Pac-12: Davonte Neal

Pac-12 enjoying many happy returns

November, 11, 2014
11/11/14
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If you play in the Pac-12, there’s never been a better time to be a return man. Because business is booming.

Already with 19 kicks returned for touchdowns -- punt and kickoff -- the Pac-12 is the leading conference in FBS football this season when it comes to taking it to the house. The SEC -- with two additional teams -- is next with 16.

This is by far the greatest season for returners since the Pac-12 became the Pac-12 in 2011. That year, the conference saw 14 kicks returned for scores. The number declined the next two years (13 in 2012 and 12 in 2013) before a massive spike this season. In fact, the Pac-12 this season has the highest rate of kicks returned for a touchdown per game than any other league since the SEC in 2011.

[+] EnlargeKaelin Clay
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsUtah's Kaelin Clay is tops among Pac-12 returners with four touchdowns (3 on punts, 1 on kickoffs).
Asked for any sort of rhyme or reason for the special teams spike, almost every Pac-12 coach pointed to one common element: Great returners.

“Returns start with returners that have a knack for making people miss and hitting those creases,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team has a league-high four returns (three punt, one kick). “It’s either something you have or you don’t have. It’s tough to train a guy to become a great returner. The No. 1 factor would be that there are a bunch of athletes in this conference that have that capability to miss the first guy, make the next two or three miss as the case may be and finding those creases in the coverage and hitting them.”

Whittingham’s guy, Kaelin Clay, has been the class of the league when it comes to returns. With three scores on punt returns and another on kickoffs, he leads a very talented group. But he’s not the only one with multiple scores. California’s Trevor Davis (two kick returns), Oregon’s Charles Nelson (two punt returns), Stanford’s Ty Montgomery (two punt returns) and USC’s Nelson Agholor (two punt returns) are also in the multi-TD club.

Players with one touchdown include Arizona’s Cayleb Jones (kick) and DaVonte' Neal (punt), Oregon State’s Ryan Murphy (kick), UCLA’s Ishmael Adams (kick), USC’s Adoree' Jackson (kick) and Washington’s John Ross (kick) and Dante Pettis (punt, Washington's first since 2003).

One can argue the flip side, being that kick coverage in the Pac-12 is down. Only Arizona, Oregon and Washington haven't yielded a special teams touchdown. Washington State has the dubious honor of allowing a league-high six returns for touchdowns this season.

“In our case, I think we need more of an identity on defense and our lack of that has hurt us on special teams,” said head coach Mike Leach, who swapped special teams coaches midseason. “I think individual effort (plays a role), we’ve had some young guys out there. I feel like we should be playing better on special teams across the board.”

Funny thing, those special teams touchdowns. Sometimes they play out exactly as they are drawn up. Other times it’s simply outstanding athleticism from a return guy that makes the difference.

“You can put the film on and there are times when you don’t block anybody and the guy runs it back 100 yards for a touchdown, and there are other times if you don’t have a special return guy, you block everybody and he still gets tackled,” Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said. “There are so many skilled athletes in this league and guys that are capable of big returns. I think it starts there.”

We can all pretty much agree that having an outstanding crop of returners is by far the most important element of the equation. But there are a few other factors to consider. For starters, scoring in the league is up. The Pac-12 leads all conferences with 34.1 points per game. That’s the highest it’s been since the league expanded to 12 teams and the highest scoring average in at least a decade. More points means more kickoffs. There are also lots of sacks and tackles for a loss, which creates more punts.

Additionally, most teams use younger players on special teams to give regular defensive starters a rest. You throw talented returners into the mix and you have return touchdowns trending up.

“When you don’t have depth, the No. 1 part of your team that gets hurt is special teams,” Dykes explained. “There’s more kickoffs and it’s a wide-open league. Everyone is going through what we are. You’re kicking off a lot, and then having to play young players on those coverage units, and the combination of really good returners is usually the recipe for disaster.”

Well, only if you’re on a coverage team.

