Pac-12: Jake Heaps

Mailbag: Who cares about the Rose Bowl?

April, 6, 2012
4/06/12
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Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter. Doing so is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Promise.

To the notes.

Richard from Aspen, Colo., writes: With the BCS announcing their thoughts on the future of the post season, there seems to be a lot of talk about trying to preserve the tradition of the Rose Bowl in the new format. Having talked with a number of my Pac-12 friends, their seems to be a common sentiment of "What tradition? The BCS has already ruined the Rose Bowl. Why save it now?" It's hard to argue that point with teams like TCU, Texas and Oklahoma playing in the game, over the last decade, not to mention all the runners up who've played in substitution of a conference champion playing in the national title game. So what's the point? Why should we save the Rose Bowl when the other conferences are willing to throw away their high dollar bowls in favor of a playoff? And why should the other 9 FBS conferences bend over backwards to appease the B1G and Pac-12 when AQ status appears to be going away?

Ted Miller: Oregon's game with Wisconsin seemed plenty Rose Bowl-y to me.

I may be the wrong one to comment on this because, having covered every BCS bowl game multiple times, my conclusion is none even approaches the atmosphere of the Rose Bowl. I love Miami, Phoenix and New Orleans as destination cities. But when the game itself is played, the Rose Bowl is like nothing else in American sport.

This isn't just a West Coast bias, by the way. Repeated confirmation on this has come from fans and media from outside the Pac-12 and Big Ten who have witnessed a "Rose Bowl." To get the Rose Bowl, you have to attend one. And you almost never hear an "overrated" from anyone who has (though a losing team's fans don't seem as nostalgic).

That, in itself, reflects some of my, perhaps personal, perspective here. To me, the Rose Bowl is more about pageantry, date and venue than the teams playing in it. While a, say, Texas-Michigan Rose Bowl gives everyone a jolt -- most notably California fans (all together now, "GRRRRRRRR!") -- I'm not sure many walked away from that 38-37 thriller in 2005 going, "Neh."

But this isn't just about romance, either. It's about money. The Rose Bowl is the most valuable of all the bowl games, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 know this. They want to protect it as an asset, despite compromises to make the present form of the BCS happen that ended the purity of the matchup.

The ideal scenario for the Pac-12 and Big Ten is some sort of playoff that allows the Pac-12 to make more money AND continue its special relationships with the Rose Bowl. Will that happen? I wouldn't, at present, bet against it.

As to why the other conferences would bend over backward for the Big Ten and Pac-12: Well, because they want to get a deal done and the Pac-12 and Big Ten hold a lot of power in getting one done.


Kyle from Bellevue, Wash., writes: What do you think of Husky fans pulling out the old "WDWHA" (we didn't want him anyway) with Max Browne? I feel like it's a pretty big deal that Washington has lost out on the state's top prospect for two years in a row now, but many seem to brush it off as inconsequential, pointing out the fact that there are already a few highly touted QBs on the roster. Through the abysmal and embarrassing decade of football that preceded the Sark hire, Dawg fans obviously are gasping for any type of positivity. However, do you think Husky fans have become too complacent with mediocrity and too apathetic regarding the shortcomings of the program?

Ted Miller: Ah, it appears someone noted my Twitter exchange with some Huskies fans.

Couple of points here: A team always wants to sign the best in-state guys. Period. That's why the "build a wall around the state" recruiting cliché began.

In the glory days of Don James, Washington typically signed most of the best in-state players. Washington State got some, too. And a couple bolted. But the Huskies were, in most cases, the first choice of top athletes who prepped in the Seattle-Tacoma area, where most of the state's population is based.

Washington going forward as a top-25 program under Steve Sarkisian will sign a majority of the top players in the state. Sarkisian did just that in 2011, but he fell short in 2012. And the residue of that affects the perception of Max Browne picking USC over the Huskies.

Browne is not only the best prospect in the state of Washington, he also may be the best QB in the nation. How many times does the state of Washington produce the No. 1 QB in the nation anyway? Getting him would have made a statement for Washington, not to mention provided recruiting momentum -- as in, "Hey, Mr. Top-Rated receiver. Do you see who just committed to us? Better get on-board the Max Browne Express!"

Not getting him also makes a statement, but it's not one we should overblow. Just note. It's clearly something, but not everything. That statement? That's obvious. The Huskies haven't yet locked the borders of the state under Sarkisian.

Not overblowing things? Well, this is hardly grounds for Huskies fans to jump into their beds and wail into their pillows about the unfairness of things -- "Max Browne! WAAAAAAAAAA!"

For one, the last time a so-called elite QB from Skyline High School (Sammamish, Wash.) bolted the state, things didn't go so badly. Jake Heaps struggled at BYU, got benched and now he's transferring to Kansas. And Washington ended up with a guy named Keith Price, who's turned out OK. The Huskies also signed two highly rated QBs in February, one from out of state (Cyler Miles) and one in-state (Jeff Lindquist).

