is debating one-loss teams down the road?

Ted Miller: Two ways to look at this.

1. You either root, as an Oregon fan, for the team you'd prefer to play for the Pac-12 championship.

2. You root for the highest-ranked teams to win in order to potentially bolster the Ducks' national resume.

I think it's best for the Ducks to play a South Division champion that is highly ranked. So it's not really about rooting this weekend. It's about rooting for the winners this weekend to keep doing so going forward (of course, other than against the Ducks).

Your ultimate enemy is extreme cannibalism, with the South becoming a welter of teams with three defeats.
The introduction of Chris Petersen to the Washington-Oregon rivalry comes as quite a relief to the ink-stained wretches who write about college football. Redundancy and predictability are the sworn enemies of the scribbling class, and the Huskies-Ducks rivalry has been a model of redundancy and predictability for a decade, with the boys in green -- or, you know, whatever -- owning the purple team by at least 17 points in the last 10 matchups.

With Petersen now fronting the Huskies, that's an item of interest that a journalist can wrap a lead around. He or she doesn't have to immediately recycle the droning, "Is this the year Washington breaks through?" One can observe that Petersen not only was once a Ducks assistant -- from 1995-2000 under Mike Bellotti -- when he started a longstanding friendship with second-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, but he also was 2-0 against Oregon while heading Boise State, where he was 92-12 and was universally esteemed for his Huge Football Brain.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images"I know about the Oregon-Washington stuff," Huskies coach Chris Petersen said, "but that's not my focus, getting them fired up. To me, this needs to be about us."
"Huge Football Brain"? That hints at Chip Kelly, which means Huskies fans have stopped reading and now have thrown themselves on their prayer rugs and begun wailing to the college football gods that Washington really, really would like Petersen to become Washington's version of Kelly. Or, even better, Don James, Take 2.

With Huskies fans duly distracted by their invocations, we'll note to the tittering Oregon fans that the Ducks will be celebrating the 20-year anniversary of an obscure moment in their team's history on Saturday. While video of Kenny Wheaton's pick-six interception against Washington in 1994 is as difficult to find as a white peacock, it does exist, and there's a quiet minority of Ducks fans who believe it was a meaningful moment in the transformation of the program.

Those Oregon fans obsessed with such esoterica will be glad to know the Duck will don throwback uniforms to honor the occasion, of which at least one Oregon administrative Twitter feed observed this week: "Prior to 'The Pick' Oregon all-time had a .495 Win% (359-366-34). Since that game, Oregon is .731 (177-65)."

So, yes, call us a wee bit sarcastic when we poke fun by minimizing the impact of "The Pick," unquestionably the Ur-moment in Oregon football history, a highlight that plays immediately before every Ducks home game.

And the reason it is the definitive before-after line for the program's rise to West Coast and national prominence is not only that it was the key play in a run to the program's first Rose Bowl since 1958, it was that it happened so dramatically against the Huskies, the established Northwest power that Ducks fans most hated.

Which brings us back the rivalry and the two head coaches. Both know the rivalry well. That means they will at least acknowledge its biliousness, unlike Kelly, who seemed to enjoy telling reporters how much he liked former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, knowing it would inspire forehead slaps among the Ducks faithful.

"Do I understand the rivalry as a native Oregonian? Absolutely," Helfrich said. "I know the history of that very well and what it means to our fans."

And yet, it's all about an established winning process with the Ducks, and that centers on preparing the same every week for a "nameless faceless opponent."

Echoed Petersen, "I know about the Oregon-Washington stuff, but that’s not my focus, getting them fired up. To me, this needs to be about us."

That carries over to Helfrich's and Petersen's friendship. Both insisted in the preseason it would overcome them being at professional loggerheads in the Pac-12's North Division, though they admitted this week they hadn't talked thus far this season. Both also insisted this week that it has no impact on their emotions or preparation for the game. Which, you know, is as it should be.

Petersen, while at Boise State, handed the Ducks their last nonconference loss at home in 2008, and then spoiled Kelly's head coaching debut in 2009. While that's an interesting factoid, it's also far less relevant than how well the Ducks offensive line, which recovered nicely in a win at UCLA with offensive tackle Jake Fisher back in the lineup, will play against the Huskies stout front-7, led by nose guard Danny Shelton, defensive endHau'oli Kikaha and linebacker Shaq Thompson.