Arizona spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
5/02/14
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Three things we learned this spring about the Arizona Wildcats:
  1. The wide receivers are good: How good? Well, that probably depends on the quarterback situation (see below). But Austin Hill is back from injury after being a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2012 and transfer Cayleb Jones is an awards candidate. Davonte' Neal also adds an intriguing element that could make Arizona’s corps one of the best in the country.
  2. Secondary leadership: Key players, such as Jared Tevis, Jonathan McKnight and Jourdon Grandon impressed the coaching staff this spring. However the Wildcats have lost a few defensive backs here and there. So look for a safety -- or even a wide receiver or two -- to get some work at corner in the fall while that trio holds the group together.
  3. Solid line: Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele bring a lot of experience to a group that will have to make holes for a new running back and protect a new quarterback. The addition of Jim Michalczik as offensive line coach last season was a boost to the unit, which showed steady improvement throughout last season and is blossoming into one of the better lines in the league.
Three questions for fall:
  1. QB of the O: Arizona has one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the country. The winner will likely have strong numbers running Rich Rodriguez’s offense. And with a group of wide receivers that stacks up with just about any other in the country, whoever runs the show will not be lacking in talented targets. As for settling on one guy…
  2. QB of the D: The departure of linebacker Jake Fischer leaves a defensive void as well as one in the locker room. Fisher was quietly one of the top linebackers in the league the last few years. Scooby Wright has the talent and will have to grow into a leadership role despite being a sophomore. Hank Hobson has dealt with injuries, but is capable.
  3. Something special: The Wildcats ranked in the bottom half of the league last year in kick and punt returns, though significant progress could be on the way with T.J. Johnson and Neal in the return game. Last year the Wildcats were ninth in kick returns (20.5 average) and seventh in punt returns (7.2 average).
One way-too-early prediction: After back-to-back eight-win seasons in Rodriguez’s first two years, the Wildcats will surpass that win total and get to nine wins – which includes a third consecutive bowl win. The nonconference slate sets up for a 3-0 start. Then it’s a matter of finding five conference wins plus a bowl victory. In the third year of RichRod’s system – and with that WR stable – the Wildcats are capable of doing a lot of damage.
While some football players love to practice, most just tolerate it while recognizing its importance for winning on Saturday. Spring practices, with no game looming ahead operating as a reward for weeks of hard work, can feel like even more of a drudgery.

But for Arizona receiver Austin Hill, spring practice feels like he's standing in front of a spectacular buffet dinner. And he's really, really hungry.

[+] EnlargeAustin Hill
AP Photo/Rob HoltAustin Hill missed all of the 2013 season with a torn ACL.
"I'm actually starving," he said. "I haven't eaten in a whole year."

Hill was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection following the 2012 season after ranking second in the conference in receiving yards. The sophomore looked like a potential All-American in 2013 after catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards -- 16.8 yards per reception -- with 11 touchdowns.

But his 2013 season ended before it began on April 10 after he tore his ACL during the second-to-last session of spring practice.

Poof -- just like that, football was taken away, replaced by uncertainty and the daily burden -- and boredom -- of rehabilitation. That's why even a no-pads practice to start spring drills this week was invigorating.

Hill practiced with the Wildcats in a limited fashion during the final weeks of the 2013 season, but he's still not 100 percent healthy. While he's officially full-speed this spring, he's still wearing a knee brace and his explosiveness and speed are not fully back.

"That's basically the last step of ACL recovery," he said. "I'm still in those processes."
Hill said he's significantly stronger than before the injury. While he's the biggest name among the Wildcats receivers, it's an impressively deep unit. Not only do six of the seven top receivers from 2013 return, a crew topped by impressive sophomore Nate Phillips, the Wildcats also added a pair of A-list transfers in DaVonte' Neal (Notre Dame) and Cayleb Jones (Texas).

Neal and Jones both sat out last season, so Hill knows they share his hunger, while the returning starters and contributors don't want to yield repetitions. While it's a collegial atmosphere among the receivers at practice, it's also a competition for touches and position in the pecking order.

"Everyone is helping each other out on the field," Hill said. "It's fun to see athletes compete. It's always fun."

Of course, the competition at receiver figures to yield certainty -- an outstanding and deep crew of four or five guys in a regular rotation with one or two leading the way. The bigger issue is who is going to deliver the ball.

Hill laughs at the inevitable quarterback competition question, for an answer behind center probably won't be delivered until fall camp. Perhaps even late in fall camp, as it was last year.

Hill, for one, admits he'd prefer to get some clarity much sooner.

"Right now ... who knows? I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was," he said. "I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day."

I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was. I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day.

Arizona receiver Austin Hill on the Wildcats' quarterback competition.
Of course, that's up to the QBs -- senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer, junior Jerrard Randall and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon -- and coach Rich Rodriguez, who has said repeatedly about QB competitions that he would prefer that one guy quickly and decisively wins the job.

Just don't expect it to happen this spring.

As for Hill's take, he often doesn't even know who's delivering the ball.

"The quarterbacks are getting switched around so much, sometimes it's even hard to tell which quarterback even went with my group when I went," he said. "We move so fast, I don't get to pay attention to what quarterback is throwing me the ball."

