Pac-12: Chris Petersen

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To the notes.

Jake from Spokane writes: What do you think Chris Petersen should do with Cyler Miles and Damore’ea Stringfellow? I know Miles wasn't charged and Stringfellow got off easy, but don't you think he should make an example out of them?

Ted Miller: Yes. And no.

As many of you know, I typically side with second chances. I think zero-tolerance is bad policy. Everything should be a case-by-case basis. For one, there's typically two sides to every story, with the less public, after-the-big-headlines side often being closer to the truth -- see past assault accusations against former Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Or Duke lacrosse, for that matter.

I know the self-righteous out there love to tell everyone about their inflexible absolutes with behavior and Puritan standards for character. My experience with people like that is they almost always are full of pooh.

And yet a line I often do draw is at bullying, which the two incidents involving Miles and Stringfellow approximate. A bigger person pushing around a smaller person just because he can is abhorrent. That, to me, does reveal a deep-seated character flaw. The fact that alcohol apparently wasn't involved actually almost makes it worse. When you can't blame the booze, what can you blame, other than a flawed moral compass?

Based on what I know typing this today, here's what I would do if I were Petersen.

First, I would meet with a crew of Huskies seniors who command respect in the locker room and ask their positions on the situation and why they feel that way. I would ask if there were details of the incidents that they knew of or had heard of from reasonably reliable sources that differed from public accounts. I wouldn't ask what they thought I should do, but I would take the measures of their feelings toward both, including whether those feelings were different between the pair.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen hasn't announced the punishment for Washington players Cyler Miles and Damore'ea Stringfellow.
Barring any major surprises, I'd then meet with Miles and tell him he was being conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first game (at Hawaii, so he'd truly be missing a fun trip). I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with strength coach Tim Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third. A quarterback, in particular, is supposed to set a standard in the locker room.

Then, I'd meet with Stringfellow. He too would be conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first three games. I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third.

I'd publicly announce my decision in May or June so it wasn't a big, distracting story right before the beginning of preseason practices. I'd also have both of them meet with the media, though only after a stern session with myself and sports information director Jeff Bechthold, where we'd hammer home talking points about being humble, regretful and accountable while not reviewing too many details of the incidents. Something like, "I know I won't do this again because of how horrible I felt and still feel for hurting someone and embarrassing my family, my school and my team."

I'd also minimize the "put it behind me" talk, which always comes off as lacking regret while suggesting impatience with a justifiable inquisition. Want to win a news conference? Say, "No, I'm not going to put this behind me. I'm going to think about it every day to remind myself of what it feels like to be a bad person, which I never want to feel again."

These situations typically involve a complicated calculus, particularly when the players are key contributors, as both of these guys are. Petersen has a duty to his players, fans, administrators and himself to do what he was truly hired to do: Win. Yes, he should aim to build character and help young men grow into quality adults, but the reality is that comes in second place to winning. Sorry if that bursts your idealistic bubble, but there's a reason why even the greatest teachers aren't paid $3 million a year.

That said, bad apples in a locker room don't help the cause. Sometimes temporary pain -- suspensions or giving players the boot -- helps a program, helps it win over the long term.

My impression of Petersen is he's the clearest of thinkers. While most of us view this as the first big test of his administration, I suspect it feels fairly routine for him.


Tim from Portland writes: Hey Ted, I wonder if I'm the only one thinking that the loss of the Ducks' top four receivers could actually be a good thing. I know we lose a lot of numbers with those four out, but isn't it possible Oregon could go back to the blue-collar attitude they had in Chip [Kelly's] first couple years as head coach? I mean, in those years at least we met or exceeded the expectations for the season.

Ted Miller: Yes, Tim, you are the only one thinking that.

Are you saying that Bralon Addison's blowing out his knee this spring is a good thing? My answer to that: No. One thousand times no. Have you seen Addison play? Before he got hurt, I saw him as a legitimate All-Pac-12 candidate.

And, no, losing your top four receivers is never a good thing, either. Never. Well, unless they all ran 5.0 40s and were locker room cancers.

Also, I'm not sure if I've ever viewed Oregon as a "blue-collar" team. I see Oregon as a cutting edge, fancy-pants team that has the best facilities in the nation and gets to go behind the velvet rope at all the cool clubs.

I'd also like to point out that the Ducks' horribly disappointing season included 11 wins, a dominant bowl victory over Texas and a top-10 final ranking.

Now, if you're saying the Ducks might run the ball more next fall with four returning starting O-linemen, a good crew of tight ends and what should be a dynamic RB combination in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, I could get on board with that.

That said, quarterback Marcus Mariota is an A-list passer. While there are unknowns at receiver, I suspect the cupboard isn't empty. I'd be surprised if Mariota doesn't throw for at least 250 yards per game.


Dave from Tucson writes: Ted, thanks for some good, informative articles on football. Just a minor reporting point on this: "...Not when you consider what Rodriguez and Smith have done with their past two first-year starters in Matt Scott and B.J. Denker." Actually, Matt Scott had beaten out Nick Foles to start the 2009 season and started two games before being benched for Foles. Denker also started a game and played the entire game against Colorado in the 2012 season when Matt Scott was down with a concussion. Matt Scott was not a first-year starter in 2012 and Denker was not a first-year starter in 2013.

Ted Miller: I think you're mixing up "first-time" and "first-year."

Both Scott and Denker had started games and seen action before ascending officially to the starting job, but neither was a returning starter, which is typically defined as starting at least five games during the previous season. Nick Foles preceded Scott as the 2012 starter, and Scott preceded Denker as the 2013 starter.

And, just as Washington QB Cyler Miles, despite starting at Oregon State, was not the Huskies' starting QB in 2013. That was Keith Price.


Mr. Elizabeth Bennet from Salt Lake City writes: I enjoyed the quote you added to your lunch links from April 16. I wonder what your thoughts are on how Jane Austen would have commented on the state of college football, given all the clamoring for change that has happened and the widening gap of aristocracy between the conferences? Also, which "Pride & Prejudice" character best describes each Pac-12 football coach/team? It seems like the Pac-12 blog does a good job as the Elizabeth Bennet of the college football world, offering witty, but insightful commentary on the society within college football.

Ted Miller: I think it's a universally acknowledged truth that Jane Austen would have been a heck of a sportswriter, full of sense and sensibility as well as persuasion. While some -- mostly those who haven't read her -- probably see her as some sort of "chick-lit," the reality is she's a wonderfully biting observer of how folks behave, not to mention underrated when it comes to humor.

As for Austen and college football, she's already commented. You may not know this, but Lady Bertram in "Mansfield Park" is the personification of the NCAA, a novel, by the way, that includes these two felicitous quotes:

  • Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
  • A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.

As for the "Pride and Prejudice" request, I'm not going to wander down that road -- who wants to be Wickham or Collins or Lydia? -- but I will say Chip Kelly had plenty of "Darcy" in him.
Four more spring games are set for Saturday, at which point more than half the Pac-12 will be done with spring ball. You know what that means ... the countdown to fall camp begins!

