Pac-12: Clemson Tigers

Mailbag: Kelly, Sark and the SEC

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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PM ET
Happy Friday. This is the Mailbag.

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To the notes!

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Eric from Hollywoodland, Calif., writes: I understand that the Pac-12 won a pretty major NFL draft battle in keeping the marquee QBs (Hundley, Mariota, Mannion and oft unmentioned Kelly), but why is one of the prevailing storylines STILL "SEC SO GOOD. SEC LOSES SO MANY PLAYER EARLY. ONLY SEC CAN RECOVER FROM SUCH LOSS??" Correct me if I'm wrong, but my Pac-12 educated brain tells me that 12 teams losing 25 players (2.083/team) might be even worse than 14 teams losing 28 players (2/team), right?

Ted Miller: Well, the SEC lost 32 players last year and the Pac-12 lost only 10.

And then the NFL draft happened -- 63 SEC draft picks vs. 28 for Pac-12 -- which, by the way, became the grounds for the Pac-12 blog believing the SEC might slide in 2013 while the Pac-12 might rise.

My feeling is the Pac-12 will do well in this year's draft, probably finishing a respectable distance behind the SEC. But it's a pretty clear recent trend that the SEC provides the most talent to the NFL among the major conferences.

However, it's also notable that the Pac-12's 2013 NFL rookie class was pretty darn salty, with former Oregon Ducks LB Kiko Alonso and California WR Keenan Allen being named defensive and offensive Rookies of the Year, and a number of other former conference standouts making a significant mark.




Erik from Portland writes: With [Steve] Sarkisian talking about USC going to an uptempo attack, shouldn't there be concern about whether or not the defense will be able to hold up? Aliotti alternated players constantly to keep them fresh. SC doesn't have the numbers or depth at any position (especially DL and LB) to do that.

Ted Miller: It will be a concern. It's simple math: Uptempo offenses possess the ball for shorter periods of time, which means more plays for your defense. More plays for your defense means more tired players if you aren't regularly shuffling in quality backups. USC doesn't have a lot in the way of quality backups.

One of the more impressive things about USC's defense under Clancy Pendergast this year was it attained some outstanding numbers while pretty much playing only 13 guys regularly.

Will the Trojans be deeper on defense next year? Perhaps, but only slightly so. Bottom line: Because of NCAA scholarship sanctions, USC will have no more than 72 players on scholarship in 2014, which is 13 fewer bodies than other teams are permitted.

But guess what? Sarkisian knows this. And he's a smart guy. I suspect he will pick his moments and not go all-in. I'm fairly certain USC won't be 100 percent no-huddle, uptempo next fall, particularly with a lead. I think his goal will be to control the tempo and find times to get an opposing defense off balance.

Of course, Sarkisian's desire to adopt an uptempo offense at USC is a long-term plan, at least until his philosophy changes considering this was his first year going that way. This is USC's last recruiting class that will be limited. So, starting in 2015, there should be more fresh body reinforcements.




Gee from Seattle writes: Can the SEC or any other conference put three or even four teams in the playoff next year? If so, how did this come about? Shouldn't the system allow for at least three conference champions and perhaps one at large?

Ted Miller: There are no limits on teams per conference in the four-team playoff, nor are there specific requirements for selection. The goal of the selection committee will be to pick the four best teams. Not the most deserving -- the four best.

So, yes, if a consensus from the committee is that three -- or four! -- of the best teams in the nation come from the SEC or any other conference, they will be selected.

But know that the committee also won't be eager to do that. For one, if you pick, say, three SEC teams, there's the possibility of rematches, which the committee will know fans don't like to see -- see the unpopular LSU-Alabama national title game after the 2011 season.

My guess is we're probably going to see plenty of four-team playoffs with two teams from once conference, most likely the SEC, but three will be highly unlikely.




Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: Ted, was wondering about your final top 25 poll. Aren't you getting away from your stance of "strength of schedule should mean something" by putting Clemson so high and ahead of Stanford? Yes, Clemson won their last game against a good Ohio State team and Stanford lost their last game to a better Michigan State team. When you look at the schedules, though, they are worlds apart. Name another ranked team that Clemson beat. There are 0 such wins. Stanford beat six ranked teams. Clemson got beat by double digits in its two losses. Stanford lost their three games by single scores and two were against ranked teams. Do you really think Clemson would win on a neutral field, and if you were on the playoff committee, would you really slot Clemson ahead of Stanford looking at the seasons of both teams?

Ted Miller: I see your point. I do almost always prioritize quality wins.

The combination of a head-to-head win and strength-of-schedule is why I ranked Stanford ahead of Oregon in my final poll, even though this didn't happen in either the AP or coaches poll. The Cardinal had a lot more quality wins than Oregon, including the best one -- the Ducks themselves.

But you asked about Clemson.

Part of my ranking Clemson sixth is pretty simple: My final position on Clemson is it was an elite team in 2013. It was the same justification I used earlier in the year to rank Oregon No. 2, even though the Ducks didn't post a quality victory until winning at Washington on Oct. 12.

Now, I didn't give Clemson the benefit of the doubt much of the season. I had them ranked 13th heading into the bowl games. I jumped them up because I consider the win over Ohio State impressive.

Clemson lost two games by decisive margins, yes, but they were to Florida State, which won the national title, and South Carolina, which finished ranked fourth. Further, I watched the South Carolina game, and it was a lot closer than the deceiving final score. Clemson seemed like the better team, outgaining the Gamecocks, but it lost the turnover battle 6-0.

6-0! I bet Tigers fans were ripping their eyes out watching that.

Further, Clemson beat Georgia while Georgia was still Georgia -- fifth-ranked and an elite team that hadn't yet suffered epidemic injuries. Georgia beat South Carolina the week after losing to Clemson.

Clemson, by the way, has now beaten two top-10 teams in a row in bowl games: LSU in 2012 and Ohio State this year.

(If I had a quibble with my own ballot, in fact, it would be that I ranked Clemson sixth and Oklahoma seventh. At the time I put the ballot together, I considered Oklahoma's losses worse -- Texas and Baylor -- and the Sooners' best win -- Oklahoma State -- was devalued when the Cowboys lost to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. I could go either way on that, because the Sooners beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was very impressive.)




Kevin from Orange County, Calif., writes: Regarding the Wazzu meltdown in their bowl game, why not mention the Stanford/UCLA game? Around two minutes left in the game, Stanford up 17-10 and inside UCLA 10-yard line and UCLA with no timeouts. ... Instead of going to the knee three straight times and guaranteeing a win, Shaw decides to run and try to score. The only way UCLA has a chance is a Stanford turnover or Stanford scores quickly and gives UCLA enough time to score themselves and get an onside kick (UCLA/Utah situation at the end of game). My point is why is Shaw getting a pass for his stupid play-calling at the end of that game if Wazzu is second-guessed? Only difference seems to be that Stanford won and Wazzu lost.