Further, some general perspective: You can't get everybody. I remember talking to an elite player from the Seattle area who told me, "I was so sick of the rain, they had no chance with me." Some guys purely want to get away from home, for whatever reason.

I was a piddling high school player in Atlanta whose specialty was provoking unsportsmanlike conduct penalties from opposing players by being really -- really -- annoying, but if I had been good enough to have my pick of colleges I would have left the Southeast. Why? Adventure, academics and a need to get away from fried food.

Ultimately, if Sarkisian keeps signing top-25 classes that produce wins on the field, it's really not that big of a deal where the players are from. But Huskies fans have a right to be demanding of their program, and Browne opting to sign with USC is one of those moments to file away in a folder titled, "Potential Red Flags."

By the way, Sark and his highly paid staff are big boys. They know all this.


Aaron from Pullman, Wash., writes: So I've noticed you've made a lot of mentions about Oregon, Stanford, and UW being the top 3 of the Pac12 North. You even have OSU as a "surprise team". Just out of curiosity with an amazing new coach (Mike Leach), a returning Veteran QB (Jeff Tuel), and an amazing group of receivers which includes Marquess Wilson; what would convince you that WSU can crack the top 3 in the North? Let alone be the "surprise team" that can join the PAC 12 bowl hunts!

Ted Miller: I do think the top of the Pac-12 North Division pecking order goes Oregon, Stanford and Washington. I think California is a dark horse to break into that troika. And I think Oregon State is a team that could dramatically improve, which means to me going from 3-9 to 6-6.

Washington State? It went 4-8 last year and I'd rate it's over-under on wins at six. It helps not to play USC. It hurts to play at BYU and UNLV in the nonconference slate. Road games are never easy, even if the Rebels aren't supposed to be good.

I was higher on the Cougars before two likely starting linebackers got the boot. When you're switching to a 3-4 defense, and you are replacing the three starters from last year's 4-3, well, do the math. Further, there are questions on both lines. And you never know how quickly the adjustment will be with a new coach and new systems.

So there are questions. But if you are looking for reasons for optimism, you hit on a few: Leach is a maestro of the passing game and Tuel has a good receiving corps with which to work.

I've sort of got a wait-and-see attitude here. That could change quick with a season-opening win at BYU.

Let's put it this way: I don't see the Cougars breaking into the top three of the North. But I'd certainly not be surprised if they get to a bowl game.


AJ from Los Angeles writes: CAN THE USC BE A LEGITIMATE NATIONAL TITLE CONTENDER CONSIDERING THE "D" IS MEDIOCRE?

Ted Miller: YES.

And if the Trojans stay healthy on their defensive front, the defense will be better than mediocre. Perhaps much better than mediocre.

Top QB Browne will commit Wednesday

April, 3, 2012
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Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline), one of the nation's top quarterback recruits, will announce his commitment Wednesday at 7 p.m. PT, according to ESPN Recruiting, which reports, "Browne has narrowed his choices to Alabama, Oklahoma, USC and Washington, although with recent visits to see the Sooners and Trojans, most think it will come down to those two programs."

So USC or Oklahoma for the 6-foot-5, 205 pounder?

Browne leaving for the Sooners would be a blow for the hometown Huskies, who are struggling to build the proverbial "wall" around their home state. During the 2011-12 recruiting season, most of the elite, local prospects crossed state lines to play football. The state featured five elite recruits: Offensive linemen Zach Banner and Josh Garnett, running back KeiVarae Russell, receiver Cedric Dozier and QB Jeff Lindquist. Only Lindquist signed with the Huskies.

Of course, the Huskies did much better in 2011 when they signed TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, WR Kasen Williams, DT Danny Shelton -- three players who, by the way, lived up to their recruiting hype as true freshmen.

Still, in order to return to the nation's elite, Washington must win most of the recruiting battles for in-state prospects most years. That's part of the reason coach Steve Sarkisian was willing to pay top dollar to lure ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from California.

While some prospects go in search of a warmer, sunnier climate, and there's little coaches can do to charm them out of that thinking, part of getting the Huskies back into the nation's top 25 is making elite recruits want to stay home. For every Jake Locker who decides to play for the Huskies, there are too many guys like Jonathan Stewart (Oregon), Stephen Schilling (Michigan), Taylor Mays (USC), David DeCastro (Stanford), Deandre Coleman (California) and Jake Heaps (BYU).

As for Browne, the situation at Washington would seem ideal for him. Keith Price would be a senior his redshirt freshman year, giving him a year to acclimate himself before fighting for the job in 2014.

From ESPN Recruiting: "Browne completed 70 percent of his passes for 4,034 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior. He plans to enroll early at his school of choice and has a good shot to be recognized as the top quarterback in the class of 2013."

