Pac-12: Don Pellum
This weekend can't possibly be as nutty as last weekend ... could it?
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To the notes!
Dominic fro Tucson writes: Now that Oregon and UCLA both have one loss. Both teams were projected to play in the Pac-12 championship and both are playing this Saturday. My question is: Will the loser of the Oregon/UCLA game be left out of the Pac-12 championship game and as a potential playoff contender as well?
Ted Miller: Probably, but maybe not.
The loser of the UCLA-Oregon game will have two Pac-12 defeats at the midseason mark, which isn't good, but a loss won't have tiebreaker impact in either division. As the Bruins have lost to Utah, they would need the Utes to lose two more times to win a South Division tiebreaker (we are not going to even wade into potential three-way ties, etc...). The Ducks' loss to Arizona doesn't hurt them in a North tiebreaker.
The first question: Could 7-2 in Pac-12 play win the North/South Division? Absolutely. Arizona is not only the Pac-12's only undefeated team, it's also the only team undefeated in conference play. But the Wildcats, who play host to USC on Saturday, still have a road date with UCLA, so Arizona's margin for error is only one game if it lost in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 1. As for the North, Oregon will be the division champion if it loses to UCLA but then wins out. So that's pretty simple.
Ergo, if UCLA loses to Oregon but finishes 10-2 overall and 7-2 in Pac-12 play and then bests the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game, I'd rate the Bruins shot as solid to be a candidate for the College Football Playoff. The strength of schedule would be impressive enough to even eclipse a two-loss team from the SEC West, particularly a team like Mississippi State, which played a weak nonconference schedule.
Same for Oregon. The Ducks as Pac-12 champions at 11-2 would have a strong resume, particularly if Michigan State ends up the Big Ten champ at 12-1.
There is so much football left that projecting forward is pretty futile. If you want a confident statement from me, however, here it is: The only Pac-12 teams that you can say are definitely not going to be invited to the CFP are Colorado and Washington State. As no other teams have more than two losses, everyone else seems to still have a mathematical chance.
And, yes, you might use that line from "Dumb and Dumber" to wrap up my thoughts here.
Tom from Seattle writes: I would like to propose a rule that no "official" polls can be conducted until ... until November 1st. With most major programs playing, well, no one in their non-conference schedule, it would seem many of the rankings are based off of last weeks rankings, rather than the state of college football that week. Arizona didn't "jump up," they were as good before they beat Oregon as they were afterward. realistically, the only polls that matter are the final polls anyway, and weekly polls give something for everyone to talk about, but I worry that speculation in September lead to deception in December.
Ted Miller: The College Football Playoff took your advice, pretty much, Tom. It's not releasing its first poll until Oct. 28, and the selection committee has repeatedly claimed it will not be influenced by the existing polls that have been infuriating everyone since August.
You note two important issues with the national polls, though: 1. They tend to stick too much to preseason expectations; 2. People love talking about polls.
The first is the problem inherent within the national polls, and the second is why the national polls continue to exist in their longstanding format. The public loves them.
And, yeah, the media sorta enjoys that Sunday boost when the polls come out and everyone feels compelled to react -- Perfect! Horrible! Conspiracy! -- to what ultimately will be absolutely meaningless within a week or two.
Steve from Los Gatos, Calif., writes: Wasn't this supposed to be the year that Stanford's offense brought back the stud TE glory days? What happened?
Ted Miller: Yes. And the production at tight end thus far is notably better than 2013. Austin Hooper's 15 receptions for 189 yards with a touchdown is already better than what the Cardinal got from the position last season, and Eric Cotton's four receptions for 72 yards sets him up to eclipse the total production from the position last season, too.
But, no, it's not like the days of Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, three current NFL starters. That troika might be difficult to duplicate over the next 100 or so seasons. And, yes, it's concerning that tight ends didn't catch a pass against Notre Dame.
The problem is not tight end, though. It's the Stanford offense as a whole. The offensive line has been underwhelming and quarterback Kevin Hogan hasn't taken a step forward as a third-year starter. The redzone offense, you might have heard, has been particularly awful.
With the talent on hand, particularly at receiver, the Cardinal offense should be better than it has been through five games, and if we are folks who believe the buck stops with the leadership, then head coach David Shaw, who calls the plays, and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, also share significant blame.
Stanford's offensive mediocrity, in other words, has been a total team effort. And a total team effort -- and maybe a little flexibility in terms of adhering to an identity -- is the only way to solve the problem.
Matt from San Jose writes: Why has Jared Goff been getting ZERO recognition from the media for the job he has done in year 2 as Cal's QB? I know the 4Pac have been talking him up in recent weeks, but there is no national recognition. He's been spurned for player of the week a couple of times, and his numbers are off the charts, yet he doesn't even have a single vote or any consideration on the Heisman tracker. Come on, 22 TDs to 3 picks (two of which were drops by the WRs) is pretty freakin' impressive, along with a 4-1 record, which could just as easily be 5-0. Interested to hear your guys' thoughts on the matter.
Ted Miller: Well, there's this from Kyle Bonagura this week. And Goff's rating in ESPN.com's Total QBR is notable.
And there's this. And our friends at the California Golden Blogs posted this headline: "Jared Goff Starts to Garner National Attention."
