Pac-12: Iowa Hawkeyes
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To the notes.
Dave from Birmingham writes: Not sure I get you. Why would you not want the four best teams to play in a playoff? That's what a playoff is about. I know there's a subjective part to this but that's inevitable. Is everyone that afraid of a consensus favoring the SEC because the SEC is the best conference?
Ted Miller: In a word, yes. And no matter how you frame it, that so-called consensus remains subjective. And I know this from experience.
In 1996, I worked at the Mobile Register and I was arguing with Mike Griffith, who then covered Alabama for the Register and voted in the AP poll. Now, everybody argues with Mike, but I thought he was being particularly obtuse this particular afternoon because he was touting Arizona State. I was blathering that Arizona State would have four losses if it played in the SEC.
Yes, I once was one of them. Why? Because that was the way I was raised. Football in the south, as writer Rick Bragg once ostentatiously pandered, is like a "knife fight in a ditch"! That's a bunch of silliness, but such sentiments nonetheless are inculcated into fans and they seep into the media coverage -- in the Southeast as well as other parts of the country where fetishizing the peculiarity of the South is embraced. So I understand the roots of the "just because" reaction of so many SEC fans. And I experienced its power as a sportswriter.
When I moved out to Seattle to cover Washington, I still had a "just because" feeling about West Coast vs. Southeast football. When Miami came to Husky Stadium in 2000, I thought the Hurricanes would blast the Huskies. Ergo, my initial transformative moment was watching Washington physically manhandle the Hurricanes. Don't be fooled by the final score: The Huskies owned Miami that day.
My point: Regional biases are strong and they cloud thinking, even when they feel rational. That's why there needs to be a safeguard in our new four-team playoff system for some degree of objectivity, which prioritizing conference champions provides.
I know any questions about SEC super-awesomeness make SEC folks angry. I know: Six crystal footballs. No one is doubting the SEC's ability to dominate the BCS system. And I have no doubt that dominance of a subjective system -- a beauty contest, really -- has helped push the SEC closer to something that can be judged as a more objective superiority (read: self-fulfilling prophecy).
But if we're going to have a national college football playoff, we need to create a selection process that doesn't leave open the possibility of a tag always going to a runner from a certain conference, just because.
Edward from Atlanta writes: Do you think USC coach Lane Kiffin and his staff are better at recruiting than Pete Carroll and his staff? I look at the fact that Lane Kiffin is only working with 15 scholarships and he is still bringing in top recruits after everything that has taking placed. Just imagine if he did had all his scholarships he would probably have a top 3 or top 5 recruiting class every year.
Ted Miller: No.
Kiffin and his staff are recruiting very well, but they can't do much better than Pete Carroll and his staff did from 2002-2009. You say top-three to -five each year? Carroll landed the No. 1 class multiple times. Any rare rating outside the top five was deemed an off-year. Carroll's recruiting run rates among the best run a program has produced -- think Bobby Bowden in the glory years at Florida State.
It's also worth noting that Carroll and Kiffin share two ace recruiters: Kiffin and Ed Orgeron.
Jeff from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Who do you think is going to be the starting quarterback for ASU to begin the season?
Ted Miller: That's a tough one. When I watched practice, I thought Mike Bercovici was so much better as a passer that he should be the guy. But then you have to realize that new coach Todd Graham wants to run some spread option, and that requires the quarterback to be a running threat. Bercovici is no running threat, while 6-foot-5, 242-pound Michael Eubank is. And Eubank has potential as a passer, though at present he's raw.
The easy answer is start Bercovici but use some packages with Eubank. But that's sort of a fan answer. Most coaches don't like playing two quarterbacks. They'll tell you if you play two, it means you don't have any. And QBs are not big fans of sharing the job.
I used to be a Bercovici lean, but now I'm leaning toward Eubank. Here's why: This team is much better at running back than at receiver. Even with Bercovici's live arm, this probably is going to be a run-first offense, and it makes things much more difficult for a defense if it must account for the QB as a runner. Eubank can become at least an adequate passer. Bercovici is unlikely to do the same as a runner.
Mark from Garden Grove, Calif., writes: If you could play matchmaker, which Big Ten/Pac-12 schools would you pair for the 2017 season -- and why?
Ted Miller: OK, I'll bite, basing things on where the college football world is today.
- Oregon-Ohio State: Urban Meyer vs. Chip Kelly. 'Nuff said.
- Arizona-Michigan: The Rich Rodriguez Bowl.
- Stanford-Wisconsin: Two really good schools that play smashmouth football.
- Oregon State-Michigan State: All that green would have the Beavers feeling like they're play Oregon.
- USC-Penn State: Two old-school powers whose uniforms are among the most recognizable.
- Nebraska-Arizona State: Any Sun Devils recall 1996?
- Northwestern-California: Two elite academic universities.
- Washington-Iowa: A rematch of the 1982, 1991 Rose Bowls, both won by the Huskies.
- Colorado-Purdue: Two great mascots. (Colorado would have been a good one for Nebraska, too.)
- Utah-Illinois: Utes vs. Fighting Illini.
- Washington State-Minnesota: The Cold Bowl.
- UCLA-Indiana: Two old-school basketball powers playing football.
Rapsai from Eugene, Ore., writes: Ted, with Oregon's lack of depth at RB, do you see Josh Huff maybe sliding into the backfield to play some RB for the Ducks next season?
Ted Miller: A perfectly reasonable solution if there are injury issues in the backfield.