It will be a big loss for the Huskies if he opts to cross state lines.

Pac-12 lunch links: Leach arrives in Pullman

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
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Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labours of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.

'Holy War' is going to feel different

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
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The Pac-12 blog is worried about Utah.

Now that Utah is in the Pac-12, a member of the privileged class, is it going to forget how to properly dislike BYU? Is it going to eyeball the Cougars on Saturday and think, "You know, blue really brings out their eyes!"

This thought vexes the Pac-12 blog, which feeds on the often irrational passion of college football.

[+] EnlargeUtah Utes beat BYU Cougars
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireUtah rallied back from a large fourth-quarter deficit last season to beat BYU.
So, Utah, we've brought back a friend to remind you how you should feel about BYU because this is how BYU feels about you.

"I don't like Utah," former BYU quarterback Max Hall said after the Cougars beat the Utes in 2009. "In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, I hate their fans, I hate everything ... I think the whole university, their fans and their organization, is classless. They threw beer on my family and stuff last year, and they did a whole bunch of nasty things, and I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose."

Utes, the Cougars are going to be gunning for you hard Saturday. There's the natural state rivalry, sure, but there's a third, highly-motivating color involved other than red and blue: green.

Green as in the money Utah is soon going to be making in the Pac-12. And green as in the green-eyed monster of jealousy: BYU isn't happy the Utes jumped to the Pac-12 and it wasn't invited.

And, by the way, BYU is pretty darn good, having won at Ole Miss and falling just short at Texas. Ten starters are back on offense, including quarterback Jake Heaps, from a team that went 7-6 in 2010.

Further, this game has been highly competitive in recent years. Five of the past six have been decided by a touchdown or less. Two of those went into overtime. Last year, Utah rallied from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 17-16. The game was decided when the Utes blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired.

Utes linebacker Chaz Walker didn't seem too concerned that BYU and Utah fans and players will start palling around. When asked if the so-called "Holy War" was a bitter or friendly rivalry, he spoke carefully but without much ambiguity.

"Probably a little bit on the dislike side," he said. "There's not many BYU players you see hanging out with Utah players."

The feel of the game will be different, though. For one, it no longer counts in the conference standings. In previous seasons, the matchup often had significant Mountain West Conference ramifications. Further, instead of the chill of a season-finale in late November, this one will feature the pleasant weather of mid-September.

For Utah, it also brings the grind of the new Pac-12 schedule front-and-center. The Utes must regroup and refocus after a tough, physical loss at USC. It's likely the bye week that follows will feel pretty good.

Perhaps the Pac-12 blog shouldn't worry. After talking to a few folks on the Utah end of things, it seems clear BYU has the Utes' attention. And always will when they go nose-to-nose.

Said coach Kyle Whittingham, "It's the biggest single sporting event in the course of a year. It's the biggest thing that happens in this state."

Best case-worst case: Utah

August, 23, 2011
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Fifth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Utah

Best case

When 94,000 people gasp at the same time, it creates something even more dramatic than the bedlam that inevitably follows.

Everyone in the Coliseum saw USC cornerback Nickell Robey fall down. They saw Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher turn and sprint alone up the visitor's sideline. And they saw Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn recognize the situation, and, with a notably relaxed setup and sendoff, launch what became an 85-yard touchdown pass for a 35-28 victory over the Trojans.

The Utes all-time Pac-12 record becomes 1-0.

"I think the Utes proved they belong," says ESPN GameDay's Kirk Herbstreit. "They will be a factor in the Pac-12 South."

Utes coach Kyle Whittingham seems amused with fans and reporters immediately building monuments to commemorate the moment. "It's one football game," he said. "You know, we've beaten some pretty good teams before."

The Utes don't have too much time to celebrate, considering their turnaround game is a visit to BYU for "Holy War."

A secret meeting of the MUSS executive counsel is set for Monday to plan a variety of "classless" strategies. The 12 members properly devise all sorts of horrible things to do to BYU fans, particularly Cougars players' families.

The Utes stomp the Cougars 33-10. Utah fans remains classy throughout. Smug, but classy.

The Utes move up to 10th in the nation with a win over Washington, which sets up a critical showdown with unbeaten South rival Arizona State.

Linebacker Brian Blechen grabs a late interception to preserve a 24-21 victory.

"Are the Utes going to go to the Rose Bowl their first year in the Pac-12?" ESPN's Chris Fowler asks. "What does that say about the old members of the Pac-10?"

"I don't know if it says anything other than it confirms what we suspected: The Utes are good," Herbstreit replies.

After whipping Pittsburgh 31-10, however, the wheels come off at California. The Utes yield four sacks and commit four turnovers in a 21-17 defeat.

