Pac-12: Idaho Vandals

We conclude our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Washington State

at Auburn, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Gus Malzahn, first year
  • 2012 record: 3-8, 0-8 SEC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Tre Mason returns as a 1,000-yard rusher from last year, where he totaled 1,002 yards with eight touchdowns and 83.5 yards per game. Fun fact: He's the first non-QB to lead Auburn in total offense since Bo Jackson in 1985.
  • Defensive headliner: Senior Demetruce McNeal was second on the team last year with 90 tackles, including seven for a loss.
  • The skinny: Auburn ranked tied for last in the country last year with just two interceptions. Washington State was second to last in the nation in interceptions throw with 21. It's the uncatchable force vs. the easily-catchable object, so to speak. Malzahn is a Todd Graham disciple so you'd expect the Tigers to post better offensive numbers than their 18.6 points per game last year.
Southern Utah, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Ed Lamb (26-29), sixth season
  • 2012 record: 5-6, 4-4 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: six offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Fatu Moala returns as the team's leading receiver from last year, where he caught 65 balls for 810 yards and nine touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Zak Browning is back after leading the Thunderbirds with 116 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss with one sack and in interception. He also forced five fumbles.
  • The skinny: Lamb took an 0-11 team and eventually guided it to the 2010 Great West Conference championship. Last year, Southern Utah's first in the Big Sky, it went 4-4. But the Thunderbirds lose their top three rushers from last year and have to replace quarterback Brad Sorensen, who attempted every pass last year for the team.
Idaho, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Paul Petrino, first year
  • 2012 record: 1-11, 1-5 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, three defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Mike Marboe is a preseason all-independent selection by several publications and is on the Rimington watch list.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Solomon Dixon led the Vandals with three interceptions last year while tallying 36 tackles -- including three for a loss.
  • The skinny: The WAC orphans begin anew as an independent. They allowed more than 42 points per game and scored just south of 16 per contest. That's a perfect recipe for a one-win season. The blood is already bad in this turf war, but it elevated earlier this year when this happened. Don't expect many pleasantries when these teams meet for the 91st time.
Thoughts: The Cougars open the year with back-to-back road games. Following the trip to Auburn, they start league play on the road in Week 2 at USC before finishing off the nonconference slate with home games against Southern Utah and Idaho. Most people expect the Cougars to be underdogs on the road to Auburn -- and they probably will be. The Cougars are very much a question mark with a quarterback competition still in the works and a deep receiving corps that is waiting to be unleashed. Would anyone be shocked if they went into Auburn and lost by 21? Probably not. Would anyone be shocked if they come out and throw it around and win by a touchdown or two? Maybe ... but not that shocked. How much growth happened in the offseason is still unknown. But it's safe to assume Washington State will be more efficient in Year 2 under Mike Leach than it was in Year 1. The remaining two nonconference games -- despite the bubbling tensions with Idaho -- should be considered winnable. Southern Utah has made strides under Lamb, but not enough to topple a Leach-coached team. The Idaho game has been on hiatus since the 2007 meeting, but the Cougars have won eight straight in the series. Fans should, at the very least, expect a 2-1 record in nonconference play. And 3-0 would be pleasantly surprising.

Here's the complete nonconference primer series.
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 4.

Saturday, Sept. 21
  • Arizona State at Stanford
  • Utah State at USC
  • New Mexico State at UCLA
  • Utah at BYU
  • Oregon State at San Diego State
  • Idaho State at Washington
  • Idaho at Washington State
My choice: Arizona State at Stanford

Why: Utah fans, you are excused this week. We understand. Enjoy the BYU rivalry one last time before it goes on holy hiatus. Go forth with the blessing of all other Pac-12 fan bases. May your gang be the jolliest that we have ever seen.

We're also aware of the elevated tensions in the already heated turf war between Idaho and Washington State. So if you feel you feel pulled toward Pullman, you too are excused.

As for the rest of the conference, the ASU-Stanford matchup might end up being a preview of the Pac-12 championship game. Of course, there is a lot that can happen between Week 4 and Thanksgiving, so we're not going to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Still, if the Sun Devils are who we think they are -- and if the Cardinal are who they have been -- then look out, because this could prove to be one of the marquee matchups of the 2013 season.

For starters, you have two extremely efficient quarterbacks in Taylor Kelly and Kevin Hogan -- both of whom operate different schemes, but both seem tailor-made for their systems. But the real storyline is going to be up front (as it often times is, but not always talked about).

The Cardinal have arguably the best defensive front seven in the league. ASU would argue that. But the Cardinal also have an offensive line that few would argue is inferior to anyone else in the conference, maybe the country. So you have the Stanford front trying to keep the likes of Will Sutton and Carl Bradford at bay. There is always a bit of trickery and nuance from week to week with the Cardinal attack, but for the most part, you know what's coming. They are going to run the power straight ahead and beg you to try and stop it. David Yankey vs. Will Sutton. May the best All-American win.