Ted Miller: You might have guessed this, but the bold and italics for the final sentence were supplied by me.

It is true. When a strategy works, it rarely gets criticized. And when it fails, it does.

Remember Chip Kelly's shocking onside kick early in the second quarter against Stanford in 2010, with the Cardinal leading 21-10? It was a game-changing moment. It was pure genius.

And we would have thought Kelly had lost his mind if Stanford had recovered and then driven for a 28-10 lead. We would have typed, "Just as Oregon seemed to have gained momentum after a terrible start, Kelly tried to get too fancy and he handed the game to Andrew Luck and Stanford. It's clear that Kelly is in over his head as a head coach and is never, ever, ever going to be successful."

Well, the last part was just me pouring it on.

Also, understand that the Pac-12 blog's consternation over the end game wasn't just about clock management. It was about yielding a 22-point lead, playing horrendous fourth-quarter defense and coughing up the ball two times in the final two minutes.

It was a total package of meltdown.




Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Am I a bad person for finding these Chip Kelly quotes hilarious? Do media folk find him condescending, or is there a small amount of joy in getting slammed by a master? I mean, who wouldn't want to get insulted by Don Rickles?

Ted Miller: Some might find him condescending, but my feeling is most reporters enjoyed working with Kelly.

Yes, he could be biting. But typically he was biting when someone asked him either: 1. A stupid question; 2. A question that he didn't want to answer. Asking the latter is often part of the reporter's job, and the truth is a biting answer is more fun than him saying, "No comment."

Further, most of his best quips aren't biting. They're him having fun. News conferences with NFL coaches are typically drab affairs. Any added color is appreciated.

As in, "This team is not going to fall for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick."

Erroneous!

It seemed New Orleans stuck a banana in the Eagles' tailpipe.
2013 may be the season of the quarterback in college football, because a lot of good ones are coming back.

In the SEC, there's Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater, and Clemson offers Tajh Boyd. In the Pac-12, there's UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelley.

But the best one coming back is Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

How so? Well, for one, that was the assignment: Make a case for the best quarterback in your conference being the best in the nation.

But it's not too difficult to make Mariota's case.

As a redshirt freshman, he ranked seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He threw a touchdown pass in every game and one interception in his final seven games. He was named MVP in the Fiesta Bowl after leading a blowout win over Big 12 champion Kansas State, which capped a 12-1 season and a final No. 2 ranking for the Ducks.

He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.6 PPG) and fifth in total offense (537.4 YPG). The Ducks scored 11 points per game more than any other Pac-12 team.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Honolulu native is an extremely accurate passer who might be the fastest quarterback in the nation -- see his 86- and 77-yard runs last season. Against USC on the road, he completed 87 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He tied a school record with six touchdown passes against California. He rushed for 135 yards at Arizona State.

Of course, his 2012 numbers aren't mind-blowing. A lot of that isn't his fault. Oregon blew out so many opponents -- average halftime score of 31-9 -- that it didn't require many plays from behind center after the break. For the season, Mariota threw just 24 passes and rushed eight times in the fourth quarter, compared to 227 passes and 71 rushes in the first half.

Manziel, for the sake of comparison, threw 62 passes and rushed 33 times in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater threw 86 passes and rushed 13 times in the fourth.

The good news is folks are probably going to see a lot more of Mariota this season. With running back Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, the Ducks might skew more toward the passing game after being run-centric under Chip Kelly. New coach Mark Helfrich, who was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last year, is expected to throw the ball around more because he has an experienced quarterback and a strong, experienced crew of receivers.

That means more numbers for Mariota as he leads a team in the national title hunt. The potential combination of stats and wins might be enough to get Mariota to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
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Osu_beavs1987 from Corvallis, Ore., writes: You and Kevin have been promoting the QB battle at OSU which is understandable since Riley refuses to say who the starting QB will be and neither QB really had a remarkable spring. The whole time I have been an avid supporter that Sean Mannion will be starting QB in the fall. With Mannion being voted team captain does this make him a favorite for the job in your mind? Knowing he has the teams support should boost his confidence, and I'm betting he works hard because he doesn't want to let his team down either.

Ted Miller: Being tapped captain is one element in Mannion's favor, but keep in mind he was team captain in 2012 when he lost his starting job.

Perhaps players decisively favor Mannion over Cody Vaz. But some political sorts in the locker room might have wondered if it would have been more controversial -- and potentially divisive -- to take the job away from Mannion and hand it to Vaz. That would have been a stronger statement in terms of the players taking sides.

I'm a slight lean toward Mannion for three reasons. He's a junior and Vaz is a senior. Tie goes to the younger guy. He's got better upside due to his height (6-foot-5 versus 6-foot-1) and better arm strength. I saw Mannion at his best during a win at Arizona -- 433 yards, three touchdowns, no picks -- last year, and it was one of the best performances a Pac-12 quarterback turned in last fall.

But none of that means anything. Coach Mike Riley and his staff are going to play the guy they think gives them the best chance to win. That guy is likely to be the one who plays best in fall camp.

I think the best case is one of them decisively wins the job and keeps the job. The worry is the Beavers offense will again on a quarterback carousel, with Mannion and Vaz going round and round as the starter.

(Read full post)

Expect Ducks, Wildcats to spin scoreboard

September, 19, 2012
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If statistical trends established in the first three games hold true, No. 3 Oregon and No. 22 Arizona should combine for 1,200 yards and 100 points when they meet in Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday.

That would be great fun, types the guy not playing defense.

Both offenses are up-tempo, no-huddle, run-based attacks. In fact, Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez is generally considered the father of the modern spread-option offense, while Ducks coach Chip Kelly is probably its most successful practitioner. And they are connected. In the spring of 1999, Kelly, then an offensive coordinator at New Hampshire in search of a new, fullback-less scheme, traded notes with Rodriguez, who was then the offensive coordinator at Clemson.

"Very similar philosophically," Rodriguez said. "You see some of the same plays. It looks like some of the same concepts. Philosophically we're very close in how we like to approach the game from an offensive standpoint."

Kelly, however, as is often his wont, was unwilling to indulge the media's interest in the relationship between Rodriguez and himself and their offenses. "I think it's made more of than it is," he said of the 1999 path-crossing at Clemson.

"When I look at them on tape, I don't say, 'I'm looking at us,'" Kelly said. "We use different formations than they use. We run some plays that are the same, but I think everybody runs some plays that are the same."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez, Matt Scott
AP Photo/John MillerUnder new coach Rich Rodriguez, left, QB Matt Scott has Arizona's offense in the top 10 nationally.
Both teams have started the season fast, ranking in the nation's top 10 in total offense. Both are running well, with the Ducks ranking fourth in the nation in rushing with 329 yards per game, Arizona 19th with 247. The Wildcats have thrown for a lot more yards -- 357.7 per game to 267.3 for the Ducks -- but that could be due in large part to Arizona having played a pair of competitive games. Both teams' dual-threat quarterbacks are playing well, with Oregon redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota ranking 10th in the nation in passing efficiency and Arizona fifth-year senior Matt Scott ranking 31st.

So these offenses, even if they are only loosely related, are rolling.

The difference in the teams overall is on the other side of the ball. Oregon, even with the season-ending knee injury to safety John Boyett, is deep and talented on defense. Arizona? It's playing hard in its new 3-3-5 scheme. The Wildcats have been, well, scrappy.

"They are hanging in there," Rodriguez said. "I am proud of the way they've battled. We are really short-handed and not nearly deep enough. We're just hanging on. This is going to be a huge challenge, certainly."

Oregon's defense hasn't put up great numbers. In fact, Arizona, after shutting out South Carolina State, is better by several measures. But a lot of that can be attributed to the Ducks not playing starters many second-half minutes during blowout victories. And an opponent third-down conversion rate of 15.6 percent certainly raises an eyebrow.

"I kind of like where they are at right now," Kelly said.

Neither defense will be shocked by the pace of the opposing offense. But the difference in depth should become an issue. Perhaps a decisive one, particularly in the fourth quarter. The Ducks will regularly rotate pretty much a full two-deep. The Wildcats, as Rodriguez noted, won't. The Ducks have 21 players with five or more tackles. Arizona has only 14 with at least five tackles. The backups for the Wildcats' front six have combined for 10 tackles. The Ducks' No. 2s for their front seven have combined for 46.

You almost wonder if Rodriguez might try to slow things down, but that would be against his nature.

For Oregon, while Kelly holds to his mantra of a nameless, faceless opponent of no more meaning and value than, say, Tennessee Tech, this is its first real test, the Pac-12 opener for a team that now sits atop the conference pecking order because of USC's loss to Stanford.

If the game looks anything like the 56-31 beatdown Oregon delivered in Tucson last year, it will become clear that the Ducks are again title contenders -- conference and otherwise.

It's surprising that Arizona is 3-0. It will be shocking if the Wildcats improve to 4-0. It probably will require an atypical level of sloppiness from the Ducks for the upset to happen.

Still, there's a good reason Vegas tapped this game with a 77.5-point over/under, by far the biggest number of the weekend. The expectation is there will be lots of offense -- and lots of exhausted defenders -- when the final bell rings.
RodriguezChris Coduto/Icon SMICoaches around the country have implemented parts of Rich Rodriguez's hurry-up spread offense.
Here's an interesting story from Andrea Adelson about "copycat coaches." It's interesting not only because it's a good topic but also, for our purposes, because its central figure is new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, arguably the father of the modern day, run-first spread-option attack.

Andrea sent over the Q&A she did with Rodriguez, which we're going to publish in its entirety. It includes lots of background on Rodriguez and his innovative offense, which has been copied by a lot of folks -- yes, including that guy up in Eugene.

Thanks to Andrea for doing all the legwork and writing a nice story.

When was the first time you had coaches asking for pointers on your offense?

Rich Rodriguez: When we went to Tulane, the second year we had a good year, with Shaun King. Then you had some games on TV, and that was the first time after that season that a lot of coaches started coming and visiting and calling. We beat BYU in a bowl game, and Lavell [Edwards] was the head coach, Norm Chow the offensive coordinator. So after the game, they said, ‘Would you come over and talk some football with us? I’m thinking are you kidding me? This is Norm Chow and Lavell Edwards, the passing gurus. I said I’ll do it on one condition. You have to give me some of your information, too. You have to teach me what you’re doing. Norm and I have been friends since that time. It was a great trip.

What was your connection with Tommy Bowden at Tulane?

RR: At Glenville, I went to the Bowden Passing Academy and I always talked football. Tommy had taken an interest in what we were doing. We never worked together when he called me to be offensive coordinator. It was really flattering. I asked, ‘Will you let me run my offense?’ He said sure. Tommy was the first big name, big coach, who took an interest in what we were doing. When we went to Tulane, there were a few folks. At Clemson, we saw a few more. Then at West Virginia, it wasn’t as good the first year we were there, but after that it took off again. I can remember Urban [Meyer], when he first got the Bowling Green job, we were at a coaches convention hospitality bar. He told me, ‘I’d like to run some of your offense.’ So he sent his whole staff for a week, we traded some ideas and so we always traded ideas. The Oklahoma guys, Bob Stoops and I became friends. They would come to our place or we’d go to Oklahoma and spend the week. After the Sugar Bowl year in the 2005 season, we had a whole bunch more. Some 30 different staffs come in, Penn State, Ohio State some non-traditional non-spread coaching staffs. I said maybe I am being too open, but I thought it was a great opportunity for us to learn, too. To pick their brains.

(Read full post)

The Heisman Pundit has released its official 2012 Heisman Trophy Watch List, and as you’d expect, it’s the usual suspects from the Pac-12 on the list.

Though in alphabetical order, it’s widely assumed that USC quarterback Matt Barkley is the front-runner with all others playing catch-up before the first snap has been taken. Here’s the list.
The Pac-12 blog entertained which player from the conference we thought would emerge as the Heisman winner in a Take 2 back in March. Watch lists are always subject to change, and until we actually see some games, it’s only fun speculation at this point.

No question that Barkley is the early leader in the minds of many. Given his statistics last season, the receivers he has around him and the lofty preseason ranking the Trojans are expected to enjoy, he’s looking down on the pack – at least for now.

Thomas is going to have big play after big play this season, which makes him a very strong Heisman candidate. His exploits can be packaged into an explosive highlight reel that is easily digestible for East Coast voters. No one ever gets tired of seeing 85-yard touchdown runs (unless you're safeties chasing Thomas).

Price lacks the national brand at this point, but that could all change in Week 2 in Baton Rouge. A strong showing against LSU is certain to boost his exposure and could catapult him from dark horse contender to major candidate. And then he's got Stanford, Oregon and USC all in the first six games. He could be the leader at the turn ... or slip out of the running all together.

ASU QB competition is wide open

March, 13, 2012
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- On Jan. 6, Mike Bercovici was chilling with some friends when he got a call from Arizona State receiver Aaron Pflugrad. There, it seemed, was some big news for the Sun Devils' backup quarterback.

In a surprise to many, junior Brock Osweiler, the Sun Devils' starting quarterback, had decided to enter the NFL draft.

"My mindset changed immediately," Bercovici said. "I was really excited when I heard the news."

Of course he was. It's natural that the backup becomes the favorite to win the job when the starter leaves. Osweiler's decision meant Bercovici was suddenly in line to become No. 1 on the depth chart a year earlier than expected -- as a true sophomore.

But, as everyone also knows, Osweiler also wasn't the only person who bolted the Sun Devils. When coach Dennis Erickson was fired, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his spread passing attack moved on to UCLA. Enter Todd Graham and his spread-option, Oregon-esque offense, which asks the quarterback to be a running threat.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
Jennifer Hilderbrand/US PresswireMike Bercovici was last season's backup at Arizona State, but might not be the best quarterback for new coach Todd Graham.
Bercovici has a big arm but isn't really known for his ability to run the ball.

"I'm not as familiar with the zone read," he said.

The guy who lost out on the backup job to Bercovici last preseason, sophomore Taylor Kelly, however, does have experience running the spread option. And, oh by the way, redshirt freshman Michael Eubank, an impressive athlete at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, was recruited by Graham to play quarterback at Pittsburgh.

"He tells me he knows me. He's told me that numerous times since he's been here," Eubank said. "But I'm fighting for the job like the rest of the guys. I don't feel like I have any advantage just because I know him."

What we do know: This feels like an honest-to-goodness battle. This offense seems to fit Kelly's and Eubank's comfort zone better than Bercovici's, but Graham's offense also emphasizes throwing the ball downfield -- much more so than Mazzone's quick-hit passing attack. Bercovici can hurl the rock downfield, there is absolutely no doubt about that.

But Graham isn't talking so much about the different skill sets of his signal-callers. For one, spring practices only start Tuesday, so he hasn't seen them in action. But he makes clear that there's a lot more to playing the position than passing and running.

"We spend a lot more time focusing on the intangibles, the mental part of it," he said. "The guy who will win this job will be the guy who can lead our team."

That said, becoming proficient with the spread option is a key component of the competition. But it's not all about athletic ability and blazing speed, either.

"The read zone is a part of what we do," Graham said. "We want to hurt them with our legs but slay them with our arm. Most of the guys in this system have been between 4.8 and 5-flat [in the 40-yard-dash], but if you have great technique you can be very deceptive in the option game."

(Graham said his offense best compares to what Chad Morris runs at Clemson and what new Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn ran as Auburn's offensive coordinator).

None of the three has any real college experience. And all three are young, so whoever wins could be in line to be a three- or (in Eubank's case) four-year starter. Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said each will get equal time with the first-team offense until a pecking order establishes itself.

"I don't have a timeline for when we're going to cut it to a two-man race or when we're going to name a starter," Norvell said. "It's a process and it's going to take its course. We're going to see how the guys compete."

And the competition is almost certain to extend well into fall camp.

Said Norvell, "I think I'll find it hard to name a starter after just 15 practices."

Kendricks outshines Burfict at combine

February, 28, 2012
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Maybe California's Mychal Kendricks really is a better inside linebacker than Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, even when you don't consider Burfict's baggage.

[+] EnlargeMychal Kendricks
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCalifornia linebacker Mychal Kendricks had a strong workout at the combine.
Kendricks, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, was the top inside linebacker at the NFL combine on Monday in the 40-yard dash (4.47), vertical jump (39.5) and broad jump (10-7). He tied for fifth overall at the combine in both the vertical and broad jump. He also had a time of 4.19 in the 20-yard shuttle, the fifth fastest for linebackers.

And there's this from Scouts Inc.:

The surprise of the inside linebacker group was California's Mychal Kendricks (5-11 1/8, 239), who absolutely crushed his workout. Kendricks had the top 40 (4.47), vertical (39 1/4) and broad jump (10-7) in the group, and was in the top five in the short shuttle (4.19). He was also above-average on the bench with 24 reps.

Kendricks' explosiveness showed up during drills, when he stayed low to the ground, showed quick feet and was effective shaving the edge as a pass-rusher. He was under control at all times, and this performance combined with good things seen recently on film give him a realistic shot to come off the board late on Day 2.

Things went much worse for Arizona State ILB Vontaze Burfict (6-1 3/8, 248), whose 40 time (5.09) and broad jump (8-7) were well below the four-year averages. Burfict's 2011 film says he's a third-rounder, and when you add in those results along with character baggage and poor interviews his stock is beginning to plummet.


USC linebacker Chris Galippo also struggled a bit:

USC MLB Chris Galippo didn't do enough to show teams he's more than just a two-down linebacker who will come to the sideline on passing downs. Galippo almost lost his balance when asked to backpedal between bags, and he didn't show great burst out of breaks in coverage.


Another Pac-12 defensive standout was former USC end Nick Perry, who ran a blistering 4.64 40. That said, ESPN's Todd McShay is a bigger fan of Clemson's Andre Branch.

Clemson's Andre Branch (6-4 1/4, 259) and USC's Nick Perry (6-2 3/4, 271) are similar conversion/hybrid players and both rank on the edge of the first round. Perry has better workout numbers but Branch is more athletic and shows better bend as an edge rusher. Perry has more straight-line explosiveness, but Branch blows him out of the water in terms of change-of-direction skills and lateral quickness in space.


Another take on Perry:

USC DE Nick Perry had a strong day. There is some tightness in his hips, and it showed when he was asked to open up in space. But Perry moved well enough to give base 3-4 defenses something to think about as a possible outside linebacker. The 271-pounder is quick and gets to depth, and he showed that he can pluck the ball out of the air. His most natural fit is at defensive end, though. Perry showed above-average lateral mobility and quick hands during bag work.


There were a few Pac-12 defenders that didn't burn up the 40, though. Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu ran one of the slowest 40s at 5.37, but he injured his hamstring while doing so. For the defensive ends, Cal's Trevor Guyton (5.07) and Arizona State's Jamaar Jarrett (5,02) were among the slowest in their position group.

Matt Barkley tops Heisman odds

February, 15, 2012
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It was about this time last year that people started predicting that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck would hoist the Heisman Trophy. How'd that work out, by the way? Still, it's not too soon to start looking at some odds.

Odds maker Danny Sheridan -- as originally reported with Alabama flavor by Izzy Gould of al.com -- released his 2012 Heisman odds Tuesday and his list includes three Pac-12 candidates in total and one obvious front-runner.
At first glance, Barkley is the obvious choice. He has a very good offensive line protecting him -- including the nation's top center in Khaled Holmes (just once, I'd love to see a center get Heisman love). The running game will come together, but until it does, you might see Barkley pass a little more. And why not? With his receivers he should put up crazy good numbers. A little surprised not to see Robert Woods on this list.

Thomas is going to do what Thomas does -- run really, really fast and score a lot of touchdowns. His chances might be hampered a bit by splitting carries with Kenjon Barner (by the way, shouldn't he be on this list also?). But with the amount of plays Oregon runs per game, that shouldn't be too much of a concern. Because Thomas is a speed guy, he's also going to have to get over the national stigma that he can't run between tackles. LaMichael James had the same label, but was quite good this past season at going up the middle.

Price is the wild card of this bunch. Last year, he spent the season with a lot of nagging injuries that forced him to be a better pocket passer. But when healthy -- as we saw in the Alamo Bowl with his three rushing touchdowns -- he can be just as explosive with his legs. Next season he should be a true dual threat and a player that should warrant serious consideration.

Other players picked by Sheridan include:
But as we've seen in recent years, there is always an out-of-nowhere candidate that was off the radar. Just looking at this awfully impressive lineup, however, it seems like it's going to be tough for an unknown to wiggle his way in.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Pac-12 BCS standings reaction

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
9:00
PM ET
» BCS standings reaction: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | Non-AQ

Stanford is squarely in the national title race.

The Cardinal moved up from No. 8 to No. 6 in the BCS standings released Sunday.

The Cardinal are No. 3 in the coaches poll and No. 4 in the Harris poll, the two human polls that count in the standings. It's rated No. 9 with the computers, with a high of 6 and low of 21 (the high and low scores are dropped).

But with games against USC and Oregon ahead, as well as the Pac-12 championship game, Stanford should see its computer standing go up significantly if it keeps on winning.

The top five: LSU is No. 1, Alabama No. 2, Oklahoma State No. 3, Boise State No. 4 and Clemson No. 5.

Stanford fans are now rooting hard for Oklahoma State and Clemson to lose. Boise State will eventually fall behind Stanford if both teams remain undefeated.

ESPN numbers guru Brad Edwards said Sunday night that if Clemson, Boise State and Stanford each finished undefeated, the Cardinal would end up on top, with Clemson second.

Oklahoma State, if it finished undefeated, might be another matter. The Cowboys are No. 1 with the computers and have a rugged remaining schedule. The question is can the Cowboys win-out with Kansas State and Oklahoma ahead?

Meanwhile, Oregon is the top one-loss team at No. 7. The Ducks are not out of it if things go haywire, which has happened before.

The Ducks are seventh in both human polls and 12th with the computers.

Arizona State is 21st in the standings.

Bottom line: With Wisconsin and Oklahoma losing over the weekend, the Pac-12 is a much bigger player in the BCS standings.

Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
8:30
PM ET
The final entry in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

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

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

Up next: Oregon

Best case

The moderator walks into the interview room at Cowboys Stadium: "We have LSU coach Les Miles here. Any comments coach before we take questions?"

"Yes," Miles says, letting out a breath. "Wow."

Four hours before, a pre-game brawl between the Ducks and Tigers was barely averted as the teams stood face-mask-to-face-mask at midfield. Later, the exact cause -- and instigators -- would become a subject of intense speculation and rumor. But both teams went back to their locker rooms before kickoff unhappy with the other.

Pregame: Ducks coach Chip Kelly, splatters of blood spider-webbing down his white shirt, stands amid his players.

"We have practiced better than any team in the nation," he begins. "We have come together for this moment. I'm all about judging ourselves only by the perfection of our effort every day, not by anything outside our program. That's win the day. That's what we are about. But if anger motivates you, then feel free to be angry. It's clear that team doesn't respect you. I will guarantee you this, though. That is going to change."

Oregon outgains LSU 476-220 in a 42-10 victory. Running back LaMichael James rushes for 185 yards and two scores, doing most of his damage between the tackles. The Ducks sack LSU QB Jarrett Lee five times.

"Wow, that's a good football team," Miles says. "They are fast and physical. They will get my vote for No. 1 this week."

The Ducks are voted No. 1 in both polls.

After pounding Nevada and Missouri State, the Ducks visit Arizona. The game is tied 17-17 at halftime. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, the score is 44-17.

"No team explodes like the Ducks," ESPN's Chris Fowler. "They are sort of like my favorite superhero, another green beast, the Incredible Hulk."

"Oh, good one," replies Kirk Herbstreit. "I can just see Chip Kelly, 'Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.'"

The Ducks roll over California, Arizona State, Colorado and Washington State. James is neck-and-neck with Stanford QB Andrew Luck in most Heisman Trophy polls.

"I don't care about individual awards," James says. "I care about my teammates and winning -- in that order."

The Ducks head to overflowing Husky Stadium to take on 10th-ranked Washington, which has only lost at Stanford.

An enterprising Huskies fans sells 50,000 purple T-shirts with a cartoon of Kelly passing money to alleged street agent Willie Lyles, and College GameDay runs a story on the bad feelings over the shirts.

"Did Chip Kelly run up the score?" a reporter asks Washington coach Steve Sarkisian after the Ducks whip the Huskies 60-14, their eighth victory in a row in the rivalry, each by at least 20 points.

Sarkisian pauses, "Well, it's our job to stop them. And I guess he thought getting LaMichael James rushing for 300 yards would help his Heisman Trophy chances."

That sets up the biggest conference game in decades: No. 1 Oregon versus No. 3 Stanford.

"One of the biggest regular-season games we've had in a while," Herbstreit says. "Not only will the winner earn poll position in the race for the national title game, you'd have to think either Luck or James wins the Heisman tonight."

Not unlike the 2010 game, Luck and Stanford start quickly and lead at halftime. And not unlike the 2010 game, the Ducks roll in the second half, winning 48-31.

Oregon improves to 11-0 with a 45-17 win over USC. Next up: The Civil War, against 17th-ranked Oregon State.

"Chip, a lot of folks are saying this is the best team of all time," Fowler says from the GameDay set in front of Autzen Stadium. "What do you think?"

"Maybe," Kelly replies.

"What are your feelings on the NCAA clearing you and the program of all wrong-doing in the Willie Lyles investigation?" Fowler asks.

"Who?" Kelly replies. "Oh, you mean, Will. My feelings are ... good."

Oregon whips the Beavers 55-10.

After stomping Arizona State 43-16 in the Pac-12 title game, the Ducks earn a berth in their second-consecutive BCS national championship game. The opponent? Unbeaten and second-ranked Alabama.

James wins the Heisman Trophy.

"The lead story for the national championship game, obviously, is the Ducks top-ranked offense against the Crimson Tide's top-ranked defense," Fowler says. "But SEC fans might be a little surprised that this Pac-12 team can play some D -- see 15.2 points per game. Oh, and by the way, this SEC team can play some offense -- see 41 points per game."

"And, of course, everybody is asking what would it mean for college football if the SEC wins a sixth consecutive national title and adds Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and North Carolina," Herbstreit replies. "Fair to say much of the college football nation is rooting for the Ducks to bring the SEC back down to earth."

"Other than Washington fans," Fowler quips.

"True that," says Herbstreit.

The Ducks gather inside the Louisiana Superdome.

"Great moments, are born from great opportunity," Kelly says."Forever is about to happen, gentlemen. That is your opportunity: To complete a perfect season and have your name written down on a list of champions where it will never be stricken. Look around this room. Look around! My heart is full of love for you guys. Our bond from this season will never be broken. And that is why we have to live in this moment together. We love this game. Play it with absolute joy tonight. Don't let any play, any moment of this game pass without your absolute focus, your absolute intensity. That is what we owe each other. Forever is about to happen, gentlemen. Lay it on the line. Four quarters for forever."

Oregon trails 24-19 with 12 seconds left. It faces a fourth-and-goal on the Crimson Tide 1-yard line.

"Darron," Kelly says to QB Darron Thomas. "We're going right at them. Tell LaMichael to jump. High."

James is immediately met short of the goal line by Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw. He lands, twists. Ducks tackle Mark Asper rams Upshaw. Three more Crimson Tide players surge into Upshaw, James and Asper, and three Ducks join the fracas. What develops is a scrum of 22 bodies moving sideways along the line of scrimmage. With no whistle.

Then everything collapses. It takes two minutes to clear the bodies.

It starts slowly. A hum, an inhale of recognition, then an explosion of joy followed by complete, prolonged pandemonium.

Touchdown, Oregon. The Ducks are national champions.

"It was a great football game," says Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward, "No shame in losing to a great team."

Kelly signs a lifetime contract. He could leave for another job, but he's agreed that he can only do so if he cuts off all of his limbs and leaves them behind. Most think that condition will keep him in Eugene.

Oregon announces it's expanding Autzen Stadium to 100,000 seats and that Nike has figured out a way to get the work done in advance of the 2012 season.

The Ducks sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

The renovation of Husky Stadium uncovers a massive lake of quicksand, into which the entire stadium sinks in just minutes.

The Pac-12 blog's postseason list of the conference's top-25 players is entirely made up of Ducks. Oregon fans complain that the list should number 30.

Worst case

The moderator walks into the interview room at Cowboys Stadium: "We have LSU coach Les Miles here. Any comments coach before we take questions?"

"Yes," Miles says, letting out a breath. "Wow."

He continues, "Did we beat their butts or what?"

The Ducks offense is again stymied by a big, fast defense with extra time to prepare as the Tigers prevail 28-12.

But the Ducks bounce back with seven consecutive impressive victories, rising again to No. 5 in the polls.

"They are still in the national title hunt," notes ESPN's Chris Fowler.

The Ducks head to Husky Stadium to take on unbeaten, fourth-ranked Washington, which handed Stanford its only loss two weeks before.

Oregon leads 28-24 with nine minutes left. A Jackson Rice punt rolls out of bounds on the Huskies 1-yard line.

On first down, Huskies running back Chris Polk rushes for 3 yards. On second down, Polk rushes for 8 yards. On first down, Polk rushes for 4 yards. After 16 plays, Washington has a first down on Oregon's 8-yard line with 40 seconds left.

Polk rushes for 3 yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk scores the winning touchdown as time expires.

"Wow, Chris Polk just ripped the hearts out of Oregon fans everywhere!" says Oregon play-by-play man Jerry Allen. "You can see why he's neck-and-neck with Andrew Luck in the Heisman Trophy race. The Huskies clearly are in the national title hunt."

Up next: No. 8 Stanford.

"This looked like the Pac-12 game of the year in the preseason, but right now everyone is chasing the Huskies," observes Fowler.

Luck throws four touchdown passes in a 42-28 win.

The Ducks bounce back with a win over USC.

"If we win the Civil War, we can still go to a quality bowl game," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says."I was reading the paper the other day, and it said we can still get to the Alamo Bowl."

Beavers receiver James Rodgers hauls in a game-winning 2-point conversion in triple-overtime. The Beavers rush the Autzen Stadium field, and chant together, "@%$@! Oregon!"

The Ducks lose to Clemson in the Sun Bowl to finish 8-5.

Washington beats Oklahoma for the national title.

Kelly becomes Georgia's new head coach. The Ducks hire Jim Lambright to replace him. "Now I can be happy about watching Kenny Wheaton return that interception!" Lambright says at his introductory press conference.

On July 20, the NCAA docks Oregon 15 scholarships and gives it a one-year postseason ban.

Nike files for bankruptcy. Phil Knight moves to Tibet, becomes a monk.

Best case-worst case: Stanford

August, 30, 2011
8/30/11
1:00
PM ET
Eleventh in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

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

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

Up next: Stanford

Best case

Stanford doesn't look like it misses Jim Harbaugh much, and rumors about this Andrew Luck guy being pretty good at playing quarterback turn out to be true.

Luck throws six touchdown passes in the Cardinal's first two games, but as big a story is the defense, which pitches a pair of shutouts against San Jose State and at Duke.

At Arizona, Luck throws for two touchdowns and runs for another -- the Cardinal rushed for 225 yards -- in a 38-17 win. The Cardinal heads into the bye week ranked fifth.

"So I was sitting around with Shayne Skov watching TV and the talking heads were talking about balancing the budget," Luck says during his weekly sit-down with reporters. "So Shayne and I got to talking about it. We ordered a pizza and got out some graph paper and in about 90 minutes we figured out how to balance the budget without cutting Social Security or Medicare."

"Or defense!" Skov adds.

"Oh, Shayne! Always thinking about defense," Luck says through a laugh. "We had to raise taxes. But we found out a perfect way to do that: We'll only raise taxes on people who are jerks. That's where Moose and David come in."

Offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro join the news conference. Says Martin, "It's a simple, painless blood test David and I came up with in the lab. It immediately recognizes who is a jerk and who isn't with 100 percent accuracy. We've been testing it for a year."

"Did you test it on Oregon coach Chip Kelly?" a reporter asks.

"Yes," DeCastro says. "Not a jerk. His millions are safe."

"So can you give us any names of jerks?" the reporter asks. Luck, Skov, Martin and DeCastro exchange amused glances.

"We tested it on a certain Pac-12 blogger from ESPN.com," Martin says. "Thanks for helping balance the budget, Miller."

Stanford blows out UCLA, Colorado, Washington State and Washington. It rises to No. 3.