They bounce back at home with a win over Oregon State, but the Utes secondary gets picked apart in Tucson by Arizona quarterback Nick Foles in a 38-24 defeat. That creates a three-way tie with the Utes, Wildcats and Sun Devils atop the South Division.

"Do I think the grind of the Pac-12 schedule is finally getting to us?" Whittingham says, repeating a reporter's question. "If you mean does playing a tougher schedule make it tougher to win every week, I'd say yes. That's not exactly quantum mechanics, is it?"

The Utes bounce back with a win over UCLA and a double-overtime victory at Washington State. After Arizona State beat Arizona, the Utes only need to beat Colorado to win the inaugural South Division championship.

But there is intrigue.

"Coach Embree's daughter's bike was painted red?" a befuddled Whittingham asks. "Is the Pac-12 going to be weird like this all the time?"

Despite the Buffaloes using the "Red Bike Incident" for motivation, Wynn tosses three touchdown passes in a 31-24 win.

The Utes finish the regular season 10-2 and ranked ninth. They also win the South Division and earn a berth opposite top-ranked Stanford in the first Pac-12 championship game.

Stanford prevails 38-24 as Andrew Luck passes for 305 yards and two TDs and rushes for another.

"The story here is Luck surely sewing up the Heisman and the Cardinal playing Alabama for the national title," Fowler says. "But what a first season in the Pac-12 for Utah."

The Utes whip Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl 33-17 and finish ranked eighth.

They then sign their first top-25 recruiting class. "Coach," a reporter asks, "how's it feel to be ranked 21st in the ESPN.com recruiting rankings?"

"Oh, I don't care about recruiting rankings -- we just sign guys who want to come here and we think can help us," Whittingham says. "But it was 20th. Get it right."

Worst case

USC quarterback Matt Barkley throws for 380 yards and three touchdowns against a rebuilt Utah secondary as the Trojans roll over the Utes 42-20.

"No, that's a good team; we respect them," Barkley says afterwards. "But we wanted them to get a proper welcome to the Pac-12. This ain't the Mountain West."

The Utes still seem shell-shocked a week later, and rival BYU takes advantage. Jake Heaps throws a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes as the Cougars win the "Holy War" 28-17.

"They think they're all that because they're in the Pac-12," Heaps says. "But they're still just the second-best program in Utah."

After the game, it's revealed that Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn "tweaked" his shoulder and that Jon Hays will start against Washington after the bye week.

"We hope to get Jordan back for the Arizona State game," coach Kyle Whittingham says.

The Huskies roll over the Utes 31-17.

Wynn comes back against Arizona State, but struggles early and gets up slowly after a sack from Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

Hays starts the third quarter, and Burfict and the Sun Devils defense dominate, holding the Utes to 28 yards in the second half.

"Lots of talk in the preseason about Utah being immediately competitive in the Pac-12," remarks ESPN's Chris Fowler. "I know Wynn's been hurt, but so far the old Pac-10 is being fairly rude to its new member."

It's announced that Wynn is done for the season.

Hays and the Utes win at Pittsburgh to improve to 2-4, but they get dominated at California, 41-10. They slip Oregon State at home, but Arizona QB Nick Foles throws for 405 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-20 Wildcats win in Tucson.

UCLA doesn't have a quarterback who can exploit the struggling Utes secondary, but Washington State does. The Cougars win 33-30 in overtime, and the Utes fall to 4-7. The season finale is at home against Colorado.

"I've got a lot more things to worry about other than a vandalized bike, of which I know nothing about," Whittingham says.

Denver Post headline: "Whittingham doesn't care about Embree's daughter's bike. Or her feelings!"

Colorado picks up its seventh win with a 30-21 victory. Buffaloes 6-foot-8 guard Ryan Miller walks out of Rice-Eccles Stadium among his celebrating teammates holding a gold and black bike above his head, one that appears to have been vandalized with cheap, red spray paint.

BYU, now an Independent, signs a broadcast deal with ESPN that will pay it an average of $25 million a year over the next 12 years.

"We are classy," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe says. "And rich!"

The Pie closes.

Washington's defense needs to step up

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
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Jake Locker, Jake Locker, Jake Locker. This isn't an article about him.

It's about something that has been doing a perhaps surprisingly good job making Locker's life difficult the past few weeks: The Washington defense.

[+] EnlargeMason Foster
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesMason Foster thinks the defense will be just as good as the team's highly-touted offense.
"We are actually holding the offense and making stops," linebacker Mason Foster said. "We've had pretty good battles throughout camp."

I know. No way. The Huskies lost their two best defensive players -- linebacker Donald Butler and end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim -- to the NFL from a unit that ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in total defense (389.5 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (26.7 ppg).

But the Huskies defense has consistently hinted during fall camp that it's not going to be the weakling counterpart to what should be an explosive offense.

