Pac-12: George Uko

There were 34 Pac-12 players selected during the NFL draft, but there will be more than twice that many rookies in NFL training camps this summer. Shortly after the draft ended, the dominoes started falling and those who went undrafted started signing free-agent contracts.

The following list of undrafted free agent signings, which was compiled from various announcements and media reports, could change in the coming days:

Arizona
Arizona State
California
Note: K Vincenzo D'Amato will reportedly attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp.

Colorado
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
Notes: S Devon Carrington (Pittsburgh) and LB Jarek Lancaster (Oakland) will attend rookie minicamps.

UCLA
USC
Utah
Notes: DT LT Tuipulotu will attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp and C Vyncent Jones told the Deseret News he will attend minicamps for Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Washington
Note: S Sean Parker will reportedly attend Washington Redskins rookie minicamp.

Washington State
Note: K Andrew Furney will attend Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp.
Spring practice is over, and so is the NFL draft.

Now, the wait begins -- 107 days, to be exact. That's when Arizona State (vs. Weber State), Utah (vs. Idaho State) and Washington State (vs. Rutgers) open their 2014 seasons.

But before we look forward, we'll take another look back at how the Pac-12 fared in the NFL draft.

One word sums it up pretty well: average.

Headed into this year's draft, the conference had averaged 29.8 selections since 2000, which equated to 2.9 per team factoring in Utah and Colorado's arrival in 2011. The 34 selections this year obviously brings that total average up slightly, but it's also a hair under the per-team average (2.84).

Same thing with first-round picks. There were 55 first-round picks during that time period (3.9 per year), which means the three that went in the first round this year was close to status quo.

When Washington State safety Deone Bucannon became the last of those three picks, he snapped the Cougars' first-round drought that dated to 2003. That streak had been tied for the longest in the conference with Arizona State, which counts Terrell Suggs as its last first-rounder.

The conference finished behind the SEC (49) and ACC (42) at No. 3 with players picked in the draft, ahead of the Big Ten (30) and Big 12 (17) among the power five.

In January, Kevin Gemmell outlined who will be replacing the players who left early from the North and South divisions. The total list included 26 players. Nine of those players went undrafted: Cal's Brendan Bigelow, Kameron Jackson, Viliami Moala and Chris McCain; Oregon's Colt Lyerla; USC's Dion Bailey, George Uko and Xavier Grimble; and Utah's Jake Murphy.

There were 19 NFL teams that selected Pac-12 players: Vikings (3), Bears (2), Cowboys (2), Eagles (2), Jets (2), Saints (2), Steelers (2), Packers (2), Seahawks (2), 49ers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Jaguars, Patriots, Raiders, Redskins, Texans, Titans.

Here's the conference draft tally:

Stanford: 6
UCLA: 5
Oregon: 4
Arizona: 3
Arizona State: 3
USC: 3
California: 2
Oregon State: 2
Utah: 2
Washington: 2
Colorado: 1
Washington State: 1

Round-by-round:

First round
9. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Minnesota Vikings
20. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State: New Orleans Saints*
27. Deone Bucannon, Washington State: Arizona Cardinals

Second round
1. OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: Houston Texans
6. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington: Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
7. WR Marqise Lee, USC: Jacksonville Jaguars*
13. WR Paul Richardson, Colorado: Seattle Seahawks*
15. LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: Washington Redskins
22. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington: Tennessee Titans

Third round
6. C Marcus Martin, USC: San Francisco 49ers*
8. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Minnesota Vikings*
18. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: Chicago Bears
22. WR Josh Huff, Oregon: Philadelphia Eagles
34. TE Richard Rodgers, Cal: Green Bay Packers*

Fourth round
8. DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA: Seattle Seahawks
15. WR Shaq Evans, UCLA: New York Jets
16. CB Keith McGill, Utah: Oakland Raiders
17. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: Chicago Bears
21. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State: Green Bay Packers*
24. RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon: Kansas City Chiefs*
26. LB Khairi Fortt, California: New Orleans Saints*
40. OT Cameron Fleming, Stanford: New England Patriots*

Fifth round
1. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon: Philadelphia Eagles
5. OG David Yankey, Stanford: Minnesota Vikings*
17. CB Shaquille Richardson, Arizona: Pittsburgh Steelers
22. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford: Philadelphia Eagles*
34. OLB Devon Kennard, USC: New York Giants

Sixth round
16. LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Pittsburgh Steelers
25. RB Marion Grice, Arizona State: San Diego Chargers
28. RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford: Carolina Panthers
36. LB Marquis Flowers, Arizona: Cincinnati Bengals

Seventh round
16. DE Ben Gardner, Stanford: Dallas Cowboys
18. OLB Trevor Reilly, Utah: New York Jets
39. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Dallas Cowboys*
*Left with eligibility remaining

By conference (FBS only)
SEC: 49
ACC: 42
Pac-12: 34
Big Ten: 30
Big 12: 17
Mountain West: 16
Conference USA: 9
Independents: 9
MAC: 8
Sun Belt: 4

The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.

What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.

Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.

Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.

The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.

Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State

The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.

[+] EnlargeRichardson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsColorado will have a hard time replacing the explosive plays that Paul Richardson provided.
Leaving: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.

Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA

The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.

Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC

The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.

Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.

Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC

The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.

Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC

The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.

Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.

Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.
When USC defensive back Josh Shaw learned Steve Sarkisian would be the Trojans' new head coach, it was as if a four-year-old wish was finally granted.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Jae C. HongDespite the familiarity, Steve Sarkisian says it will take some time before he feels "settled" at USC.
During the recruiting process, Shaw, a Southern California native, developed a strong bond with Sarkisian. Shaw liked Sarkisian and so did Shaw's family, but Washington wasn't the right fit. Shaw had his sights set on the SEC and chose Florida.

"I wanted to play for Coach Sark," Shaw said, "but you never choose a school for the coach."

Shaw's career path is a case in point.

He played for two coaches in two years at Florida -- Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp -- three coaches last year at USC -- Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton -- and Sarkisian will become No. 6 in five seasons when the Trojans open at home against Fresno State on Aug. 30.