While the QBs work through their competition, Hill will be a veteran leader for the offense, back in action after a year of observing the team from the outside. When he looks around at practice at the improved personnel on both sides of the ball, he senses that the Wildcats are going to surprise some folks this season.

"I'm ready to help this team to a BCS bowl," he said. "I feel like that's where we're headed."

As Hill missed last season and is still not 100 percent, he, of course, can be forgiven for forgetting 2013 was the last season of the BCS era. His point is clear. He believes Arizona is going to be a threat in the Pac-12's South Division in 2014.

Offseason spotlight: Arizona

February, 18, 2014
2/18/14
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We're taking a look at a player from each Pac-12 team who could step into the spotlight in 2014.

Spotlight: Arizona WR Cayleb Jones, 6-3, 210, R-So.

[+] EnlargeCayleb Jones
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsTexas transfer Cayleb Jones has the size and speed to be a playmaker at wide receiver for Arizona.
2013 summary: Jones transferred from Texas, so he practiced but couldn't play last season because of transfer rules.

The skinny: You surely have heard about Arizona's depth at receiver. Not only are six of the top seven WRs from 2013 coming back, the unit also will be bolstered by the return of Austin Hill, the Pac-12's second-leading receiver in 2012. Toss in Notre Dame transfer Davonte' Neal and you have quite a crowd. But guess what? There are more than a few folks who say Jones might turn out to be 1B to Hill's 1A. Jones is big and fast and played as a true freshman at Texas. He opted to transfer after running into some off-field trouble -- felony aggravated assault charges, which were later dismissed and reduced to a misdemeanor -- and followed former Texas QB Connor Brewer to Arizona, turning down a host of suitors. Jones was an Under Armour All-American and ESPN 150 recruit coming out of Austin, Texas, and Jones and Brewer were considered two of the leaders of Texas' No. 3 ranked 2012 recruiting class. The big question for Arizona is who will throw the ball to Hill, Jones and company. The good news is whoever wins the QB job, he will have plenty of targets capable of making him look good.

Mailbag: Holiday Bowl blues

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
5:30
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First off, a great, big thank you to everyone who sent Merry Christmas notes to the mailbag. They were received ... and appreciated.

To the notes!

Alex in Las Vegas writes: Hi Kevin: What is it that causes Pac 12 teams to lay eggs repeatedly at the Holiday Bowl? The Big 12 teams always seem to show up.

Kevin Gemmell: Though no one actually comes out and says it, there seems to be a vibe around the Pac-12 team at the National University Holiday Bowl the last few years that it somehow feel slighted or miffed to be there. Consider ASU this season. Technically speaking, it was the runner-up in the Pac-12 after losing to Stanford in the title game. But the Valero Alamo Bowl, which has the first pick of Pac-12 teams after the BCS, opted for an Oregon team that lost two conference games.

Same thing last year with UCLA -- which was the league runner-up and won its division. But it was passed over for Oregon State.

There is also something to be said for the delay between the end of the season and the actual bowl game. A lot happens to teams in three weeks. Some teams come in prepared. Other don’t. And a lot of times it’s a crap shoot on what you’re going to get. I’m pretty confident that if Arizona State played Texas Tech in early November, the Sun Devils would have rolled the Red Raiders.

But Texas Tech had that us-vs.-the-world mentality that they rallied around when no one gave them a chance. This game is a built-in trap game for the Pac-12, because the Pac-12 team is usually perceived to be the “better” of the two teams so the Big 12 team has nothing to lose.

It hasn’t been totally one-sided. Washington topped Nebraska in 2009. Oregon beat OSU in 2008 and Cal beat Texas A&M in 2006. Washington State’s last bowl appearance -- prior to this season -- was a 28-20 win over Texas in 2003.

But I’ve said many times that motivation plays a huge role in the postseason. One team looked motivated to be there last night. The other didn’t.

Dave in Bend, Ore. writes: Wilcox or Pendergast? Which one can stop run-first spread offenses with mobile QBs? USC made improvements in its defensive stats overall. While USC showed it can handle the pro style of pass-centric offenses (Stanford, BC & Fresno State) the Trojans had horrible defensive games against ASU and UCLA. The defense was also fortunate to miss both [Keith] Price and [Marcus] Mariota. Perhaps this helped the stats. Don't get me wrong if Pendergast stays (stayed), I think he might be fine but it is far from a slam dunk considering the road back to the top of the Pac 12 goes through schools with mobile QBs.

Gemmell: Well, it’s official that Justin Wilcox is headed to USC, which means an extremely good coordinator in Clancy Pendergast is going to be on the market. And I’m willing to bet Mark Helfrich has already made that phone call.