"They've caused us some problems on offense," said coach Steve Sarkisian, who calls the offensive plays. "They've caused turnovers. They've gotten after the quarterback."

Foster, a senior and all-conference candidate, said the young guys who were forced into action last year are in far better physical condition. Along those lines, Sarkisian noted that junior noseguard Alameda Ta'amu is no longer just a massive mound of inert space filler -- who at his best is merely hard to move. After dropping 30 pounds to 330, he's a guy who can get into the backfield and make plays.

The secondary also appears significantly improved with corners Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson and safeties Nate Fellner, Nate Williams and Will Shamburger. The apparent successful return of end Everrette Thompson from a torn Achilles should bolster the pass rush.

But it's not just about maturing physically, getting healthy and conditioning better. A year ago, coordinator Nick Holt was only that slightly menacing guy who was always barking at them about not understanding what it takes to play great defense. Now the defensive guys and Holt are playing the same tune, one that probably sounds a bit like Rage Against the Machine.

"They've got a real mentality right now," Sarkisian said. "What I like most about it is they've really adopted Nick's personality. They are aggressive. They are tough. They are smart."

Of course, this also merely could be preseason optimism (or maybe the Huskies offense won't be all that potent). The unit certainly will be tested at BYU on Saturday. Sure, the Cougars only have 11 starters back and are replacing quarterback Max Hall. But they have won 43 games over the past four seasons: They are fairly close to the proverbial "reload not rebuild" category.

While there may be some sentiment about the trip for Sarkisian -- he was BYU's quarterback in 1995-96 -- the Huskies players probably don't look too fondly at the Cougars. In their 2008 game in Seattle, Locker scored what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown in the waning moments -- pending the PAT -- but he was flagged for a celebration penalty after flicking the ball into the air.

Just about everyone thought the penalty ridiculous, at least outside of Provo. Of course, barely anyone would remember the call if the Huskies hadn't blown the extra point and subsequently lost 28-27.

That was about as close to respectability as the Huskies would come during an 0-12 season that ended the Tyrone Willingham Era and brought in Sarkisian.

Moreover, one of BYU's quarterbacks -- it appears two will play versus the Huskies -- is true freshman Jake Heaps, a product of Washington State powerhouse Skyline High School. He picked BYU over Washington last winter, and there are just a few whispers that some of the Huskies might be eager to make him feel like he made a mistake.

"I didn't even really know he was from around here until a couple weeks ago," Foster said. "That's going to make it a little more exciting -- a big-time recruit from the state of Washington that went to another school and will play as a true freshman. It's going to be fun to get a couple of hits on him."

The Huskies -- suddenly -- have high expectations. Only two years removed from an 0-12 season, they are thinking about more than just earning their first bowl berth since 2002.

"It's a total turnaround," Foster said. "No more losing every game. The mindset is different. We're really looking forward to coming out in competing at the top of the conference this year."

A total turnaround likely would make Locker a leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

But that's not going to happen if the defense can't make stops.

Best case-worst case: Washington

July, 19, 2010
7/19/10
9:00
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Sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Washington

Best case

Certainly Washington quarterback Jake Locker answers the bell at BYU after a summer of coast-to-coast publicity that perhaps pushed to the precipice of proper decorum, but the more interesting story is the quarterback who found himself contemplating Provo's beautiful Wasatch Mountains from a supine position most of the day.

"All I saw was purple," says BYU's true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, who hails from the Seattle area. "I mean, I know they were in their road white jerseys and everything, but after the sixth or ninth hit, things started to get fairly dark out there for me."

The Huskies ostensibly suspect defense sacks Heaps five times and harasses him throughout the day. Ends Kalani Aldrich and Everette Thompson, who sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries, both take down Heaps twice.

"It was a most illuminating performance," Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt says. "I told the lads to never give in. Never give in! Never; never; never; never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

Reporters are baffled as to why Holt suddenly sounds like Winston Churchill, but then Locker comes out for his interview and distracts them.

After easily dispatching Syracuse, Nebraska pays a visit to an overflowing Husky Stadium. With ESPN's "College GameDay" on campus, it's billed as a showdown between Locker and the Cornhuskers top-ranked defense. What it becomes is an electric moment when all observers witness the realization of extraordinary potential.

In a tour de force performance, Locker completes 26 of 32 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns and rushes for 93 yards and two touchdowns as the Huskies stun No. 7 Nebraska 31-24.

"Well," says ESPN's Chris Fowler afterward. "Guess the Locker skeptics will hush now."

The rejuvenated Husky nation comes back down to earth after a 35-27 loss at USC, but the Huskies bounce back to beat Arizona State and then announce themselves as Pac-10 contenders with a victory over Oregon State.

