Pac-12: Jeff Tuel

Q&A: Washington State's Elliott Bosch

November, 22, 2013
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The Washington State Cougars are on the verge of bowl eligibility. With a victory Saturday over Utah, the Cougars could go to a bowl game for the first time since 2003. But they need to figure out a way to win a conference game at home. WSU center Elliott Bosch took a few minutes this week to catch up with the Pac-12 blog about the state of the Cougars, their bowl aspirations and what he’ll take away from playing for Mike Leach.

You guys are one game away from bowl eligibility. Was that a team goal? Or was it one of those situations where if it happens, it happens?

Elliott Bosch: I think it was in the back of everyone’s mind. But at the same time, one thing we preached in camp was just play every week and win every week and don’t give ourselves a ceiling.

What would a bowl game mean? Not just for the seniors, but for the program, the fans and the school?

EB: It would be huge. It’s been a decade since we’ve gone. To be part of the group that gets it back and sets the standard for the program for upcoming years would be big.

[+] EnlargeElliott Bosch
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesElliott Bosch is part of an improved Washington State offensive line.
If you guys get there, is that a tip of the cap to all the guys who came before and never got the chance? I recall a conversation with Travis Long, and he mentioned all he wanted to do was get to a bowl game.

EB: We couldn’t have done it without guys like Travis Long. Even though he’s gone, he still left his mark on the program. He’s still remembered for all the good things he did for us. We couldn’t have done it without all of those guys who came before.

Last year, you were worst in the league in sacks allowed. Significant improvement this year. What’s been the difference?

EB: I think we’re a little more experienced as a group. We grew up. The biggest thing is we bought in as a group and worked our tails off. We didn’t want to be that group again – the reason this thing wouldn’t go. As a group, we made that decision that we were going to be better and we weren’t going to be the reason.

What about as a team? Is there something different from a mentality standpoint? Or is it just another year in the system?

EB: Part of it is another year in the system and everyone knowing their job and what is expected. But we’ve also grown up a lot as a team. We’re not as mentally fragile. When bad stuff happened last year, it put us in the tank. Bad stuff is still happening this year but we’re able to come back from it and not let it affect us and not let it determine the outcome of a game.

You guys are a bit of an anomaly in the fact that all three of your conference wins have come on the road and you have no conference wins at home. Normally it’s the other way around. What are you guys doing on the road that you aren’t doing at home?

EB: I don’t know. I don’t really have an answer to that. It is an anomaly. We do take a lot of pride playing at home. It just hasn’t gone our way this year and it has gone our way on the road. I think we play good on the road and I think we’re good at just focusing on ourselves as a team and not the atmosphere and getting bug-eyed. We’d like to play better at home. It means something to play well at home.

What have you seen out of Connor [Halliday] from last year going back and forth with Jeff [Tuel] to being the full-time guy. Are you seeing week-by-week improvement from him?

EB: Definitely. Every week he gets better in every aspect. Each week he learns more. He’s preparing better. I think it was big for him to be the guy. He’s one of those guys who needs to know it’s his responsibility and he needs to prepare as the leader rather than not knowing each week what his role is.

What have you seen from Utah on film?

EB: Last year they gave us problems, but we’re trying not to focus on last year. I know they are a tough group and they play hard and they go out and do their job. We’re going to have to play great and match their effort and their intensity.

What’s next for you? A run at the NFL?

EB: I don’t really know. I’ve always taken a realistic stance on it. If I have an opportunity, I’ll take it. But I don’t want to be the guy chasing a dream that’s not there. And I’m not the stereotypical NFL offensive lineman size-wise (6-4, 280). We’ll see. I don’t know.

In your time there, what’s the lesson you take away from working with Mike Leach?

EB: You learn stuff from him every day. But the one big thing is he demands excellence out of his players and he shows you that you have more in you than you think you do and he’s able to get that out of people. In every aspect. In school, off the field, in all aspects of life. I think that’s the one thing I’m going to take away.
It all seemed so simple before Week 1 of last year. Six quarterback competitions, six resolutions before the first game of the year.

Taylor Kelly had won the gig at ASU. Jordan Webb set foot on campus and was almost instantly Colorado’s starter. Marcus Mariota outdistanced Bryan Bennett. Josh Nunes was Andrew Luck’s successor. Brett Hundley was an exciting unknown, and Jeff Tuel was the guy to lead WSU’s Air Raid.

Of course, simplicity doesn’t always last. Be it injury or performance, Webb and Nunes weren’t the starters at the end of the season and Tuel went back-and-forth with Connor Halliday. Mariota, Kelly and Hundley, however, went on to be three of the four most efficient quarterbacks in the league.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMax Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) will both see time at QB for the Trojans.
The moral of the story: Don’t fear the unknown. But don’t be too comfortable with it, either.

Which leads us to this year’s crop of quarterback competitions. It’s not as cut-and-dried as it was a year ago. At least two of them are ongoing and will probably stretch into the first weeks of the season.

The No. 24 Trojans open against Hawaii with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek still in the hunt for the right to replace Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin, however, said he has zero concerns that the competition hasn’t been resolved.

“I see it as completely opposite,” Kiffin said during Tuesday’s Pac-12 conference call. “I think they have both performed so well. We feel great about both of them running our offense. I see it as a positive. I think they've really worked on their weaknesses … that way we don’t have to call the game any different based on who is in. We can do all of our stuff.”

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez hasn’t picked his guy yet, either. Though he did say he has seen some recent progress from B.J. Denker, Javelle Allen and Jesse Scroggins. A week ago, it was thought that as many as four or five guys could still be in the mix.

