Pac-12: Chris Petersen
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh. The anticipation.
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To the notes.
Elliot from Oregon writes: Give me your boldest prediction for anything PAC12 related. Don't be shy, Ted.
Ted Miller: Oh, I don't know Elliot. You want me to have an opinion on something and announce it publicly? That sounds pretty scary. What if someone disagrees with me? Or what if you guys start arguing the relative merits of my point and someone gets cross? What if it gets out on Twitter and someone trolls me or writes the dreaded, "Your an idiot" [sic].
Funny you should ask, because we will have Bold Predictions from your entire ESPN.com Pac-12 family -- the #4pac! -- on Tuesday. But I will venture forth with one -- OK three! -- before I blush, effervesce with giggles and canter shyly away.
1. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame (Arizona State, Stanford and USC).
2. No Pac-12 coach will be fired during or after the season.
3. Ted Miller will be wrong.
OK, I realize the third one is pretty out there, but I've got a feeling it finally happens this year. Maybe.
Brett from Portland writes: Team X is playing in the national championship and you get to choose one Pac 12 coach to coach that team. Who do you choose?
Ted Miller: I can't choose Chip Kelly, right?
I had an immediate response: Stanford's David Shaw. He's been there, see three consecutive BCS bowl games, and he's 14-4 against top-25 teams, best winning percentage in the conference.
Then I rifled through the other options, and the Pac-12 has a lot of good ones. Chris Petersen also has BCS bowl game experience. As does Rich Rodriguez, a guy who really knows how to game plan the heck out of teams with better talent. Not unlike Petersen.
Then I thought about Jim Mora, who I'm not sure won't be the first Pac-12 coach to win the College Football Playoff.
Then I thought about coaching staffs as a whole. Does Shaw get a knock because Derek Mason is head coach at Vanderbilt and no longer coordinating the Cardinal defense? I really like Rich Rod and Mora's staffs. And then I went, wait, what about Todd Graham at Arizona State? Has anyone done a better job over the past two seasons than Graham and his staff?
Then I thought Brett and the rest of you might fall asleep while I dithered on this.
So I'm going with Shaw. Track record. Big football brain. Unwavering core beliefs. And, as a very minor consideration, he gets a boost here for being so accommodating and insightful during interviews.
Patrick from Seattle writes: With a senior-led d-line, experienced and talented linebackers, and a lockdown corner in Peters, how good can the Huskies D be?
Ted Miller: You remember the 1985 Chicago Bears? Well, imagine that unit if it also had Lawrence Taylor.
Go run into a brick wall 10 times.
Done? That's what it's going to be like playing against the Huskies this fall.
It's hard not to like the UW front seven. It's got size with 330-pound defensive tackle Danny Shelton and production with end Hau'oli Kikaha, the best returning pass-rusher in the conference. At linebacker, there is experience and high-end athleticism, led by potential first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson.
While the depth is a little questionable, I'd rate that starting crew the best in the Pac-12. Yes, better than Stanford, USC and UCLA.
The secondary is the question. Peters is an A-list cornerback, an All-American candidate, but the other three spots are going to be young and unproven. Not necessarily untalented, mind you -- see youngsters like true freshman Budda Baker and redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly -- but you don't know about a unit until, well, you know.
Of course, an outstanding front-seven is a great thing to have when you are young in the back half. Leaving youngsters exposed for more than four seconds can be catastrophic in a league as deep at quarterback as the Pac-12. Not sure this crew up front for the Huskies will do that very often, which will make life much easier for the defensive backs.
As big a question as the secondary is new coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who Petersen brought over from Boise State. He's replacing Justin Wilcox, one of the best in the business, a guy who transformed a poor-to-middling unit into one of the best in the Pac-12. Kwiatkowski has lots of new toys to play with, but has never coached against the talent -- player and coaching -- that he will now square off with on a week-to-week basis.
So how good? At the very least, Huskies fans should expect to better last season's strong numbers -- 22.8 points per game; 5.0 yards per play -- which ranked fourth and tied for third in the conference. If that happens, you would have to think the Huskies will be a factor in the North Division race.
Troy from Tacoma writes: Ted, as we sit here a week out from the kickoff of the college football season, and since there are a few Pac-12 games next Thursday, it is safe to say that there won't be a Best Case-Worst Case section for each team. Honestly, reading those was my favorite part of this blog, and really got the blood flowing that the season was near. Just wanted to voice my disappointment with whoever made the decision to discontinue that part of the blog. That's all, have a good final game-less week.
Ted Miller: I truly appreciate all the notes on this, even though it seems a lot of you are angry I -- yes it was my call -- opted to end the series.
As noted before, this was simply a case of a series running its course after four years.
If you are nostalgic, just re-read last year's efforts, and those also include links to previous years.
After that, it's still anybody's guess.
"We'll go with him [Lindquist] and see how he does," Washington coach Chris Petersen told reporters after practice on Friday. "He has done a great job in spring through now."
Petersen also complimented redshirt freshman QB Troy Williams, who battled with Lindquist for most of the spring, saying that the decision between the two was "splitting hairs." Petersen did say that he felt Lindquist made fewer errors during the Huskies' scrimmage and camp, which helped give him the edge over Williams.
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For the most part, they know each other. Many crossed paths in recruiting. Others sought each other out after games. Seven of them bonded at the Manning Passing Academy in Tbibodaux, Louisiana, this summer. There's a reasonable degree of believability when they insist they all like each other.