I’m guessing you’re referring to last week’s mailbag where I broke down the improvements Wilcox and Pendergast brought to their respective programs. But you raise an interesting point about the mobile QBs/spread offenses. So I took a look at how USC and Washington both faired against ASU and UCLA -- two of the schools you brought up. And the numbers are actually pretty similar.

Against both of those teams, USC gave up an average of 48.5 points, 504 total yards, 279.5 passing yards, 224.5 rushing yards, 79.5 quarterback rushing yards and two QB rushing touchdowns. Washington gave up an average of 47 points, 495.5 total yards, 227.5 passing yards, 268 rushing yards, 49.5 QB rushing yards and two QB rushing touchdowns.

So both USC and Washington struggled against those teams. And when you factor in Oregon, which Washington played but USC didn’t, the Huskies gave up 45 points, 631 total yards, 366 in the air, 265 on the ground and 88 yards and a touchdown to Mariota.

Both are outstanding coordinators and coaches and both know how to scheme. But sometimes the guys on the other side of the field are just better at what they do. And in the case of Washington and USC this season, they didn’t have the answers. It doesn’t mean one coordinator is “better” than the other. Most teams in the country struggled against UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State.

USC is getting an outstanding coordinator. Whomever gets Pendergast is going to get an outstanding coordinator. And my hope is that he stays in the Pac-12 because the league is better off with him in it.

Pac-12 fan in Reno writes: Kevin - I'm disappointed that you have allowed yourself to be duped into believing that AU is going to be scary good next season. Yes, the Wildcats have some good WRs and 8 or 9 scholarship QBs (he-he), but it takes more than that to win in the Pac-12. A defense and an O-line can come in handy in our conference. I don't see how some me-first transfers and malcontents are going to change the outlook. They will win 7 games with their SEC-like nonconference schedule, but will find the going awfully tough in the Pac-12 without Ka'Deem [Carey]. AU is a basketball school that has reached its football ceiling. Go Dawgs!!

Kevin Gemmell: I agree. It does take more than wide receivers. And I certainly don’t ever remember saying that Arizona was going to win the Pac-12. I believe the quote I used in last week’s mailbag was: “But Arizona does indeed have some scary potential next year.”

Potential being the operative word.

I still think the balance of power lies in the North Division until proven otherwise. There have been three Pac-12 championship games, and the North has won all three. Until that changes, it is still the dominant division.

However, I do think Arizona has a bunch of talented players coming off the scout team who could make them more competitive in the South Division -- which is pretty wide open. Cayleb Jones, Davonte’ Neal and Austin Hill coming back from injuries certainly are a massive boost.

But the question with Arizona is still going to be quarterback. B.J. Denker did a better job as the season progressed in the passing game, but his greatest asset was as a runner. Whomever is the starter in 2014 will likely have more a down-the-field presence than Denker did. And with that amazing wide receiver corps, they are going to do some damage offensively.

As for Rich Rodriguez, well, I think it’s just silly to say Arizona has reached its football ceiling. Just as I think it’s silly to classify the Wildcats as just a basketball school. They have spent plenty of time through the years as a ranked team. And yes, I am a RichRod fan. Not because his name is fun to say. But because he’s an offensive innovator, and his teams are fun to watch. And the fact that he’s had them in back-to-back bowl games speaks to the potential of the program.

If you really want to know what went on at Michigan, read Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football by John U. Bacon. That’ll tell you all you need to know.

Arizona might not win the Pac-12 South next season, but I can promise you the Wildcats are a team no one is looking forward to playing.

Caleb in Spokane, Wash. writes: Hi Kevin. Do you think that the Cougs losing that bowl game will hurt the quality of the players they get in the offseason? I am a die-hard Coug but seeing the worst "Couging it" of all-time, I am worried about the players for next year. Also, do you think the Cougs should stick with Connor Halliday?

Kevin Gemmell: I think Mike Leach will open up the competition, but I’d be surprised if Halliday doesn’t retain the job. There is no substitute for experience, and when you look at his numbers over the final five games, you can see a pretty clear improvement in his efficiency with 16 touchdowns to five interceptions. Even taking away the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, it’s still 10 touchdowns to four interceptions.

Then again, Leach has been known to play fast and loose with his quarterbacks, so who knows?

As for how the bowl loss impacts recruiting, I don’t think it’s going to be significant. You can check out their recruiting page here, and as you can see, there are some pretty good prospects coming in -- including a couple of highly-rated running backs.

If you’re Leach and his staff, you sell the immediate progress the program has made in just two seasons. This was supposed to be the final rebuilding year before a push to the postseason in 2014. But Leach had his own agenda, and you look back at games like USC, Arizona and Utah as the difference-makers.