"Luck has thrown for 20 touchdown passes and run for five more through seven games," ESPN's Chris Fowler said."Along the way, he balanced the budget. Is there anything he can't do?"

"And don't forget, he made the Kardashians, the cast from the Jersey Shore and all of the housewives who appear on shows calling them housewives spontaneously disappear from the collective cultural consciousness of the nation," replies Kirk Herbstreit. "It's not easy to make this country smarter, but he did it."

"I don't know what you're talking about -- did you see 'The Real Scientists of Harvard' last night?" Fowler replies. "Riveting."

Stanford trails No. 10 USC by two with 58 seconds remaining, but a 25-yard Luck scramble sets up the winning field goal.

"Students claim they saw me walking on Lake Lagunita?" Luck says. "No. That's silly."

Stanford beats Oregon State 42-10, setting up a marquee showdown with top-ranked Oregon.

Oregon explodes out of the gate, scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions. Luck has a sure touchdown pass dropped, and the Cardinal lose two fumbles, including one from Luck, just his third turnover of the season. At halftime, Oregon leads 24-3.

Poised, polished, Stanford-educated first-year Cardinal coach David Shaw goes ballistic in the locker room. "&$%#@," he says, then adds. "&%@#."

He calms himself. "We are letting ourselves down. We are letting our families down. We are letting our fans down. I let you down in the first half because we weren't ready to play. We are all accountable here. So it's simple. We redeem ourselves one play at a time. If we each put everything we have into every play, one after the other, we win this game. Now go out there and @*&^% do it!"

But with 12 seconds left, the Cardinal still trails by four. On fourth and eight from the Ducks 38, Luck drops back, then ducks under a sack attempt from Dion Jordan and sprints to his right. He shakes off Brandon Hanna, reverses course back across the field to his left. Looking, looking. He sets. Fires. Coby Fleener in the corner of the endzone. Touchdown. Clock hits zero.

On Monday, Stanford is the No. 2 team in the land.

The highlight of the throw will be spooled endlessly for an entire week, broken down from every angle.

"It was a laser -- seemingly never more than 10 feet off the ground for roughly 49 yards of flight," Herbstreit says.

"See how he sets here ... look at the vision ... he picks up Fleener here and releases," says ESPN draft guru Todd McShay, frenetically telestrating. "There is no margin for error, but see how committed he is? Total confidence. Nothing tentative. He just threads it through one of the best secondaries in the country and puts it in the only place Fleener and no one else can catch it. Extraordinary."

The Cardinal hands California its seventh loss of the season, ensuring no postseason for the Bears for a second-consecutive year. The Axe stays in Palo Alto.

"I know this might be an unpopular position on the West Coast," says an East Coast college football analysis. "But when you get down to it, Stanford really hasn't beaten anybody. I know Oregon beat LSU and everything but the Tigers didn't have their starting quarterback, and Alabama whipped LSU pretty good. Luck has put up big numbers against weak Pac-12 defenses. I think he and Stanford struggle against Notre Dame, to me a far more physical team."

Stanford rolls the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish 40-10. It then wins the Pac-12 championship game 30-28 over Arizona State when Luck muscles through a tackle attempt from Vontaze Burfict on a scramble for the game-winning touchdown.

Stanford earns a berth in the national championship game opposite Alabama.

"I know this might be an unpopular position on the West Coast," says an East Coast college football analysis. "But when you get down to it, Stanford really hasn't beaten anybody. I know Oregon beat LSU and everything but the Tigers didn't have their starting quarterback, and Alabama whipped LSU pretty good. Notre Dame? The Irish aren't any good. Luck has put up big numbers against weak Pac-12 defenses. I think he and Stanford struggles against the Crimson Tide, to me a far more physical team."

Luck wins the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in the award's history.

"You're probably wondering why I've brought what looks like a chemistry set to the lectern here," Luck says after receiving the award. "But my outstanding receiver Chris Owusu and I were sitting around one day and we wondered why no one had created a device that could quickly and inexpensively convert sand into fresh, potable water. This is neat. Watch!"

Stanford whips Alabama 33-17 and wins the national championship with a perfect, 14-0 season. Luck wins game MVP.

"So, Andrew, what are you going to do before the NFL draft," a reporter asks.

"Glad you're curious," Luck says. "Well, Owen Marecic was in town the other day and we got to talking, and you know what really, really bothers us?"

Everybody waits.

"Cancer."

Worst case

Stanford and Luck looked dominant during a 2-0 start. That was not the case at Arizona, where the Cardinal faced a team armed with a talented secondary and a hunger for revenge.

Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles outplays Luck, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-35 victory, his completely rebuilt offensive line muting the Cardinal defensive front. Stanford's three new offensive linemen struggle to protect Luck, while its rebuilt receiving corps struggle to get open.

Luck and the Cardinal bounce back with five consecutive victories, with Luck throwing for 10 touchdowns during the streak to put himself back in the Heisman Trophy race. Stanford rises back to 12th in the country and heads to USC for a marquee matchup with the 10th-ranked Trojans, who are fresh off a win over Notre Dame.

But USC quarterback Matt Barkley, with a superior supporting cast of receivers, outplays Luck, throwing for 295 yards and three scores in a 31-28 victory.

"It's a lesson we've learned before but it frequently comes back to remind us," says Fowler. "One guy can't do it all. It's hard to do great things as a quarterback when your line isn't protecting you and your receivers aren't good enough to get open and make plays."

"And injuries," replies Herbstreit. "The Cardinal has taken some injury hits and they don't seem to have the depth to overcome them, at least at the level of a top-10 team."

The Cardinal wins at Oregon State. Up next: No. 1 Oregon.

Not unlike the 2010 game, Luck and Stanford start quickly and lead at halftime. And not unlike the 2010 game, the Ducks roll in the second half. The stadium is less than half-full when the clock hits zero on a 48-31 Oregon win.

"Sure, we've had some tough times this season," says Luck, who's been sacked 19 times, six more times than he was the previous two seasons combined. "But keeping the Axe would make up for a lot."

But resurgent Cal gets a sterling performance from quarterback Zach Maynard in a 28-24 win. Maynard scrambles in from 18 yards for the winning score with three minutes left.

Stanford beats Notre Dame in the season-finale and earns a berth in the Sun Bowl, where it loses to Clemson, 28-24, to finish 8-5.

Not long ago, that would have been a successful season. But the headline in the Stanford Daily tells the new story: "Is Shaw up to replacing Harbaugh?"

Cal ends up 11-2 and ranked ninth after beating Texas 45-3 in the Alamo Bowl.

"The balance of power has shifted back North, as it should," crows Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks, not typically one to crow.

After Stanford loses its bowl game, offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro as well as linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas opt to join Luck in the NFL draft a year early.