“I’d be more concerned if none of them made progress,” Rodriguez said. “In the last week and a half, they have all made some pretty good progress. B.J. Denker and Javelle Allen, the guys that have been in the program, have made pretty good progress. And Jesse Scroggins has gotten better as well. I feel good about that. There’s no question there is always more concern when you don’t have experience there. B.J. has been in the system for a year and Javelle has been in the system for a year. We feel pretty confident they can run the whole entire offense and with Jesse it’s just a matter of time.”

And time is on Arizona’s side. The Wildcats don’t exactly have a pressing first month of the season. They host Northern Arizona this weekend, followed by a trip to UNLV before hosting UTSA on Sept. 14. Then it’s a bye week before opening league play at Washington.

One report last week had Oregon State playing the quarterback shuffle heading into Week 1. But Mike Riley put that to rest yesterday when he named Sean Mannion his starter.

“I had told some stories in the past of experience with two quarterbacks playing, but never intended to start a rotation situation here at all,” Riley said. “We intended to name a starter and then have kind of left it up in the air … Sean is the starter and we’ll go into the game like that.”

Connor Wood won the job at Colorado -- ending a QB competition that started with six but dwindled after injuries and transfers.

"He's big, he's athletic, he's got a strong arm, and he's a talented athlete," said coach Mike MacIntyre, who noted he was also very pleased with the progress of freshman Sefo Liufau. "He really started capturing the essence of our offense and understanding where to go with the ball and where to go with our run game. He kept improving."

Cal coach Sonny Dykes took a different approach, naming Jared Goff his starter as soon as he could.

“Anytime you have a starting quarterback, I think everyone is more comfortable,” Dykes said. “The quarterback is more comfortable. The skill-position players can start to get on the same page. You develop a relationship with the center and quarterback and their ability to communicate with each other and the sense of timing that needs to exist there. I think what it does is settle everybody down.”

Washington State season preview

August, 6, 2013
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Today we begin rolling out our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season. We start in reverse alphabetical order with the Washington State Cougars.

Washington State

Coach: Mike Leach (87-52, 3-9 at Washington State)

2012 record: 3-9 (1-8, Pac-12 North)

Key losses: DE Travis Long, WR Marquess Wilson, QB Jeff Tuel, RB Carl Winston

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jake Roth/US PresswireMike Leach is hoping to see more improvement in his second season at Washington State.
Key returnees: WR Gabe Marks, WR Brett Bartolone, QB Connor Halliday, S Deone Bucannon, DT Ioane Gauta.

Newcomer to watch: WR Vince Mayle (JC transfer, Sierra College) is a big, physical receiver at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. Despite an already-deep receiving corps, Mayle's presence ups the competition in an offense that favors receivers.

Biggest games in 2013: Aug. 31 at Auburn: We'll see what kind of progress the team made in the offseason and who will be the quarterback -- at least for one week. Nov. 29 at Washington: Last year's Apple Cup, a thrilling come-from-behind win for the Cougars, re-ignited the rivalry after the Huskies had won three straight.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The obvious question is who is going to be the quarterback -- Connor Halliday, Austin Apodaca or both? But it's the guys up front protecting the quarterback who are also cause for concern. Elliot Bosch is a steady anchor at center, and there is some depth across the line, if not uncertainty on who plays where. Last year the Cougars gave up more sacks per game than any team in the nation and were second to last nationally in interceptions thrown. A lot of that falls on the quarterbacks. But a lot also falls on the line. Improved line play should also boost the running game, which averaged just 29 yards per game (a bit misleading considering the total number of sacks allowed) and produced just six touchdowns on the ground.

Forecast: Expectations are a little more tempered heading into Year 2 of the Mike Leach era. This time last year, folks were talking postseason. And why not? Leach had never had a losing season as a head coach and had been to 10 straight bowl games. But it didn't work out that way, and people are starting to understand that it's going to take more than Leach being on the sidelines for this team to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003.

With that said, there is talent -- especially at wide receiver with Marks, Bartolone, Isiah Myers and a host of others. If the offensive line, coupled with more consistent quarterback play (presumably, for now, from Halliday), can reduce the sacks and buy more time, we could see the offense be even more explosive than last season when it averaged more than 330 yards per game in the air. The addition of former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost to the coaching staff shouldn't go unrecognized, either.

While the defense yielded more than 33 points per game in 2012, the Cougars saw a major uptick in the pressure department in their first season running Mike Breske's 3-4 front. They jumped from 94th in sacks per game and 78th in tackles for a loss per game in 2011 to 11th and eighth, respectively, in 2012. They need to find a replacement for Long -- and it looks like Logan Mayes, once thought to be the "buck" linebacker in waiting, will focus his time specifically on defensive end. There is some experience in the secondary and Bucannon is a bona fide playmaker and one of the top safeties in a league heavy on safety talent.

It might take another season for the Cougars to really make a big push toward the postseason. But there should be significant signs of improvement as Leach's players come to understand what he demands of them and they continue to grow into the schemes. Last year 17 freshmen started regularly compared to just four seniors. That trial-by-fire experience should start to pay dividends.
Ted spent much of the past two weeks looking at individuals from the league who are coming back. But what about from a team standpoint? As is always the case, we have to say goodbye to some folks who have graduated, departed early, transferred or simply chose to follow another path in life. What's left in the pantry?

Today we're going to take a look at what each team has coming back in terms of yards, attempts and touchdowns in the run game. Earlier today we looked at the South. Now we'll look at the North. "Team" carries are not taken into account looking ahead to 2013, but negative yards in 2012 are. Remember also that sacks are (for some redonkulous reason) counted as rushing attempts.