Does it make me a bad person that I don't think the Ducks are going to hurting at running back? I just think with Chip Kelly's emphasis on speed in recruiting that the Ducks will pretty much have an answer at RB, no matter how many guys get hurt. Recall that Kenjon Barner started out as a defensive back.
John from Los Angeles writes: I guess this falls into my "you know your old when you have a story for everything" file. In reading the post about Jonathan Ogden going into the HOF, I noticed your comment on his massive size. My buddies and I take a football road trip every year. We used to include the Baltimore Ravens in the trip because Will Demps (former Ravens safety) played at the high school where my buddy is the AD and he would get us tickets. Anyway, after a game against the Bengals at Cincinnati we are standing next to the Ravens team bus talking to Demps, Ogden and his people come up next to us - and he literally blocks out the sun!! You truly cannot appreciate how BIG the guy is until you stand right next to him. My buddy is wearing his USC cap (he is a big fan), so to amuse myself I keep whispering "Jack, show Ogden your hat." My friend kept his back to Ogden the entire time.
Ted Miller: I remember covering the 1996 Citrus Bowl between Ohio State and Tennessee -- which was cool because both were ranked No. 4 entering the game -- and walking up to the Ohio State bus. I saw No. 75 horsing around around this itty-bitty guy with a bald head who was No. 27.
The itty bitty guy was 6-foot-3, 240-pound, Heisman Trophy-winning running back Eddie George, and No. 75 was 6-foot-7, 325-pound Orlando Pace, who at that moment was the biggest dude I'd ever seen.
And Ogden -- at 6-foot-9, 345 -- darn near dwarfs Pace.
Only guy who ever impressed me as more spectacularly large was Shaquille O'Neal.
But there's been some movement of late that suggests we are closer today to some sort of playoff than, well, perhaps we've ever been. Most notably, the Big Ten exploring a four-team playoff.
That doesn't mean we're there or even that a playoff is around the corner, but the very fact it's being discussed seriously -- and publicly acknowledged -- is meaningful.
"As a conference we haven't taken a position," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday. "We are open-minded and we'll look at some creative approaches here with a fresh set of eyes. I am confident we can improve upon postseason college football. I am encouraged hearing ideas coming out of the Big Ten."
But, Scott added, it's fair to say the the Pac-12 -- just like the Big Ten -- wants to protect the best asset in college football: The Rose Bowl.
Still, the thought of a college football Final Four is exciting.
Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel decided to explore the idea with the notion that some might point out picking four teams for a playoff will be no less controversial than picking two for the BCS title game. So he went back through BCS rankings history and evaluated each potential four-team playoff. His analysis is interesting and certainly worth a look.
And, of course, many of those scenarios would have increased the Pac-10/Pac-12's chances of winning another national title (or two).
First, Mandel's conclusion:
So when we total it up, a four-team playoff would have been more effective than the stand-alone title game 10 times in 14 years. That's certainly progress. But it's also true that the controversy won't fade. While there have been just three seasons (1999, 2002, 2005) in which the BCS title-game matchup was deemed universally satisfying, there were only four in which the four-team field was controversy free.
Yet with the lone exception of a clunky 2008 season, the debates we would be having over Nos. 3 and 4 would be easier to digest than some of the gross injustices that have plagued the 1 vs. 2 game.
So a four-team playoff looks better than the format we presently have.
That acknowledged: Where does the Pac-10/12 stand in Mandel's look back through BCS history?
Well, the conference wouldn't have been in a Final Four in 1998, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, though USC and Utah would have been part of a controversy in 2008, and the Trojans also would have been part of the 2007 discussion.
As for the conference's relevant years, the Final Fours would have gone like this:
- 2011: No. 4 Stanford (11-1) at No. 1 LSU (13-0); No. 3 Oklahoma State (11-1) at No. 2 Alabama (11-1).
- 2010: No. 4 Stanford (11-1) at No. 1 Auburn (13-0); No. 3 TCU (12-0) at No. 2 Oregon (12-0).
- 2005: No. 4 Ohio State (9-2) at No. 1 USC (12-0); No. 3 Penn State (11-1) at No. 2 Texas (12-0).
- 2004: No. 4 Texas (10-1) at No. 1 USC (12-0); No. 3 Auburn (12-0) at No. 2 Oklahoma (12-0).
- 2003: No. 4 Michigan (10-2) at No. 1 Oklahoma (12-1); No. 3 USC (11-1) at No. 2 LSU (12-1).
- 2002: No. 4 USC (10-2) at No. 1 Miami (12-0); No. 3 Georgia (12-1) at No. 2 Ohio State (13-0).
- 2001: No. 4 Oregon (10-1) at No. 1 Miami (11-0); No. 3 Colorado (10-2) at No. 2 Nebraska (11-1).
- 2000: No. 4 Washington (10-1) at No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0); No. 3 Miami (11-1) at No. 2 Florida State (11-1).
Which years would have presented the best opportunity for the conference to have won another title?
Well, just about everyone -- outside the state of Louisiana -- agrees that USC was the true national champion in 2003, and this four-team playoff would have made that clear with a pair of double-digit Trojan victories. (Please, don't even argue. Just go look at the rosters).
Not sure that Stanford wouldn't have been a better matchup with Auburn than Oregon was and then we might have seen a Stanford-Oregon rematch for the championship in 2010.
I think Oregon in 2001 was a clear No. 2 behind a Miami squad that was one of the best college teams of all time. And Washington was the fourth-best team in 2000, even with a home win over the Hurricanes.