For Shaw, adjusting to a new head-coaching personality has become old hat, and he said the transition at Florida was similar to the most recent change at USC.

"Coach Muschamp came in, [and] he gained our respect instantly," Shaw said. "We knew he had the team's best interest at heart. He wanted to win; we wanted to win."

And Sarkisian?

"That first meeting [on] the day he was hired, he told us he didn't expect for us to trust him right away and that it's earned," Shaw said. "He said it was going to be a process that he'll work at."

So far, so good.

Despite not having played a game for Sarkisian, he was one of the crutches Shaw leaned on the most after the bowl game and before deciding to return to USC for his final year of eligibility.

"There was already some familiarity with us [because of recruiting], but after several talks, we've grown closer," Shaw said. "We sat in his office, and he looked me right in the eye as we discussed what would be the best decision for my future."

The same guidance was there for the five players who opted to enter the NFL draft -- Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble, Marcus Martin, George Uko and Dion Bailey -- but Sarkisian said he wasn't caught off guard by any of their decisions.

"For those guys that have been here for three and four years, I knew I wasn't going to win them over in one 30- or 40-minute meeting," Sarkisian said. "I just let them know I would be there for them one way or another. For the guys that decided to leave, we're going to do everything we can to support them, too."

When Sarkisian started meeting with players individually, there were two points he wanted to cover right away.

"I think, first and foremost, they understand why I chose to come to USC," Sarkisian said. "And that's to be the best. I want to coach with the best coaches; I want to coach the best players.

"The second piece is I wanted to learn why they chose USC. A lot of times it's for the the same reason, to win championships."

Winning championships is all Sarkisian knew in his previous stints with the Trojans.

After he was elevated from offensive assistant to quarterbacks coach under Pete Carroll in 2002, USC earned at least a share of the conference title each season Sarkisian was on staff. He took a foray into the NFL as quarterbacks coach of Oakland Raiders in 2004, but aside from that, he was there for six of the seven BCS bowl berths during Carroll's tenure.

His last season on staff before taking over at Washington in 2009 also happens to be the last time USC won a conference title.

Despite being home in Southern California and his familiarity with USC, "settled" isn't the term Sarkisian would use to describe his current situation, and he doesn't expect that to change for some time.

"I don't know in Year 1 if you're ever settled in," he said. "Certainly not in six weeks. There are just so many facets to the job, new problems you have to work through, everything is constantly moving."

Especially when it comes to hiring a coaching staff and recruiting.

Sarkisian's staff appeared to be set before defensive line coach Bo Davis, a week after joining the staff at USC, had a change of heart and opted to join Nick Saban's staff at Alabama.

With national signing day on Feb. 5, Sarkisian had to move fast to find a replacement. He settled on Georgia's Chris Wilson, a former defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, after contacting "some of the best defensive line coaches in the country."

USC will begin spring practice on March 11.
While a number of big-name players opted to stick around for another year of Pac-12, most notably Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, UCLA QB Brett Hundley and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, the conference was hit hard by early defections.

Here's the complete list of Pac-12 players who entered the NFL draft despite remaining eligibility.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE, California
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Viliami Moala, DT, California
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (was kicked off the team in October)
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington


Welcome to the mailbag, which nine out of 10 dentists agree has no bearing on your oral health.

Bobby in Phoenix writes: Mark May said the following yesterday: "I heard through the grapevine, not publicly, but privately, Todd Graham was lobbying like heck to get the Texas job," May told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports now on 98.7 FM Tuesday. "Chew on that one, Arizona State Sun Devils fans." I heard it from not one, but two of our reporters at ESPN, that he was lobbying to get that job. It was another one of his 'dream jobs.' Any comments? My thought would be that if not one, but TWO ESPN reporters knew about this they would... umm.... report it? When will his Pitt bias stop seeping through everything he says and Todd Graham and ASU?

Kevin Gemmell: I didn’t hear May’s comments or the interview, so I can only go off of what you said. But there is certainly a gut reaction when the rest of the country hears the name Todd Graham, they instantly think villain.

You know what’s funny is when Brady Hoke left San Diego State after two seasons, he did the exact same thing -- he sent a text blast to the players and that was that. He got on a plane and never returned to San Diego. He was lauded as a hero and treated like Caesar returning from Germania when he got to Ann Arbor. No one cared about how he left SDSU.

But this one stuck with Graham and probably will stick with him for a long time. It’s fascinating how perception and public opinion shapes who we celebrate and who we demonize.

I got to spend a lot of time with Graham this season -- including four days behind the scenes. I was given complete access to everything -- player meetings, coaches meetings, I sat with Graham, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and the quarterbacks at the team dinner and was with the coaches for their final huddle 10 minutes before kickoff of the Wisconsin game. (I even went out the Tillman Tunnel with the team, and I can tell you that was one of the greatest moments of my career). In my time with Graham, I learned he’s the exact same guy behind closed doors as he is in front of a microphone. I really doubt he’s going to put on a four-day show -- and maintain it -- for little ole’ me. If he did, give him the Academy Award.

Is it possible he could jump ship sometime soon? Of course. The guy can coach. That’s why he keeps getting hired. And he hires great coaches to coach alongside him (Gus Malzahn, Chad Morris, Mike Norvell, etc.).

He’s always going to have the Pitt stigma that follows him. Maybe it’s deserved. Maybe it’s time to let it go. Either way, I like his style. I like his schemes. And l like his accountability. After the Holiday Bowl, he put it all on himself. That’s what a coach is supposed to do.

I’ve been lied to plenty by coaches. That comes with asking questions they don’t want to answer. But I’ve also had coaches be totally honest and stand by their word. My gut tells me Graham likes the spot he’s in and he likes the support he’s getting from the administration.


Wayne in Mesa, Ariz. writes: Why was the Pac-12 Championship Game for 2014 moved back to a Friday night? I can understand TV ratings a bit, although the 2013 game had a great Saturday evening time slot. As for attendance, the Saturday date allows for better attendance and more time for the buzz to build up -- as the incredible atmosphere in and around Sun Devil Stadium this past fall would attest!