Meanwhile, ASU's offense will do what it can to confuse the Cardinal defense, splitting out Marion Grice and D.J. Foster while slipping Chris Coyle underneath -- all the while trying to keep Ben Gardner and Trent Murphy from greeting Kelly with their face masks. It's going to be a fun chess match with some of the league's top playmakers on both sides of the ball.

The Cardinal will be coming off their long road trip from Army while ASU will be recovering from their home game against Wisconsin. This is the second in a brutal four-game stretch for the Sun Devils (USC and Notre Dame await in the next two weeks). It's also their chance to stand up and show they deserve a seat at the table with the conference big boys.

This one qualifies as not to be missed. Unless you're a Utah fan. We get it.

Tormey new LBs coach at WSU

January, 24, 2011
Chris Tormey will get a different look at the Apple Cup this year.

Tormey, who was a Washington assistant from 1984-94 and 2004-08, has joined Washington State's staff as linebackers coach. Tormey, however, knows Eastern Washington. He grew up in Spokane.

A former head coach at Idaho and Nevada, he coached the past two seasons at Hawaii and served as the special team coach and also assisted with the safeties.

“Chris is going to be a great addition to our program,” Cougars coach Paul Wulff said in a statement. “He has been the head coach at both Idaho and Nevada, has 15 years of experience in the Pac-10, is a tremendous recruiter and is a very hard worker. He also grew up in Eastern Washington and understands the uniqueness and culture of coaching at Washington State University.”

Washington doesn't want to be home for the holidays again

April, 12, 2010
SEATTLE -- Home for the holidays. What a joy!

Unless you're a BCS college football coach, when being home for the holidays in nearly every case means your season was a failure.

So this past Christmas was odd on multiple levels for Washington's Steve Sarkisian. For one, after having coached seven years at USC, he wasn't accustomed to not reviewing game tape while the Yule Log burned.

And his experience was even stranger when he went out to do his holiday shopping around Seattle. Folks were so ... complimentary.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWhile he has seen improvement, Steve Sarkisian wants his team to become more physical.
"I've never been congratulated so much for a five-win season," he said.

Ah, but context is everything. For the Trojans, a 9-4 season, which included a loss to Sarkisian's Huskies, was a disaster. For the Huskies, going 5-7 sparked hope among the beleaguered purple-clad masses, who were but a season removed from the worst finish in program history: oh no! and 12.

It's hard to overstate the stunning transformation under Sarkisian.

In 2008, the Huskies lost all 12 games by an average of more than 25 points. In 2009, they beat four teams who won at least eight games, three of whom spent much of the season nationally ranked.

They concluded the season by stomping rival Washington State 30-0 and No. 19 California 42-10.

And now they are in the midst of spring practices preparing for what many believe will be the rebirth of a Pac-10 and national power, one that hasn't played in a bowl game since 2002. Nineteen starters are back, and one of them is quarterback Jake Locker, who could end up the top pick of the 2011 NFL draft.

After signing a touted recruiting class -- ranked 20th in the nation by's Scouts Inc. -- the positive momentum is unmistakable.

"From where we started, to where we've come, to where we're headed, it's exciting," Sarkisian said. "The mantra of expecting to win is there now. It's not just something that's up on a board or on a T-shirt. It's a real belief."

The question is how could such a dramatic turnaround take place, particularly against what was among the nation's toughest schedules?

Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt are due a lot of credit, obviously. But there's also the issue that the previous administration was doing a lousy job. Tyrone Willingham's Huskies in 2008 weren't good, but they shouldn't have lost every game.

"I felt like a lot of guys didn't want to play for the coaches we had [in 2008]," linebacker Mason Foster said. "I hate to say that because I love Coach Willingham and they were great coaches, but I don't think they were relating to the players. Guys didn't want to come here and play for the coaches. They were just showing up because they had to. Now, everybody wants to come, wants to compete. They're not just showing up because they have to to get their scholarship check. People want to play for Coach Sark. People want to play for Coach Holt. That's the biggest difference."

(Read full post)

Heal thyself: Arizona State looks within to solve 2009 woes

March, 31, 2010
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The cadaver on the examination table is Arizona State's 2009 season. It's not a beautiful corpse. It died after going 4-8.

Four of those losses, all to teams that won at least eight games, came by a combined 13 points. Those are puncture wounds. They don't look so bad on the outside, but the internal damage was severe. The other four came by at least 10 points. Those wounds are much messier.

Matt Kartozia/US PresswireArizona State coach Dennis Erickson's team is looking to improve on their disappointing 2009 season.
The Sun Devils found a lot of ways to lose last fall, and by doing so they infected Dennis Erickson with an ailment he's never suffered through as a college coach: Consecutive losing seasons. That, in turn, has led many amateur football physicians to speculate that Erickson may suffer from hot-seat-itis.

So what did the autopsy reveal?

