Pac-12: Jordan Wynn

Johnson's move good for him, Utah

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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Quickly promoted and then just as quickly twice demoted at Utah, Brian Johnson will once again be viewed as a smart, up-and-coming coach next year at Mississippi State. In fact, he would still be a smart, up-and-coming offensive coordinator at Utah if his quarterback these past two seasons had been Dak Prescott, the dual-threat talent he's inheriting with the Bulldogs.

Heck, reporters would probably be wondering when he'd become the nation's youngest head coach after previously being its youngest offensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeBrian Johnson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIBrian Johnson has an opportunity to redirect the trajectory of his coaching career after leaving Utah for Mississippi State.
Yes, there are good coaches and bad coaches. We get that. Some coaches fail to do their job well. But it's more than a coincidence that those considered good coaches typically have the best players, often because of dumb luck. Maybe Phil Jackson is an NBA coaching genius, a Zen master enlightening players with daily haikus and self-help books, but his best skill was winding up leading teams with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaq.

The biggest reason the Utes' offense has mostly floundered the past three seasons as a Pac-12 member has been poor and middling play at quarterback, Johnson's responsibility. The biggest reason for poor to middling play at quarterback, however, is the designated preseason starter at the position couldn't stay healthy. Point a finger at a lack of a capable backup at the position if you want. That's fair, though that falls more on recruiting than coaching.

But do you think Johnson, the winningest quarterback in Utah history, would be in Starkville right now if Jordan Wynn and/or Travis Wilson never missed a snap?

This is not to say Johnson is merely a victim of circumstances. In big-time coaching you are either moving forward or you are failing, and Johnson going from Utah's offensive coordinator in 2012 at age 25, to co-offensive coordinator with Dennis Erickson at age 26, to only QBs coach under new coordinator Dave Christensen at age 27 sure seems like a career tumble. There is no doubt that head coach Kyle Whittingham earnestly wanted Johnson to be successful, both on a personal (he won a Sugar Bowl over Alabama with Johnson as his QB) and professional level.

But Whittingham is feeling a bit of heat in Salt Lake City, whether that is reasonable or not. As members of the Mountain West Conference, his Utes were a Top 25 team, potent on both sides of the ball. In the Pac-12, they have yet to post a winning conference record and their offense has ranked ninth, eighth and eighth in the conference in scoring over the past three seasons.

Whittingham's relentless tinkering with his offensive leadership -- six different play-callers in six years -- might seem impatient, counterproductive or even desperate, but it emerges from his desire to win. His detail-oriented mind sees things he doesn't like -- play calls, overall scheme, practice conduct, leadership style -- and he isn't afraid of making aggressive moves to change things.

What that also does is put the pressure entirely on him. The traffic in and out of the offensive meeting room has been too transient for there to be another scapegoat. Whittingham has been the constant.

Johnson's departure does un-complicate things, if just a bit. Christensen took over an offensive staff featuring three men who'd once sat in and were subsequently removed from his office. Now there's just two: Erickson and receivers coach Aaron Roderick.

There is no question who's in charge of the offense. No co-coordiantor titles to speculate about. Whittingham is all in with Christensen, an offensive line specialist who will call plays. Whittingham hopes Christensen can recreate the magic he had running a potent Missouri offense from 2001 to 2008.

Yet Christensen, even if he's the Garry Kasparov of Xs and Os, won't be successful without a good quarterback. Three years with Chase Daniel starting at Missouri cemented Christensen's reputation. If Travis Wilson's career is indeed over due to preexisting medical condition discovered late in the 2013 season, then the Utes prospects for 2014 are deeply uncertain.

Meanwhile, Johnson reunites with Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, who recruited and coached him as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator. Further, Johnson also will be familiar with Mississippi State's co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, who also were on Meyer's staff at Utah.

While being an offensive coach in the SEC West isn't the easiest job, particularly in Starkville, Johnson is getting a good opportunity to redirect the trajectory of his coaching career.

Utah moves on with Christensen, one voice speaking for the Utah offense.

And that voice is likely echoing inside his head as you read this, "Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback."

Nonconference primer: Utah

July, 2, 2013
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Utah

Utah State, Aug. 29
  • Coach: Matt Wells, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 6-0 WAC
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: We read about quarterback Chuckie Keeton in USC's preview yesterday. Snapping him the ball is standout center Tyler Larsen, who anchors a very solid offensive line.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Connor Williams started all 13 games last season and earned all-league honorable mention, notching 32 tackles and seven for a loss. He also led the Aggies with six sacks.
  • The skinny: The Utah State game last year was when it all started to unravel for the Utes. Week 2, Jordan Wynn went down (unfortunately, for the final time), the offensive line looked atrocious and the Aggies won 27-20 in overtime, ending a 12-game losing streak to the Utes. As noted yesterday, the Aggies were a legit non-BCS program under Gary Andersen, so we'll see if Wells can keep it going.
Weber State, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Jody Sears (2-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 2-9, 2-6 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Bo Bolen was all-conference as a freshman and sophomore, averaging nearly 151 all-purpose yards in his first two seasons.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Anthony Morales returns after earning all-league honorable mention last season. A two-time team captain, the senior led the conference with an average of 12 tackles per game.
  • The skinny: The Wildcats are replacing Mike Hoke, a two-year starter at quarterback. The competition is still on between senior Jordan Adamczyk and JC transfer Alfonso Medina. Whoever wins the job will be working with new offensive coordinator Robin Pflugrad (formerly of ASU, Washington State and Oregon). The last time the teams met was in 2008, when the No. 17 Utes won 37-21 behind a pair of touchdowns from Brian Johnson.
at BYU, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (74-29), ninth year
  • 2012 record: 8-5, Independent
  • Returning starters: eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: BYU's top receiver the last three years, Cody Hoffman, is back for a fourth season after catching 100 balls for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's on pace to become the school's all-time leading receiver in catches, yards and touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is one of the best in the country at his position, finishing tied for second in the nation last year in sacks and fourth nationally in tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: Van Noy is a game-changer, and his return is a significant boost to a BYU defense that has to replace three starters along the defensive line. There is some mixing and matching to be done on the offensive line, but they'll be blocking for very good runners in Jamaal Williams and Michael Alisa. There is plenty of talent to do some damage against a schedule that includes Boise State, Texas, Wisconsin, Nevada and Notre Dame.
Thoughts: Week 1 will be critical. We need to see how the defense comes together with the new-look line and the Aggies will certainly provide a challenge there. Again, this isn't a low-level team and after winning last year, you can be sure they have developed a taste for it. Weber State isn't much of a threat and will likely provide a good opportunity to work out any Week 1 kinks that showed against Utah State. Obviously, the Holy War is the marquee game on the nonconference schedule -- especially since it goes on hiatus and bragging rights will linger. This rivalry is as heated as any in the country, and after last year's wild ending, tensions should be at a fever pitch. It took aligned stars for a good Utah State team to beat the Utes in overtime last year and with some more stability at quarterback and on the offensive line (keep an eye on LT Jeremiah Poutasi, who could be the league's next great lineman), the Utes should be better on offense. No one needs to be told how big BYU is. One game is an obvious win, the other two are "should" wins. Coming out of nonconference play at 3-0 wouldn't surprise me. But then again, neither would 2-1. 1-2 might.
It is a happy, happy Friday. I will be on vacation next week, but Kevin will be back after winning $4.7 million in Vegas playing blackjack.