Here is quick peek at the four games being played this weekend:

Arizona State

Where: Sun Devil Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Arizona (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: When there are steaks on the line, like there will be in this one, you can pretty much guarantee a competitive atmosphere. Instead of an offense vs. defense scoring system, coach Todd Graham broke up the team with a good amount of starters on each side. Starting quarterback Taylor Kelly will lead the maroon team and Mike Bercovici will quarterback the gold team, but the with nine starters departed off last season's defense, it's that side of the ball that will be worth paying attention to. Running back D.J. Foster, who has battled a minor toe sprain throughout the spring, will see limited action despite a clean bill of health. Former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer will serve as the analyst on the Pac-12 Arizona broadcast.

USC

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Kickoff: 3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It would have been a lot more fun if coach Steve Sarkisian waited until after the spring game to announce Cody Kessler as the starting quarterback. That way everyone could have overanalyzed the competition based on one meaningless game. But really, who are we kidding? The overanalyzation will go on regardless -- and Sarkisian did leave the door open for Max Browne to work his way back into the mix. It'll be interesting to watch both Kessler and Browne operate the up-tempo offense Sarkisian brought with him from Washington and how a rebuilt offensive line stacks up against a talented defensive front. The guys from WeAreSC kick around much more to pay attention to in this roundtable discussion.

Utah

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MT
TV: Pac-12 Mountain (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It'll be good to see quarterback Travis Wilson back under center in a game-like situation again, and even more intriguing because he'll be running new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense against the Utes' base defense. While the setting won't showcase the depths of the playbook, the Cliffs Notes version should provide enough to develop a better understanding of how things will be different next season. The clock will operate as it would in a regular game during a pair of 10-minute quarters in the first half and will use a running clock in the second half after an eight-minute halftime. If you're planning on attending, a food competition and MUSS football game will be held at 11 a.m. MT, with an alumni football game to follow at noon.

Washington

Where: Husky Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Washington (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: Is Shaq Thompson the new Myles Jack? It has been a major storyline in Seattle throughout the spring how the talented linebacker -- and former minor-league baseball player -- is working with the offense. And after watching his some of his high school highlights, it's understandable why new coach Chris Petersen is intrigued by letting him go both ways. Any time there's a brand new coaching staff, the spring game carries a little extra sizzle, but it should also be noted those games aren't necessarily always as telling due to the lack of time the players have spent with the staff. It's a lot of fundamentals, a lot of evaluation, and the scope of what is accomplished is different when compared with schools with established staffs that are familiar with their rosters. Petersen has installed about 50 percent of the playbook. With Cyler Miles still suspended, quarterbacks Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams top the depth chart and will make their cases to replace the departed Keith Price.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starting quarterback this week, though he noted that Kessler will have to continue to defend the position against competition from redshirt freshman Max Browne during fall camp.

It wasn't a big surprise. After all, Kessler was the 2013 starter and acquitted himself fairly well, particularly over the second half of the season with Clay Helton calling plays instead of deposed coach Lane Kiffin.

Still, Sarkisian is following in the philosophical footsteps of his mentor, Pete Carroll, who believed it was best to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practices.

As we've noted a few times, Carroll called this "anointing." He believed that by anointing a starting quarterback in the spring, that allowed the QB to carry authority into the offseason. Teammates would recognize the crown on his head, as they might not if two or more candidates officially remained on even footing.

The anointing ended intrigue. It ended media speculation players would read. It ended an offseason rivalry that might split players into bailiwicks, based on personal preferences both on and off the field.

So Sarkisian has his way of doing it.

Then there's most other coaches. They prefer keeping their cards close to their chests. They like the intrigue. They like the prolonged competition. They want to measure offseason work and mental toughness. Who gets better from April to August? Who seems to take control of the locker room or huddle on his own, without the anointing from a coach?

SportsNation

Is it better to announce a starting quarterback after spring practices or wait until the end of fall camp?

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    72%
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    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 749)

So we have the two true QB competitions in the Pac-12 this spring: Arizona and Washington, where neither Rich Rodriguez nor Chris Petersen is likely to give us a firm idea of their starter until perhaps as late as the week before the season opener.

Of course, there's not 100 percent purity of approach here. If Kessler hadn't outplayed Browne, Sarkisian almost certainly wouldn't have made an announcement. And if Rodriguez or Petersen were sitting on an Andrew Luck-type talent right now, they probably would go ahead and pull the trigger and announce him as the No. 1 guy.

Fact is, the present consensus is neither Arizona nor Washington has any clear pecking order. The Wildcats have four guys who didn't separate themselves this spring, and the Huskies still have to see where the suspended Cyler Miles, the 2013 backup, fits into their plans.

Yet there is a clear philosophical difference here.

So what do you think? Is it better to anoint a starting QB after spring practices in order to give him a leadership role over the summer, or is it better to wait as long as possible to foster uncertainty and, therefore, continued competition?
video

SEATTLE -- Chris Petersen sits in his office, anxiously folding an address label he peeled off a magazine. He looks past the football field into Union Bay, where the Washington crew team is practicing. He's still getting used to this view.

His last meeting ran 45 minutes long, but it was no worry to him. His family is still in Boise, Idaho, so he can stay at the office as long as he wants, which is what he needs right now. He needs to get to work on "the process."

This is not the "Boise State process." That might be where he gained his fame for working the process so well, but by no means was it built there. The process isn't one of blue turf. It comes from a program with no scholarships, a torn up field and an aged locker room.

It's a process Petersen learned 30 years ago. A process that was perfected at a Division II school 75 miles northwest of San Francisco.

It worked there. And at Boise. And in Seattle, Petersen says, it will work here, too.

The process will work. Just give it time.

To continue reading, click here.
SEATTLE -- If all had gone to plan, Deontae Cooper would’ve been getting ready for the NFL draft right now.

Instead, the redshirt junior running back -- who has suffered three season-ending knee injuries in three separate seasons at Washington -- is going through just the second spring season of his college career.

He knows the ins and outs of the Washington rehabilitation staff better than nearly anyone. That is, after all, where he spent his last three spring seasons -- rehabbing knee injuries.

[+] EnlargeDeontae Cooper
Jesse Beals/ Icon SMIDeontae Cooper has a shot to be Washington's featured back this season.
Cooper entered this spring as one of the oldest players on the team and one of the least experienced when it comes to the type of practices and routines the team goes through during this period.

“It is kind of weird,” Cooper said. “But the way I look at it is … the past is behind me and it’s good that I have a fresh start with a fresh new staff.”

The last spring season Cooper went through was with then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. It was 2010 and the early enrollee, who should’ve still been in high school, going to math classes and prom, impressed the coaching staff. Now, four years later, he’s doing the same under Chris Petersen.

With the way that Cooper has performed this spring, his past ACL injuries haven’t even crossed Petersen’s mind as he has watched him run and cut.

“Oh no, I don’t even think about it,” Petersen said.

Last season, Bishop Sankey (20 TDs, 327 carries, 1,870 yards) took the majority of the carries for the Huskies. Cooper, who had actually enrolled more than a year before Sankey, was listed as a redshirt freshman on that roster, despite the fact that he was taking his senior classes.