2002 is perhaps the most interesting year, at least in terms of how a playoff would change things. The Trojans, with two losses, didn't deserve to play in the BCS title game. But, by season's end, you might recall that Carson Palmer and company were truly dominant. They obliterated a very good Iowa team 38-17 in the Orange Bowl, and it's worth nothing that Iowa team rolled through Big Ten play -- AND didn't play Ohio State in the regular season.
One of the gripes about a playoff is how it might discount the regular season. That would be a side effect of a four-team playoff because you almost certainly would see, on occasion, teams with multiple losses ending up winning the national championship over teams that were previously unbeaten.
Of course, you don't see many folks griping about the primacy of the regular season after the Super Bowl, do you?
Consider this evaluation of the top-three offensive tackles: USC's Matt Kalil, Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Iowa's Riley Reiff. The analysis is based on how each did against former Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, a second-round selection for the Houston Texans.
Steve Muench rated them like this: 1. Kalil; 2. Reiff; 3. Martin.
Overall, this year's top tackles acquitted themselves nicely against a top-level defensive player in Brooks. That will be noted in their evaluations as the draft process plays out, and these same comparisons could come into play for teams seeking to separate these players on their boards.
Then there are the quarterbacks. Three of the top-four prospects are from the Pac-12: Stanford's Andrew Luck (duh), USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles.
Luck is No. 1 for mental makeup, second for accuracy, first for release/arm strength and first for pocket mobility. It was a bit surprising that Foles ranked ahead of Barkley for arm strength.
This ranking of running backs is sure to get Oregon and Washington fans nipping at each other (shocker): The Huskies' Chris Polk is the No. 2 running back behind Alabama's Trent Richardson, while the Ducks' LaMichael James is fifth.
(Please wait until the innocent blogger is out of the way before you start brawling).
Three of the top four tight ends and four of the top-seven are from the Pac-12: Stanford's Coby Fleener at No. 2, Oregon's David Paulson at No. 3, USC's Rhett Ellison at No. 4 and California's Anthony Miller at No. 7.
The list of offensive linemen has Kalil and Martin at Nos. 1 and 2. I would encourage Scouts Inc. to break out film of Stanford's David DeCastro: If he's not one of the first three guards off the draft board, well, cut off my legs and call me shorty.
Arizona's Juron Criner is ranked No. 5 among the receivers.
Defense will be up next.
Then their are second-year coaches, who have a single season under their belts, a small and typically unrevealing sample size that allows everyone to make premature judgments about said coach's ultimate prospects.
So we have the only second-year coach in the Pac-12: USC's Lane Kiffin.
While Kiffin's name might inspire more than a few folks to immediately spit, particularly those in a certain part of the country where spitting is less frowned upon, that's more about his abrupt departure from Tennessee and his sometimes cocky statements and behavior while he was there -- a side of himself, by the way, he hasn't shown much of of inside Heritage Hall.
As a coach, we only know he went 5-15 with the Oakland Raiders, 7-6 in one season at Tennessee and 8-5 at USC last fall.
What did we learn about Kiffin last season? Well, he's clearly a good recruiter, see another touted class that should help the Trojans better weather harsh NCAA sanctions.
Also, at 4-0 and then 7-3, it seemed as though he'd done a good job of keeping his team focused, even though it didn't have the postseason as a possible reward.
Then the Trojans got blistered at Oregon State and lost at home to a middling Notre Dame team. Sure, quarterback Matt Barkley got hurt in Corvallis, and even then the Trojans would have beaten the Irish if Ronald Johnson hadn't dropped a sure touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Still, "scoreboard," you know?
A loss to UCLA to end the season would have cast a dark shadow over Kiffin's first season, but the Trojans prevailed and then they rolled in recruiting. The momentum at present seems relatively positive.
So what can we say about Kiffin after a year?
It appears he's matured since his brief, bombastic tenure in Knoxville. It seemed like he did a good job working with Barkley, helping him mature as a QB, though the true test of the relationships will be this season, likely Barkley's last before heading to the NFL.
In fact, you could say that his dad, legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, should be more on the hot seat in 2011. The Trojans defense let leads slip away in the fourth quarter and gave up way too many big plays in 2010.
Further complicating an evaluation of Kiffin are the NCAA sanctions, particularly 30-scholarship reduction over the next three years that could be crippling, even for a program of USC's stature.
It would be fair to say that USC, which has the talent to win nine or 10 games this season, needs to live up to reasonable expectations this fall before the real pain sets in for Kiffin to place himself in good standing with athletic director Pat Haden and the Trojans fan base.
If he wins 10 games and the first South Division title, it would be enough of a vindication of his coaching ability that he could survive an inevitable step back over the next three to five years.
But if the Trojans take another step toward mediocrity, it's likely that the honeymoon would abruptly end and he'd find his coaching stool fairly toasty heading into 2012.
That's an interesting question, and the Iowa football blog "Black Hearts, Gold Pants" decided to try and figure out some answers.
Good recruiting data across college football goes back to 2002. And we have draft information for every year. So, by matching between those two data sets, we can answer the questions above. We can identify the programs that do the best (and worst) job developing their players (at least over the past decade). Better yet, we can use this data to tell a prospective recruit exactly how much their NFL chances are affected by their choice of school. Whether this information is on the top of the recruiting packets or hidden from sight will depend on the school, but these are numbers every recruit should know before signing on that dotted line.
Enter the "Developmental Ratio."
The Development Ratio is a simple way to measure the effect of a program on player development: take the number of recruits a program turned into draft picks and divide that by the number that an average BCS program would have produced from the same recruiting classes.
The results? USC finished No. 1, Ohio State No. 2, Iowa No. 3 and California No. 4.