Here's a reminder of how the teams ranked in the league in rushing offense last year:
  1. Oregon
  2. Arizona
  3. Arizona State
  4. UCLA
  5. California
  6. Stanford
  7. USC
  8. Washington
  9. Utah
  10. Oregon State
  11. Colorado
  12. Washington State

Here's what the teams in the Pac-12 North have coming back.

California
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,196
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 451
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 18
  • Rushing yards returning: 536
  • Rushing attempts returning: 54
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 5
  • Percentage of yards returning: 24 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 11 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 27 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Brendan Bigelow, 431 yards, 44 attempts, three touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: C.J. Anderson, 790 yards, 126 attempts, four touchdowns
Oregon
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 4,098
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 685
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 48
  • Rushing yards returning: 2,176
  • Rushing attempts returning: 345
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 21
  • Percentage of yards returning: 53 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 50 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 43 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Marcus Mariota, 752 yards, 106 attempts, five touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Kenjon Barner, 1,767 yards, 278 attempts, 21 touchdowns
Oregon State
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,617
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 442
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 26
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,236
  • Rushing attempts returning: 342
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 23
  • Percentage of yards returning: 76 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 77 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 88 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Storm Woods, 940 yards, 13 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Malcolm Agnew, 269 yards, one touchdown
Stanford
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2440
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 549
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 23
  • Rushing yards returning: 825
  • Rushing attempts returning: 175
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 7
  • Percentage of yards returning: 33 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 31 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 30 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Kevin Hogan, 263 yards, 55 attempts, two touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Stepfan Taylor, 1,530 yards, 322 attempts, 13 touchdowns
Washington
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,851
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 466
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 19
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,774
  • Rushing attempts returning: 428
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 19
  • Percentage of yards returning: 95 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 91 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 100 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Bishop Sankey, 1,439 yards, 289 attempts, 16 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Dezden Petty, 99 yards, 29 attempts, zero touchdowns
Washington State
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 349
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 252
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 6
  • Rushing yards returning: 204
  • Rushing attempts returning: 111
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 1
  • Percentage of yards returning: 58 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 44 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 16 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Teondray Caldwell, 269 yards, 56 attempts, zero touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Carl Winston, 280 yards, 85 attempts, five touchdowns

EDIT: Unfortunately, due to an out-of-date roster, the WSU numbers have changed and the statistical anomaly that was their returning rushing attack is no more. I'm just as bummed as you all are. The new numbers have been updated.

Pac-12 offenses set to rebound?

June, 10, 2013
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In 2011, UCLA ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring offense with a measly 23.1 points per game. Oregon State was even worse, ranking 11th with just 21.8 ppg.

Bad offenses!

Both finished with losing records. The Bruins fired coach Rick Neuheisel. Oregon State fans were grumbling about coach Mike Riley.

Yet in 2012 both made huge improvement on offense.

Under coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Bruins ended up ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 34.4 points per game, a dramatic 11.3 points improvement.

Oregon State, despite being undecided at quarterback much of the season, ended up fifth with 32.5 points per game, a 10.7-point improvement.

Our, er, point? Units can make major improvements from one year to the next.

So who is poised to make a big jump this fall?

Well, the first question is can we glean anything from UCLA and Oregon State?

UCLA welcomed back seven starters but was looking for a quarterback. Of course, everyone knew that QB would be Brett Hundley, a touted recruit who had hinted at his big-time potential. There were also three offensive linemen coming back, but only one would be a starter in 2012 -- Jeff Baca.

There was a certifiable star returning on offense in RB Johnathan Franklin, and none of the departed players were All-Conference guys.

Oregon State welcomed back eight starters, including QB Sean Mannion. It would get a little messy with him and Cody Vaz. There also were three starting offensive linemen coming back.

There was a certifiable star returning in WR Markus Wheaton, and none of the departed players were All-Conference guys, though James Rodgers was a strong team leader.

And so we have the bottom five offenses from 2012:


If we were a betting blog -- titter -- we'd tap the Huskies. It's not just that Price seems poised to reverse course after a disappointing 2012 season, it's that he's got 10 returning starters around him, including such stars as Seferian Jenkins, RB Bishop Sankey and receiver Kasen Williams. Not to mention the injury issues of 2012 have created eight linemen with starting experience heading into 2013.

Second would be Washington State, mostly because of coach Mike Leach's track record. It's difficult to imagine the Cougs not scoring at least in the mid-to-high 20s. And they'll probably cross the 30 threshold.

In fact, I'd expect all five of those offenses to post better numbers in 2013.

Utah expects to be much better on the offensive line, and Wilson should do well as a second-year starter working with new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. Further, the receivers along with Murphy are solid.

Colorado can't be any worse, really. New coach Mike MacIntyre created an explosive offense at San Jose State. And the return of Paul Richardson -- he missed 2012 with a knee injury -- gives the Buffs a A-list playmaker.

Cal might be the most questionable one, but new coach Sonny Dykes has produced good offenses at both Arizona and Louisiana Tech. The Bears have plenty of questions, but there's also some intriguing talent, including QB Zach Kline, receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper.
Ah, lists. Gotta love 'em. And we know you do, too.

Our friends at Athlon Sports -- who brought you some of your favorite hits like ranking the Pac-12 coaches -- posted a new list this morning ranking the Pac-12 quarterbacks. Nothing stirs the pot like a list.
College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article. Also, some projection for how we think quarterbacks are going to play for 2013 factored into this ranking.

With quarterback competitions still raging at several schools, they had to project the starter in a few cases. But none of those projections feel like too far of a stretch.

