Pac-12: Chris Petersen
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.
There are plenty of topics to cover, from the perhaps unprecedented quality and experience at quarterback, to two new coaches who have familiar faces, to the new four-team College Football Playoff.
Arizona, California, USC, Oregon, Washington State and Utah will appear on Wednesday, while Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Colorado follow up on Thursday. You can see the players on hand and the schedule here. This is the first time the Pac-12 has spread out its preseason media event over two days.
The preseason media poll will be released Wednesday, and the Pac-12 blog is going out on no limb guaranteeing you that Oregon will be picked to win the North and UCLA will be picked to win the South.
As a public service, we've provided you with a cheat sheet so you can contemplate the world as a reporter might. Below are questions for each of the conference's 12 teams that are sure to be asked, less warm-and-fuzzy questions that should be asked, and idle bits of whimsy that the Pac-12 blog wishes would be part of the proceedings.
(Unless otherwise noted, the questions are intended for the head coach.)
Arizona Wildcats, coach Rich Rodriguez
What will be asked: Can you give us an idea of your pecking order at quarterback?
What should be asked: What did Wildcats fans say to you this summer about being 0-2 against Arizona State?
Whimsical interlude: If Todd Graham and Donald Sterling were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?
Arizona State Sun Devils, coach Todd Graham
What will be asked: Who will step up on your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: You turn 50 in December: Do you expect to retire as the Sun Devils' coach?
Whimsical interlude: If Rich Rodriguez and Justin Bieber were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?
California Golden Bears, coach Sonny Dykes
What will be asked: What's your team's attitude after going 1-11 in your first season?
What should be asked: What are specific mistakes you made last season that contributed to your team's struggles?
Whimsical interlude: Compare and contrast your hometowns of Big Spring and Lubbock, Texas, to Berkeley.
Colorado Buffaloes, coach Mike MacIntyre
What will be asked: Is your team ready to take the next step in the Pac-12?
What should be asked: What is your program's chief deficiency, and how are you addressing that in recruiting?
Whimsical interlude: Just thinking out loud here, but -- Ralphie, are you certain she has no remaining eligibility?
Oregon Ducks, coach Mark Helfrich
What will be asked: How will quarterback Marcus Mariota be better this season than last?
What should be asked: What were some of the challenges and transitional pains you've learned from after replacing a larger-than-life coach in Chip Kelly?
Whimsical interlude: Marcus, here are five loaves and two fishes. There are a lot of hungry reporters here. So, you know, do your thing.
Oregon State Beavers, coach Mike Riley
What will be asked: How does the offense change without wide receiver Brandin Cooks?
What should be asked: Is it possible for the Beavers to catch up to Oregon without the kind of support the Ducks get from Nike founder Phil Knight?
Whimsical interlude: Sean Mannion, please re-create for us the worst temper tantrum you've ever seen Coach Riley throw.
Stanford Cardinal, coach David Shaw
What will be asked: Who will step up to lead your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: The media have again picked Oregon, the two-time defending Pac-12 North champions, to eclipse you. Is that a slight to your program, and if not, how do you interpret it?
Whimsical interlude: Jordan Richards, you are a public policy major. Please compare and contrast the deontological perspectives of Kant, Mill and Rawls.
UCLA Bruins, coach Jim Mora
What will be asked: How do you manage all the hype and high expectations that surround your team and quarterback Brett Hundley?
What should be asked: What do you need from the UCLA administration to maintain and build on your present advantage in your rivalry with USC?
Whimsical interlude: Jim, what does your dad think of the new college football PLAYOFFS?
USC Trojans, coach Steve Sarkisian
What will be asked: How will your up-tempo offense work while you have depth issues due to scholarship limitations?
What should be asked: What mistakes did you make at Washington that you'll avoid at USC?
Whimsical interlude: Steve, what would be the most interesting revelation if you, Pete Carroll, Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin went out for drinks?
Utah Utes, coach Kyle Whittingham
What will be asked: Explain how your quarterback situation sets up with Travis Wilson and transfer Kendal Thompson and how each fits in new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense.
What should be asked: Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Whimsical interlude: You've had six offensive coordinators in six years. Please match each with one of Snow White's seven dwarfs, assuming that this stupid question automatically makes you Grumpy.
Washington Huskies, coach Chris Petersen
What will be asked: What was it about Washington that lured you away from Boise State?