Ohio State and USC are huge names, attract great recruits, and turn out even better NFL prospects. These statistics come almost entirely from the Pete Carrol and Jim Tressel eras and they show that both coaches deserve the credit they get - they didn't just skate by on the higher talent level those programs attract on name, they got the best out of that talent.
Which conferences best develop talent? It must be the SEC, as that conference produces so many NFL players, right?
Nope. The best two is a Rose Bowl: The Big Ten was No. 1 and the Pac-12 was No. 2. Recruits that go to the Big Ten add 15 percent to their NFL chances, while Pac-12 recruits add 10 percent.
On the low end is the Big 12: "recruits to the Big 12 take almost a 20% hit to their NFL chances when they pick the conference."
So congrats Colorado.
Another surprising finding: The Pac-12 does a better job developing defensive players than offensive players, though it does well at the skill positions. The conference ranks fourth in terms of developing offensive players, second for defensive players and second for skill players.
There's a lot of interesting data in this article, and I'm sure some of you might poke a few holes in its methods. Definitely worth a look, though.
Still, at 7-1 and ranked 13th with a win over Iowa, the Wildcats headed into a marquee showdown with Stanford on Nov. 6 believing they could play with anyone. Turns out they couldn't. And, considering the Cardinal, Ducks and Cowboys whipped up the Wildcats badly, well, a fair explanation only goes so far.
"It still exposes some things within your team," coach Mike Stoops said. "It told you when the going got tough, we didn't respond as well as we needed to."
"The physical part of it, we didn't respond well," he said. "We have to be more than just a finesse team. The physical matchup is what I didn't like."
Therein lies the challenge for the Wildcats as they leave spring practices behind and focus on offseason workouts. They must find five new starters on the offensive line -- the 2010 unit decidedly underachieved -- and they must replace the best defensive end combination in the Pac-10: Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore.
That suggests a need for some finesse due to physical losses. The defense is likely going to have to blitz more, while the offense -- which welcomes back quarterback Nick Foles and one of the best groups of receivers in the country -- is likely going to be pass-heavy.
Said Stoops, "We're going to have to throw to set up the run, I don't think there's any question about that."
Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who learned offense from spread savant Mike Leach after four years coaching at Texas Tech, talks about finding "different ways as coaches to scheme people to run the football," but he admits there's going to be a temptation to scrap the handoffs and throw 50 times a game.
"Absolutely. Especially because that's kind of the background where I came from," he said. "That's what I, at times, feel comfortable with. But at the same time you've got to take pressure off the quarterback by running the football."
A key proponent of balance: Foles. All quarterbacks like to throw the ball, but the passing game is much easier when defenses have to respect the run.
"There's definitely a need for balance," Foles said. "People saw that in the national championship game with Oregon, one of the nation's most high-powered offenses. When you can't run the ball, it's tough. Passing is great but to be a great team you've got to be able to do both."
During the five-game losing streak, the Wildcats averaged 98 yards rushing. Not good.
On the other side of the ball, the run defense wasn't much better during the downturn. Oregon rushed for a whopping 389 yards, while Stanford and USC both went over 200.
That's the out-physical-ed part that irks Stoops.
The Wildcats also head into the 2011 season with significant changes on the staff, starting with the departures of one half of the coordinator tandems they used on both sides of the ball in 2010. That means the offense is up to Littrell and the defense belongs to Tim Kish. Stoops said the co-coordinator setup was more of a challenge on offense. The theme this spring was simplify.
"We were trying to mix and match too much last year," he said. "We got discombobulated, I think. We got exposed late in the year on some things. Seth has to grow into this position and have total control with Nick. We need to all be on the same page."
Stoops has built a winning program but taking the next step means that no portion of the schedule proves insurmountable. And, yes, that five-game losing streak still lingers in just about every Wildcats' head, coaches and players.
"We all have it in the back of our minds," linebacker Paul Vassallo said. "It's not talked about anymore. It's the 2011 season. But we're all hungry to get that first win, that's for sure."
Ah, but the scheduled does a reverse next fall. The Wildcats figure to get their first win -- and end the losing streak -- in the opener against Northern Arizona, but then look at the schedule: Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC on consecutive weekends. The Cowboys, Cardinal and Ducks each will be ranked in the preseason top-10, and it's still not easy to visit the Coliseum.
It won't be too difficult to come up with a fair explanation for a slow start. But those fair explanations have a shelf life. Stoops and his Wildcats don't want to give them anymore. And Wildcats fans don't want to hear them.
In 1985, the Seattle Seahawks used their 10th-round selection -- the 277th overall pick in the NFL draft -- to select Arizona quarterback John Connor. Connor would later save the world from evil computers and indestructible robots that looked not unlike the former governor of California, so we should give him a break for not making much of a mark in the pro ranks.
In 1972, six years before the Wildcats joined the Pac-8, the Buffalo Bills used their first pick... of the 16th round (391st overall)... on Arizona quarterback Brian Linstrom. In 1962, quarterback Eddie Wilson went to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick of the second round, 24th overall.
And so ends our history lesson entitled, "The NFL draft and Arizona Quarterbacks."
"I grew up going to college football games and I wanted to play college football. I'm in a wonderful place because I'm living my dream right now," he said. "I know there is money and fame or whatever, but I love where I'm at. I love the University of Arizona. The most important thing right now is to focus on that. I think too many people get caught up in the, 'NFL this, NFL that,' and they don't focus on where they are now, the present moment. The most precious time you have is right now in the present. I don't want to think about a year down the road."