Kevin Gemmell: Go to your living room. On your coffee table, you’ll probably see a black, rectangular object with many different buttons. Push the one that says “power” and a talking picture box will come to life, projecting real life sounds and images.

Do not be scared or attempt to interact with these moving pictures. They can’t see or hear you.

FOX has the Pac-12 championship game this year, as well as the Big Ten title game the next day. So, yes, it’s TV driven.

I think there is something to be said about being the first game of championship weekend. You get the national audience (at least those who choose to stay up) all to yourself. But from a fan perspective -- especially those attending the game -- it can be a hassle. You have to deal with work and traffic and chances are it won’t be a full stadium -- which never bodes well for the conference.


John in New York writes: USC-UCLA, Stanford-USC, Oregon-Washington, Oregon-Oregon State, Arizona-Arizona State. I'd be really interested to know how you'd rank these particular rivalries, from top to bottom?

Kevin Gemmell: Ranking rivalry games is a fairly futile exercise, because rivalries will always mean more to the folks who have a vested interest in the outcome. Try convincing an Arizona fan that the Apple Cup is more important than the Territorial Cup.

Case in point, I grew up in the Bay Area under the umbrella of the Cal-Stanford rivalry. And though I didn’t attend either school, I consider it one of the greatest rivalries there is because that’s what my personal experience is. Just as I think Will Clark is the greatest baseball player ever and it’s a shame that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.

But I also understand, given the way the Stanford-USC rivalry has played out over the last half decade, that game certainly qualifies as a rivalry. Same for Oregon-Washington and the budding UCLA-Arizona State rivalry.

I know folks are trying to make a rivalry out of the Utah-Colorado matchup. That makes sense, considering both joined the league at the same time. But rivalries aren’t artificially created. They just happen. Colorado fans will always have a bitterness for Nebraska, just as Utah fans will always consider BYU their rival.

The only reason to rank rivalries is to stir the pot and drum up some artificial controversy to give folks a reason to troll and flame.

Which is why Arizona-Arizona State is the best rivalry of all time and always will be. Discuss.


Michigan Trojan in Ann Arbor, Mich. writes: Kevin and Ted … Though I hope they get drafted and have successful NFL careers, I am a little puzzled by the early exits of Xavier Grimble, Dion Bailey, George Uko, and especially Marcus Martin (and possibly Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw) at USC. Marqise Lee is a sure-fire 1st round pick so I cannot argue with his leaving. But the others, especially guys like Grimble and Martin, were poised to have big years, with lots of exposure that could have made them locks in the second or third round, or possibly surprise first round picks. I know some of them were redshirts, and will technically have their degree in May, but if the NFL is their first stop in terms of profession, why not maximize your potential? Most of these guys will be fourth-round picks at best, and probably have to fight to make a practice squad if they go undrafted. Do you think some of this has to do with what Sarkisian is trying to do at USC, in terms of revamping the defense, and bringing in different position coaches? I also have heard that guys were impressed by the somewhat unexpected success of early-entry guys like undrafted Nickell Robey at the next level. The exodus probably sets SC football back a few wins next year, but again, as individuals, I hope they succeed beyond expectations at the next level.

Kevin Gemmell: It’s obviously different for every guy, so there is no one magic bullet answer. Sometimes it has to do with money. Sometimes it has to do with a coaching change. And sometimes guys simply don’t want to be in school anymore.

I do think USC players are a special exception. The college experience probably hasn’t been a great one for them when you look at the ups and downs of the program the last few years. Most of these guys came in when the sanctions were announced or right in the middle of them. They had bowl bans. They had a disastrous 2012. They saw three different head coaches in 2013.

Can you really blame some of them for wanting to get out and make a little money?

Robey is a fine example of a guy who went undrafted, but had a huge year for the Bills. If I’m his friend and former teammate, that gives both hope and false hope. There’s the thought that if I don’t get drafted, I can still do what Robey did. But for every Robey, there are dozens of other guys who find themselves either on practice squads or boning up on their “ehs?” in the Canadian League. And yes, there is at least one player from a Pac-12 school on every CFL roster, except Montreal (I checked).

I do think a new coaching staff probably had something to do with it as well as the fact that Clancy Pendergast isn’t coming back. For those defensive guys, it would be their third coordinator in the last two years. That’s frustrating. So, and I’m just speculating here, in their eyes if they have to adjust to a new coaching staff, they might as well get paid in the process.


Ryan in Palo Alto, Calif. writes: More math: You wrote: "So the likelihood of the Pac-12 winning all nine games -- even though it was favored in all nine -- seemed highly unlikely. "Actually probability alone (and not underdog motivation or favorite complacency) makes your statement true. Assume for sake of argument, the Vegas line said each Pac-12 team had an 80 percent chance to win. (Of course, different lines for each team and I have no idea what line corresponds to an 80 percent win chance, but useful thought experiment). The chances of all nine teams winning still comes out to only about 13.4 percent.

Kevin Gemmell: This is why Pac-12 blog readers are the life of all social gatherings.

Early entry talent drain for Pac-12

January, 6, 2014
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While the return of UCLA QB Brett Hundley for his redshirt junior season was the weekend's big news, an early-entry to the NFL draft talent drain is hitting the Pac-12 hard.

While a number of big-name players have not yet formally announced their intensions -- such as Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford OG David Yankey, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Arizona State LB Carl Bradford and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion -- already 17 players have announced they will give up their remaining eligibility to turn professional.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

There has been good news at quarterback. Hundley joins Oregon's Marcus Mariota as pretty significant surprises that they opted to return to school, and that means the 2014 class of Pac-12 quarterbacks will be without peer in the nation by a wide margin.

Here's the early-entry list so far:

Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon*
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

*Lyerla was kicked off the team at Oregon in October.

After bowl win, big questions for USC

December, 23, 2013
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When you cup your hands around USC's 45-20 blowout victory over No. 20 Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl and assume singular focus on the event itself, it's impossible to not be impressed, to not think, "Now that is USC football."