But, yes, Goff has yet to make a dent in the national Heisman trackers. There is a good reason for that, though. His team went 1-11 last season, and folks are only starting to raise an eyebrow at Cal's surprising 4-1 start.
If Goff continues to rate in the top-five in QBR and continues to put up big passing numbers and Cal continues to win games, he'll start to get more national attention. In fact, if he plays a key role in the Bears winning two of their next three home games -- Washington, UCLA and Oregon -- I'd guess he'd start to get plenty of national acclaim.
And there also would be an NFL scout or two raising an eyebrow.
Tim from Atlanta writes: I wonder if the extent of Oregon's defensive troubles have been at least a bit exaggerated ... WSU and Arizona have proven to be very good offensive teams, and the MSU offense has looked pretty impressive since leaving eugene. Before Armstead got hurt against AZ, the ducks had given up 3 points. and really, giving up 31 to WSU in pullman (albeit missed-PI aided) isn't THAT BAD. The O-Liine's struggles the last 2 weeks seem to be a much greater concern, as oregon should be able to win games giving up 31 to a team that just gave up 45 to Cal the game before. Seems the D is taking the fall for the O's poor performances the last 2 games.
Ted Miller: I agree to some extent. I definitely think the Ducks' biggest problem is the offensive line. I also think if offensive tackle Jake Fisher were healthy, the Ducks would be unbeaten and no one would be talking about sack numbers.
Another absolutely irrelevant observation: If the Ducks' projected starting offensive line -- including Fisher and tackle Tyler Johnstone -- was injury-free, the Ducks would be an overwhelming No. 1 right now and the Heisman Trophy discussion would pretty much be over.
"If only..." again, is a pretty stupid exercise in sports or just about anything else. But I thought I'd type that to make some Ducks feel better.
My perception of the Ducks' defense is there have been more obvious breakdowns compared to past years. When coach Mark Helfrich talked to Chantel Jennings about "miscommunication" being an issue, I thought about how good a communicator former coordinator Nick Aliotti was.
To me, "miscommunication" means coaches aren't getting their message across to players. That falls on the coaches.
Yet your larger point about the Ducks facing a number of top-flight offenses so far is valid. It's also fair to note we should expect some growing pains when you change coordinators, even if continuity was one of the biggest reason to promote Don Pellum instead of, say, hiring Clancy Pendergast.
It's too early to deliver a verdict on the Ducks' defense, just as it's way too early to deliver a verdict on Helfrich's second season. Let's see how things stack up when the calendar flips into December.
Ross from Portland writes: This is for Erik McKinney and all Pac-12 Blog Staff: So there I was, drinking my favorite Oregon Micro Beer, Black Butte Porter, and reading the Pac-12 Blog... And then I started to read Erik McKinney's Piece- "Ducks finding recruiting success by heading south." And all was fine, until I took a drink while reading the paragraph below..."Oregon's annual trip to Southern California will take place Saturday, and recruits in the area will flock to the game -- of course, UCLA's rise and recruiting prowess has plenty to do with that as well. But a visit from the Ducks is akin to the circus coming to town, billboards and all. "And so, I busted out laughing hard, when he wrote, "the Ducks is akin to the circus coming to town...". Problem is, my mouth was still all full of Oregon's finest. And I ended up spitting, actually spraying, my whole entire computer screen, wall and whole desk, from laughter while drinking the beer. Note to self: Never drink any liquids while reading the Pac-12 blog. Doing so may erupt much laughter, erupt much liquid, and create a big mess.
Ted Miller: Ross, Kevin has patented the "Gemmell Grabber" (TM) -- "Reading the Pac-12 blog ... well then expect to expectorate! -- and I'm sure he'd send you one for the very low price of $99.95.
It's a retractable computer shield that uses Bluetooth technology and a handy iPhone AP. As a bonus, it comes shaped like your favorite Pac-12 defensive back sporting his home uniform.
And if you order now, you'll get a copy of my bestseller, "Pac-12 Predictions: I guarantee [insert your team] wins this weekend!"
No. 3 Oregon made the biggest national statement so far this season with a 46-27 victory against No. 7 Michigan State. The Ducks answered questions about their ability to match up with an elite physical defense and established their legitimacy. That quarterback Marcus Mariota turned in a tour de force for the Ducks further validates the preseason feeling that he was the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Also getting a hole punched in their validation cards were Ducks coach Mark Helfrich and new defensive coordinator Don Pellum.
As for football, the Trojans won a second consecutive nail-biter over the Cardinal, propelling themselves into the top 10, They won in large part because Stanford couldn't get out of its own way. The Cardinal had nine drives inside the Trojans’ 35-yard line but scored just 10 points, which almost seems mathematically impossible. That red zone ineptitude would be notable for any team, but it's even more stunning when you consider Stanford's well-established reputation for disciplined, bruising, efficient play.
Nonetheless, the victory made the Trojans the second-highest rated team in the Pac-12 in both major polls. Two weeks into the season, one might call them the South Division favorite and most likely team to challenge the Ducks.