The Cougars took a very big step forward, and despite the bowl loss, momentum is on their side. I think they keep it rolling into recruiting and into next year. A couple more seasons under Leach, and the Cougars could be in that eight-nine win range.

Adam in Los Angeles writes: Brett Hundley staying or going. Discuss.

Kevin Gemmell: I’m of the opinion that if Jim Mora would have gone elsewhere, then Hundley certainly would have gone. It wouldn’t have made sense for him to stick around one more season with a third head coach, a third coordinator and a third offensive system. As I previously wrote somewhere else (it all blurs, might have been a column or a story or a chat), if he’s going to learn a third system, it might as well be in the NFL.

But the fact that UCLA ponied up and extended Mora -- and more specifically gave more money to his assistants -- bodes well for his chances of staying for another season. The draft landscape is interesting next year with Mariota and Bryce Petty and maybe Jameis Winston all in the mix.

In 2013, Hundley upped his completion percentage and his raw and adjusted QBR. He took fewer sacks and threw fewer interceptions. If he can refine that raw talent just a little bit more, he could play himself into possibly being a top-five NFL pick.

Mailbag: Christmas Eve edition

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
5:30
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T’was the night before Christmas and the Pac-12 blog crew;
Was still smarting and miffed at the fall of Wazzu.

Dressed in an opulent red and green sweater;
Ted furiously hoped that the Beavs would do better.

The Trojans exploded and won one for ‘O;’
Only to learn Dion Bailey would go.

Utes, Bears and Buffs are home for the bowls;
Leaving their fans little reason to troll.

Two teams from the desert are still yet to play;
With RichRod and Graham hoping things go their way.

One last run for Price in his prime;
Plus he gets to Fight Hunger at the same time.

The Alamo will be Mack Brown’s last stand;
Even if the year didn’t go as the Ducks planned.

Barr’s last game will be played in The Sun;
We’re also wondering: Is Brett Hundley done?

Last but not least is the Tree vs. Sparty;
In the backfield the Cardinal hope they will party.

So enjoy Christmas Eve with your best pint of ale;
Sit back and relax to this bag of mail.

(I know, it's not as good as Chongo's).

Dylan in Boston writes: Hi Kevin, In all the reporting/speculation about Justin Wilcox following Sarkisian to Troy, it seems like everybody's overlooking the fact that the Trojans already have an A-list coordinator in Clancy Pendergast. Am I the only one confused by this? In the years Pendergast was at Cal, he did more with less than Wilcox has had at Washington (at the least the talent was comparable), particularly against my Ducks. Has Wilcox really shown enough for people to assume that he has the advantage over Pendergast?

Kevin Gemmell: Has he shown enough? I think so. I think Wilcox is an outstanding coordinator and defensive-minded coach. But you’re right, you can’t overlook the job that Pendergast did at USC this year.

The move to an odd front was a fantastic one for the Trojans. Say this for Lane Kiffin, he recognized that the Trojans needed a scheme that was going to be able to account for all of the edge speed in the league and he adjusted accordingly by bringing in Pendergast. Obviously, things didn’t work out so well on the offensive side of the ball for Kiffin. But let’s give the credit where credit is due.

The numbers for both coaches suggest major improvements since their arrival. First, Washington:

In the two seasons since Wilcox arrived, the Huskies have improved in scoring defense each year. They were giving up 35.9 points per game in 2011, followed by 24.2 in 2012 and 23.4 in 2011. They have also improved turnover margin and rushing yards allowed each of the last two years.

For USC, in one season under Pendergast, the Trojans cut their points allowed by more than a field goal, made huge strides in rush defense (167 yards allowed in 2012 compared to 120.3 in 2013) and were on the plus side of turnover margin after going minus-2 in 2012 and minus-1 in 2011 (they were plus-6 this year).

So the morale of the story is this: If you’re a Washington fan, you want Wilcox to stay in Washington. If you’re a USC fan, you’re going to be happy either way.

Peter in NorCal writes: One thing that Sark going to SC won't hurt: The Stanford-USC rivalry. It seems like David and Steve get along about as well as Jim and Pete did. Fair statement? What are your observations about the two of them (both generally, and specifically the snippiness that ensued after the Stanford/Washington game this year).

Kevin Gemmell: It’s funny that you bring that up. Every year Ted and I go to the Pac-12 spring meetings in Arizona. Basically, it’s Ted and I sitting outside of meeting rooms, waiting for the coaches to emerge, and then grabbing them for interviews. Then we sit outside, watch the coaches eat lunch, and then grab them again for more interviews.