Then when you put it in the context of the tumultuous season -- a maelstrom of coaching uncertainty and chaotic swings of momentum -- it seems like Trojans fans should officially declare the strangest season in program history at least a moderate success, perhaps as successful as it could have been. Well, other than losses to Notre Dame and UCLA.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesThings seem to be looking up for Cody Kessler, left, Buck Allen and the Trojans.
Still, winning 10 games, including a bowl game, and ending up nationally ranked is pretty respectable when it's produced by an injury-ravaged, scholarship-reduced team that has called four different men its head coach between August and today.

Further, it shows the players have pride. A substantial handful -- both seniors and underclassmen -- are eyeballing the NFL draft, and it wouldn't have been shocking if they gave an indifferent performance against Fresno State, a team that arrived with plenty of motivation. Quarterback Cody Kessler told Kevin last week that the Trojans were focused and motivated, and it proved to me more than empty, tell-the-reporter-something-pretty talk.

Said Kessler, "Getting us to 10 wins puts us in an elite group. We have a chance to finish things off right -- especially for our seniors. These guys have been through everything. Sanctions. Coaching changes. We owe it to them to give it everything we’ve got to get a win.”

So the players who are leaving, which might include leading juniors such as receiver Marqise Lee, defensive end George Uko, linebacker Hayes Pullard, safety Dion Bailey and cornerback Josh Shaw, can feel good about how they finished things. If this performance was a tribute to former interim coach Ed Orgeron, then you can be sure Coach O was howling with delight somewhere while watching the game.

But what about those who are staying?

The big news coming out of the Las Vegas Bowl other than the final score was that new coach Steve Sarkisian will retain offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who served as the interim head coach for the bowl game. That's probably good news for Kessler, who blossomed once Helton took over the offense from fired coach Lane Kiffin.

Of course, Sarkisian, like Kiffin, calls his own offensive plays, so if another opportunity arises for Helton, particularly one that includes play-calling duties, he might opt to leave.

In fact, who's staying and who's going applies to both the players and coaches. We probably won't get official word on the makeup of Sarkisian's staff until after Washington, his former team, plays BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Friday night. The Huskies under new coach Chris Petersen also have kept their plans quiet.

The big questions: Will Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo follow Sarkisian south? If Wilcox shortly arrives at Heritage Hall, then where does current USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast end up? In one year, he transformed one of the nation's most underachieving defenses into one of its best. Hard to imagine he stays unemployed for long.

This whole blending together of USC's and Washington's -- and Washington's and Boise State's -- 2013 staffs has certainly inspired plenty of gossip among other assistant coaches.

Another question: Tosh Lupoi.

The Huskies ace recruiter and defensive line coach is being investigated by the NCAA following allegations that he paid for private tutoring for Husky football recruit Andrew Basham, with Basham's former high school track coach, Mike Davis, spilling the beans to the Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times last week.

What that means in the short term is that Lupoi won't be hired by USC, and he might be out of a job until the NCAA rules on his case. What it means in the big picture for two Pac-12 football programs in transition is hard to say, as Washington, USC and Sarkisian have significant interests in the matter.

Due to new NCAA rules, Sarkisian could be exposed, which means USC could suffer for violations that occurred in Seattle.

And, yes, feel free to question the timing of these allegations being reported and speculate on where the sour grapes originated that spawned the investigation.

An offshoot of Lupoi's troubles is the Trojans’ need for a defensive line coach, which probably is why Sarkisian told ESPNLA 710 on Sunday that he's going to make another run at Orgeron to see if he's interested in returning to USC.

That could be interesting. Or it could just be idle talk.

Once all the administrative and personnel issues are settled, then we'll start to take a measure of the Sarkisian administration and how things might stack up in 2014. Trojans fans first want to see where their team ends up on Feb. 5, national signing day. Then it's on to spring practice, where Kessler likely will have to prove himself again, though Helton staying on should provide his candidacy a boost.

USC's bowl win was impressive. It surely made Trojans feel good, inside and outside the locker room. But the reality is it was as isolated as a pleasant fan experience can be. A win in the Las Vegas Bowl and finishing in the lower half of the nation's top-25 isn't what Trojans pine for. With this next recruiting class the last one limited by NCAA sanctions, most are ready to see the program regain its footing among the Pac-12 and nation's elite.

Sarkisian officially took the keys of the program on Saturday. By Sunday, the euphoria from the bowl win probably started to waft away inside Heritage Hall.

The real business begins now.

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
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The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.

The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.

Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State

First team offense

QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)

First team defense

DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)

First team specialists

PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC

Second team offense

QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford

Second team defense

DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State

Second team specialists

PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA

RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection

Honorable mention

Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.

Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.

California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.

Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.

Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.

Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.

Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.

UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.

USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.

Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.

Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.

Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;

Some notes on the teams:

By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.

By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.

Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.

Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.

All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
Tags:

USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal, Oregon Ducks, Pac-12, USC Trojans, Washington State Cougars, Oregon State Beavers, Jordan Zumwalt, Washington Huskies, UCLA Bruins, Devon Kennard, Arizona State Sun Devils, California Bears, Tyler Gaffney, Stanford Cardinal, Deandre Coleman, Utah Utes, Will Sutton, Colorado Buffaloes, Todd Graham, Arizona Wildcats, Oregon Ducks, Xavier Su\'a-Filo, Andy Phillips, Shayne Skov, Keith Price, Evan Finkenberg, Sean Parker, Soma Vainuku, Cassius Marsh, Xavier Grimble, George Uko, Hayes Pullard, Marquis Flowers, Taylor Kelly, Hroniss Grasu, Josh Huff, Sean Mannion, Eric Kendricks, Paul Richardson, Anthony Barr, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Chris Coyle, Anthony Jefferson, Cody Kessler, Chris Young, Brett Hundley, Vincenzo D'Amato, Kevin Graf, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jordan Richards, Shaq Evans, Deone Bucannon, Bishop Sankey, Danny Shelton, Marqise Lee, Khalil Wilkes, Kevin Danser, David Yankey, Davon Coleman, Dion Bailey, Alex Carter, Alden Darby, Terron Ward, Dres Anderson, Randall Goforth, Derrick Malone, Damante Horton, Connor Hamlett, Isaac Seumalo, Andrew Furney, Henry Anderson, Gannon Conway, Scott Crichton, Rashaad Reynolds, Ka'Deem Carey, Andrus Peat, Shaq Thompson, Will Oliver, Ben Gardner, Trevor Reilly, Ty Montgomery, A.J. Tarpley, Cameron Fleming, Trent Murphy, Su'a Cravens, Byron Marshall, Ben Rhyne, Josh Mauro, Nelson Agholor, Josh Shaw, Ellis McCarthy, Marcus Mariota, Erick Dargan, Joe Hemschoot, Devin Fuller, Leonard Williams, Max Turek, Grant Enger, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, Jared Tevis, Marcus Martin, Keith McGill, Marcus Peters, Ed Reynolds, Jamil Douglas, Bryce Treggs, Elliott Bosch, Tony Washington, Marion Grice, Eddie Vanderdoes, Ryan Murphy, J.R. Tavai, Carl Bradford, River Cracraft, Myles Jack, Thomas Duarte, Alex Redmond, Jake Brendel, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, Tom Hackett, Bralon Addison, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Travis Coons, Robert Nelson, Tyler Johnstone, De'Marieya Nelson, Jaelen Strong, Tenny Palepoi, Steven Nelson, Tevin Hood, Micah Hatchie, Vyncent Jones, Jason Whittingham, Addison Gillam, Scooby Wright, Zane Gonzales, Sean Covington, Kris Albarado, Hau'oli Kikaha, Fabian Moreau, Javorius Allen, Jayon Brown, Osahan Irabor, Ryan Hoffmeister, Nate Phillips, Mike Adkins

Pac-12 names players of the week

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week. The defensive player of the week is Josh Shaw of USC , and the special teams honor went to Jayon Brown of UCLA.

Here’s some more on the trio, per the Pac-12’s release:
Kelly, a junior from Eagle, Idaho, had a career day, accounting for seven touchdowns in a 55-21 win on the road in Pullman on Thursday night. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns in addition to rushing for 66 yards on 13 carries for two additional touchdowns. It marked the third time Kelly has thrown for five touchdowns in a game in his career and the second time he has done it this season. He has been responsible for 66 points the last two games, ranking fourth in the nation in points responsible for per game (21.5 ppg). Kelly also ranks in the top-12 in the nation in completions per game (eighth, 24.38 cpg), passing yards per game (12th, 313.90 ypg) and total offense (seventh, 353.30 ypg).

Shaw, a junior from Palmdale, Calif., recorded a team-best 8 tackles as the Trojans took down Oregon State 31-14 in Corvallis on Friday night. Shaw added an end zone interception and helped USC limit an Oregon State offense that was averaging 40.1 points per game, 487.4 totals yards and leading the nation in passing offense to 14 points and 277 passing yards. Shaw led a Trojan defense that forced three interceptions and held the Beavers to 2-of-11 on third down. USC is 12th in the nation in total defense, limiting opponents to 323.6 yards per game.

Brown, a linebacker from Tampa, Fla., had an outstanding day on the Bruins’ kick coverage team as UCLA beat Colorado 45-23 at home on Saturday. He was credited with two tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in kick off coverage against the Buffs. His fumble recovery on the 14-yard line late in the second quarter set up a touchdown that extended the Bruins’ lead to 21-10 before the half while his forced fumble on a fourth-quarter kick-off pinned the Buffs at their own 21-yard.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were wide receivers Kenny Lawler of California and Devin Fuller of UCLA; and tailback Javorius Allen of USC. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Scooby Wright of Arizona, Carl Bradford of Arizona State and Myles Jack of UCLA. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was punter Drew Riggleman of Arizona, place-kicker Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State and defensive end George Uko of USC.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
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A few things to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this week.

  1. League play is upon us: Rejoice! Now the Pac-12 teams can gut each other with their nine-game conference schedule and lose all of that national credibility it built up in the first four weeks of the season. This year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, it doesn’t look like there are any easy outs. Would anyone really be shocked if Colorado beat Oregon State based on what we’ve seen? The only one that would be truly shocking would be Cal beating Oregon -- and we might raise an eyebrow if Washington State beats Stanford in Seattle -- especially sans David Yankey for the game and Ed Reynolds for a half.
  2. [+] EnlargeAndre Williams
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC's Morgan Breslin has recorded four sacks this season for the Trojans.
    Nonconference notes: A good tidbit from the folks at the Pac-12 offices regarding the league’s 29-4 nonconference record: Since 1934, only one season witnessed the conference capture more than 29 wins in nonleague play; 2002 (32-15), when the league played an eight-game conference schedule, allowing an additional 10 non-conference games to be played. There are three nonconference games remaining (a possible fourth pending Colorado’s situation) against Notre Dame. The Pac-12 is contracted with seven bowl games, so there could be as many as 11 more nonconference games.
  3. Battle of elites (1): Two of the league’s top running backs will be on the field in Seattle on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean either a bizarre trade or either Ka’Deem Carey or Bishop Sankey playing defense. In terms of rushing yards per game, they are separated by less than a yard (149.5 for Carey, 148.67 for Sankey). Yards per carry? It’s even closer (6.97 for Sankey, 6.95 for Carey). Both have four rushing touchdowns. While it’s not truly head-to-head, this could be one of those games folks look to when awarding postseason honors.
  4. Battle of elites (2): Two of the league’s top wide receivers will be on the field in Corvallis on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean a bizarre trade or either Brandin Cooks or Paul Richardson playing defense. Cooks leads the nation with 43 catches for 639 yards and seven touchdowns. In only two games, Richardson has 21 catches for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Sixty percent of the time Cooks catches the ball, Oregon State either gains a first down or scores a touchdown.
  5. Battle of elites (3): Two of the league’s top defensive players will be on the field in Tempe on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean either a bizarre trade or either Morgan Breslin or Will Sutton playing offense (which would be awesome!). Breslin is tied for the conference lead in total sacks (four) with teammate George Uko and leads the league in tackles for a loss per game. Sutton, on the other hand, has nine tackles, no sacks and half a tackle for a loss. The reason? Teams are double- and triple-teaming him like crazy. Plus, ASU has faced more run-based teams in the first few weeks. This week might be a good time for him to break out.
  6. Speaking of USC: How good has the defense been? According to ESPN Stats & Information, none of the four quarterbacks USC has seen has posted a Total QBR above 30. The Trojans are also blitzing a lot more under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Last year they blitzed 25 percent of the time. This year it’s up to 46 percent. And when they blitz, opposing QBs are completing just 41.9 percent of their throws, throwing it away or ending up on the ground.
  7. All hands: With big quarterback numbers come big receiving numbers. Six Pac-12 receivers have hauled in 10 or more catches in a game eight times this season, led by Cooks and Richardson with two each. Also, 17 different receivers have posted 100 or more receiving yards in a game 26 times, led by Cooks and Utah’s Dres Anderson with three games each.
  8. Layoff impact: Colorado is playing for the first time since its Sept. 7 win over Central Arkansas, which seems like months ago, though it actually has been only 20 days. After their Sept. 14 game with Fresno State was called off because of the flooding, the Buffs had a bye in Week 4. This is Colorado’s first trip to Corvallis. The previous two meetings (1931, 1963) took place in Portland. This is the last Pac-12 team Colorado is yet to play since joining the league (though the Cal game in 2011 was the back end of a home and home that didn’t count in the conference standings).
  9. Tough road: This is the second-straight game against a top-five team for California, which faces No. 2 Oregon this weekend. The Bears have gotten huge numbers out of true freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who leads the FBS with 435.3 yards per game. But the defense has been hammered with injuries. Not good, considering 12 different Ducks have scored touchdowns so far.
  10. Odds and ends: Worth noting that four more Pac-12 receivers were recently added to the Biletnikoff watchlist: Cal’s Bryce Treggs, Oregon State’s Richard Mullaney and Washington State’s Gabe Marks, who are all in action this weekend. Utah's Dres Anderson is the fourth … UCLA and the Utes are off this week in anticipation of their Thursday night showdown next week in Salt Lake City.