Stanford's recruiting class ends up ranked eighth in the Pac-12, six spots below Cal.

Cal eclipses Stanford on the National University Ranking from US News & World Report.

Best case-worst case: Colorado

August, 17, 2011
8/17/11
9:00
AM ET
Second in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

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

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

Up next: Colorado

Best case

Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz shook his head.

"If Colorado is the worst team in the Pac-12 South, I'd hate to play in the Pac-12 South," said the touted Warriors QB after the Buffaloes sacked him five times and intercepted him twice in a 42-20 victory that ended a 17-game road losing streak.

Says new Buffs coach Jon Embree, "We don't have too much time to feel good about this. We have to go back home and watch film of last year's game with California. That should make us sick."

That 52-7 defeat to the Bears is a major reason many old school Pac-10 fans don't think too much of the Buffs. But after Colorado prevails 24-21 in a highly physical contest, it becomes clear the Buffs have been underestimated.

"Colorado has been underestimated," the Pac-12 Blog insightfully observes.

After whipping Colorado State, the 3-0 Buffs head to Ohio State brimming with confidence, though pundits believe the Buckeyes -- even down a few players -- have too much talent to lose, particularly inside the Horseshoe.

Down 21-17, with two minutes left, QB Tyler Hansen drives the Buffs to the Buckeyes 17-yard line. On third-and-10, he connects in the corner of the endzone with Paul Richardson.

But the officials rule Richardson didn't have possession when his landed. The play is reviewed but not overturned. Ohio State survives.

"What did I think of that call?" Embree asks. The term "pregnant pause" is used in 17 of 23 game stories the following day.

After whipping Washington State to improve to 4-1, the schedule gets tougher. Andrew Luck picks apart the Buffs secondary in a 41-20 loss at Stanford. An overtime win at Washington is followed by consecutive defeats to Oregon and Arizona State.

The Buffs could use a bye, but the schedule says 13 consecutive weeks, none off. Most of the whining, nonetheless, comes from the beat writers, who start to wish hotel room keys still had numbers on them.

The Buffs bounce back and upset USC, which guarantees them bowl eligibility, but lose to Arizona when QB Nick Foles lines up with five receivers and throws for 425 yards and four TDs against a game but overmatched secondary.

Colorado outlasts UCLA in the Rose Bowl when linebacker Jon Major blows up Bruins receiver Taylor Embree, who for a moment appeared to catch a game-winning TD pass.

"He's my son and I love him and I wish that it wasn't him on that play," Embree says, "But I really wanted to win this football game."

The 7-5 Buffaloes head to Utah, which is 7-4, with the apparent stakes being a berth in the Sun Bowl. The game is billed as a rivalry game between the Pac-12's two new members.

"Do you guys see this!" an enraged Embree says to his team during a meeting Monday before the game. He holds a bike above his head that it appears someone has vandalized with cheap, red spray paint.

"This is my 15-year-old daughter's bike. Look what they did to it! It used to be black and gold, our beloved colors. And now it is Utah red! Those, those, Utes... they made her cry!"

The meeting room erupts. "They made coach's daughter cry!" rages 6-foot-8 guard Ryan Miller. "We must crush them, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentation of their women!"

It will become known as the "Red Bike Incident." Utes fans will alternately revel in it or deny involvement. Years hence, college football historians will lean back and sagely say, "Yep, that was when those Buffs and Utes really started to hate each other. Might be the most vicious rivalry in all of college football."

Colorado prevails 28-27 in a game that features 195 yards in penalties. The Buffs then stomp Clemson in the Sun Bowl and finish 9-5.

Embree's recruiting class ranks 15th in the nation. The Big 12 falls apart. Nebraska finishes last in the Legends Division of the Big Ten.

The snow comes early and often and is most righteous.

Worst case

A team that can't win on the road and has a highly dubious secondary is not a good thing when you're facing a QB like Hawaii's prolific Bryant Moniz, who throws for four TDs against the Buffaloes.

And so Jon Embree's debut as Colorado's coach becomes an 18th consecutive road defeat, 44-35. Embree isn't happy.

"I'm not happy," Embree says.

The Buffaloes try to rally around the embarrassment of their 52-7 defeat at California last year, but they don't have anyone in the secondary who can cover receiver Keenan Allen, who catches three TD passes in a 38-20 Bears victory.

The Buffs beat state rival Colorado State, but the schedule becomes unforgiving thereafter. It doesn't help that injuries start to pile up.

They get rolled at Ohio State, picked apart by Washington State QB Jeff Tuel and blistered by Stanford QB Andrew Luck. An upset win at Washington ends the road losing streak -- the Huskies are struggling to throw the ball with new QB Keith Price -- and briefly stops the bleeding. At least until Oregon hangs 55 on the Buffs in a game that foregrounds Colorado's lack of team speed.

That becomes the first of four consecutive defeats. Though they win a sloppy game at UCLA, they go down hard at Utah, which captures the South Division crown.

A 3-10 finish is blamed on former coach Dan Hawkins, as are poor early snow accumulation and flu symptoms lots of fans seem to be having. Further, fans no longer burst into song each time Jon Embree's name is mentioned.

"I'm not happy," Embree says. "We need to get faster. We need to get tougher."

Nebraska loses the national championship game to Oklahoma, one of two BCS bowl teams from the nation's best football conference, the Big 12.

"Well, at least we signed the top five prospects from the state of Colorado," Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini says after the game.

Notes: Clowney to Oregon? Top JC back to Utah?

February, 7, 2011
2/07/11
5:01
PM ET
Couple of good notes that might answer your questions. First, lots of folks have emailed asking if Zeus swaggered down from Olympus -- lightning bolts in hand! -- and visited Oregon last weekend. And by "Zeus" of course you know we mean defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 recruit in all the land.

The long answer is no. Per Jamie Newberg:
There were rumors that he was making an official visit to Oregon over the weekend, but the fact he was at both of his basketball games Friday and Saturday ended that talk. But expect more talk and speculation about Clowney's future right up until he steps up to the microphone and makes his announcement.

Clowney is picking between Clemson, South Carolina and Alabama on Feb. 14, his 18th birthday.
Keeping with a recruiting focus, ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman asks himself which junior college imports could have the biggest impact on the 2011 season? You might recall that a couple of JC transfers helped Auburn a bit this past season. Feldman ranks eight, and Utah fans concerned about losing Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide will be glad to know John White ranked eighth on his list. Writes Feldman:

The Utes lost two very good runners, but the 5-foot-9, 190-pound back should be a good complement to highly regarded power runner Harvey Langi. "He is an SEC-type talent," says one coach who tried to recruit White.

Sure all of you will love that "SEC-type" talent quip.

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