Here's how they rank the QBs:
  1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
  2. Brett Hundley, UCLA
  3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
  4. Keith Price, Washington
  5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
  6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
  7. Cody Kessler, USC
  8. Connor Halliday, Washington State
  9. Zach Kline, California
  10. Travis Wilson, Utah
  11. B.J. Denker, Arizona
  12. Nick Hirschman, Colorado

Some thoughts:
  • The top three are solid. If you go back to our postseason top 25, we had five quarterbacks on our list. Two of them are gone (Matt Scott, Matt Barkley) and the remaining QBs were Mariota (No. 1), Hundley (No. 15) and Kelly (No. 24).
  • It looks like they are banking on Price to return to his 2011 form, hence the ranking over Hogan. The Pac-12 blog also thinks Price is going to have a bounce-back year. But given Hogan's icy play and his 5-0 record as a starter -- which includes a 4-0 mark against Top 25 teams -- this half of the Pac-12 blog would probably flip those two.
  • I don't even want to begin to speculate on the Oregon State quarterback competition. Only Mike Riley knows which way he's leaning. And he's not going to let us into his thought process until well into fall camp. We know both Mannion and Cody Vaz are capable of winning big games. Because both have. We also know both have had their struggles, because both have. Too close to call.
  • Lots and lots of potential with Halliday in that offense. His legend grew with his liver-lacerating performance against Utah in 2011, but the constant switching last year between Halliday and Jeff Tuel didn't allow for either quarterback to perform consistently. This is probably a fair ranking -- but the potential is there to crack the top five.
  • Those who closely followed USC's spring are also banking that Kessler will be the starter. We just have to wait a few months to see if either Max Wittek or Max Browne can challenge his front-runner status. He's another guy who could climb the rankings quickly because he has the best wide receiver in the country to throw to and a stable of receivers as strong as any in the conference.
  • The 9-11 spots is where I'd probably make a couple of switches. There are rare exceptions where you can rank an untested quarterback above those with actual game experience simply by virtue of the offense. Mariota was an example of that last year. But new quarterback, new coach, new system makes it tough in my mind to rank Kline (or Jared Goff, or Austin Hinder) above Wilson or Denker. Both of those guys have played and won games. Word out of Arizona camp is that Denker had a strong spring -- though the loss of Austin Hill hurts. Wilson showed improvement over the second half of the season -- winning three of his last five -- with five touchdowns to two interceptions over that stretch. Kline might prove to be as advertised, but for now I'd go with Wilson and Denker above him.
  • Again, Colorado is a team where projecting a starter is tough. Maybe the new pistol offense will be a perfect fit for Hirschman? But like Washington State last year, there was so much flip-flopping at QB that consistency was non-existent. And as Ted noted earlier this week, don't count out Shane Dillon, who could pull a Taylor Kelly and leap-frog the competition when fall rolls around.
  • Overall, pretty fair rankings with only a couple of moves, in my humble opinion.
Connor HallidayAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenConnor Halliday has bought into Mike Leach's style of hard-nosed football.
It was Day 4 of Washington State spring practices and the Cougars' talented, but young, receivers caught a sudden and severe case of the dropsies.

Bobble, bobble ... and the ball falls to the dirt. Boing! To the dirt. Volleyball set! And to the dirt.

Coach Mike Leach was not happy, according to QB Connor Halliday. And Leach decided that Halliday needed to take some of the blame for the dropped passes.

Mayhem shortly ensued.

"Coach Leach was yelling at me that they were dropping balls and then the strength coach came up and said something to me," Halliday explained. "So it was boiling over and boiling over. This one kid had dropped like five balls. I kind of got in his face and he shoved me. So I took his helmet off and kind of started punching him. We had a great practice after that so it kind of did its job."

While some might flinch at talk of punches being thrown at practices, various media reports on the incident describe the donnybrook as closer to WWE than UFC.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jesse Beals/Icon SMIMike Leach posted a disappointing 3-9 record in his first year as coach of the Cougars.
And more than a few Cougars fans are probably pleased at Halliday showing some spit and vinegar. You can bet Leach is.

Washington State finished with 10 wins for a third consecutive season in 2003. It hasn't posted a winning campaign since. In fact, since 2008, it's averaged 2.4 wins per season.

Leach arrived as a potential savior in the winter of 2011. He buoyed the Cougs' sagging spirits. Then BYU manhandled Washington State 30-6 in the season opener, and things were pretty much miserable from then on, other than a shocking comeback overtime victory in the Apple Cup, which put a gratifying hatchet wound in Washington's season.

Further, the season was not devoid of controversy. In front of reporters, Leach more than a few times laid into his players for their effort. Star receiver Marquess Wilson quit the team, making false charges of abuse as he exited that he later recanted.

Leach wanted a level of commitment from his players that he wasn't getting. But that is the past. Will that uncomfortable transition prove to be groundwork for a positive future, or a harbinger of a more dreadful spiral? Was there method in Leach's madness?

Welcome to the spring of 2013, where Halliday throwing nubs -- or dishing out encouragement -- is replacing at least some of Leach's harangues.

Explained Halliday, "I think Coach Leach has put more trust in me. That when we're sputtering as an offense, I've taken it upon myself to bring the offense up and kind of get into the guys, depending on how the practice is going, to yell at them or say, 'Hey, let's take a deep breath and take one play at a time.' When things went wrong last year, I think coach Leach thought it was his job to get everybody going, to get the attention of people. I think hearing a different voice has really helped the offense when we are sputtering."

Halliday and Jeff Tuel had a version of Oregon State's Sean Mannion/Cody Vaz quarterback carousel last year. Halliday started five times, Tuel seven. Both had some great moments. And plenty of poor ones.

Halliday took over the starting job when Tuel got hurt, then lost it when he threw five interceptions with no touchdowns in losses to Oregon State and California. He came off the bench against UCLA on Nov. 10 and nearly led the Cougars to a shocking upset, hurling five touchdown passes. Then he completed just 13-of-33 in a blowout loss to Arizona State a week later. The job was handed back to Tuel for the Apple Cup.