Start with a bad offense, one that averaged just 22.3 points and 334.4 yards per game -- numbers that ranked eighth and ninth in the Pac-10 -- and cost coordinator Rich Olson his job. That's the most obvious disease.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that we've got to figure out how to score some points," Erickson said.

But when you talk to the Sun Devils, many of them seem to believe the 2009 season passed away because of internal injuries.

"I think it was a lack of leadership," safety Clint Floyd said. "We didn't have much leadership last year. Guys wanted to be individuals. They didn't want to play as a whole, as a unit. I think that caused us to not be successful. Some guys were just out there for themselves."

Kicker Thomas Weber cited "a snowball effect": "It was one thing after another, and I think we could have reacted a lot better to certain things that happened, to losing those close games, instead of getting down on certain guys and stuff like that."

Weber saw the locker room fracture between one of the nation's best defenses -- 13th in the nation in total defense -- and the woeful offense.

"You could definitely see it happening like that," he said. "We weren't being accountable on both sides of the ball. I think that was one of our weaknesses last year -- that we did start to do stuff like that. Guys on the defensive side started to get on offensive side, instead of pushing them and supporting them. It was more like ridicule, coming down hard on them when some of the things they couldn't control."

Not to beat an already tortured metaphor, but the internal illness of 2009 is the foundation for the preventative medicine being implemented while 2010 is in its infancy as spring practices commenced this week.

The Sun Devils should again be good on defense, where they are fast and talented. New faces provide hope for offensive improvement, from new coordinator Noel Mazzone to quarterback Steven Threet, a Michigan transfer, to receiver Aaron Pflugrad, an Oregon transfer, to mammoth tackle Brice Schwab, a highly touted JC transfer who was headed to USC before Pete Carroll bolted for the NFL.

But the players talk as much about accountability, unity, goal setting, hard work and being positive with each other. If that all sounds like the Sun Devils have been working with a life coach, well, that's because they have.

Erickson enlisted the Pacific Institute and its PX2 program to help his players get their minds right.

"It's about getting your life going in the right direction, being responsible, being accountable," Erickson said. "It's not just about playing football. It's about their life after playing football."

Perhaps that raises an eyebrow or provokes a smirk. Moreover, it's not hard to imagine the same reaction from players who might be skeptical of self-help mumbo-jumbo.

That may be the case -- and probably is for some -- but it also appears that more than a few are buying in.

"It's a pretty cool thing," offensive lineman Matt Hustad said. "Lots of psychological stuff. Knowing what you want your goals to be. A lot of it has to do with keeping the positives in your life and weeding out the negative."

Hustad, who has suffered through three knee operations and will be limited to non-contact work this spring, said the Sun Devils, hungry to reverse the losing trajectory the program has taken since going 10-3 in 2007 -- Erickson's first season -- have set their jaded, young-adult cynicism aside.

"Usually, when we do these big team things people are kind of iffy about it, but I haven't heard one negative thing," he said. "Believe me, I'd hear it if people didn't like it."

Erickson himself isn't letting the negative chatter or sagging ticket sales drive him to distraction. This isn't his first tour of duty, after all. He turned 63 last week and has coached six college teams -- seven if you count two stints with Idaho separately -- and two NFL teams. While his NFL résumé isn't terribly impressive, he's always been a winner in college.

Hot seat? Whatever.

"I don't worry about that stuff," he said. "I've been on the hot seat 100,000 times in my life. It doesn't even phase me."

And he's got a encouraging prognosis for 2010: "We'll be a lot better next year," he said.

Signing day a 'double-standard'?

February, 5, 2010
When coaches bolt a program for a better, higher paying job, the media rants -- fairly or unfairly -- about mercenary, duplicitous men showing no loyalty to their players.

During their signing day news conferences, Arizona coach Mike Stoops and Washington State coach Paul Wulff pointed out that sometimes players are just as Machiavellian.

Both saw their recruiting classes suffer because of late decommitments.

"I just think it's getting out of control. If we would do things players did -- there's such a double standard involved," Stoops said. "If we started pulling scholarships -- that to me is wrong. Some teams just sign the best guys them cut them at the end -- or grayshirt them. That to me is not right. It's not how we do things."

Stoops main frustration was losing quarterback Matt Brown to TCU late in recruiting after Wildcats offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes left to become head coach at Louisiana Tech, but it was obvious he was unhappy with a number of behind-the-scenes issues.

"Recruiting has gotten to be pretty cut-throat here," he said. "That's just kind of the business it is. You don't have a whole lot of friends in recruiting. You find that out as you go."

Meanwhile, Washington State lost two players, tight end Asante Cleveland (Miami) and offensive lineman Maxx Forde (Idaho), and Wulff seemed particularly bothered by the loss of Forde, whose father is an former standout linebacker for the Cougars.

"I go back on the parents and educating the kids, keeping them true to their word," Wulff said. "A lot of people say, 'That's how recruiting is.' I don't believe in it, and I never will."

Forde's father fired back to the Seattle Times.