Still, while Locker is clearly ready for prime time, the Huskies remain a program clawing its way back into the national picture. An overtime loss at Arizona and a home loss to Stanford -- Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck and Locker each account for three TDs apiece in a duel of future NFL first-round picks -- knock the Huskies out of the national rankings. A visit to unbeaten and third-ranked Oregon doesn't look promising. The Ducks last lost to the Huskies in 2003 in the once-heated rivalry.

"Wow," says Rece Davis back in the ESPN studios after Washington rolls over the Ducks 41-17. "If Jake Locker isn't atop your Heisman Trophy contender list, I don't know what you're thinking. Who would have thought that Autzen Stadium would provide him such an accommodating stage to record a signature performance."

That victory becomes the first of a four-game winning streak, as Washington completes its return to national prominence.

Locker becomes the 76th Heisman Trophy winner and the first from Washington. A 31-24 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl earns the Huskies a 10-3 finish and a final No. 9 ranking.

The school announces that Bill Gates has agreed to fund a $450 million renovation of Husky Stadium.

"He told me he now wants to be to Washington what Phil Knight is to Oregon," Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward tells reporters. "Only he's got a lot more money than Phil Knight."

Worst case

There are ankle sprains and there are "high" ankle sprains and then there are catastrophic ankle sprains.

The latter is what Locker suffers while diving into the end zone in the third quarter at BYU. The Cougars and Heaps come back from a 10-point deficit to earn the win.

"We hope Jake will be back soon," says coach Steve Sarkisian, "but he obviously has a future in this game, and we're not going to rush him."

With redshirt freshman Keith Price replacing Locker, the Washington offense does just enough to beat Syracuse, but gets dominated by Nebraska and USC. A 14-10 win over Arizona State provides some hope, particularly when rumors spread that Locker will be ready for Oregon State's visit the following weekend. But Locker aggravates his ankle while doing some light running, and the Huskies lose their next four, including a 51-10 loss at unbeaten Oregon.

"Embarrassing," says linebacker Mason Foster.

It's announced that Locker is done for the season.

The Huskies miss a late field goal and lose 21-20 at California, and they limp into the Apple Cup hoping to salvage some pride during a lost season. In Pullman, it's zero degrees and there's three feet of snow on the ground when the Huskies walk out for the opening kickoff.

Neither team can score a TD, and Washington leads 9-3 late. But an errant shotgun snap in the fourth quarter gets by Price and is recovered at the 1-yard line by Cougars defensive end Travis Long. On fourth down, Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel runs a naked boot and runs into Foster. The ball gets away. It rolls into the end zone. The Cougars recover for a touchdown, and the PAT gives them a 10-9 lead with two minutes left.

Price drives the Huskies to the WSU 10-yard line. But the snap for the potential game-winning field goal goes over the holder's head.

Cougars win. They finish 5-7. Washington is 3-9.

"We're heard a lot during the summer about Washington being back in the Pac-10 hunt," Long says afterward. "Well, they took our place in the cellar and we've got everyone coming back next year. So you tell me which program is on the rise?"

Pac-10 lunch links: UCLA's D-line takes a hit

June, 16, 2009
6/16/09
2:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of.

  • It appears that UCLA has lost a JC defensive tackle recruit who would have competed for a starting job immediately.
  • The Pac-10 boasts a number of potential All-Americans at cornerback this fall, and this guy from California may be the best
  • Former Oregon receiver-quarterback Chris Harper will transfer to Kansas State and play QB. And the Ducks might lose another receiver.
  • Dave Boling nails this column on Nick Montana's commitment to Washington, which at this point is a better "get" that in-state star Jake Heaps. 
  • Washington vs. Washington State: Just what is self-sufficiency?
  • Evaluating Washington State's new uniforms.
  • Ryan Leaf might be digging himself into a deeper hole.
  • Interesting LA Times Q&A with out-going Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen, who talks about the USC and the NCAA, the Pac-10 bowl structure and the resistance to a playoff.
  • Not sure how realistic it is, but Jon Wilner reimagines a more prestigious future Pac-10 bowl lineup. I like 1, 2, 3 -- moving the Alamo Bowl into the No. 2 spot ahead of the Holiday Bowl -- but I've always had a soft spot for the Sun Bowl because the folks down there work so hard and take such pride in their game.

Pac-10 lunch links: Conference expansion? Why not Utah?

June, 11, 2009
6/11/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

You got any idea what my life would be worth if certain people found out I checked into a laughing academy?

Pac-10 lunch links: Montana commits to Washington

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Seven's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. Seven dwarfs. Seven, man, that's the number. Seven chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea? It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.

