Pac-12: Joey Harrington

Oregon-Stanford: Respectful rivalry grows

November, 4, 2013
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David Shaw Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw is 1-1 against Oregon and 30-5 overall.

Stanford had just torn the hearts out of Oregon and its fans inside Autzen Stadium. The Ducks' unbeaten season had ended in shocking fashion. National championship hopes had been kicked to the curb.

"It's such an honor to come into this stadium and beat a phenomenal team," the Stanford quarterback said after the victory.

A gracious, classy and perhaps rare take from a college player. But no, that was not Kevin Hogan talking about the Cardinal's 17-14 overtime upset of the Ducks in Autzen Stadium last Nov. 17 that ruined the Ducks' drive for a berth in the 2012 national title game. It was Stanford's backup quarterback, Chris Lewis, talking about the Cardinal's 49-42 win in Autzen Stadium on Oct. 20, 2001, that ruined the Ducks' drive for a berth in that season's national championship game.

Lewis' postgame quote, however, generally sums up the Oregon-Stanford series, which Thursday night again will be the Pac-12 game of the year. There appears to be little animosity and a good dose of respect between the Ducks and Cardinal, who both own road wins as underdogs against each other in the past three years.

Though they are very different institutions, playing football in very different ways and, well, dressing very differently while doing so, the rivalry between the Pac-12's top two teams in the past four seasons doesn't include much ill will compared to the rivalries between Oregon and Washington and USC and UCLA.

Perhaps it should, at least in terms of what Stanford and Oregon have taken away from each other through the years, and not just during their recent and simultaneous rise to join the nation's elite.

Nine times since 1964, Stanford has handed Oregon its first defeat of the season. Twice it was the Ducks' only defeat. Without a loss to Stanford in 1995, the Ducks would have played in a second consecutive Rose Bowl in Mike Bellotti's first season.

Oregon has returned the favor of late as Stanford became nationally relevant. The Cardinal lost just one regular-season game in both 2010 and 2011. To Oregon.

Stanford's win in Autzen Stadium last year was shocking in many ways. The Ducks had owned the Cardinal and Andrew Luck the previous two years, so much so that in advance of the 2012 season, Stanford coach David Shaw openly admitted his team had an "Oregon problem," though he reasonably noted that the entire Pac-12 shared the Ducks conundrum.

Yet, as stunning as it was to witness the Cardinal shut down the Ducks' offense last November, the 2001 game eclipsed it 20-fold in terms of sheer nuttiness.

While some of Oregon's younger fans might not remember 2001, the older ones surely slapped their foreheads upon seeing the name "Chris Lewis" again. In that contest, the unbeaten and fifth-ranked Ducks were seemingly cruising, leading 42-28 in the fourth quarter at home, with Stanford quarterback Randy Fasani knocked out of the game in the second quarter.

But things went haywire in the fourth quarter, particularly on special teams, when Stanford blocked two punts and recovered an onside kick. Still, it appeared the Ducks would prevail 42-41 when they blocked the potentially game-tying PAT.

Unfortunately for Oregon, quarterback Joey Harrington was turning in his only poor performance of the season. On third-and-1 from Oregon's 30, Harrington was hit by safety Tank Williams, and his throw was picked off by diving defensive end Marcus Hoover at the 33 (it was Harrington's second interception of the game). After Stanford scored the go-ahead TD, Harrington, who had led nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his career and was popularly known as "Captain Comeback," threw four consecutive incompletions from the Cardinal 37.

The normally straightforward Associated Press report noted that the game "had everything but aliens landing on the Autzen Stadium turf."

Oregon, one of the earliest victims of a BCS controversy, went on to finish No. 2. Bellotti showed up at the Rose Bowl, host of the BCS title game, to watch Miami stomp overmatched Nebraska, a team that was blown out in the regular-season finale by Colorado, a team the Ducks had crushed in the Fiesta Bowl.

Yes, there were a fair share of what-ifs from the Ducks, not unlike last year, though it's worth remembering that Miami team was one college football's all-time great squads.

Of course, things were much different for both Oregon and Stanford in 2001. Neither team had established itself as a consistent national power. In fact, both would go through significant downturns thereafter, particularly Stanford.

In 2007, both programs made inspired decisions that inspired initial befuddlement among media and fans: Bellotti hired Chip Kelly away from New Hampshire, an FCS team, to coordinate his offense, and Jim Harbaugh was plucked away from San Diego, another FCS team, by Stanford. Harbaugh brought along Shaw to coordinate his offense.

As isolated events, the Stanford-Oregon game on Oct. 20, 2001, and some buzz-less coaching hires in 2007 didn't resonate nationally. But from a long-term view, they are notable dots to connect for what has become one of the nation's best and most meaningful rivalries.

Even if the teams don't provide much cartoonish trash talk to foment the hype.

What are Oregon's weaknesses?

October, 23, 2013
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Oregon is terrible on fourth down. The Ducks have converted on just seven of 18 fourth-down plays this year. Their 38.9 conversion rate ranks 10th in the Pac-12, behind struggling teams like Colorado and California.

We point that out because that's about the only thing Oregon isn't doing well right now.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon appears to have no glaring weaknesses, yet first-year coach Mark Helfrich says the Ducks can get better in every phase.
The Pac-12 keeps track of 33 statistical categories, covering offense, defense, special teams, penalties, turnovers, etc. The Ducks rank first in the conference in 11 categories, including the two most important: scoring offense and scoring defense. They rank in the top three in 18 categories. Most of the categories they are not doing well in -- time of possession, onside kicks, opponent penalties -- evoke a "neh."

Others are deceptive. Oregon ranks sixth in total defense but is No. 1 in the far more revealing stat of average yards surrendered per play, where they rank eighth in the nation at 4.46 yards. The Ducks are 10th in red-zone offense, but their touchdown percentage in the red zone -- 72.1 percent -- ranks second.

This seems like a team with few, if any, holes. So what are the Ducks' weaknesses?

"I haven't seen any," said California coach Sonny Dyke, whose Bears lost 55-16 at Oregon on Sept. 28. "They are incredibly fast. I think the difference this year is they are throwing the ball so much better. Their receivers are faster, bigger, stronger, more physical, making more plays than in the past."

In the preseason, there were three questions about Oregon: 1. How would Mark Helfrich do stepping in for Chip Kelly? 2. What would be the pecking order at running back and how would De'Anthony Thomas be used? 3. How would the Ducks replace the dynamic linebacking troika of Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay?

Check, check and check.

The 7-0 record, No. 2 ranking in the national polls -- No. 3 in the BCS standings -- and 40-point average margin of victory suggest that Helfrich is doing fairly well. He might be a softer touch than Kelly -- though he's not afraid to tweak a reporter or two -- but he's not taking any mercy on the field.

Running back? The bottom line is the Ducks are No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 332.4 yards per game, 17 yards better than last year's average, and they've done that with DAT missing the last four games with an injury. Backups Byron Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner are both averaging 6.7 yards per carry and have combined for 16 touchdowns. Marshall, a sophomore, ranks 19th in the nation with 106.6 yards rushing per game.

Linebacker? Tony Washington, who replaced Jordan, has nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Jordan had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2012. Derrick Malone leads the Ducks in tackles with 59. And, really, the bottom line is the defensive numbers, including a run defense that ranks 22nd in the nation.

"I think [the Ducks defense is] certainly the best they've been," Dykes said. "The secondary is really, really good. They are good at linebacker and they are pretty active up front."

Of course, Dykes is a first-year Pac-12 coach who hasn't been dealing with Oregon during its rise to consistent top-five team, though he was Arizona's offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009. If we're going to ask whether this version of Oregon might be the best yet, we need to ask someone who's seen them all.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost 10 in a row to Oregon, including five defeats during his tenure, let out a big breath when asked if this was the Ducks' best team.

"Hooof," he said. "We've played some pretty good ones. I think the balance they have on offense is probably the best that they've been."