What should be asked: What did quarterback Cyler Miles tell you about his role in two separate fights that occurred after the Super Bowl?
Whimsical interlude: OT Ben Riva: You are the only offensive lineman here. There are eight quarterbacks, three receivers and a bunch of defensive guys. First, what's the worst prima donna behavior you have witnessed? And second, is this pretty much an offensive lineman's seventh level of hell?
Washington State Cougars, coach Mike Leach
What will be asked: With a veteran quarterback and a deep corps of receivers, what are your expectations for your offense this fall?
What should be asked: Did your job get more difficult or easier with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington?
Whimsical interlude: Connor Halliday and Darryl Monroe: Here is a 10-question quiz on your coach's book about Geronimo, which I'm sure you've read. You have two minutes. Go!
It believes there is no glee in seeing someone fired, even if said coach is snarky, unavailable or arrogant. Let he who is not sometimes snarky, unavailable or arrogant cast the first stone! (Pac-12 blog starts sheepishly whistling.)
That's why the Pac-12 blog cringes every year when it acts as a reluctant prophet of doom by putting a thermometer to each conference coaches' stool and announcing a temperature. It gives us no pleasure to tell the coach to slide over a bit so we can scramble some eggs and rustle up some bacon (thick cut) on a portion of his seat.
Ah, but there is good news in 2014. The Pac-12 coaching stools range from comfortably chilled to slightly warm to the touch. There are no Will Muschamps, Mike Londons or Dana Holgorsens in the Pac-12 this year.
So while there's always going to be someone stuck at No. 12 when Pac-12 teams are ranked, there's good reason to believe the conference just might get through a season without a coaching change -- at least not one created by a boot and a slamming door.
1. David Shaw, Stanford: Shaw has won consecutive Pac-12 titles. He inherited a good thing from Jim Harbaugh and made it better. He's a Stanford graduate and he loves raising his family among family in Palo Alto. While many view him as a future NFL coach -- and you never say never in coaching -- he's the most likely guy on this list to be in the same place a decade from now.
3. Todd Graham, Arizona State: Mora and Graham are really 2A and 2B, as they have both turned so-called "sleeping giants" into potentially awakening giants. While some still believe Graham could eventually have a wandering eye, every indication -- including this -- is he is setting up for the long term in Tempe.
4. Chris Petersen, Washington: Petersen is not only secure because he's in his first season with the Huskies, he's also secure because he's Chris Petersen, who's widely regarded as an elite coach. Of course, if he's a 7-5 or 6-6 Chris Petersen in December, then the Sark II jokes will begin.
5. Mike Leach, Washington State: While Leach isn't great at avoiding controversy -- he feels no need to place a filter between his brain and mouth -- his team took a big step forward last year. Further, he seems like a great fit in Pullman and with Coug fans, who enjoy his quirkiness. Finally, he's got a good and supportive AD in Bill Moos, who has tirelessly worked to improve the facilities around the program.
6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: Rodriguez has done a good job his first two years in Tucson, winning more than a few games he shouldn't have, as well as grabbing a pair of bowl victories. What knocks him down here is Graham's success in Tempe and Graham's 2-0 record in the Territorial Cup. Rich Rod can't afford for that to become a long-term trend.
7. Mike Riley, Oregon State: The notion that Riley could be terminated feels unlikely, but there is a faction of Beavers fans that is dissatisfied with the program, in large part because of Oregon's rise to national prominence. If those folks would write the athletic department a $68 million check, they'd have more legitimacy and a better chance of getting an audience with AD Bob De Carolis.
8. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado: MacIntyre's early returns are solid. Colorado improved in myriad ways last year. He seems like a good fit. But the Buffaloes are just 1-8 in conference games the past two seasons. You'd suspect fans are ready to show some patience, but a coach is never secure until he starts winning conference games.
9. Steve Sarkisian, USC: How can Sarkisian be all the way down here in his first year? For one, it's because his hiring wasn't overwhelmingly greeted with celebratory cheers. But it's also that USC fans have a small window for satisfaction: Pac-12 championships and national titles. You even can win a bunch of the former and not be loved if you're not competing for the latter.
10. Mark Helfrich, Oregon: Helfrich has some of the same issues as Sark, though he's in his second year leading a nouveau riche program as opposed to an old-school power. He won 11 games and was in the national title picture much of 2013 but some Ducks fans only know him for Not Being Chip Kelly. The Ducks are again Pac-12 favorites and top national title contenders. If they lose more than one regular-season game, though, some fans might become disgruntled. Not saying it's right, but it would happen.
11. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Whittingham is the starting line on this list for where there's actually some real warmth, but he also has a strong track record with his program and a legitimate excuse: It ain't easy moving up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Still, Utes fans are eager to gain some traction in the South Division. Whittingham should be safe with a return to the postseason, but a third consecutive losing record could tighten the screws considerably.
12. Sonny Dykes, California: Dykes is only in his second season, which typically would mean he's safe. The conventional wisdom is a coach needs at least three and preferably five years to be fairly evaluated. But college football has become far less patient with losing -- even academic bastions like Berkeley -- and Cal has spent a bunch of cash for fancy facilities upgrades. The expectation here is Dykes will be back in 2015 if his team wins three or four games and shows improvement in terms of soundness and consistent focus. But he can't afford another feckless 1-11 season.
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was break me
Yeah, you wreck me.
- Nevada won't be a walk-over game for Arizona.
- Arizona State gets three commitments from O-line prospects in one day, but the big news is keeping in-state guys home.
- Who's a better fantasy pick? Keenan Allen or Randall Cobb?
- Some Colorado news and notes.
- Oregon has signed a JC WR who will be immediately eligible.
- Oregon State, one deep at tight end, now might need some youth to step up at the position.
- David Shaw, Chris Petersen and Mike Riley rank highly on this list of top college coaches.
- The UCLA freshmen arrive on campus.
- More on USC now offering four-year scholarships for revenue athletes instead of one-year deals.
- A Twitter roundup for Utah, but this is the photo of the day.
- Where does Washington stand at safety?
- Washington State picks up a LB at the expense of California.
You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. One word: Nirvana. And I'm not talking about the band, though they would sound pretty good just about now.
To the notes!
Grant from Seattle writes: Ted, what are the odds that someone other than Cyler Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year? And who would it be -- Lindquist or Williams? I've heard some really good things about Lindquist.
Ted Miller: The Huskies QB situation will be intriguing to watch this August.
While the overwhelming sentiment is Miles is the most ready to take over for Keith Price, there are no guarantees. You, of course, start with his off-field incident after the Super Bowl. While Miles wasn't charged, there is no question that he didn't conduct himself well. Even if it was all on wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, which I find dubious, Miles' proper response would have been to grab his enraged teammate by his collar and say, "You need to shut up and chill out."
(Funny fact: I have a good buddy who might be reading this who was the captain of my high school football team and did that exact thing to me when I was acting like an imbecile. Perhaps more than once. Gemmell now has that job).
The reason I bring that up is that coach Chris Petersen has made a big deal out of OKGs -- "Our Kind of Guys." When I say big deal, I mean it's actually written in big letters beside his picture on the Huskies official website.
It's fair to ask how quickly Miles might earn OKG status, whether he's the most game-ready guy or not. My feeling with Petersen is he probably isn't going to make things easy for Miles, at least in the early going.
As for a pecking order between Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, I haven't noted an appreciable separation, at least nothing that can't be quickly overcome in fall camp.
So, to answer your question, I'd rate it a 39-percent chance that someone other than Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year.
0006shy from Los Angeles writes: hey ted, do you think the lack of conference championship games for the Big 12 and Notre Dame will hurt them when it comes to being selected for the playoff? Generally speaking won't teams that play thirteen games have stronger schedules?
Ted Miller: Yes and no.
A strong 12-game schedule will trump a weak 13-game one. An undefeated Notre Dame or undefeated Big 12 team is a very good bet for the four-team College Football Playoff because they will, more often than not, play a strong schedule.
On the other hand, it could hurt if the selection committee is comparing an array of one-loss teams, including Notre Dame and the Big 12 champion, and the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12's one-loss champs are coming off impressive victories over ranked teams just days before. There is an unavoidable what-have-you-done-for-me-lately psychology there that might be difficult to overlook.
And an "extra" quality game would bolster a team's strength of schedule of metrics.
On the other hand, Notre Dame and the Big 12 also know that a conference title game means said conference's lead team is vulnerable to a season-ruining upset.
In the end, you are hitting on a point -- one of many -- that folks will be paying attention to when the committee starts making tough distinctions.
