Pac-12: James Rodgers

Sean Mannion isn’t legacy hunting. The Oregon State quarterback isn’t occupied with annals or focused on the figures.

Quite the opposite, actually. He’s sort of ticked off that his team struggled down the 2013 stretch and is eager to make amends. Records, stats and his place in OSU history aren’t at the vanguard of his thought process. Of course, satisfaction can’t be his until the Beavers kick off the 2014 season at home against Portland State.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsSean Mannion filled up the stat sheet as a junior, but he returned to Oregon State to help the Beavers fill up their win column.
And yet, as a soon-to-be-four-year starter, Mannion has put himself in position to be one of the greatest statistical quarterbacks in the history of the conference. He already set the single-season passing yards record this season with 4,662. He’s 10th on the all-time list with 10,436 and needs just 1,874 passing yards next year to pass Matt Barkley as the all-time leader.

“The only stat that matters to me, especially given the way we closed out last season, is the wins and losses,” said Mannion, who set a school record with 37 touchdown passes last year but watched a 6-1 start turn into a 7-6 finish. “For me, the only thing I have on my mind right now is improving our team and getting more wins.”

Come on, Sean. There has to be some part of you that thinks it would be cool to be the league’s all-time passing leader.

“Of course something like that would mean something when my playing days are over,” he said. “It would be pretty special. But not because of what I did. But because of the other names on that list. If I could put myself among those other guys, it would be a tremendous honor and extremely humbling. The Pac-12 has had a ton of great quarterbacks. And if I’m a small part of that list, that would be really special.

“I’ll worry about that after my playing days.”

Things are going to be a little more interesting for Mannion in his final season. Gone are A-list wide receivers he’s had the pleasure of working with in his first three seasons such as James Rodgers, Markus Wheaton and 2013 Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks.

Also gone is the only offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach he’s ever known as a college player, Danny Langsdorf, who accepted the quarterbacks coach job with the New York Giants. In fact, the opportunity to continue working with Langsdorf was one of the reasons Mannion cited for returning for another season.

However, Mannion said that even if Langsdorf had left earlier in the month, his decision to return for another season wouldn’t have changed.

“My reasoning for coming back was to have another year with my teammates and have another year to improve as a player,” Mannion said. “While I really enjoy working with Langs, it wasn’t going to be a deal-breaker. I love Oregon State and I’m excited to continue my career here. It’s disappointing that I won’t be working with him because we were really close. But at the same time I’m excited for the new coordinator and quarterback’s coach.

“It’s a bummer ... but talking to him, not only am I extremely happy for him, that’s a great situation for him and he’ll do really, really great things there, but he was saying it will do me some good to get another set of eyes on me and get another perspective and get a chance to step back and learn some new things and some new techniques from a new coach.”

Mannion doesn’t need another set of eyes to see where things went wrong in 2013. Through the first seven games, he was the toast of college football with 29 touchdowns to three interceptions. Over the last six, those numbers nosedived to eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The second half of the Beavers' schedule featured Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington, Oregon and Boise State. It doesn’t take a Fields Medal winner to do that math -- Mannion and the Beavers struggled against upper-echelon teams.

“I felt pretty happy with the way I played through the first six or seven games,” Mannion said. “Even within those tough losses I felt good about a lot of stuff and a lot of the throws I made. But at the same time I think there were things I can definitely correct as a player. I want to be more consistent at eliminating those mistakes and not have those four or five plays that I want back in a given game. If I can get better at that to go from four to three and three to two it will serve me as a player and help my team.”
Welcome to the mailbag. This is a safe place that allows the free expression of ideas. Let your power animal run wild, just please clean up after it.

Couple of questions about the departure of Oregon State offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf (Eric and Benny, questions received) mainly inquiring as to the direction of the offense, what it means for Sean Mannion and how this impacts the team this close to recruiting.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsWill Oregon State QB Sean Mannion miss coach Danny Langsdorf, who is heading to the NFL? Sure, but it shouldn't affect his production.
Kevin Gemmell: First, I’m not sure what this does for Mannion. I’m hoping to get him on the phone sometime in the next couple of days to chat about it. We’re working on that. I do know that Mannion specifically cited Langsdorf as a reason for him coming back another year. He wasn’t the only reason, but he was important enough for the QB to make note of it.

As for what it means for the direction of the offense. Not too much, I don’t think. Mike Riley has basically been the offensive coordinator the last couple of seasons anyway, calling all of the plays. And you can’t argue with OSU’s offensive production the last couple of seasons. It’s the defense that cost it some games in 2013. You could probably make a case that Brandin Cooks leaving might have the bigger impact than Langsdorf. After all, Biletnikoff winners don’t come around all that often.