“It’s kind of a brother deal," said Washington State's Connor Halliday, one of seven Pac-12 quarterbacks who threw at least 20 touchdown passes a year ago. "We’re all representing the conference.”
That collegial connectedness means Halliday is perfectly willing to map out the NFL prospects of the crew, even if he opts to leave himself out -- Oregon State's Sean Mannion, he says, is the most NFL-ready, while Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley have the most upside. That chumminess means -- cover your eyes, USC and UCLA fans -- Hundley and Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler feel free to talk about how cool the other is.
The preseason scuttlebutt is the Pac-12 will follow up perhaps its best season in terms of top-to-bottom quality depth with a 2014 encore that should be even better. There's legitimacy to the belief that the Pac-12 might eclipse the SEC this fall as the nation's best conference, and that seeming apostasy begins behind center, where the SEC doesn't have a bona fide proven passer.
The Pac-12? Five returning QBs passed for more than 3,500 yards in 2013. If you give Kessler 32 more yards and Stanford's Kevin Hogan 370, then you have eight who passed for 3,000. Mariota, Hundley and Mannion are potential first-round NFL draft picks. Hogan is a three-year starter who's started in two Rose Bowls. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, some forget, was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2013 and led his team past Hundley and UCLA in the South Division. Halliday had 34 touchdown passes in 2013, while California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau were true freshman starters. Before he got hurt, Utah's Travis Wilson was good enough to lead an upset of Stanford.
Seems pretty odd to mention the USC quarterback last, but there you have it: Kessler surged late in the season and should thrive under new coach Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo scheme.
The sum is quarterback depth that has everyone gushing, including Pac-12 coaches.
Said Washington's Chris Petersen, who, like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, doesn't have a returning starter at quarterback: “There’s not a crop like this coming back in the country. It’s scary when you don’t have one of those returning guys. Every week, you’re going to have to face one of them.”
The question bouncing around before the season is whether it's the best quarterback class, well, ever, and not just for the Pac-12. Maybe, maybe not.
The Pac-10 was pretty impressive in 2004: USC's Matt Leinart, California's Aaron Rodgers, Arizona State's Andrew Walter, UCLA's Drew Olson, Oregon's Kellen Clemens, Oregon State's Derek Anderson, Washington State's Alex Brink and Stanford's Trent Edwards. If you wanted, you also could throw in Utah's Alex Smith, though he was still in the Mountain West Conference at the time. A handful of those guys are still in the NFL, with Rodgers in the discussion as the best quarterback in the league.
Outside of the Pac-12, there's the Big 12 in 2008: Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Kansas' Todd Reesing and Kansas State's Josh Freeman.
Ultimately, a judgment will be best delivered at season's end, and things rarely go as projected in the preseason. Injuries are, unfortunately, often an issue, and the pecking order could change. Don't be shocked, for example, if the estimations of Hogan, Kessler, Halliday and Goff go way up this fall.
The obvious leader is Mariota, probably the Heisman Trophy co-favorite with Florida State's Jameis Winston, the 2013 winner. While Mariota's return for his redshirt junior season was a bit of a surprise, how he's conducted himself during the preseason is not. He's not going to get in trouble off the field and he's not a look-at-me guy on it.
“He cares more about practice rep 13 in period 12 in 7-on-7 than anyone I’ve ever been around," coach Mark Helfrich said. "That carries over to every single guy in our program.”
But Mariota doesn't top everyone's list. Washington State linebacker Darryl Monroe favors Mannion, who won the Elite 11 Counselor's Challenge this summer after leading the conference with 4,662 yards and 37 TD passes last year.
“He’s a true NFL quarterback," Monroe said. “He has one of the best arms I’ve played against. Or seen in person.”
“He ran that offense like a point guard," Monroe said.
Obviously, the expectation is that these 10 returning starters will combine talent and experience and put up huge numbers. As important as the position is, however, a good quarterback can't do it alone. He's got to have some places to deliver the ball. The good news for these guys is most have a strong supporting cast. While Mariota and Mannion have questions at receiver, that position is strong and deep throughout the conference.
Nine teams have at least three starting offensive linemen back, and five have four or more. Oregon is the only team without at least one of its top two receivers back. It's also notable that more than a few teams have questions in the secondary.
It could be a year when preseason hype meets big passing numbers. But stats are not what football is all about, either.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to winning games," Kessler said. “I don’t look at the stat box. I look at who won. Most of the time, if you look at who won, I can tell you how the quarterback played.”
That's the truth: Winning is the ultimate measure of a quarterback. More than a few Pac-12 quarterbacks through the years have put up big numbers but haven't led their teams to championships, conference or national. It's likely that the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback this fall, a guy who should be in line for a variety of national awards and All-America honors, will be sitting atop the final standings.
As for the celebration of Pac-12 quarterbacks in 2014, some ambivalence does follow the fawning. While there is a sense of genial community when discussing the depth at the position, most coaches would rather have their guy be talented and experienced and everyone else to be searching for answers behind center.
Said Stanford coach David Shaw, “I can’t wait for some of these guys to get out of our conference, which I thought a couple of them would last year.”
"Many teams wonder what this SC thing is about -- why have we been so successful these past years," he said. "We came out there and showed them. They're Ohio State and that means something. But we prepare so well that we just do what we do."