But, it was his first time in uniform at Washington. Cooper appeared in seven games, accounting for three touchdowns and 270 yards on just 43 attempts. And in this offseason -- the first true collegiate offseason of his career -- Cooper got the good news that the NCAA would be granting him two extra seasons of eligibility, giving him three more seasons with the University of Washington.

With that kind of a relief and thoughts of “what if” out of his head, he let himself really look into the future and focus on what he can accomplish at Washington.

At Boise State, Petersen ran a very balanced offense. Of the 1,029 plays the Broncos ran last season, 563 were run plays, while 466 were pass attempts. On average, Boise State accounted for more passing yardage than rushing yardage, but Boise State running back Jay Ajayi accounted for 109 rushing yards per game and Petersen is certainly going to look for a back to carry the load in a similar way at Washington.

And with Sankey gone, Cooper is in the thick of it, battling sophomore Dwayne Washington, among others, to be the featured running back.

Cooper certainly has a maturity advantage that comes with being a senior, but he also has a tenacity from watching so many spring practices from the sideline as well as a gratitude for the opportunity to even put a jersey on. He knows too well what it feels like to not have one.

Mostly, there might be no one on the roster who’s more excited for the daunting and exhausting grind of the offseason and spring practices than Cooper.

“I’ve been looking forward to this -- just a healthy offseason,” Cooper said. “No hiccups, no setbacks. I just wanted a clean slate, just a nice smooth offseason and I’m finally getting it.”

And with that healthy offseason, he has a healthy relationship with a new staff that doesn’t necessarily look at him as “the comeback kid” or “the injured one.” Cooper is just another running back in the group, even if he has a few more scars on his knees.

Cooper said that Petersen has never once brought up the injuries and that’s exactly what Cooper wanted.

“We knew he had some knee injuries, but that’s in the past,” Petersen said. “He’s healthy so we don’t even talk about it.”

“It feels good just to be [seen as]: ‘Deontae, he’s ready to go. I don’t know about what he did in the past or what happened to him in the past,’ ” Cooper added. “That’s good for anybody. A fresh slate like that, I can’t complain.”

This spring, most of his 2010 class is graduating, though there are a few redshirts staying behind with him. And if he fulfills each extra season of eligibility granted to him, he’ll end up graduating with the class that came in this past fall.

So while it might take him seven full years to get four seasons of football in, he isn’t complaining about every extra step -- even when it was on a wobbly knee.

“As far as playing, those three years I sat out, those are three lost years so you can’t get that back,” Cooper said. “But just being much more mature, understanding the game, watching guys leave here … it has helped me.”
This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Cory in Phoenix writes: Kevin, on Athlon's coaches rating it seemed that much of the ratings for new coaches are based on the talent in place before they arrived. Is Todd Graham really a better coach than Rich Rod or is Jim Mora really better than Mike Leach? So my question, if you were the AD of Generic University, a hypothetical university in the Pac-12 that finished 6-6 (i.e., this is an average team with average talent), and could steal one Pac-12 coach to rebuild your program, which coach do you hire to lead your program to the Rose Bowl?

Kevin Gemmell: I get this question a lot in chats. And if I were running the show for the Generic U Fighting Millers, I would probably select David Shaw as my head coach for one very simple reason: We believe the same thing philosophically.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkIf you prefer a power game and a 3-4 defense, then your outlook is rosy with David Shaw.
I grew up in the Bay Area in the heyday of Joe Montana and Steve Young to Jerry Rice. I grew up watching Tom Rathman block for Roger Craig and Bar None Floyd blocking for Ricky Watters. I believe in the West Coast offense. So does Shaw.

I’ve been a beat writer for football teams that have run the spread and the option and the pro style. And the pro style is what I would run if I were a coach. Because I believe that a strong, power-based rushing attack wears teams downs over a 60-minute game; that 3-yard carries in the first quarter become 6-yard carries in the fourth. The ability to run power up and down the field is demoralizing to an opposition. It’s not just X's and O's. It’s a mentality.

Defensively, I believe in the 3-4, especially in the Pac-12, where talented edge rushers are invaluable and perimeter speed is critical.

Of course, that’s what makes this such a fun debate. Say what you want about Utah’s offensive inefficiencies the last few years, Kyle Whittingham can coach up an even front as well as any coach in the country. If I were running a 4-3, I’d snag Whittingham in a heartbeat. If I wanted uptempo, I’d tap Mark Helfrich. If I wanted to raid, I’d go with Mike Leach.

You get where I’m going with this. It’s a question of personal preference. It has less to do with the man and more of what the man believes and whether that’s simpatico with what you believe.


Gerry in Elko, Nevada writes: This isn't really a question, but rather giving praise to the blog. Year after year I hear Oregon State "fans" calling for the firing of Mike Riley because Oregon State doesn't achieve the same success that Oregon does. You all at the blog always seem to praise him for the job he has done for OSU. Anyway, I just got done reading the Athlon Coaches list and [Chris] Petersen at No. 2 sounds a bit high, but I'm OK with that. I expect him to drop a bit because I don't see him having much success in Year 1. The list for the most part is sound in my opinion, though. Keep up the good work!

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks for the kind words, Gerry. I had a great talk with Rick Neuheisel a couple of months back about Mike Riley and one of the things he said was that “Corvallis isn’t getting any closer to the best athletes.” And yet Riley has recruited a quarterback who is on pace to become the league’s all-time leading passer and a receiver who was last year’s Biletnikoff winner. That ain’t bad. Anyone question whether he’s still got “it?” I might be biased (oh wait, I am) because I’ve known Riley since I was covering the Chargers pre-Y2K. But the guy is one of the most respected coaches in the country for a reason. And I hope OSU fans will always appreciate what he has done for that program.

As for Petersen, as I noted in the piece, my first thought as well was that he was a bit high on the list for having never coached in the conference. But when you look at his resume, it’s as strong as anyone else and a good reminder for just how deep the roster of coaches is in this conference.

Consider the current Pac-12 coaches who have won BCS bowl games:

  • Petersen: 2 (2006 Fiesta, 2009 Fiesta)
  • Whittingham: 2 (2004 Fiesta, 2008 Sugar)
  • Rich Rodriguez: 2 (2005 Sugar, 2007 Fiesta)
  • Shaw: 1 (2012 Rose)

Others have won as coordinators or assistants. You can argue that Leach got hosed out of a BCS bowl game at Texas Tech in 2008 (and he’d agree with you). Ask Bob Stoops if he thinks Petersen is a good coach.

As someone who covers the conference, I talk to a lot of folks about other folks. Comes with the job. And so far I’ve yet to hear someone say anything other than glowing about Petersen and what he brings. Oh yeah, don't forget about that whole two-time national coach of the year thing.

Now, will that translate to a playoff berth in Year 1? Probably not. But the guy has a proven system, and I think the rest of the Pac-12 coaches realize that while it was tough before to go to Seattle, it’s about to get a lot tougher.