"You can't fault an 18-year-old kid if he has a change of heart on something," Brian Forde told the newspaper. "He didn't break any laws. Last time I checked, you're allowed to change your mind. When your son tells you, 'I prayed on it, and I really feel Idaho is the best place for me,' what do you say at that point?

"If Washington State feels they got done wrong, maybe they got out-recruited."

Obviously, the word "commitment" is nearly always said with a wink in college football.

But as a guy who believes coaches should always do what's best for themselves and their families because they work in a ruthless business, my feeling with players "decommitting" is mostly that it's part of the game.

Players should be 100-percent self-interested during recruiting. It will be the only time in their careers they have such control.

For example, say your son is a high school senior living in the Bay Area and he's a solid but unspectacular talent. In November, he gets one scholarship offer: San Jose State. He commits.

Then he records 17 sacks and posts a spectacular season. He gets an offer from Stanford.

Gosh, what should he do?

Yes, recruiting is an ugly game. But, really, what business isn't, other than missionary work?

Stoops did point out something that could help: An early signing period.

"I'm all in favor of early signing periods," he said. "If coaches leave, then obviously scholarships are null and void."

There are complications with an early signing period, but it would simplify recruiting because players who wanted to opt-out of the mind games could use their signature to do so.

Coaches would know that a "committed" player who isn't willing to sign early isn't really "committed." And players could lock in a scholarship to their dream school early and eliminate the possibility of a coach shuffling in later with talk of a "grayshirt."

Would it be perfect? No. But what in college football is?

Pac-10 recruiting wrap: Washington State

February, 4, 2010
Washington State signed a class of 22 that ranked at or near the bottom of the Pac-10.

Still, coach Paul Wulff was satisfied. He said the class upgraded the Cougars size and speed.

"I think this is as good a class as has come here," he said.

Top prospects: Linebacker C.J. Mizell, a former Florida State signee, sort of came out of nowhere. You can read about him here. Offensive linemen David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson, both junior college transfers, should compete immediately for playing time. Bobby Ratliff will upgrade the Cougars receiving corps. Tight end Aaron Dunn will play next year.

Under the radar: There's a lot of that with this class, but it's notable that there were plenty of "under the radar" guys playing their way into the NFL when Washington State was winning. More than a few people think quarterback Connor Halliday is underrated.

Issues? The Cougars took a big hit when tight end Asante Cleveland backed out of his commitment and signed with Miami. Also, Wulff was clearly miffed that committed lineman Maxx Forde -- son of a former Cougar player -- decided to sign with Idaho. It's also a bit worrisome that the class only had one defensive lineman and, of the three offensive linemen, only one is a high school player.

Notes: One of the Cougars best new players may be JC defensive end Brandon Rankin, a 2009 signee who's already enrolled. ... The class features five wide receivers, which should help Wulff run the shotgun, no-huddle spread offense that he brought from Eastern Washington. ... Running back James Montgomery, who missed last season after major surgery on his calf, may be ready to return for the 2010 season. The California transfer was the Cougars No. 1 running back before getting hurt. ... Wulff said told reporters he may still sign a couple of JC players. ... The Cougars signed players from four states, including eight from the Bay Area and three from the Spokane area.

Gerhart was a unanimous All-American

December, 17, 2009
Stanford running back Toby Gerhart was a unanimous pick for first-team All-American while UCLA kicker Kai Forbath was a consensus All-American.

Here's the list as it will appear in the 2010 NCAA Football Records.


WR -- Jordan Shipley, Texas, 6-0, 190, Senior

WR -- *Golden Tate, Notre Dame, 5-11, 195, Junior

TE -- Dennis Pitta, BYU, 6-5, 247, Senior

OL -- Mike Iupati, Idaho, 6-6, 330, Senior

OL -- Mike Johnson, Alabama, 6-6, 305, Senior

OL -- *Russell Okung, Oklahoma St., 6-5, 300, Senior

OL -- Trent Williams, Oklahoma, 6-5, 318, Senior

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida, 6-5, 318, Junior

QB -- *Colt McCoy, Texas, 6-2, 210, Senior

RB -- *Toby Gerhart, Stanford, 6-1, 235, Senior

RB -- *Mark Ingram, Alabama, 5-10, 215, Sophomore

PK -- Kai Forbath, UCLA, 6-0, 192, Junior

Returner/All-Purpose -- *C.J. Spiller, Clemson, 5-11, 195


DL -- Terrence Cody, Alabama, 6-5, 365, Senior

DL -- *Jerry Hughes, TCU, 6-3, 257, Senior

DL -- Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma, 6-4, 297, Junior

DL -- *Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 6-4, 300, Senior

LB -- Greg Jones, Michigan St., 6-1, 228, Junior

LB -- *Rolando McClain, Alabama, 6-4, 258, Junior

LB -- Brandon Spikes, Florida, 6-3, 258, Senior

DB -- Javier Arenas, Alabama, 5-9, 198, Senior

DB -- *Eric Berry, Tennessee, 5-11, 203, Junior

DB -- *Joe Haden, Florida, 5-11, 190, Junior

DB -- Earl Thomas, Texas, 5-10, 197, Sophomore

P -- *Drew Butler, Georgia, 6-2, 203, Sophomore

* Indicates unanimous first team selection; Bold indicates consensus repeater from 2008