  • Washington lost out on Jake Heaps but may emerge a bigger winner after it got a commitment from Nick Montana, son of a guy you may have heard of.
  • Good news for California fans from the San Francisco Chronicle: "[Running back Jahvid] Best is running full speed and changing directions, with no limitations in the wake of his rehabilitation." 
  • Here are some ideas for cost containment in the Pac-10.
  • Oregon State lost a football recruit to the baseball draft.
  • A Q&A with Stanford cornerback Michael Thomas.
  • Nick Saban invaded USC yesterday ... for a GameDay shoot. And here. Urban Meyer was in LA for the shoot, too. Think Saban and Meyer asked Carroll about Lane Kiffin? Here's a picture of Carroll and Kirk Herbstreit.
  • More on the Rick Neuheisel-Pete Carroll dust-up over youngsters on the sideline. Again: The interesting element of the story is not the nature of the rule, it's that Carroll was the only Pac-10 coach who voted against Neuheisel's proposal.
  • USC safety Taylor Mays and receiver Damian Williams try their hands at video journalism. Sort of.
  • Whatever happened to one-year Washington defensive coordinator Ed Donatell?

Catching up on some odds and ends

June, 8, 2009
6/08/09
10:43
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Picking up some Pac-10 odds and ends that got overlooked while I was on a mission in a galaxy far, far away ...

  • Bud Withers on the death of former Washington coach Jim Owens. 
  • UCLA's redshirt freshman defensive end Damien Holmes underwent surgery to remove a bone fragment from his right elbow Friday. He is expected to be ready for fall practices.
  • Arizona State defensive end Dexter Davis is writing a blog as part of requirements for a summer class. It's called "Sack Lunch with Dexter Davis."
  • Three Pac-10 players made the top 10 of The Sporting News' Matt Hayes' list of the nation's best players in 2009 and a fourth ended up in the top 25.
  • Details of new Washington coach Steve Sarkisian's contract were revealed by the Seattle Times.
  • The U.S. military is interested in Pete Carroll's "Win Forever" philosophy, according to his Web site: "Carroll was a specially invited attendee and speaker at the military's Conference on Small Unit Excellence, a first-of-its-kind seminar in Alexandria, Va., in late April that has since laid the foundation for revolutionary shifts in the actions and attitudes of the country's armed forces."
  • The Pac-10 is going to stick with round-robin scheduling and focus on cutting costs.
  • Tom Luginbill believes touted quarterback Jake Heaps (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline High) made the right decision by picking BYU over Washington and others, and the Huskies have other QBs on their radar.

Pac-10 lunch links: Beavers tightening their belts

June, 5, 2009
6/05/09
2:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Oregon State is focusing on belt-tightening in this economic climate, Cliff Kirkpatrick writes in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, though the Beavers are trying to avoid dropping sports.

[Athletic director Bob De Carolis] pointed out revenue is down $1 million in its Beaver Athletic Scholarship Fund fund-raising effort for this time of the year to $10 million.

Approximately 1,000 donors have stopped contributing with only 400 new ones replacing them. There is a 12 percent non-renewal rate in season tickets, dropping the level to about 1,200.

Budget issues will be a main focus of the upcoming Pac-10 meetings.

• With coveted recruit Jake Heaps going to BYU, Washington will turn its search for a future quarterback to Jesse Scroggins and Nick Montana, Todd Milles writes in the Tacoma News Tribune.

The Oregon Daily Emerald has a feature on Mike Bellotti transitioning from the sidelines to athletic director.

• UCLA quarterback Chris Forcier, the brother of Michigan's Tate Forcier, is transferring to Furman, Brian Dohn says in the L.A. Daily News.

• Topps is set to release a Jackie Robinson card in his UCLA football uniform, Adam Rose blogs in the L.A. Times.

Pac-10 lunch links: Hicks arrested again

June, 4, 2009
6/04/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Let's take a spin around the Pac-10.

  • More bad news for Washington State star safety Xavier Hicks, who was arrested for third degree driving with a suspended license. Is this the final strike for Hicks?
  • Washington has lost out on heralded prep quarterback Jake Heaps, who will announce his commitment to BYU Thursday, Bob Condotta and Tom Wyrwich write in The Seattle Times. Stanford, meanwhile, has landed a top quarterback from Utah in Dallas Lloyd.
  • UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and several of his colleagues recently spent the night in one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces, the Los Angeles Times' Adam Rose writes in his blog.
  • Oregon players Jeff Kendall and Cole Linehan slimmed down for life after football, and here's how, SI.com's George Dohrmann writes.
  • Cal hasn't responded well to high expectations in recent years, the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner writes in his blog.
  • Check out the Pac-10 TV schedule for football here.

Opening the Mailbag: Top-30 discussion and gripes

April, 10, 2009
4/10/09
5:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Happy Friday.

Why is Oregon safety T.J. Ward standing in my driveway in full uniform? Pacing. And pacing.

To your notes.

Blake from Beaverton writes: I'm assuming the top two on your top thirty (one) list is Mays and Best which is understandable but how come T.J. Ward isn't on there somewhere? Ward is pretty close to Walter Thurmond, if not better.