It wasn't an easy situation for either guy, much less the entire offense.

"It kind of sounds silly but it's about not knowing if the guy making the decision has much confidence in you," Halliday said. "If you make one mistake, you're kind of looking over your shoulder. I think Jeff and I both played pretty well in the role of backup, going in when the other struggled."

Halliday threw 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions last year, but his most notable problem was accuracy. Leach wants his quarterbacks to complete 70 percent of their throws. Halliday completed 52 percent.

Of course, it didn't help that his line couldn't pass protect him; giving up a worst-in-the-nation 57 sacks. Still, Halliday often held the ball too long, looking for the big play instead of the smart one.

"I'm definitely fitting into [the offense] better," Halliday said. "[Leach] charts every pass in spring and I'm right around 67-68 percent right now ... I understood the offense for the most part last year but I didn't understand where every easy throw was for every play."

Leach promised a hard offseason and he delivered. Instead of loosening up, he tightened the screws this winter. He wanted to know who really wanted to play football for the Cougs.

"It was definitely long and it was definitely a grind," Halliday said. "There were some points in time when there was some bitching and moaning, wondering if this is what they want to do. It was definitely tough. But he was just trying to install the thought process that if you want to be here, you really need to want to be here."

The Cougars have some young talent, and Halliday said the offense has been "clicking" this spring. While the Pac-12 North Division is rugged, Halliday foresees dramatic improvement in 2013.

But even more than wins, it would seem Leach's chief purpose is to break down this program in order to build it up again. He has an idea of a football culture, and he expects guys such as Halliday to work with him to impose that culture.

Said Halliday, "There isn't going to be anybody on the team who is half-in, half-out. You have to be all-in."

Mailbag: I ku, you ku, we haiku

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
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Well, the call for iambic pentameter and haiku was very, very well received. As promised, those jump to the front of the line and since you took the time to write in Haiku or verse, I'll take the time to answer in Haiku or verse. It's a good ol' fashioned Pac-12 blog poetry slam.

As always, follow us on Twitter. (And a birthday shout-out to Fvstokes this weekend).

To the poetry!

Darius in "Wish I were at Stanford" writes:

Stanford's wide receivers:
Will they be any good, I wonder?
Hope, good news; otherwise, panic.

Kevin Gemmell:

Experience thin;
Need go-to threat on outside;
Paging Montgomery.




Uh Oh Chongo in Danger Island writes:

Pac-12 road trip time.
What is your destination?
Best away game this year?

Kevin Gemmell:

It's too soon to tell;
Though Pullman in winter rocks;
Says Cougarbrian.




Nathan in Seattle writes:

When will the Cougs rise?
When will our time come again?
How far are 10 wins?

Kevin Gemmell:

10 wins are a lot;
For now, enjoy Apple Cup;
New season brings hope.




Yellow in the Pac-12 blog writes (and I'm assuming he's a Washington fan):

Stadium rebuilt,
But can only see one game,
First game or rival?

Kevin Gemmell:

Truly, a tough choice;
Broncos or Cougars, hard call;
DirectTV? Doh!




Ryan in Portland writes:

Do Ducks win Pac-12?
And what about the natty?
I love roses man!

Kevin Gemmell:

Saying 'Natty bad;
Even in form of Haiku;
No roses for you!




Richard in Winters, Calif. writes: Will David Shaw, his conservative ways relent, And more aggressive nature, can invent?

Kevin Gemmell: A coach of the year twice he's been named. Conservatism seems not to dull his fame.




Basho in San Francisco writes: As I once famously said, "Furu ike ya (An old pond) Kawazu tobikomu (A frog jumps in) Mizu no oto (Sound of water)." In other words, do you think that Helfrich will be able to successfully make a splash jumping in as the new HC for the Ducks?

Kevin Gemmell: It's not often that deceased 17th century Japanese poets write in. So this is a treat. And who knew he was an Oregon fan?

I think Mark Helfrich has a higher burden of expectation than any other coach in the country because if he doesn't win at least 10 or 11 games, there are going to be rumblings. With that said, he obviously knows the system and he was the school's top choice all along, so they seem to think he can keep the momentum going. I tend to agree based on the talent they have coming back -- and coming in.

Chip Kelly went to four straight BCS games -- including the national championship. That is a tough act for any coach to follow -- veteran or otherwise. And Helfrich's ascension comes at a time when Stanford is now a player on the national stage and Washington and Oregon State are trending up. That could create a bit of a paradox. Because if Oregon loses to those teams, will it be because Chip Kelly left? Or is it because the other teams are simply better?

If you're looking for a splash, a spot in the BCS championship game would certainly be nice -- or at least a win in a BCS bowl game. That would reassure the faithful and be considered a splash in his first season. I think that's possible. Anything less than 10 wins, though, will be seen as a disappointment.




Card fan in Rocklin, Calif., writes: "Complacency" seems to be the new buzzword around Stanford Football, as in "Don't get complacent." How realistic a concern do you think this is?

Kevin Gemmell: Not much. David Shaw continues to instill that "us vs. them" mentality. And from the players and coaches I've talked to, they continue to buy into it. Even Stanford's biggest critics say they beat a Wisconsin team that didn't deserve to be in the Rose Bowl and they only beat them by six points.

But those who follow the conference closely knew going in that the Rose Bowl wasn't going to be a blowout either way and that Stanford wins its games by close margins and with white knuckles. For those who understand Stanford football, they realize the Cardinal dominated that game.