Here's an explanation of how the list was compiled from Jeff Williams, the NCAA's Assistant Director of Statistics:

The players listed had the highest number of points competing against players at that position only. A points system was used for the selections of the All-America team (three points for first team, two points for second team and one point for third team). Twelve players were unanimous choices by the five organizations used in the consensus chart -- American Football Coaches Association (First Team), Associated Press (First, Second and Third Teams), Football Writers Association of America (First Team), The Sporting News (First, Second and Third Teams) and Walter Camp Foundation (First and Second Teams). Note: Each of the five teams has a different way of listing the returner or all-purpose player. For the purpose of the Consensus All-America team those categories were treated as one position.

Arizona State looking for offensive help

December, 17, 2009
Arizona State signed a highly rated junior college receiver Wednesday, but the bigger question is who will be coaching him because the Sun Devils are still searching for an offensive coordinator.

There has been speculation -- see latter portion of linked story from the Arizona Republic -- that coach Dennis Erickson might bring Tim Lappano back to the Pac-10.

Lappano and Erickson have a long coaching relationship. They've worked together at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State and Oregon State and with Seattle and San Francisco in the NFL -- just about every Erickson coaching stop other than the Miami Hurricanes and Arizona State. Before joining the Detroit Lions staff as tight ends coach, Lappano was Tyrone Willingham's offensive coordinator at Washington.

Lappano obviously has experience running the shotgun spread offense Erickson prefers, but he also adopted a spread-option scheme when he coached Jake Locker at Washington.

Whoever gets the job, he will oversee a quarterback competition this spring between Michigan transfer Steven Threet, sophomore Brock Osweiler and junior Samson Szakacsy as the Sun Devils try to reverse consecutive seasons of offensive struggles that have left them at home during the bowl season.

Pac-10 bowl projections

December, 6, 2009
Other than the Rose Bowl, nothing is official, but this is how I see things playing out with bowl selections.

Also, UCLA's potential invitation to the Humanitarian Bowl can't go out until after the Army-Navy game on Dec. 12. And it won't go out if Army wins.

Some good matchups. Guess here is another unbeaten bowl season is unlikely.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi: Oregon (10-2) vs. Ohio State (10-2)
Pacific Life Holiday: Arizona (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-4)
Brut Sun: Stanford (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (7-5)
Emerald: USC (8-4) vs. Boston College (8-4)
MAACO Las Vegas: Oregon State (8-4) vs. BYU (10-2)
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia: California (8-4) vs. Utah (9-3)
Humanitarian: UCLA (6-6) vs. Idaho (7-5)

Will UNLV or San Jose State hire a Pac-10 assistant?

November, 18, 2009
Most assistant coaches want to be head coaches, but it's hard to make that jump because there are only 120 FBS jobs and only 66 of them are in BCS conferences (and Notre Dame).

And only half of those BCS posts are any good.

So when head coaching jobs open up, even for perennial losers, most assistant coaches will raise an interested eyebrow.

That's why the openings at UNLV and San Jose State may cost a Pac-10 team an assistant.

UNLV fired Mike Sanford this week, and California offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt are potential candidates, according to this article.

Serious candidates? Probably not. But still.

Here's a guess that San Jose State, which just accepted the resignation of Dick Tomey, also might vet a few Pac-10 assistants.

The problem for Ludwig or Holt -- or Arizona's Sonny Dykes or Oregon State's Mark Banker -- is knowing when to pull the trigger.

If you wait too long, you might never get a shot -- "old" assistants struggle to get respect from programs looking for "hot, young, up-and-comers." But if you jump at a bad job, it may ruin your reputation when you inevitably fail.

Bob Stoops was so highly thought of as a defensive coordinator at Florida that he was able too wait around for programs like Iowa and Oklahoma to fight over him.

Urban Meyer did the steady climb -- Notre Dame assistant, Bowling Green head coach, Utah head coach, multiple national title winner at Florida.

Former UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker was so convinced that he had bucked the "great coordinator but not head coach material" label that he took the top spot at New Mexico State, which is like betting you can survive a tumble into a black hole.

Of course, I thought the same when former Washington State defensive coordinator Robb Akey was hired at Idaho, but Akey's Vandals are 7-4 and likely headed to a bowl game.

That surprising success might get some bigger-name programs to take a look at Akey.

So succeeding in a supposed black hole could lead to a big opportunity later.

Or it can lead to your disappearance from head coaching candidate lists for the rest of your career.

Stay tuned, because there are sure to be other openings -- and other rumors. And possibly a hiring.