Ed from Placentia, Calif., writes: Why is your non-important article on kendricks on a Trojan website? As a Trojan fan, I don't care what he thinks or does to prepare for this season. Write and publish articles that are important to Trojan fans? Was this an error? I really don't want to read any more bRUIN articles. I paid money to read info regarding USC.
Ted Miller: I've received more of these sorts of notes from USC fans over the past year than any previous season. The meaning is simple. USC fans are officially concerned about UCLA's rise under Jim Mora.
In 2008, this was the sort of note a UCLA fan would write.
One of the unmistakable fan psychoses I've witnessed over the years is RUNT -- Rivalry Ululation from Niggling Team -- the often irrational petulance of fans whose team is struggling while their rival is thriving. (Kevin and I have been talking about this, and Chantel may take over the Pac-12 Blog's Department of Complaints this fall).
Ed, you are a fan of USC, perhaps college football's preeminent program. Act accordingly.
But feel free to worry privately about the Bruins' rise. That is completely rational.
Matt from Oakland writes: After losing one of the Robinson twins and Jake Rodriguez recently, should Oregon be concerned at the number of good players transferring away from the program?
Ted Miller: Absolutely. You should panic. That should be your perpetual state.
It sure seems as though a gaggle of Ducks fans love to cuddle with anxiety, obsessively wringing their hands over every single negative blip for the program.
Matt, you and Keith Dennis, who also asked this question, should band together for a trip to consult with the Oracle at Delphi. Only she can provide you the knowledge you seek!
Obviously, we've been here before.
Short answer: No.
Remember all the other sorts of offseason tribulations you've been through during the Ducks greatest run in program history? The departure of a few nonstarters is not something that should ruffle your feathers.
A loss to Michigan State, now that would be time to really panic.
Jake from MTL writes: Hey Ted. Whats your prediction for Arizona starting QB?
Ted Miller: Prediction? Paaaaaaaaainnnn.
Sorry, Clubber Lang took over the mailbag for a moment. He said to tell you he "pities the fool who thinks he knows what Rich Rodriguez is thinking."
Before spring practices began, I saw senior Jesse Scroggins as a long shot. Though I'd probably still take the field over him, I'd rate him a slight frontrunner, at least based on spring practices.
Tom from Portland writes: Inexperience. Reminds me of a secondary textbook I had in Economics 201: "Lying With Numbers".Having most of your lettermen back can sometimes be a very bad thing if, for example, those same guys went 1-8 in your own conference the year before.
Ted Miller: Yes, if your returning players are uninterested bloated zombies who drank beer and played video games all summer then their experience doesn't matter.
Another thing I've learned through the years -- so much wisdom today! -- is that folks who uproot Benjamin Disraeli's quote, "Lies, damned lies and statistics," often are having an emotional reaction to statistics that don't fall in their favor.
Getting a lot of this from Arizona State fans at present. Their offseason story is to judge it irrelevant that their team lost nine defensive starters and will be relying on a bevy of players on that side of the ball this season who haven't seen a Pac-12 snap.
Leaps of faith are great. Heroic even. But the available evidence suggests reasonable people should be skeptical about the Sun Devils defense this fall. Or any other unit on any other team in which inexperienced or generally unknown players will be taking over starting roles.
Folks, returning starters is simply one way we judge teams in the preseason. It's a straightforward measure of the known. It also takes the not unreasonable position that a freshman will be better as a sophomore and sophomore will advance as a junior, etc. Doesn't always work that way, but it's perfectly logical as a predictive model.
Consider this before/after photo of Washington State safety Deone Bucannon.
& gets you paid. RT @WSUCougars: This is what commitment to weight room looks like. @deonebucannon20 #GoCougs pic.twitter.com/5v1LjBut6G - Ted Miller (@TedMillerRK) June 10, 2014He kept getting better as a returning starter, no?
Sure, some teams seem to operate in a realm where returning experience doesn't matter, most notably during dynastic runs when top recruiting rankings are piling on top of each other -- see Alabama at present and USC from 2002 to 2008.
Again, noting returning starters and lettermen isn't the end-all of analysis, but it unquestionably is a useful piece of information.