But what of USC's friends from Westwood, UCLA, the previous holder of both those designations? The Bruins improved to 2-0, but only after an unimpressive performance in an anxious 42-35 victory against lightly regarded Memphis. They continued a tumble in national estimation, falling from a preseason ranking of No. 7 to No. 12 in the latest AP poll. In Week 1 at Virginia, the Bruins' offense, particularly the line, appeared hapless. In Week 2, the defense took the day off.
UCLA is a cipher. The Bruins look good on paper -- the depth chart suggests no obvious deficiencies -- but have not looked good on turf, at least thus far. They remain unbeaten but are presently the most deserving owner of the dreaded "overrated" label. They could turn out to be the Chapter 1 good guys who end up as heels. Or the opposite. They could be lying in wait, bland and unimpressive, before leaping out of the shadows to make their heroic flourish. Feel free, by the way, to put your own spin on coach Jim Mora's brief postgame interview in which he said he liked his defense "a lot," before frumping off, leaving reporter and audience hanging.
In the preseason, there was some hope that UCLA's game with Texas on Saturday in Cowboys Stadium would be revealing. While expectations weren't terribly high for the Longhorns under first-year coach Charlie Strong, there were reasonable projections this game at least would be a matchup of ranked teams. But Texas is battling growing pains, as well as injuries and suspensions, under Strong. It just got whipped for a second consecutive season by BYU, so the Longhorns look like more of a banana peel than a national stepping-stone for the Bruins.
If UCLA loses, it probably will fall out of the Top 25, going from vogue pick for CFP semifinalist to unranked within three weeks. If it wins, most will shrug and point to the Sept. 25 date at Arizona State, a Thursday night showdown between South Division contenders, as a true measuring stick for whether the Bruins merit our preseason gushing.
This skepticism, however, carries little more authority than everyone's present approbation of Oregon. It's just fickle words, really. Fodder for the daily grind of sports fandom, this week's topic. In December, Oregon's 2-0 might not end up being any more meaningful than UCLA's 2-0. Further, UCLA at 4-0, no matter how it got there, would probably rework its popular descriptive term from "overrated" to "opportunistic."
In other words, our present takes are no more than hunches. These are educated hunches based on tangible evidence, but we all know tangible evidence often has a brief shelf life in college football. Oregon, USC and UCLA have made statements about themselves through Week 2, and it's inevitable that we react to what has been said.
That doesn't mean we won't be breaking down a rematch between Arizona State and Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game when the regular season ends.
Yes, your team is destined for great things. But only if you follow me on Twitter.
To the notes!
Kevin from Columbus, Ohio, writes: How much pressure should be placed on Don Pellum at Oregon considering the Ducks have lost to Stanford two years straight? A third time would be a clear indication Oregon's defense can't stop the beef of Stanford and sends an even stronger message that Oregon won't be able to stop an SEC team if it makes it to the national title game.
Ted Miller: A third consecutive Oregon loss in the series might suggest that Stanford has the Ducks' number, but it has no relevance to the SEC. I can count on four fingers the number of SEC teams that wouldn't wilt on the line of scrimmage against Stanford -- or be multi-TD underdogs to the Ducks.
You might want to ask Tennessee fans about Oregon's defense, though some were rendered mute and blind by 59 unanswered points. Further, compare and contrast Oregon's defensive effort against Auburn and LSU with what other SEC defenses did to those teams in 2010 and 2011.
That's what happens when your program rises to the super-elite. Think about it: What would rate a successful season for the Ducks in 2014? Nothing less than the Pac-12 championship, and if that doesn't include an invitation to the first College Football Playoff, I'd bet more than a few Oregon fans would give the season a harrumph.
Oregon finished 11-2 last year with a final No. 9 ranking. From a long-term perspective, it was one of the best seasons in program history. From the perspective of the last five years, Mark Helfrich's first season after replacing Chip Kelly was a bit of a letdown.
Helfrich knew what he was getting into. The new reality is many Oregon fans now expect their Ducks to win the Pac-12 title and be in the national championship mix annually. (Oregon fans over 50 just slapped their foreheads.) Some might say Helfrich won't completely win over some fans until he wins the title, the one thing Kelly couldn't quite accomplish.
As for Pellum, he will encounter the same sort of pressure Helfrich is experiencing. He is replacing longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who quietly built a nationally ranked defense while laboring in the shadow of the Ducks high-powered, up-tempo offense. For some fans to completely buy in to Pellum, they'll need to see the Ducks continue to rank among the conference's statistical leaders. For an even pickier contingent, the defense will need to improve.
How can it improve? Ah, we now come to your point about "beef," but perhaps from a different angle. While Oregon's offensive struggles against A-list defenses over the past five years have tended to grab the headlines, the defense also has, at times, fallen short, though I'd assert it has mostly measured up in big games.
The key issues does appear to come down to "beef:" In six of the Ducks' eight defeats since 2009, they've been outrushed. Further, there's no question that Stanford controlled both lines of scrimmage in last year's victory. The Ducks defensive front seven couldn't get a stop in the first half. That's why one of the messages coming out of the offseason is Oregon's intention -- apparently realized -- to get bigger.
Just so everybody knows, by the way, it's no longer the SEC that worries coaches across the country. That conference faces a major talent drain this season, particularly behind center. It's Florida State. The Seminoles are stacked.
