Pac-12: James Franklin

Texas eyeballing Mora?

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
Texas wants to interview UCLA coach Jim Mora for its head coaching vacancy, according to multiple reports, including ESPN's NFL Insider Adam Schefter and Brett McMurphy.

Chip Brown of OrangeBloods Tweeted that Mora will interview "in the next few days." Texas has already reportedly interviewed Louisville's Charlie Strong and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. Baylor coach Art Briles also is thought to be in the mix.

Mora already turned down his alma mater Washington, thereby earning a raise for himself and his coaches along with certain guarantees about upgrades to UCLA's lagging facilities.

No question Mora would be a great hire for Texas. And he and his staff would move up a tax bracket in Austin. Or two.

Things could get interesting.

Pac-12 coaches not among the elite?

April, 10, 2013
Everybody loves rankings lists, and college football fans -- by necessity -- seem to like lists even more than average folk.

So we have Athlon making another list. First it ranked Pac-12 coaches. Now it ranks all 125 coaches for FBS programs.

Obviously, any ranking like this is highly subjective, as Kevin noted with his notes on the Pac-12 coach rankings.

I really like Athlon's top three. That would be mine. If Chip Kelly were still at Oregon, I'd rank him third, but he is not.

After that? Well, there were some head-scratchers.

LSU's Les Miles way down at No. 24? New Arkansas and former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema buried at No. 25? Vanderbilt's second-year coach James Franklin way up at 17? Three words: No, No, No.

There is no conceivable way to rank Franklin ahead of Miles, WHO HAS WON A NATIONAL TITLE!, nor is it reasonable to rate Franklin over Stanford's David Shaw, WHO HAS WON A ROSE BOWL, nor Bielema who owns THREE BIG TEN TITLES and won 68 games in seven years at Wisconsin.

Franklin? He's done some nice things at Vandy, making a terrible program respectable, but please identify for me a signature win from 2012? Or 2011. I'll wait here.

Yep. Nada.

Just last season, Shaw, who is No. 1 in the Pac-12 but only 20th in the nation, beat Oregon, which finished ranked No. 2, and WON THE ROSE BOWL. He's a muffed field goal away from winning consecutive BCS bowl games.

Vanderbilt, winners of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl over the doughty NC State a year after losing to Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, took advantage of a weakened SEC East, and it's notable that the one adventurous nonconference tilt ended up a double-digit loss at Northwestern. You know: The so-called slow Big Ten.

And I think Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is a bit high at No. 12, too.

(Deep breath) OK ... I'm OK.

Anyway: Here's how Athlon ranked the Pac-12 coaches in the nation (national rank).
  1. David Shaw, Stanford (20)
  2. Mike Riley, Oregon State (21)
  3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (22)
  4. Todd Graham, Arizona State (29)
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State (31)
  6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (44)
  7. Steve Sarkisian, Washington (45)
  8. Jim Mora, UCLA (54)
  9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah (55)
  10. Sonny Dykes, California (56)
  11. Lane Kiffin, USC (57)
  12. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (73)

Pac-12 South: 2012 face plants

December, 5, 2012
Every team in the Pac-12 had a face plant in 2012 -- a forehead-slapper of a game that either completely changed the trajectory of their season or was simply one that they'd like to have back. Here's a look at the face-plant games in the South Division. Tomorrow we'll look at the exact opposite -- the signature wins of each team and the impact it had on the season.
Arizona: The then-5-3 Wildcats were rolling since losing in overtime at Stanford on Oct. 6, which was a third consecutive loss to a highly ranked team. They'd blown out Washington and beaten USC on consecutive weekends. They looked to be making a move in the South Division. Then, as my almost-4-year-old would say, "Smackadoodle!" UCLA delivered one of the most shocking beatdowns -- 66-10! -- of the season, utterly destroying a team that had been surging. It was 21-0 after the first quarter, 42-3 at halftime and the Wildcats were shut out in the fourth. The Bruins outgained Arizona 611 yards to 257. Both of your esteemed Pac-12 bloggers picked the Wildcats to win, by the way. So we share a face plant here.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils were set up nicely for their visit to Missouri, starting with the fact that they were better than Missouri. For one, they'd beaten Missouri a year before, and the Tigers were going to be missing their QB and best player, James Franklin. The Sun Devils were off to a nice, efficient 2-0 start, playing with discipline and protecting the football. But just about everything went wrong, and a comeback fell short in a 24-20 defeat. The Sun Devils had four turnovers -- they had 19 in their other 11 games -- and had seven penalties for 54 yards -- they averaged 4.2 penalties for 34 yards in the other 11 games.
Colorado: Just about the entire, 1-11 season was a face plant, but each of the first three games stand out for specific reasons: 1. The 22-17 opening loss to Colorado State was a defeat to an in-state rival that wasn't any good, a blow that immediately killed hope for a fast start to build confidence; 2. The 30-28 loss to Sacramento State was a defeat to an FCS team; 3. The 69-14 loss to Fresno State was an epic blowout defeat against a non-AQ team in which the Buffaloes simply didn't seem to be trying. Take your pick.
UCLA: Bruins fans know what's coming: How the heck did UCLA lose 43-17 against a woeful California squad that finished 3-9? The easy answer is six turnovers, including four interceptions from QB Brett Hundley, nearly half of the 10 interceptions he threw all season. The Bruins led 7-3 after the first quarter -- on an interception return from D-lineman Cassius Marsh, no less -- but then everything fell apart. The Bears rushed for 186 yards and got four TD passes from Zach Maynard, piling up 486 total yards. Of course, UCLA traditionally stinks it up in Berkeley: This was its seventh consecutive loss in Strawberry Canyon.
USC: Just about any of the Trojans' five losses could count, but the 39-36 loss at Arizona on Oct. 27 really set the downward trajectory for the season, as it was the first of four losses in five games. USC went to Tucson still with hopes -- Pac-12 and even national hopes. The Trojans were 6-1 and ninth in the BCS standings. They seemed to have recovered from their loss at Stanford on Sept. 27. They led 28-13 in the third quarter. But just after QB Matt Barkley missed an easy TD pass, things went south. Arizona scored 26 unanswered points and the Trojans' hopes for a special season were quashed.
Utah: Before the season, the Utes were widely seen as perhaps the South Division's second-best team behind USC. So much for consensus opinions. Arizona State stomped on those with a 37-7 unmasking in both teams' Pac-12 opener. The Utes were sloppy, yes, turning the ball over three times, but they were physically manhandled and looked slow. It could have been worse, too. It was 21-0 after the first quarter. Arizona State outgained the Utes 512 yards to 209. It certainly felt like a strong statement that the jump from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12 would not be as seamless as some Utes folks had hoped, and coach Kyle Whittingham pretty much said as much after the game.
Missouri doesn't have quarterback James Franklin at its disposal as the Tigers host Arizona State tonight.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel told ESPN's Holly Rowe prior to kickoff that he had hoped Franklin would be able to go as the Tigers try to avoid a 1-2 start, but that he "can't play." Franklin was injured in last week's 41-20 loss to Georgia when Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones hit his arm as it was going forward on a pass attempt.