Possible replacements? The trend -- at least among the league’s departed defensive coordinators -- has been to keep it in-house. And if that’s the case, maybe wide receivers coach Brent Brennan gets a long look. In three years in Corvallis he’s helped develop, among others, Cooks, Markus Wheaton and James Rodgers. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh is another interesting name. He’s been around nine years and is extremely well respected. Just floating that one for kicks. I have no idea if he’s interested.

As for recruiting, I talked to someone in the know at Oregon State who said Riley isn’t too concerned about it right now. Is it possible that they lose a commit over this? Maybe. But no doubt Riley has already reached out or made visits to all of Langsdorf’s targets and assured them that the buck stops with him offensively.

So the takeaway is this -- Langsdorf was a very good position coach. That’s why he’s been offered a position to keep doing it at the next level. But it’s hard not imagine Riley isn’t still going to be the primary play-caller, regardless of who gets the OC gig. And with Mannion back for another season, the Beavers should be pretty potent again if they can find some receivers (paging Victor Bolden?) and get the running game going.

Michael in Phoenix writes: It has been thoroughly discussed how ASU is losing 9-starters on defense. While this is disconcerting, ASU also welcomes back most of its explosive offense. Not going to ask you to predict next season’s outcome just yet, but what would you characterize as a successful season in Year 3 under CTG? 8 wins? 9 wins? 10? (It goes without saying a win over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named down south is mandatory).

Kevin Gemmell: Offense is nice. But as your coach is fond of saying -- defense wins, wait for it … championships. OK, so Todd Graham isn’t the first guy to come up with that one. But I know he believes in it. And I know he makes his living on that side of the football. And when you look at all of the talent they are losing -- combined with a lack of experienced depth -- then the Sun Devils are probably going to have to win some track meets.

And that’s OK. As you pointed out, they are pretty loaded offensively. Losing Marion Grice and his 20 touchdowns is obviously a hit. But Taylor Kelly returns at quarterback and we got glimpses of what D.J. Foster is capable of as the No. 1 back. What we saw in those glimpses was inconsistency. At times, brilliant and electric. Other times, he looked like a young back. Which is expected. There are also some depth issues across the offensive line that will have to be addressed.

But when you look at the potential of the passing attack, it’s pretty scary. Combine Kelly with returning Jaelen Strong and the addition of Eric Lauderdale, that’s going to be a potent air strike. Lauderdale is one of the top JC wide receivers in the country. Graham hit a home run when he brought in Strong, also a JC transfer, last season. He’s done it again with the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Lauderdale, who runs in the 4.4 range. He picked the Sun Devils over Florida, Oregon, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Washington, to name a few.

So yes, I expect the offense to be really good. It’s going to have to be. But given what Graham has accomplished in his first two seasons, I think folks would be disappointed with anything less than eight wins. But a hat trick against the Wildcats will go a long way, even if they don’t repeat as South champs.

Scott in Concord writes: Did you know that when the Pac-12 lunch links post a link to the Seattle Times, it asks the reader for a subscription to view the article? I am pretty sure ESPN has subscriptions to these links, but I think people should haven't to pay for subscriptions for links posted from your site. Thanks.

Kevin Gemmell: Ted touched on this in his mailbag last week. This is the way newspapers are trending. Having spent the bulk of my career coming home with ink on my fingers, I can tell you that it’s an industry that is struggling to find a viable business model for making money on the Web.

Just for kicks, you should watch this. It’s scary interesting.

As for the alternative, it’s tough to find a link for every school each day -- especially in the offseason. The other option is that the school doesn’t get a link for that day. Would you guys prefer that? Let us know. But we try very hard to make sure every school is linked. We’ll obviously continue to look for free options. But if a non-pay option isn’t available, you have free will to do what you want. You can either pay for the information, or not. The market will decide if there is enough demand to pay for content. We’re just putting it out there.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Reilly, Shayn Reilly
AP Photo/Rick BowmerThings are looking up for Trevor Reilly and his daughter, Shayn, who has been battling cancer.
FG in Seattle writes: You made Trevor Reilly from Utah your No. 20 pick on your postseason list of Top 25 conference players. You point out he played through a torn ACL in 2012. Per the Pac 12 channel, he played this entire season with his 11-month-old daughter going through chemotherapy for a renal cancer and was due to be done in December if all went well. Is there some type of public update on this story? If there is, and it's good news, a lot of Pac 12 fans outside of Utah would like to hear it. Thanks.