What Oregon showed last week while redeeming itself after flubbing around in a home loss to Arizona is that when the offensive line is playing well, the offense hums along like in days of old. Petersen knows his team can't allow QB Marcus Mariota to feel comfortable.

"He might be the best player in college football, so that’s a problem right there," he said.

Another interesting factoid: Neither QB has thrown an interception this year. Because Cyler Miles isn't the playmaker that Mariota is, it's probably more critical for him to maintain his clean sheet Saturday.

So here we are, back at the redundancy: Is this the Huskies year? Maybe. Stranger things have happened this season. A lot stranger. But all the history and emotions don't hold a lot of weight with either coach. Whether the Huskies break through or the Ducks make like Spinal Tap's amplifiers and go up to 11, the coaches just view the game as X's and O's either doing what they want them to do or not.

Noted Petersen dryly, "So it doesn’t necessarily have to do with anything in the past. It comes down to playing good football."

Stanford defense even better this season

September, 27, 2014
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SEATTLE -- Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan knows he's lucky.

Not because of anything specific in Saturday's 20-13 win at Washington -- it was the type of win the Cardinal has grown accustomed to over the past three years. Lucky, because the Stanford offense, thanks to its defense, plays by a different set of rules.

First to 20 points wins? Not even.

Through four games, the Stanford defense has allowed a grand total of two touchdowns. Forget limiting 300-yard passers; the Cardinal has allowed just one 100-yard passer and has now allowed fewer than 30 points in a nation-best 27 consecutive games. New defensive coordinator Lance Anderson's unit not only looks the part of the Pac-12's best defense, but is also playing as well as any in the country.

"It might be on us tonight [when the team returns to Palo Alto],” said Hogan, referring to how the offense can thank its counterpart.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Peter Kalambayi
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonPeter Kalambayi (three sacks) and the Stanford defense held Washington to just 179 total yards.
Coming into the season, it was fair to question how good the Stanford defense could be. After losing six significant contributors and coordinator Derek Mason, it was only natural. But Shaw's decision to promote Anderson, the program's longest tenured staffer, and willingness to rotate in younger players over the past few years has paid off so far.

Not only has the Cardinal defense avoided taking the vaunted step back, but both the eye test and numbers say it has done the opposite. Playing on the road for the first time this year, Stanford limited Washington to 81 yards rushing and 98 yards passing and allowed the Huskies to enter the red zone just once.

Besides a 77-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, Washington had the ball in Stanford territory on just two other occasions. The first came following an interception at the Stanford 39-yard line, and the second came after the Huskies started their final drive at their own 48.

"Congratulations to our defense. Once again, they won the game for us,” coach David Shaw said. "As for the rest of the team, if we can stop turning the ball over, stop having penalties that take points off the board and stop missing field goals, we have a chance to be really good. How good? I don't know. But we will never reach our potential if we keep going backwards.”

Stanford's problems on offense weren't as costly as they were in the Week 2 loss to USC -- when a lack of red zone production changed the outcome -- but it's hard not to see the what-could-have-been parallels. This time, it was because of turnovers.

Two lost fumbles -- one ripped out and returned 32 yards for a touchdown by Shaq Thompson and another at the Washington 11 -- completely changed the complexion of the game.

"Without the turnovers, I don't know if this is a one-score game,” Shaw said.

Stanford's defense, for just the third time in the past 43 games, didn't force a turnover. Before Saturday, FBS teams that were minus-three in turnovers were just 5-14 this season.

Shaw's right that it probably should have been more than a one-score game, but there's also the other side of things to consider: Washington has one of the most talented defenses around. Marcus Peters, who intercepted Hogan, and Thompson, who forced both fumbles, are both potential first-round NFL draft picks. And up front, tackle Danny Shelton and pass rusher Hau'oli Kikaha are also among the nation's best at what they do.

"We certainly did enough [defensively] to win, and I am proud of those guys for that,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen, who lost for the first time at his new school. "If we keep working, those guys will get there. They held a good offense to 20 points, and that should be good enough to get some things done.”

As for the offense, Petersen had no answers.

