Pac-12: Cyler Miles

Both Washington and Oklahoma State underwent tumultuous runs during the middle of their 2014 seasons. After getting off to a 5-1 start, the Huskies lost four of five to fall out of the Pac-12 title picture. Likewise, the Cowboys got off to a 5-1 start, before dropping five in a row.

Yet despite the midseason struggles, both squads bounced back to finish strong. Washington hammered Oregon State, then Washington State in the Apple Cup. The Cowboys too knocked off their rival, stunning Oklahoma with a comeback overtime win in Norman.

Which team will keep the surge going in TicketCity Cactus Bowl?

Pac-12 reporter David Lombardi and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the matchup below:

[+] EnlargeCyler Miles
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCyler Miles has stepped up for Washington late in the season.
How Washington can control the game: The Huskies' pass rush can dictate the tempo. When it comes to sacks, Washington has been ranked in the top three nationally all season. They're loaded with talent that loves to get after the quarterback up front, and this is particularly bad news for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have given up 37 sacks this season, making them the 112th-ranked team nationally in that category. Needless to say, that's not good, and it represents an opening for big Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha, the national leader in sacks during the regular season. If Washington can deliver a cohesively aggressive performance up front, it's easy to see them disrupting Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, who doesn't have a whole lot of college experience. – Lombardi

How Oklahoma State can pull off the upset: The Cowboys have to keep balance offensively to negate the mismatch up front. Oklahoma State blocked better late in the year, but the Cowboys offensive line doesn't stack up well against a Washington front seven that is among the best in the country. If the Cowboys can get Desmond Roland and the inside running game going, that will prevent Washington from launching an all-out assault on Rudolph. The true freshman has shown plenty of poise in his two starts. But he won't stand much of a chance if Oklahoma State can't keep the Washington defense off-balance. – Trotter

Washington's X-factor: The offense. The Huskies struggled offensively at the start of the season, but quarterback Cyler Miles has supplied them with a notably steady presence as of late. Much credit can probably be given to the stabilization of Washington's running back position -- Dwayne Washington has rushed for at least 100 yards and seven yards per carry in each of the Huskies' past three games -- but Miles certainly deserves credit for overseeing a unit that has demonstrated increasing cohesiveness as this season has gone along. The sophomore has thrown only three interceptions this season, and if he holds onto the football against Oklahoma State, Washington should have the offensive talent necessary to support their explosive defense. – Lombardi

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brody Schmidt/AP PhotoOklahoma State will need running back Desmond Roland to take pressure off freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Oklahoma State's X-factor: The Cowboys suffered a massive blow after the win over Oklahoma when All-Big 12 all-purpose back Tyreek Hill was dismissed from the team. Hill was Oklahoma State's best player all year, and his absence from the offense and return teams leaves a huge void. Who could help fill it? Slot extraordinaire David Glidden is one possibility. Glidden has been Oklahoma State's most consistent pass-catcher this season; he's also expected to replace Hill on punt returns. Glidden doesn't possess Hill's speed or explosiveness. But with a reception of at least 17 yards in all but two games this season, Glidden has the knack for producing big plays. Without Hill, the Cowboys could really use a few from him against the Huskies. – Trotter

What a win would mean for the Huskies: A Washington win would mean positivity and stability coming out of Chris Petersen's first season at the helm of the program. Many were uneasy about this Huskies' team early in the year, when both sides of the football suffered from decidedly lackluster performances. Washington seemed to lack the necessary punch to make a true statement in the Pac-12, but they clearly improved over the course of 2014 as Petersen settled in and the team's personnel fell into the appropriate positions. The Huskies obviously still have plenty of work to do -- they'll be graduating a bevy of excellent talent -- but a victory here would wrap up a nine-win season, something that would ultimately carry necessary positive vibes into a critical offseason. – Lombardi

What a win would mean for the Cowboys: While fielding the youngest squad of any Power 5 conference program, the Cowboys suffered through arguably the worst stretch of the Mike Gundy era, losing five in a row, all by at least three touchdowns. But after pulling Rudolph out of redshirt, light appeared from the end of the tunnel, as Oklahoma State toppled the Sooners on the road in the regular-season finale. With Texas and Oklahoma getting destroyed in their bowl games, the budding Cowboys have a golden chance to emerge as the third team alongside TCU and Baylor in the Big 12 next year. A win over Washington would infuse Rudolph and the Pokes with plenty of optimism about the possibilities for 2015 headed into the offseason. – Trotter
Barring any surprises, seven Pac-12 teams will welcome back starting quarterbacks in 2015. Though the list isn't as glittering as it was last year, when 10 starters returned, including eventual Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, it's a strong crew, as good a group any other Power 5 conference will offer up.