Ted Miller: Respectfully, Costi, you are overreacting. Rich Rodriguez takes every game seriously. Heck, the guy takes every play in practice seriously. He knows how important the Territorial Cup is. He's plenty aware of his being 0-2 against his good buddy Todd Graham. There won't be a person in the country who will want to win that game next year more than Rodriguez.
No, I don't think Rodriguez will be in trouble if he loses a third consecutive game to the Sun Devils after another winning season. I don't think that's even been whispered by any significant decision-maker associated directly or indirectly with the football program.
In 2012, the Wildcats pretty much threw up on themselves in the fourth quarter and the Sun Devils played a mentally tougher game on the road. In 2013, the Sun Devils were a lot more talented on both sides of the ball.
This year? It's a lot closer to a toss-up in terms of talent, though Arizona State has a third-year starting QB in Taylor Kelly who won't worry too much about playing in Tucson. Rodriguez's life would be much easier with a win. But another loss won't be catastrophic if the Wildcats have a good season, such as entering the game with eight or so wins.
Rodriguez's chief goal isn't just to post winning or even eight- or nine-win seasons. It's not even to consistently beat Arizona State. He wants to win the conference championship and get the Wildcats to their first Rose Bowl.
Ted Miller: I'm sure glad that folks don't record my off-the-cuff comments for posterity.
Miller in 1985: "Folks, the mullet is here to stay. It's a haircut that best conveys masculinity."
Miller in 1991: "MC Hammer is certain to be remembered as the best rapper in history."
Miller in 1999: "Rarely would I recommend a stock based on a sock puppet, but Pets.com is a sure winner!"
Miller in 2001: "Why does Britney Spears date Justin Timberlake? She's so much more talented than him."
Miller in 2007: "You should buy real estate. That market will never crash."
Miller in 2008: "I think we've finally got a President and Congress that are going to work together!"
Miller in 2010: "At least we know Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver will be married forever!"
Miller in 2012: "Stanford beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium with a redshirt freshman QB? Ha!"
My wife has a much longer list, by the way.
As a freshman, Covington ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in punting and, perhaps more important, UCLA ranked second in the conference in net punting. So before he transferred, Bruins fans knew they had a A-list punter coming back, one who could significantly help the underrated field-position game.
Now the Bruins have uncertainty at the position. That's not a positive, though in terms of where uncertainty really worries you, punter is down the list. It might, in fact, be at the bottom of said list.
In a close game, you'd like to have a good punter. But you'd rather have Brett Hundley, Eric Kendricks, Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and Fabian Moreau.
Or you should simply expect Noel Mazzone's offense to never need to punt.
Ted Miller: Time to musk up, eh? I hear "Really Offensive Lineman" is made with real bits of Hroniss Grasu and Tyler Johnstone, so you know it's good. Sixty percent of the time it works every time.
What would Ode to Chip Kelly smell like? Something that crossed sarcasm and a bacon cheeseburger?
I'll be honest. If Oregon made tickets that smelled like Pok Pok in Portland, I'd probably buy one even though I get a media pass.
But rather than a statistical advantage, the biggest adjustment the linebackers are bringing to the Ducks this season is both emotional and mental. The leader of the unit, Don Pellum, has been promoted from LBs coach to defensive coordinator.
“We have our own linebacker culture that we’ve had for years,” juniorRodney Hardrick said. “We have a different standard, different culture in our room and now that [Pellum is] the coordinator, we’ve extended that culture to the defense. Now, everyone is on the same page and is doing what we’ve been doing.”
This culture preaches showing up early to practices, treatments and meetings, going the hardest and knowing the most about the defense.
Obviously all of those facets are parts that each position group on the Ducks defense found important, but with a group clinging to that as its identity, it becomes even more important. Thus, a culture is formed.
Senior linebacker Derrick Malone said he already has seen the defense practice faster, but to him it’s pretty normal since Pellum has always coached the linebackers this way. Now, he’s just coaching the entire defense this way.
“It’s the way he gets us programmed that certain way right when we come [to Eugene],” Malone said. “Right when we come in as freshmen, that’s the only way we know. As linebackers we don’t know any other way. It’s the foundation.”
But now that’s becoming the foundation of the defense, which will only help moving forward. If the defense continues to buy in to the linebacker culture, it should show major improvements this spring since the linebackers have been one of the Ducks’ most consistent position groups.
“The whole defense is starting to come around,” Malone said. “It’s all spilling over to the other units. … You can see that change.”
How different is it coming into this spring season as a coordinator instead of a position coach?
Many more meetings?
DP: Just longer meetings. We’ll have the same meetings but before when you sat in that room, you watched your guys. You pay attention to everything but you didn’t focus as hard; now you’re focusing on everything. It’s longer meetings, and then prior to some of these meetings, you have to go watch the film and be prepared to discuss everything. But it’s going well. No complaints.
Is the transition to defensive coordinator made easier because the linebackers have the most depth of any defensive position group?
DP: Having a veteran group helps from the standpoint of the fact that some of they understand the way we want to teach things, so there’s flexibility with that group because I can tell them one thing and they get it. They understand exactly where I’m coming from. So from that standpoint, the veteran group helps. I still have to spend the same amount of time getting them ready because those are my guys. I can’t let those guys not be prepared. But it’s comforting because it is a veteran group. If it were a freshman group or just a young group, it’d be a bit more difficult because I’d have to spend some extra time with them.