Kevin Gemmell: The last public report I saw about this was last month following the Utah-Colorado game. And the news appears to be very good.

I’ve known Trevor since he was a sophomore at Valley Center High School and covered him through his prep days into the Mountain West and finally through the Pac-12. That’s one of my favorite parts of the job is seeing these guys as high school players going on to have great college careers and then into the professional ranks. I’m thrilled for him and his family.

Trev on the West Coast writes: Read the article about the ACC stepping up its scheduling for the upcoming year, however I can't help but notice with its eight-game conference schedule, each team only averages 9.35 big boy teams (ACC/BIG12/B1G/PAC12/SEC/ND/BYU). So I checked each conference to see the stats: BIG12 -- 10.1; PAC 12 -- 10; ACC -- 9.35; B1G -- 9.14; SEC -- 8.88. My question is when will the polls actually stop ranking teams for good records against weak OCCs and actually make you beat people before you get ranked? On a side note, if you are curious how big a difference there is between nine and eight conference games, use the NCAA game and swap the PAC and SEC and watch how in 2-3 years the number of ranked teams each year is flopped.

Kevin Gemmell: What you have to understand is that “the polls” aren’t one single, entity. They consist of dozens of voters. And each of those voters has their own value system that they apply to factors like strength of schedule, overall record, good wins vs. good losses, etc.

You can see it when Ted and I do our weekly rankings. He and I differ quite a bit on certain things. I tend to not punish teams as much for losing to good teams on the road. Ted, however, clearly lets his time in the South bias his views to the point where it gets nauseating. I jest, of course.

The polls are a human system. And with human systems come flaws. At least they are perceived as flaws because you don’t agree with the way someone is voting. They think their vote is perfect.

My good friend Jon Wilner is one of the more renegade voters out there. And he and I have had many, many discussions about how he votes. I don’t always agree with him. But I also know he’s not just throwing darts. He takes it very seriously. I’ve seen him after games furiously scribbling out his Top 25 in his notepad, and his voting system works for him.

Regional bias comes into play -- as well as what we see with our own eyes. Trying to make sense of it all can make you go koo-koo bananas.

Cougy the Coug in Spokane, Wash. writes: Great job leaving Deone Bucannon off of your departing players list. He was only an All-American!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kevin Gemmell: Thank you for your interest in the Pac-12 blog’s reading comprehension seminar and your gratuitous use of exclamation points. I’m afraid this is the advanced course. Ted already covered remedial reading last week. Your submission is appreciated.
While the news at Pac-12 media day was scant, your Pac-12 bloggers did come away with an opinion or two. So the question behind today's Take 2 is which team near the bottom of the preseason poll did we leave media day feeling better about than before.

Ted Miller: While I think a team many are underestimating is UCLA, the team at Pac-12 media day that made me go, "Hmm… maybe?" was Oregon State.

Why? A couple of reasons. For one, a slide like this has happened with Mike Riley before. When he returned to Corvallis in 2002 after his ill-fated tenure with the San Diego Chargers, he went 8-5, 7-5 and 5-6. Folks wondered if the program was going to revert back to its dismal run of 28 consecutive losing seasons. Only Riley and the Beavers would go on to win 36 games over the next four seasons.

Further, there's second-year starting QB Sean Mannion, who was OK last year, but wasn't terribly efficient with 18 interceptions and 16 TDs. That sort of feels to me like Sean Canfield throwing 15 picks against just nine TDs in 2007. Two years later, after watching Lyle Moevao mature into a solid QB in 2008, Canfield earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. And recall the difference in Matt Moore in 2005 -- bad QB, kind of a jerk -- and 2006 -- good QB who grew up and went to the NFL.

Quarterbacks under Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have dramatically improved their second year in the Beavers offense. The unfortunate exception to this rule, of course, is the guy Mannion displaced last fall, Ryan Katz.

But there's more!

Mannion has a strong crew of receivers and tight ends/H-backs. He just needs a running game to keep the opposing defense honest. I actually think there's enough talent in the backfield to make a "running back by committee" approach work. And the offensive line should improve because, well, it can't do much worse than last year.

But there's more!

What about that defense? It stood out to me at media day that Riley talked about the improved conditioning of sophomore defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn. Those two have a chance to be a heck of a tandem. I like the Beavers back seven, which is sneaky good at linebacker and has cornerback Jordan Poyer, a top NFL prospect. The question is can the Beavers cover up an obvious weakness at tackle? Tag that with a firm "maybe."