They might be getting the respect they deserve as a program -- and three straight trips to BCS bowl games certainly warrants a high level of respect -- but the impression I get from speaking with Shaw is that no one thinks they've "arrived." They didn't buy the negative hype when everyone said they'd take a tumble post-Andrew Luck. And they aren't buying the positive hype now. The team's demeanor matches that of its coach. Which is a good thing.




Papa John in Santa Barbara writes: I love all these interviews that you and Ted are posting. Which made me wonder: What's your Pac-12 all-interview team for 2012?

Kevin Gemmell: I can only work off the guys I interviewed last year. But since I also did the weekly Q&A, I talked to a lot. My team.

Offense

QB: Matt Barkley, USC/Jeff Tuel, Washington State -- Both are great, candid speakers. Tuel's Q&A might have been my favorite of last season. Very honest. Brett Hundley and Keith Price get honorable mention.
RB: Kenjon Barner, Oregon. Loves to talk, and we love to listen.
OL: Jeff Baca, UCLA. Get him talking about beach volleyball and you'll run out of batteries on your recorder.
OL: David Bakhtiari, Colorado: Forthright, very well-spoken.
OL: David Yankey, Stanford. Clear, concise, on message.
TE: Joseph Fauria: My go-to guy at UCLA always had something colorful to say, win or lose.
WR: Marqise Lee, USC. Always seems to have a big smile when he talks.
P: Josh Hubner, ASU: Punters are typically pretty funny guys to talk to. Hubner was no exception.

Defense

DL: Terrence Stephens, Stanford: Possible MVP. One of my all-time favorites.
DL: Ben Gardner, Stanford: With our without the mullet, he's a great talker.
DL: Will Sutton, ASU: Good sense of humor.
LB: Brandon Magee, ASU. Right up there with Stephens for MVP.
LB: Michael Clay, Oregon: Another guy with a big smile every time he talks.
LB: Travis Long, Washington State: Exudes class and leadership when he speaks.
CB: Jordan Poyer, Oregon State: Speaks with a quiet confidence.
S: T.J. McDonald, USC: Knows how to handle the limelight and does so with poise and maturity.
When the Washington State Cougars kick off spring ball today, the hope is that things will be a little faster. A little crisper. There is an understanding of what coach Mike Leach now expects from his players -- both from a technical and a mental perspective.

"Statistically, a year older if nothing else," Leach said, addressing the media in a pre-spring conference call Wednesday. "I think in spring there is always some introduction and some re-introduction but there will be less of that. We should get out of the blocks a little quicker. Also we'll have a body of work from last year to learn from, which there is a ton to learn from that. If we can tighten everything a tiny bit all the way around, then the whole production will be higher."

But most importantly, the Cougars have to start believing they can be a good football team.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenConnor Halliday has experience on his side in the QB competition with Austin Apodaca.
"We spent too many times as a team last year being surprised when something good happened to us," Leach said.

Headlining the spring session will be the quarterback competition between junior Connor Halliday and redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca. Leach said he isn't going to force the issue, but he wants to see some progress at the position before they break camp.

"[Quarterback competitions] aren't as complicated as everybody makes them out to be," Leach said. "You go out there. You rep them, and the guy that plays the best, you play him more than the other guy. But I think it will be a pretty good contest.

"Starting out they'll be 50-50 [in number of reps]," Leach said. "I do want to get them a lot of reps. The more the better. One guys is a redshirt freshman and then Connor has either started or been involved in a handful of games. I do want somebody to secure and lock down the position. I am going to give them as many reps as possible. It will be 50-50 for a period -- I would anticipate half or more of spring. I do have quite a bit of reps because I don't have a third guy working in. If I have three, then it's a little more tangled. Then it's harder. I'm in pretty good shape rep-wise this year."

There isn't a third ... yet. That will be reevaluated when touted recruit Tyler Bruggman joins the team in the fall.

"We'll find out," Leach said of Bruggman's possible involvement in the competition. "Early in camp we'll check and see where everybody is at."

Other notes

  • Leach on speedy freshman wide receiver Robert Lewis: "He's fast. Has a real quick burst. In two steps he hits high gear and he's pretty elusive right and left. We're kind of excited to see what he can do. He played a variety of positions in high school -- everything from running back to receiver to returner to this, that and the other thing. We need to try to identify what he can do and see how close he is to being ready to play."
  • On changes he'd like to see to spring rules: "More days, and I'd like to be able to scrimmage somebody. Not like a scrimmage game [setting], more like a mixed practice like they do in the NFL. For example, somebody you don't play or maybe somebody you do, you have the inside drill against them. You have one-on-one against them. You have some team period plays against them."
  • On trying to speed up the tempo: "We went back and forth a little with it last year and then we got into a musical-quarterback situation. That was harder to do. It's always been part of it. We've done no-huddle for decades ... we'll no-huddle and that will be a part of things."
  • On former QB Jeff Tuel making an NFL roster: "It will be interesting. The biggest thing he's battling is experience. Jeff hasn't played in a ton of games because his career has been plagued by injuries and things of that nature. He needs to make up for experience as quick as he can and some of that experience has to do with winning games. The mental and physical experience has to pick up as fast as he can. I think he's talented. I think he's a smart guy. And a lot of it is right-place-right-time."

Lunch links: ASU's scary RB duo

March, 14, 2013
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You're not a columnist. You're a reporter who writes long.

Lunch links: Cal's new offense

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
2:30
PM ET
Do you find me sadistic? You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to. You know, Kiddo, I'd like to believe that you're aware enough even now to know that there's nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other... jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most ... masochistic.
Nick and I fit together. I am a little too much, and he is a little too little. I am a thornbush, bristling from the overattention of my parents, and he is a man of a million little fatherly stab wounds, and my thorns fit perfectly into them.
Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me. (By special request from Chongo.)
There's a saying that there are two things that you never want to see being made: laws and sausage. I think you can add the Pac-12 Blog Postseason Top 25 to that list.