Even though the depth is in the linebacker group, with how much the Ducks struggled against the run last season, would you consider playing a 4-3 defense instead of a 3-4 this season?
DP: I’m not familiar with the debate at all. I don’t watch as much TV as I should and I read a lot of things, but I don’t read that news. The debate between the 3-4 and the 4-3, it varies. I honestly believe that we need to be smart enough to look at your players and your talent and your abilities and ask, ‘What can we do?’ We run some 4-3, but we’re more 3-4. I think everyone has a package where you run both, but some teams are much more predominant with one or the other. But our personnel, if you say the strength of our team or the strength in terms of veteran players on our team is at the linebackers, then we should be in a 3-4. Because that’s going to put more of those guys on the field. I think both of those defenses are good. I don’t think there’s any bad defense, as long as you understand it. I don’t think you can declare, ‘I’m going to run this defense,’ but then not know it and not have the personnel -- I think that’s a recipe for disaster.
Which part of the game needs to make the biggest strides this spring in order to be successful next fall?
DP: Fundamentals. You look at our defense, and I’d suspect this is everywhere, you look at the big plays and lot of the big plays are from a missed tackle, poor angles -- those are fundamentals. To improve this defense from where we are right now to where we want to get, we’ve got to improve our fundamentals. So that’s tackling, shedding blocks, getting off blocks and running like maniacs. That’s what defense is.
Even though you were only able to see the group for one day, are you starting to see the early forms of that?
DP: Was it near where we want? No. But for the first day was it pretty good? It was pretty good. The communication was really good. You could tell that although we appear to be a young group, you could tell that the guys have been paying attention because across the board they were pretty savvy today about what we were asking them to do. The communication was good. The angles were good. As you walk down the sideline, they weren’t talking about what happened yesterday; they were talking about today and the next [practice], so they’re thinking like you do in a game situation. That’s what we’re trying to create because that’s the culture we need on the sideline. It was encouraging.
Helfrich also said he was impressed with the communication on Day 1. What can that be attributed to?
DP: I think we’ve made that a point as a staff. We’ve made that a concise point to the team that we need to be smarter. We need to increase our knowledge and understanding. As a coaching staff we’ve done a phenomenal job of going through everything, nit-picking everything and making sure that we’re really on the same page with a lot of different things. We changed some things. We’ve reduced some of the words. We’ve tried to make some of the words friendlier for the players and more specific to those techniques. So we’ve done a lot of things ourselves as coaches. We looked at what we were telling them, looked at what we were talking about. Let’s break that down and then go and reteach it to them and give it to them in a different form. So that’s what we’ve done. And it was kind of neat because it was just the first day, but there was some evidence of it.
Here's a look at who's in, who's out and what it means, starting in the North Division:
Out: Defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who will be reassigned as a position coach, probably linebackers, if he remains in Berkeley. Coach Sonny Dykes also fired defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks and defensive backs coach Randy Stewart.
In: Art Kaufman, whose defense at Cincinnati ranked ninth in the nation last season.
Thoughts: Kaufman, 55, takes over perhaps the worst defense in Cal history, a unit that was injury-ravaged but also was often unsound and seemingly uninspired, allowing an eye-popping 46 points per game in 2013. The good news: If the injury issues resolve themselves with the healthy return of talented players such as defensive end Brennan Scarlett, safety Avery Sebastian, defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil and cornerback Stefan McClure, the improvement could be dramatic. Dykes also hired Greg Burns to coach the secondary. He was at USC from 2002-05 and Arizona State from 2008 -11. He spent last season at UMass.
Out: Longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired.
In: Don Pellum was promoted from linebackers coach.
Thoughts: The promotion of the 51-year-0ld Pellum stuck with the "Oregon Way" of promoting from within, though there was mutual interest between coach Mark Helfrich and former USC coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Pellum won't have to rework much with the Ducks' hybrid 3-4 scheme. As noted here, since 2009, "the Ducks have finished no lower than third in the Pac-12 in yards-per-play allowed. That includes leading the conference in 2009, 2010 and, yes, 2013, when the Ducks finished seventh nationally by that metric." The Ducks did falter a few times last season, most notably against Stanford, Arizona and Oregon State, and often had trouble against physical running games as well as on third down. Helfrich did make a quasi-outside hire when he brought in Erik Chinander to take over the Ducks' outside linebackers, which Aliotti coached. Chinander, 34, is a former Oregon graduate assistant who worked under Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
Out: Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf left to become the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants.
In: John Garrett, who was the wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. He was on the staff of the Dallas Cowboys from 2007-12, where his brother Jason Garrett is the head coach.
Thoughts: Garrett, who last coached in college at Virginia from 2004-06, shows that coach Mike Riley remains married to a pro-style scheme. Garrett will also coach quarterbacks and tight ends, but it has not yet been determined who will call plays -- Riley has done so for the past two seasons. Garrett and Riley have known each other since 1991, when Garrett played receiver for Riley's San Antonio Riders of the World Football League. The good news for Garrett is the Beavers are strong at QB (Sean Mannion) and deep at tight end. The bigger questions are making the running game more consistent and replacing WR Brandin Cooks' production.
Out: Defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who became the head coach at Vanderbilt.