The key stretch in the schedule runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 when the Beavers play at UCLA, at Arizona, Washington State and at BYU. Those are four winnable games, but the Beavers have to be road warriors. The bad news is they've won just one true road game over the past two seasons.

Of course, that win was at a good Arizona team, when Katz seemed like he was on the cusp of breaking out -- only WR James Rodgers blew out his knee that night. Little has gone the Beavers way since then.

Call this a hunch that the Beavers will trend up in 2012. They might not get to eight wins, but I expect them to return to the postseason.

Kevin Gemmell: That's not a bad call. But it's the team the Beavers are staring up at in the preseason poll -- Washington State -- that leaves me questioning if there is room for one more in that indecipherable vacuum of second-tier North teams.

Like you, I think UCLA could be dangerous, because the athletes are in place and where Noel Mazzone goes, big offensive numbers usually follow. It seems like they just need a swift kick to the butt-pad to get them going. Jim Mora seems like the guy with the right set of feet.

But until we see what Mora can do at the college level, I'm sticking with the Cougars, because we know what Mike Leach and his teams are capable of.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I've been dropping WSU in occasionally as a team to watch in the North. And while I'm still not quite ready to elevate them in with those second-tier teams -- Cal, Stanford and Washington (in alphabetical order as not to offend) -- I'm a lot closer now than I was when the week started.

I walked away from media day convinced that Leach was not only the right hire, but that his impact is going to be immediate.

Most impressive was the demeanor and focus of quarterback Jeff Tuel. He carried himself with a quiet confidence and poise that stood out to me. I'm not going to compare being up on the stage to quarterbacking a football team -- but let's face it -- sitting up there in front of 100-plus reporters can be daunting. Tuel was loose -- and even cracked wise a couple of times. He carried himself like a mature, veteran, big-time quarterback. That's what you want to see.

The Cougars are going to score points, lots of them. And Tuel is going to put up numbers, big ones. Plus, there is depth at the position. Should Tuel suffer another injury -- he only appeared in three games last year -- Connor Halliday is waiting in the wings. I can think of a few teams that wouldn't mind having Halliday as a failsafe.

And I don't think the conference is fully prepared for what Leach and Co. are going to unleash each week. In his 10 years at Texas Tech his teams went to 10 bowl games. In 2000, his first year, he re-wrote virtually every Texas Tech passing record -- and then proceeded to re-break them for the next nine years. In his final two seasons his teams won 19 games. Washington State has won nine in the past four.

I'm predicting a 4-0 start (at BYU, Eastern Washington, at UNLV, Colorado). This team should make the postseason and if everything comes together with some haste, seven or eight wins is a very realistic possibility.

Oregon State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
2011 overall record: 3-9

2011 conference record: 3-6 (fifth in North)

Returning starters: offense: 8; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Sean Mannion, DB Jordan Poyer, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Brandin Cooks, DE Scott Crichton, DB Rashaad Reynolds, OL Josh Andrews, S Anthony Watkins.

Key losses
WR James Rodgers, S Lance Mitchell, C Grant Johnson, DT Fred Thompson (passed away last December, could have been in contention for starting spot).

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Malcolm Agnew* (423 yards)
Passing: Sean Mannion* (3,328 yards)
Receiving: Markus Wheaton* (986 yards)
Tackles: Anthony Watkins* (85)
Sacks: Scott Crichton* (6)
Interceptions: Jordan Poyer* (4)

Spring answers

1. Running game revival: Head coach Mike Riley has been adamant that his team will be better at running the ball in 2012. The Beavers rotated through four backs last season -- mostly because of injuries -- but redshirt freshman Storm Woods has come on strong in the spring. Though a pecking order hasn't been established, it's safe to say that the Beavers will have a deep rotation.

2. Secondary depth is solid: With Watkins sidelined during the spring with a shoulder injury, it opened up opportunities for Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman to replace the graduated Lance Mitchell. Murphy, last year's nickelback, looks like he's won the job to start along Watkins. Pair that with Poyer and Reynolds and the Beavers should be solid in the defensive backfield.

3. LB corps filling out: D.J. Welch looks like the heir apparent to Cam Collins on the strong side. Feti Unga, who was among the conference leaders in tackles last year prior to a knee injury, appears to be back and ready to go for the fall. Michael Doctor also appears more comfortable as he readies for his second year as a starter. Rueben Robinson and Cade Cowdin should provide the Beavers with some good depth across the board.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line issues: With only eight healthy linemen this spring, there wasn't much of an opportunity to fill out a starting five. Riley said he doesn't like leaving spring without knowing who his starters are, but it's just something they have to deal with. Andrews helps solidify the line and Grant Enger and Colin Kelly will be in the mix when they return from injury. But with a big influx of freshmen, Riley has essentially said all positions are up for grabs.