You should follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the mail!

Alex from Corvallis writes: Have you heard about the 8th grader that got offered a scholarship to play football at UCLA? I've noticed that this is starting to become a trend in college football (Look at USC, Alabama, etc.). Why do you think teams are starting to become so interested in recruiting football players that have yet to play a snap of high school football? I understand that these players must have a ton of upside and a bright future ahead of them, but don't you think that offering a college scholarship to a middle school athlete is a little too much?

Ted Miller: Yes, I have heard about it.

I've made it pretty clear how I stand on this. I don't like it. I think it's a bad thing for the child.

If my son ends up being very good as an eighth grader in football and then gets offered a scholarship by a program, I would tell the coach "thanks," tell my son about the offer so he could feel proud, and then request that the offer not be made public.

There is nothing positive for the young man in this becoming a national story. Nothing.

The attention and ripple of fame? It's just north of the Honey Boo Boo variety. It's almost entirely a negative. Further, it has no value for him in the recruiting process. None.

For the team? Sure, there are potential payoffs.

The biggest one: The team gets its hooks into the young man. If he continues to progress and, indeed, becomes an elite prospect, then any advantage, however slight, is a positive for the team.

And, from the team's perspective, there are no drawbacks to any recruiting advantage, however slight.

Understand this, however: A player who gets an offer as an eighth grader has received NOTHING. There is no obligation, either way. But that mostly favors the team.

If the young man's senior year rolls around, and the program believes there are better available prospects, they will go after them without hesitation. The program will tell the player, "It's not us, it's you, goodbye and good luck."

That's not an issue for the program, which has the singular goal of signing the best recruiting class possible, even if feelings get hurt along the way.

But for the young man? He becomes an amusing footnote, relegated to the "Where are they now file?"

For example, on signing day, one of the items in the ESPN national recruiting notebook would look like this:
MILLER LEFT IN THE LURCH: Remember when eighth grade QB phenom Ted Miller became a national story when he committed to Michigan in 2009?

At the time, everyone called Miller "Robo QB." He started studying with QB gurus Sammy Baugh and Chevy Chase in kindergarten. His father created his own school so he could surround his child with 100s of people whose sole task was making his son a college QB.

For a while, it seemed like they might rename YouTube "MillerTube," after his father paid NFL Films to document his games.

Well, Miller is going to play college football, only he's headed to William & Mary after the University of Richmond ran out of scholarships.

Miller had a nice high school career, but the best eighth-grade quarterbacks are not always the best senior quarterbacks.

"William & Mary has a great Pac-12 blogger program," Miller said. "When it comes down to it, that's a lot better than being a big-time college quarterback and getting a shot at the NFL."


Bill from Eugene, Ore., writes: Read the story on Mark Banker. It always seem funny to me how outsiders take every opportunity to castigate supporters of a program for calling for something other than mediocrity. Banker's defenses for years have been inept against spread offenses. That is a case of schemes and Banker clearly cannot scheme against spreads. I see no reason to believe that this year will be any different. Look at OSU's record over the last 5-6 years and tell me how many times they have beat a team that runs a predominantly spread offense. Then you will know why supporters are not on the Banker bandwagon.

Ted Miller: I'll look back one year, because it answers your question.

The Beavers played five spread teams last year:
  • UCLA runs a spread. It averaged 34.4 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Bruins to 20 points on the road.
  • Arizona runs a spread. It averaged 38 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Wildcats to 35 points on the road.
  • Washington State runs a spread. It averaged 20.4 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Cougars to six points.
  • Arizona State runs a spread. It averaged 38 points per game last year. Oregon State held the Sun Devils to 26 points.

All wins.

By the way, the Sun Devils averaged 464 yards last year. They had 303 versus the Beavers.

Of course, your question's false premise emerges from being being blinded by one team: Oregon. Oregon runs a spread and Banker has had little luck slowing down the Ducks' offense since Chip Kelly came to town.

You know: Just like everyone else, other than Stanford last year, California in 2010, LSU in 2011 and Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

You have a right to call Banker a "mediocre" coordinator. But it would run counter with what football people think.



Chez Bear Panisse from San Francisco writes: Cal will have some trying times this year: new everything and a ridiculous schedule. But in 2014 they return almost everything (assuming health), and the schedule is much more "manageable." Do you believe Dykes will have things rolling by then?

Ted Miller: You reopen on June 24!

I think Cal fans should cross their fingers and root for six wins and bowl eligibility this fall. This is a rebuilding team with a new coaching staff and a brutal schedule. But I agree. Things should be brighter in 2014.

You are correct about almost everybody coming back in 2014. Just two of the 12 offensive starters listed on the post spring depth chart are seniors -- RT Bill Tyndall and Y receiver Jackson Bouza -- and just two of the 11 starters on defense are seniors -- NT Deandre Coleman and safety Alex Logan.

Moreover, in 2014, you'll have a second-year starter at QB, whoever it is, RB Brendan Bigelow and what should be a strong crew of receivers.

It's also true the schedule should be more manageable. While Cal opens at Northwestern, there's no date with Ohio State, and Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Stanford all come to Berkeley.

It also figures to help that everyone will be familiar with new schemes on both sides of the ball in Sonny Dykes, Year 2.

So I agree: I think Cal sets up well for a nice jump in its second season under Dykes.



Tim from Salt Lake City writes: In seeing all of these metrics proclaiming Utah's inexperience due to returning starters I've been trying to see a silver lining. I see this as potentially more of an "out with the old, in with the new". After a couple of years of PAC-12 recruiting, shouldn't we start seeing those players moving in to occupy starting roles? Sure, we've lost a few key players (Lotulelei, White, and Kruger) but I think we're starting to look much more solid across the board.

Ted Miller: Returning starters is a sometimes misleading measure of a team in the preseason. If 20 guys who lost 10 games the year before are coming back, why should that be a good thing?

(With bad teams welcoming back lots of starters, my general feeling is if a lot of those returning starters were first and second-year players -- guys who have room to improve -- it's probably a better thing than if they are upperclassmen, who mostly have revealed who they are as players).

Coach Kyle Whittingham has talked about an uptick in recruiting due to Pac-12 membership. The one thing teams could use against Utah before 2011 -- not in an AQ conference -- is gone. So the Utes' across-the-board talent should be improving, though I don't think you'll be able to take a full measure of that until you're five years down the road and the entire roster was recruited to play in the Pac-12.

All this said: I think the Utes' first two seasons of Pac-12 play would have been much better if only Jordan Wynn's shoulders had remained healthy. If the guy who beat California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl had become the standard behind center, I think the Utes would have been around .500 in Pac-12 play. At least.

It's hard to win in this league with 191 yards passing per game.



Bryan from Phoenix writes: I'm a Ohio State fan who just recently moved from Columbus to Phoenix, so I think it's time for me to start following PAC football. I actually just got a ticket bundle for 3 ASU games, one against Wisconsin. I couldn't be more excited. I was just curious to see what you thought of Arizona State this year, and how likely they are to win the Pac-12 South. It doesn't seem out of reach.