Eric from Somerset, via Boulder writes: Ted, the best-case/worst-case cannot die. Not only are they hilarious, and well written -- even the ones you probably don't like after writing them, but more importantly, What will happen to Jon Embree's daughter's bike? I have a solution. Don't worry that it may mean more work for you. You no doubt have ample free time to fill anyway, writing and rewriting pieces you don't like. Have us -- we humble Pac 12 Blog fans -- submit them. Your time "could" be cut in half, just reviewing, editing and posting, vs. writing, reviewing, editing and posting. It might even end up not sucking. Just an idea. ... Long live the Pac-12 Blog, and hopefully the best-case/worst-case scenarios. Go Buffs.
Andy from Austin, Texas writes: Ted, I have a suggestion to appease folks asking for the best/worst case series to continue, hopefully without adding to your work load too much: Why not ask for fan submissions? As an avid UW fan I would love to spend a few days perfecting a 1000-word piece about my beloved Huskies going 12-1, dropping one on the road to the frequently pesky Arizona, followed by winning the Pac-12 championship game before losing a heartbreaker to FSU in the first round of the playoffs. Similarly, I'd relish the chance to craft a couple submissions about Oregon crashing and burning to 7-6 post-Mariota injury with Phil Knight having a crisis of conscience and deciding to refocus all of his financial resources on tackling child labor laws in southeast Asia, as well as WSU flaming out to 3-9 with Mike Leach jumping ship in favor of using his law background to defend actual Somali pirates in legal proceedings. It might take some time for you and your team to read through a lot of these submissions, but that may be more amenable (and hopefully more entertaining) than to have to actually create all of these yourself. Just a thought. Love the blog.
Brian from Cincinnati writes: Hi Ted, I read your comment about the Best Case/Worst Case piece and have an idea to keep it going. Launch a reader contest and have them submit their takes -- you select and publish the best or most relevant? I'd take a crack at Oregon's if you opened it up to us readers. Thanks for what you do. Keep it going!
Ted Miller: Did you guys get together and talk about this? Lots of notes suggesting this course of action.
First of all, thanks for the kind words. Gratifying to know some folks enjoyed the pieces.
I am intrigued. Let me give this some thought. Maybe I can set up an email box for folks to send in their work/ideas.
Going on vacation next week, so I can let this marinate.
With few exceptions, a single game doesn't define a season. A great victory can be deflated by an upset the next weekend, while a crushing defeat can be redeemed by an inspired effort later in the season.
While the Pac-12's national title contenders -- we won't name names -- need to win every game (or just about every game), you can point to a stretch of games on the schedule that appears to be defining. In terms of a team's goals, that stretch is most critical.
We've defined a "key stretch" as three games, though we will allow for those three games to come among four.
Key stretch: Nov. 15 at Arizona, Nov. 22 vs. Oregon State, Nov. 29 at Washington State
Why it’s critical: Well, it’s too bad the Huskies won’t face off against USC this season (unless, of course, we see a Pac-12 championship matchup between the two), because while there doesn’t seem to be bad blood between the Huskies and Steve Sarkisian, it’s always interesting to see a coach face his former team in his first year at a new job.
But with the Trojans not on the schedule this season, we had to look elsewhere for a key stretch for Washington. It was still a tough decision. So many coaches laud Chris Petersen for his in-game coaching ability; he’s never married to one plan and makes great halftime adjustments. So there was a big part of me that wanted to put a stretch that included Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State (Sept. 27 to Oct. 25), but I wasn’t sure that would really be the stretch that truly defines this team. Yes, if the Huskies can pick up a win or two there, the hype surrounding the program is going to ramp up. But that will still be so early in Petersen’s Washington career and the Huskies’ season. Will the team really know its identity by then?
So instead I went with the season's final three-game stretch. In Ted Miller’s summer Pac-12 power rankings last week, he had the Huskies just ahead of all three of these teams. And by November, the team should be established in who it is and what it wants to do. Additionally, if the Huskies can go out and cap their 2014 season with three consecutive wins, that will put them in good bowl position (and a finale win over rival Washington State wouldn’t be so bad, either).
In the first year for a coach, it’s great to pick up an unexpected win here or there. But the key to building a program is winning the games you should win (as well as an unexpected one here or there). If a team goes out and loses the games it's favored to win, that really hurts. What would a victory over Oregon mean if the Huskies lose to Oregon State and Washington State? If Petersen is as much of a wizard as his colleagues say he is, then maybe he will pick up a win or two during the Stanford-Oregon-ASU stretch. But right now, for this team -- and for Petersen in his first season at Washington -- this closing stretch is going to be so, so important moving forward.
Other key stretches:
You can follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.