2. Has Mannion taken the next step? If you ask Riley, he has. If you ask Mannion, he has. But it won't be known until he steps on to the field. He showed last season that he has the potential to be an A-list quarterback in this conference. Better decisions should improve his 16-to-18 touchdown to interception ratio and an improved running game will almost certainly be a plus.

3. Who is No. 3 at WR? We know about Wheaton. We know that Cooks is up and coming. But who is going to be that No. 3 option for Mannion? Jordan Bishop is penciled in as the slot guy, but he missed his second straight spring. That opened the door for Obum Gwacham to emerge as the potential No. 3. He's Wheaton's immediate backup on the outside, but Riley couldn't help but gush about Gwacham's performance this spring.
There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high-powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.
Heading into the 2010 season, it was not uncommon for media sorts to volunteer Oregon State as a program that had the best staff of assistant coaches in the Pac-10.

Why? Good numbers without stockpiles of elite recruits. Non-elite recruits becoming NFL draft choices. Thirty-six wins over the previous four seasons. You know, the usual suspects.

Oh, but how two down seasons can change things. After going a combined 8-16 over the past two years, many Beavers fans are either calling for head coach Mike Riley's head, or they are at least calling for the heads of his coordinators: Mark Banker on defense and Danny Langsdorf on offense.

How quickly can things change? Well, I wrote this heading into 2010 as part of a "Don't be surprised if..." series: "Don't be surprised if ... Beavers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf becomes a hot head-coaching candidate when new starting quarterback Ryan Katz posts surprisingly strong numbers this fall."

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireAfter two straight lowly seasons, Oregon State coach Mike Riley might call offensive plays in 2012.
Katz posted pretty good numbers in 2010 -- 60 percent completion rate, 18 TDs, 11 interceptions -- but he was promptly and surprisingly displaced as the starter by redshirt freshman Sean Mannion at the beginning of the 2011 season. And Langsdorf is now fighting for his job instead of presiding over his own program.

In fact, there now appears to be some question as to whether Riley will take over play-calling responsibilities from Langsdorf in 2012, which Riley gave to Langsdorf midway through the 2008 season. This question is being -- legitimately -- asked because Riley is calling plays this spring.

Riley was noncommittal -- and a tad uncomfortable -- with this line of inquiry Monday, and you can see video of his thoughts here. He called it "not a big deal." He said he was calling plays so he could see how the offense reacted against certain looks from the defense: "It's a way to orchestrate a big-picture look," he said.

When asked if it was for spring only, he said, "For right now, it's only for spring."

That qualifies as a "maybe," not a "Yes" or "No."

So here's my defense of Langsdorf, who also coaches the Beavers QBs. It might not be completely comforting for Beavers fans, but I think it's fair and accurate: The reason the Beavers offense has struggled the past two seasons ... drum roll please ... is a lack of good players.

I know: Thud.

The 2010 season likely would have been different if receiver James Rodgers hadn't blown out his knee during an impressive win at Arizona on Oct. 9. And the Beavers would have qualified for a bowl game if typically reliable tight end Joe Halahuni hadn't dropped a 2-point conversion that would have beaten homestanding Washington in double-overtime.

2011? Well, that was just pretty lousy. Riley, Langsdorf, Banker, the players -- everyone associated with the program -- surely spent some time wondering where they failed.

Still, as the Pac-12 blog observed while praising Langsdorf just two years ago:

In his six seasons as offensive coordinator, the Beavers have posted five of their top-nine all-time seasons of total offense. Remember the early careers of quarterbacks Matt Moore, Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao? One word: Yucky. Remember their late careers? Two words: Dramatic transformation. Canfield earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and joined Moore in the NFL.

In 2008, with Langsdorf calling plays, the Beavers ranked 32nd in the nation with 30.5 points per game and 30th in the nation with 407.1 yards per game. In 2009, they ranked 26th in points (31.5 ppg) and 34th in yards (410.6 ypg).

In other words, Langsdorf has been a successful coordinator and playcaller. At least when he's shown up for battle with more than a pillow shield and plastic sword.

Things set up fairly well for the offense heading into 2012. Langsdorf has his returning starter at QB in Mannion. He has a good crew of receivers, led by Markus Wheaton. But the offense will struggle if it can't generate a running game, which mostly hinges on improved play on the offensive line, which has been sub-par two years running.