Ted Miller: It doesn't seem like an opportune time to be leaving Columbus. The Buckeyes seem to be on a decided uptick under Urban Meyer.

I see the Pac-12 South Division as a three-horse race: Arizona State, UCLA and USC.

You can find advocates for all three teams. The Sun Devils and Bruins have experience at quarterback, which I see as an edge, but the recent success of first-year starters -- such as Brett Hundley at UCLA and Taylor Kelly at Arizona State -- indicates that's not an insurmountable issue.

I'm a slight lean to the Sun Devils at this point, in large part because UCLA has a tougher conference schedule (the Sun Devils don't play Oregon). Of course, USC doesn't play Oregon either.

I view all three as top-25 teams.



John from Los Angeles writes: Hey Ted! Hope your holding up well despite that low-life Kevin bailing on you for a couple of weeks. (FYI - when you take your vacation, I will simply replace "Kevin" with "Ted" ala your piece on UCLA and USC offering toddlers.) Question re: list of players attending Pac-12 media day. I would add the omission of Brett Hundley for UCLA. I know OL need all the love they can get, but IMHO not including Hundley also raises a question. Take care.

Ted Miller: Fair enough. I do wish Hundley was going to be at media day.

But offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 and is an All-American candidate this year. He's actually more decorated than Hundley, at least at this point. So my feeling was it was more justifiable, though media sorts typically want to chat with star QBs instead of star O-lineman, right or wrong.

I tweaked Arizona and Arizona State because RB Ka'Deem Carey and DT Will Sutton are 2012 consensus All-Americans and the guys going in their steads, while nice players, aren't likely to be first-team All-Pac-12 this fall.

Mailbag: Oregon, USC and the NCAA

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
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Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. We can't guarantee it will make you smarter, but it probably will.

To the notes!

Bruce from Los Altos, Calif., writes: Re: Oregon's penalties for NCAA infractions. How do you think these will stack up against the loss of 30 (THIRTY) scholarships which USC lost. Remember, we had exactly ONE player and, at worst, one assistant coach involved. The Oregon situation has more players and the HEAD coach involved in what the NCAA has already called major infractions. Is there any hope that the NCAA will ever reduce the loss of scholarships?

Ted Miller: No. There is no hope the NCAA will ever reduce the loss of scholarships for USC. For one, USC already lost its appeal. Second, the 2014 class will be the final one under NCAA limitations.

Look: Everybody knows USC got screwed by the NCAA. Not just in the "In my opinion, the sanctions for the Reggie Bush case were too severe" way, but in the "The process was corrupt and the judgment unjustifiable" way.

And I don't think anyone in the country has hammered this point home as much as me.

A couple of years ago I was at USC, having a casual conversation with athletic director Pat Haden. Then, for whatever reason, I started to rant about USC's NCAA case. Not because I have any specific affection for USC, nor because I wanted to brownnose Haden, but because it really chafes me how horribly unfair the process was, how faulty the conclusions were, and how devoid of leadership the NCAA was when it refused to take corrective action against this unquestionably failed process.

No, I wasn't standing on a soapbox, but I got pretty wound up, as I am wont to do. You know what Haden said? "Let it go," he told me.

And he was right.

As for comparing the USC and Oregon situations, I have three words: Blueberries and potatoes (you thought I was going to type "Apples and Oranges," but I'm just way too writerly for that!).

I seriously doubt sanctions against Oregon will even approach those against USC. There is a gray area with Oregon, whether you think it passes the stink test or not.

But, well, with the NCAA, you never really know.




Tim from San Diego writes: What is up with Ucla recruiting? They are still recruiting right? After the top ranked class in the Pac this year, why has that momentum translated to more commits? They have 1(?), while the Pac12 blog is providing updates on the other schools recruiting efforts. Please advise.

Ted Miller: Clearly, UCLA is doomed.

I called up Jim Mora and asked about this tragic recruiting situation.

"I was going to recruit some guys," Mora didn't say. "But I first needed to catch up on 'Breaking Bad.' Then I got sleepy. Took a 35-day nap. Then Kevin Gemmell called and we chatted for, like, a week. Just, you know, talking about life and relationships. Noel Mazzone came over and we made a brisket and watched 'The Notebook.' Wait. What was the question?"

Tim, UCLA had just one commitment at this time last year. Didn't get No. 2 until June. Got No. 6 on Sept. 22, same day the Bruins lost to Oregon State in week four.

Seems like everything turned out OK.

Remember: Recruiting is like most things. It's not how you start, it's how you finish.




James from Salt Lake City writes: I just read an article on why the Utes should abandon the spread offense and switch to a power offense that is able to control the clock and slowly wear down defenses. The article states it would be similar to what Stanford has done and states several players like Karl Williams, Radley, Poole, Murphy, and Scott as well as others as their weapons to do this. I have seen the Utes at practice and thought the article was crap until I finished it. It had several good points and made more sense then what they have accomplished so far this spring. I also think they would have more options and success especially whe utilizing both tight ends. This goes against the trending PAC 12 offenses but may also give the Utes an edge in their conference games. What are your thoughts about the Utes running a power offense and do you think they could be more successful in the PAC 12 with it?

Ted Miller: I have a confession. I do have a preference when it comes to offenses. I tend to favor the one playing for the winning team. So I like Oregon's offense. And Stanford's. Also like Alabama's offense.

I know that's flip and not what you're looking for, but what we're ultimately talking about is not a scheme, but what's going to be effective. If Utah has the right personnel and coaching, it can run an effective spread. If it has the right personnel and coaching, it can run a pro-style or power attack.

But, ultimately, it's about winning the game, whether that's 17-10 or 52-35.

I do think changing coordinators and schemes, as the Utes have done three times since 2010, make establishing an offensive identity difficult. I'm sure coach Kyle Whittingham believes the same. When he hired Dennis Erickson to co-coordinate with Brian Johnson, he specifically cited the lack of an offensive identity.

Part of that struggle has been dumb bad luck: Norm Chow leaves after a season to become Hawaii's head coach; quarterback Jordan Wynn can't stay healthy, etc.

My feeling is Erickson has been brought in to help season Johnson, so a couple years down the road Johnson can take over with his own scheme.

As for power versus spread: The general feeling is spread or pistol offenses help teams with fewer five-star athletes compensate with misdirection. Alabama and USC aren't spread teams, because they get those A-list guys.

The question is can Utah push into the top-third of the Pac-12 as a power team? Can it get the athletes and the linemen to make it work, as Stanford has? And that's on both sides of the ball, by the way, because you've got to consistently stop opponents if you're not going to score 45 every Saturday.

Perhaps, James, the Utes look to you like they would be a better power team in the short term -- as in this fall. But this is ultimately about establishing a brand of football the program can recruit to and win with over the long term.

I don't think lining up in an I-formation with the quarterback under center is a long-term answer for the Utes.




Josh from Lynden, Wash., writes: Did you see the USC spring game? Is it possible that the Trojans are actually better at WR this year? With Lee, Agholor and some combo of Blackwell, Flournoy or Rogers? And in all honesty who do you think should be throwing to them this year?