The general consensus is Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' best quarterback during its recent run. He might, in fact, as former Ducks All-American QB Joey Harrington recently volunteered, be the best in program history. Mariota brings a dangerous downfield passing game to a longstanding dominance running the ball. As for the defense, it's very good, though it remains to be seen whether it's as good as the 2010 unit or even the talented crew of 2012 that battled numerous injuries.

Still, every coach who has played the Ducks probably feels there's something he wishes he might have attacked more or tried to exploit.

"I think there is a lot of places," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "There's always a lot of places."

Washington State lost 62-38 at Oregon last weekend, with Leach's Cougars adding two late touchdowns to make the gap less dramatic. Quarterback Connor Halliday set a number of Pac-12 and NCAA passing records in the game -- he completed 58 of 89 passes for 557 yards -- but also threw four interceptions, one of which Terrance Mitchell returned 51 yards for a touchdown.

"Oregon is really fast," Leach said, echoing a common theme. "As you play Oregon, everything they do -- they can reel plays in quicker. They react to everything quicker. Very explosive... Oregon hits you in the mouth when you throw one up."

Of course, speculating on Oregon's seeming lack of weaknesses and its standing among other accomplished Ducks teams is a mostly a meaningless academic exercise when five regular season games remain ahead, including a visit Saturday from No. 12 UCLA. In fact, the next five Pac-12 games (combined opponent record of 26-7) are far tougher than the first four (combined record of 12-16).

Helfrich isn't really biting, either. When asked about areas of concern, he pointed back to the preseason questions and implied the jury is still out at linebacker.

Yet his overriding conclusion sounded very Chip Kelly-ish, while also offering plenty of room to read between the lines.

"I think everything," he said. "In every phase we can get better, starting with me, everything we do."

That's either coachspeak -- we need to get better every day -- or carries a more ominous implication: No weaknesses? Best Oregon team? You haven't seen anything yet.
I think I've got a frush.

Reign in Oregon: Ducks aren't going away

December, 29, 2011
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Let's play a quick game of fill in the blank: Oregon fans are ... What comes to mind? Keep it clean, folks. Behave!

Yes, it is fair to say that Oregon fans have eagerly, zealously and vociferously embraced the recent success of their team. The seed that was planted when Kenny Wheaton went the other way against Washington in 1994 is now a full-grown oak, and Oregon fans enjoy pointing out that their oak is more stately and beautiful than yours.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Chip Kelly
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIRENCAA sanctions appear to be the only thing that could derail Chip Kelly's Oregon juggernaut in the near future.
Eleven other Pac-12 teams want Oregon to go away. We have bad news for those 11. Not happening.

With the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 against Wisconsin, the Ducks are playing in their third consecutive BCS bowl game. No other team in the country has played in three consecutive BCS bowl games. But this rise to the nation's elite started before this run of conference success. Oregon's first taste of national title contention was in 2000 and 2001. After a middling, post-Joey Harrington, pre-Chip Kelly interim, it was ranked No. 2 and a national title contender in 2007 before quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee. Oregon finished the 2008 season ranked 10th. It finished 11th in 2009 after losing the Rose Bowl to Ohio State. It finished third in 2010 after losing to Auburn in the national title game.

While opposing fans can still pull out the "They haven't won a BCS bowl game under Kelly" card, that tweak comes from beneath the Ducks in the Pac-12 pecking order, so as ripostes go, it's rather pyrrhic.

And the Ducks, even if they lose to Wisconsin, will be a preseason top-10 team in 2012, probably top-five if they win the Granddaddy. There certainly is a lot to like about the depth chart.

Not including junior running back LaMichael James, who is likely off to the NFL, the Ducks should welcome back six starters on offense, six on defense and both specialists in 2012. But that doesn't tell the entire story.

For one, the Ducks will have a two-year starter returning at quarterback in Darron Thomas. While Thomas has had runs of inconsistent accuracy, there are two bottom lines: He's 22-3 as a starter and has thrown 63 touchdown passes with just 16 interceptions.

But what's notable about the Ducks' depth chart is not just returning starters.

Oregon only lists a two-deep. That means 44 players on offense and defense. Of the 22 names on offense, just four are departing seniors, not including James. Of the 22 names on defense, just six are seniors.

And most of the players who are leaving -- or are expected to leave, as in James' case -- are presently backed up by intriguing young talents who already have significant game experience. James leaving? Well, you all know who Kenjon Barner is. Tight end David Paulson? Freshman Colt Lyerla caught five touchdown passes this season. Lose two offensive linemen? Junior Ryan Clanton and freshman Jake Fisher have seen plenty of action. Lose two linebackers? Kiko Alonso has started five games and Boseko Lokombo has played a lot. Cornerback Anthony Gildon out the door? Redshirt freshman Troy Hill has started five games while Gildon has been hurt (and is doubtful for the Rose Bowl).

Further, the Ducks have some redshirt freshmen on both sides of the ball -- particularly at linebacker and receiver -- who figure to make an impact next year. Receivers Devon Blackmon, Tacoi Sumler and B.J. Kelley were highly touted 2011 signees, who could bolster the Ducks passing game.

If you were connecting the dots, you'd actually project the Ducks to be better in 2012 than their 2011, 11-2, Pac-12 champion selves.

And, even with the loss of Thomas after next season, the Ducks appear to set up nicely for 2013. And beyond.

I know. I know. Fans of those 11 other Pac-12 teams are jumping up and down and waving their arms, bellowing, "What about Willie Lyles and the NCAA?"

True, major NCAA sanctions would seem the mostly likely way the Ducks get knocked from their ascent to the nation's elite. And it could happen. You never know with the NCAA.

But the more I talk to people who make educated guesses on NCAA investigations, not to mention a few who have specific knowledge of the NCAA's inquiry into the Ducks, the more I'm leaning toward the position that the NCAA will not pound Oregon. I suspect sanctions will fall short of what Ohio State recently received.

Of course, I thought USC would receive less severe penalties than Alabama received in 2002, so I've also learned to not expect the NCAA to be logical and fair.

The point is this: If you are wondering what Oregon is likely to be doing in, say, 2014, my projection is they still will be annoying 11 other teams.

The Ducks aren't going to go away.

Lunch links: Cal expects youth movement

August, 2, 2011
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Everything in our political life tends to hide from us that there is anything wiser than our ordinary selves.
On Friday, the Pac-10 becomes the Pac-12, and life as we all have known it ends.

But before we move on as a 12-team league, let's look back at the best of a 10-team league.

On Wednesday, we looked at the best players. Thursday, it's the best teams.

We've listed 12 teams because that's the new magic number (Arizona fans, see if you can guess who came in 13th).

Again, no team before 1978 -- when Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pac-8 -- was considered.

1. 1991 Washington: The Huskies finished 12-0 and split the national title with Miami.

Best player: Defensive tackle Steve Emtman won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award.

Point differential: Washington outscored its foes 495-115.

Best win: Whipped Michigan 34-14 in Rose Bowl. Wolverines finished ranked sixth.

Comment: Four wins over teams that finished ranked in the final top 25, including road victories at No. 15 Nebraska and at No. 8 California. Featured one of the great defenses in college football history, yielding just 9.2 points and 67.1 rushing yards per game. Eight Huskies earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.

2. 2004 USC: While the NCAA and BCS have nixed it in their own ways, the Trojans finished 13-0 and won the national title on the field.

Best player: Quarterback Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy.

Point differential: USC outscored its foes 496-169.

Best win: Crushed Oklahoma 55-19 in the national title game.

Comment: Basically a push for dominance with 1991 Washington. Beat four teams that finished ranked in the top 25, including the bludgeoning of Oklahoma. Eight Trojans earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.

3. 2003 USC: The Trojans finished 12-1 and split the national title with LSU. Their only loss came in triple overtime at California.

Best player: Receiver Mike Williams was a consensus All-American.

Point differential: 534-239.

Best win: The completely dominant 23-0 victory at then-No. 6 Auburn in the opener set the tone for the season -- and caused many Pac-10 fans to question how good these highly rated SEC teams really are.

Comment: The Trojans finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in both polls but lost out playing in the BCS title game because of the computer polls. LSU fans have been thanking the computers for that glitch ever since.

4. 2005 USC: A 34-game winning streak came to an end with a nail-biting loss to Texas in the national title game. The Trojans finished 12-1.

Best player: Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy.

Point differential: 638-297.

Best win: The 34-31 win at Notre Dame -- the "Bush Push" game -- was one of the all-time greats.

Comment: Perhaps the best collection of offensive players in the history of college football: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Ryan Kalil, Sam Baker and Taitusi Lutui earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors. And don't forget LenDale White, Winston Justice, Steve Smith and Dominique Byrd.

5. 1978 USC: Finished 12-1 and split national title with Alabama. Lost to Arizona State, 20-7.

Best player: Charles White was a unanimous All-American.

Point differential: 318-153

Best win: A 24-14 win over the team that "claimed" the other half of the national title.

Comment: Split national title -- coaches liked the Trojans; AP the Crimson Tide -- despite a decisive 24-14 USC at Alabama. So much for head to head.

6. 1979 USC: Finished 11-0-1 and No. 2 behind Alabama. Tied Stanford 21-21.

Best player: Charles White won the Heisman Trophy.

Point differential: 389-171

Best win: The 17-16 win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, in which White ran for a record 247 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with just more than a minute remaining.

Comment: Team featured four future College Football Hall of Famers in White, Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lot and Brad Budde. By the way, THAT undefeated, untied Alabama team was really, really good: Outscored foes 383-67. So no sour grapes on that one.

7. 2001 Oregon: The Ducks finished 11-1 and ranked No. 2 in both polls. The only loss was 49-42 versus Stanford (a really, really weird game, if you recall).

Best player: Quarterback Joey Harrington finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 412-256.

Best win: A 38-16 win over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.

Comment: The Fiesta Bowl victory caused plenty of folks to bemoan the Nebraska-Miami matchup in the BCS title game, considering Colorado had blown out Nebraska the final weekend of the regular season. As for the Stanford loss, the typically straightforward AP noted the game had "everything but aliens landing on the Autzen Stadium turf."

8. 1984 Washington: Finished 11-1 and ranked No. 2 behind BYU. Lost to USC ,16-7.

Best player: Defensive tackle Ron Holmes was a consensus All-American.

Point differential: 352-145

Best win: Shocked Oklahoma 28-17 in the Orange Bowl. Sooners finished ranked sixth.

Comment: A controversial season. Before the Orange Bowl, Sooners coach Barry Switzer lobbied hard for the winner to be declared the national champion. As it was, BYU won the national title after beating a bad Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl. Does anyone believe BYU was better than the Huskies? No.

9. 2010 Oregon: The Ducks finished 12-1 and No. 3 in both polls, losing the national title game to Auburn.

Best player: Running back LaMichael James finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 611-243

Best win: The Ducks handed Stanford its only loss, 52-31, after trailing 21-3 early. Cardinal finished ranked No. 4.

Comment: An innovative, exciting team to watch, one that played faster than perhaps any big-time college team in history.

10. 1996 Arizona State: Finished 11-1 and ranked No. 4 in both polls. Lost Rose Bowl -- and potential national championship -- to Ohio State, 20-17.

Best player: Quarterback Jake Plummer finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 488-216

Best win: The Sun Devils trounced top-ranked, two-time defending national champion Nebraska, 19-0.

Comment: The Sun Devils lost one of the most dramatic Rose Bowls, when the swashbuckling Plummer was out-swashbuckled by Joe Germaine, who was raised in Arizona as an ASU fan.

11. 2000 Washington: The Huskies finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3, their only loss coming at No. 7 Oregon. They beat Purdue 34-24 in the Rose Bowl.

Best player: Marques Tuiasosopo finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 387-270

Best win: Beat Miami, 34-29. Hurricanes finished ranked No. 2.

Comment: This is not the most talented team on the list. In fact, some have rated the 2000 Oregon State team -- see below -- ahead of the Huskies. And based on NFL results, the Beavers were more talented than the Huskies. But head to head matters, and the win over Miami is better than anything Oregon State did.

12. 2000 Oregon State: The Beavers finished 11-1 and ranked No. 4, their only loss a 33-30 decision at Washington, which finished ranked No. 3.

Best player: Running back Ken Simonton was first-team All-Pac-10.

Best win: Beat Oregon 23-13 in Civil War. Oregon finished ranked seventh in the coaches poll.

Comment: One or two more plays at Washington, and the Beavers would have played for the national title. And they, by the way, were more talented than the Oklahoma team that did win the title. Notable Beavers: Ken Simonton, Chad Ochocinco (the Chad Johnson), T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Gibson, DeLawrence Grant, LaDairis Jackson, Dennis Weathersby and Eric Manning. They spanked Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Opening the mailbag: Locker vs Tuiasosopo

April, 29, 2011
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Welcome to the weekend that ends spring football and sends us -- officially -- into the offseason.

I know: Yikes!

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Brian from Portland writes: Ted, can you please compare and contrast Jake Locker with Marques Tuiasosopo? I recall Tuiasosopo putting up impressive numbers at UW, including a 300/200 passing/rushing game, yet he was drafted late in the second round. What did Locker show scouts that Tuiasosopo didn't?

Ted Miller: Interesting question. My first response is Locker and Tuiasosopo are fairly similar, only Locker is slightly better -- bigger, stronger, faster -- by most physical measures. Oh, and their supporting casts at Washington were a bit different.

Tuiasosopo was not a great "pure" quarterback. But he was something more important: He was a winner, a guy who was at his best when the pressure was on. Yet while he finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2000 -- the Huskies finished ranked No. 3 in the nation after winning the Rose Bowl -- his numbers were fairly pedestrian. He ranked 66th in the nation in passing efficiency, completing just 52.6 percent of his throws for 2,146 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 picks. He also rushed for 394 yards and six scores.

This past season, Locker had a higher efficiency rating -- 124.2 versus 115.9 -- but ranked 73rd in the nation. He competed 55.4 percent of his passes for 2,265 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 385 yards and six touchdowns.

Note: Locker's official stats include 13 games, compared to just 11 for Tuiasosopo (bowls didn't count in 2000; including the Rose Bowl, Tuiasosopo passed for 2,284 yards, competed 53.9 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and 11 INTs and rushed for 469 yards and seven touchdowns ).

So these numbers are comparable, practically a push.

Tuiasosopo was 6-foot-1, 220. Locker is 6-3, 230. Both were good, physical runners, but Locker is more of a weapon -- faster, more elusive. Recall that Locker rushed for 986 yards in 2007. He runs as well as a running back.

They also are very similar in "makeup." Both came from great families. Both are humble, team-first, high-character guys who were the unquestioned leader in the locker room.

So what's the biggest difference? Well, for one, they played in different eras of the Pac-10 and of Huskies football. Washington was a national power in 2000. At that point, the program hadn't suffered a losing season since 1976. Tuiasosopo played behind a far better offensive line (though you could make a case Locker had better skill players surrounding him, at least this past season).

But the thing that separates them in the eyes of NFL scouts is simple: Upside. Locker has a better arm and better physical skills than Tuiasosopo.

Tuiasosopo played in the NFL from 2001-08, but he never really got to showcase his chief attribute: Finding ways to win. He only passed for 554 yards and two touchdowns in six seasons. I always wondered what might have been if he'd landed in the right situation.

I honestly have no idea what Locker will do in the NFL. While more than a few folks have made me out to be some sort of booster for Locker, I was fairly shocked when the "top pick in the draft" talk started in 2009 after the upset of USC. Obviously, folks who know a lot more about football than me think he'll do pretty well, starting with the Tennessee Titans.


Duber1 from Junction City, Ore., writes: congrats on getting jake locker drafted 8th,,,,,, dont mean you were not an ass about the flat world comment. I know i have been an ass,,,,,,,, & it doesnt mean i wont continuously call you out on your husky crap,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, have a nice day,,,,,,,,,,,,, sincerely comma guy.

Ted Miller: The comma guy!

I had little to do with Locker getting drafted eighth, though it would be great if he'd send a check, believing I did.

As for the "flat world" line, I've never understood why it so fired up a couple of folks, such as the ubiquitous Mr. "Duber." My point was always this: A. Just about every football expert thought highly of Locker heading into the 2010 season; I was merely reporting what they were saying. B. The most vocal Locker doubters, those who constantly ranted about Locker on the blog, had a single common characteristic: They were big Oregon fans.

My feeling was that none of the "Locker stinks!", "Locker is overrated!" noise that was being sent my way emerged from an objective, unemotional position of "Here's what I think...." It was all, "Huskies stink!" So it didn't feel valid.

It's just like Washington fans taking shots at Joey Harrington. Harrington was a great guy and a great college quarterback and most of us were surprised he never broke through in the NFL. But if a Washington fan had gone nuts railing about Harrington being terrible back in 2001, I also would have identified that as a "the world is flat" opinion.


Aaron from Pacific City, Ore., writes: I enjoy you blog but what's the deal?? You have had a ton of coverage of spring football on almost every team in the Pac-12 not named Oregon State. Are you even going to make it up here this spring, we only have one more practice/scrimmage?

Ted Miller: I visited eight Pac-12 schools this spring but didn't go to the Northwest. ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel, you may have noticed, is making a Northwest swing, which resulted in stories on Washington, Oregon State and an upcoming one on Oregon.

Hopefully, I will be able to get to the Northwest during preseason practices.


Rob from Phoenix writes: Ted, A. Is Arizona headed into underrated/sleeper status going into this year?B. Do you think that the schlerotic playcalling will improve on offense? They put up a ton of yards when Foles was able to decide who to throw to, but they had just as many ineffective drives that led to punts where they ran the ball poorly or proscribed Foles, generally excellent, decision making by throwing an innumerable number of WR screens or quick outs. Our offense was in the big money or the poor house and rarely in between.

Ted Miller: "Schlerotic playcalling"? Did you mean schlieric, which would be an interesting way of saying "streaky." Or sclerotic, which means "hardened"?

As for the Wildcats being sleepers: Maybe. But most will project Arizona in the middle of the Pac-12 South Division until we get a look at how the five new starters on the offensive line look. And it doesn't help that the Wildcats lost two defensive starters -- linebacker Jake Fischer and free safety Adam Hall -- to knee injuries this spring.

As for the play calling, coach Mike Stoops told me this: "We were trying to mix and match too much last year. We got discombobulated, I think. We got exposed late in the year on some things. [Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell] has to grow into this position and have total control with Nick. We need to all be on the same page."

It sounds like there were some discussions between Stoops and Littrell about play calling, and Littrell said as much to me, his operative word being "simplify."

My guess is the Wildcats are going to look a bit like old-school Texas Tech under pass-happy Mike Leach this fall, with Foles passing for over 4,000 yards. Will that put them in the thick of the South race? It might, but my present position is wait and see.


Jeremy from Salem, Ore., writes: I remember when this whole conference realignment thing was going on there was talk about moving the annual Utah-Colorado game to the beginning of the year so that Utah could play BYU and Colorado could play Colorado State at the end of the year. Then I haven't heard anything else about it since then. Did that fall through or something? Do you know anything else about it?

Ted Miller: One problem with that plan: Colorado and Colorado State have already scheduled early-season games through 2015. Further, there's a bit of a back-and-forth going on between Utah and BYU over their rivalry. It's only contracted through 2012.

The odds of BYU and Utah ending their annual game, one of the nation's great rivalries, seems remote, particularly with BYU now afforded the scheduling flexibility of an independent team. But there are a lot of moving parts to scheduling, so the scenario you write about may take a while to put in place -- or if the parties involved will even try to work it out that way.


Paul from Eugene, Ore., writes: hey ted i just wanted to share this story with you because it isnt a hugely publicized story on a few of oregon's players.

Ted Miller: Duly noted.

Most Pac-12 teams do a lot more in the community than they are given credit for. Good job, Cliff Harris, Darron Thomas and Dion Jordan.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Quarterbacks are always a big story. Quarterback competitions are typically bigger stories. But quarterback is an almost singular story this spring at California.

For one, no one has any idea who the 2011 starter will be, an uncertainty that has been rare since coach Jeff Tedford took over in 2002. Tedford announced last week that he'd reduced the candidates list from five to three -- senior Brock Mansion, junior Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard and sophomore Allan Bridgford -- but it's unlikely that troika will be winnowed to one until late in preseason camp.

[+] EnlargeBrock Mansion
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezBrock Mansion threw for 646 yards and a pair of TDs last season.
Finally, more than a few critics are questioning Tedford's once impeccable bona fides for developing quarterbacks. Sure, Tedford has mentored six who became first-round NFL draft picks: Kyle Boller, David Carr, Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Aaron Rodgers and Akili Smith. But in our "what-has-he-done-lately?" world, folks are asking, well, what has Tedford done lately with quarterbacks, with an incriminating finger-pointing at the less-than-stellar production from Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley.

Tedford will call plays this fall and he has been heavily involved with the quarterbacks this spring. He attends all position meetings and spends plenty of practice time with the QBs and new assistant Marcus Arroyo.

Tedford is as aware as anyone that bouncing back from a down campaign -- his first losing season in nine years in Berkeley -- will require at least solid play at quarterback.

"For us to get back to 10- or 11-win seasons, we have to have better play at the quarterback position," he said.

So far, no quarterback has asserted himself.

Mansion, due to experience, would in most situations be considered the front-runner. But he didn't do well in four starts after replacing Riley. His efficiency rating ranked last in the Pac-10 by a wide margin, and he threw five interceptions with just two TDs.

Said Tedford: "You can tell that Brock is better because of the experience he had last year. He's more comfortable. And he's even learned some things physically. You can see the maturity there a little bit. Still not where we need to be."

More than a few folks believe Maynard, the best athlete of the three and half-brother to standout receiver Keenan Allen, to be the front-runner. As a sophomore starter at Buffalo in 2009, he completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions and added 455 yards rushing and one TD.

Said Tedford: "He does have some athleticism. He can make plays with his legs. He throws the ball accurately. He can throw all the balls on the field. He's a lefty. He can throw the deep ball. He's got zip on the ball. His main thing is just going to be the mental part of understanding our offense and understanding what we're looking for."

Tedford also said that the Bears' offense has some spread-option elements it could adapt for Maynard.

Bridgford is reputed to be a strong pure passer, but he's coming back from shoulder surgery and his mobility also is an issue. The scuttlebutt is he's presently in third place and could be challenged by redshirt freshman Austin Hinder, who Tedford said was a strong No. 4.

Said Tedford of Bridgford: "Smart guy. Can throw the ball. He can throw all the balls on the field. Escape dimension? Haven't seen that yet. That's a concern, but he's not a lead foot by any means."

Trying to figure out where things stand isn't easy. Even Allen clings to neutrality, at least publicly. And players appear to be as in the dark as fans about who will prevail.

"I know you guys all want to know that -- we all want to know as well," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "I have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff. They are going to put the right guy on the field."

It's been a while since Tedford and Cal found the "right" guy to put behind center. The Bears' success in 2011 probably hangs on Tedford rediscovering his inner QB Yoda.

Opening the mailbag: Tedford's hotseat?

January, 28, 2011
1/28/11
6:04
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Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Nathan from Boston writes: You mentioned that Jeff Tedford's not quite on the hot seat, and it coincides with Aaron Rodgers' rise to the Super Bowl. Clearly, Rodgers should have gotten more credit for what the did at Cal and gotten drafted higher. Perhaps, it was Rodgers giving to Tedford rather than the other way around, as was the perception. Furthermore, Tedford is in a perfect area for recruiting. So, I think he's very overrated, and question why he's not "firmly" on the hot seat.

Ted Miller: The Bay Area is the "perfect" area for recruiting? Neh. It's decent, probably underrated, in fact, but there are parts of Florida, Texas, Southern California, Louisiana and Georgia I'd rate as just a bit more perfect.

And Tedford's reputation wasn't built just on Rodgers, who is one of six quarterbacks he coached who became first-round NFL draft picks, the others being Kyle Boller, David Carr, Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith. And those guys' fair-to-lousy levels of success in the NFL suggests, in fact, that Tedford might be "giving" more than he is "receiving."

That said, Tedford's run of quarterbacks has dried up of late, consider Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley and the late-season performance of Brock Mansion in 2010 (though let's recall that at one point Longshore looked like a future first-round draft pick before he lost his mojo).

As for Rodgers, his extended marinating on the Green Bay bench probably served him well. Instead of being thrust into service as a rookie or first-year player, Rodgers was able to learn the nuances of the NFL game over three seasons before becoming the starter.

While I don't see Tedford as being on the "hot seat" -- barring an absolute disaster, I think he'll be back as the Bears coach in 2012 -- he does deserve increased scrutiny. His transformation of the program, which was 1-10 the season before he arrived in 2002, was impressive. Cal, however, now has higher expectations -- expectations beyond seven or eight wins and certainly beyond the 5-7 finish in 2010. And a quick glance at the Bears' depth chart and their schedule in 2011 doesn't suggest a bounce back to nine or so wins.

On the other hand, the defense perked up under Clancy Pendergast last year, recruiting is going extremely well, and the return of offensive line coach Jim Michalczik (not official yet) and receivers coach Eric Kiesau feels like Tedford is reconnecting to his glory days. If the Bears find the right quarterback, they will be formidable again going forward.

But, yes, it is fair to say that Tedford is no longer untouchable.


Justin from Omaha writes: What would be a successful first year in the Pac-12 for the Buffaloes? I am excited for the 2011 season but, I have know idea what to expect. I don't think they are South contenders but, is being maybe 3 or 4 a possibility?

Ted Miller: Would you think less of me if I said I'm with you: I don't know what to expect.

The only Colorado game I watched in its entirety last season was the 52-7 beatdown defeat at California. Justin from Butte, Mont., wrote last week that I might be weighing that game too heavily, and I agree with him. But I also noted that the Buffaloes have a new coach, new staff, a questionable defense and a bit of uncertainty at quarterback.

Colorado is not a "Little Sisters of the Poor" program, and old Pac-10 fans who think the Buffaloes aren't going to be competitive from the get-go are probably going to be surprised. They were competitive last year in the Big 12 and beat Georgia. While my initial feeling is the Buffs won't end up bowl-eligible and will fall toward the bottom of the South Division in 2011, I also wouldn't be shocked if they scrapped their way to around .500.


George from Phoenix writes: Please put out the wildfire of ASU hype and stellar predictions for next year! I'm already seeing reports of us taking the South and potentially more. I'm having flashbacks of DE yr 2 pre season. "We went 10-3 in DE's first year, will be roses the next", etc, etc, etc...thud!Don't most teams have a build up / ok year before hitting it big? Ore had a good year, then roses, then NC. Isn't that how it usually happens?

Ted Miller: No. Sorry. I am hyping.

I like the Sun Devils' offensive line (imagine that!). I like the skill positions and speed on both sides of the ball. I think either quarterback, Brock Osweiler or Steven Threet, can win games. I have a feeling linebacker Vontaze Burfict grows up next fall and becomes an All-American and NFL first-round pick. I like Omar Bolden as a shut-down cornerback with leadership skills. I like Junior Onyeali as a super young talent at end.

I worry a little about depth at defensive tackle with the departure of Lawrence Guy, but not that much.

This team is nothing like 2008, a team with HUGE questions on the offensive line. The Sun Devils should win the South and end up ranked in the top-25.

Again, sorry for the hype.


Shane from Corvallis, Ore., writes: I know quiz was a great teammate and player. and maybe it's just me trying to be optimistic, but any chance that quiz leaving might be addition by subtraction..., i was thinking that maybe quiz leaving will force Riley and company to modify their game style for the better.

Ted Miller: Shane, I like the effort but you, my friend, are reeeeaaaaching!

Jacquizz Rodgers is a dynamic weapon because he's such a complete player: He runs, he catches, he blocks and he's a great locker room guy. The Beavers will not be better because he's gone. Not saying they are going to stink without him, only that if Rodgers was coming back, expectations for 2011 would be much higher.

The problems in 2010 had nothing to do with Jacquizz.
  • Breaking in a new quarterback. Even though Ryan Katz has notable talent, the Beavers offense has, historically, been hard on first-year starters.
  • Bad-to-mediocre offensive line play. The Beavers' line took a step back last year. It must improve for 2011 to turn out better.
  • James Rodgers gets hurt in he fifth game. Recall that the Beavers were 3-2 -- with road losses to TCU and Boise State -- and won at Arizona with Rodgers. No way the Beavers fail to reach a bowl game if he never got hurt.
  • Defensive inconsistency. It seemed like the Beavers lacked a dynamic guy in their front seven, other than defensive tackle Stephen Paea.

Finally, the depth chart behind Rodgers is unproven. The Beavers always seem to find a running back. But, at present, we really don't know who that will be.


Aaron from Flagstaff, Ariz., writes: Just wondering how you would figure out how many recruits your college can get each year. I thought ASU was very limited, and now we are at 17 recruits.

Ted Miller: Two rules: 85 total players on scholarship, 25 per recruiting class.

(And if you want to read a great story about how coaches fiddle with these rules by "oversigning," check out Andy Staples' story here).

Arizona State had a very small senior class, which was why the 2011 recruiting class was -- and still is, really -- expected to be small. At the end of the process, you still can only give out 85 scholarships per team, per year.

But there's been some roster attrition -- quarterback Samson Szakacsy, defensive tackle Lee Adams, cornerback Josh Jordan and tight end Steven Figueroa have left the program -- and two players listed with this year's class, quarterback Mike Bercovici and punter Josh Hubner, are already enrolled.

Doing roster math from the outside isn't easy because there are always things going on "inside." But, unless you want to get highly detailed, just understand the numbers 85 and 25.


Greg from Seattle writes: Hey Ted, did you ever see this?

Ted Miller: Pretty darn polished by Washington running back Johri Fogerson.

They're baaaack ... (or is that quaaaack?)

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
7:11
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The Pac-10 blog will not link every student-made video, but this one is really well done.

Supwitchugirl, which entered the popular culture last year with "I love my Ducks (I smell roses)" are back with a new video -- "Return of the Quack."

Last go round, there was some controversy, but this one clearly has plenty of cooperation from the school. Some special guest stars, too.

Mailbag: Is Tedford's job secure?

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
6:39
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You can feel the season getting closer, can't you. Wheee!

You can follow me on Twitter. Doing so will dramatically increase the odds of your team going to the Rose Bowl.

To the notes.

Danny from Los Angeles writes: How warm is Jeff Tedford's seat in Berkeley? If this Cal team comes in 7th place, as many seem to predict, is his job still secure? As a Cal alumnus, I am forever grateful for Tedford's tenure, but like many other fans, I can't help but think, "Has Tedford peaked with this program?"

Ted Miller: Déjà vu.

Here's a note from a July 2008 mailbag.
Eric from Turlock writes: Gotta question for you. I am a young Cal fan, but even I can remember the 1-10 days of football mediocrity. Obviously I am very happy with Cal's rebirth under Jeff Tedford. However, I have heard many Cal fans saying that perhaps Tedford isn't the man to take Cal to the next level (i.e. Rose Bowl, BCS). While I disagree, I see that there are some valid points to be made. Do you think that Tedford will be able to take Cal to the "promised land"?

I wrote this:
Eric, go buy a case of yellow post-its. Every time you hear a Cal fan say, "You know, I'm not sure Tedford is the man to take us to the next level," take out a post-it and write this on it: "In Tedford I trust."

You can read the rest here.

As you Cal fans know, the Bears bounced back from a 7-6 2007 to go 9-4 2008. Perhaps the grumbling over last fall's underachievement will fuel another surge.

But if Cal, indeed, does finish seventh in the conference this year -- and that includes, say, six losses -- it probably would then be fair to say Tedford enters the 2011 season with some pressure to do better.

I wouldn't say "hot seat" yet, but at that point, I'd say that Bears fans had a right to be frustrated and to expect more. Tedford is paid a lot of money to win -- his $2.8 million salary ranks second in the Pac-10 behind USC's Lane Kiffin, who reportedly makes about $4 million annually (mailbag item for next week: Kiffin makes $4 million!)

That said: Let me again point something out.

Tedford hasn't posted a losing season. His worst season featured seven wins.

From 1978-2001 -- 24 seasons before Tedford -- Cal won seven or more games four times. That included 10 games once and nine games once. Tedford has won 10 games twice and nine games once in eight years.

And during those 24 pre-Tedford years, Cal won three or fewer games nine times.

Cal fans certainly should be eager for the Bears to "take the next step" under Tedford. But if I were a Cal fan, I'd be suspicious of those nagging "grass-could-be-greener" feelings.

And I think Cal's recruiting will get a positive bump after the renovation of Memorial Stadium, which might not have happened without Tedford's success.


Michael from Phoenix writes: I know that USC cannot go to the Rose Bowl this year or any bowl game for that matter but if the Trojans have the best conference record at the end of the season will they still be named the conference champions?

Ted Miller: No official record will acknowledge USC as the Pac-10 champion, even if the Trojans finish atop the standings. That's part of the sanctions.

But my guess is Trojans fans -- and players and coaches -- would be able to get plenty of mileage out of being the "uncrowned, true champions." Kiffin would probably ante up for rings and T-shirts.


Bryan from Tigard, Ore., writes: I am curious why the Coaches Poll is used as a component in the BCS standings. Whenever I have looked at the voting results from the Coaches Poll they seem very biased. East coast coaches seem to vote east coast schools higher because they know much more about them than west coast programs. The same goes for west coast coaches. Therefore, shouldn't that poll be looked at as an unreliable source for determining BCS standings? I know that any human poll will have its own biases but I see there being the potential for a lot of politics within the coaches poll (for example voting to make your conference look stronger or voting another program down intentionally).

Ted Miller: The AP withdrew its poll from the BCS standings after the 2004 season. The BCS standings now use the Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll, which is made up of media members, former players, coaches and administrators.

And your point about the Coaches poll has been made many times. Another issue is that the poll is often consider the "Sports Information Director's" poll because coaches don't have time to study other teams before they vote.

But the poll has been around a long time and it's unlikely it's going anywhere.


Baal from Parts Unknown writes: TED where do get #1 RT-?? Zach [Schlink]. He didn't participate in spring drills--and had 4 surgical procedures in the last 2.5 years. Nobody expected him to contribute. It was more of a hope. This is like your worst reporting ever.

Ted Miller: First of all, I reported him as No. 1 at right guard.

Second, I reported that because that's where he was listed on the depth chart in the media guide.

So, really, your gripe is with Dennis Erickson's and the Arizona State sports information department's reporting on the Sun Devils.


Papa Mitch from Kensington, Calif., writes: You are such a bad influence. I got my plane and game tickets for my son and I to head to Knoxville to see the Ducks crush the Vols because of what you said in the past regarding Neyland Stadium. I figure we need a landmark roadtrip before he gets too grownup. Please give us your best tips for bars and restaurants to hit the night before and the day of the game.

Ted Miller: The place I always recommend is Ye Ole Steak House. It's an institution.

I fired an email to SEC blogger Chris Low, who lives in Knoxville. He added Calhoun's on the River and the Butcher Shop. Sure you can get some good bar recommendations at any of those places (I haven't been there in more than a decade).

Just make sure you get there soon enough to enjoy the tailgate. It's one of the best places in the country to see a game.

You might not want to bring up Lane Kiffin, though.


Michael from Portland writes: With regard to your House of Pain entry for UO, I think the 2000 Civil War loss was the most painful by a mile. To lose to your arch-rival (OSU) to send your most hated enemy (UW) to the Rose Bowl and set the Beavers up with a sweet Fiesta Bowl trip over a not-great Notre Dame team was PAINFUL. And the way UO lost was even worse--I think Joey Harrington turned the ball over 5 times and the Ducks still only lost by 10. I still get verklempt when I just write about it.

Ted Miller: I mostly published Michael's note because I have a new favorite word: verklempt!

But good point. Five picks from Harrington and a lost fumble (the Beavers had just one turnover) didn't help in that 23-13 defeat.

Pain meter: 1. Lose to your state rival, miss out on Rose Bowl; 2. Thereby send your other hated rival to Rose Bowl; 3. Watch both rivals win BCS bowl games while you play in the Holiday Bowl.

Rates pretty high. Of course, that was the best season in NW football history: Three teams finished ranked in the top-7 in the nation.


Robert from Superior, Colo., writes: Hi Ted, looking forward to reading your blog on a regular basis once CU joins the PAC 12. BTW, someone needs to tell Lane Kiffin that CU will not always be bad and that we will remember this. Pretty much assumed by CU fans that this is just pettiness on his part.

Ted Miller: Based on that story, holding up wide receiver Travon Patterson's transfer is pretty petty. I agree.


Brian from Pullman, Wash., writes: Hey Ted, what's on the poster behind you in your videos?

Ted Miller: That's Captain Seattle and his loyal mate Raindrop! Together they "fight for the rights of people no matter how weird they are"! Captain Seattle wields a nasty umbrella, by the way.

My now-wife and I bought the poster at Pike Place Market in 1999 when I was in the process of relocating from Mobile, Ala.


Zen from Portland writes: Ted, pardon my last rant, I was tired, and angry. I just feel like you don't give Oregon State enough credit. You project them 3rd in the Pac-10, which I guess I can see. But when you put them at 3rd you say reasons for concern are first year starter Ryan Katz, what about Oregon? You rank them first, and they are going through the same thing as Oregon State, you then rank 'SC second when they can't even go to a bowl. It's frustrating because you do this every year with Oregon State, I'm not saying they prove you wrong, but playing for a Rose Bowl two years in a row I think you would get the picture by now. This team is really good.

Ted Miller: No worries.

Both Oregon and Oregon State welcome back a lot of starters -- the Ducks 17 position players, the Beavers 15. Both are replacing quarterbacks.

As for quarterback, I think sophomore Ryan Katz has a chance to be very good. But he's never played a meaningful down of college football. Nate Costa is a fifth-year senior who's started a game. Darron Thomas is a redshirt sophomore who played impressively in the fourth quarter against Boise State in 2008. I'd give the Ducks a slight edge there.

Oregon has all five starters back on its offensive line. That unit led the No. 1 rushing attack in the conference and only gave up 13 sacks, which was second fewest in the conference. Oregon State has four of five starters back. That unit led the No. 6 rushing attack in the conference and gave up 29 sacks, which ranked seventh in the conference. Edge Oregon.

On defense, the Ducks are replacing three starters from a unit that ranked fourth in scoring and total defense in the conference. The Beavers are replacing four starters from a crew that ranked sixth in scoring and total defense. Edge Oregon.

When you toss in the fact that the Ducks won the conference by two games last year, it seems fair to rate the Ducks ahead of the Beavers in the preseason. (And the value of preseason rankings in December? Not squat).

As for USC: I ranked the Trojans first (though I'm wavering on that one). I know they can't go to a bowl, but their games still count and they will appear in the standings. They were second in the official Pac-10 media poll behind Oregon and ahead of No. 3 Oregon State.

In fact, just about everyone has the Beavers third. So my take wasn't exactly contrarian.

But I appreciate your not giving up on the Pac-10 blog.


Todd from Anaheim, Calif., writes: I was reading your Mailbag: Does anyone care about USC or Jeremiah Masoli? and when I read Zen from Portland's post, I was taken back a little. That guy seems to genuinely hate you. Do you get a lot of readers that send comments like that?

Ted Miller: Yes.

And the Pac-10 blog appreciates all its readers -- even the angry ones -- who make us a part of their day.

Don't be surprised if... California

July, 27, 2010
7/27/10
9:00
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Fourth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see California's 2009 prediction here).

Don't be surprised if ... California quarterback Kevin Riley, after an inconsistent career, turns in a solid senior season.

[+] EnlargeKevin Riley
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonKevin Riley struggled in the regular-season finale against Washington, above, and in the bowl against Utah.
Watching Riley during the Bears listless loss to Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl made my head hurt, but the good news is it made me forget about stabbing my eyes out while watching him in the regular-season finale at Washington.

My overriding thought as Cal's extraordinarily disappointing 2009 season thudded to an end: No way Riley can start at quarterback in 2010. No way.

But Riley will start at QB in 2010. And my feeling for what Bears fans can expect from him has changed, and not just because Riley is a stand-up guy and an often amusing interview.

Let's put it this way: Think of yourself at this time last year. If I had written that Sean Canfield would be the first-team All-Pac-10 QB in 2009, you would have flown to Scottsdale and beaten me over the head with a stick. Canfield's resume last summer included: 1. 15 interceptions vs. nine TD passes in 2007; 2. A junior year as a backup with shoulder issues.

Then: Poof! Senior break through.

Former USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy in 2002 after a stellar season. The year before, he threw 13 TD passes and 12 interceptions.

Oregon fans were writing sonnets about Dennis Dixon before he got hurt in 2007. And so was I. Guy was unstoppable. And he became that way despite throwing nine interceptions and just two TD passes in the final six games of 2006.

Before USC's run, it was almost a prerequisite to have experience at QB if a team wanted to compete for the Pac-10 championship. Just look at the conference champions and the first-team All-Pac-10 QBs starting in 2002 and going back: Palmer and Jason Gesser, Joey Harrington, Marques Tuiasosopo, Todd Husak, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf (albeit a junior who finished with 24 career starts), Jake Plummer, etc.

Sure, Riley completed just 46 percent of his passes and was sacked 18 times in Cal's five losses last year. But the Bears offensive line and receiving corps should be better in 2010 because -- just like Riley -- they are more experienced.

Is Riley going to win first-team All-Pac-10 QB? Probably not in a conference with Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Nick Foles.

But the expectation here is that Riley will turn in solid numbers this fall.

Locker, Locker everywhere; what are we to think?

June, 29, 2010
6/29/10
12:23
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Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times calls it "Jake-a-palooza." ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman calls it "Jake Locker's big year."

Hey, look! Jake Locker is smiling at you. He's probably just thinking, "Hey, I'm Jake Locker. How cool is that?"

This is supposed to be a quiet time in college football, but, heck, with conference expansion and USC's NCAA sanctions giving us breathless headlines, why not start the Heisman hype for Washington's talented quarterback?

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Charles Baus/Icon SMIJake Locker could be a Heisman candidate, but he'll need to grab the nation's attention first.
Back before the 2001 season, Oregon put up a billboard in Manhattan of quarterback Joey Harrington and called him "Joey Heisman." Seeing that the Huskies and Ducks don't get along well at all -- thankfully, it appears the rivalry is about to become relevant again -- Washington officials tried to do one better by bringing Locker east in person.

He toured Manhattan. He hung out at ESPN and went through the infamous "car wash" -- interviews for all ESPN platforms, TV, radio, Internet, etc. -- which included an interview on "First Take" and a live chat, the transcript of which is here.

The intent of the tour is obvious: Introduce the East Coast media -- i.e., the country -- to a player whose incredible skills have been hidden under Seattle's gray rain clouds, which hovered over an until recently moribund program.

In 2008, Locker was knocked out in Game 4 against Stanford with a season-ending thumb injury and the Huskies went 0-12. A year later, with Steve Sarkisian taking over for Tyrone Willingham, the Huskies went 5-7, beating USC, Arizona and California in the process, and suddenly looking like a Pac-10 contender heading into 2010.

Dramatic improvement, yes, but Heisman-worthy? Maybe not as a settled body of work.

The burgeoning hype for Locker, which rubs some folks the wrong way (Oregon fans?), isn't based on what he's done so far. His numbers playing for mediocre-to-bad teams his first three years aren't the basis for projections that he will be a high first-round NFL draft pick -- perhaps No. 1 overall -- next fall. Nor are they the basis for his Heisman campaign.

With Locker, it's all about potential. And there's good reason to believe that potential will take a significant step toward realization this fall. The Huskies have solid talent returning, particularly on offense, and they have a brutal schedule that features many marquee games in which Locker could make a national audience go, "Wow."

What might Locker 4.0 look like in top form? Almost no one in the country saw Locker's performance on Dec. 5 against California for good reason: The Big 12 and SEC title games were played that day. But Locker led the Huskies to a 42-10 upset of Cal by accounting for five total touchdowns, three passing, two rushing. He completed 19 of 23 for 248 yards with no interceptions and rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries.

It was as dominating an individual performance as you'll see. It looked like Locker, who brings an appealing childlike glee to the game, could have done anything he wanted at any time.

All the glad-handing in the world won't make sparkling but off-the-radar performances attract the attention of Heisman voters, however. That requires winning, and the real Heisman hype rocket has an obvious potential launching point: Against Nebraska on Sept. 18 in Husky Stadium.

The Cornhuskers figure to be a top-10 team. If the Huskies can start 2-0 -- hardly automatic considering the opener is at BYU -- that game will attract significant national interest. Maybe even "College GameDay."

It will be billed as the Cornhuskers elite defense vs. Locker (whether that's accurate or not). And if Locker prevails with a sterling performance? At that point, the Heisman hype will begin in earnest.

And, of course, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay will start writing sonnets about Locker's future playing on Sundays.

Pac-10 games of the decade

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
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Lots of extraordinary games to choose from, as well as many ways to ascribe greatness: the size of the stage, the competitiveness of the game and the overall strangeness.

And we made the executive decision not to make this a list of USC upset losses -- other than the biggest one of those.

10. Oregon 56, Arizona State 55 (2 OT), 2000: Many of you are drawing a blank, but the ones who saw this one are jumping out of their chairs and going, "Oh man. That one was nuts." Both teams scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. The teams combined for 1,228 yards, 663 of those for the Sun Devils. Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington threw six -- SIX! -- touchdown passes, including three in the fourth quarter, the last of which tied the score with 27 seconds left after the Sun Devils gave away a critical fumble. Arizona State freshman QB Jeff Krohn threw five TD passes, by the way. ASU lost the game when coach Bruce Snyder decided to fake the extra point and go for the two-point conversion in the second overtime. It failed, leaving fans in Tempe stunned.

9. Washington State 30, USC 27 (OT), 2002: Any of you Cougars fans able to muster the memory of kicker Drew Dunning's slide on his knees at Martin Stadium? Dunning sent the game into overtime with a 35-yard field goal and then made the game-winner from the same distance in a victory that was critical to the Cougars' run to the Rose Bowl. The game featured a brilliant quarterback duel between Carson Palmer and Jason Gesser -- Gesser passed for 315 yards, Palmer for 381 -- and a dominant performance from Cougars defensive tackle Rien Long, who went on to win the Outland Trophy. Between this game and the 2006 Rose Bowl, USC lost just once.

8. Oregon 44, Arizona 41 (2 OT), 2009: If Arizona had won this game, we now know the Wildcats would have played in their first Rose Bowl. The Wildcats led 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, but then the game went crazy. With red-clad Arizona fans encircling the field, Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tied the game in regulation with six seconds left with a touchdown pass to Ed Dickson. Masoli then won it in the second overtime with a 1-yard run. Masoli ran for three TDs and passed for three more.

7. Stanford 24, USC 23, 2007: Greatest upset in Pac-10 history? Maybe. Stanford was a 41-point underdog playing its backup quarterback at No. 2 USC, which had won 35 in a row at home. But Trojans quarterback John David Booty, who foolishly played -- and was allowed to play -- with an injured throwing hand, threw four interceptions, while Stanford's Tavita Pritchard led a clutch, game-winning drive, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mark Bradford on fourth-and-goal with 49 seconds remaining.

6. Oregon 37, Oregon State 33, 2009: It was the Civil War for the Roses, with the Ducks earning a berth in the Rose Bowl after slipping a game crew of Beavers. While the return of Ducks running back LeGarrette Blount was significant -- he scored a critical touchdown -- the game belonged to redshirt freshman running back LaMichael James, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for 166 yards, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who ran over Beavers safety Lance Mitchell to convert a fourth-and-3 play from the Beavers' 33 with 3:41 left as Oregon ran out the final six minutes with its final drive.

5. California 31, Oregon 24, 2007: Sixth-ranked California, featuring a stellar performance from receiver DeSean Jackson, outlasted No. 11 Oregon in a game between two teams that each would at one point rise to No. 2 during the season, though both ultimately crumbled. The game turned on a strange play as the Ducks were on the cusp of tying the score. With 22 seconds to go, Dennis Dixon found Cameron Colvin near the goal line, but Colvin fumbled trying to reach the ball into the end zone when he was hit by Marcus Ezeff. The loose ball went through the end zone and was ruled a touchback and possession for Cal.

4. Washington 33, Oregon State 30, 2000: It was the greatest game no one saw because of the late, West Coast kickoff at Husky Stadium. And at the time its magnitude wasn't clear. The critical play of the back-and-forth affair happened when Washington defensive tackle Larry Tripplett caught Ken Simonton for a three-yard loss on second-and-1 from the Huskies 26-yard line with 42 seconds left. The Beavers panicked and mistakenly spiked the ball -- they had a time out left -- and then Ryan Cesca missed a 46-yard field goal to tie. It was the Beavers only loss of the season; they crushed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. They would have played Oklahoma for the national title if they had prevailed. And the win helped the Huskies win the Rose Bowl tiebreaker.

3. USC 23, California 17, 2004: No. 7 California had a first-and-goal on top-ranked USC's 9-yard line with under two minutes left. At that point, Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers had completed 29 of 31 for 267 yards and a touchdown. But the Bears couldn't punch it in, with USC registering a sack and forcing three incompletions. It was the closest call of the season for the best team of the USC dynasty.

2. USC 34, Notre Dame 31, 2005: The infamous "Bush Push" game. No. 9 Notre Dame was about to knock off top-ranked rival USC and make Irish coach Charlie Weis a national sensation, but Matt Leinart led a drive for the ages in the waning moments as the Trojans prevailed, scoring the winning points when Leinart got a little extra help from Bush on his second effort on a quarterback sneak.

1. Texas 41, USC 38, 2006 Rose Bowl: Perhaps the great game in college football history, particularly considering that the stakes were a national title for two unbeaten teams and the field was packed with talent and future high draft choices. Vince Young almost single-handedly willed his team to the victory -- he ran for 200 yards and passed for 267 more -- and denied the Trojans a third consecutive national title. USC walked away with a laundry list of "what ifs," but the ultimate result was a 34-game winning streak coming to an end.

Pac-10 teams of the decade

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
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Yes, there are lots of USC teams in our list of the "best Pac-10 teams of the decade."

Not sure how you get around that. From 2002 to 2008, the Trojans finished ranked in the nation's top four. During that span, no other conference team topped the Trojans in the national rankings.

One team not listed, however, merits special mention: Oregon in 2007.

That team was 8-1, ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings and appeared to be headed for a showdown with LSU for the national championship. Then quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee at Arizona -- he'd actually hurt it the week before vs. Arizona State -- and the Ducks subsequently lost to the Wildcats, the first of three consecutive losses before a blowout victory over South Florida in the Sun Bowl.

More than a few people -- not just Ducks fans -- believe that team would have won the national title if Dixon had remained healthy.

Of course, if wishes were fishes then cows would fly.

10. USC, 2007: A toss-up between this squad and the Trojans 2006 team. The '07 team finished ranked third in the AP and second in the coaches poll, while '06 finished fourth in both. '07 lost to 41-point underdog Stanford and at Oregon, see above about the Ducks. '06 lost at Oregon State and at UCLA, a 13-9 defeat that cost it a spot in the national title game. That last detail iced it for '07.

9. USC, 2002: More than a few pundits watching Carson Palmer and company pound Iowa in the Orange Bowl opined that, by season's end, this might be the nation's best team in 2002. After a 3-2 start in Year Two of the Pete Carroll Era, the Trojans won eight in a row to finish 11-2 and ranked No. 4.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Don RyanAaron Rodgers and the Golden Bears only had one regular-season loss in 2004.
8. California, 2004: Sure, the Bears laid an egg vs. Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl -- quick Cal fans: how many receivers were missing due to injury? And what do you think of Mack Brown? -- but Aaron Rodgers and company put on quite a show. The only regular-season defeat came in a thriller at USC -- see below -- 23-17, when the Trojans held strong after the Bears had a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line with less than two minutes left.

7. Oregon State, 2000: If not for a crazy finish at Washington in a 33-30 defeat, the Beavers might have played Oklahoma for the national championship. They went on to blister Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl and finished ranked fourth in the nation. Go back and look at the roster: Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, DeLawrence Grant, Dennis Weathersby, LeDarius Jackson, Ken Simonton, etc. This was hardly a scrappy, little team.

6. Washington, 2000: This crew of Huskies was hardly dominant but they just found a way to win week after week, led by quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. The 11-1 season included a victory over Miami, which finished ranked No. 2, a loss at No. 7 Oregon, and a Rose Bowl win over Drew Brees and Purdue.

5. USC, 2008: This crew paired one of the best defenses in college football history with a quarterback who's playing in the AFC championship this weekend. Yes, it's fair to ask how the horsepucky this team didn't win the national championship. Oregon State fans care to explain?

4. Oregon, 2001: How strange was the Ducks 49-42 loss vs Stanford, their only defeat of the season? The normally staid AP said this in the game story, it was "a game that had everything but aliens landing on the Autzen Stadium turf." The Ducks led by 14 in the fourth quarter before a blocked punt and interception from Joey Harrington allowed the Cardinal to take the lead. While Oregon fans mostly remember getting BCSed out of the national title game by Nebraska, the Stanford game prevented them from playing Miami in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks blasted Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 2, still the program's best final ranking.

3. USC, 2003: A dominant team that lost only in triple-overtime at California. Only a BCS computer glitch forced the Trojans, ranked No. 1 in every poll, to share a portion of the national title with another squad.

2. USC, 2005: The offense was a thing of beauty -- 580 yards, 49 points per game -- but a young defense, which featured a true freshman and four sophomore starters, cost the Trojans in the thrilling BCS title loss to the University of Vince Young.

1. USC, 2004: Unbeaten, undisputed. Dominant. Best team of the decade in all of college football? Perhaps, though folks could make a strong argument for Miami in 2001. An extraordinary array of talent on both sides of the ball. And defense was the difference vs. 2005. It ranked sixth in the nation in total defense and third in scoring. The Trojans battered Oklahoma 55-19 for the national title.

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