In: Lance Anderson was promoted from outside linebackers coach, a position he will continue to coach.
Thoughts: Another promotion from within that will ensure the Pac-12's best defense has schematic continuity. Anderson has been at Stanford for seven seasons. He coached DTs from 2007-09. He was also the recruiting coordinator from 2007-11. The Cardinal also hired Peter Hansen as inside linebackers coach. He replaces David Kotulski, who was named Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator under Mason. That was another move that maintains continuity, as Hansen spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons at Stanford as a defensive assistant before following Vic Fangio and Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.
Out: Steve Sarkisian brought most of his staff from Washington to USC, including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, but not offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, who was not retained by new Huskies coach Chris Petersen
In: Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski
Thoughts: Smith, the overachieving former Oregon State QB, is a real up-and-comer. Petersen trusts him enough to give him play-calling duties, even though he was not the offensive coordinator last year at Boise State. He'll also coach quarterbacks, so he'll play a central role in determining who wins the starting job this fall. Before joining Petersen at Boise State, Smith spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Montana. Kwiatkowski spent the previous four seasons coordinating the Boise State defense. He was the defensive line coach before being elevated to defensive coordinator in 2010, when he replaced Wilcox. The Broncos led the Western Athletic and Mountain West Conferences in total defense and scoring defense in each of his first three seasons and were third and second, respectively, in 2013.
No change: Head coach Mike Leach is his own offensive coordinator and Mike Breske is back to coordinate the Cougars defense, which was disappointing in 2013, slightly lagging behind its 2012 numbers.
This is how the top five scoring defenses played out last year:
- Stanford (19.0 points per game)
- Oregon (20.5)
- USC (21.2)
- Washington (22.8)
- UCLA (23.2)
Who got the better end of the deal? Sounds like a poll question for you to ponder all weekend long.
Which team will lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2014?
Jordan Richards and linebacker A.J. Tarpley returning.
Oregon: Out is longtime coordinator Nick Aliotti, who retired. In is longtime position coach Don Pellum. The Ducks lose some talent but return standout cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who gives the Ducks' secondary instant credibility.
USC: Clancy Pendergast was not retained by new head coach Steve Sarkisian. So Justin Wilcox is in after working his magic at Washington. The Trojans lost a lot of players to the draft, but a couple key players are back and there is a pretty good crop of young, talented players.
Washington: New head coach Chris Petersen brought his guy, Pete Kwiatkowski, with him from Boise State. The Huskies made tremendous strides in two seasons under Wilcox and have some pretty solid personnel returning.
Other: UCLA's Lou Spanos returned to the NFL and Jeff Ulbrich was promoted from within. Head coach Jim Mora will still oversee a lot of the defense. Though impact players like Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh are gone, the Bruins have plenty of talent coming back. ... Arizona was sixth in the conference last year and made huge strides from 2012 to 2013. Can it keep the momentum going? ... Arizona State (seventh) also shuffled its defensive staff around with the hiring of Keith Patterson, though Todd Graham will still be heavily involved in the defense. ... Utah (eighth) is just two seasons removed from leading the conference in scoring defense. Can the Utes get back to the top?
“There are some pretty good quarterbacks, too,” says Anderson.
Oh yeah, the quarterbacks.
Now it’s Anderson’s turn to add his own flavor to the scheme -- however minor it might be.
“Every year we tweak a little bit no matter what,” said Anderson, who first came to Stanford in 2007 with Jim Harbaugh. “We go back and watch film and do all of our self-scouting and analysis. We try to find places where we can get better and improve and that’s naturally going to lead to tweaking. I think every coordinator has a different feel and some stuff you might like a little better than the other guy.
“We’ve been in a system for a few years now and I think the kids are really comfortable with that. They like it. And I think the systems we’re in on both sides of the ball suit our personnel really well. Vic Fangio came in in 2010, installed the system at that point and we’ve kept it pretty similar ever since.”
That includes transitions from Fangio to the co-defensive coordinator team of Jason Tarver and Mason to just Mason and now to Anderson, who will continue to work with the outside linebackers after coaching the defensive tackles his first two seasons on The Farm.
Equally known as a top-flight recruiter, Anderson must now help the Cardinal transition to life without some of their marquee players. Gone next year are linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, defensive end Ben Gardner and safety Ed Reynolds. All were major contributors in one form or another to Stanford’s appearances in four straight BCS bowl games.
Despite those losses, Anderson is confident the Cardinal have the depth -- both in and out of the locker room -- to stay atop the defensive standings.
“I look at guys like A.J. Tarpley and Jordan Richards who have played a lot of football and they really stand out,” Anderson said. “Both guys display some natural leadership and they are well-respected by their teammates. Henry Anderson and David Parry are a couple of other guys who are really looked up to among the defensive players. I think we’ll be OK.”
Interestingly enough, the Pac-12 has seen the defensive coordinators from the top five scoring defenses move on after the 2013 season. Mason went to Vanderbilt, Nick Aliotti retired at Oregon, Justin Wilcox moved to USC with Steve Sarkisian, Lou Spanos returned to the NFL and Clancy Pendergast was not retained with the Trojans after Sarkisian came in. Three of those were replaced internally, with Anderson, Don Pellum (Oregon) and Jeff Ulbrich (UCLA) all being promoted. Pete Kwiatkowski joins Chris Petersen in Washington by way of Boise State and Wilcox followed Sark. So despite the transitions, the continuity among coaching staffs remains relatively unscathed.