One thing Ted and I were commenting on this year was how well all of the Pac-12 coaches get along. The Big 12 coaches meeting was going on at the same time and there was little to no interaction between those guys. But the Pac-12 coaches were all sitting together and chatting each other up after meetings.

Now, we’re not in the meetings with the coaches, so I can’t speak to how they interact. But from what I’ve seen, Sarkisian and David Shaw got along just fine.

Of course, that was last May and a lot has happened since then, including the aforementioned post-game war of words.

We don’t need to rehash all of the details, but I know Shaw objected to having his assistant and his players called out by name. And whether you agree with him retaliating with a Tuesday tirade is your personal business. Sark was ticked and probably broke a couple of unwritten rules. It happens. Shaw kept the story alive an extra couple of days by using the coaches' teleconference and his Tuesday roundtable as a pulpit to respond.

Neither coach "won" the public relations battle. And I don't think either cares. But it certainly spices things up for when the Cardinal and Trojans meet again. That -- and the fact that it's come down to the last play three of the last four meetings.

Curt in Las Vegas writes: Hey Kevin, Chip Kelly left the Oregon Ducks firmly entrenched with quality players. In 2013 going 10 and 2 and playing in the Alamo bowl to us Duck fans is a letdown! Do you think Mark Helfrich is planted at Oregon with the year he had?

Kevin Gemmell: Did Chip Kelly hurt Marcus Mariota’s knee? I think we can all agree that things took a turn for the worst for Oregon when he started coming up gimpy.

I think Helfrich is a very good coach who encountered a lot of the Year 1 obstacles every coach faces. But because it’s Oregon, a perennial top-5 program, those obstacles are magnified. When you’ve sat in a coordinator’s chair for so long and then make the jump, there is some transition and self-evaluation that is required. Ted and I took a lot of guff for picking Stanford to win the conference over Oregon for this very reason.

The Alamo Bowl is a letdown, sure. A 10-2 team playing in the deepest conference in college football deserves a shot at a BCS bowl game. But as the players have said, they need only look at themselves for where they are at.

Helfrich is going to be just fine, and Oregon is going to be just fine. He has a chance to get an 11th win -- something Kelly didn’t do in his first year. And win a bowl game. Also something Kelly didn’t accomplish. We have to see how the new College Football Playoff pans out, but I don’t see any reason why a Helfrich-led Oregon won’t be in the hunt annually.

Scott in London, England writes: Hi Kevin, I've read twice in the blog today about you mentioning how scary Arizona can be next year and it got me thinking. I know we have a lot of great transfers and recruits coming in, but I'm a bit unsure as to who exactly are supposed to be immediate impact players and how many returning starters there wil be, etc.I was wondering if you and Ted plan on doing a run down of next year's potential for each Pac team that consolidates all this into one easy blog post per team:* Transfers/JuCos and why they are good/meh* Recruits and why they are good/meh* Returners and why they are good/meh* Coaching changes and why they are good/meh (assistants too)* Schedule goods and bads* Will there be an El Nino, etc...I would say I'm an above-avg fan but I really don't have the Google-Fu skills or time to compile all this and I think every Pac fan would appreciate it a series like that.Maybe you guys already do that during the offseason or preseason, but I think it could also be good after bowl season.You can think of it as your first chance to be the, "We told you so" guys. Thanks for reading, always enjoy your stuff. Keep up the good work.

Kevin Gemmell: I can assure you there will be plenty of time in the offseason for all sorts of schedule analysis, roster breakdowns etc. etc. Ted and I are happy to fill the void during the offseason, as we do every year.

Just a heads up on Arizona. Among some of the key players who will be coming off the scout team are Cayleb Jones, Davonte’ Neal and Connor Brewer. They will all be eligible in 2014 after transferring.

Jones is a wide receiver who is transferring from Texas, and he’s reunited with Brewer, a former Longhorns quarterback. Neal, from Scottsdale, is a transfer receiver from Notre Dame who made a push to become eligible in 2013, but the NCAA denied his hardship waiver. You put him in with Austin Hill, who should be fully recovered from his knee injury and should be high on the Belitnikoff watchlist, along with David Richards, Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant and you have a receiver corps that is as good as any in the conference -- probably the country.

Quarterback will be an issue and Anu Solomon is one to watch. I had this in Lunch Links today. It’s a good read from Anthony Gimino breaking down Arizona’s QB prospects for next year.

Essentially, the Wildcats have a bunch of really exciting skill players that will make the South that much more exciting. They do lose three seniors on the defensive line, so guys like Luca Bruno, Calvin Allen and Jack Banda will have to step up.

But Arizona does indeed have some scary potential next year.