The injury isn't anticipated to be serious, but redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser got the start when Missouri kicked off against the Sun Devils tonight. Franklin has completed 38 of 62 passes for 400 yards with three touchdowns and an interception through two games this year.

Tonight is Berkstresser's first career start. He has thrown for 60 yards and a score on 5-of-5 passing this season.

Quick look at the early Pac-12 games

September, 15, 2012
Here's a look at the Pac-12 day games. Kevin will be reporting -- LIVE! -- from USC's visit to Stanford at 4:30 p.m., while Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett is in Columbus for California's visit to Ohio State, which is a noon ET kickoff.

Tennessee Tech (2-0) at No. 4 Oregon (2-0) 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting. Tennessee Tech is 0-28 against FBS programs. Tennessee Tech is coached by Watson Brown, brother to Texas coach Mack Brown. The Golden Eagles are coming off a 42-14 victory against Division II North Greenville. The big question is how long the Ducks starters stay in the game.

Portland State (1-1) at Washington (1-1) 4 p.m., FX: First meeting between the Northwest teams. The Vikings are coached by former two-time Husky captain Nigel Burton, who is in his third season at Portland State. Two former Huskies are on his staff, linebackers Lester Towns and Ikaika Malloe. The Huskies need to recover their mojo after getting unmanned 41-3 at LSU.

Arizona State (2-0) at Missouri (1-1) 4 p.m., ESPN2: The series is split 3-3, with the Sun Devils winning 37-30 in overtime last season in Tempe. ASU is 0-2 in Columbia. The Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC this season, and the Sun Devils are 0-5 all-time against SEC schools. There have been reports that Tigers dual-threat quarterback James Franklin is questionable with a shoulder injury. If he can't go, backup Corbin Berkstresser would likely replace him. And it would be the second consecutive weekend that the Sun Devils faced a backup quarterback.

Colorado (0-2) at Fresno State (1-1) 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network: This will be the sixth meeting between Colorado and Fresno State, but the first between the schools at Bulldog Stadium. Colorado leads the series 4-1. The Bulldogs' only victory came in 2001, 24-22, behind quarterback David Carr. The big question for the Buffaloes is how the ball will be split between quarterbacks Jordan Webb, the Kansas transfer who started the first two games, and Connor Wood, a Texas transfer who lost the preseason competition to Webb. Coach Jon Embree said both will play. And will converted fullback Christian Powell turn in another bruising 100-yard performance?

Pac-12 predictions: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
Welcome to Week 3. Ted and Kevin both went 7-5 in Week 2. Double yuck. The problem was all picks were identical, and neither picked an upset. Silly Pac-12 bloggers.

For the season, Ted is 16-7 and Kevin is 15-8.


Kevin: Washington State 35, UNLV 17: Time for the Cougars to get a win over an FBS team. Should happen this week against a UNLV squad that is 0-2 and fell to FCS school Northern Arizona. (Remember them, Arizona State?) If all goes according to plan, the starting offensive linemen should be crushing the buffet at the Rio by the third quarter.

Ted: Washington State 40, UNLV 20: While quarterback Jeff Tuel is decidedly questionable; backup Connor Halliday is experienced and capable. The guess here is things go a little more smoothly on both sides of the ball as new systems start to sink in.


Kevin: Ohio State 28, Cal 10: The defense, which was supposed to be the strength of this team, hasn't shown up yet. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo rushed for 97 yards -- most of it on zone reads the Bears couldn't stop. What's Braxton Miller going to do?

Ted: Ohio State 30, California 17: During the summer, I believed this was prime upset material. Then Cal played twice.

Kevin: Oregon 49, Tennessee Tech 14: It was De'Anthony Thomas in Week 1 and Kenjon Barner in Week 2. Who is the Duck du jour in what should be the latest Oregon pasting? Fortunately, Oregon's schedule allows for growth with younger players, and it needs that because of all the injuries of late.

Ted: Oregon 50, Tennessee Tech 10: Yawn. The good news is Oregon might have an interesting game the next week when Arizona comes to town. I bet Ducks fans are hungry for a game that at least raises an eyebrow.

Kevin: Washington 31, Portland State 7: Not a lot of time for the Huskies to get right after their ill-fated journey to Baton Rouge, La., with Stanford, USC and Oregon looming in the next three weeks. This might be their last opportunity for a win until late October/early November. They'd better take advantage of it.

Ted: Washington 30, Portland State 20: Will the Huskies be flat after falling flat at LSU? I suspect so. Not flat enough to lose but perhaps flat enough to further frustrate Huskies fans.

Kevin: USC 38, Stanford 24: David Shaw knows how to plan a scheme against USC's defense, so I'd expect the Cardinal to put up some points. But when push comes to shove, Stanford's defense won't get the number of stops needed to slow down the Trojans' passing attack.