However, that combination of coordinator shuffling, along with some A-list offensive players returning in 2014, makes for an interesting setup. The Pac-12 is known for its offensive diversity, and when you factor in the possibility of nine teams returning their starting quarterback, the dice seem loaded to the offensive side of the ball.
“There is a lot of offensive talent in this league and it doesn’t look like that’s going to slow down,” Anderson said. “The quarterbacks all have experience. It’s not going to be easy.
“We know that every week we are going to be tested. All we can do is try to go out and learn the techniques and the fundamentals and get the physical and mental mastery of the position. Once we get that in spring ball and the preseason, it’s just matter of going out and applying what we’ve learned during the season. Every week is going to be different. All we can do is prepare the best we can, master the position and try to apply it on Saturdays in the fall.”
And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.
That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.
But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.
Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.
In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.
The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.
Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).
But a lot more is gone than is coming back.
That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.
The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.
Oregon confirmed Tuesday what The Oregonian reported over the weekend: Linebackers coach Don Pellum, 51, an assistant at Oregon for 23 years, would be promoted to replace Aliotti and run the Ducks defense in 2014.
But after a season in which some fans believed Oregon seemed to lose its way, to lose its identity, Helfrich seems to be saying with this decision that he plans to stay the course and prioritize continuity and familiarity. It's a tip of the cap to a significant part of what got the program to where it is.
Pellum knows his players. He knows the schemes the Ducks have run under Aliotti. He knows what has worked and what hasn't. He's done a heck of a job coaching the Ducks linebackers.
As noted in the news release on the hiring:
In the past 20 seasons, he has been credited with much of the development of 27 all-conference honorees. In addition, as many as six of his players have either earned their way into NFL camps over the course of the last four years, or can expected to do so when practices begin this summer.
"I have never learned or grown so much under a single coach than I did under Coach Pellum," former Ducks linebacker Michael Clay said in the release. “He immediately commands the respect from his players unlike anyone I have ever come across and gets the max out of everyone he comes into contact with.
"No coach is prepared like DP. Without his knowledge and guidance, I wouldn't have been the player I was. He put me in a position where I could thrive for the University of Oregon. They could not have hired a better person."
When Aliotti announced his intentions to retire, there was some immediate sentiment that Helfrich should promote from within, though the top name there was secondary coach John Neal. Yet new USC coach Steve Sarkisian had just let Clancy Pendergast go, and Pendergast's version of the 3-4 scheme seemed like a nice fit for the Ducks. As the Pac-12 blog noted, Pendergast had done an outstanding job transforming the Trojans defense in 2013.
While Helfrich isn't likely to reveal how many folks he talked to or how far those talks went, there was some mutual interest between Pendergast and Oregon. It was Helfrich's call to go in another direction.
Hiring Pendergast would have been viewed as a strong move. The same could be said for Helfrich landing another big name with a strong track record running a defense. A proven coordinator also likely would get more benefit of the doubt if the Ducks defense takes a step back next fall, which it might do because it's losing five starters.
Helfrich is taking a chance promoting Pellum to his first coordinator job. There is a risk. Helfrich is well -aware there's little margin for error coaching Oregon these days, where an 11-2 finish and No. 9 final ranking is harrumphed by many newly demanding Ducks fans.
But his instinct on this was to go with Pellum, to go with a long-time Duck -- a former Oregon linebacker, in fact -- and that is a decision that reveals a lot about Helfrich.
The issue, of course, becomes simple going forward. If the Ducks continue to rank among the best defenses in the Pac-12, as they have during their rise into the nation's elite, then Pellum's promotion will prove to be an inspired decision. And perhaps a long-term solution.
But if the Ducks defense slips, then Helfrich's decision will become a negative evaluative mark for those still trying to figure out whether he has the stuff to maintain the Ducks' surge to the top of the Pac-12.
- Some more on Ka'Deem Carey's decision to go pro.
- Carl Bradford has decided to make the jump to the NFL.
- A look at a potential defensive coordinator for California.
- Colorado is recruiting guys who will stick around for a while.
- Some fan reaction to the Don Pellum promotion.
- Mike Riley offers his thoughts on Brandin Cooks and Scott Crichton in the NFL.
- Some more on David Yankey's decision to go pro.
- UCLA's defense will have to make an impact in 2014.
- A USC coach jumps to Alabama (not Lane Kiffin).
- A look at the Top 25 NFL players to come out of Utah.
- Considering Washington's quarterbacks for 2014.
- Some Washington State recruits are showing up early.
- Athlon breaks down the 2014 Pac-12 schedule.
Armstead, one of the nation's top-rated linemen, picked the Ducks over California, Washington, Auburn and Notre Dame. The one-time USC commitment will play defense for the Ducks -- he's rated higher as an offensive lineman -- and also will play basketball and will enroll at Oregon in time to participate in spring practices.
From ESPN Recruiting's Greg Biggins:
Before Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi left for Washington, Armstead seemed like a very solid bet to end up with the Bears. Even late last week, there was talk among a few other 2012 recruits that it looked good for Cal to land Armstead.