"We have to go back to the drawing board,” he said. "We have to get our quarterback some answers for sure. We need to be able to run the ball better and figure out how we're going to throw the ball down field better. There were some protection things, and our run game was nonexistent in the second half.”

The Huskies will have some time off to get those things cleaned up before a much different test Oct. 11 at Cal.

Stanford doesn't have the same luxury. The Cardinal travels next week to No. 8 Notre Dame, where it lost in 2012 -- a game that might have cost Cardinal a chance to play for the national championship.

It hasn't forgotten.

Shaw, Petersen share mentoring role

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sealed it.

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

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

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

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

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

And thanks to an assist from Petersen, he's back where he wanted to be.
It’s early enough in the season that scoring averages, be it offense or defense, are so dramatically skewed by the lack of data that reading too much into them would be an insanity-inducing practice.

After all, Stanford probably isn’t going to maintain its league-leading 6.5 points allowed per game. And with that in mind, Washington coach Chris Petersen is confident his defense isn’t going to maintain its average of allowing 34 points per game, which ranks 99th in FBS ball through two weeks.

“We have a long way to go. I think that’s obvious,” Petersen said. “The first week they played pretty well against a team that runs the ball pretty well. Then they played against a team that throws the ball pretty well, and we didn’t play well enough.”

Well enough to win both games. So there’s that.

Depending on how your cup runneth, half full or half empty, the Huskies either have a really good problem or a really bad problem. The good problem is that their nose guard leads the team with 24 tackles. The bad problem is that their nose guard leads the team with 24 tackles.

Petersen cited missed tackles as a big problem through the first two weeks. Against Hawaii, the Huskies yielded 217 yards on the ground and 143 to Joey Iosefa in a narrow 17-16 win. Last week, the front seven stiffened and yielded just 98 rushing yards to Eastern Washington. But missed tackles and interceptions in the secondary contributed to 475 passing yards and seven touchdowns from quarterback Vernon Adams.

“A couple of our DBs were in position to make plays, and they just executed better than we did,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. They got the ball in there and made very tough catches. ... We need to tackle better, and we need to play better technique. So it’s obviously a work in progress.”

Nose guard Danny Shelton has been the star of the show to date -- especially with his four sacks last week in the 59-52 win over EWU. With a nation-leading six sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss, he’s been the game-changer that has allowed Washington to stave of disaster in the first two games. That the effort has come from a 6-2, 339-pound defensive lineman who regularly sees double and triple teams is a pleasant surprise for Petersen.

“Danny has been doing a really nice job the last two weeks,” Petersen said. “He’s just playing hard, and he’s a really powerful guy. I don’t think I’ve seen a nose guard with four sacks … they take on blocks so everyone else can make them. We just hope he can continue his progression.”

The rest of the front seven is coming around. Besides Shelton’s 24 tackles, the other starting six have a combined 62 stops -- headlined by Shaq Thompson’s 19 tackles and John Timu’s 14. Freshman Budda Baker leads all secondary players with 13 tackles. But missed opportunities in the secondary have made things closer than they probably should have been -- especially last week. Defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said he’s counted six missed interceptions so far this season.

“Every week there’s going to be a lot of improvement, whether we win by 60 or lose by 7, there’s going to be something to improve on,” Lake told reporters earlier this week. “We’re never where we need to be, and we can help these guys out with some different coverages. We’ve also got to make some more plays on the football, and then when we get a chance to intercept a football and stop a drive, we’ve got to cash in and make sure we catch the football.”

They should have ample opportunities this week against Illinois and new quarterback Wes Lunt. The transfer from Oklahoma State is averaging 44 pass attempts through two games and is completing 67 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns and a pick. That’s going to put additional pressure on a young secondary that will be without Marcus Peters, who has been suspended this week.

“We do have confidence in our guys,” Lake said. “A lot of those plays we were right there, and their guys made the play and we didn’t, which is unacceptable. We have to make those plays. That’s what we’re going to work on this week to make those strides, and hopefully you guys will see that this Saturday.”

What about the rest of Pac-12?

September, 9, 2014
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A lot the Pac-12 focus through Weeks 1 and 2 were on Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC. The reason for that was preseason hype and big games, as well as off-field issues (USC).

But, as some of you have pointed out, there are eight other Pac-12 teams. Though these teams have mostly played under-the-radar games that haven't been terribly revealing, it still seems reasonable to take a measure of the Pac-12 teams that have yet to play a marquee matchup.