In the present time, Foles is headed into the 2011 season -- spring practices ended over the weekend -- on the cusp of becoming the best quarterback in program history, even if he doesn't break all of Willie Tuitama's records. After all, Tuitama, a four-year starter, wasn't drafted and didn't get invited to an NFL training camp. As for those records, Foles needs 3,478 yards passing to eclipse Tuitama's career record of 9,211 yards. Considering the talent Foles has surrounding him at receiver, it's possible that he could break Tuitama's single-season passing record (3,683 yards) and even reach his career TD mark (67; Foles has 39 touchdowns in two years as a starter).
Of course, stats aren't the only thing that matters. The Wildcats split the job between Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins in 1998, and their middling numbers were nonetheless good enough to front a 12-1 team that finished ranked No. 4 in the nation.
The Wildcats don't look at first glance like a team that could go 12-1. All five starters must be replaced on the offensive line, while the defense loses premier pass-rushing ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, both of whom figure to be drafted. Further, the Wildcats are presently riding a five-game losing streak that took the shine off a 7-1 start in the 2010 season.
For Arizona to be a factor in the Pac-12 South's first season, Foles needs to be out front posting big numbers.
"He's grown a lot each year. I think you'll see a more polished player," coach Mike Stoops said. "He's going to be an elite player at the next level if he can continue to grow."
Foles, who missed two games last season with a dislocated knee cap, said he sees plenty of room for improvement when he watches game tape. While he completed a strong 67 percent of his passes, his 2:1 TD to interceptions ratio -- 20 TDs, 10 picks -- won't blow anyone away. Foles also was streaky. He seemed to often break out of lulls while running the two-minute offense in high-pressure situations -- see clutch drives produced in wins over Iowa and California and in a heart-breaking loss to Arizona State.
So while Foles talks about improving his recognition skills, his knowledge of opposing defenses and building consistency, he also finds a less cerebral area in which to improve.
"When I just play the game and don't think as much, and let it just come to me, that's when I play my best," he said. "When I'm trying to over-analyze a play or I am thinking too much, I play mechanically and that's just not where I'm good."
Stoops and Foles have talked about another area in which Foles needs to focus: Leadership. As a quarterback who could receive All-American consideration, Foles is the centerpiece of the Wildcats. Everyone in the locker room will turn to him this fall.
"I wish at times he showed more emotion," Stoops said. "But you don't want that to be forced. That has to be natural. Nick has to pick and choose. He should know when those times are."
Said Foles, "There's a time and place to be loud and emotional but I also think it comes with knowing your teammates. The most important thing with anything you do is being natural. There will be times when I need to be vocal, but it has to come naturally. When it doesn't come naturally, it's just doesn't feel right."
In other words, leaderships is complicated. Consider: In the Wildcats 34-27 win over Iowa, Foles led by being loose and saying just enough to make his team confident.
"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said after that game. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."
Foles said he talked to his parents about potentially entering this spring's draft, but also said he told them in advance that he wanted to return. By returning, he almost guaranteed that -- barring injury -- he will become the greatest quarterback in school history.
Ah, but that's all history and the future and destination talk. Foles is more focused on the present, on the process.
"I'll watch film and go, 'Man, I've got a lot to work on,'" he said. "But that's exciting to me. I love working on that stuff. It's a continual process."
We looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- on Tuesday and defenses that prevented explosion plays on Wednesday. Today we look at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. On Friday, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.
So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in the running game in 2010.
4. Oregon... 39
25. Stanford... 21
29. Washington... 20
29. UCLA... 20
49. USC... 16
49. Utah... 16
66. Arizona... 14
66. Arizona State... 14
83. Oregon State... 12
91. California... 11
91. Colorado... 11
99. Washington State... 10
Not many surprises here, though Oregon State's and California's totals might seem low, considering the quality of their tailbacks: Jacquizz Rodgers and Shane Vereen.
Some other thoughts.
- Oregon ranked second in 2009 (39) and third in 2008 (37). The Ducks, Nevada and Georgia Tech each ranked in the top five the past three seasons.
- California ranked 18th in 2009 with 24 runs of 20 or more yards, and eighth in 2008 with 30, so its drop-off in 2010 was substantial.
- With Toby Gerhart, the 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up, Stanford had 20 runs of 20 or more yards. Without him in 2010, it had 21. That said: In 2008, when the Cardinal went 5-7 and Tavita Pritchard was the starting QB, it produced 25 such runs, which ranked 12th in the country.
- In 2008, UCLA and Washington State tied for 109th in the nation with just six explosion runs. In 2009, Washington State had 10 and UCLA nine, thereby ranking 95th and 98th, respectively. While the Bruins new pistol offense didn't help the passing game, it certainly helped produce explosion plays in the running game, more than tripling the 2008 output and more than doubling what was produced in 2009.
- Buffalo ranked last in the nation with just two runs of over 20 yards, the worst total over the past three seasons. Nothing to do with the Pac-10, but that's really, really pathetic.
But do piling up explosion plays in the run game correlate to winning? Short answer: More often than not, though a lot has to do with scheme (Georgia Tech and Navy, for example, run triple-options and don't pass much). Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.
1. Georgia Tech... 45 (6-7)
2. Northern Illinois... 42 (11-3)
3. Auburn... 41 (14-0)
4. Oregon... 39 (12-1)
5. Nevada... 38 (13-1)
6. Nebraska... 36 (10-4)
7. North Texas... 32 (3-9)
8. Mississippi... 31 (4-8)
9. Baylor... 30 (7-6)
10. Tulsa... 28 (10-3)
10. Navy... 28 (9-4)
Three teams -- including No. 1 -- posted losing records. On the other hand, seven won nine or more games and six won 10 or more.