Justin in Denver writes: What is the deal with Stanford not showing interest in ESPN No. 1-rated QB Josh Rosen? It appears he wanted to go there and then decided on UCLA because Stanford was giving him no love. Does Stanford feel they have too many quarterbacks or did Rosen simply want to know too early from a school that takes its time? Any chance Stanford lures him out of his commitment?

Kevin Gemmell: There is so much insider baseball that goes on with recruiting that, honest answer, I have no clue what happened. Coaches aren’t allowed to talk about players they are recruiting, so we’re only getting one side of the story. Here’s what we got from Erik McKinney’s story when Rosen committed to UCLA last month.
While Rosen began his recruitment as a strong lean to Stanford, Cal actually emerged as the team to beat for a moment after Rosen's relationship with the Cardinal faded due to him not receiving an offer. But a poor season by the Golden Bears allowed UCLA to jump into the picture.

In the interest of giving you the best answer possible, I talked to McKinney this morning. Essentially Stanford looked at Rosen and Ricky Town and opted to offer a scholarship to Town (who has since committed to USC). Simple as that. One seemed like a good fit for the school. Another didn’t.

Just because a recruiting service (yes, even ours) ranks a quarterback as the No. 1 guy, that doesn’t mean he’s right for your program. And sure, you’d like to have a quarterback in every class. But Stanford brought in Ryan Burns two years ago and Keller Chryst last year, so it’s not like the cupboards are completely empty.

And let’s also remember this very important point. It’s only April! A lot can happen between now and next February. Stanford could decide to offer Rosen after all and he might swing back. UCLA could win the national championship and Rosen could be the Bruins QB of the future. Jim Mora, Steve Sarkisian and David Shaw might all quit the business and form a middle-aged boy band called West Coast Pro $tyle (their first single, "TempOh," is gonna be huge). A lot can change between now and signing day -- especially when we’re talking about fickle teens. So while it’s nice to have feathers in your cap in April. It’s better to put ink to quill in February.


TNT in Los Angeles writes: WSU QB recruiting. I would have thought it would be easier to get a quality QB to commit to the Cougs, considering Leach's air-raid system being so stat friendly. We were on two four-star guys and one committed to UW and the other then went to BSU. People are trying to write it off as no problem. When Jake Browning committed to UW, they said we would rather have Brett Rypien. When Rypien committed to BSU, they said he was afraid of the depth we have. Is any of that true?

Kevin Gemmell: Again, because coaches can’t talk about it, we’ll never really know the whole story.

As for depth, after incumbent Connor Halliday, you’ve got a pair of redshirt freshmen in Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk. And Peyton Bender is set to arrive in the fall. Then you’ve got a few other quarterbacks behind them jockeying for a seat at the table. Bruggman and Bender were both rated as top-30 pocket passers nationally. I would think Leach could work with that.

Nick Nordi of All Coug’d Up had a good summary on the QB situation this morning which you can check out here. His take: Don’t stress about it. I tend to agree.

And I’ll go back to what I said in the previous mailbag. It’s April, folks. Suppose Washington State goes 9-4 with a bowl in win in Las Vegas or San Diego? That would make a lot of QBs think twice about their commitments. Let’s not stress too much about commitments in the spring. As with most things in life, it matters how you finish.
Athlon Sports is big on lists. And we’re big on bringing you their lists because, well, it's the offseason, and it’s fun.

One annual list in particular always seems to get folks all hot and bothered, and that’s their annual ranking of the Pac-12 coaches.

Before people go all crazy on Twitter, remember, THIS IS NOT A PAC-12 BLOG LIST. We are simply sharing it because we think it’s interesting. Your thoughts are always welcomed in the mailbag.

Here’s the 2014 list that Steven Lassan put together:

  1. David Shaw, Stanford
  2. Chris Petersen, Washington
  3. Todd Graham, Arizona State
  4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State
  6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  7. Jim Mora, UCLA
  8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
  9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
  10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
  11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
  12. Sonny Dykes, California

Some thoughts:
    [+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez (right) is ranked sixth on the Pac-12 coaching list by Athlon.

  • I went back to their 2013 and 2012 rankings and noticed a few interesting moves. Rich Rodriguez was No. 3 last year and is No. 6 this year. I find that interesting since he won the same amount of games last season as in 2012 (8-5), scored a signature win last season by topping No. 5 Oregon and did it without his 2012 quarterback. Granted, Arizona had a light nonconference schedule last fall, but does that warrant being dropped a quarter of the way down?
  • Two years ago, Shaw was No. 9 on their list, despite being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2011. Last year, he bounced up to No. 1 and is in the top spot again. For having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, I see no problem with him being No. 1 again.
  • My first thought was that Petersen was way too high, considering he has never coached a single game in the conference. Then I pushed that silliness out of my mind. He has coached against this conference, going 5-2 during his stint with Boise (not counting games against Utah when it was in the Mountain West or the bowl loss to Oregon State last season when he wasn’t the head coach). Plus, he’s a two-time national coach of the year. That’s a better résumé than anyone else in the league. I’ll buy him at No. 2.
  • My biggest gripe with the list is Mora at No. 7. He was No. 11 on the 2012 list and No. 8 on the 2013 list. All he has done is go 19-8, win the South title one of those two years and beat USC twice. Doesn’t that get you a statue on campus? He has bolstered the national reputation of the program and was given a nice contract extension for his work. I would slot him in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot with Todd Graham. Both have nearly identical résumés so far. Both are 2-0 against their rival. Both have won the Pac-12 South. They have split their head-to-head games with each winning once on the road. Both have had one blowout bowl win and one bad bowl loss. The only reason I’d probably put Graham ahead is that he was named coach of the year. But Mora belongs in the upper third.
  • Sarkisian is interesting. People are quick to rip his hire at USC, but recall the coaching job he did at Washington when he first got there. He turned a winless team into a pretty good program. Petersen is coming into a much more advantageous position than when Sark first got there. How that translates to USC remains to be seen.
  • Helfrich was No. 12 in 2013. For winning 11 games in 2013, he gets that big boost all the way up to No. 11. I get the sentiment -- that the Ducks were “supposed” to go to the BCS title game last season. He can’t control an injury to his quarterback. Don’t be shocked if he’s in the top five when Athlon releases its 2015 list.
  • Whittingham has stumbled from the No. 4 spot he occupied in 2012. Like Helfrich, he can’t control the unfortunate rash of injuries that have plagued his quarterbacks since coming into the league. I know this, there aren’t many defensive-minded coaches I’d take over Whittingham.
  • Riley continues to be in the upper half of the list. Which is completely fair. He’s done more in that setting than most people could. Oregon State fans seem to clamor annually about what’s on the other side of the fence. When the day comes that Riley does step down (and I have to imagine it will be on his own terms), those complaining about change will miss him.

You get the idea. Lists are hard to put together, because everyone has a bias and an opinion. I think MacIntyre has done some great things at Colorado, and I think Washington State’s progress under Leach has been outstanding. As for Dykes, well, let’s give it another year and see what he can do with a healthy roster.