Arizona (2-0): The Wildcats actually got plenty of preseason and early-season coverage for two reasons: 1. Interesting QB competition; 2. They've played FBS teams on Friday and Thursday nights so far, which means more ownership of the available window. The Wildcats are receiving votes in both polls. The visit from Nevada on Saturday could be tricky. Ask Washington State.

What we've learned: That QB Anu Solomon can look great. And not so great. Same with the defense. The Wildcats might be a dark horse in the South Division. Or they might not be. Keep in mind, this team could be 4-0 and potentially ranked as it heads into a bye week before visiting Oregon on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Arizona State (2-0): Sun Devils fans are probably the most annoyed with their lack of attention after winning the South Division last year. The biggest reason for the lack of coverage is the opponents: An FCS team in Week 1 (Weber State) and New Mexico, a team that has gone 10-53 over the past five-plus years. At this time last year, ASU already had a win over Wisconsin, with Stanford, USC and Notre Dame the next three games. And, curiously, Arizona fans were complaining about all the attention the Sun Devils were getting.

What we've learned: Nothing. Zero. We already knew the QB Taylor Kelly, WR Jaelen Strong and RB D.J. Foster would be good. We also haven't learned much about a rebuilt defense. While the visit to Colorado could be somewhat revealing, the Buffaloes already lost to Colorado State. No, the Sun Devils won't take center stage, despite a national ranking, until UCLA visits on Thursday, Sept. 25.

California (2-0): Cal fans, just look at that record. Let it flow over you like warm sunshine. Your Bears already have doubled their 2013 win total! ESPN reporter and College Football Playoff guru Heather Dinich ranked you 25th! While neither win -- Northwestern nor Sacramento State -- rates as earth-shattering, the Wildcats are a Big Ten team and, well... 2 and Oh!

What we've learned: Probably a lot. For one, Cal is no longer a patsy. That doesn't mean it surges to bowl eligibility in Year 2 under Sonny Dykes, but this is clearly a vastly superior team compared to the hapless 2013 version. The Bears played better in their first two games than they did at any point last season. Welcome back to the living, Cal. The Pac-12 blog again awaits those joyous 12,000-word sabermetrically sound breakdowns of why Stanford might have the same red zone futility it had against USC in the Big Game.

Colorado (1-1): It wasn't just that the Buffaloes lost to Colorado State in the opener, it was that they lost because the Rams owned the line of scrimmage. Not good. The performance at UMass, which went 1-11 last year, also was pretty mediocre, though there was some flint shown in a comeback victory. Buffs bowl hopes feel pretty remote.

What we've learned: It might be another slog for Colorado. The preseason hope for Season 2 of Mike MacIntyre's rebuilding job was a strong 2-0. That would give a young team confidence. But, based on the early returns, this team could take a step back compared to 2013. Even the visit from Hawaii, which challenged both Washington and Oregon State, looks like a tossup. Of course, if the Buffs go nose-to-nose with the Sun Devils on Saturday ...

Oregon State (2-0): Bottom line is 2-0 is good for a team that has been notoriously slow out of the gate, even during good years. While things got a little testy with Hawaii in the second half, there's reason for optimism as the Beavers head into the bye week before playing host to San Diego State.

What we've learned: Not too much. We don't yet know what to make of Hawaii, which is obviously much improved over the program that won four games over the past two-plus years. It appears the Beavers rushing offense is much better, as it is averaging 170 yards per game compared to 94 last year. A trip to USC on Sept. 27 could be a major reveal.

Utah (2-0): The Utes looked good over the weekend on both sides of the ball while whipping Fresno State, but they've been outstanding in nonconference games as a member of the Pac-12, going 10-1. It's the conference games that will measure Utah's improvement.

What we've learned: There have been some hints that this might be Utah's best Pac-12 team, and that starts with quality behind center in QB Travis Wilson. Seeing that Michigan got pounded by Notre Dame, there's no reason Utah can't go into the Big House and get a win after their off week. At 3-0, Utes fans would be thinking about more than just any old bowl game. Still, the visit from Washington State the following weekend is more important than the Ann Arbor jaunt.