That does mean five teams will feature new starters next fall, though that doesn't necessarily mean there will be five wide-open competitions. For example, senior Mike Bercovici is probably more locked into Arizona State's starting job than a couple of returning starters. His potential is a big reason the Sun Devils will be counted among the conference favorites next fall.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
AP Photo/Gus RuelasMike Bercovici threw 12 TD passes with four interceptions this season, and flashed plenty of potential for Arizona State.
Not only is Bercovici a senior competing with four freshmen -- two redshirts -- he came off the bench this season for Taylor Kelly and played well in three starts. He knows coordinator Mike Norvell's offense and owns a big arm that should add a significant downfield passing component.

"I see [playing this season] as a big learning experience," Bercovici said. "Being here for four seasons and, in my fourth season, I finally get to see the field as a backup. I always wanted to prove to my teammates that I’ve been prepared."

He added, "Some of the success I had this year and some of the mistakes I made are all going to help me move on to the 2015 season."

Utah and Washington both welcome back returning starters in Travis Wilson and Cyler Miles, but there figures to be some intrigue this upcoming spring and fall as they try to hold onto their jobs, with Wilson most notably embroiled in a on-going, two-season competition with Kendal Thompson.

Like Bercovici, Washington State's Luke Falk gained valuable experience this season when he replaced an injured Connor Halliday, and he is a heavy favorite to win the Cougars starting job. Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA appear to have wide-open competitions, with the Bruins featuring touted incoming freshman Josh Rosen taking on an incumbent field led by Jerry Neuheisel this spring.

Bercovici was in a tight competition with Kelly heading into the 2012 season, but Kelly won the job and went on to become one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history. That could have sown the seeds of a rivalry between the two, or Bercovici could have transferred. Instead, he and Kelly became close friends.

That is why Bercovici had mixed feelings when he replaced a struggling Kelly in the Territorial Cup loss to Arizona.

"It was definitely tough to see him come off the field as a senior and for myself to come in, but we didn’t really have time to think about that during the game," he said. "Some times you have bad days when things aren’t going your way. It just sucks I couldn’t lead us to victory in that fourth quarter."

That said, he sees the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Duke on Dec. 27 as being "Taylor's game."

"This is the last time he’ll be in a Sun Devils uniform," he said. "I know he’s going to go out with a bang.”

After that, though, Bercovici will be eager to fill the ensuing vacancy behind center for a Sun Devils team expected to be in the South Division and national mix.

"This team knows this is my job moving forward," he said.

Here is how the Pac-12 sets up at quarterback for 2015, pending any unexpected NFL early entries.

2015 RETURNING STARTERS

Arizona: Anu Solomon

The skinny: Though Solomon was impressive as a redshirt freshman first-year starter, he wasn't terribly efficient, ranking 61st in the nation in Total QBR and 55th in standard passing efficiency. So there is plenty of room to get better. The good news is 1,000-yard rusher Nick Wilson will be back, as will a strong crew of receivers. The offensive line has some notable holes.

California: Jared Goff

The skinny: He threw for 331 yards per game with 35 TD passes and just seven interceptions as a true sophomore. If you are looking for a player who could breakout as a national name next fall, Goff might be your man. He has an NFL future. He also has a strong supporting cast coming back on offense -- nine returning starters -- including a deep and talented group of receivers.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau

The skinny: He passed for a school-record 28 touchdowns, but also led the Pac-12 with 15 interceptions and was briefly benched late in the season. That said, the true sophomore has talent and will likely improve as a third-year starter as the young players around him grow up. It also would help him and the Buffs if receiver Nelson Spruce returns for his senior year instead of entering the draft.

Stanford: Kevin Hogan

The skinny: Hogan ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in QBR, despite being a third-year starter with a strong group of experienced receivers. Though the Cardinal running game and offensive line was a disappointment, there were plenty of times when Hogan was inconsistent in terms of both throwing and decision-making. What Stanford wants is for Hogan to return for his senior year and play like he did against California and UCLA for an entire season. Coach David Shaw said Hogan, who was dealing with tough family situation during the season, would be the starter if he returned and wouldn't face a challenge from touted freshman Keller Chryst.

USC: Cody Kessler

The skinny: If he opts to return for his senior season, Kessler will be an All-American candidate after throwing for 36 TDs with just four interceptions and ranking sixth in the nation in QBR. If there is one criticism of Kessler, it is that he feasted on inferior foes, but didn't turn in an A-list performance against ranked teams, most notably an ineffective showing against UCLA. He should greatly benefit from the maturation of a number of young but talented players forced into action this fall, most notably on the offensive line.