Mike in Maple Valley, Wash. writes: Your definition of "Coug" was pretty spot on. You said it has been an effective term since 2005. The origin may actually go back to the 1975 Apple Cup. To "Coug it" is a ceremonial act hand down from one generation to another.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, Maple Valley sounds like the most delicious place on earth.

Second, that was a phrase pulled straight from the Urban Dictionary, and the submission was entered in 2005, so unfortunately I can’t take credit for it. I didn’t put the link in though because Urban Dictionary has a lot of non-blog-friendly expressions and sayings. You’re free to Google it yourself.

I called no joy in writing that piece. But I do think Washington State is moving in the right direction under Mike Leach. Speaking of that column ...

Andy in Fort Collins Colo. writes: You’re Washington State take was so one-sided and arrogant. How about giving the Rams a little credit instead of making excuses. (And Merry Christmas).

Kevin Gemmell: Ah, thanks Andy. Merry Christmas to you.

It was a Washington State-centric story because I’m the Pac-12 reporter and I cover the Pac-12 and Washington State is a Pac-12 team and it appeared on the Pac-12 blog. See the trend?

Did you email all of the beat writers in Pullman and Spokane and the surrounding areas and chastise them for their coverage? The folks at CougCenter do a heck of a job. And their stuff was a bit one-sided.

I don’t think it’s arrogant to say the Pac-12 is a better conference. I’ve covered both, so I feel like I’m qualified to weigh in on this. In the 12 games the two conferences have played so far, the Pac-12 has gone 11-1 and outscored the Mountain West, on average, 38.5 to 20.

Arizona should beat UNLV. And it did. Colorado should beat Colorado State. And it did. Oregon State and USC should beat Hawaii. And they did. Oregon State should beat San Diego State. And it did. UCLA should beat Nevada. And it did. Stanford should beat San Jose State. And it did. USC and Utah should beat Utah State. And they did. USC should beat Fresno State and Washington should beat Boise State. And they did.

For what it’s worth, I did include in the piece that Colorado State deserved the win for not quitting. And anything is possible (especially in Albuquerque, it seems) when you have two weeks to prepare.

That goes for tonight’s matchup between Oregon State and Boise State. The Broncos certainly aren’t the same team they were a month ago. And I’m not totally sure which Oregon State team we’re going to get. If it’s the explosive Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection, the Beavs should be fine. If it’s not, then Boise State certainly could win.

Such is the nature of bowl season.

Merry Christmas from the Pac-12 blog.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 10, 2013
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In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 4, 2013
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When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.

Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Aug. 15 

August, 15, 2013
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The Pac-12 has a chance to gain two big commitments over the coming days, but those won’t be the only eventual newcomers who will make an impact. And one of the conference’s heavyweights could have plenty to sell this fall.

Another Saturday commitment

Arizona adds Texas QB transfer

July, 30, 2013
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Arizona's quarterback competition is really heating up. But it's the 2014 edition -- not the 2013 competition -- that we're talking about.

With the news that former Texas quarterback Connor Brewer is transferring to Tucson, head coach Rich Rodriguez now finds himself with an abundance of quarterbacks for 2014.

Brewer, who is from Scottsdale, led Chaparral High to three state championships and was the No. 7-rated quarterback in the 2012 class by ESPN. At the time, he had received Pac-12 offers from Arizona, ASU, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington. He was also offered by Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan, among others.

Per NCAA transfer rules, he'll have to sit out 2013, but he'll join a quarterback class in 2014 that includes Anu Solomon, former USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins, Javelle Allen and possibly Brandon Dawkins, who committed to the Wildcats last week out of Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian.

Brewer tweeted his decision last night that he was headed back to his home state. He'll be reunited with former Chaparral teammate Davonte Neal, a wide receiver transfer from Notre Dame whose eligibility for 2013 is still up in the air.

Per Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen:
Brewer’s commitment gives Arizona four of the top 10 in-state players from the 2012 class , as ranked by Rivals.com.

If Neal and Brewer -- who have been friends since the eighth grade — had signed with Arizona in February of 2012, excitement would have been off the charts. Neal was No. 3 in the state, Brewer No. 5, offensive lineman Zach Hemmila was No. 6 and defensive lineman Dwight Melvin was No. 10.
One of the main selling points for Arizona's sneaky potential in 2013 was receiver Austin Hill. With the return of Hill and running back Ka'Deem Carey, the Wildcats had probably the best catch-run combo in the Pac-12. That figured to provide a considerable boon to whomever won the starting job at quarterback.

But now Hill is likely lost for the season with a torn ACL. What does that mean for the Wildcats?

It ain't good.