Oregon, led by head coach Chip Kelly and linebacker coach Don Pellum, came in for a home visit last week and wowed the family.
Kelly was able to sell the opportunity to play for a national championship right away and Pellum sold Armstead on how he would fit in with the defense.
Interesting twist here. While Cal fans will be sour that Armstead didn't pick the Bears -- allegedly because of Lupoi's departure -- they also can take heart from the fact that he didn't make the flip for the Huskies.
Further, this seems to validate the contention of many -- including yours truly-- that Oregon coach Chip Kelly may actually have helped recruiting by flirting with Tampa Bay.
The real test of Lupoi's jump to Washington: Shaq Thompson. He's choosing between Cal, where he has committed, Washington and Oregon. Thompson and Armstead are close, but not necessarily a package deal.
If the Huskies get Thompson, Lupoi immediately yields fruit. If Cal does, Lupoi's loss gets muted, at least in the short term.
And if Oregon gets him, then the Ducks start to show signs of taking a step toward elite recruiting.
Some good stuff on Armstead here.
National signing day, if you haven't heard, is Wednesday.
Here's what Corey Long and Jamie Newberg had to say.
Tosh Lupoi, California: "Lupoi has been arguably the top recruiter out west for a few seasons now. He's a young coach who relates very well to today's college football prospect. Lupoi gets on these recruits early and earns their trust. He had another big year, landing nine prospects for the Bears. What's amazing is that he landed recruits all through California as well as Oregon, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Georgia."
Derek Mason, Stanford: "Vaughters was one of the top 10 prospects in Georgia, and Harris is another strong prospect from the Peach State. Mason also assisted on the recruitment of Wayne Lyons (Oakland Park, Fla./Dillard) and has helped Stanford establish itself in the Southeast."
Ed Orgeron, USC:" If a Hall of Fame for recruiters ever exists, there's little doubt that Orgeron would be in it. He secured virtually every big name in USC's class, despite being hampered with a pedestrian season and looming NCAA sanctions. Orgeron just keeps bringing in the elite talent."
Don Pellum, Oregon: "Pellum is one sharp, experienced coach who pulled one of the signing day shockers when Oregon landed Thomas, a former USC commitment. Pellum recruits Los Angeles and Long Beach and is very well connected. The recruits love him, as he makes them feel at ease, as though they have known him forever. Oregon has been second to Southern Cal many times when it comes to recruiting Los Angeles kids, but not this year thanks to Thomas."
McGee ranks USC's Ed Orgeron No. 5, but he doesn't only praise the recruiting legend. Writes McGee:
There was a time -- a very long time -- when Orgeron would have been the undisputed number one on this list.
But a trail of issues has followed him from one school to another. Some say that's simply the result of his aggressive personality (example: his current selling point to recruits is that USC will beat their current NCAA bowl ban and scholarship restrictions when they win their pending appeal). Others say he lives life with a "ready, shoot, aim" mentality that is a blatant disrespect of authority.
I'd say the reason Orgeron is a great recruiter is players love him and he is relentless. Those two facts often create the above impression, which is supplied by grumpy rivals who typically just saw their guy commit to Orgeron's team.
Ah, but McGee has high praise for his No. 1 guy: Oregon's Don Pellum. Writes McGee:
The first four coordinators on our list all have one very important advantage in common: they live and work right smack in the middle of football talent pipelines. Not Pellum. An Oregon grad and a former recruiting coordinator for the California Golden Bears, he long ago established footholds up and down the West Coast, helping to build up the Ducks from a longtime also-ran into a national power. Now he routinely stakes claims in far-flung locales to the east. Of the Ducks' 20 early commits, there are two apiece from Florida and Texas and three of those four are listed among the ESPN 150. "It's a long way from Florida to Eugene," says former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti, "But if anyone can sell that move it is Don Pellum. Of course, winning doesn't hurt either."
When I arrived in the Northwest in 1999, Oregon most recruited regionally and in Southern California -- just like very other Pac-10 team. To me, the transformation of the Ducks from just a "good" program to an "elite" program has coincided with their new aggressiveness recruiting nationally.
Ten years ago, going "east" for a recruit meant the Ducks hit Colorado. Just one player on the roster in 2000 -- a team that finished ranked seventh in the country -- was from the East Coast (who wasn't a JC punter): hard-hitting linebacker Wes Mallard, who hailed from Columbus, Ga., and was initially a walk-on.
And, of course, a guy named "Mallard," well, where else could he possibly play football?
This year's roster featured players from 17 states and Canada. And Oregon is extremely active in Texas now, see running back LaMichael James, quarterback Darron Thomas, receiver Josh Huff, running back Lache Seastrunk and running back Dontae Williams, to name a few.
Of course, recruiting nationally has its downside. It can lead to coming in second in a lot of recruiting battles, which is often worse than not making the effort. Wasting time and resources in recruiting can be a killer come signing day. A lot of young men from other regions also enjoy taking trips to "exotic" places but have no intention of playing far from home. More than a few East Coast prospects use USC and UCLA to get their first taste of LA, then sign with SEC schools.
Still, if you want to run with the big dogs, you've got to, er, run with the big dogs.
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State