There was a time under Pete Carroll when USC pretty much won games when they got off the bus. They simply looked a whole lot better -- bigger, faster, more confident -- than anyone else in college football. Reporters and fans would encircle the Trojans' open scrimmages, particularly during Competition Tuesdays, and marvel at the talent level and intensity.
New USC coach Steve Sarkisian was Carroll's top offensive assistant for much of that run from 2002 to '08 before heading off to Washington. He missed the 2004 BCS national title season while spending an unhappy year with the Oakland Raiders, as well as the start of the program's decline in 2009, a 9-4 finish after the Trojans had lost just nine games in the previous seven seasons. Then Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks.
So Sarkisian knows what things were like during the Trojans' most recent dynastic run. He was there for its creation. A Southern California native, he knows the area, the program's traditions and how quickly expectations can become stratospheric. He knows what he is taking over. And getting himself into.
He knows USC is one of the most powerful brands in college sports, one whose name and logo have impact in South Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as in its home territory.
"When you have that SC interlock on your chest and you walk into a school [to recruit], whether it's in Southern California or anywhere else, this talks about 11 national championships, six Heisman Trophies, more NFL draft picks, more All-Americans, more All-Pros, more Hall of Famers than any other school," Sarkisian said. "So it's a powerful brand."
Sarkisian also knows timing. He knows it's better not to be the "man after the man," as his friend Lane Kiffin was with Carroll. Sarkisian was Carroll's personal preference to replace him, and then-athletic director Mike Garrett made a play for Sarkisian before offering the job to Kiffin. Sarkisian was then heading into his second season at Washington and felt it wouldn't be the right time to bail out on the Huskies.
Oh, and he also knew NCAA sanctions were on the horizon, though there was little indication at the time that they would be as severe as they ended up being.
Good timing? As of June, USC is no longer yoked with those sanctions that included the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. After signing a highly rated class in February, despite limits, Sarkisian could have the Trojans at around 80 scholarship players next fall, according to ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz, not far below the limit of 85, and substantially better than the numbers that have made depth the team's most worrisome issue since 2010. The Trojans presently rank 14th in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in the ESPN.com recruiting rankings.
Timing? Even during Carroll's run, USC's facilities were second-rate. No longer. After putting $120 million toward new and renovated buildings, including the 110,000-square foot John McKay Center, USC matches up with the most elite teams.
Timing? Sarkisian inherits 18 returning starters from a team that won 10 games in 2013. The Trojans should be contenders in the South Division this fall, emerging from so-called crippling sanctions in pretty good shape after averaging "only" 8.8 wins per season from 2009 through last year.
Of course, his timing isn't that perfect. He's got a UCLA problem that Carroll didn't have to contend with. The Bruins are surging under Jim Mora and are hardly quaking at the prospect of USC again being whole. It's notable that Sarkisian and Mora have long had a cordial relationship, though that might be difficult to sustain going forward.
"I think [hiring Sarkisian] has given them a shot of energy that I wish they didn't get," Mora quipped at Pac-12 media days. "I have great respect for Sark, and I like him as a person and as a coach. I just know he's going to make my job harder."
While USC can again sign a full recruiting class of 25, which should make the going tougher for all 11 other Pac-12 teams, there's also some undercurrent of smugness within the conference from coaches and fans that Sarkisian hasn't truly earned a job like USC and that he isn't much different from Kiffin. His critics dubbed him "Seven-Win Steve" after he led Washington to three consecutive 7-6 seasons, a rut that had some Huskies fans putting him on the hot seat heading into the 2013 season.
The Huskies improved to 9-4 last season, finishing with a Top 25 ranking for the first time since 2001. Some also seemed to forget that Sarkisian inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008. While there's been an odd effort to rewrite the history of how down the program was back then, it was outscored 463-159 that season and hadn't posted a winning record since 2002. Washington went 1-10 in 2004 and 2-9 in 2005. Further, majestic Husky Stadium was falling apart.
Chris Petersen has inherited a team from Sarkisian that's played in four consecutive bowl games, is ranked in the preseason, and is playing in a beautifully renovated stadium.
Sarkisian isn't necessarily bringing back Carroll's "Win Forever" rhetoric and culture. For one, he runs an up-tempo offense, not Carroll's pro style, and a 3-4 hybrid defense, not Carroll's 4-3. That could be seen as part of Sarkisian's maturation, of finding his own way. When Sarkisian took the Washington job after the 2009 Rose Bowl, Carroll actually told him that he needed to be his own man, not mimic Carroll.
"His final words to me walking out was, 'Go be you, because when adversity strikes, the real you is going to come out anyway,'" Sarkisian said.
For USC fans, adversity has already struck and stuck hard. Sarkisian's charge is to make sure those adverse days are done. Adversity going forward is losing more than two Pac-12 games.
Or is that losing more than one game, period?
So which Pac-12 rivalries are heating up, stagnating or cooling as we head into the 2014 season?
USC Trojans-UCLA Bruins
The facts: USC leads the series 46-30-7 and has won 12 of the last 15 games, but the Bruins have won two in a row under Jim Mora, including a 35-14 domination last year.
The meter: Sizzling and rising.
The animosity between the fan bases is always strong, but what makes a rivalry truly heat up is relevance. And substantial stakes. This rivalry is gaining in both areas. USC is one of the preeminent football programs in the nation, even though UCLA fans hate to read that. UCLA is the rising western power under Mora, even though USC fans mock the idea. USC has a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and is moving past NCAA sanctions. UCLA is a top-10 team eyeballing the College Football Playoff. Know what I say? Release the hounds!