Ted: USC 35, Stanford 20: I think it will be close at halftime, but the Trojans will pull away early in the fourth quarter. Eventually, Matt Barkley & Co. will gash the Cardinal secondary, and then Stanford won't be able to answer.

Kevin: Fresno State 31, Colorado 17: The Bulldogs showed a little bite against the Ducks -- enough to suggest they can certainly hang with, and beat, a lower-tier Pac-12 team.

Ted: Colorado 28, Fresno State 27: Why? Because I suspect we're going to see some pride from the Buffs.

Kevin: BYU 35, Utah 27: I think Utah will play inspired football given this week's turn of events. But last week we saw that the offensive line concerns are graver than we all initially thought. Bronco Mendenhall saw it too.

Ted: BYU 28, Utah 24: There's a lot going on at Utah, most notably injury issues. And it's not just quarterback Jordan Wynn. Running back John White and safety Eric Rowe are questionable. But the biggest issue, as Kevin noted, is the disappointing play of the offensive line.

Kevin: Arizona 49, South Carolina State 10: The offense has come together quickly. I'd expect Arizona to use this game to clean some things up before heading to Autzen for a game that suddenly looks very interesting.

Ted: Arizona 42, South Carolina State 20: I suspect that some fumes from the post-Oklahoma State victory celebration will cause the Wildcats to be a bit flat. They are fortunate the opponent will be forgiving.

Kevin: UCLA 48, Houston 21: Houston can't stop the run. UCLA isn't going to abandon the run. Another huge game for Johnathan Franklin and another win for the Bruins.

Ted: UCLA 44, Houston 24: Another possible flat performance, but the Bruins should recall the loss at Houston from 2011 to provide some motivation. Agree with Kevin: Franklin gets another 200, and his Heisman candidacy inches up another notch.

Kevin: Arizona State 38, Missouri 31: OK, ASU. I'll bite. The Sun Devils are second in the nation with six interceptions, and Missouri likes to throw a lot. Vegas likes the Tigers by a touchdown, but I'll throw my confidence behind Todd Graham & Co.

Ted: Missouri 35, Arizona State 27: The Sun Devils have whipped two inferior foes at home. The Tigers are pretty good and are playing at home. The Sun Devils have been impressive, but they are still young. And Missouri quarterback James Franklin is a load.

Best case-worst case: Arizona State

August, 14, 2012
This is the second 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: Arizona State

Best case

While a 40-7 win over Northern Arizona wasn't terribly revealing, it became clear in la ast-second victory over Illinois what new Arizona State coach Todd Graham saw during preseason practices when he lauded quarterback Taylor Kelly's scrappiness.

The homestanding Sun Devils lined up fourth-and-goal on Illinois' 7-yard line with 10 seconds left and the Illini leading by four. Kelly took a quick drop but was immediately surrounded by orange helmets. He rolled to his right, reversed field around the pursuit, back-peddled and then, just after delivering a punishing stiff-arm to Illini end Michael Buchanan, he lobbed a ball across his body to the far corner of the end zone.

Where J.J. Holliday outleaped two defenders for the game-winning touchdown.

"Exactly how we drew it up," Graham quips after the game. "No, that's just a guy making a play on his own. That's what we saw this preseason and, more important, that's also what his teammates saw."

Also important: The Sun Devils have just one turnover and four penalties for 30 yards. None are personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conducts.

"That's still too many mistakes," Graham says.

The Sun Devils produce another thriller at Missouri, which was held to just 45 points in a SEC-debut win over Georgia. With the Sun Devils up 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers face a second-and-goal on the Arizona State 1-yard line. Quarterback James Franklin tries to sneak it in, but he's met inches from the goal line by linebacker Brandon Magee, whose blow knocks the ball loose.

Mike Pennel, the 340-pound defensive tackle, nimbly scoops up the ball at the 10-yard line, and then takes an amusing minute and a half to rumble the other way for a touchdown -- Tigers bouncing off his rotund 6-foot-5 frame all the way down the field.

It's the ESPN Play of the Day, provided musical accompaniment by Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk."

The end result is a No. 20 ranking with No. 18 Utah coming to town.

"It's a battle of unbeatens in Tempe, the winner perhaps looking like the top contender against USC in the South Division," says Chris Fowler of ESPN's "College GameDay."

"And with Missouri stomping South Carolina earlier today, you might call the winner the early favorite in the SEC East," adds Kirk Herbstreit.

It proves to be a Cameron Marshall-John White IV battle, as both running backs eclipse 150 yards and score twice. The difference, however, proves to be Marshall turning a screen from Kelly into a 44-yard TD. Junior Onyeali's fifth sack of the season snuffs a late Utes drive and seals the 30-24 victory.

The Sun Devils are flagged just once for five yards.

"Still too much," Graham says.

It's not easy, however, for a program to cure all its bugaboos in a single season. The Sun Devils just don't win in the state of California very often and that holds true during a 20-17 loss to Cal in Berkeley.

The Sun Devils bounce back with a 42-17 victory over Colorado and, at 5-1, move up to No. 19 in the nation, but they get drubbed 44-19 by No. 3 Oregon the following weekend.

"This is about where we lost it last year," Marshall says. "We fell apart like we were Snooki taking the SAT."

A date with UCLA certainly doesn't bring back good memories. This is a different team, with different leadership, though. Alex Garoutte kicks field goals of 38, 48 and, with five seconds left on the clock, the winning 56-yarder in a 30-28 victory over the Bruins. That winning drive included the Sun Devils converting on a third-and-29 play.

The Sun Devils slip Oregon State 31-27, but get rocked 45-21 at No. 1 USC. A 44-40 win over Washington State pushes them to 8-3 and back into the top 25.

And so it's off to Tucson to try to take back the Territorial Cup from Arizona. The Wildcats need a victory to become bowl-eligible. An Arizona State win sends the Sun Devils to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. A loss means El Paso, Texas, and the Sun Bowl.