Utah: Travis Wilson

The skinny: This might be the Pac-12's most interesting quarterback situation. Wilson is set to become a four-year starter, but he also might not return to the Utes for his final season. That's because coaches might want to go with Kendal Thompson, who briefly replaced Wilson in the starting lineup before getting hurt. If that's the case, Wilson can transfer with no penalty, because he is set to graduate in 2015. Utah looks like it's going to be stacked on both sides of the ball next fall -- 16 other position-player starters are set to return -- but quarterback remains the issue, as it has since Utah joined the Pac-12.

Washington: Cyler Miles

The skinny: Miles also could face a challenge for his starting spot, though the rising junior also flashed ability at times while doing a good job of protecting the football -- see just three interceptions -- and played better the second half of the season. And who might provide a legitimate challenge, as no other quarterback on the roster appears capable of unseating him. It will be interesting to see how quickly touted incoming freshman Jake Browning picks things up this spring.

2015 COMPETITIONS*

Arizona State: Mike Bercovici, Sr; Manny Wilkins, RFr; Coltin Gerhart, RFr.; Brady White, Fr.; Bryce Perkins, Fr.

The skinny: Bercovici is more certain here than a couple of the conference's returning starters. He gained valuable experience this season replacing an injured Kelly, throwing 12 TDs with four interceptions, and flashed plenty of potential, including A-list arm strength. Though the Sun Devils have stocked up on young quarterbacks, including a pair of touted incoming freshmen, Bercovici is almost a certainty here.

Oregon: Jeff Lockie, Jr.; Ty Griffin, RSo.; Taylor Alie, RSo.; Morgan Mahalak, RFr., Travis Waller, Fr

The skinny: Lockie was Mariota's backup this season and has thrown 30 passes in his career -- one TD! -- which means he will have more experience than Mariota did when he took over as a redshirt freshman. It also was a strong indicator of a pecking order when Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs opted to transfer after spring practices, as they were both behind Lockie. Both Alie and Mahalak, however, have skills, and Waller is expect to be around this spring to join the fray. And perhaps there will be a wild-card transfer?

Oregon State: Luke Del Rio, So.; Brent VanderVeen, Jr., Nick Mitchell, RFr.; Marcus McMaryion, RFr., Kyle Kempt, RSo.

The skinny: This one is wide open. Not only is there no clear leader, but you also have a new coaching staff under Gary Andersen with new schemes. VanderVeen started the season as Sean Mannion's backup, but Del Rio took over that spot about three game into the season. He threw 18 passes in mop-up duty, making him the only Beavers quarterback with any game experience. Might Andersen try to lure away Austin Kafentzis, a four-star quarterack from Sandy, Utah, from his commitment to Wisconsin, where Kafentzis originally planned to enroll early to play for Andersen? And what about James Pensyl, a 6-foot-7 hurler from Land O'Lakes, Florida, who committed to Mike Riley?

UCLA: Jerry Neuheisel, Jr., Asiantii Woulard, RSo.; Mike Fafaul, RJr., Aaron Sharp, RFr., Josh Rosen, Fr.

The skinny: Neuheisel was Brett Hundley's backup this season, and came off the bench to lead the Bruins past Texas. He is a capable, charismatic guy who probably relishes the idea of being counted out by many due to the arrival of Rosen. Rosen, however, is the guy many will be watching. Perhaps the best quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, he will participate in spring practices when he can immediately put himself into the mix.

Washington State: Luke Falk, RSo.; Peyton Bender, RFr.; Tyler Hilinski, Fr.

The skinny: Falk started fast then faded a bit after coming off the bench to replace the injured Connor Halliday, but he is the overwhelming favorite here. In four games, he threw for 1,859 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with six of those picks coming in his last two games. Still, he didn't look like a walk-on. He looked like an A-list redshirt freshman suddenly thrust into action who was struggling against good teams. Coach Mike Leach won't make it seem like Falk is locked in during spring practice, but it's his job to lose.

*Listed year in school is for 2015

Week 12 Pac-12 QB Power Rankings

November, 18, 2014
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The Pac-12 is loaded with talent at quarterback this season to the point where it seems like the conference is a hoarder and really good QBs are in abundance. But this is the way we like it. And the other conferences can keep hoarding whatever they like as long as the signal-callers stay west.

Every week we'll provide you with a power ranking of the conference's top quarterbacks, based mostly on that QB's most recent game.

Drumroll please ...