Midseason review: Washington

October, 20, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

The joke entering the season was Washington couldn't get any worse. That's what happens when a team goes 0-12 the previous season.

Few thought to ponder just how much better the Huskies, generally thought to be hopelessly lacking in top-to-bottom talent, could be with the injection of enthusiasm and coaching acumen that Steve Sarkisian brought with him from USC to Seattle.

The surprising fact for Washington at midseason: Not earning a bowl berth will be a disappointment.

It became obvious these weren't Tyrone Willingham's Huskies from the first game, when LSU barely got back to Baton Rouge with a victory. The Huskies dominating statistically, outgaining the Tigers 478 yards to 321, but were killed by a pick-six interception and a fumble on the LSU goal line in a 31-23 defeat.

After soundly beating Idaho -- no one then knew the Vandals, now 6-1, would go on a winning streak -- to end a 15-game losing streak, the Huskies shocked No. 3 USC and ended up getting a No. 24 ranking.

That came to an end decisively at Stanford, and then the Huskies lost a controversial cliffhanger in overtime at Notre Dame. The Huskies won a thriller at home in the waning moments against Arizona, then they lost the same way at Arizona State.

What's notable about the Huskies at midseason is the program has immediately transformed. It's no longer the easy out that lost nine games by 20 or more points in 2008. It's a team that can play with and even beat the elite teams.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Jake Locker's stock has skyrocketed this season, his first in a pro-style attack. He leads the Pac-10 in total offense -- 275 yards per game -- touchdown passes (11) and passing yards (1,702). All that from a guy many thought was merely a glorified running back.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Donald Butler has been in the middle of nearly every big play the Huskies have made on defense this year. He's tied for third in the conference with eight tackles per game and ranks fourth with 8.5 tackles for a loss. He was a forces in the win over USC, making a number of big red zone stops.

Locker, Sarkisian lead Washington back into light

September, 19, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Jake Locker gave Huskies fans a day to remember Saturday with an upset of top-ranked USC.

SEATTLE -- Jake Locker was trapped by a suffocating rush. The Washington quarterback could see no daylight. His athletic and leadership ability were of no value.

Yes, he admitted later. He wanted his mother.

Locker told the story as he got into an elevator inside the bowels of Husky Stadium, surrounded by grinning people. Who knew a post-game celebration could be so scary?

"I couldn't breathe," he said.

Washington president Mark Emmert laughed. "That's a high-quality problem to have, Jake."

Yes, surviving and sharing in the euphoria of a 16-13 victory over No. 3 USC is a different sort of problem for a program that went winless in 2008 and only broke a 15-game losing streak last weekend against FBS bottom-feeder Idaho.

"It was a little chaotic," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I was trying to get to Pete, but I couldn't get to Pete. Then I got stuck there in the middle of the field."

"Pete" would be Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who Sarkisian worked under for seven years at USC. At the end of each of those seasons, save the first, the Trojans would play in a BCS bowl game. Sarkisian was guiding the Trojans offense last year when they beat Washington 56-0.

The distance from that humiliation and all the misery that surrounded it to the pandemonium on Saturday is hard to conceptualize.

"I will never forget this day," senior linebacker Donald Butler said. "I will tell my kids about this. I will tell my grandkids about this. Man, this is crazy."

Butler led a suprising Huskies defense, which gave up 10 points in the first quarter but just a single field goal thereafter. Butler was in on two of the Trojans' three turnovers deep in Washington territory, picking off Aaron Corp once and forcing a fumble from fullback Stanley Havili. He finished with 12 tackles.

He also stopped Stafon Johnson on a third-and-1 carry in the fourth, and twice tackled Johnson for no gain inside the Huskies' 11-yard line on the Trojans' final possession, forcing them to only tie the score 13-13 on a 25-yard field goal with 4:07 left.

Then Locker and company took over on their 33. Locker was promptly sacked for a 12-yard loss and then faced a third-and-15.

You could feel doubt suffuse the stadium

But not on the Huskies sidelines. "No! And that's the difference this year. We expect to win," Butler said. "Believe! We all believed we would win."

Locker connected with Jermaine Kearse for 21 yards. Locker rushed for four yards on third and 2. Locker then lofted a ball perfectly to Kearse for a 19-yard completion to the Trojans 16-yard line.

Locker, however, blew the ensuing chest bump from Kearse, getting knocked to his rear.

"I went down! I think I jumped too high," he said. "Coach was trying to settle me down."

Erik Folk calmly drilled a 22-yard field goal for the win.

Carroll and Sarkisian shared a moment later. "He was great," Sarkisian said. Carroll also stopped a radio interview to shake Locker's hand.

"I think the difference in the game was Jake," Carroll said.

Carroll tipped his cap to Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who out-coached their mentor and his reordered staff in their rookie season outside the womb of winning that envelopes the USC program.

"When you really like people, you want good things to happen," Carroll said. "So I'm happy for them in that regard."