Magee gathers his teammates.

"We've had a lot of bad times in this program since I've been here," he says. "But I wouldn't trade them for anything because that's how I got here tonight -- this moment -- with you guys. This is the best place to be in the world, right here in this locker room before we open a can of whup-butt. We are the beginning. We are the foundation. And for that, we will always be remembered. When Arizona State wins a Rose Bowl, wins a national championship, we will all celebrate together as Sun Devils. And then everyone that wears our colors will raise their hands and point at us and say, 'But it started with you guys.'

"Now let's go bust those guys to pieces."

Arizona State rolls 38-20 and earns a berth in the Holiday Bowl opposite Texas. A 41-28 victory over the Longhorns earns the Sun Devils a 10-3 finish and final No. 14 ranking.

The Sun Devils lead the nation in fewest penalties per game.

Pittsburgh finishes 3-9, with players taking to Twitter saying how much they miss Coach Graham.

"I've got great news," says Steve Patterson, ASU vice president for athletics. "Now that the economy is rallying and local housing prices are soaring, we are pleased to announced a $200 million anonymous donation that will help finance a $300 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium."

It turns out that ASU alumni Nick Nolte, Jimmy Kimmel and David Spade pooled their money and gave the school the $200 million.

Says Spade, "Hey, 'Joe Dirt' was huge in France."

Worst case

It takes more than optimism and saying all the right things to transform a program. It doesn't take long for Graham to find out that talking about unity and discipline is one thing. Imposing it in the Arizona State locker room is another.

After whipping Northern Arizona in the opener, things go down hill quickly. Illinois sacks quarterback Taylor Kelly six times in a 28-10 defeat. Missouri QB James Franklin accounts for five touchdowns in a 40-17 loss, with Michael Eubank replacing Kelly in the second half but failing to rally the Sun Devils.

Eubank gets the start against Utah, but the Sun Devils turn the ball over three times in the first half and gain just 97 yards against a physical Utes defense. Kelly starts the second half but things don't get any better. Players are seen mouthing, "Put Mike Bercovici in!" on the sidelines.

After a blowout loss at California, the Sun Devils are averaging 105 yards in penalties per game.

Bercovici leads the Sun Devils to a 35-30 victory at Colorado, but he gets into a brief skirmish with Graham after he tells the punt unit to get off the field before a fourth-down play from the Buffs' 44-yard line.

It appears the Sun Devils completely surrender in a 52-3 loss to Oregon.

"This obviously isn't going to get fixed overnight," Graham says amid rumors of a post-game locker-room fight between offensive and defensive players. "It takes time to change a program's culture."

Just 24,000 fans show up to watch the Sun Devils fall to 2-6 against UCLA. The season further spirals down the toilet after a loss at Oregon State, a 56-6 evisceration at USC and a 42-21 home defeat to Washington State.

"I know this team will show up with some fight at Arizona," Graham says. "We always fight against the Wildcats."

Arizona whips the Sun Devils 44-24 and advances to the Holiday Bowl, where the Wildcats beat Texas and finish the season 9-4 and ranked 25th.

Tempe's own Priest Willis commits to Arizona, as do Jalen Ortiz and Cole Luke.

Arizona alumni Linda Ronstadt, Geraldo Rivera and Garry Shandling give the Wildcats athletic department $200 million dollars.

"We just want all their stuff to be way better than Arizona State's," Ronstadt explains. "Bear down!"

Pittsburgh wins the Orange Bowl.

Graham texts his players at 4 a.m. on Dec. 25 that he's leaving for the head coaching job at McNeese State.

"It's always been my dream to coach the Honey Badger," he types.

Tyrone Willingham hired to replace Graham.
The Heisman Pundit has released its official 2012 Heisman Trophy Watch List, and as you’d expect, it’s the usual suspects from the Pac-12 on the list.

Though in alphabetical order, it’s widely assumed that USC quarterback Matt Barkley is the front-runner with all others playing catch-up before the first snap has been taken. Here’s the list.
The Pac-12 blog entertained which player from the conference we thought would emerge as the Heisman winner in a Take 2 back in March. Watch lists are always subject to change, and until we actually see some games, it’s only fun speculation at this point.

No question that Barkley is the early leader in the minds of many. Given his statistics last season, the receivers he has around him and the lofty preseason ranking the Trojans are expected to enjoy, he’s looking down on the pack – at least for now.

Thomas is going to have big play after big play this season, which makes him a very strong Heisman candidate. His exploits can be packaged into an explosive highlight reel that is easily digestible for East Coast voters. No one ever gets tired of seeing 85-yard touchdown runs (unless you're safeties chasing Thomas).

Price lacks the national brand at this point, but that could all change in Week 2 in Baton Rouge. A strong showing against LSU is certain to boost his exposure and could catapult him from dark horse contender to major candidate. And then he's got Stanford, Oregon and USC all in the first six games. He could be the leader at the turn ... or slip out of the running all together.

More Pac-12 Heisman speculation

March, 28, 2012
We've given you our thoughts recently on which Pac-12 player has the best shot at winning the Heisman. You've given your thoughts (an extremely tight poll) and now the folks at have offered up their darkhorse candidates for 2012.

They looked at 12 not-as-mainstream candidates who could contend for the Heisman Trophy, and four of them are from the Pac-12.

First, the list:
Their thoughts on each of the Pac-12 players:
On McNeal: A total of 150 carries have departed the program and there is little depth behind the senior, who will benefit from defenses focusing on USC’s strong passing attack. Give McNeal at least half of those departed carries and you are looking at a possible 1,500 yard season, if not more.

On Barner: There were times the rest of the year when he looked as good as, if not better than, James. This year, the Ducks lose not only James’ 247 carries, but also the 45 of freshman Tra Carson and the 56 of quarterback Darron Thomas, for a total of 347 carries to be redistributed.

On Callier: I actually think there is a good chance that Washington experiences no dropoff at this position and that Callier establishes himself as one of the top backs in the Pac-12 with a season exceeding 1,300 yards on the ground.

On Thomas: Thomas is obviously an interesting case since he is such an all-around dynamo. Last year, he had just 140 touches, with 39 of them coming in the return game. This was a wise move by Oregon, as keeping the rather slight Thomas fresh and healthy is the key to his effectiveness. It worked, as he had 18 touchdowns and 2,235 total yards. In that vein, Oregon might be tempted to put a huge workload on him in 2012, but I don’t foresee it unless there is a desperate need.

Fun list. With frontrunner Matt Barkley out there, along with Washington quarterback Keith Price, a couple of USC wide receivers and A-list running backs like John White IV and Stepfan Taylor, there is certainly no wanting for offensive talent in the conference. Per usual.

Which players emerge will definitely be one of the more fascinating stories to follow in 2012.

ASU can't afford letdown game at Illinois

September, 15, 2011
One game doesn't a season make, and Arizona State will find that out if it doesn't arrive at Illinois fully focused and ready to match the intensity it showed against Missouri last week.

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
AP Photo/Matt YorkArizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler is off to a fantastic start this season.
Lose, and the national ranking goes away. Lose, and the energized fan base gets grumpy again. Lose, and many will go, "Same old Sun Devils."

"If we play a letdown, then we're not going to win," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said.

Truth is, Arizona State can play much better than it did against Missouri. It looked talented enough to run the Tigers off the field in a game that wouldn't have gone into overtime if the Sun Devils weren't so sloppy with turnovers and penalties.

That 37-30 victory, however, was particularly satisfying because the Sun Devils, a team that in recent years had often found ways to lose, found a way to win. Yes, there was a bit of luck, the possession of which -- or the perception of that possession -- is a valuable asset for a team.

"It showed that we found a way to win, and to me, that's what it's all about," Erickson said. "We've lost games like that before and we won this game. Finding a way to get things done is a key to good football teams, and we were able to do that."

The centerpiece of the victory was quarterback Brock Osweiler. While hopes were high for the junior, few expected brilliance, which is what Osweiler produced. He completed 24 of 32 passes for 353 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions and rushed five times for 34 yards and a score. He presently ranks 10th in the nation in passing efficiency.

"He understands what's going on as far as where to go with the football and he's been very accurate," Erickson said.

But, again, can he duplicate -- or simply approach -- those numbers a week later on the road? The Illinois defense is questionable, but so too -- surprisingly -- is Arizona State's. Missouri quarterback James Franklin hurt Arizona State passing and running, and the Sun Devils tackled poorly.

The Illini also feature an athletic quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase. He's not as physical a runner as Franklin, but he's far more experienced. He rushed for 868 yards in 2010 and passed for 17 touchdowns. Further, Illinois' offensive coordinator is Paul Petrino, brother of Bobby, Arkansas' coach and evil genius of offense. The Missouri film should provide him plenty of information about the Sun Devils, while the Sun Devils likely won't get much from Illinois' previous two games: Arkansas State and South Dakota State.

For the Illini, the Sun Devils arrive as Missouri did in Tempe last week: A measuring stick for a home team that believes its top-25 caliber.

"They're kind of in the same situation that we're in," Erickson said. "If you look at them a year ago, I think they were 6-6, went to a bowl game. [Coach Ron Zook] feels like he has a football team that can compete for the championship there, so they're kind of in a similar situation that we're in. If you watch them on tape and the returners that they have, they're very talented. We've got our hands full, and our players know that. "

Erickson also could have noted that, not unlikely himself, Zook, too, is on the hot seat.

The Sun Devils have a veteran team, most of whom saw action in a what-might-have-been loss at Wisconsin last year. They know about playing in unfamiliar, hostile environments.

But they haven't proven anything yet. Erickson was asked about moving past the Missouri game.

"You don't have much time to celebrate anything," he said.

That's because celebrating is what you do at the end of a successful season. There's a long way to go until party time for the Sun Devils.

Halftime: Arizona State 16, Missouri 10

September, 10, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State leads Missouri 16-10 in a first half that featured big plays and plenty of penalties.

Stat of the half: Lots of great football plays have been slowed down by yellow hankies for both teams. Missouri had six penalties for 66 yards, while Arizona State had five for 45. Hopefully, things are cleaner after the break.

Best player(s) in the half: The quarterbacks were outstanding. Arizona State's Brock Osweiler completed 11-of-14 for 229 yards -- a robust 16.4 yards per completion -- with two TDs. He also rushed for 13. Missouri's James Franklin completed 12-of-15 for 118 yards and rushed 11 times for 44 yards and a TD.

Best call: On the first play from scrimmage after Missouri tied the count 10-10, Sun Devils offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone dialed up a perfect deep pass as Aaron Pflugrad beat Kip Edwards for a 60-yard TD. Osweiler has a nice touch on the deep ball. Guess here is we'll see the Sun Devils regularly take shots deep downfield throughout the season.

What Arizona State needs to do: Missouri's best play on offense is Franklin scrambling from pressure and either running or buying himself more time. He throws well on the run. So the Sun Devils need to find a way to contain him and get a few good knocks on him. On offense, the key is staying aggressive. On their last possession of the first half, they had a first down on the Missouri 35-yard line. They ran up the middle twice and got stuffed and failed to convert on third and long. Osweiler was in such a rhythm, two consecutive runs didn't make much sense (of course, they had worked it would have been brilliant). Finally, the Sun Devils need to close the deal. They've been close before and lost it in the fourth. How will they react when the screws tighten?

Arizona State is back in black

September, 9, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State fans have been encouraged to wear all-black tonight, just like their team will, as the Sun Devils hope to show off fancy new uniforms against No. 21 Missouri.

The question is will it end up feeling like a funeral?

Many believe not, that this will be a "hello world" moment for a program that is looking for its first win over a ranked foe since 2007, Dennis Erickson's first season, which also happens to be the Sun Devils' last winning season. Arizona State started the week as a 6.5-point favorite and is now favored by 10 points.


Well, for one, Missouri might be even more banged up than the Sun Devils. The Tigers won't have seven projected starters available. The Sun Devils' count on that is six.

But mostly it's the belief that Arizona State was a talented team in 2010 that was competitive against some of the nation's best teams, but just didn't know how to finish. With lots of those players back, the expectation is the tough lessons of last fall will pay off in 2011.

The first key for the Sun Devils is an old bugaboo: Mistakes, as in turnovers and penalties. Arizona State in recent years has had some good players, but it's also more often than not found ways to lose, not win. It gave the ball away, often a critical times. It committed boneheaded penalties, often at critical times.

The first measure tonight: Can the Sun Devils play a more disciplined game than Missouri?

Then there's quarterback Brock Osweiler. While he was solid finishing up the 2010 season, this is a far bigger stage than he's seen. Recall that his lone 2010 start at Arizona, included a horrible first half in which he was lucky to not get intercepted several times. Yes, "several" is more accurate than "a couple."

Osweiler's life will be much easier, by the way, if his veteran offensive line creates just enough space for running back Cameron Marshall to keep a tough Missouri defense honest.

On the other side of the ball, linebacker Vontaze Burfict has an opportunity to make a big impression in front of an ESPN audience, many of whom will be tuning in -- and staying up late on the East Coast -- just to see him. He can set a physical tone against an Tigers offense that figures to be run-first. He also needs to avoid stupid personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, which he often hasn't in the past.

Word is this is going to be a sellout. Sun Devils fans, who had turned away over the past couple of years, appear to be reinvesting in the program.

After years in the red of losing, they're hoping for their team to be back in the black.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 8, 2011
Ten issues to consider heading into the second week of games.

1. Foles versus Weeden: It's possible we'll have 750-800 yards passing in Arizona's visit to Oklahoma State. It's a showdown of two marquee quarterbacks in the Wildcats' Nick Foles and the Cowboys' Brandon Weeden, though the showdown of marquee receivers -- Juron Criner and Justin Blackmon -- doesn't look like it will happen because Criner has missed practices with an undisclosed illness. The Cowboys bombed Arizona in the 2010 Alamo Bowl 36-10, which was the last of five consecutive season-ending losses for the Wildcats. The Wildcats want redemption, but for them to have any chance, Foles must outplay Weeden.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Chris Morrison/US PresswireArizona quarterback Nick Foles completed 34 of 42 passes for 412 yards and five touchdowns in Week 1.
2. Play smart, Arizona State: Missouri is one team that can claim as many injuries to key players as Arizona State -- the Tigers are down six starters. It's possible that the Tigers will play things fairly close to the vest with new QB James Franklin, who's a better runner than passer, perhaps waiting for the Sun Devils to make mistakes. And that strategy has worked in the past for teams facing the Sun Devils. ASU has long been penalty- and turnover-prone. The Sun Devils have the talent to win this game outright ... as long as they don't blow it. If ASU wins the turnover battle and is at least close to even in penalties, it should be a happy Friday night in Tempe.

3. Play loose, attack, Oregon State: The Beavers odds are pretty darn bad at Wisconsin. Even without significant injuries, or a loss to Sacramento State in the opener, few would be predicting an upset. Most likely, the best-case scenario for Oregon State is a respectable performance that includes no new injuries. Still, the Beavers need to reclaim their pride and confidence. They need to enjoy the big stage and regain some swagger. To do that, they will need to play loose and take some chances. Throw deep. Run some trick plays. Blitz. Try to have some fun, because that's exactly what didn't seem to happen last weekend.

4. Can Colorado block Cal? You might have noticed that I picked Colorado to upset California. If you want to know why that pick may end up making me look bad, it's the matchup of the Buffaloes' offensive line against the Bears' strong front seven. Hawaii pushed the Buffs around, recording seven sacks and holding them to 17 yards rushing. Cal has a more talented front seven than Hawaii, so that's a huge issue worth watching during the early going: Are the Buffs able to protect Tyler Hansen and create some gaps for Rodney Stewart? Playing at home will help, but the Colorado O-line is where an upset will start. Or end.

5. Oregon's fire: The last time the Ducks suffered a disappointing season-opening loss in a marquee nonconference game was in 2009 at Boise State. You might recall the Ducks didn't play particularly well the next two weeks against Purdue and Utah, though they managed to win both games. While the players will talk about trying to get the bad taste of the LSU game out of their mouths, it's easy to imagine the Ducks coming out flat against Nevada. This is not the same Nevada team that went 13-1 in 2010, but the Wolf Pack are good enough to steal one if Oregon takes too long to wake up.

6. Man-up, Washington: The Huskies played soft on both sides of the ball in a weak effort against Eastern Washington. That performance won't beat Hawaii, which pushed Colorado around on both lines and is coming to Seattle expecting to win. If Washington thinks it can coast into its visit to Nebraska the following weekend, it's going to get embarrassed. Two key issues: 1. QB Bryant Moniz is the Warriors' offense as both a runner and passer. He must be contained. And hit. 2. The running game must get going with Chris Polk. The Hawaii front seven had its way with the Buffs. Are the Huskies next?

7. Lucky numbers: While everyone knows Stanford QB Andrew Luck is the best player in college football, he's going to have to put up some numbers to win the Heisman Trophy. 171 yards passing -- his total in the opener -- won't get it done. Duke should offer an opportunity for Luck to pad his stats a bit. While the Cardinal's chief interest is getting their running game going -- it sagged a bit against San Jose State -- Luck throwing aggressively downfield is also a good thing.

8. Lobbestael as starter: It's one thing to come off the bench and play well. There's no thinking time. It's all about instincts. But with the injury to QB Jeff Tuel, Marshall Lobbestael now knows he's Washington State's starter for at least six weeks. He's had time to process that -- and perhaps overthink and get nervous about that. The Cougars have the players to beat UNLV at home without Tuel. But Lobbestael needs to be a good game manager. He's not going to be asked to throw for 350 yards. He needs to avoid mistakes, go through his progressions and take what the defense gives him.

9.Utah's secondary vs. USC's Matt Barkley and Robert Woods: Utah completely rebuilt its secondary this offseason, replacing all four 2010 starters. While reviews were solid during preseason practices, we have no idea how good the unit is. We will have some idea after it faces Barkley and Woods, two future high NFL draft choices. If there is one matchup where it looks like the Trojans can exploit the Utes, it's in the passing game. Utah's first job is to contain Barkley and make things uncomfortable for him in the pocket, which might not be too difficult with an uncertain Trojans O-line.

10. Reproduce the second half at Houston: UCLA played terribly at Houston for a half, which left it down 31-14. But the Bruins were pretty good on both sides of the ball in the second half. First, that shows that they fought back, which is a good sign. But it also shows the Bruins can get it done on both sides of the ball. If the Bruins play like they did in the second half for all four quarters against San Jose State, they will romp the Spartans and build some confidence for Texas' visit the following weekend.

Quick look at second week's games

September, 5, 2011
Each Pac-12 team plays again this week, and no game is against an FCS foe.

Here's a quick look (all times ET).

Thursday, Sept. 8
Arizona at Oklahoma State
, 8 p.m. (ESPN): Arizona is hoping for revenge after getting embarrassed in the 2010 Alamo Bowl, but the No. 9 Cowboys are loaded, particularly on offense with quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon, last seen showboating horribly on a long touchdown reception. First of three games against top-10 teams. Up next: Stanford.

Friday, Sept. 9
Missouri at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN): The Sun Devils can announce their national arrival if they can best No. 21 Missouri. The Tigers have a lot of guys back, and QB James Franklin, a new starter, is a touted dual-threat. He's been telling everyone he's going to run over Vontaze Burfict. Kidding! Completely made that up. Up next: at Illinois.

Saturday, Sept. 10
Oregon State at Wisconsin
, noon (ESPN or ESPN2): The Beavers should be plenty motivated after losing at home to Sacramento State, an FCS team. The Badgers looked dominant while stomping UNLV and have extra time time to prepare. Wisconsin, ranked 11th, looked good before quarterback Russell Wilson arrived. Now they look like national title contenders. Up next: off.

Stanford at Duke, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU): The SAT Bowl! The two best private schools playing FBS football, but the Cardinal play the game a little bit better with quarterback Andrew Luck. Now if this were hoops ... Up next: at Arizona.

Nevada at Oregon
, 3:30 p.m. (FX): Ducks try to bounce back at home after losing to LSU. The Wolf Pack lost many key starters from a 13-1 team from 2010, and we don't know what they will look like after an opening week bye. But Nevada isn't a team to take lightly.

California at Colorado
, 3:30 p.m. (FCS/CSNCA): It's a nonconference conference game -- it was pre-scheduled and doesn't count in the Pac-12 standings. The Buffs will want revenge for last season's embarrassing 52-7 defeat in Berkeley, but Cal looked good and Colorado not so much in the opening weekend. Up next for Cal: Presbyterian. Up next for Colorado: Colorado State.

Hawaii at Washington
, 3:30 p.m. (Root NW): Hawaii whipped Colorado in the opener, but the Warriors are a much better team at home. Still, the Huskies looked bad while winning a nail-biter against Eastern Washington, particularly the pass defense. Enter Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz, one of the nation's most prolific passers.

UNLV at Washington State
, 5 p.m.: This is a huge game for the Cougars bowl hopes. With quarterback Jeff Tuel, the Cougars would seem like a decisive favorite at home. Without him, this feels more like a pick 'em. Back quarterback Marshall Lobbestael needs to come up big for coach Paul Wulff. Up next: at San Diego State.

Utah at USC
, 7:30 p.m. (Versus): The first-ever Pac-12 game (at least that counts in the standings)! Utah wants to prove it belongs. USC, which is not eligible to win the South Division because of NCAA sanctions, wants to show the Utes it plans to rule the South as soon as it is unyoked by the NCAA. Neither team was thrilled by its Week 1 performance. Up next for Utah: at BYU. Up next for USC: Syracuse.

San Jose State at UCLA
, 10 p.m. (FSN West): UCLA should bounce back after losing at Houston, but it needs a quality performance not one that is "just enough." Odds are Richard Brehaut gets the start. At this point, it's the defense that needs to make more of a statement after the offense did well at Houston. Up next: Texas.

Best case-worst case: Arizona State

August, 29, 2011
Tenth 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 season'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: Arizona State

Best case

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict collects 11 tackles, including two sacks and an interception, and quarterback Brock Osweiler throws two touchdown passes as Arizona State announces itself as a national contender with a 33-17 drubbing of No. 21 Missouri.

And Burfict shows up for post-game interviews.

"I want to read a statement," Burfict begins. But then he tosses the piece of paper aside. "No. I'm not going to be managed. That's part of my problem. The effort to manage me, which includes using my so-called shyness to justify my refusal to talk to reporters, has hurt me and this program. I am not a great talker. Probably never will be. But being a man is sometimes doing things you don't like to do. Being a man is also admitting mistakes and not looking for excuses. If an Internet report about me gets details wrong about something that still is mostly true, I shouldn't get mad about those incorrect details if I won't show up to correct the record and say what happened. And when I get in a locker room fight with a teammate, well, while I appreciate the rationalization and blind support from so many Sun Devils fans, the absolute bottom line is this: No excuses. It's on me. 100 percent. I need to grow up. Talk is cheap, but it's even cheaper that I haven't taken responsibility. Today, I am. I owe that to my coaches, teammates and our great fans."

Arizona State rolls over Illinois 42-10, then nips USC 24-21 after Burfict stuffs Matt Barkley on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak on the Trojans final drive. After beating Oregon State 30-17, the 5-0 Sun Devils move up to ninth in the national rankings.

"Utah and Arizona State are the two South Division front-runners after both beat USC," says ESPN's Chris Fowler. "But is this a bigger game for the Sun Devils because the Utes don't play Oregon or Stanford?"

Osweiler connects with Gerell Robinson for the game-winning tally in overtime. Up next: The No. 6 Sun Devils visit No. 1 Oregon.

"Did I fake an injury against the Ducks last year?" says Burfict. "You guys! I could answer that, but then you'd have to promise to let me smack you."

The reporters laugh nervously and then get quiet as Burfict glowers at them.

"You guys need to lighten up!" says Burfict. "Just messing with y'all!"

The Ducks prevail 30-27 on a late field goal.

"Look, the Ducks look like they are going to steamroll into their showdown with Stanford on Nov. 12," Fowler says. "But, wow, Vontaze Burfict. Should he at least get invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony?"

"An absolute beast on the field," Kirk Herbstreit replies. "But, really, we've gotten to know him off the field this year. Just a big Teddy bear. If your Teddy bear is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and really, really fast and aggressive."

The Sun Devils roll over Colorado, UCLA and Washington State. Two weeks after beating Utah, Arizona arrives in Tempe. The Wildcats' only two defeats came against Oregon and Stanford, so beating the Sun Devils would win them the South title.

"I respect the hell out of them," Burfict says. "But respect isn't what I'm going to spend a lot of time thinking about when they stand across the field from me."

Coach Dennis Erickson announces that cornerback Omar Bolden is "100 percent and ready to go."

Osweiler throws four touchdown passes in a 40-24 victory. Burfict terrorizes the Wildcats with 12 tackles, four coming for a loss, and Bolden picks off Nick Foles twice. A week later, the Sun Devils survive a flat performance against California, winning 20-17, thereby earning the South Division title and another shot at the Ducks.

"Hey guys," says Erickson in the pregame locker room at Autzen Stadium. "Vontaze wants to say something."

"I'm not much of a talker. Unless it's trash talking." The Sun Devils laugh. "But here's what I can say, and I hope you know it's from the heart. This is about us, not them. I love you guys and I'm going to give this team -- all of you -- everything I've got tonight. Everything. My plan is to to look them in the eye and let them know I am here to take this game from them and I will send that message every play. If we all do that, together, we are going to win this game. And, brothers, what we do in life... echoes in eternity."

A diving Burfict tips away a Darron Thomas pass intended for tight end David Paulson. The Ducks' 2-point conversion fails in the third overtime. The Sun Devils earn a berth in the Rose Bowl.

The Sun Devils beat Wisconsin 28-17 and finish 13-1 and ranked third.

Burfict announces he's returning for his senior season, "to complete the growing up process and get my degree. And to terrorize the Wildcats another season."

Andrus Peat, Davonte Neal, D.J. Foster and Reggie Daniels commit to Arizona State. That convinces quarterback Connor Brewer to decommit from Texas and sign with the Sun Devils, whose recruiting class ranks ninth in the country.

"I've got great news," says athletic director Lisa Love. "Now that the economy is rallying and local housing prices are soaring, we are pleased to announced a $100 million anonymous donation that will help finance a $200 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium."

Worst case

Missouri tight end Michael Egnew couldn't haul in the fourth-and-8 pass late at Arizona State, but he gets a second chance, and he's not the sort to waste one of those.

When a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Burfict gives the Tigers new life -- a first down on the ASU 14 with 25 seconds left -- James Franklin finds his All-American tight end in the corner of the end zone for the winning score in 31-28 victory.

The Sun Devils bounce back and win at Illinois, but a rejuvenated USC secondary picks off Osweiler three times in a 24-21 Trojans win in Tempe. The Sun Devils nip Oregon State, but fall at Utah in overtime. Things go haywire at Oregon in a 44-20 defeat, with Burfict getting benched after a late hit on Ducks quarterback Thomas.

"We were down 10 in the third quarter and we get a third-down stop," Erickson says. "That penalty killed us."

Headline in the Arizona Republic: "Are Erickson's days numbered?"

The Sun Devils even their record with a 27-24 win at Colorado, but fall at resurgent UCLA. A win at Washington State, however, leaves the Sun Devils just one win short of bowl eligibility.

Arizona comes to town needing a win to sew up the South Division title.

"Our first priority is beating Arizona," Erickson says. "Bowl eligibility, my future, that will take care of itself."

Late in the fourth quarter, with the score 21-21 and the Wildcats on their 33, Keola Antolin takes a handoff and sees no room on the right side. He reverses course, yields five yards in the Wildcats backfield and tries to sprint to the left sideline, hoping that he can out-run the over-pursuit. Burfict recovers quickly and takes a beeline for him.


That is until Arizona quarterback Nick Foles comes from nowhere to flatten Burfict.

Antolin goes the distance. The Wildcats win the Territorial Cup back. And they win the South. In the Pac-12 title game, Arizona shocks No. 1 Stanford and earns the program's first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl, where it beats No. 8 Nebraska, 33-28.

The Wildcats finish 11-3 and ranked sixth.

While most frustrated Sun Devils fans are done with their team, Sun Devil Jose demands a game with California. Cal wins 10-3.

The Sun Devils finish 5-7, their fourth consecutive losing season under Erickson.

Erickson resigns. "Hey, we gave it a run and it didn't work out," he says. "I'm headed up to Coeur d'Alene to play golf, go fishing and drink a few cold ones."

"I'm pleased to announce the coach who I feel strongly will take us to the next level," athletic director Lisa Love tells a gathered media throng.

"Ladies and gentlemen... John Mackovic!"

Andrus Peat, Davonte Neal, D.J. Foster and Reggie Daniels commit to Arizona. That convinces quarterback Connor Brewer to decommit from Texas and sign with the Wildcats, whose recruiting class ranks 12th in the country.

"I don't care about recruiting rankings!" Mackovic says of a class that ranked 10th in the Pac-12. "I know what I know and that is a lot."



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Saturday, 1/10
Monday, 1/12