The debate between Ted and I was vigorous -- and mostly civil. One time Ted mocked my alma mater for not having a football team. I called Ted the kind of guy who likes his comments and says "natty." I quickly apologized, knowing I'd gone too far. See, mostly civil.

For those who want to see a sneak peek into how the sausage is made, enjoy this email exchange between your bloggers.

Kevin Gemmell: I think it's important to note that while there are elements of the Top 25 that you and I might disagree with, it's a list that we both signed off on. And I stand by it.

With that said, reading over the comments, it seems like I'm responsible for the most hated pick -- Reggie Dunn at No. 25 -- and you are responsible for the two most hated placements -- Matt Barkley at No. 14 and Matt Scott at No. 4.

It took some prodding from me, but you came around on the Dunn pick. Most folks hate it. And that's fine. We knew it wasn't going to be popular. But it's the right call. I don't care if you're playing in the lingerie league or Pop Warner -- returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown is hard to do. It's even harder to do it twice in a game, four times in a season and five times for your career. That's why it's NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE! (I'm using all caps because I'm yelling). There's a reason he's an All-American. And All-Americans don't get left off the list.

In my original Top 25, Barkley was not on it and Scott was in the teens. I believe your exact words were "I'm not moving Matt Scott. I'll fight for him to be in the Top 5." After some give-and-take, I conceded. But I wish I would have pushed harder on Barkley. I see your argument, but he also was the quarterback of one of the worst downfalls in football history. I think he's of great character and enjoyed every conversation I've ever had with him. He's a quality guy and we should be so lucky to have more players like him in the league. I wish him nothing but success at the next level. But his team's dramatic descent was matched only by his team's dramatic preseason hype.

I regret, most of all, not having Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the list.

Ted Miller: As we said at the beginning, it's incredibly difficult to make a top-25 list of players most seasons. I think this year was the most difficult yet.

Who got left off? So many guys: Seferian-Jenkins, Desmond Trufant, Ben Gardner, Datone Jones, De'Anthony Thomas, Kevin Hogan, Austin Hill, Eric Kendricks, Bishop Sankey, Morgan Breslin, Carl Bradford, Marion Grice, Kiko Alonso, Travis Long, Terrance Mitchell, Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen, Hroniss Grasu, Khaled Holmes, Brian Schwenke, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Brandon Magee, Taylor Hart, Joseph Fauria, Robert Woods, etc.

Just to name another 25.

It's difficult to be entirely consistent. Does playing for a winner matter? Yes. Do we disqualify players who played for bad or disappointing teams? No, but it figures into the calculations. Do NFL prospects matter? To me, yes. It's a measure of pure "good." What about stats? Absolutely. Career achievement? Part of it. Position matters, too. Quarterback is by far the most important position. It's not even close. A good tight end isn't as valuable, to me, as a good defensive tackle or cornerback.

The process is fluid. There's a lot of "feel" to it. It's certainly not objective.

With all due humility, I will throw out to our critics a couple of things: 1. We watch a lot of Pac-12 football; 2. We talk to a lot of people who know how to evaluate the quality of a player. We come at this differently from you guys. You spend your Saturdays rooting for your team and hating on your rival. This is our job. We're not terribly emotional about it.

One of my final measures is a personal Pac-12 draft. Where would guys fall if everyone who played in 2012 was coming back in 2013 and all 12 coaches were drafting players, knowing what happened in 2012?

Matt Scott at No. 4: I am 100 percent certain he'd be a top-five pick. In fact, I'd guess all top-five picks would be quarterbacks. I'm also certain that Matt Barkley wouldn't last outside the top-10.

If you are the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, which Scott was, you are elite almost every year. It's practically automatic to land in the top-10. Then when you produce 50 yards per game more than ANYONE ELSE IN THE CONFERENCE and take a middling team with no defense to eight wins, you land at No. 4.

I knew we'd get hit for ranking Dunn. I think Kevin's case for him -- NEVER DONE BEFORE; All-American -- is sound. He would not be among my top-25 picks, though.

As I sit here today, I'd rank Trufant 25th.

So, Kevin: Who's your No. 26?

Kevin Gemmell: Before I answer that, I'd like to add a little something about my thought process -- I didn't take "career" into consideration -- which is why I wasn't as high on Barkley as you were. I tried to evaluate players on their merit from their performance in 2012. And that goes for the "draft" concept as well -- which I didn't put much stock into. Of course DAT would be a Top 10 pick if we were holding a draft. But he didn't have the numbers to merit being placed on this list. Scott deserves Top 10 -- but top five seemed high to me.

As you said, a lot of it is "feel." My first criteria as All-America status. Then all-conference. Then I number-crunched. Then I go with my gut to sort out the rest. I won't spend this entire email defending the Dunn pick. Minds are already made up and I'm not going to change any. Those who hate it will continue to rage. Those brave few (namely, Utah fans) will go down with me in the ship. I'll just say he met my personal criteria -- All-American, all-conference, numbers (for the position he was chosen for) and gut. His fifth 100-yard touchdown which I referenced above was more of a footnote -- not a nod to a career achievement.

My No. 26 would probably be Barkley. As noted above, he wasn't on my original Top 25 that I sent you (along with a note, by the way, that said "We're going to crushed by the readers.") I would probably have had ASJ around 17-20, bumped a few folks up and had Barkley right at the cut-off. I'm pretty sure I had Anthony Barr in around seven or eight also, but he got bumped back.