For Week 11's rankings, click here.
The introduction of Chris Petersen to the Washington-Oregon rivalry comes as quite a relief to the ink-stained wretches who write about college football. Redundancy and predictability are the sworn enemies of the scribbling class, and the Huskies-Ducks rivalry has been a model of redundancy and predictability for a decade, with the boys in green -- or, you know, whatever -- owning the purple team by at least 17 points in the last 10 matchups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the rest of Pac-12?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for success: Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the surface, playing a FCS opponent seems like the perfect way to break in a starting quarterback, but Eastern Washington figures to present as stiff challenge. The No. 2-ranked Eagles are expected to challenge for a national title in the division and have a dynamic quarterback in junior Vernon Adams Jr. Adams Jr. has accounted for 84 touchdowns, which is eighth all-time in the Big Sky Conference.

Pac-12 media days wrap-up

July, 25, 2014
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That's a wrap. Media days have come and gone, and we are officially in full football mode.

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.

Hundley stereotyped?

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.

Injury notes

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.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- It isn't surprising that quarterback news led Day 2 of Pac-12 media days. This is, after all, the Conference of Quarterbacks, and this bumper crop of 10 returning starters might be the Pac-12's best-ever collection gathered behind center.

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.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP PhotoChris Petersen said that quarterback Cyler Miles, Washington's expected starter, would be suspended for the first game of the season.
What were they thinking amid the Seattle Seahawks revelers? We don't know, as neither has explained himself, and Petersen didn't even try to guess Thursday -- "We're dealing with the dumbest age group in America," he volunteered. Even the most sympathetic sorts struggled to make sense of it.

"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.

Media Days takeaways: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
7/24/14
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Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 2 of media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

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?

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesHow long does Todd Graham have to stay in Tempe for rumors about a departure to subside?
Gemmell: Todd Graham caught a lot of flak -- I mean A LOT of flak -- when he jumped from Pitt to Arizona State. He had a reputation as a program hopper always looking for the best opportunity. When most jobs became available, Graham was always rumored (usually unsubstantiated) as wanting to move on. Well, he's not, and he addressed that Thursday. Coming into his third year (a longer tenure than five other Pac-12 coaches, mind you) he says he's committed to ASU for the "long haul" and could see himself retiring in Tempe. His house is paid off, he's got pretty good continuity with his staff and he's winning. Sounds like the makings of a long and happy relationship. But if he does leave on his own, is three years fair? Five? Time to let the "Todd Graham is gonna jump ship" storyline go.

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.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora's not budging from UCLA if he has any say in it.
Bonagura: UCLA coach Jim Mora was asked about his commitment to the school and after a long-winded answer, he finished with: "I'm staying there until they kick me out. That might be tomorrow, who knows. I've been kicked out before. But I'm staying until they kick me out."

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.
Pac-12 media days start Wednesday at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, and your entire Pac-12 gang -- we're going by either #4pac or #pac4, we haven't decided yet -- will be there soaking in the evasive and clichéd quotes while plumbing for revealing and interesting nuggets to share with you.

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's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.
I would follow you into the mists of Avalon if that's what you mean.

Mailbag: QB issues, panic & worst cases

June, 13, 2014
6/13/14
7:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag.

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.

He 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.
Welcome to the Friday mailbag. At the very least, reading it informs you which day of the week it is.

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.


Victor from Eugene, Ore., writes: I was thinking about the Oregon-Stanford rivalry that has emerged in the last few years and one game particularly came to mind, the 2010 edition. It was the fifth game of the season for both teams in early October, and I wonder why the conference does not keep it scheduled like that? It is generally accepted that these teams are top of the conference, and if they keep playing late November games, that can potentially knock out one of these teams from a more prestigious bowl game (or even now a second spot in playoffs). I understand high records going in to the game make it easier to build up for TV, but this is a marquee matchup no matter when (it's) played during the season, so people are going to watch. If anything, they play early and both teams go on to keep winning, so the conference could possibly have two playoff contenders and 13-0 and 11-1. The selection committee could look past one team's loss if against a strong opponent regardless of when played, but I think a loss has less of a decisive impact if it was from an early season game.

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."


Tom from Portland writes: In your Pac-12 power rankings blog you imply that the return of Cyler Miles is a big boost to UW. Why is that? Keith Price was the starter for the last three years, so what do you see in Miles, who has not been a starter and I don't recall him even playing very much last year?

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.


Rajesh K from San Carlos, Calif., writes: I think you should make custom 12-sided dice with each Pac-12 team on it for internal use at ESPN.

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.

Summer Pac-12 power rankings

May, 27, 2014
5/27/14
9:00
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While summer is considered the "offseason," we all know there is no offseason. Every Pac-12 team is either gaining -- or losing -- ground right now due to its focus and effort at getting better, both on a team and individual level.

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.

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