Tuesday mailbag: Mannion for Heisman?

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
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This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Eric in Redmond, Ore. writes: The Oregon State defense seems to spend large portions of games with their silly hats on. What is going on with them? It seems there is talent at every position, but they play like day-old pancakes with too much syrup on them. On the other hand, how good is Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks!? Can they keep this up all season? If they do, will there be Heisman considerations for either one? I have to say that right now, I think they are both #1 at their respective positions (in the conference).

Evan in New York writes: Sean Mannion has carried the OSU team on his shoulders. Mannion leads the nation in passing and leads the nation in TDs. Not saying he is in contention, but does he at least get a nod from the Heisman pundits? Without him the team could easily be 1-3 now. Or is it really about just propping up the best players on the best teams?

Shane in Corvallis, Ore. writes: Apparently of all Pac-12 teams the Beavers feel the need to give their fans the most heart attacks. What team would you say is the most stress inducing for their fan base?

James in Corvallis writes: Hey Kevin, even though there were question marks at a couple of positions for the Beavers’ defense, there were enough starters back on that side of the ball to expect much better play than they are showing. The entire defense has been missing tackles, missing assignments, and generally overplaying everything. What are your thoughts on why the Beavers’ defense has been sooooooo bad this year and is there any hope that it could turn around?

Kevin Gemmell: Lots of Oregon State fans eager to chat up their Beavers this week, so I’ll lump them all together in one efficient answer.

Oregon State has been hit hard with the injury bug on defense. And I know coaches like to say that’s not an excuse, but it kind of is. When you’re expecting to have your best talent out there -- and don’t -- it’s a valid excuse. Behind closed doors, I’m sure the coaching staff is frustrated that they are thin. There has been a notable drop off at some positions, and it’s especially noticeable in the tackling.

Take the Utah game, for example. In the first half, the defense played great holding the Utes to just a touchdown. Utah had just six rushing yards through the first quarter and didn’t get a first down until the second quarter. The schemes appear to be right. They just need better execution and they have to finish plays.

As for Cooks, in general, wide receivers are seen as a product of their quarterback. So while Cooks has put himself in great shape to be a Biletnikoff finalist, I don’t see any Heisman buzz in his future.

Mannion would have the better chance of the two if he continues his current pace. He’s leading the nation in touchdown passes, passing yards and completions and he’s 12th in QBR rating. Anytime you have a completion percentage in the 70s, you’re doing it right.

But Sir Heisman is a fickle fellow. Remember, it’s as much about perception as it is numbers. And right now the perception of Oregon State isn’t particularly strong. It’s not fair that defensive woes get placed on Mannion’s potential candidacy, but that’s how it goes. If the Beavers can pull off some wins over a couple of the ranked north teams, and he performs well, maybe he generates a little buzz on the West Coast. But he’s going to have to prove that he’s just as capable as Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley before he gets in the conversation.

As for heart attacks, if this is how the Beavers are going to play all year, I’d lay off the Smoked Pork Chili Cheese Burger at Block 15 and go with the Sun Burger.

Tonya in Gresham, Ore. writes: As an old fat woman who loves college football I am wondering why folks aren't talking more about Marcus Mariota as a Heisman candidate. He seems always to be mentioned but as an afterthought. Do the folks on the East Coast realize that his numbers come from just a little over half a game each week? Since he began starting as a QB for Oregon he has only completed 25 percent of his games! Most often sitting out after the first or second series in the third quarter (and we all know that takes only about 5 min off the clock at best). This young man is for real and I as a fan would like to hear more about him!

Kevin Gemmell: First off, you’re gorgeous, Tonya. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

As for Mariota, I think you need to look a little harder. Heading into last week he was atop the ESPN.com Heisman poll and even on a bye week, he distanced himself even further.

I’m not saying the ESPN.com Heisman poll is scripture. But it’s a pretty good sample of writers from across the country who see every conference.