Ted Miller: Are you asking me if losing Robert Woods is a good thing?

No.

All of those guys, other than freshman Darreus Rogers, were there last year. Heck, George Farmer, now out with a knee injury, also was there, at least when he wasn't hurt. The problem last year with the Trojans' passing game, which was pretty darn potent just based on raw numbers, was not a lack of talent. It was execution and play-calling. The Trojans were too focused on the blinding talents of Marqise Lee, instead of distributing the ball to other playmakers, which would have kept defenses off-balance.

That said: I don't think receiver is a question mark for USC. Just about every team in the country would trade their top-two guys for Lee and Agholor.

As for quarterback: Cody Kessler made more plays this spring and was more consistent than Max Wittek, but Wittek has an arm that will make NFL scouts swoon. Coach Lane Kiffin doesn't seem to be in a hurry to name a starter, so the competition is almost certain to go at least a week or two into fall camp.

And, with a fairly forgiving early schedule, I almost wonder if Kiffin might give both guys a chance when the lights are on.




Jeff from Tucson, Ariz. writes: UA will be a much tougher out than last year. Their defense has now had a year to get used to a new scheme, and returns all starters. The offense, even with a bad injury to Austin Hill, has many weapons including the nations leading rusher, and now comes Davonte Neal a transfer from ND. I am excited and believe the Cats will challenge for the South title.

Ted Miller: Hmm.

First off, Arizona wasn't an easy out last year. It beat Oklahoma State, Washington and USC, and pushed Stanford into overtime.

I hear you on the defense, but I'm not so sure you should write off the loss of Hill so easily. And you guys all know where I stand on losing quarterback Matt Scott.

To me, it all comes down to how much production the Wildcats get at quarterback. The defense will be better. The offensive line should at least be as good. Running back Ka'Deem Carey is an All-American. The receivers, even without Hill, are solid.

But Scott ranked sixth in the nation with 343.8 yards of total offense per game in 2012. That is not easy to replace.




John from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, UK writes: Hey Ted,First off, thanks for the Blog. I read it all the time, but right now I am deployed to Afghanistan, so it is particularly nice to read it and get a piece of home. I especially like the creative ideas you guys come up, like the Buy or Sell piece, with in the off season to keep us fanatics involved. I'm a Washington grad, husly fanatic, so I always have to wait until you go over all of the other schools before we get to the Washington schools. Can't we reverse the order every once in a while? It's not our fault we fall at the end of the alphabet! In fact, you could just leave Oregon out if you wanted to.Thanks again.

Ted Miller: John, first off, thanks for your service. Stay safe.

We can't leave out Oregon, but I will now announce that our "Most Important Game" series is dedicated to John and all of our readers whose teams are discriminated against alphabetically.

And we do try to reverse things every once and a while, so Arizona doesn't always have to go first. Or the Cougs last.




Francis from Federal Way, Wash., writes: I know this isn't about the Pac 12 but a football icon has died today in the Great PNW! I know since you used to live here you've heard about PLU (Pacific Lutheran University) and their football coach Frosty Westering. Well he passed away today and he's one of nine other coaches that have won 300+ college football games. Hoping you can give him a shout out and all great things he accomplished on and off the field. I had a chance to have him come and be a "guest coach" for a day for my old high school football team (Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma...Sefo Luifau Colorado recruit). He was such a motivational, positive guy that brought the best out of anyone. Made the crappiest player on the team feel he was just as important as the best player on the team. Anyways, just thought you'd like to know and as a committed reader of the Pac 12 blog hoping you can do a little write up on him! Keep up the good work and GO COUGS!

Ted Miller: Class act. Great coach. Even better man.

I must admit that I never had the privilege to talk to him or write about him, but I certainly, as a nine-year Seattle resident, was familiar with him and his glowing legacy.

My former Seattle Post-Intelligencer colleague Art Thiel frequently cited him as an example of what a coach should be.

Here's his tribute to the man.
Before 2011, it was one of the great theoretical questions in college football: What would happen if you plopped an elite non-automatic qualifying team into the middle of an AQ conference?

Utah provided us an answer the past two seasons, one in which neither the pro-AQ folks nor the pro-non-AQ folks can claim complete victory -- as in: "They'd get dominated!" versus "They'd be just the same!"

The Utes have been respectable if slightly south of mediocre in the Pac-12, going 7-11 in conference play the past two seasons, albeit without facing Oregon or Stanford. That's better than Big 12 transplant Colorado as well as Washington State, California and Arizona but worse than seven other conference teams.

The Utes certainly didn't get dominated. But they also weren't much of a threat to push into the top third of the conference, as they were annually in the Mountain West.

"We definitely know we are in a harder league now," Utah quarterback Travis Wilson said. "There are no bad teams in the Pac-12. Every game is a challenge. But that's something we can't hold onto or think about. We've got to go into every game believing we are the better team and we are going to win."

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiUtah QB Travis Wilson, who has thrown five TDs and run for two more this season, says throwing them beats running them in.
Of course, Wilson was a true freshman last year -- he took over the starting job in game six against UCLA -- so he never played in the Mountain West. And that's part of the story for Utah. The strapping 6-foot-6, 240 pounder is a big "maybe" as the Utes seek to advance in the pecking order of the Conference of Quarterbacks.

The Utes defense has been respectable in Pac-12 play. The offense? Not so much.

Now, the Pac-12 blog -- and more than a few Utah insiders -- would counter that if quarterback Jordan Wynn hadn't proven a magnet for shoulder injuries, things might have been different. Just ask California fans about the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl. But, well, football isn't much of a place for woulda-coulda-shoulda.

Wilson didn't blow anyone away last year. He passed for a Pac-12-low 109 yards per game with seven touchdowns and six interceptions, but it's worth noting that his efficiency rating was better than Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday and essentially equal to Washington's Keith Price.

And there were plenty of moments when Wilson did things that raised impressed eyebrows. He's got potential.

He's already gone corporate this spring, cutting off his notably long locks from 2012.

Not to read too much into a coiffure, but Wilson knows his role will expand this fall compared to last and he needs to look the part. He's no longer the wide-eyed-but-trying-to-play-it-cool youngster who was handed the ball at midseason, just a few months after high school graduation (Wilson participated in 2012 spring practices). He's a returning starting quarterback in the Pac-12.

"I want to make this my team," he said. "I want to lead all these people. I know they have faith in me to do it. I want to improve on being a vocal leader."

Wilson and his offensive teammates are adjusting to the arrival of Dennis Erickson, who is sharing coordinating duties with Brian Johnson, who held the post in a solo capacity a year ago. Erickson was hired to provide the Utes' offense an identity, but Johnson remains the QBs coach and Wilson's primary conduit to the 2013 scheme.

"It's good," Wilson said. "They are both excellent coaches. They feed off each other. They both help me in different ways. I'm glad with the situation we have right now. I think it was a good thing to do."

As with Wynn the previous two years, Wilson needs to come through because the depth chart behind him is pretty questionable: A sophomore walk-on and three freshmen.

Utah figures to face some challenges in 2013. It welcomes back just 12 starters and the schedule takes a major uptick with the addition of both Stanford and Oregon, top-five preseason teams. The Utes seem likely the fall in behind UCLA, Arizona State, USC and Arizona in the South Division pecking order, at least from a preseason perspective.

But Wilson provides a point A of hope. If he leads a solid passing attack, which Utah hasn't had as a Pac-12 team, and questions get answered on both lines, the Utes might surprise some folks.

Q&A: Utah's Kyle Whittingham

February, 28, 2013
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With spring ball just a couple of weeks away, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters camp coming off a losing season for the first time in his head-coaching career. He took a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog about the expectations, plugging holes and his unshaken faith in co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. And he gave a clear, unbiased endorsement of Reggie Dunn in the Pac-12 Postseason Top 25.

2012 was your first losing season as a head coach. How trying was that for you?

Kyle Whittingham: Very trying. It's not what we're used to around here, for sure. But it's a transitional period for us. We're in a very good league, a very competitive league. We feel like we're making progress, but everyone is as well. Everyone is a moving target. Nobody is standing still. I think the league took a big step forward last year. Last year there was a lot of improvement by a lot of the teams.

What were some of the lessons learned from going through last season?

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Kirby Lee/US PresswireKyle Whittingham hopes the addition of Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator will help jump-start an offense that struggled in 2012.
KW: I don't know if it's anything we didn't know. We had some quarterback issues. Jordan [Wynn] got hurt and we went through a few quarterbacks which didn't give us any stability at that position until the second half of the season. We're excited about Travis Wilson. We think he's got a lot of upside and we're really excited about the three quarterbacks we recruited this year. That position is in better shape now than it's been in for a long time.

So you're committed to Travis. Or is there any competition there?

KW: There's always competition. Right now Travis is the guy with experience and he's been in the program for a year. But the freshmen we brought in are very talented. The best guys play here. It doesn't matter if you've been here five days or five years. If you're the best guy you're going to play.

What were your thoughts on offensive coordinator Brian Johnson's first year? Given some of the difficulties he had to face -- the revolving quarterbacks, injuries, offensive line holes -- do you feel like he did a sufficient job in his first year?

KW: I think so. He's got a lot of upside. I remember as a first-year coordinator there was a big learning curve. I don't care how intelligent you may be or how ready you feel for the job, there is still a learning curve that is going to take place. And until you've been in that chair you don't really appreciate all that it entails and everything the job encompasses. I think coach [Dennis] Erickson is going to be working side-by-side with Brian -- they will be co-coordinators -- I think that will be a great situation for us. Bottom line, Coach Erickson was brought in to make our offense better and get our offense rolling. My faith in Brian Johnson is still very strong.

Everyone in the league has players, but depth seems to be a big issue for most teams. Entering Year 3 in the Pac-12, do you feel like you've built up that depth to where you can be competitive?

KW: I think we're working toward that end. It's a process. It doesn't happen overnight. Every year you try to make your football team better through recruiting. There are three ways to make yourself better. You either bring in new players through recruiting. You make the guys already in the program better and sometimes it's addition by subtraction. Those are the three ways you can improve your football team. And I think we have done a very nice job -- the assistant coaches in particular -- they are the ones on the front lines of recruiting and finding the talent and determining who we should bring into the program. I'm pleased with the classes we've put together the last three years. I believe we're heading in that direction of building depth. We're certainly a more talented team than we were a few years ago.

Speaking of depth, you have some holes to fill on the defensive line. Will Trevor Reilly switch from his hybrid spot to full-time defensive end?

KW: That question has not been completely answered. We have to see how some of the young defensive ends that are in the program develop this spring and through fall camp. With the departure of Joe Kruger -- unexpectedly -- that took us by surprise when he left early for the NFL, that created a void at that position that we weren't expecting. In our minds that became a situation where we thought Trevor might spend more time there than he had if Joe had returned. But it's still not completely defined as to what his role will be. He won't be with us for spring ball. He had offseason surgery so he won't be with us through spring so that probably won't be answered until fall.

Junior Salt was recruited as a defensive lineman, but then you moved him to the offensive line. Any thoughts on moving him back to fill some of those holes on the defensive line?

KW: No. We feel really good about him at the guard position. That's where he played his junior college ball and we think he's going to be a really good offensive lineman for us and we believe that's where he belongs and where his greatest contribution to our football team will be. When he got here, he was playing on the D-line and then he broke his foot. That kept him out a long time -- eight or nine weeks. Toward the end of that, I talked to him and told him he can play on either side he prefers. But after looking at who was departing, we thought he had a chance to step in and take over that right guard spot and he was very agreeable to that.

Obviously a frustrating situation with Star Lotulelei. Have you talked with him at all?

KW: He's doing OK. I'm not a doctor so I can't speak to the medical end of it. But I know he has a good attitude and things can get cleared up. His health is the most important thing. If we can get some more evaluations and tests and get this thing completely answered, that's what we're trying to do right now. As a program and as Star's former coach, the main thing is making sure his health is OK. Once that's addressed, hopefully he'll be able to play in the NFL.

I know you hang on every word written in the Pac-12 blog so you no doubt saw Reggie Dunn on our list of Top 25 players in 2012. Any thoughts?

KW: He deserved it. He set some records that aren't going to be broken for a long time. I think the world of Reggie. Boy, the spark he provided for us this year -- particularly with our offense struggling -- what he brought was huge for us.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 22, 2013
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Here are some keys and storylines to watch this spring in the South Division. Yesterday Ted looked at the North Division.

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Start date: March 3

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New battery: The Wildcats are looking to replace a top-notch quarterback-center combo in Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn. The rock-solid duo helped produce one of the top offenses in the league. Jesse Scroggins and B.J. Denker are among those in the mix to run the offense and several returning offensive linemen are versatile enough to move around. Chris Putton and redshirt freshman Beau Boyster could be in the mix at center.
  2. Many happy return(er)s: Arizona returns a big chunk of its offensive production -- including running back Ka'Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill. Both should be on all sorts of preseason teams and awards watch lists. But behind the big names, there's also David Richards, Johnny Jackson, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton back in the mix.
  3. No learning curve: Last spring, the talk was about Rich Rodriguez calling out his team for its lack of physical conditioning. The fact that the majority of the team understands what is expected -- and they don't need to spend the whole spring learning new systems, should be a huge help. Consider that the Wildcats return their entire defense from a group that was, at times, shaky, but will certainly benefit from another full season of playing in the 3-3-5 scheme.
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Plugging the middle: One of the few losses to ASU's roster is middle linebacker Brandon Magee -- a leader on and off the field and an all-around heck of a player. Carlos Mendoza looks to be a good fit -- though he's likely to miss spring while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois. Folks might remember his two interceptions before going down for the year.
  2. Catching on: Unlike last spring, the Sun Devils have their quarterback. And he's a good one. Now, they need to find folks he can throw to. JC transfers De'Marieya Nelson (H-back, 6-3, 230) and Jaelen Strong (WR, 6-4, 205) are both big bodies who could step in and contribute immediately.
  3. Wait and see: The kicker here is a lot of these players who are expected to compete won't arrive until the fall. So in the meantime, a lot of the younger players and redshirts will get a ton of reps in the system. And speaking of kicker, don't underestimate how much of an impact Josh Hubner made at punter. Iowan Matt Haack, who arrives in the fall, is a rugby-style kicker who can kick with either foot. That's just cool.
COLORADO BUFFALOES

Start date: March 7

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Meet your QB: Whomever it will be. There are five on the roster and a sixth coming in. Safe to say, quarterback play was extremely inconsistent last season for the Buffs. With an entirely new coaching staff coming in and installing the pistol, this could be one of the more interesting and wide-open position battles in the league.
  2. Curious defense: One needs only to review Colorado's national rankings last year to realize they struggled. As one Buffs insider mentioned to me, they were ranked No. 1 in a lot of categories. Unfortunately, that "1" was followed by two more numbers. Only three defensive ends have playing experience. However a secondary that lacked experience in 2012 has a lot more looking into 2013.
  3. Receiver options: The Buffs welcome back Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Colorado's premier offensive playmaker will be a nice veteran presence to whomever wins the quarterback job. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas also is back. An improved passing attack should help give the quarterback some confidence and open up the running game.
UCLA BRUINS

Start date: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Life after Franklin: The Bruins say goodbye to the best statistical back in school history -- leaving a huge void in the backfield. Johnathan Franklin was a great presence for young quarterback Brett Hundley, but now someone has to step up to fill that role, either solo or along with a committee. Look for Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen to all get looks.
  2. New No. 1: The Y-receiver, aka hybrid tight end, was filled wonderfully by Joseph Fauria -- Hundley's favorite red zone target. Darius Bell and Ian Taubler both had looks last year, but Fauria too will be tough to replace. Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien round out a pretty good receiving corps.
  3. Secondary solutions: The Bruins must replace two corners and a safety -- Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Andrew Abbott -- and there isn't a ton of starting experience. Randall Goforth has five starts, but veterans such as Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have more special-teams experience than actual secondary play. Keep an eye on the secondary too when the Bruins start fall camp to see if any freshmen jump into the mix immediately.
USC TROJANS

Start date: TBD

Spring game: April 13
  1. New defensive scheme: The Trojans will move to a 5-2 defensive scheme under Clancy Pendergast, and the spring drills will be the first opportunity to see the defense in action. The Trojans will have an experienced front seven, but four new starters are expected in the secondary.
  2. Replacing Barkley: Max Wittek got the first extended audition in the battle to take over for Matt Barkley, but he didn’t do enough in two late-season starts to claim the job. Cody Kessler and freshman spring enrollee Max Browne also will be looking to take the reins at one of the glamour positions in college football.
  3. Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: The Trojans are coming off a disappointing season, and the fans are howling in protest, but so far his boss Pat Haden has maintained full support for his coach. Now is the time for Kiffin to show why that support is warranted. -- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC
UTAH UTES

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Erickson impact: The biggest question was what sort of role Dennis Erickson would play in the offense once he arrived. We'll know sooner than later. He already has talked about putting an identity on the Utah offense. That starts in spring when routines are established and expectations are set. And with Erickson on board to give the offense a push, the expectations will be much higher.
  2. Wilson maturing: That leads us to the presumptive starting quarterback -- Travis Wilson -- who jumped in midseason after Jordan Wynn got hurt and Jon Hays struggled to produce. Wilson went from OK to pretty good in just a few weeks. A nice jump considering his experience level. With an entire offseason knowing he'll be the starter -- and with Erickson and Brian Johnson molding him -- it will be interesting to see what progress he makes this spring.
  3. D-line makeover: The Utes lose some talent on the defensive line -- specifically All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Look for DE/LB Trevor Reilly to spend more time with his hand down. Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and JC transfer Sese Ianu could all see time in the mix at defensive tackle.
There were two pretty big stories in the Pac-12 Monday -- a bit unusual for this time of the year. Normally there is a down period between national signing day and the start of spring ball.

However, the first story broke early Monday morning that Dennis Erickson had been hired by Utah as co-offensive coordinator. Hours later, former Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney announced he was leaving minor league baseball after just one season to return to the Cardinal backfield.

SportsNation

Which is the bigger Pac-12 story?

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    57%
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    43%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,435)

Two big stories that should have a major impact on Pac-12 football in 2013.

Erickson, as we all know, won a pair of national championships with Miami, has previously coached at three conference schools and is considered one of the top offensive minds in the country. He's now paired with Brian Johnson -- who the Pac-12 blog believes will have an outstanding career. Exactly how this is going to work is still to be determined. But you look at Utah's offensive needs, and it's pretty clear it needs some help.

The Utes ranked last in the league in passing offense, 11th in total offense, ninth in rushing offense and eighth in scoring. The most likely scenario is that Erickson is there to help mentor Johnson -- who walked into a pretty tough situation in his first year -- especially after they lost quarterback Jordan Wynn in the second game of the season. Long term, the Pac-12 blog believes this is going to be a nice addition to Utah -- and a great learning experience for Johnson.

In the North Division, the defending Pac-12 champs might have found its replacement for running back Stepfan Taylor. Gaffney is a phenomenal athlete who should make an immediate impact on the offense. With a stout offensive line and regular carries, he could easily be a 1,000-yard rusher. He provides stability and veteran leadership to the running back corps and is a proven offensive commodity -- something the Cardinal are lacking. One half of the Pac-12 blog believes this is a huge boost for the Cardinal (the other half needed a little convincing, cough, Miller, cough).

So, for your Tuesday poll question: Which is the bigger Pac-12 story, Erickson going to Utah or Gaffney returning to Stanford?
Remember back in summer of 2012? Chip Kelly was still a Pac-12 coach, six quarterback spots were up for grabs and we learned that Abraham Lincoln apparently hunted vampires. It was a simpler time when each team was full of hope and whimsy. Back then we examined 12 players -- one from each team -- who we felt had to step up and prove themselves in 2012. Time to take a look back at the summer proving grounds post from the Pac-12 South and see if we identified the right players who needed big seasons. We'll look at the Pac-12 North tomorrow.

Matt Scott, QB, Arizona: He led the Pac-12 in passing yards per game as the league's only quarterback to average more than 300 yards per game. He tossed 27 touchdowns to 14 interceptions, was second in the conference with 3,620 passing yards. He also rushed for 506 yards and six touchdowns while leading Arizona to an 8-5 record and a win in the New Mexico Bowl.

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: He answered the call by winning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and achieving All-America status. He led the league with 1.08 sacks per game for a whopping minus-102 yards and tied with UCLA's Anthony Barr in total solo sacks on the season (12). He also led the league with 23.5 tackles for a loss, averaging almost two per game.

Doug Rippy, LB, Colorado: He appeared in nine games and recorded 32 tackles (24 solo) with one tackle for a loss. But with a history of multiple knee surgeries, he never really had the breakout season that Colorado and its defense needed. He also missed three games early in the season -- Fresno State, Washington State and UCLA -- which put a big dent on his overall stats.

Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: The switch to a 3-4 was wildly effective and Jones was truly one of the benefactors. He recorded a team-high 19 tackles for a loss -- which was fifth in the Pac-12 -- while tallying 6.5 sacks and 64 total tackles. He also forced a pair of fumbles, blocked two kicks and notched a safety. It was the year UCLA fans had been hoping for and as a result, his draft stock is trending way up.

T.J. McDonald, S, USC: He led the Trojans in tackles with 112 while notching 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. He also had a pair of interceptions with three passes broken up and five defended. He added a blocked kick to his résumé. It wasn't a bad year for McDonald, but he'll be the first to say it wasn't a great year, either. Certainly not the year he expected when he returned to lead USC into what many thought would be a special season.

Jordan Wynn, QB, Utah: His comeback tour came to a bitter and frustrating end when he suffered a career-ending injury on Sept. 7 against Utah State, capping a career that started so brilliantly, but fizzled with each successive injury. He's since moved on to work on Norm Chow's staff at Hawaii.

Season review: Utah

January, 16, 2013
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Before we focus forward, we're going to look back with team-by-team season reviews.

We continue in reverse alphabetical order.

UTAH

Grade: C-minus

MVP: DT Star Lotulelei was the only Utah position player to earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He ranked sixth on the team with 42 tackles and led the Utes with 10 tackles for a loss. He also had five sacks, four batted down passes, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

What went right: A season is never a total wash when you beat your top rival, as the Utes did BYU -- an odd and thrilling 24-21 victory that served as a salve for the loss to Utah State the previous week. The Utes three conference wins came over California, Washington State and Colorado, so they didn't blow a game against an inferior team. There were hints that true freshman Travis Wilson has the makings of a top-flight QB. Reggie Dunn was sensational as a kick returner, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He set the NCAA single-season record with four 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns, which also gave him the career mark with five.

What went wrong: In the preseason, the Utes looked like the No. 2 team in the South Divisions behind USC, meaning looks were deceiving for more than just the Trojans. Utah, which finished 5-7 overall and 3-6 in the conference, didn't go to a bowl game for the first time since 2002, so year two in the Pac-12 was a bummer. The loss at Utah State in Week 2 felt like a major upset, but the Aggies finished 11-2 and ranked 16th. Most important detail of that game: QB Jordan Wynn was lost for the season to a shoulder injury that would end his career. After the BYU win, things mostly went downhill from there, starting with the 37-7 unmasking at Arizona State in the Pac-12 opener that seemed to set a negative trajectory for the season. After an 0-4 start in conference play for a second consecutive year, the Utes bounced back with consecutive wins. But double-digit losses to Washington and Arizona ended bowl hopes. There were problems on both sides of the ball, and -- other than Dunn -- the special teams weren't exactly great either. The Utes ranked eighth in the conference in scoring offense and 11th in total offense. They were ninth in rushing offense, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, and last in passing offense. The defense was surprisingly mediocre, ranking seventh in the conference in scoring (25.1).

2013 Outlook: The Utes welcome back 12 position player starters, but have significant issues on both lines. They lose three starters from their offensive line, including left tackle Sam Brenner, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. They lose three starters from the defensive line, including Lotulelei, an almost certain top-10 NFL draft pick. They also lose RB John White and WR DeVonte Christopher, who both had disappointing senior seasons. Is backup RB Kelvin York ready to be The Man? And will Wilson take a step forward in his second year as a starter? Will the underwhelming linebackers improve, even with the loss of their protection up front? Further, the schedule, though it includes seven home games, ramps up in difficulty. After missing Oregon and Stanford their first two Pac-12 seasons, they get both North Division powers this fall. Getting back to a bowl game will be a challenge.

Non-bowl primer: Utah

December, 20, 2012
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We've done our bowl primers, but now we take a quick look at teams that are sitting at home this holiday season.

UTAH (5-7, 3-6)

What went wrong this season? It didn't take long for things to go wrong. First, quarterback Jordan Wynn was forced to retire due to recurrent shoulder injuries. He was knocked out in the second quarter of the Utah State game in Week 2, an upset loss for the Utes (though Utah State would go on to finish 11-2). After a nice win over BYU, the Utes went down hard at Arizona State, 37-7. New players at linebacker and offensive tackle struggled. Coach Kyle Whittingham opted to go with true freshman Travis Wilson at quarterback, and that produced mixed results, as could be expected. The offense struggled, as running back John White didn't recover his 2011 form, and the defense was inconsistent. Not unlike last year, the Utes bounced back from an 0-4 start in conference play with consecutive victories. But, unlike last year, that momentum wouldn't continue, as the Utes posted their first losing record since 2002.


Low point: Utah, at 4-6, welcomed Arizona to town on a Nov. 17 needing to win to have a shot at bowl eligibility (woeful Colorado was the final opponent, but the Utes did lose at home to the Buffs the year before). The Utes led 24-17 entering the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats scored 17 unanswered points to win 34-24. Thus a 9-year run of bowl games -- 8-1 record -- ended.

How can it get fixed? Utah has been competitive its first two years in the Pac-12, but if it wants to escape the muddled middle, it's going to need to stock up its depth and recruit better playmakers. Wilson is promising. If he continues to progress, he could become an A-list performer. But he's going to need better protections and better weapons around him. Even though the defense took a step back, it's not the problem. It's difficult to win in this conference scoring 26 points per game.

Bowling in 2013? The Utes have a solid shot to go bowling in 2013, but they may need a 3-0 start in nonconference play (Utah State, Weber State, at BYU) because the conference schedule is much tougher than the previous two seasons. The Utes miss California and Washington and pick up Oregon and Stanford. That doesn't feel like a good trade. The good news is five home conference games (seven total). Still, it's difficult to project more than six wins next year.
The Pac-12 typically is the "Conference of Quarterbacks." In 2012, that's still the case. Only it's the "Conference of Quarterback Nuttiness."

Kevin sent me a note on Sunday: "Hey, Nostradamus, here's a curiosity ... 23 different Pac-12 quarterbacks attempted at least a pass this weekend."

It's crazy. We're at Week 11, and many Pac-12 teams need a "Hello, my name is ..." sticker on their quarterbacks' chest.

  • Colorado, Oregon State and Stanford have either changed starting quarterbacks over the past two weeks or are about to make a change.
  • Arizona and California are likely to have new starting quarterbacks on Saturday due to injury.
  • It looks as though when we emerge from the weekend, only five Pac-12 teams -- Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington -- will have started the same quarterback in every game.


Further, consider the youth movement.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan may see an increase in looks as the Cardinal deploy a new package in their offense.
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireRedshirt freshman Kevin Hogan will make his first start for the Cardinal on Saturday against Oregon State.
Last weekend, the conference's three freshman starters -- Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Utah's Travis Wilson -- combined to complete 60 of 72 passes for 763 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. That works out to a 210.8 efficiency rating.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, is No. 1 in the nation with a 174.49 mark.

Meanwhile, most of the conference's veteran quarterbacks are struggling. In the Pac-12's pass efficiency rankings, the bottom six includes two seniors and three juniors.

In the preseason, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price looked like the sure first- and second-team All-Pac-12 quarterbacks. Not so much any more.

While Barkley is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 30 TD passes -- eight more than any other conference quarterback -- few would describe the preseason Heisman front-runner's season as successful.

Price has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).

When quarterbacks have been the story this year, it's often been about benchings.

Stanford-Oregon State is a critical showdown of North Division teams, but the Cardinal just replaced Josh Nunes with Kevin Hogan, and Cody Vaz will make his fourth start but just his second as the Beavers' No. 1 quarterback over Sean Mannion. (Vaz started two games after Mannion suffered a knee injury.)

Experience at quarterback is typically viewed as critical for success. That has not proved true this year. Mannion, Price, Cal's Zach Maynard, Colorado's Jordan Webb, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays and Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday each owned significant experience entering the season. And each has been underwhelming.

Whereas, when you toss Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly into the mix, it's mostly the young, first-year starters out front. You might even include Arizona's fifth-year senior Matt Scott in that pool as a first-year starter.

There's still plenty of football to be played. Barkley still might end up first-team All-Pac-12.

But the first 10 weeks in the "Conference of Quarterbacks" has taught us two things: 1) There are no sure things; 2) If you don't like your quarterback, wait a week. Things might change.

Midseason report: Utah

October, 16, 2012
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Utah

Record: 2-4, 0-3

The good news for Utah is last season, the Utes' first in the Pac-12, also began with a terrible start. And it's always nice to beat BYU.

The bad news is the second-half schedule seems less forgiving. And the Utes haven't looked good on either side of the ball.

It started with Jordan Wyhnn. The star-crossed quarterback struggled early, then saw shoulder injuries end his career. Jon Hays stepped in, but the Utes went with true freshman Travis Wilson at UCLA. Didn't help much.

The problem is that a preseason concern proved founded. The Utes were replacing two quality offensive tackles, and no one distinguished themselves in the competition to fill the holes. Toss in a couple of injuries, and the line woes have become glaring. Last season, running back John White was able to turn a small crease into a gain. This season, he's been banged up and there are no creases.

The defense has been mostly solid, but it's not dominant enough to carry the team.

Can the Utes pull off another second-half reversal and earn bowl eligibility? It probably depends on the offensive line manning up and Wilson growing up.

Offensive MVP, WR Dres Anderson: Got to admit, this was a hard one. You could make an argument -- and many Utes fans would -- that there is no offensive MVP. Based on the numbers, it could go to backup quarterback Hays, who has seven TD passes, but he's been benched. White is one of the best running backs in the Pac-12, but he's averaging 3.9 yards per carry and has one touchdown. So that makes Anderson, the Utes' leading receiver, MVP by default. He's caught 22 passes for 233 yards with two touchdowns. He's also rushed four times for 33 yards.

Defensive MVP, DT Star Lotulelei: Lotulelei has battled double teams all season, but he's continued to control the middle. The Utes' inconsistency on defense isn't his fault. He's recorded 24 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two sacks. He's also forced two fumbles and blocked a field goal against BYU.

Utah, USC licking wounds before meeting

September, 26, 2012
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In the preseason, USC's visit to Utah on Thursday, Oct. 4, looked like a big game in the Pac-12's South Division. The Trojans were perceived as national title contenders, and a trip to Rice-Eccles Stadium looked like a potential stumbling block because the Utes looked like they might be the second best team in the division.

Things have changed a bit.

On Tuesday, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin fielded a question on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference, waited patiently for 30 or so seconds, then bolted because the reporters on hand had nothing else for him. That's what happens when a so-called national title contender goes down hard in Week 3.

Meanwhile, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham fielded questions about how good Arizona State is and how surprisingly bad his defense played after the Utes suffered a 37-7 shellacking against the Sun Devils.

To summarize what Whittingham said: The pass defense was bad because Sun Devils receivers were wide open. The run defense was "sub-par" and "not very fundamentally sound at times."

The offense? It couldn't do anything. Said Whittingham, "We had no answer for their pressures."

Utah was outgained 512 yards to 209 by the Sun Devils, a South Division rival. That doesn't hint at a team that's going to be competing at the top of the division.

At least Kiffin and the Trojans headed into their bye coming off a reasonably solid win, 27-9, over California. Still, most of the questions around USC are about the surprising struggles of the passing game and the inconsistent offensive line.

What has become clear about USC: It's offensive line is a lot better with center Khaled Holmes, who is perhaps the best O-lineman in the conference. Holmes was carted off the field in the Cal game due to an aggravated ankle injury, and his status for next week -- perhaps the next few weeks -- is highly questionable.

The Utes have their own injury issues. They -- again -- lost QB Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury, and Wynn called it a career. Then the guy who made the offense go last year, running back John White, pulled up lame with his own ankle injury. The Utes were able to pull out a win without White against BYU, but they couldn't generate any offense against the Sun Devils with a hobbled White playing at about 75 percent.

The Utes need White to be ready to go against USC. Whittingham said he was optimistic that White will be 100 percent "in the very near future... hopefully."

If White isn't himself -- and, really, even if he is -- the Utes will need a big game from QB Jon Hays to challenge the Trojans. Hays replaced Wynn last year, and his chief task then was to hand the ball to White and not screw things up. But he showed some flashes late in the season, particularly during the comeback Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech, and Whittingham praised his "dramatic improvement" this fall.

"I think he's played very well," Whittingham said. "We need to throw the ball more than we have."

That could be interesting to watch. Utah, which features two new offensive tackles, has struggled with protection issues, surrendering 11 sacks. USC leads the Pac-12 with 15 sacks.

On the other side of the ball, the Utes defense has been hot and cold. Trojans QB Matt Barkley likely is hoping to get back on track against a unit that is ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense.

Both teams have plenty to fret about during their off week.

While the contest next week doesn't look like it will carry as much gravitas as expected, it's still fair to say a Utah upset would resonate both regionally and nationally.

Suffice it to say, Kiffin would get a lot more questions on the next conference call, while Whittingham might find it more fun to provide his thoughts on his team.

Final: Utah 24, BYU 21

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
2:39
AM ET
The ending of the Holy War ... was weird.

Utah was cruising, leading 24-7 entering the fourth quarter. Then BYU came charging back, in large part due to poor play from the Utes.

But that wasn't the weird part. That came when, first, the Utes gave up a 47-yard pass on fourth-and-12 in the waning moments that gave the Cougars hope on the Utah 34-yard line.

There is one thing you don't do on fourth-and-12 in the waning moments: You don't let a receiver get behind you. Utah let a receiver get behind it.

Then the Utah fans charged the field when time seemed to run out. But there was 1 second left. Clear the field! That allowed BYU to set up for a 51-yard field goal. It was blocked by Star Lotulelei, but the Utes fans charged the field -- again -- before the play was over.

That earned Utah a 15-yard penalty and BYU another field goal attempt. This time from just 36 yards.

But Riley Stephenson missed again. Utah wins 24-21. Finally.

Despite the sloppiness of the fourth quarter -- and the final possession -- Utah won because it was opportunistic.

For one, not only did it play without newly retired QB Jordan Wynn, running back John White, it's best offensive player, was, indeed, hurt, as had been reported. We could get clogged up with the idea that Utah trotted out White to tell everyone he was 100 percent -- a lie -- but it's late and we're trying to finish this game story.

Utah won with just 245 yards of offense, just 49 rushing. While BYU had 312 yards, it also had two turnovers and the Utes had none.

QB Jon Hays completed 18 of 27 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He managed the game and made enough plays for Utah to post its eighth victory in the past 11 Holy Wars.

Utah improves to 2-1. It will be at Arizona State on Saturday.

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