So we once again salute Athlon for making the list. Even if we don’t always agree with it.
No one will ever confuse Chris Petersen’s comedic timing with that of a Rodney Dangerfield or Louis C.K., but give the new Washington coach props for trying.

Petersen pulled a fast one on his guys on Tuesday -- which happened to be April Fools' Day -- when he presented some new uniforms to his players during a team meeting. The new unis, complete with multiple block Ws, had a new logo and “Dawgs” written across the posterior. At least it didn’t say “Juicy.”



The players look apprehensive, if not underwhelmed, during the presentation. Then Petersen gives us the punchline -- telling his players to focus on the now. “What is now? It’s April Fools!”

You can hear collective relief from the players and thanks to deities. Don’t forget, this was one of the schools that brought us the Swagga Suit a couple of years ago.

For the presentation, Petersen gets a B. For the effort, the Pac-12 blog awards him four out of four Woofs.

Biggest shoes to fill: Washington

March, 31, 2014
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Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Monday, we look at Washington.

Biggest shoes: QB Keith Price

While some might believe it will be more difficult to replace stellar running back Bishop Sankey, the Huskies boast three experienced and capable backs who combined to rush for 815 yards and 10 TDs last season. When you toss in a strong, veteran offensive line, it seems a good bet that among Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier the Huskies will produce a 1,000-yard rusher again. Yet, we still might have gone with Sankey if not for QB Cyler Miles getting into off-field trouble that presently has him not participating in spring practices and his longterm status in limbo (he has yet to be charged). While not a sure thing, Miles had shown enough under stress in games -- not just throwaway time -- to suggest he could be a more-than-capable Pac-12 QB. Recall that a year ago, some thought he might unseat Price, who struggled in 2012. But this isn't just about uncertainty with Price's departure, it's also a tip of the cap to Price, who is on the short list of best Huskies QBs. He completed 66 percent of his passes last fall for 2,966 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 20th in the nation in passing efficiency. He also rushed for five touchdowns. And he became the school's all-time leader in touchdown passes with 75, completion percentage (64 percent) and passing efficiency. He played through injuries throughout his career and showed mental toughness with his bounce-back in 2013. Moreover, if you polled the 2013 Huskies on who the best-liked guy on the team was, I'd wager it would be Price, whose nickname, "Teeth," was based on his bright and constant smile.

Stepping in: TBA
If Miles can settle his legal problems, which also involve top receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, then he still seems like the frontrunner, even if he's suspended for a game or two or three. But maybe not. We don't know much of new coach Chris Petersen's thinking on this one. Miles might find himself irrevocably entrenched in Petersen's doghouse. Or he might just get booted from the team entirely. There is another option: Sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams simply plays great and outright wins the job. The problem with that is neither has thrown a pass in college. Miles beat Lindquist out for the backup job last season, but there's a new coaching staff and offensive system, so the slate is mostly clean along those lines. Neither Lindquist nor Williams has produced any obvious separation during the first portion of spring practices, which resume on Tuesday. Finally, uncertainty at QB is not a good thing in the Pac-12 in 2014, with 10 conference teams owning a fair degree of certainty at the game's most important position this spring. Only Arizona and the Huskies are looking for new starters.

Previous big shoes

Mailbag: Sark vs. Petersen

March, 18, 2014
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Welcome to the mailbag. I'm feeling the madness. And the because the Pac-12 blog readers are so awesome, they've started up another bracket challenge. I'm in.

To the notes!

D.J. in Berkeley writes: Hey Kevin, I grew up in B1G country, so I'm still a little new to the Pac-12. How does inter-divisional conference scheduling work? Is it like the model that the B1G has used the last few years where each team has protected crossover games and rotating crossover games? I love the annual trips down to LA to play UCLA or USC; I'm just not sure why we play two Pac-12 South teams every year.

Kevin Gemmell: With the nine-game conference schedule, the way it shakes out is you play all five teams in your division, four cross-division games and then three nonconference games.

With the exception of the four California schools, it works on a two-year rotating basis. For example, Utah didn’t play Stanford or Oregon its first two years in the conference. Last year, both teams were back on the rotation and they’ll rotate through all the other schools in the North Division every two years.

The California schools have an agreement to play each other every year -- so Stanford and Cal will always play UCLA and USC.

If the league were to go to an eight-game conference schedule, it would drop one of the cross-division games and only play three. Many are in favor of this since the league guts itself on an annual basis (see the final weeks of last season: Stanford beating Oregon, USC beating Stanford, Arizona beating Oregon). When you play nine conference games, wackiness will ensue.

Personally, I still like the nine-game schedule. It means something when you win the Pac-12. Yes, it’s killed the national perception of the league the last few years. But it makes for some exciting scenarios.


Amanda in Los Angeles writes: Thanks for the live chat with Cody Kessler! What do you think is going to happen at quarterback?

Kevin Gemmell: Very interesting question. And one that has some national significance. Obviously, Kessler’s experience is a huge plus for him. And the fact that Steve Sarkisian has retained Clay Helton is also significant. Kessler, on more than one occasion, went out of his way to talk about how strong his relationship is with Helton and you could see a notable increase in Kessler’s efficiency once Helton started calling the plays.

Then again, Sark was a big Max Browne fan when he was at Samammish, Wash., and recruited him pretty hard to the Huskies. I would guess right now it’s about 60-40 in favor of Kessler. Browne is going to have to show that he can run Sark’s offense with greater efficiency than Kessler. The fact that it’s a newish style, complete with the uptempo element, levels the playing field a bit.

Either way, I wouldn’t expect anything to become official in the spring.


Eric in Terrebonne, Ore., writes: Captain Doctor (it's like having two first names, but with titles …) gets another season for the Beavs, which is great news. With all the depth and talent at LB, will the Beavs have the best corps of linebackers in the conference? Will the LBs be good enough to help improve the run defense?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, it’s hard not to think of the “Spies Like Us” scene. And yes, it’s great news.

The Pac-12 blog has been a Michael Doctor fan for quite some time. The first time he really stood out to me was in the second game of the 2012 season against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. He posted a team-high eight solo tackles (nine total) and I saw him chase down Brett Hundley on a critical third-and-6 in the fourth quarter that forced a UCLA field goal rather than giving the Bruins a first down.

As noted in the story, Oregon State’s defense had a rough go of things last year -- which was disappointing, considering how strong of a unit it was in 2012, so the fact that he’s been granted a fifth year bodes very well for the Beavers this season.

Do they have the best linebackers in the league? That might be a bit much. UCLA’s is pretty good, as is Stanford’s, USC’s and Washington’s. But Oregon State certainly is deep. The only upside to injuries is that they allow younger players to step in and get some experience. When the injured player comes back, it creates depth at the position. Remember in 2011, when Shayne Skov was lost for the year, A.J. Tarpley was one of the players who stepped in. He returns as one of the top linebackers in the league this year and was a major reason why the Cardinal had all of that depth at linebacker the last few years.