Ted Miller: Ward is an outstanding hitter. My guess is he'll become a complete player this year. But, to be honest, I'd bet if I went up to Ward after practice and asked him why he thought I didn't rank him among the top 30 he'd look me in the eye and go, "I need to be more consistent in coverage. I also need to not bite on play-action fakes."

I will not, however, go and ask him this in my driveway. I want Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti around to protect me.


Tom from Sacramento writes: Ted, I've been following your list of the 30 best players in the Pac-10, and I believe you're making a huge omission: SPECIAL TEAMS. Where are all the kickers and punters and KRs and PRs? As a Cal fan, I know Bryan Anger is one of the best punters in the country, and was vital to Cal's success last season. Do you think the Pac-10 is full of glass boots, or do you just not respect the guys that coaches depend on in the final seconds of many close games?

Ted Miller: Fair point. And talk about Anger management. Got lots of notes about him.

I'd just point out how rare it is for an NFL team to draft a punter or kicker early in the draft. Great ones are extremely valuable. And Anger is a freak. But if I were starting a team, there's no one on this list I'd trade for a punter or kicker, no matter how good.


Nate from Nashville writes: You ought to create a revised 30 best players at season's end, see how they compare to your pre-season predictions. I think by then, there will be more than just three of my Cal bears on the list.

Ted Miller: Nate, you may be correct. And that is a good idea. Seeing as I keep noting a potential top-10 finish for Cal, my guess is a receiver, defensive lineman, linebacker and maybe even a quarterback could be Bears added to a post-eason list.

We shall see.


Danny from Los Angeles writes: Ted, With regard to your Top 30 of the Pac-10, I wonder if all the underclassmen that entered the draft remained, where would they rank in that list? (E.g., Is Mark Sanchez in the top 5? Does Cameron Morrah make the top 30?)

Ted Miller: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton and Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd all would have made the list, with Sanchez and Britton clearly ranking toward the very top.

California tight end Cameron Morrah would have been considered but I don't think I would have ranked him top-30. It would have been close.


Todd from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Can you look at the recruiting done so far this year (for 2010 class) and let me know if my excitement for the Husky class is justified. It looks like Sark is getting the best talent in the state, and some good talent from out of state, to commit early and build a class that Heaps cannot say no to. Let me know your thoughts.

Ted Miller: Well, the Huskies already have seven oral commitments, apparently the most in the Pac-10, and appear to be mopping up in-state, though marquee in-state quarterback Jake Heaps is still on the board.

How could you not be excited about that?

The momentum is there. And it feels completely different than last year.

Now the question is whether they can keep up that momentum and get the signatures.

You Husky fans have been through a lot over the past few years. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to get pumped up when even a whiff of good news wafts through the Seattle fog.


Patrick from Garden Grove, Calif., writes: While following one of the links covering Cal's quarterback Kevin Riley i noticed that Tad Smith, Cal's #1 Tight End on the depth chart, suffered a broken scapula during one of their practices and could be out as long as 4-6 months. After an early exit for the NFL draft by last years starter Cameron Morrah, isn't this a big injury for the bears?

Ted Miller: Patrick, I've got good news for you, courtesy of Jonathan Okanes. At the bottom of his story from Friday he has this:

Tight end Tad Smith underwent surgery on his broken scapula Tuesday and is expected to be sidelined for 3½ months. Tedford expects Smith to be ready by the beginning of fall camp in August.

So you can let out that breath.


Cam from Albany, Ore, writes: Ted, It is looking more and more like Oregon will have Masoli, Blount, Dickson, Harper, Maehl,and the speedster Holland on the field at the same time next year. Who around the Pac-10, or the nation, can match that kind of talent at every position on offense?

Ted Miller: Every position? There are 300-pounders everywhere grunting.

That's certainly a nice group at the skill positions, though the receivers are unproven. My guess is USC, other than a big if at quarterback, is fairly excited about the nine starters it's got back. Florida also might have something to say if you're thinking nationally.

Oregon's issue on offense in 2009 will be the maturation of a rebuilt offensive line. And, by the way, its issue on defense will be the maturation of its defensive line.

And, as for the O-line, it's not just me saying that either.


Logan from Tucson, Ariz., writes: After watching Arizona's spring game I came away very impressed with Foles ability to move in the pocket. He is my opening day starter as of now. If you were Mike Stoops who is your starting QB if games started this weekend?

Ted Miller: I only watched one practice in Tucson, but it sounds like the two quarterbacks, Matt Scott and Nick Foles, were neck-and-neck throughout spring. Stoops told me he was happy with both. And he intimated that he might play both in the opener vs. Central Michigan to see how each reacts under fire. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't let both play in the first two games before the big visit to Iowa on Sept. 19.

At least, that's what I'd do.

Pac-10 lunch links: Saying goodbye to Ryan Davidson

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Links for your Monday.

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