One of the criticisms of Riley has been his loyalty to his assistant coaches, but he's made tough decisions recently, including firing longtime linebackers coach Greg Newhouse in March of 2011 (mostly because of recruiting shortcomings). If Riley takes away play-calling responsibilities from Langsdorf, it will be a painful blow to both men.

But it appears that possibility is at least being considered, so it will be worth asking about in advance of the season opener on Sept. 1 against Nicholls State.
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: WR James Rodgers

How big are his shoes? Well, Rodgers only leaves as Oregon State's all-time leader in all-purpose yards (6,377) and receptions (222). Not to mention he was tied for third all time for career receiving touchdowns (19) and fourth all time for career receiving yards (2,582). It is also worth noting that it will be the first time since 2007 that a "Rodgers" brother won't be on the roster. His impact last season wasn't as significant -- 45 catches and just three touchdowns -- but he leaves OSU as one of its most celebrated receivers.

Stepping in: Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks

Wheaton actually clicked well with quarterback Sean Mannion last season and was the team's leading receiver with 73 catches for 986 yards and a touchdown. He tied for fifth in the conference with 6.1 catches per game. Cooks was tied for third on the team with 31 catches for 391 yards and three receiving touchdowns (including a team-long 59-yarder against BYU). With a renewed focus on the running game, coach Mike Riley said he hopes the balance will allow for better bang-for-buck in the passing attack.

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.

Lunch links: Urban Meyer reflects on Utah

March, 19, 2012
It takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it outta sight.

Lunch links: Stanford is QB shopping

February, 28, 2012
Looking good, Billy Ray!
Feeling good, Louis!

Lunch links: Leach gets tough with Cougs

February, 27, 2012
Billy, this is Chad Bradford. He's a relief pitcher. He is one of the most undervalued players in baseball. His defect is that he throws funny. Nobody in the big leagues cares about him because he looks funny. This guy could be not just the best pitcher in our bullpen, but one of the most effective relief pitchers in all of baseball. This guy should cost $3 million a year. We can get him for $237,000.

Pac-12 intrigue at NFL combine

February, 21, 2012
The Pac-12 will send 45 players to the NFL combine, which starts Wednesday in Indianapolis.

You can see the complete list of invitees here. And here's the schedule -- things don't really start rolling until Thursday.

There are plenty of subplots for the Pac-12 players on hand.
  • Arizona quarterback Nick Foles is among a handful of quarterbacks vying to be the third quarterback off the board after Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin. And, by the way, you might want to toss Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler into the mix there, too.
  • Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden, who sat out the entire 2011 season, will try to prove his knee is 100 percent.
  • Will Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict be able to rehabilitate his image, both with a strong performance and convincing interview? The scuttlebutt for him since the start of the season has been almost entirely negative, with the latest being this: He's a "fake tough guy." Even worse than rumors like that is the more measurable claim that he may show up out of shape.
  • Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris, who essentially missed the entire season due to suspension, will need to show some newfound maturity. And he'll need to test well to distract from the challenge he may face producing that.
  • Oregon running back LaMichael James could substantially boost his stock will an impressive 40-yard dash, which would prove he has elite speed and offset size concerns.
  • The same could be said for Washington running back Chris Polk, whose biggest knock is an apparent lack of top-end speed.
  • Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, a surprise early entry into the draft, will get a chance to prove he's worthy.
  • Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu entered the 2011 season looking like a potential first-round pick, but his stock slid with a lackluster season. He also didn't impress during Senior Bowl practices. But 330 pound DTs are hard to find, particularly ones as athletic as Ta'amu. A good combine could get him back on the first-day radar.
  • Receivers Chris Owusu of Stanford and James Rodgers of Oregon State also need to overcome health issues. Rodgers needs to show his quickness is back after major knee surgery. Owusu will need to address issues with multiple concussions.
  • A guy the Pac-12 blog is curious about: Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The conference defensive player of the year seems like a guy who might surprise folks and push into the early rounds.
  • The Pac-12 is sending a strong group of offensive linemen into the combine, with USC's Matt Kalil and the Stanford tandem of Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro likely first-round picks. But what about the other seven guys? Who might step up and generate some buzz? Perhaps Cal's Mitchell Schwartz?