Washington (2-0): The Huskies have been pushed to the brink by Hawaii, which went 1-11 last year, and an FCS team, as Eastern Washington scored 52 points against a struggling pass defense. The offense looked much better with QB Cyler Miles behind center, but the defense -- the perceived preseason strength -- has been mediocre-to-bad so far.

What we've learned: We've learned new coach Chris Petersen didn't bring a magical formula to make the Huskies dominant on both sides of the ball, at least not immediately. This team started off in the Top 25 but tumbled out after an unimpressive opener, and the battle with Eastern Washington didn't help the team's image. Still, Washington should open 4-0 before playing host to Stanford on Sept. 27. That's when we take a true measure of the Huskies.

Washington State (0-2): No team has been more disappointing than Washington State. Just about every projection had the Cougars at 2-0, but they are the opposite. It's possible that Rutgers and Nevada will prove to be quality bowl teams, but that doesn't help a program that saw itself rising in the Pac-12 North.

What we've learned: Learned? That the defense and the offensive line still have issues, and those issues create problems for a team that can only pass the ball. Of course, it's possible the Cougs will be better when they get back to familiar Pac-12 terrain. The test of the season probably will come with back-to-back games at Utah and against California on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4. The Cougs probably must win both to have bowl hopes.

Planning for success: Washington

September, 2, 2014
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What has long been assumed, is now official: Cyler Miles will start at quarterback for Washington.

Even before Jeff Lindquist struggled in the Huskies' 17-16 win at Hawaii, Miles was the odds-on pick to take over after serving a one-game suspension for his role in a post-Super Bowl fight. But as Saturday's season-opener progressed, any potentially lingering doubt disappeared.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lindquist
Eugene Tanner/Associated PressJeff Lindquist's struggles against Hawaii has opened the door for Cyles Miles to claim Washington's starting quarterback job.
Petersen addressed the decision with local media Monday.

“We’re going to give [Miles] a chance to start and get him back in the mix and see what he can do,” Petersen said.

The first-year coach said the move was made after taking into account how Lindquist played and what he'd seen from Miles during fall camp. If Lindquist had played better, this still likely would have been the result, but by completing just 10 of 26 passes for 162 yards, there was no real decision to be made.

"If guys are producing and playing well, they should play more," Petersen said. "And if certain guys aren’t -- whatever position -- then other guys should maybe get an opportunity to go. Certain guys don’t like their roles and I can appreciate that, but if they want to change it they’ve got to change it in a certain way."

From a talent perspective, the switch to Miles is an immediate upgrade. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, the dual-threat sophomore gives the Huskies one of the more physically gifted quarterbacks in a conference loaded at the position. However, there's a lot more that Petersen likes about his game.

"I think he commands the field pretty well," Petersen said. "I think he has a really good feel for what’s going on. It always comes down -- to me -- to decision-making and accuracy. I hope that he takes a good step forward in that department for us.”

In relief of Keith Price last year, Miles connected on 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

What remains to be seen is to what degree he's grasped the playbook and has a command of the offense. As part of his punishment, Miles was away from the team during spring practice and spent fall camp playing catch-up.

“I think he’s close. We were out there today practicing," Petersen said. "We were doing something and we gave him a signal. The whole offense knew it. We were going fast. The whole offense knew it and he was like, 'What is that?' ... There are certain things that we’re still getting him up to speed with.”

On the surface, playing a FCS opponent seems like the perfect way to break in a starting quarterback, but Eastern Washington figures to present as stiff challenge. The No. 2-ranked Eagles are expected to challenge for a national title in the division and have a dynamic quarterback in junior Vernon Adams Jr. Adams Jr. has accounted for 84 touchdowns, which is eighth all-time in the Big Sky Conference.
Chris Petersen's first game-week news conference for the Washington Huskies on Monday was unremarkable, which was imminently predictable and the way he wanted it. His predecessor, Steve Sarkisian, now at USC, was effusive and quotable, sometimes even revealing. Petersen aspires toward affably dry. He's not going to open up about his sentiments as he makes what is a potentially momentous transition into the big leagues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So call it an overly dramatic media play if you want, but Petersen at Washington is momentous. It's about a very good coach measuring himself for greatness. It will be interesting to see if he ends up with that statue.

Who cares if Pac-12 opens quietly?