The Ducks open conference play with Cal this week, and then back-to-back road games at Colorado and Washington. They’ll see three ranked teams in the next six weeks, including No. 5 Stanford. That’s the game that will likely make or break his Heisman hopes because the country will be tuning in to see what he’s all about.

Anton in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, love the work you and Ted do with all the PAC-12 teams! I was wondering how much you are excited for the top pass rushing D-linemen potentially in the nation going at it when Will Sutton and Morgan Breslin go at it in Tempe. Who do you think will have the bigger game/impact??? Both teams' O-lines have looked suspect at times this past week.

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks Anton, I’m a huge fan of your work as well.

I think this is going to be one of the great sidebars to this game. How does ASU, which allowed three sacks and 10 tackles for a loss against Stanford, protect Taylor Kelly?
USC did a heck of a job corralling Chuckie Keeton last week, sacking him four times and holding him to minus-15 yards rushing. ASU does a really good job of moving Kelly around. He rarely throws from the same spot in the pocket on consecutive plays. They sprint him out and get him involved in the run game, so that will be a fun cat-and-mouse game between Breslin, Leonard Williams, George Uko and Co.

On the flip side, the Sun Devils blitz like crazy. They love to bring guys. Kessler has already been sacked six times this year, so I guarantee the ASU staff is looking for weaknesses.

Both guys have had success because of others around them, so look for complementary players to have an impact as well.

Both are dominant players, and both should impact the game in their own way.

0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Kevin, I agree with everything you've been writing about Lane Kiffin. But putting USC at #10 in the Power Rankings, below teams that have lost to FCS schools, just seems wrong. I take great pride in the fact that my Trojans have NEVER played, and NEVER lost to, an FCS school. Please consider taking this into account next week when you make the new rankings list.

Kevin Gemmell: While Ted and I consult every Sunday about the Power Rankings, he’s the one who does the final version. And as you can see from this week’s Power Rankings regarding Oregon State, he doesn’t always value my counsel. That's something he'll have to live with.

I feel like Utah’s win -- and USC’s for that matter -- was more impressive than Oregon State’s gift win from the Aztecs. The Beavers had no right trailing that team by as much as they did. And really had no right winning that game. But hey, good for them, and good for the conference going 10-0 against the Mountain West. And the Beavers beat Utah -- and they earned it -- so I can see where Ted is coming from there.

That said, I agree, USC should probably be ahead of Oregon State right now. As noted above, the Beavers have done nothing but give their fan base heart attacks against teams that shouldn’t be competitive against the Pac-12. The Trojans haven’t exactly been stellar offensively, but that defense has really been impressive. And to lock down Keeton the way they did last week, in my mind, should have earned them a bump.

I’ll press Ted harder next week if they beat the Sun Devils. If they don’t, I would only expect southward movement.

Nick in LaLaLand (I’m assuming that’s LA) writes: Hey Kevin, I was at the USC game and paying a little closer attention, wondering if Kiffin would open up the p-book a little. Alas, maybe not so, and the play calling got very conservative in the second half. Here's my questions: 1) when can we start adding PI yardage to Marqise Lee's stat line 2) a win is a win, but it wasn't pretty and was more like Utah State was prevented from winning rather than USC taking the victory. Was last weekend indicative of the mediocrity of BC and does our offense have more troubles ahead? 3) also when was the last time we scored in the thirrd quarter? Yikes. Thanks KG!

Kevin Gemmell: It hasn’t been that long of a drought. Tre Madden ran for a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter against Boston College. (Wasn’t sure if you were being facetious, but we aim to please on the Pac-12 blog). I’ll check with Larry Scott to see if we can put the “Lee Exemption” into effect for this season. No promises, but he and I are tight, so we’ll try to make it happen.

So we’re clear, Boston College isn’t a great team. It’s better than it was last season, but that's not saying much, so USC did what it’s supposed to do against a team like that.

But you’re right, the play calling continues to be a mystery. The running game is chugging along nicely and you get first-and-goal on the Utah State 1-yard line and it’s play-action pass? I get that Kiffin probably wants his guy to get some confidence with a touchdown pass, but I’d wager Cody Kessler gets more confidence connecting on a 30-yard post than a 1-yard dunk off. There’s something to be said for trying to be overly creative. It’s 1-yard. You’re USC. Run the freaking ball straight ahead and blow that lower-tier Mountain West team off the line.

It feels like Kiffin is pressing so hard to show the world he can be a great play caller that the simplest plays are getting overlooked.

I like what’s happening with Madden and Justin Davis. Through four games the Trojans are averaging 20 more rushing yards per game than they were last year. And they already have six rushing touchdowns after only getting 12 all last season which was second worst in the league ahead of Washington State’s six rushing touchdowns.

But they need to do a better job sustaining drives. They are last in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions (27.5 percent) and bottom third in red zone touchdowns.

At this point, all I can say is be thankful for that defense.

Player of the week: Pac-12

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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USC’s defense probably had the toughest nonconference draw last week -- having to defend Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who entered the game tied for the national lead with 12 touchdown passes while completing 67 percent of his throws.

But the Trojans' defense, behind hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker Morgan Breslin, kept a Utah State offense that was averaging 50 points per game in check most of the afternoon, limiting it to just 14 points and 285 yards of total offense.

Breslin recorded two sacks, three tackles for a loss and two hits on Keeton, who threw a pair touchdown passes but was just 21 of 39 and held to 179 passing yards. Perhaps more importantly, the Trojans kept him from making an impact with his legs, sacking him four times for minus-15 rushing yards.

Worth noting that USC also got plenty of help from defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who added eight tackles, including three for a loss.

Since sitting out of the season opener against Hawaii game because of injury, Breslin has come on strong, posting four sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss. He ranks seventh nationally in sacks per game and eighth in tackles for a loss. He’s now tied with teammate George Uko for total sacks and he leads the conference in tackles for a loss per game.

Defense bails out Trojans again

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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video
LOS ANGELES -- USC was hoping to use the game against Utah State as a way to build some positive momentum, but the 17-14 victory over the Aggies showed that the Trojans still have a long way to go.