No one wants injuries to happen, obviously. But in this scenario, with Doctor returning, it might work out OK for the Beavers, who gave up a whopping 190.3 yards per game on the ground last season. Only Colorado was worse, allowing 208.5 yards per game. Measure that against the 2012 squad, which was third in the league at 129.5 yards per game. Doctor’s presence should significantly help the Beavers improve in that area.


Andy in Seattle writes: I’m pretty shocked with the results of your Sark/Petersen poll. Why aren’t more Washington fans expecting more out of him?

Kevin Gemmell: Honestly, I’m a little surprised also. Then again, I’m not. Does that make sense?

My first thought is that all the pressure is always going to be on Steve Sarkisian, no matter what, because he’s the head coach at USC. And with that comes an elevated level of expectation.

Then again, Chris Petersen is perceived to be a “home run” hire. What happens if Washington goes 7-6? How quickly will the Washington faithful question the hire? What happens if they only win eight games in 2015? Will Petersen be given enough time to do things his way?

My thought is yes. If it were USC, I think the timetable for success is accelerated dramatically. Washington fans are hungry for their team to take the next step. But I also think they are realistic enough to understand the challenges that Petersen faces in his first couple of seasons -- specifically, rebuilding the offense and plugging some holes.

Sarkisian, on the other hand, isn’t going to get much wiggle room. USC has plenty of athletes. It always does. And the expectation is that the Trojans should compete for the Pac-12 South title every season and win it every of couple -- if not every year.

When I was up at USC last week, I had an interesting discussion with someone who will not be named. They told me the worst thing to ever happen to Lane Kiffin was going 10-2 in 2011. If they only win, say, eight games that year, then all of the pressure and expectations that came crumbling down in 2012 wouldn't have been a factor. Fans would have been more understanding, chalked another eight-win season up to the sanctions, and Kiffin would likely still have his job.

But that goes to show how much tougher things are at USC. So, coming full circle, I guess I’m not too surprised with the poll results.


Kevin in Palo Alto writes: Kevin, lots of new names and faces on the blog. What's that all about?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, the Pac-12 blog is undergoing a bit of a face-lift. You have already welcomed Kyle Bonagura with open arms, and soon you’ll be welcoming Chantel Jennings. Kyle will serve as our Stanford reporter in the Bay Area and Chantel, formerly of the B1G blog covering Michigan, will be the point person for Oregon. Ted and I are still the Pac-12 reporters, but both of them will pitch in on the blog.

This will also allow Ted and I time to finish our screenplay: “Good Will Blogging.” It’s about a janitor at a to-be-determined Pac-12 blog school who sneaks into the student newspaper at night and writes all of the articles. We’re hoping to get into Sundance by 2031.

Give the duo the same warm reception you gave me when I joined on in 2011. More voices means a better blog.
This week the Pac-12 blog had an opportunity to chat with new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and new Washington coach Chris Petersen, the man who replaced Sark in Seattle.

SportsNation

Which new head coach has the most pressure heading into the 2014 season?

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    9%
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    91%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,482)

Both schools present a different set of challenges and varying degrees of pressure and expectation. But which coach has the most pressure on him? Sarkisian’s and Petersen’s coaching careers from here on out will be closely intertwined, especially because Petersen was considered a candidate for the vacant USC job before withdrawing his name.

This has all the makings of a great Take 2. And maybe your Pac-12 reporters will tackle that one sooner rather than later. But for now, we thought we’d put it to a vote. Which head coach, Petersen or Sarkisian, has more pressure heading into the 2014 season?

Petersen: He comes to Seattle with a gleaming résumé. The name value alone means folks are expecting Petersen to do great things almost immediately. Whenever a big-time coaching job opened up, Petersen’s name was at the top of the list. But he chose Seattle because he felt the timing and the situation were right. But for all of the hype and expectation surrounding his hire, the simple fact remains that he has to replace quarterback Keith Price, who was the smiling backbone of the program; a Doak Walker finalist running back in Bishop Sankey; and the 2013 John Mackey Award winner in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. There is some good talent at Washington, but that trio isn’t easily replaced. Sark did a good job pulling the program from the cellar, but many are expecting Petersen to get this team into the 10-win neighborhood.

Sarkisian: It’s USC -- one of the most desirable coaching jobs in the country. And with that comes nearly unparalleled scrutiny. Sarkisian took an important first step toward winning some credibility when he locked down an A-list recruiting class. But there are still those concerned that Sark isn’t the home-run hire befitting a season-long coaching search. Winning would change that, but a slow start would only amplify it. Not only does he have to prove he’s the right guy for the job, but he has to win back a fan base that’s grown weary of losing to Notre Dame and UCLA in consecutive seasons. The Trojans will soon be off sanctions, which should help in recruiting. However, if he doesn’t win right away, you have to question whether he'll be given enough time to fully implement his vision.
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There are those who subscribe to the theory that a coach making the leap from a mid-major conference to one of the big five will need some time to adjust.

Then again, few coaches have the résumé that Chris Petersen brings from Boise State to Washington. Among his accolades: 92 wins, a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories and five conference titles. Oh yeah, he’s also the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award.

So if Petersen is fending off any challenges by way of transition, he isn’t letting on.

“The job is exactly the same,” Petersen said. “There hasn’t been one thing that has surprised me. It’s exactly the same. Our recruiting process is the same. When we were recruiting at Boise, we were recruiting against the Pac-12. We were in the same footprint. It was the same battles. All of that is the same. Everybody is regulated by the NCAA on how much time you can lift weights, so it really comes down to implementing your systems and your schemes.”

No question, Petersen has the coaching chops. And Huskies fans are universally proclaiming that they got the better end of the deal when Steve Sarkisian left Washington for USC after five seasons and a 34-29 record.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen's first spring at Washington involves finding replacements for three of the most important players from the Huskies offense.
“It’s a case of be careful what you wish for,” he said. “But nothing has surprised us. We knew for the most part what we’re getting into.”

So the biggest challenge facing the new Washington skipper isn’t transition, but replacing departed personnel. When Sarkisian left, he didn’t exactly leave a barren cupboard. But a talented trio will be noticeably absent in 2014: three-year starting quarterback Keith Price, 2013 Mackey Award-winning tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Doak Walker-finalist running back Bishop Sankey. All are expected to either be drafted or land on an NFL roster.

“That makes things really tough,” Petersen said. “When you lose a quarterback who has been a three-year starter and was as productive as Keith was, that’s hard. Everything on offense, no matter what style you run, is run through that guy. If he’s successful, your team is going to be successful.

“Bishop Sankey was tremendous. You put that tape on and study him, it’s like, ‘wow.’ He has tremendous vision. We played against him twice and we thought the world of him.”

Petersen has already had to deal with a little adversity when one of the quarterbacks vying to replace Price was suspended indefinitely. Cyler Miles, along with wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, remain suspended after allegedly assaulting a Seahawks fan after the Super Bowl last month. Obviously, Petersen doesn’t ever want to have to deal with discipline issues. On the flip side, he has an opportunity early in his tenure to establish himself as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, which he’s done.