August, 25, 2014
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A week from now, there's certain to be at least some fretful handwringing, but for at least three more days, every Pac-12 team remains undefeated, flushed with hope and imaging an entitled grabbing all of its 2014 goals.

While the FBS season officially kicks off on Wednesday with Abilene Christian at Georgia State, things truly get rolling on Thursday. The A-list national game is Texas A&M's visit to South Carolina -- the Post Johnny Football Era begins with a whipping from Coach Spurrier -- and the Pac-12 features three matchups, though only one of notable quality with Rutgers playing Washington State in Seattle at CenturyLink Field.

In less scintillating action -- but action, nonetheless -- Idaho State visits Utah and Arizona State plays host to Weber State.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillHeisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley and UCLA travel to Virginia -- 2-10 last season -- on college football's opening weekend, and other Pac-12 matchups aren't nearly as interesting.
And so it begins, the 2014 season, our first with a new four-team College Football Playoff, a highly-promising campaign for the Pac-12, at least based on preseason expectations. The conference features six teams ranked in the preseason polls, including three teams in the top 11, which makes Oregon, UCLA and Stanford playoff contenders. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota and Bruins QB Brett Hundley are both top Heisman Trophy contenders.

In three consecutive evenings of college football -- yes, there are even two games on Friday night -- every Pac-12 team plays. No lame first-week byes here. The marquee matchup? Well, hmm... if it's not the aforementioned showcase of Mike Leach's Cougs and Rutgers, a newly minted Big Ten team, then perhaps its No. 7 UCLA's visit to Virginia or California's redemption tour beginning at Northwestern.

Don't form too many overriding judgments about those two seeming mismatches. Virginia, though coming off a 2-10 season, is not devoid of talent and experience, see 17 returning starters. The Bruins will be making a long trip and are laden with considerable preseason hype, both as a team and with Sports Illustrated cover boy Hundley. It's possible they might press a bit, at least early, before settling down.

As for the Bears, don't write them off. Though Cal lost to the Wildcats 44-30 last year in Berkeley, the game was tied in fourth quarter, with Northwestern benefiting from two pick-sixes off deflected passes. Further, it's been a fairly tumultuous offseason for Northwestern.

Suffice it to say the Pac-12 is not afraid of the road. With Washington visiting Hawaii, that makes five conference teams opening away from their home stadium, as Colorado plays Colorado State on Friday in Denver.

The Huskies visit to Hawaii is interesting because it will be the debut of coach Chris Petersen, who has jumped from the mid-majors at Boise State and the Mountain West to arguably the nation's toughest conference. Another level of intrigue in that game is QB Jeff Lindquist. He was named the Huskies starter last week, but it remains to be seen if that is only because Cyler Miles is yoked with a one-game suspension. Is Miles actually the guy? And what if Lindquist is lights-out against the Warriors? The broader issue for the Huskies is who starts at home on Sept. 6 against Eastern Washington.

Wait. Did someone mention Sept. 6? Ah, yes, well that is the day when the Pac-12 slate really heats up. It features: 1. The Pac-12's nonconference game of the year (Michigan State at Oregon); 2. A big-time conference matchup between USC and homestanding Stanford.

Yet, we can't get ahead of ourselves, so we apologize for whetting your appetite with those two gourmet football entrées. As you well know, we play one game at a time in the Pac-12 blog. Each game is a Super Bowl unto itself.

Heck, first new USC coach Steve Sarkisian needs to make his own debut after moving south from Seattle, a homecoming of sorts for a guy who ran Pete Caroll's offense during the Trojans recent dynastic run. USC plays host Saturday to Fresno State, the very team the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl, only now without QB Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams.

Finally, Arizona will be featuring a new starting QB against UNLV on Friday night. Rich Rodriguez, as of this typing, hasn't named who that will be, and it's possible that the opener against the Rebels will showcase more than one guy and a permanent arrangement might be a few weeks coming. We shall see.

It's not the best slate of opening week games from a Pac-12 perspective. It only will be slightly revealing. At least, that's the hope, as more than one defeat could feel deflating. Cal is the only underdog.

But it's college football. It's what we've been waiting for since Florida State slipped Auburn on Jan. 6.

And I've got a feeling it's going to be a special season for your team.

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