At the beginning of spring practices, you could say that the Wildcats were deep at receiver. Seven of the eight receivers on the bowl game depth chart were slated to return. But, really, a lot of that was Hill, second-team All-Pac-12, leading a group of promising young players.

Not to be Debbie Downer on this, but consider the situation now.

Hill and his 81 receptions for 1,364 yards and school-record-tying 11 TDs are gone, as are the 61 catches for 773 yards and five TDs from departed senior Dan Buckner.

Carey was the Wildcats' third-leading receiver. No. 4 was David Richards, with just 29 receptions for 298 yards and three TDs. No other returning receiver had more than two TDs in 2012.

Now, the situation isn't desperate. Far from it. There are a number of Pac-12 teams that would switch receivers with the Wildcats, even without Hill. And if Notre Dame transfer Davonte' Neal wins his appeal with the NCAA and is ruled immediately eligible, he could become a premier playmaker.

Further, there's plenty of intriguing talent with a mixture of size, speed and experience, a list topped by 6-foot-4 Terrence Miller, who won a year back due to a medical waiver from the NCAA, junior Tyler Slavin and junior Garic Wharton. The redshirt freshmen had solid springs, including Trey Griffey, Clive Georges and Jarrell Bennett. Further, as many as six incoming signees could end up as receivers.

Again, not desperate.

But Hill was a game-changer. He wasn't a burner, but his hands were as good as any player in the conference. He bailed out quarterback Matt Scott many times last year, and any ball he could get a finger on was likely to be caught.

Hill, a redshirt junior, could rush through his rehab and return sometime next fall. His plan likely was to enter the 2014 NFL draft. Now he has the option of coming back in 2014 as a senior, perhaps to buoy his NFL stock and overcome injury concerns.

But that's a future issue for Hill and the Wildcats.

The present problem for Arizona is a perceived strength now has become a question mark. The Wildcats have now become a team looking for a go-to target in the passing game.

Of course, a present Arizona receiver might see that as an opportunity, not a problem.
I don't know what good it is to know so much and be smart as whips and all if it doesn't make you happy.
The Sunday truce is as old as the game itself, you can do some crazy stuff but never on no Sunday.
California is the lifeblood of Pac-12 recruiting. Sure, coaches talk about putting up fences in their backyards and keeping their state's elite talent within. But the majority of the top-notch players from the conference hail from the Golden State -- Northern, Southern and everywhere in between.

So it was an interesting read in SI to see that the bulk of top-rated players in the state are holding out before making a commitment. Bravo. It would be nice to see players make their commitment after some careful consideration and then stick with it.

This trend of flip-flopping, while dramatic, gets old. There was the 11th-hour Shaq Thompson switch, for example (though Washington folks probably aren't complaining). And of course the tale of Davonte Neal, who left schools dangling (and 600 elementary school kids by the way) before finally settling on Notre Dame.

Remember the time when a player would simply call up the coach and say: "I'm coming to your school."

To which the coach would say: "OK, be ready to work in the fall."

That was it.

Of course, no California recruiting story would be complete without a Tosh Lupoi reference. Writes Steve Megargee from the SI article:
When Washington hired Tosh Lupoi away from California two weeks before National Signing Day, it sent shockwaves through the 2012 West Coast recruiting scene. The aftermath of that move is still making an impact.

"That whole thing that happened with coach Lupoi, I think it sent a message to everybody here in California that you have to wait until that point where everything's about to be finalized to make your decision," Atwater Buhach offensive tackle and Rivals100 recruit Aaron Cochran said. "Anything can happen."

Cochran should know. He's the younger brother of Matt Cochran, a 2012 three-star center who verbally committed to California two weeks before Lupoi's departure. Though he signed with California anyway, the Golden Bears lost several other coveted prospects. Among them: Sacramento Grant safety Shaq Thompson (Washington), Monrovia defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy (UCLA) and Westlake Village wide receiver Jordan Payton (UCLA). All three were Rivals100 recruits.

I was covering San Diego State when Cal defensive lineman Mustafa Jalil committed to the Aztecs, a "solid verbal" as they say, only to make his switch to the Bears. I distinctly remember someone at SDSU telling me off the record "we're going to have to work hard to keep that guy." Not hard enough, apparently. And after the switch, I remember that same person using a more explicit word.

Players are free to choose whatever school they want, but hopefully this will start a trend of giving their decision a little more thought, rather than just knee-jerking on their first commitment. And if that means waiting until signing day before making an announcement, great. That makes for better drama, anyway.

Lunch links: Stanford is QB shopping

February, 28, 2012
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Looking good, Billy Ray!
Feeling good, Louis!

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