Make no mistake, it’s always nice to get the win but this is a game where the Trojans had a huge advantage in field position and also got the usual solid game from the defense. Unfortunately, the USC offense couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities to put the game away in the second half and, if not for some special teams miscues by Utah State, the result could have been very different.

“It was a very hard fought game today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Very much like what we anticipated. I felt like there was a rhythm early on when we were able to run the ball, but obviously we wanted to finish better in the second half.”

USC started off strong with a Tre Madden touchdown run on the second series of the game to go up 7-0. The Trojans defense put good pressure early on Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, primarily with defensive linemen Leonard Williams and George Uko as well as outside linebackers Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin. USC dodged a bullet when Utah State clanged a first-quarter field goal off the upright, a miss that would loom large.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams, Hayes Pullard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLeonard Williams (left) and the USC defense put the crunch on Utah State on Saturday.
Each team added a touchdown in the second quarter, and as the second half started it was clear it was anyone’s ball game.

The Trojans had their chances with the Aggies playing an eight-man front, leaving the USC receivers against man coverage. Normally, that would spell a big day for Marqise Lee and/or Nelson Agholor, but there were some dropped passes and some pressure on Cody Kessler which prevented the Trojans from capitalizing. Lee ended the day with six catches for 72 yards, while Agholor had two catches for 38 yards. Neither player reached the end zone.

“I missed some throws and we had some drops, but they are things we can fix,” Kessler said. “Thanks for the job our defense did, we were able to come away with the win.”

The USC defense is rapidly becoming known as the side of the ball which will win games for this team. Williams led the team in tackles with eight and added three tackles for loss. Uko had five tackles and a sack, Breslin had two sacks and Kennard added a sack. They did a terrific job of limiting Keeton -- who came into the game completing 78 percent of his passes -- to a rather pedestrian stat line of 21-of-39 passing for 179 yards and a pair of scores. Good numbers to be sure, but not enough to get it done against the Trojans.

“We had a good game plan from Coach O (Orgreon) the whole week,” Uko said. “We just wanted to angle in and rush tight and keep them in the box”

The battle for field position really started to impact the game in the second half, as the Trojans’ average starting field position was the Utah State 45, while Utah State started at its own 16. It didn’t help the Aggies that their punter had a shanked 12-yard kick at the end of the third quarter that led directly to a 25-yard Andre Heidari field goal, which proved to be the winning margin. There was also a strange fake punt from the Aggies on a fourth-and-11 from their own 34-yard line in the fourth quarter, resulting in an incomplete pass from tight end D.J. Tialavea.

If you’re looking for bright spots for the Trojans, look no further than punter Kris Albarado, who pinned five punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line to help win the field position battle. Little things like that are big on a day when the two teams are basically even in total yards (285 for USU to 282 for USC).

Madden fell short in his bid for a fourth-straight 100-yard rushing day but did run for 93 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, but he was also sacked three times and took several big hits.

Now the Trojans turn their attention to a big road game next week in Tempe against Arizona State. There was hope that things would be clicking after a four-game opening stretch that included three games at home but at this point the offense can best be described as a work in progress. Thankfully the Trojans have their defense, a unit which once again put the team on their shoulders to come away with a tougher-than-expected win.
Josh Shaw transferred from Florida to USC in the spring of 2012 thinking he was leaving an SEC power for a national title contender. Didn't exactly work out like that.

"I think everyone had big goals -- we all had national championship aspirations," said Shaw, a regular contributor for the Gators as a redshirt freshman in 2011. "But that didn't come true. In the middle of the season when we saw that going down the drain, we were like, 'OK, let's just win one game at at time and see where that takes us.'"

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireUSC defensive back Josh Shaw, who transferred from Florida, raved about Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 defense.
It seemed, however, the Trojans were not capable of finding solace in more mundane goals. Where the mindset of winning one game at a time took USC was a 7-6 spiral into the muck, including a disastrous performance in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech.

While QB Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin took most of the blame, the mediocre play of a talented but underperforming defense can't be overlooked. And it wasn't. Kiffin gently led his father, Monte, a legend among NFL defensive coaches, out the door.

In came Clancy Pendergast, whose 3-4 scheme at California has morphed into a 5-2 for the Trojans. The early returns in spring were strong, and the early returns in preseason camp might be even stronger. Devon Kennard, back after missing 2012 with a torn pec, and Morgan Breslin look like a dynamic pair of outside linebackers, while Leonard Williams and George Uko are an A-list tandem at defensive end.

If fact, the Trojans' entire front seven looks stout, even with some iffy depth. The question is the secondary.

Check that. With Shaw moving from corner and Dion Bailey moving from linebacker to their more natural safety positions, the Trojans have added experience to a position deep with intriguing though young talent.

"I love it in this defense," Shaw said. "You're pretty much a general back there. You have to know what everyone else is doing. You have to be able to cover and come down into the box. You have to do it all."

So safety looks good. Cornerback? It's the big question on defense, and that likely won't completely work itself out until the final days of preseason camp, though the position is hardly bereft of talent.

Of course, the defense looked pretty good on paper last year, too. While looking back -- endlessly -- at 2012 due to media curiosity is not the No. 1 fun thing to do for the Trojans, it is part of the inevitable process of beginning to look ahead. It's about correcting mistakes and avoiding mental and emotional pratfalls that upended a season that began with such promise.

Shaw doesn't point a finger at Monte Kiffin. He points it at the players.

"I don't know if you can pinpoint one thing that went wrong," Shaw said. "Sometimes we just didn't come to play as a defense. Sometimes we had the right call in. You'd go into film and you'd see it was us as players not executing. It was the players more than anything."

That said, Shaw likes Pendergast's new scheme, in large part because it seems more conducive toward countering the diverse offensive schemes in the Pac-12, where one week you play a power offense such as Stanford and then square off with myriad versions of an up-tempo spread.

"The biggest difference is we are able to do so much more," Shaw said. "Last year, we only had a few calls. This year, we have so many different types we can call."

The chief call Shaw and USC wants to make, of course, is one that will silence those still tittering about the 2012 faceplant.

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