Sarkisian admitted after the game that, for a moment, just as the final bell sounded, he wondered, "Is it real?"

"To have the moment when the crowd rushes the field, those are things you dream about as a kid -- never mind as a coach -- when you're laying in bed at night throwing the ball in the air," he said.

And just like that, a program that has played in 14 Rose Bowls but hasn't posted a winning season since 2002, reintroduced itself to the college football world.

With a bang.

Final analysis: USC-Washington isn't about sentiment

September, 16, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

If you should happen to look at the Washington sideline on Saturday and see coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt lying immobile on the Husky Stadium turf, know that both succumbed to a syndrome that they knew could infect them with No. 3 USC coming to town.

The dreaded "paralysis by analysis."

Sarkisian, USC's former offensive coordinator, fingered the potential ailment in three separate media events this week when asked about coaching against his and Holt's former team.
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian is trying not to overanalyze this weekend’s match up with USC.

"I think we have to be very careful over-analyzing -- I think you can easily get paralysis by analysis," Sarkisian said. "When you start digging too deep into this thing and try to look three or four steps down the road, that's where you can get yourself in trouble. Ultimately, we've got to do what we do well that fits with what they are doing. They're a different football team than they have been. They've got different coordinators. We have to attack them accordingly. The bottom line is we have to do what we do well. If we go too far beyond that, and try too hard, that's where we can get all screwed up."

(FYI: All donations to the Paralysis by Analysis Foundation should be sent care of the Pac-10 blog.)

Sarkisian and Holt spent a large part of their careers working with Carroll. It would be fair, in fact, to say he is their chief mentor. They have spent hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of hours together breaking down film, evaluating players, game planning, talking Xs and Os philosophy, writing poetry about winning forever and just shooting the bull.

So it's not hard to imagine each party will try to climb in the other's head in order to take a few photos.

"We always do that anyway, that's how you operate," Carroll said. "You're always working to the mind of the play caller on either side of the ball and what they like to do and their tendencies and all that stuff. This is just a background that goes deeper with information."

Speaking of background information, some might recall that USC also was a heavy favorite on the road in 2008 after beating Ohio State.

What happened at Oregon State -- a 27-21 defeat that essentially eliminated the previously No.1-ranked Trojans from the national title hunt -- is as much or more of an issue this week in the USC locker room than familiar faces on the Huskies coaching staff.

"Of course, it will be kind of different (seeing Sarkisian and Holt on the Huskies side), but we have to get over that," running back Stafon Johnson said. "It's a football game and he's with the opposite team... When we got back to LA it was back to business. We won that game (at Ohio State) but we could have easily lost. And this is around the same time when we slipped up last year."

Both teams also have in-house issues.

The Trojans are still trying to figure out who will start at quarterback. True freshman Matt Barkley bruised his shoulder at Ohio State and didn't throw in Tuesday's practice. Backup Aaron Corp, who's nearly 100 percent after cracking his fibula during the preseason, has been running with the No. 1 offense. Two-time All-American free safety Taylor Mays may sit out all week with a sprained knee, but seeing that Seattle is his home town and his injury is mostly a pain-tolerance issue, the consensus is Mays will only miss the game if he is kidnapped by aliens.

As for the Huskies, their defensive line is beat up and their secondary continues to struggle, witness 349 yards passing from Idaho in the Huskies 42-23 victory last weekend, which ended a 15-game losing streak.

"It's some communication things -- guys doing some new things," Sarkisian said. "We played a lot of young kids. I don't know if our zone drops were as we would have liked. I don't know if we rushed as hard as I know we can rush the passer. So we're going to clean those things up."

Whoever plays quarterback, USC has issues on offense, particularly in the passing game. The Trojans only gained 313 yards against a good but not great Buckeyes defense. Until the impressive final drive, the offense was out of sync much of the night.

Moreover, style points are at stake for both teams.

If Washington gets blown out, it loses much of the early momentum created by a strong performance against LSU and its first victory since November of 2007. If USC only produces a close victory, it will be on the receiving end of catcalls from the hoi polloi seeking to influence the beauty contest that is the BCS system.

There will be a few back slaps before the game, but jaws will be fully set during it.

"This is not a time for sentiment," Carroll said. "I love seeing Sarkisian in charge of this program and Nick up there doing his thing. These guys are great friends. I love these guys. I'm thrilled that they're doing it. But when it comes to game time, we're going to go. That's what they'll do too and that's the only way we all know how to do it. It won't have anything to do with sentiment. It will have to do with competition and battling."

So, the final analysis is simple. It's an important football game for both teams, no matter who's pacing the opposite sideline.

A quick look at this week's games

September, 15, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Lining up this week's action.