We both agree quarterback is the most important position -- by far -- which is why you and I were in lock-step with all the other QBs on the list -- Taylor Kelly, Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota. But I think I put more stock into team success than you do -- which is why I was comfortable with Kelly at No. 24. He helped his team either meet or surpass expectations. Barkley, however, did not.

The offensive line was wildly under-represented. I'm OK with that this year. There were plenty good offensive linemen -- and the one we put on the list -- David Yankey -- is outstanding. But there wasn't the depth like we had in 2011 with Matt Kalil, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin.

Any position groups you felt were not properly represented?

Ted Miller: Good point about the offensive line. There just wasn't that "elite" feel to the O-linemen this year. We had USC center Khaled Holmes on the preseason list at No. 18, but he didn't have a great season, even though he made first-team All-Pac-12.

It's difficult to evaluate offensive linemen unless you watch game film. You know the winner of the Morris Trophy -- Stanford's David Yankey this season -- is going to be on the list, but after that it's difficult if you aren't hearing NFL scouts swooning. Cal's Brian Schwenke, who is zooming up NFL draft boards, might have been the second-best lineman in the conference, but the Bears' went 3-9 and got poor line play this fall.

That's so much a part of this: The intangibles. I don't buy the anti-Barkley arguments as anything but intangibles. Did his performance justify a No. 14 ranking? Unquestionably. If any other QB in the conference threw four more TD passes than anyone else -- in 11 games, no less -- then it would have been controversial that he was so low. Those not wanting him on the list want to punish him individually as a symbol for an entire team underachieving. And we did demote him: He dropped from No. 1 to 14. That's pretty considerable.

And, again, his "career achievement" is a special case. Career achievement didn't help, say, Cal's Keenan Allen or USC's T.J. McDonald. But Barkley ended his career with 17 more TD passes THAN ANY PREVIOUS CONFERENCE QB.

(Deep breath) I'm OK.

I hear the ASJ talk. To me, tight end is a difficult position to measure. For one, you don't need one like you, say, need a kicker or left tackle. Just because you're the third best tight end in the nation doesn't mean you're among the top-25 Pac-12 players.

Then again: He's likely going to be a first-round NFL draft pick in 2014. Let's just say if I saw a top-25 list of Pac-12 players with ASJ on it, I wouldn't flinch.

Kevin, the good news -- ha! -- is my review of this list and projecting forward to 2013 only includes about 35 to 40 potential players for our preseason top-25. We will get another opportunity to lose "all credibility" and again prove our idiocy in August!

Fun!

Kevin Gemmell: Intangibles do count, at least in my mind. If Jeff Tuel had thrown that many touchdowns and Washington State was still 3-9 would he be on this list? My guess is no. Well, 3-9 for Washington State is the same as 7-6 for USC in my mind.

Perhaps if Barkley wasn't the Heisman front-runner at the start of the season; perhaps if his team wasn't a preseason No. 1; perhaps if he hadn't more than doubled his interceptions from last year -- in 11 games, no less (see what I did there to make my point) -- then maybe the majority wouldn't be as hard on him.

But he was, they were and he did.

And it might be incredibly unfair, but he gets graded on a tougher curve than other quarterbacks.

We could go round and round about this (oh wait, we have). If anything, this whole experience was an exercise in partnership. And it was fun. Hopefully the readers enjoyed it too. Look forward to when we can start hammering out the preseason list. Until then, let's really buckle down and work hard to regain our lost credibility.
Back in June we looked at 12 players -- one from each of the Pac-12 teams -- who needed to have an impact year. Some did, some didn't. On Monday we looked at the Pac-12 South. Today we turn our focus to the Pac-12 North. Here's the link for the North players back in June.

Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: Much like Cal's season, Maynard never really got off the ground. He hit a career high in completion percentage at 60. 8 percent, but he had just 12 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He missed the final two games with injury and over his final four games he had just three touchdowns to five picks. He had one breakout game -- a 43-17 win over UCLA where he completed 83.3 percent of his throws -- but it was a rare highlight in a disappointing season for quarterback and team.

Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: He finished with career highs in receptions (32), yards (493) and touchdowns (7) despite missing two games. He was second on the team in receptions behind De'Anthony Thomas and put together a big two-game stretch midseason against USC and California where he combined for 11 catches, 234 yards and five touchdowns. It was a good year for what he's asked to do in the run-heavy offense.

Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: He strung together a phenomenal season that saw him earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He caught 91 balls for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns and he also carried the ball 20 times with a pair of rushing touchdowns. One of the fastest players in the league, Wheaton had a dominating season and was one of the best wide receivers in the country. And along the way he did a pretty good job tutoring Brandin Cooks, who looks to be one of the brightest receivers in the conference for the next couple of years.

Wayne Lyons, CB, Stanford: It was a decent first full season for Lyons, who was coming off of a season-ending injury in 2011. But Stanford's defense was so dominating that it's easy for role players to get lost in the shuffle. He appeared in all 14 games and recorded 25 tackles with one interception. Look for Lyons to take a step forward next season. Head coach David Shaw has made it very clear that he has high hopes for Lyons.

Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: The Huskies' dramatic defensive turnaround was certainly bolstered by the addition of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. But let's also give a little credit to the guys on the field. Trufant lived up to his hype as a lockdown corner and earned first-team all-league honors. His numbers weren't as lofty as some other defensive backs -- but that was out of respect and teams throwing away from him. He finished with one interception and a team-high nine pass breakups. He also forced a fumble, recovered another and blocked a kick.

Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: He makes the first-team All-Pac-12 interview team. But unfortunately that and a couple of bucks will buy you a cup of coffee. Things never came together for Tuel in Mike Leach's first year at Washington State and the constant shuffling at quarterback didn't do much to help his numbers. He completed 63.6 percent of his throws, but had just eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

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