Season recap: Oregon State

December, 7, 2011

Record: 3-9, 3-6 Pac-12

Once thought to have the most secure job in the conference, Mike Riley's seat might be a little toastier next year after back-to-back disappointing seasons. It started with an overtime loss to Sacramento State in Week 1 and quickly snowballed as the Beavers lost five of their first six. Freshman Sean Mannion showed glimpses of what could be, tossing for 3,328 yards. But 18 interceptions to 16 touchdowns stains his 64.5 percent completion percentage.

If you're looking for things to build off of, there was the 38-21 win in the second to last game of the year over Washington. Mannion completed 26-of-37 balls for 339 yards and a pair of scores. There was the season-high 44 points the Beavers put up against Washington State -- four touchdowns courtesy of the freshman quarterback.

There were flashes, but they came so inconsistently that Oregon State could never string together a complete game -- half -- or sometimes even a quarter.

Riley gets another year to turn the ship around -- but with just eight wins in the last two seasons -- he better start moving quicker. Ranking 99th in points for (21.8) and 88th in points against (30.8) is a good way to charcoal your chair.

Offensive MVP: A case could be made for Mannion, certainly. But junior receiver Markus Wheaton, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection, caught 73 balls for 986 yards. He had just one touchdown, but drew a lot of attention with James Rodgers not being 100 percent.

Defensive MVP: Junior defensive back Jordan Poyer, who landed on the All-Pac-12 second team, led the team in passes defended (16) and also hauled in four interceptions. Worth noting that he's also one of the most versatile players on the squad, returning kicks on special teams.

Turning point: Every time another player went down to injury, it was a turning point. The Beavers only had six positions where they had the same starter all season long. But if you're looking for one individual game or moment, it's probably the Washington game. Though OSU went on to lose its regular season finale against Oregon, it still gives a little bit of momentum heading into another bowl-less offseason.

Up next: Recruit, recruit, recruit. After posting 36 wins between 2006-2009, Riley knows how to motivate and win in the Pacific Northwest. But next season will be critical to his future in Corvallis.

Oregon State not short on motivation

November, 25, 2011
Oregon State seems like nothing more than a bit player against Oregon in the 115th Civil War. The Ducks have moved on to bigger things in the rivalry -- conference championships, national championship games, Rose Bowls, etc. -- while the Beavers are about to tie a ribbon on a second consecutive losing season.

In 2007, Oregon State won 38-31 in double-overtime. In 2008 and 2009, the stakes were the Rose Bowl.

In 2011? The Beavers are four-touchdown underdogs to an Oregon team trying to sew up the first Pac-12 North Division championship and a home game against the South champ on Dec. 2.

"Wow, 29-point underdogs," freshman defensive end Scott Crichton said. "We were underdogs last game and we blew them out. This game is going to be different from what everyone says."

Crichton refers to the Beavers' surprisingly efficient 38-21 win over Washington last weekend, which is easily the highlight of their season.

Still, the Huskies aren't the Ducks. And that game was in the friendly confines of Reser Stadium, not the Ducks' rowdy home base, Autzen Stadium.

Of course, crazy stuff happens in college football and rivalry games. Just when things seem to make sense, No. 2 Oklahoma State loses to Iowa State.

If Oregon State plays its best game of the season, and Oregon plays like it did for 2 1/2 quarters in its 38-35 loss last weekend to USC, the upset could happen.

"Every phase of the game we’re going to have to play at a tremendously high level to compete," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "I will tell you this -- I think our team will compete hard and prepare well, and I know they’re looking forward to a great opportunity.”

Only two current Oregon State players — receivers James Rodgers and Darrell Catchings — have beaten Oregon. Rodgers scored the winning TD in the 2007 game, taking a fly sweep 25 yards for a score.

A lot has happened to the Beavers and Rodgers since then. Rodgers suffered a serious knee injury in 2010 and didn't return to the field until game three this year. He's yet to regain his All-American form, and he suffered a sprained ankle in the win over Washington, which makes his status questionable for Saturday.

Of course, Rodgers, despite sporting a boot on his injured foot, said this week he has no doubt he will play. This will be his last game as a Beaver and he said it was important to "try to get some respect back."

Still, the stakes for Oregon after the USC loss are no longer just bragging rights. If the Ducks lose, Stanford wins the North, and the Ducks likely end up in the Alamo Bowl. You'd think that would be enough to keep them focused Saturday.

The Ducks are looking to win a fourth consecutive Civil War, which would be their longest winning streak since 1994-97. If the Beavers lose, this would mark their first season with three wins or fewer since 1997, Riley’s first season at Oregon State.

Make no mistake: Oregon State's downturn is even more notable when juxtaposed with Oregon's rise. That has some Beavers fans chirping about the program trending downward under Riley.