And you can follow my personal Twitter account, which is updated when I'm procrastinating -- which is, like, constantly -- by clicking here.
If you click follow, you can give your team an imaginary national title, just like Auburn wants to do.
To the notes!
Todd Graham's Nephew from Phoenix writes: Ted, In your article about the [Todd]Graham/[Rich] Rodriguez extensions, you stated that Rodriguez had "a lot less talent" than Graham over the past two years. You've stated this before in other articles. I'm curious what you're basing that on.
Ted Miller: Coach Graham's nephew wrote a much longer note with supporting points, but we cut those out due to a severe case of cherry picking.
You could, however, make a case that the talent at Arizona and Arizona State was at least comparable in 2012. Arizona had Matt Scott at quarterback and Taylor Kelly was a complete unknown. Heading into the season, we didn't know that DT Will Sutton was going to become a monster. It's also accurate to view the 2012 Territorial Cup as a huge collapse for Arizona in the fourth quarter -- at home, no less -- and that certainly wasn't a shining moment for Rodriguez and his staff.
Still, the Sun Devils ended up with four All-Pac-12 performers in 2012 compared to three for the Wildcats. Further, what Arizona State had coming back in 2013 was decisively superior to the Wildcats, which is why Kevin and I both picked the Sun Devils to win the Pac-12 South before the season and ranked them third in the preseason power rankings compared to eighth for the Wildcats.
As for more talent this past fall, the Sun Devils finished with -- cough, cough -- 13 first- or second-team All-Pac-12 players. Arizona? One -- RB Ka'Deem Carey.
To me, the biggest difference between the talent Rich Rodriguez inherited compared to Todd Graham was on defense, particularly on the front seven. The unit that played against the Sun Devils in the 2012 Territorial Cup was pretty much a slight blip above FCS-level talent.
As for the recruiting rankings that preceded Graham and Rodriguez, Arizona State ranked ahead of Arizona in 2009, 2010 and 2012 (year of both's hiring), while the vote was split in 2011.
Ted Miller: You do know, Victor, that Oregon and Stanford were not always atop the Pac-12, right? Stanford, in fact, had a losing record way, way back in 2008. And there was this team called "USC" that had a pretty good run for a bit.
Scheduling, I am told, is more complicated than you think. Heck, witness the struggle to keep rivalry games set for the final weekend of the season. Schedule rotations, TV as well as each university's own quirks make it challenging to organize the conference slate. Further, showing favoritism for a certain budding rivalry probably wouldn't roll well in 10 other athletic departments.
While I understand -- and often espouse -- the realpolitik of your thinking, I also sort of like having an A-list Pac-12 game with national implications in November. It attracts a lot of eyeballs.
As coaches say, "The games you remember are played in November."
Ted Miller: Miles saw significant action last year and played well. His competition, sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams, haven't thrown a pass for the Huskies.
Miles came off the bench against UCLA and acquitted himself well, then led the Huskies to a win at Oregon State in his lone career start. In total, he appeared in eight games, completing 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 200 yards on 23 carries. His passer rating would have ranked 61st in the nation.
Further, the scuttlebutt on his playing abilities and upside has been almost entirely positive. Of course, then there's our next question.
Rob from Seattle writes: Ted -- I'm struggling to reconcile Chris Petersen's reputation of integrity with the decision to reinstate Cyler Miles. Granted -- he knows more than me as a fan and has done his own investigation. Here's what I do know: the police report said he and [Damore'ea] Stringfellow were involved in beating up a woman during a Super Bowl celebration. Am I wrong in thinking Petersen should explain this to us, why Miles deserves to be the leader of our football team after being involved in an attack on a defenseless woman?
Ted Miller: First off, I'm not one of those guys who dons shining armor to act like I'm a paragon of virtue as I differentiate between a man and a "defenseless woman." I know plenty of women who can play defense. And offense. I think acting as though women are made out of porcelain does them a disservice.
What I do abhor is someone bullying anyone. I equate that to attacking an innocent, non-aggressive, typically smaller person, be it a man or woman. This case allegedly fell within those criteria. It was both reprehensible and shockingly stupid.
I've commented on this a couple of times, first here and then here, the latter effort describing how I might hypothetically handle punishment if I were Chris Petersen.
As repeatedly noted, I'm a big second-chance guy. Not a big fan of zero-tolerance policies in most cases.
Further, Miles wasn't charged with a crime. Receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, another likely starter, was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault and one count of malicious mischief and he has opted to transfer, which I assume he was encouraged to do.
Petersen's chief task is winning football games. Educating and building the character of young men is part of the job, but it is secondary, despite what some might disingenuously claim. Petersen does, by the way, have a better chance of teaching Miles life lessons with him on the team than off it. I think the idea of "making an example out of someone" mostly works in organizations like the Mafia, where nuanced thinking isn't part of the culture.
But I do agree with something you wrote: "Am I wrong in thinking Petersen should explain this to us why Miles deserves to be the leader of our football team...?"
No, you are not. And this willful silence on the matter is the unfortunate course Washington appears to be taking, at least at present, as neither Petersen nor Miles have talked to reporters since making a brief statement on May 14. The correct course would have been to hold a news conference -- I'd have suggested Friday, May 16 at 4 p.m. -- just after the announcement of Miles' reinstatement.
Over-managing the response to an off-field incident like this is typically a mistake. Over-managing acts as a preservative instead of a neutralizer. It, in fact, makes things seem worse, as if there is something to hide about the process. The lead story for the 2014 Huskies should be the nationally esteemed Petersen beginning his first year at Washington, not what Miles did and how Petersen handled the incident.
Washington's goal should be to have the Miles incident watered down enough over the coming weeks that it is not the lead question for Petersen at Pac-12 media days in July. As it stands now, it will be. And if Petersen is standoffish, he will be peppered with questions, and then words like "bristled" and "evasive" will describe him in subsequent stories.
Just about every off-field incident in college football is a story with chapters -- incident, arrests or not, charges or not, punishment, aftermath and redemption or not. At present, Petersen and Washington are creating a limbo between punishment and aftermath that is unnecessary.
Ted Miller: We already have one. We roll it twice each day to see: 1. Which Pac-12 team we will be biased for that day; 2. Which Pac-12 team we will be biased against that day.
So how do things stand in advance of teams beginning preseason camp?
Glad you asked (and you can view the final 2013 power rankings here).
1. Oregon: I know. We always rank Oregon here, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the return of QB Marcus Mariota and a veteran offensive line is just too tantalizing. The Ducks look like the Pac-12's best bet for an entrant in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
2. UCLA: I know. We're dropping the two-time defending Pac-12 champions to No. 3, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the Pac-12 blog keeps reviewing the Bruins' depth chart and contemplating a trip to Vegas ... 20/1 ... hmm.
3. Stanford: The quandary with Stanford: Was the defensive front seven dominant this spring because it's going to again be among the best in the nation (probably)? Or was it because four new starters on the O-line means a step back on offense (maybe)? Two other issues: 1. Replacing D-coordinator Derek Mason; 2. Can QB Kevin Hogan improve enough on short and intermediate throws to take advantage of a strong crew of receivers?
4. USC: The Trojans enter the final season under NCAA scholarship reductions with a starting 22 good enough to win the Pac-12, but depth and health are issues. There is a lot to like on both sides of the ball, though the offensive line probably rates as the most critical question mark.
5. Arizona State: The defending South champions are going to be tough to stop on offense behind QB Taylor Kelly and WR Jaelen Strong, but replacing nine starters -- and just about all its star power -- on defense is not an issue you can write off with a "Hey, we've got lots of great JC transfers coming in."
6. Washington: The return of QB Cyler Miles from suspension provides a big boost and probably means that the Huskies can be a factor in the North race. The secondary is a concern, and that's not a good concern to have in the QB-laden conference this fall. And there is some mystery as to whether there will be growing pains during the transition to Chris Petersen from Steve Sarkisian.
7. Oregon State: We expect the Beavers defense to be better this fall compared to last season, so the big question is how do the 10 guys on offense complement QB Sean Mannion? The O-line -- again -- is a question, and it's not easy to replace the nation's best receiver. Still, we expect the 2014 Beavers to be better than the 2013 version. Perhaps much better.
8. Washington State: If you are looking for a true conference dark horse, it's the Cougars. There are questions on the O-line and on defense, but the passing game should be outstanding with third-year starter Connor Halliday and a deep, talented crew of receivers. Put it this way: What does this team look like if it improves as much in Mike Leach's third year as it did in Year 2?
9. Arizona: The Wildcats are outstanding at receiver, good on the offensive line and solid at safety. There are questions just about everywhere else, and the strange thing is that quarterback might be the least worrisome. Still, to show how we view the Pac-12's depth again this fall, the Wildcats over/under for wins is seven.
10. Utah: The Utes situation seems fairly simple. If the production at quarterback is consistent, this is a bowl team. The best bet is with a healthy Travis Wilson, though it really is about just starting the same guy all 12 games.
11. Colorado: The Buffaloes should take another step forward in Year 2 under Mike MacIntyre, but the real issue is whom can they crawl over to rise in the conference pecking order? With about six or seven projected senior starters this fall, the Buffs might not make a move up until 2015.
12. California: If the bet were to pick who finishes last in the Pac-12 in 2014, Cal or the field, I'd be reluctant to tap Cal. I'd much rather go with the field because I think the Bears were awful in Year 1 under Sonny Dykes because of an epidemic of injuries and a poorly-coached defense. The latter should be solved by the hiring of coordinator Art Kaufman, and I can't foresee the injury situation being nearly as bad.
But the coach who put it best this spring was Oregon coach Mark Helfrich who said, “In spring ball, you’re panning for gold a little bit. There’s a bunch of crap and one fleck of gold. You grab it and build on that and try to fix the other parts.”
So, here’s a look at who or what those flecks of gold were for the Pac-12 North:
Cal: If the Bears had been even adequate on defense a year ago, Andy Buh would still be in charge of the defense. Of course, that didn’t happen, but as a result coach Sonny Dykes was able to bring in Art Kaufman -- a man with a much more extensive list of success coordinating defenses. With Kaufman on board, Cal got back to basics, upped the amount of hitting it did in practice and took steps toward getting back to respectability. And, oh yeah, it remained healthy throughout the process.
Oregon: Offensively, if there’s any kind of gold/silver lining to the fact the Ducks lost Bralon Addison, it’s that they lost him early in the spring, which gave the younger, less experienced receivers more reps. Obviously, you never want to see a guy go down, but the timing of this injury gave other guys the time to step up and bring along the learning curve. Defensively, the silver lining is that the pass rush definitely improved. Between Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, Oregon is going to have two really solid defensive linemen on its hands.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks and with him about 1,700 yards of receiving. They spent the spring trying to figure out where they’d find it. The fleck of gold in this season for Oregon State is that it might be on the right trail with two young receivers -- sophomore Victor Bolden and redshirt freshman Hunter Jarmon. They’re both players to keep track of next fall as quarterback Sean Mannion will certainly continue his gun-slinging ways.
Stanford: The two-time defending Pac-12 champion’s blueprint has long been in place. Now the program is in the rinse-and-repeat state among college football’s elite -- and for Stanford that starts with the offensive line. With four new starters up front, the talented group needs time to mesh, but it showed enough throughout spring to encourage the coaching staff it can remain a strength of the team. Center Graham Shuler and left guard Joshua Garnett also displayed leadership traits.
Washington: Whenever there’s a coaching change before a spring season, the fleck of gold is always going to be the fact that for both the coaches’ and players’ benefit, there was a period of time to get acquainted with one another. For Chris Petersen, he was installing a new system, bringing UW an overhaul in the coaching staff and implementing new rules and ways of doing things. Hopefully the spring period moves this group from Petersen’s program with Steve Sarkisian’s players to more of Petersen’s program.
Washington State: Ask any WSU fan about the future at quarterback beyond Connor Halliday and there is no worry in the world. It has been that way since Tyler Bruggman signed his letter of intent as part of the Class of 2013. What few counted on was that a walk-on could end up challenging the heir apparent -- but that appears to be the case. Luke Falk, who at one time was committed to Cornell, split reps with Bruggman and outperformed him in the Cougars’ spring game.
- The Wildcats have some concerns about secondary depth.
- A breakdown of ASU players who could be drafted.
- Catching up on Cal recruiting.
- Paul Richardson is getting plenty of draft projection love.
- Reviewing some spring storylines for Oregon.
- Sean Harlow finds himself the veteran of the OSU offensive line.
- David Shaw was very opinionated about the SEC's eight-game slate.
- A post-spring look at UCLA's running backs.
- Athlon debates whether Steve Sarkisian or Chris Petersen will have a better season in 2014.
- Alex Smith bringing the pomp and circumstance to Utah.
- UW's quarterback competition remains wide open.
- Three post-spring answers for Washington State.