Now it’s a matter of filling holes -- knowing full well that most of them probably won’t be filled during the spring session.

“Aside from getting your systems in place, so much of it comes down to how much talent you have,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. So much of this is just recruiting and how much talent you have.”

That and an awareness that he isn’t going to have any easy weeks in the Pac-12. For a while, the Mountain West was considered the strongest of the non-AQ conferences. But even in its heyday, there were always weak sisters. That's not the case in the Pac-12 -- especially in the top-heavy North Division.

“I’ve known about the Pac-12 forever,” Petersen said. “I think it’s extremely competitive conference. The parity from top to bottom is as good as it’s ever been. The coaches are fabulous. It’s as good as any in the country. I thought that before I got here, and now it’s confirmed.”

Expectations are high for Petersen and his staff. While Sarkisian did a fine job turning an 0-12 program into a consistent winner with four straight bowl appearances, the Huskies never ascended to the upper echelon of the league in his tenure.

Petersen brings a big name and track record of success matched by few. Now he has to get the Huskies to buy into what he’s selling.

“The culture is changing. And how quickly those guys buy in is the bottom line,” Petersen said. “It can be tough for the older guys who have been here for four or five years and are used to doing things a different way. We have to get everyone moving and believing in what we do as quickly as possible."
Welcome to the mailbag. Hope you are having an auspicious Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Rob from Northern Oregon writes: Ted, the up-tempo offenses have been targeted by [Nick] Saban because he cannot beat them in an even odds situation. Rather than meet the fight head-on, Mr. Saban (I use Mr. loosely here) has attempted to circumvent the situation by enacting a rule change, based upon player safety. I pose this: Has anyone looked into the health and safety issues related to being over 300 pounds and maintaining that mass throughout a college career? I suspect that even the most rudimentary study would show decreased lifespan, increased health problems and overall reduction in the quality of life that results from being fed and manipulated like a stockyard cow while in college. Player safety advocates might want to adopt a maximum BMI rule for college players if safety is such a concern. Lean and mean … It takes a lean horse for a long ride.

Ted Miller: "Cannot beat?" Well, Nick Saban has been pretty successful winning games. We probably should grant him that.

And there have been plenty of studies about BMI [Body Mass Index] and lifespan. People who are obese have more health problems. Generally, we can say weighing 300 pounds is not healthy. But adopting a maximum BMI sounds like it might be legally complicated, and I'd guess most 300-pound college football players are more physically fit than an average U.S. citizen.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinJudging by this week's mailbag, Pac-12 fans aren't real big on Nick Saban right now.
Still, I hear you. You could do all sorts of things to improve player safety. Most, of course, would dramatically change the game.

You could remove face masks, which would increase the number of broken noses but might reduce the number of concussions because players would be forced to form tackle instead of leading with their head/helmet.

You could eliminate blitzes and zone defenses. If defenses were forced to be more predictable, then you'd have fewer blow-up shots on offensive players.

You could reduce the number of players on the field. You could reduce the size of the field.

You could make the game two-handed touch. Or use flags. Or have a player from each team debate what should happen on each play and then have a judge rewards or subtracts yards based on the merits of their arguments. The Ivy League might like that.

What's most interesting about this debate about so-called player safety is that the folks who want to slow down the up-tempo teams are simply saying this: Football is dangerous.

And that, unfortunately, is true.

Saban, one of the leaders of the slow-down movement, this week compared football to smoking cigarettes. Seriously. I will include the quote so we can all slap our foreheads in unison.

Said Saban, "The fastball guys (up-tempo coaches) say there's no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic. What's the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there's no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, 'Yeah, there probably is.'"

(Slap!)

The slow-down folks are saying, "Because football is dangerous, and up-tempo teams run more plays, and plays are football and are therefore dangerous, we should try to reduce the number of plays in a game. For safety's sake."

Heck, why not shorten the game instead? Play eight-minute quarters. That would reduce the number of plays and reduce the number of injuries and no one would have to change their scheme.

(Shortly I will get an email from the TV side of ESPN saying, "Hush.")

The point here is simple: The slow-down folks want to slow the game down because they play slow-down football. They believe slow-down football gives them an advantage, and up-tempo teams are being mean and taking away that advantage. So, they scheme, let's change the rules and force folks to play the slow way, which means slow-down teams will win more.

Saban's Alabama team has become like USC was from 2002-2008 -- it's physically superior to just about any other team in the nation. Because his players can consistently win one-on-one battles, he wants to minimize strategy. He wants to line up and run a play. Wait 25 seconds, run another play. And see what happens.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Saban and Alabama's bitter rival, Auburn, is now coached by up-tempo maestro Gus Malzahn, owner of a gigantic football brain, one that might be even as big as Saban's. That matchup is on track to become one of the great annual stories in college football -- the Iron Bowl as essentially a national playoff game on a regular basis.

That's not what Saban wants, though. He's not happy with all these spunky teams with all their brainy football. He wants them to behave, get out of the way and let him win national championships.


JohnV8r from El Dorado Hills, Calif., writes: Which is more likely to happen: The SEC is penalized by the playoff selection committee for only playing an eight-game conference schedule, or the other power conferences move to an eight-game conference schedule because the SEC does not end up being penalized by the selection committee for their eight-game conference schedule?

Ted Miller: While others might disagree, I think the SEC is going to face pressure to play a nine-game conference schedule AND at least one high quality nonconference game a year, or it will be penalized.

That's at least if the selection committee has guts and wants to be fair. It can't be swayed by the "just trust us" justification we heard so often during the BCS era.

How would this go? Well, let's look at 2014 in the SEC East.

Let's say both South Carolina and Missouri finish 11-1, but Missouri's loss is on Sept. 27 in Columbia, S.C., so the Gamecocks win the East tiebreaker due to the head-to-head victory. South Carolina then goes on to the SEC championship game, and Steve Spurrier wins the press conference but loses to Alabama.

So Alabama is in the four-team playoff.

Then the SEC apologists would chime in: There is no WAY you can keep a one-loss SEC team out of the playoff! No matter that Missouri wouldn't have played Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Paired with a weak nonconference schedule, the Tigers set up as a team that shouldn't get the automatic benefit of the doubt when comparing them to other one-loss AQ conference teams.

For example, in this 2014 scenario, there is no way in Hades that Missouri should be able to slip in ahead of Stanford, which plays an exponentially tougher schedule next year. And there is no way in Hades that the Tigers should get into the playoff over an unbeaten team from an AQ conference, such as an Ohio State or Oklahoma State.

The very idea that a 14-team conference wants to play fewer conference games than 12- and 10-team conferences is beyond competitive reason. Isn't the conference schedule about figuring who the best teams in said conference are? How can you even compare Missouri's schedule with East rival Florida's? The Gators play Alabama and LSU (and, by the way, Florida State)?

The ONLY reason for playing eight conference games instead of nine is to rig the system.

I mean, just imagine if someone tried to force up-tempo teams to slow down by rigging the system with a new rule. But no one would ever do that, right?