Arizona Wildcats-Arizona State Sun Devils
The facts: Arizona leads the series 47-39-1, but Todd Graham has won the last two against Rich Rodriguez, including a 58-21 blowout last year in Tempe. Before that, the visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four -- games that were decided by a total of 15 points.
The meter: Blistering and heating up.
While Oregon-Washington fans provide the most blowback to the Pac-12 blog -- Yakety Yak! Oh, yeah! Yakety Yak -- Arizona and Arizona State fans are a strong No. 2. It used to be the fans hated each other and whined a lot -- "You cover them more... waaaaaa!" -- because both teams were fairly mediocre. But the Sun Devils won the South Division last year and are now 2-0 under Todd Graham against the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez. With both programs trending up in an overall sense, the rivalry is gaining relevance. It also helps that Graham and Rodriguez don't particularly care for each other.
Oregon Ducks-Washington Huskies
The facts: Washington leads the series 58-43-5, but the Ducks have won 10 straight in the series by at least 17 points, including a 45-24 win in Seattle last year.
The meter: Hot but stagnating.
This has long been the most bitter Pac-10/12 rivalry but it has experienced a dramatic power shift to the Ducks. Sorry Huskies, you know it's true. It seems like Oregon fans these days are more worried about winning that darn absent national title than fretting about that team from up North. Now, if Washington and new coach Chris Petersen go into Autzen Stadium and steal one this year... well, that can't happen. Can it? Maybe that possibility needs to be debated.
USC-Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The facts: USC has won nine of the last 12 meetings, but the Fighting Irish has won three of the last four, including a 14-10 win last year. Since 1967, USC has gone 24-20-3 in the series.
The meter: Simmering with many hoping for a boil (particularly TV executives)
As far as national rivalries go, this one is without peer. It's an annual classic that matches two of college football's top powers. Lately, both teams have been nationally relevant, albeit not on an annual basis, and that's the issue. This rivalry is more about national relevance than bitterness. What it needs to heat up is for both teams to be national contenders with the winner in line for the College Football Playoff.
Washington-Washington State Cougars
The facts: Washington leads the series 68-32-6, including a 27-17 victory last year. The Cougars have lost 11 of the last 16 Apple Cups, but are 1-1 under Mike Leach.
The meter: Simmering with lots of potential spice
Have you stopped and pondered just how fun this one might get if Petersen and Mike Leach get their programs' performances to match their respective coaching reputations? For one, in terms of the media, it could be a Don James-Jim Walden deal where Petersen is a "2,000-word underdog" to the loquacious Leach. As it is at present, the Cougars really, really hate the entitled Huskies but the Huskies reserve their most bitter distain for Oregon.
The facts: Oregon leads the series 61-46-10 and has won the last six meetings, including a 36-35 thriller in Autzen Stadium last year.
The meter: Warm but in need of another log on the fire
Know what bothers Oregon State fans? When some Ducks fans say they root for the Beavers when the two aren't playing. It probably isn't a statement of emotional fact, but Oregon fans recognize it as the ultimate patronizing gesture. See above with Washington: The Beavers really, really hate the entitled Ducks but the Ducks reserve their most bitter distain for Washington. Now, if the Ducks start to slide a bit and the Beavers push past them in the North Division -- or at least become Oregon's equal again -- this one will immediately boil over, potentially returning to the back-and-forth turf battle it was from 1998-2008, when it was one of the conference's most interesting and meaningful rivalries.
The facts: In a series that dates back to 1905, USC holds a 59-29-3 lead, but Stanford has won four of the last five meetings. Still, a year after Stanford upset the then-No. 2 Trojans, USC returned the favor by knocking off No. 4 Stanford 20-17 last fall.
The meter: Most rivalries are more about the fans than the players. This one might be more about the players than the fans. These two teams go at each other -- hard. Things really picked up steam with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh mouthing off about Pete Carroll, then backing it up with two wins, including the classic "What's your deal?" game in 2009. Stanford started USC's and Lane Kiffin's downward spiral in 2012, while the Trojans ended the Cardinal's national title hopes in 2013. And I personally enjoy watching the Stanford band drive the Coliseum crowd crazy -- "And now a tribute to a great USC graduate... Joe Francis!"
California Golden Bears-Stanford
The facts: Stanford leads the Big Game rivalry 54-44-10 and has won four in a row, including a 63-13 blowout last year.
The meter: Luke warm until Cal rights itself
The Big Game is a great rivalry with a great history. The problem is getting the two teams to be good at the same time. Cal dominated the rivalry under Jeff Tedford until 2009. Now the Cardinal is fully in control. Second-years Bears coach Sonny Dykes probably could win over the Old Blues by pulling the upset this fall, but that will mean winning as a double-digit underdog.
BYU Cougars-Utah Utes
The facts: Utah leads the series 57-34-4. Utah has won four straight and nine of the last 12 games with the Cougars, including a 20-13 victory last year in Provo.
The meter: Always hot but chilling for two years
Utah has dominated this bitter series of late, most notably since joining the Pac-12, but there will be a two-year hiatus until the Holy War is renewed in 2016. That is unfortunate, as the series hasn't been interrupted since BYU didn't field teams during World War II (1943-45). Further, BYU is presently outside looking in, as it is not a Power Five conference member. It will be interesting to see how things go in the future.
The facts: Colorado leads the series 31-26-3, and this is both teams’ longest series against any Pac-12 team. They played annually from 1903-62 with four exceptions, but then the rivalry went dormant for 49 years before it resumed in 2011 as Pac-12 members. As Pac-12 members, Utah leads 2-1 having won two in a row.
The meter: Tepid while awaiting some seasoning
Sure, this is a bit of an artificial rivalry. They are paired as rivals because they joined the conference together. But as both start to develop their Pac-12 legs, you can count on this rivalry heating up. They will be compared for a long time. Neither wants to be the one not measuring up. And don't forget the "Red Bike Incident."
So we did, at least some variety of the suggested inquiries, And here's what we got, finishing with the North Division.
Are there things you view as mistakes, things that you would do differently in retrospect from last year?
Sonny Dykes: Oh, sure. There are always things you’d do differently. When we were on that winning streak at Louisiana Tech, there were things I would have done differently. That’s part of coaching. You are always self-evaluating. When you don’t have success, you tend to listen to that self-evaluation more than you would if you were winning. The biggest mistake I made as a coach was probably my last year at Louisiana Tech. We were 9-1 and I think we were 16th in the country and we were really tired. We were worn out. I probably should have given our guys a day off just to get away for a day. But we had won 16 out of 17 and you talk yourself out of it because what we had been doing had been successful. So if I had to do that over again I’d do it differently. A lot of stuff last year.
Can you give me an example?
Dykes: I don’t want to say. I have a bunch of notebooks I’ll give you one of these days.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned about being a head coach last year?
Mark Helfrich: I don’t know if there was any one in particular, but there were thousands. It’s something like, as a player, you don’t think you’ve ever made it, thinking I don’t have to improve anymore. Certainly as a coach it’s the same way. There are so many things that go into it that you deal with that you couldn’t have prepared for. Not even if you talked about it. From that standpoint, I know what we stand for. I know what our program stands for. Working for that and toward that every day, good things will happen.
Chip Kelly told me the advice he gave you and the best advice any coach could give is to be yourself. Do you think you’ll be able to be more yourself this year compared to last year?
Helfrich: 17 percent more (laughs). I think the product of being around each other, the players, the coaches, the culture, things like that, certainly. The comfort of doing it the second time. Hopefully, if it’s more comfortable, it’s better. That’s certainly the angle I’m going for.
Your fans really want to keep up with Oregon. How difficult is it for Oregon State to keep up when Oregon has a booster [Nike founder Phil Knight] who pays $68 million dollars for a new football building. How can Oregon State keep up when it doesn’t have a similar situation?
Mike Riley: I think we just have to keep fighting like crazy to improve what we do. [Oregon] is the team that’s been the best team in the league over the last five years. That’s a general statement that’s probably right. They just happen to be in our state, which is obviously difficult. But we’ve still got to fight every way we can to beat them on the field. That’s our job. The other part, to give them credit, is this league has taken jumps because of things Oregon has done. It started back when Pete Carroll was at USC. They started their run of national-caliber play and everybody had to step it up or you would get left in the dust. They set the standard. Everybody had to rise up. Oregon has done that. They’ve done that football-wise. They’ve done it facility-wise. Everybody has to push to do that. We take care of the football part of it. We have to do everything we can to beat them. One of your goals is always to beat your rival and win the championship and we haven’t done that in a while.
How much does money play a role? What could you guys do if someone said, "Mike, here’s $68 million. Do what you need to do."
Riley: (laughs) I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say. There’s no doubt it’s helpful in a university setting to have money to build facilities. There’s no doubt that is helpful from a marketing standpoint nationally. No doubt about that. But the other part is we can continue to try to do what we can to match some of that. But, to me, once that is said and done, we’ve got to get to the football. We’ve got to do a great job with evaluating players and making sure we do a great job at Oregon State. We’ve got to win games. We’ve got to be on top of recruiting, right on top of football and on top of any other way we can grow our university, grow our football program. We have to continue to fight. We can’t sit and worry about what other people have.
You’ve won the Pac-12 two years in a row and beaten Oregon two years in a row: How do you feel about not being picked No. 1?
David Shaw: I don’t think we’ve ever been picked No. 1. It’s par for the course. I don’t really look at those things at all. They don’t affect me one way or the other. I don’t get motivated by them. You could pick us last and I still wouldn’t be upset by it. What matters is what happens when you start playing games. Hopefully we will win more than we lose and hopefully we will find a way to be towards the top of the conference.
Do you even shake your head and say, "Really? What does it take?"
Shaw: I would be shocked if someone picked us over Oregon, to be honest. I don’t mind it one bit. They’ve got a lot of guys coming back as we do. My assertion, which I said last year, which I hold to this year, is they have the best quarterback in the nation in Marcus Mariota. I think he was the best quarterback in the nation last year also. There is nothing like him in college football. I don’t mind that at all. The bottom line is you’ve got to play the games. We’re going to have to go up to Autzen Stadium in a tough environment and they’ll be gunning for us. That’s going to be a tough game to win. But we’ll give it a shot.Washington
What did QB Cyler Miles tell you about the incident [his altercation after the Super Bowl]? Was there anything that was presented incorrectly in the media?
Chris Petersen: I don’t know what was presented in the media. I just know he made a mistake. He owned up to it. He did everything right as we’ve moved forward. He’s going to get a second chance.
Did he have to sell you a little bit? When you heard about it, it was pretty odd. Were you angry about it?
Petersen: I would say the fact that he didn’t have one day in spring football or one meeting probably sent a pretty strong message to him. But throughout that process, moving forward, he’ll get everything corrected. So we’re just hoping ... and I think he will. I think he will be a better person, a better teammate, a better everything for going through it. Guys make mistakes. Most important thing is to do right moving forward.
Does Washington hiring Chris Petersen change the dynamic of the rivalry with Washington and Washington State?
Mike Leach: I don’t think so. No disrespect to him, but that thing has been amped up for a long time. It would be hard to ramp it up any more. I don’t think I had anything to do with amping it up either. I think it’s been at a high level and it’s been a meaningful game to both schools for a long time. Both schools have quality players and quality staffs. I think it will be an exciting one this year. The last two games have been real exciting.
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To the notes!
Drake Bieber from Austin, Texas writes: I'm not a Pac-12 fan but I want to know what is the most important thing for me to know about Pac-12 media day?
Ted Miller: You're not a Pac-12 fan? Writing that might raise some NSA eyebrows. Do you not love freedom? Do you not love America? Do you drink white wine with a ribeye?
Know what my biggest take-away was, other than all the QB-luv? Strongly worded statements from Arizona State Sun Devils coach Todd Graham, Stanford Cardinal coach David Shaw and UCLA Bruins coach Jim Mora that they have no ambitions beyond their current jobs.
Now we know strongly worded statements of loyalty only mean so much in college football. Coaches are pretty much pushed into a disingenuous corner because of recruiting, as leaving the "never-say-never" door open is then eagerly highlighted by the competition and shown to recruits. As in, "You know Coach X is getting sniffs from the NFL, right?"
Graham's reputation for job-hopping is well-known, but he seems like a good fit at Arizona State and in the town of Tempe. His buying a big ole rock and roll love nest also is meaningful. Shaw, a former Stanford player and graduate, has told everyone who will listen the past few years that he views Stanford as his destination job and he doesn't want to leave. Mora was unambiguous, "I'm going to stay until they kick me out."
The big news from Day 2 was that Washington Huskies quarterback Cyler Miles will be suspended for the first game of the season when the Huskies face the Hawaii Warriors on Aug. 30.
What does this mean for the Huskies in the short term? Nothing. As my colleague Ted Miller tweeted, a certain member of the Pac-12 blog could probably start at quarterback against Hawaii and win (though Ted is giving said member more credit than he deserves). Either Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams will be fine.
But it hurts Miles' development in the sense that you are only guaranteed 12 (or 13, in the case of the Huskies this season) opportunities a season to improve, to learn, to develop. And when you lose one of those opportunities, you can't get it back.
We're confident that Miles (whom we all can assume would have won the starting job anyway) would have loved the opportunity to get that first touchdown throw out of the way, that first hit, that first good read and bad read. He'll likely get that shot a week later against Eastern Washington -- a team that gave Oregon State fits last season. Not saying the Huskies will share the same fate as the Beavers, but the Pac-12 blog would like its starter to at least have had a game under his belt.
On the flip side, it does give the Huskies a chance to get some valuable playing time for another quarterback. Miles already has some game experience. Last season he completed 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. He also rushed 23 times for 200 yards.
So I guess it depends on whether you view the glass as half empty or half full. But for coach Chris Petersen, it's a glass he'd much rather have not had to drink from in his first year with the team.
An interesting read from Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports on UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley. Coach Jim Mora doesn't want Hundley to fall prey to the stereotype that African-American quarterbacks are just runners.
Here's what Mora told Mandel:
“People have a tendency at times to see an African-American quarterback and say, 'Oh, he's a runner.' I hate that stereotype and I always have," said Mora. "I coached Michael Vick and my belief [is] that we stereotype those guys started with him. I don't want that to happen with Brett, and I'm going to make sure that it doesn't, because it shouldn't. The guy's a passer."
Hundley doesn't want to get pigeonholed, either. Here's a story the blog did on him back in April, for which he talked about training with several NFL quarterbacks in the hopes of becoming a "complete" player.
He knows the Heisman hype is coming, telling the Pac-12 blog earlier Thursday, "There's nothing I can really do to stop other people from talking about it. I'm just going to do the best I can to block it out and focus on wins."
Is it boring? Yeah. Is it plain? Yeah. But considering some of the questionable off-the-field résumés of some recent Heisman winners, maybe we could all do with a little boring and plain off the field and center our focus on what happens on it.
Stanford-SJSU Take 2
Following up on a link we brought you yesterday, about San Jose State coach Ron Caragher addressing the possibility of the Stanford Cardinal and the San Jose State Spartans reuniting at Levi's Stadium, Stanford coach David Shaw says he's on board.
Shaw told Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, "I never wanted to stop the series. I hope we get back to it."
For the Bay Area, for the schools and for the fans, we can all agree we'd like to see the game reinstated.
Some injury updates that came out of media days:
Oregon State's Isaac Seumalo should be available early in the season, according to Gina Mizell of the Oregonian.
Christian Caple reported that Washington defensive lineman Jaimie Bryant has taken a medical retirement.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News first reported that wide receiver Ty Montgomery might be inactive for Week 1 against UC Davis.
Yet it was the impending absence of the 11th quarterback, the Washington Huskies' expected starter Cyler Miles, that provided the top headline, as Huskies coach Chris Petersen announced that Miles would be suspended for the season-opener at Hawaii. Miles, of course, was involved in a notorious pair of altercations after the Super Bowl. Those incidents were notorious because it seems positively buffoonish that Miles and receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow thought it justifiable, as Denver Broncos fans, to have thin skin that particular evening in the city of Seattle.
"I wasn't there so I don't know what happened," Huskies offensive tackle Ben Riva said. "Obviously, he was probably the one Bronco fan walking around Seattle that night. I think someone tried to rip his jersey off, and he got in a fight. If it were 20 years ago, probably no one would have heard about it. But this day and age, he got in trouble. It was kind of out of character for him. He's not the kind of guy who goes looking for something like that. He's responded well to it and he's ready to put it behind him."
Stringfellow, charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault and one count of malicious mischief, opted to transfer. Miles, who was never charged with a crime, was suspended for all of spring practices. Petersen said Miles has done enough, however, to earn his way back into the quarterback competition with sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. He could win the starting job in the preseason, only then whoever comes in second will call the signals at Hawaii.
This, by the way, will have little effect on Petersen's debut game, as the Huskies will be double-digit favorites whoever plays quarterback. But it did provide some richer meat upon which the Pac-12 media could get its first taste of the coach. Without Miles' and Stringfellow's brain cramps, reporters would have focused their efforts on revisiting Petersen's leap from Boise State to the Pac-12, one of the biggest stories of the offseason, yet one that has become a bit ripe on the vine.
Petersen, who often ends up within shouting distance of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer on lists of the nation's best coaches, seemed perfectly comfortable explaining himself and his thinking vis-a-vis Miles, while not providing reporters too many details. It will surprise no one that a coach who won two BCS bowl games at Boise State was not overwhelmed by the larger stage afforded Pac-12 coaches -- even faced with the prickly topic of his quarterback having some embarrassing off-field trouble.
"I would say the fact he didn't have one day of spring football probably sent a pretty strong message to him," said Petersen, who was speaking for the first time about Miles since his reinstatement. "I think he will be a better person, a better teammate, a better everything after going through it. Guys make mistakes. Most important thing is to learn from it going forward."
This won't qualify as a great relief to Huskies fans, who already had a pretty good idea that Miles would be back in the quarterback mix after he wasn't charged. It does provide a comforting clarity. Miles has flashed plenty of potential, playing well when coming off the bench against the UCLA Bruins and winning at the Oregon State Beavers in his lone start replacing Keith Price.
Though the Huskies are not among the 10 teams with a returning starting quarterback, they have enough coming back at other spots, starting with a veteran offensive line, to hint that Petersen's first year should be at least interesting.
"Quarterbacks are great, but what would a quarterback do without an offensive line?" Riva said. "We've got all five offensive line starters back. So that's our bread and butter this year."
Petersen operates as another plot thickener for the conference. After listing the impressive returning talent at quarterback, observers next note the top-to-bottom depth of the conference. Then they see the coaches, whose Q-ratings seem to be at all-time highs. Day 2 of Pac-12 Media Days featured Petersen, Todd Graham, Jim Mora, David Shaw, Mike Riley and Mike MacIntyre. That's a crew with a lot to recommend it.
Further, there's the intertwined trio of Petersen, Mora and Steve Sarkisian, who inevitably will be compared going forward. Sarkisian bolted Washington for USC. Mora turned down overtures from Washington, his alma mater, to remain at UCLA. Petersen was the home run hire who helped Huskies fans quickly recover from that rejection.
Mora and Sarkisian are battling for Los Angeles bragging rights, which tends to get bitter. There will be plenty of commentary on whether Sarkisian or Petersen has better met or exceeded -- or fallen short -- of expectations. Mora already has a national title contender. Sarkisian and Petersen are expected to build ones, too.
Yes, Huskies fans expect to return to the national title discussion under Petersen. While it's been more than a decade since such talk seemed anything but laughable, Petersen is widely viewed as that sort of extreme difference-maker.
Now if he can only find a quarterback, preferably one who will behave as well as throw touchdown passes.
Biggest football-centric takeaway?
Gemmell: I think it's pretty notable that Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery -- a guy on the Biletnikoff watch list and a guy coach David Shaw called one of the most explosive players in college football -- probably won't play in Week 1. Shaw identified it as an "arm" injury for Montgomery, who didn't participate in spring ball. Shaw said it's likely they will take it slow for fall camp and might keep him out of Week 1. Translation: "We're playing UC Davis and should be fine without him." Because a week later they play USC. And they will need him for that game.
Jennings: There were plenty of good nuggets that came out of Day 2, but I was particularly interested to hear that UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, the reigning Offensive/Defensive Freshman of the Year, put on 15 pounds of muscle during this offseason. That's a lot of weight for a kid who already hit (and ran) pretty darn well. It'll be interesting to see how a bigger and stronger Jack does in Year 2 with Jim Mora and the Bruins.
Bonagura: For a media day, it was actually pretty quiet. The big news was clearly Washington coach Chris Petersen's decision to suspend projected starting quarterback Cyler Miles for the Huskies' opener against Hawaii, but even that will have little impact on the season. No one is expecting that to be much of a game regardless of who's under center for Washington. If anything, the move could end up helping the Huskies from a football standpoint because they'll get much-needed game experience for whoever ends up being the backup and give Miles extra time to digest the new coaching staff's system after missing every practice and meeting during spring ball.
Biggest nonfootball takeaway?
Jennings: Cue the campfire and Kumbaya, please. Everyone is becoming bff's.
Not only is this year going to hold one of the deepest crops of quarterbacks in a single conference ever, this could also be one of the closer groups of quarterbacks ever. So many of these guys attended the Manning Passing Academy together -- Sean Mannion and Brett Hundley roomed together at the camp. And through the two media days, there just seemed to be so much bromance. You've got the guys in other conferences who say, "Yeah, he's a good player and I respect him" but it felt like this group genuinely could become fraternity brothers or something. Sure, they're going to take the field and try to destroy each other's teams, but I also feel like -- if given the chance -- most of them would sit down for a dinner together the next day.
Bonagura: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is ready for the spotlight. And maybe he's been ready, but it's going to be brighter this year. This was my first chance seeing Hundley handle a throng of media attention, in person, and he came off like a seasoned pro. Other players were similarly impressive, but with the festivities being held in Southern California, Hundley drew the most attention and it didn't faze him. Forget the fact that he's one of the most exciting players to watch in the country, there are plenty of reasons why he's an easy player to root for. Best quote of the day?
Gemmell: I asked Colorado defensive end Juda Parker, of the 10 returning quarterbacks which one does he most want to sack. He responded with this gem: "The one I WILL sack is Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He's my classmate and we went to high school together. I'm looking forward to it. I'll probably give him an extra nudge and say, ‘We'll talk about this after the game.'"
Jennings: I was walking by a group of men when one of them announced, "That's why you don't raise raccoons." I should've stopped and completely put myself into the conversation because, let's be serious, this could've been one of the most interesting points of the day. But I was on a mission and decided to find coffee that it was easier to just input my own thoughts as to why they were talking about that. I'd like to imagine it was something like, "We need to achieve world peace and ... that's why you don't raise raccoons."
However, I would also like to imagine that at one point in time Mike Leach attempted to raise a raccoon.
Going to go out on a limb and say UCLA is not going to fire Jim Mora tomorrow. So modest, Jim.
Which player made a good impression on you?
Gemmell: I've known Stanford safety Jordan Richards for a while. We've talked a lot and done several videos together over the years. And I'm always impressed with his poise and confidence. I love how much he loves football. A lot of defensive players I talked to over the last couple of days admitted they have a tough road ahead with all of the offensive talent in the league. Richards shrugs it off and says it's the quarterbacks who have to prove themselves worthy of all the praise. I like that.
Jennings: I'm going to give some major props to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan here. One reporter asked Hogan about Mariota and Hogan went on a diatribe about how great of a person and player Mariota is. I'd imagine there are a lot of players out there who get sick of their same-position guys being talked about constantly (and having questions pitched to them about said guys), but Hogan couldn't say enough good things about Mariota. And yes, that says plenty about Mariota, but I think it says even more about the type of person Hogan is.
Bonagura: Relative to the rest of the players who were brought to Hollywood over the past two days, Juda Parker was one of the players I knew the least about. About 30 seconds into a chat with him, it became clear he's headed for big things. Time will tell if that's in professional football -- he's got a chance -- or in something else, but he expressed how important it was to develop skills during his time at Colorado that'll help both on the football field and "in a cubicle." It was obviously more detailed than that, but let's just say he served as an impressive ambassador for Colorado.
Cornhole was one of the activities available for the players and coaches at Pac-12 media days. If you could pick a threesome to play corn hole with, who would you pick and why?
Gemmell: Isn't this one obvious? Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler. Leave the coaches out of it. Stick with the three of the four most accurate quarterbacks in the Pac-12 from last year. Hundley led the conference with a 66.8 completion percentage. Mannion was second with 66.3 and Kessler was fourth at 65.4 (Keith Price was third at 66.2). The name of the game is accuracy. I want the guys who aren't going to miss.
Jennings: I'd pick Hundley as my teammate, because he and Eric Kendricks swept their competition -- 7-0, according to the leaderboard -- and I'm going to assume that the Heisman-contending QB was a big part of that. And for the competition, I'm going to pick Steve Sarkisian and Mark Helfrich -- the two coaches that are likely going to battle Hundley the most for the top spot in the south division and the championship game. Overall, there'd be plenty of real rivalry happening and I love some good trash talk (which I'm hoping there'd be some of). Plus, if we lost, I'd convince Hundley to just walk around throwing footballs at people and saying it was because he's the Campus Enforcer.
Bonagura: For my teammate, I'm choosing Sean Mannion. If his 68 career touchdown passes aren't reason enough, I'm putting a lot of stock in his recent victory in the Air-It-Out Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy. That event showcased his accuracy against several of the nation's best quarterbacks including USC's Cody Kessler and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, both of whom were also in Hollywood this week. As for who we're playing against, I want Mike Leach on my side of the pit (is it a cornhole pit?) purely for entertainment value and Sonny Dykes on the other to provide a reunion for the close friends.
2:00 PM ET Hawaii Colorado 3:30 PM ET Utah Michigan 6:00 PM ET Georgia State Washington 10:00 PM ET California Arizona 10:30 PM ET 2 Oregon Washington State 10:30 PM ET San Diego State Oregon State