Now, on to defense, starting with the Pac-12.
The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of rushing explosion plays yielded in 2010.
2. Arizona State... 6
13. Arizona... 9
13. Utah... 9
13. California... 9
37. Oregon State... 12
45. Stanford... 14
59. Oregon... 16
82. Colorado... 18
90. USC... 19
98. Washington... 22
103. UCLA... 23
117. Washington State... 29
Arizona is a bit surprising because the Wildcats struggled against the run this season, particularly over the second half of 2010. Stanford is a little low because it gave up four runs of 20-plus yards in its loss to Oregon.
Some other thoughts.
- Oregon State's number isn't bad, but in 2009 it was tied for fourth in the nation -- and No. 1 in the Pac-10 -- after yielding just six explosion rushing plays.
- Oregon had better defensive numbers this season than in the previous two, but the Ducks gave up only nine explosion rushing plays in 2008 and 2009.
- This is clearly an area where Washington struggles. In 2009, it gave up 21 explosion rushing plays (102nd in nation) and 22 in 2008 (102nd in nation).
- Washington State yielded 22 rushing explosion plays in 2009 (106th in nation) and 34 in 2008 (worst in the nation) Cougars: You need to get better here.
- In 2008, Tennessee gave up just one run of 20 or more yards. No other team over the past three seasons has yielded fewer than three. In 2009, under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, it gave up 21, which ranked 102nd in the nation. This past season, while Kiffin was in his first season at USC, the Vols yielded 16, which ranked 59th, tied with USC. In 2009, the year before Kiffin arrived at USC, the Trojans yielded 13, which ranked 42nd. Just saying.
- While a number of teams are consistently good in this area -- Ohio State, Florida and South Florida, to name a few -- only Iowa ranked in the top 10 the past three seasons.
But do limiting rushing explosion plays on defense correlate to winning? Short answer: Not as much as you'd think, at least this past season. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.
1. Iowa... 5 (8-5)
2. Arizona State... 6 (6-6)
2. Boston College... 6 (7-6)
4. Purdue... 7 (4-8)
4. Iowa State... 7 (5-7)
4. SMU... 7 (7-7)
4. Florida... 7 (8-5)
4. Ohio State... 7 (12-1)
9. Temple... 8 (8-4)
9. Michigan State... 8 (11-2)
9. Buffalo... 8 (2-10)
9. Wyoming... 8 (3-9)
That's six teams (out of 12) at .500 or below, including two teams who combined for 19 losses. Just two teams -- Ohio State and Michigan State -- won double-digit games. Oklahoma went 12-2 despite giving up 25 rushing explosion plays, which ranked 109th in the nation. Heck, Kansas State finished 7-6 despite giving up 31 such plays, worst in the nation.
That said: Seven of the 12 teams that gave up 25 or more explosion plays finished with losing records, and four won three or fewer games.
Note: Because we are ranking players based on this past season, it's Pac-10, not Pac-12.
Here are the preseason rankings (click each name to read the blurb).
2010 numbers: Foles led the Pac-10 with 290 yards passing per game. He ranked fourth in passing efficiency -- 34th in the nation -- completing 67 percent of his passes with with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Preseason ranking: No. 16
Making the case for Foles: Arizona's disappointing late-season slide wasn't Foles' fault, though he probably would be the first to admit his year was far from perfect -- see a season-high three interceptions in the Wildcats dreadful performance against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl (he didn't throw more than one pick in any other game). Foles led clutch fourth-quarter drives to beat both Iowa and California, and it appeared he had done the same to beat arch-rival Arizona State before Alex Zendejas' PAT was blocked with 27 seconds left in regulation. Foles also showed toughness when he quickly returned -- two missed starts -- after dislocating his knee cap on Oct. 16 at Washington State. He clearly wasn't sharp in his first game, a disastrous team performance at Stanford that was the first of five consecutive defeats to end the season. Foles was in a difficult situation while his offensive line struggled. The Wildcats could neither run the ball well nor protect the passer, so it often seemed like it was "Foles against the world." And, notably, in the final three regular season games, he threw nine touchdown passes with just one interception, while passing for 353, 448 and 262 yards.
No. 19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
No. 20. Talmadge Jackson, CB, Oregon
No. 21. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
No. 22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
No. 23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
No. 24. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
No. 25. Shane Vereen, RB, California
On Tuesday, we looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- which you can see here. Tomorrow, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. On Friday, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.
So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in 2010.
7. California... 34
13. Arizona State... 38
21. Arizona... 41
28. Stanford... 43
49. Oregon... 49
52. Colorado... 50
60. Utah... 52
63. Oregon State... 53
63. Washington... 53
84. UCLA... 59
95. Washington State...62
99. USC... 63
It's interesting that the defensive numbers are better than the offensive: average rank of 53 on defense versus 65 on offense. Isn't the Pac-12 supposed to be flashy on O and soft on D? The SEC's average rank on defense was 54, even with two top-10 teams (No. 2 Florida & No. 9 LSU).
Of course, Utah and Colorado weren't in the Pac-10 last year (average rank of Pac-10 was 52).
Wow. USC. That's terrible.
Some other thoughts.
- In 2009, Oregon was No. 1 in the Pac-10 and tied for 18th in the nation with 41 explosion plays yielded. Oregon State was second with 43 (25th in nation).
- Don't be too surprised by Oregon's middling number in 2010: The Ducks play an aggressive, attacking scheme that sometimes leaves them vulnerable. And they also see a lot of plays, which means more opportunities for an offense to break one.
- USC tanked in 2010. It ranked second in the nation in 2008 with 22 and 28th in the nation in 2009 with 43. So in the first season under touted coordinator Monte Kiffin, the Trojans nearly tripled the number of explosion plays they surrendered in 2008.
- Washington State ranked 95th in 2010 (62), 113th in 2009 (69) and 116th (75) in 2008. So that's improvement. Slow improvement.
- Remember how it seemed like former Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory's defense was conservative, which would suggest not yielding a lot of explosion plays? Well, in 2009 the Bears ranked 89th (58), so that's significant improvement in year one under Clancy Pendergast. Of course, in 2008, the Bears ranked 14th (38).
- Teams that ranked in the top-10 the past three years: Florida, TCU and Iowa. Ohio State and Penn State were also notably consistent.
But do limiting explosion plays on defense equate to winning? Short answer: Mostly, but not as much as the offensive numbers, at least this past season. Here's the top-10 in 2010 with the team's record in parenthesis to the right.
1. Pittsburgh... 30 (8-5)
2. Florida... 32 (8-5)
2. TCU... 32 (13-0)
4. West Virginia... 33 (9-4)
4. Iowa... 33 (8-5)
4. Temple... 33 (8-4)
7. Kent State... 34 (5-7)
7. California... 34 (5-7)
9. LSU... 36 (11-2)
10. Boston College.. 37 (7-6)
10. Ohio State... 37 (12-1)
Two teams have losing records, but three won 11 or more games. Still, it's a bit surprising that eight of 11 lost four or more games.
As for a correlation to defensive success: Every team here ranked in the top-42 in the nation in scoring defense and eight were ranked in the top-20. TCU, West Virginia, Ohio State, Iowa and LSU ranked in the top-11 in scoring defense.
Monday we ranked Nos. 10-6. Today, it's the top-five.
There are three major factors: 1. Stadium color and intensity; 2. The "bigness" of the game; 3. The quality of the game and its performances. And, obviously, I'm only ranking games I attended
5. Oregon at California: While Oregon's 15-13 victory here has been wildly miscast as a game the Ducks won because Cal screwed up a go-ahead field goal -- the kick came on the first play of the fourth quarter -- this was Oregon's closest game, the only one decided by single digits until the national championship game. And the closeness created a nice tension in Memorial Stadium as Bears fans entertained for much of the second half real visions of pulling the upset. The Ducks fourth-quarter drive that ate up the final 9:25 off the clock -- 18 plays, 17 runs -- was a thing of beauty: A good team having a bad night that nonetheless asserted its will to take control at the end.
4. Oregon at USC: More than a few folks saw this as the Ducks most worrisome potential stumbling back: A game at once-fearsome, but now just solid, USC. More than a few folks sold it as "USC's bowl game," and a couple of Trojans agreed that assessment wasn't that far off. The Trojans gave Oregon some trouble until the Ducks flicked their switch and won going away 53-32. The atmosphere in the Coliseum, at least for three quarters, was nearly what it was for big games during the Trojans recent glory days. And the torch was passed.
3. Iowa at Arizona: Forget for a moment the Wildcats' five-game losing streak to end the season. This 34-27 win over then-No. 9 Iowa felt like the Wildcats signature win under Mike Stoops, a game in which they advanced from a good program to a top-25, even top-10 program. The 'Zona Zoo went nuts when quarterback Nick Foles led a nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive for the go-ahead points. And it went even nuttier when the Wildcats recorded three consecutive sacks when Iowa took over, needing its own clutch drive to tie.
2. Stanford at Oregon: This game was Oregon's "hello world" performance, a 52-31 shellacking of a very good Stanford team that once led 21-3. The atmosphere in Autzen Stadium as Oregon poured it on was electric. The game, played on Oct. 2, firmly established the Ducks as a national title contender and LaMichael James as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Further, it established that the Ducks were better with Darron Thomas at quarterback rather than Jeremiah Masoli. And as the season went on, and Stanford didn't lose again, this became the most impressive regular season performance by any team, other than perhaps Auburn's comeback win at Alabama.
1. BCS National Title Game: Speaks for itself: It was the biggest game of the year and one of the toughest tickets in college football history. While Auburn's 22-19 win over Oregon was a bit sloppy as a whole, the final five or so minutes were thrilling.
Here are all the games I covered in 2010-11.
Week 1: Oregon State vs. TCU (Cowboys Stadium)
Week 2: Stanford at UCLA
Week 3: Iowa at Arizona
Week 4: Oregon at Arizona State
Week 5: Stanford at Oregon
Week 6: Oregon State at Arizona
Week 7: No game
Week 8: UCLA at Oregon
Week 9: Oregon at USC
Week 10: Arizona at Stanford
Week 11: Oregon at California
Week 12: Arizona at Oregon
Week 13: Oregon at Oregon State
Bowl week: BCS National Championship game
So it might be worthwhile to revisit each.
Next up is Oregon State, which finished 5-7 and didn't play in a bowl game for the first time since 2005.
Best Case: 11-2 with a Rose Bowl win over Iowa and a final No. 4 ranking.
What was right: Gulp. Not much. Correctly predicted a loss to TCU and wins over Louisville, Arizona State, Arizona and California. But, really, nothing here even remotely feels like what happened to the Beavers this season.
What was wrong: Almost everything, starting with the victory over Boise State. This scenario had the Beavers at 8-1 and ranked No. 6 before losing to unbeaten, third-ranked USC. The Beavers' only win over their final five games was against the Trojans, who had lost three times before going down in Corvallis. Receiver James Rodgers suffered a season-ending knee injury at Arizona in Game 5, and running back Jacquizz Rodgers never became a Heisman Trophy candidate. Stanford blasted Oregon State 38-0, and there wasn't much drama in the Civil War, with Oregon winning 37-20 and earning a berth in the BCS national title game.
Worst case: 5-7, no bowl game
What was right: A lot, starting with the record. The predicted 1-2 start was correct. The win over Arizona State and loss to Washington were correct. The inconsistency of quarterback Ryan Katz was mostly right, as was the ganging up on Jacquizz Rodgers by opposing defenses. The win over Cal was correct. The 5-5 record after 10 games was correct, as were the decisive losses to Stanford and Oregon to end the season at 5-7. Ducks running back LaMichael James was a Heisman Trophy finalist, though not the winner. Oregon won the Pac-10. Rodgers did opt to enter the NFL draft.
What was wrong: Some details. The Beavers won at Arizona but were upset by UCLA and Washington State. They also upset USC, a 36-7 blowout. Oregon won the Pac-10 but lost in the national championship game instead of winning the Rose Bowl. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and defensive coordinator Mark Banker remain on staff. James Rodgers is coming back for a sixth year after being granted a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA for his knee injury.
Conclusion: The worst case was mostly spot on; the best case was not. While James Rodgers' knee injury -- we're not going to predict injuries in this annual exercise -- was a huge blow to the Beavers, the rugged nonconference schedule and struggles of both lines ultimately upended a season that seemed promising in August, when Oregon State was picked in the conference's top three by just about everyone.
So it might be worthwhile to revisit each.
Starting with Arizona, which finished 7-6.
Best case: 10-3 finish after Alamo Bowl victory over Oklahoma and final No. 11 ranking.
What was right: The Wildcats did start 7-1, with the loss coming in a tight game with Oregon State. They did suffer a dispiriting loss at Stanford in Week 9. They ended up in the Alamo Bowl.
What was wrong: What happened after the fast start. The best case had the Wildcats going 3-1 down the stretch after the Stanford loss, losing only to Oregon. The reality was a five-game losing streak, including a blowout bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
Worst case: 5-7 finish, no bowl game
What was right: Defensive struggles frustrating coach Mike Stoops. Losses to Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Oregon and Arizona State, with the loss to the Sun Devils coming in particularly excruciating fashion.
What was wrong: Losses to Iowa and Washington. The Wildcats reached a bowl game. Elite state recruits Christian Westerman and Brett Hundley have committed to Auburn and UCLA, not Arizona State.
Conclusion: The Wildcats made the best and worst cases come true. The first half of the season was the best case. The second, the worst case.
Hey, it could be worse.
It should come as no surprise that the SEC reigns supreme in ESPN Stats & Information final college football conference rankings for 2010. Sure, the SEC was only 5-5 this bowl season, but it won a fifth consecutive national championship -- with a fifth different team in the BCS Era -- and finished with six teams in the final AP poll.
The Pac-10 blog has taken issue with the almost reflexive assumption of SEC supremacy a number of times in the past, mostly because the Pac-10 blog -- humbly -- only wished to educate the ignorant. The Pac-10 blog, however, will only tip its cap to the SEC this year.
The SEC was way ahead of the Pac-10 in the final tally, while the Pac-10, No. 3 Big 12 and No. 4 Big Ten were fairly tight. More than a few folks from the Big 12 might give the final rankings a "harrumph." The Big 12, after all, had five teams ranked in the final top-25, the Pac-10 just two.
In an interesting twist, it is the Pac-10 that appears top-heavy compared to the Texas-Oklahoma conference. With No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford, the Pac-10 is the only conference with two teams ranked in the final top-five, but after that no other teams ended up in the top-25, and only one, Washington, received any votes in either final major poll.
And that was just a single vote in the Coaches poll. FYI: Steve Sarkisian was a voter this season.
The Pac-10 is helped in the conference standings by bowl victories against teams ranked in the final AP poll: Stanford against No. 16 Virginia Tech, the ACC champion, and Washington against No. 20 Nebraska, the Big 12 North champ. Further, the Pac-10 posted nonconference wins against Iowa, Notre Dame and Hawaii -- all three received votes in both final polls -- as well as Syracuse and Louisville, which both won bowl games. Victories against Texas, Colorado, Wake Forest, Tennessee and Houston don't carry as much weight as they would in most seasons, but they contributed to a strong 17-12 overall record versus FBS foes and a 12-7 mark against AQ conference foes.
While some are hung up on the Pac-10 only producing four bowl-eligible teams -- it actually was five; USC was just ineligible because of NCAA sanctions -- the tough nonconference schedules and the nine-game conference slate are mostly responsible for that. Arizona State, which lost by a single point at Wisconsin, would have been bowl eligible if San Jose State didn't break a game contract to chase a payday with Alabama, and the same could be said of Oregon State if it didn't schedule a pair of top-10 nonconference foes (No. 2 TCU and No. 9 Boise State).
The Pac-10's arduous schedule is accounted for, by the way, in the highly respected Sagarin Ratings, which rank the Pac-10 No. 1.
Still, the Pac-10 wasn't No. 1 in its final year before it becomes the Pac-12. The SEC earned the top spot after beating the undefeated Pac-10 champion for the national title.
Again, a tip of the cap. No trash talk.
One last thing, though: Oregon-LSU, Sept. 3.