Michael from Fairbanks, Alaska, writes: How long will it take for coach Chris Petersen to turn the Dawgs into a Pac-12 powerhouse and beat Oregon on a consistent basis?

Ted Miller: 426 days. Plus or minus.

I don't think Washington fans should expect the Huskies to immediately eclipse Oregon -- and Stanford -- in the North pecking order. I suspect Petersen will need to get the lay of the Pac-12 land for a couple of years and also get at least a few recruiting classes with "his" guys.

My impression during the 2013 Oregon-Washington game is that the rivalry is narrowing after a decade of Ducks dominance, despite the Huskies’ fourth-quarter meltdown. While some Huskies fans seem eager to cast aspersions at what Steve Sarkisian accomplished, he rebuilt a staggering program and left a top-25 team behind when he bolted to USC.

I don't see any reason for the Huskies to fall out of the Top 25 the next couple of years. The question is, do they move into the top 10 with Oregon and Stanford? They aren't alone, by the way, in wanting to get there.

There is, however, a back door, at least with the Ducks. What if Mark Helfrich is not able to maintain what Mike Bellotti/Chip Kelly built? What if the Ducks end up missing Nick Aliotti more than some expect? Washington could move past Oregon because Oregon might not remain a top-10 team. I'm not saying I think that will happen, only that it's a reasonable possibility.

I talked to a Pac-12 coach the other day who said Petersen is going to get things going quickly. He termed him one of the nation's truly elite coaches. Which is nice, if you're a UW fan.

Many of us suspect the same. But it's now up to Petersen to justify the plaudits that have been flung his way for years while playing in a major conference.


aztr81 from Phoenix writes: I've grown tired hearing the debate on the 10-second rule (i.e., the "Saban Rule"). If a coach doesn't like the pace of the game, CALL A TIMEOUT!!! Out of timeouts? Then keep control of the football and keep the other team's offense off the field! (Example, Stanford vs. Oregon, or Notre Dame vs. Arizona State.) Goodness, gracious, it really is a joke that certain individuals or organizations are trying to fundamentally change the game we love. End of rant. Thank you.

Ted Miller: You're welcome.
There are plenty of issues Pac-12 teams will be addressing this spring. Here are some that are front and center for your Pac-12 insiders.

Ted Miller: Spring practice is the official transition from taking stock of the 2013 season, including recruiting, to looking ahead to next fall. The 2013 season was all about top-to-bottom depth for the Pac-12 -- and the lack of an elite national-title contender. That might be the case again in 2014, but if the conference is going to be nationally relevant in Year 1 of the four-team College Football Playoff, I think it will be because of the depth and quality of the quarterbacks.

If Travis Wilson is cleared to play at Utah, 10 Pac-12 teams welcome back their 2013 starters, and many of these guys are All-American candidates, most notably Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsHaving Brett Hundley back makes UCLA the favorite in the Pac-12 South.
The big question for these guys is if they can be better this season than last. If that happens -- for the above four and the six other returning starters -- then it should be a high-flying season with lots of offense. And perhaps a team emerges as a candidate for the playoff.

What most interests you this spring with the Pac-12?

Kyle Bonagura: As a result of the continuity at quarterback, offenses should be in line for a collective step forward. How far could be determined by how quickly the conference's seven new defensive coordinators acclimate to -- and perform at -- their new jobs.

We won't get a great read on how that process is going during the spring, but it'll be interesting to see in what ways defenses evolve moving forward.

For Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA, the change will be minimal. Todd Graham will remain heavily involved in how ASU plays defense, and the other three promoted staff members will use the framework and schemes already in place. USC might have a new staff, but considering coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox were in the conference last season, it should be an easy transition.

I'm more interested to see how things play out at California and Washington.

Washington is set up for success with the much-anticipated arrival of longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who brought his defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, Pete Kwiatkowski. They have a talented front seven to work with and a favorable early schedule that will allow the staff to iron out any kinks: at Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State.

Art Kaufman's job taking over the Cal defense won't be as easy. The Golden Bears should be in better shape than last season from a health and experience standpoint -- the latter partially a result of 2013's injury woes -- but there's a lot of ground to cover between where they were and being competitive.

Ted Miller: One team that had coaching continuity at both coordinator spots is Arizona, and I think the Wildcats are setting up to be a dark horse in the Pac-12 South, though I do see UCLA as a strong favorite at this point. The intrigue with Arizona, though, is at quarterback. It seems like the most wide-open competition in the conference.

If Cyler Miles gets back in Petersen's good graces, he's got a significant lead for the Washington QB vacancy. At USC, I think that Cody Kessler is likely to retain his starting job over touted redshirt freshman Max Browne. Kessler steadily improved as a difficult season went on, and he still has his 2013 offensive coordinator/position coach in Clay Helton. At Utah, a healthy Wilson starts for the Utes.

But Arizona has four guys with a legitimate shot at winning the starting QB job this fall: Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer and junior Jerrard Randall. Solomon was one of the jewels of the 2013 recruiting class, while the other three are transfers from A-list programs -- Scroggins from USC, Brewer from Texas and Randall from LSU.

The first big question will be whether Rich Rodriguez narrows the field at the end of spring practices. How much does he want to establish a clear pecking order? You'd think at least one of these guys is going to be relegated to fourth place because there are only so many practice reps to go around.

The good news is the guy who wins the job is going to have an outstanding crew of receivers. He won't have running back Ka'Deem Carey lining up as a security blanket behind him, but Rodriguez's offenses almost always run the ball well. The Wildcats will average more than 200 yards rushing again next season, I feel confident saying that.

The million-dollar question -- the difference between competing for the South title and winning eight games again -- is how efficient the guy behind center is.

Any position battles particularly intrigue you this spring?

Kyle Bonagura: Like you, I'm really intrigued to see how the quarterback competition at Arizona progresses. That's a lot of pressure for the three guys who already transferred from big-time programs. All of them clearly want to play, and it makes you wonder if one of them will end up at an FCS school before the season starts.

The most high-profile battle outside of quarterback has to be at Stanford, where four guys are competing to replace Tyler Gaffney at running back. I was out at the Cardinal's first open practice of the spring last week -- and will be out there again on Saturday -- and what stood out immediately was how balanced the reps were. If Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young didn't have equal reps with the first team, it was close.

However it plays out, it's unlikely Stanford will feature one back like it has the past six years with Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart.

Wright probably holds a slight edge in terms of the overall package -- largely because of his capabilities in pass protection -- but there are more similarities than differences in comparing each guy. A lot of people ask about Sanders because of his famous father (my favorite football player as a kid), but the reality with him is that expectations were probably too high when he arrived. His name and recruiting profile are to blame, and the coaching staff isn't going to force his development.

Young, who switched back to running back from receiver, might be the most dangerous with the ball in his hands and Seale, a fifth-year senior, might have the best grasp of the offense.

Video: Washington begins spring practice

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
5:30
PM ET
video
Pac-12 reporter Ted Miller reports on Washington spring practice. It's never good when players aren't practicing because of a suspension, but maybe there is a slim silver lining for Washington and head coach Chris Petersen this spring.

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