No. 3 USC (2-0) at Washington (1-1)

USC beat the Huskies 56-0 last year ... USC leads the all-time series 49-26-4 ... USC is riding a 12-game winning streak ... Washington ended a 15-game losing streak vs. Idaho last weekend ... Washington coach Steve Sarkisian spent seven years on the USC staff, while Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt also held the same post at USC before being hired by Sarkisian ... USC ranks 14th in the nation in scoring defense (9 points per game) ... Huskies quarterback Jake Locker is 14th in the nation in total offense (321.5 yards per game).

No. 8 California (2-0) at Minnesota (2-0)

California leads the all-time series 3-2, last beating the Golden Gophers 42-17 in 2006 ... Minnesota welcomes back 17 starters from a team that went 7-5 in 2008 ... Cal is riding a five-game winning streak, but the Bears have lost four in a row on the road ... Minnesota is showcasing a brand new stadium, and the Bears will be the first BCS conference foe to play there ... The Bears have yet to turn the ball over ... Cal leads the Pac-10 in sacks with 10 ... Gophers receiver Eric Decker ranks third in the nation with 296 receiving yards in two games ... Running back Jahvid Best ranks sixth in the nation with 140.5 ypg and is averaging 10.4 yards per carry ... Linebacker Mychal Kendricks leads the conference with 13 tackles per game.

No. 18 Utah (2-0) at Oregon (1-1)

Oregon leads the all-time series 17-8, but Utah won the last meeting 17-13 in 2003 ... Utah owns the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games ... Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews ranks second in the conference with 11 tackles per game ... Utah welcomes back 12 starters from last year's 13-0 team ... Oregon ranks last in the conference in rushing offense, passing offense, total offense and is ninth in scoring offense ... Utah has rushed for 242 yards per game ... Ducks DE Kenny Rowe leads the conference with 2.5 sacks.

No. 17 Cincinnati (2-0) at Oregon State (2-0)

They've met only once, with Cincinnati rolling 34-3 in 2007 ... Oregon State has won 26 consecutive nonconference home games dating back to 1996, and coach Mike Riley has never lost a nonconference home game ... The Beavers have not turned the ball over ... Cincinnati is fifth in the nation with 571 yards per game ... Quarterback Sean Canfield ranks 14th in the nation in passing efficiency. He has completed 79 percent of his passes so far ... Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike is fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. He's completed 77 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and one interception ... Jacquizz and James Rodgers have combined for 597 rushing/receiving yards and six touchdowns ... Cincinnati has only one returning starter on defense ... The Beavers have only one sack this year, while they have surrendered five. In 2008, they ranked second in the conference and fifth in the nation with 39 sacks, while they yielded only 21 sacks.

Arizona (2-0) at Iowa (2-0)

Arizona leads the all-time series 6-5 and last beat Iowa 35-11 in 1998 ... Wildcats running back Nic Grigsby is No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 162.5 yards per game ... The Hawkeyes welcome back 16 starters from last year's 9-4 team ... Both head coach Mike Stoops and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops played safety at Iowa and started their coaching careers with the Hawkeyes ... Arizona's four-game winning streak is its longest since 2000 ... Iowa has give up five sacks in its first two games ... The Wildcats rank first in the conference and fifth in the nation with 305.5 yards rushing per game.

Louisiana-Monroe (1-1) at Arizona State (1-0)

This is their first meeting ... Arizona State had a bye last weekend and now plays 11 consecutive Saturdays ... After dominating Idaho State in the opener, the Sun Devils rank first in the conference is rushing, passing, total and scoring defense ... Louisiana-Monroe beat Alabama 21-14 in 2007.

Kansas State (1-1) at UCLA (2-0)

This is there first meeting ... UCLA's win at Tennessee was the Bruins fourth consecutive victory vs. the SEC ... Kansas State welcomes back 14 starters from a team that went 5-7 last year ... Bruins QB Kevin Prince is out 3-4 weeks with a broken jaw ... The Wildcats lost at Louisiana-Lafayette last weekend ... Bruins safety Rahim Moore is No. 1 in the nation with five interceptions ... The Wildcats have recorded only one sack this season ... Bruins defensive tackle Brian Price leads the conference with five tackles for a loss ... The Wildcats have totaled 36 points against UMASS and ULL.

San Jose State (0-2) at Stanford (1-1)

Stanford leads the all-time series 48-14-1, last winning 23-10 in 2008 ... San Jose State lost to USC 56-3 and Utah 24-14 .... The Cardinal has not allowed a first-half touchdown in two games ... The Spartans rank last --120th -- in the nation in total defense ... Stanford's redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck is fourth in the conference in pass efficiency ... Stanford ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in rush defense.

SMU (2-0) at Washington State (0-2)

This is their first meeting ... Washington State ranks last in the conference in total, scoring, rushing and passing defense as well as scoring offense ... SMU broke a 17-game Conference USA losing streak with a win at UAB last weekend ... Cougars punter Reid Forest leads the Pac-10 with a 47-yard average ... SMU, which is 2-0, welcomes back 16 starters from a team that went 1-11 last year ... The Cougars are second in the conference with just 38 penalty yards per game.