The tangible stakes are huge for Oregon. But there's plenty for the Beavers to play for, too.

Said Crichton, "It would help us a lot. I know we can win this game, and it definitely would bring momentum to us and everyone else who doubts us."

Quick look at week 12 games

November, 15, 2011
Here's a quick look at Week 12 in the Pac-12.

All times are ET. All games are Saturday.

Washington (6-4, 4-3) at Oregon State (2-8, 2-5) 3:30 p.m. Root NW: Washington leads the series 58-33-4 and won last year 35-34 in double-overtime. Huskies quarterback Keith Price hurt his knee last weekend at USC and was replaced by Nick Montana. Price awaits results from tests on his knee, and Montana could get the start in Corvallis. Beavers wide receiver James Rodgers, who has 218 career receptions, needs three catches to pass Mike Hass for No. 1 on the program's all-time list. The Beavers are last in the Pac-12 in scoring (20.3 ppg) and rushing (88.2 ypg).

Utah (6-4, 3-4) at Washington State (4-6, 2-5) 5 p.m. FCS: The series is tied 5-5-0. Washington State won the last meeting 38-21 in 2000. After beating UCLA last weekend, the Utes became bowl eligible for a ninth consecutive season. The Utes have won three in a row and four of five. Utah is 6-0 when running back John White rushes for over 100 yards. The Utes are No. 1 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (19.2 ppg). The Cougars have two conference wins, equalling their total over the past three seasons combined. Four total wins is their most since going 5-7 in 2007. WR Marquess Wilson has 1,197 yards receiving, a new school season record. In the win over Arizona State, redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday set a Pac-12 freshman record with 494 yards passing.

Colorado (2-9, 1-6) at UCLA (5-5, 4-3) 7:30 p.m. Versus: UCLA leads the series 4-2, but Colorado won the last game 16-14 in 2003. Colorado ended a seven-game losing streak with its first Pac-12 win last weekend against Arizona. UCLA controls its own Pac-12 South Division destiny. If it wins out, it wins the division. The Bruins rank last in the conference in run defense (190.2 ypg). Colorado ranks last in scoring defense (37.8 ppg) and 11th in scoring offense (21.3 ppg).

No. 18 (AP) USC (8-2, 5-2) at No. 4 Oregon (9-1, 7-0) 8 p.m. ABC: USC leads the series 37-18-2 but Oregon won its second in a row 53-32 last year in the Coliseum. If the Ducks win, they clinch the Pac-12 North Division title. Oregon has won 21 consecutive home games and 19 consecutive conference games. 25 of the Ducks 65 TDs this year have come on plays of 25 or more yards. The Ducks rank third in the nation in scoring (46.7 ppg). USC has won at least eight games 10 consecutive seasons. The Trojans had a season-high seven sacks in their win over Washington. Oregon has allowed just seven sacks this year. The Trojans have held an opponent to less than 100 yards rushing five times this year; USC ranks second in the Pac-12 in run defense. Oregon ranks fifth in the nation in rushing (291.8 ypg).

Arizona (2-8, 1-7) at Arizona State (6-4, 4-3) 9:30 p.m. FSAZ: Arizona leads the rivalry series 46-37-1 but Arizona State won 30-29 in double-overtime last year in Tucson. Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles became the program's all-time leading passer, eclipsing Willie Tuitama with 9,289 yards through the air. Sun Devils wide receiver Jamal Miles returned the opening kickoff against Washington State 95 yards for a TD, his second kickoff return for a TD this season and third for his career, which are both school records. The Sun Devils are 5-0 at home this year. Arizona is last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin at minus-7. Arizona State is first at plus-14. The Wildcats are last in the conference -- and 118th in the nation -- with just eight sacks.

California (6-4, 3-4) at No. 9 Stanford (9-1, 7-1) 10:15 p.m. ESPN: Stanford leads the series 56-46-11, including a 48-14 win at Cal last year. Oregon ended Stanford's 17-game winning streak last week. It had been the nation's longest winning streak. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has 74 career TD passes. He needs four more to eclipse John Elway's school record of 77. Luck's 29 TD passes is second to the school record 32 he threw last year. Stanford has scored 30 or more points in 13 consecutive games. The Cardinal is 57 for 57 in redzone trips this season. Cal running back Isi Sofele is the program's ninth 1,000-yard rushing in 10 seasons. Cal is No. 1 and Stanford No. 2 in the Pac-12 in total defense.

Lunch links: USC finds recruiting steal

November, 10, 2011
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune --often the surfeit
of our own behavior --we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity.