Pac-12: Kansas Jayhawks
- Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey is scary with the ball in his hands.
- Arizona State has its fingers crossed over the return of DT Will Sutton, whose knee injury apparently isn't season-ending.
- California and Jeff Tedford try to weather a stormy season. The grades are not good for the Big Game.
- Oregon is preparing for Colorado, not thinking about ... what's that team's name? Can't recall.
- Oregon State is dreaming big. The defense has come up big, but we don't know who starts at QB at Washington just yet.
- Stanford extends its rule over the Bay Area.
- UCLA is hoping to avoid a seven-game itch.
- The focus around USC is already on Oregon, but I would humbly suggest that a date Saturday in Tucson is far from a gimme. Some roster notes.
- Utah faces a team in California that also has problems.
- The loss at Arizona leaves Washington at a crossroads.
- Some interesting analysis here on why Mike Leach probably will succeed at Washington State and Charlie Weis is doomed to failure at Kansas. Some Coug practice notes.
Colorado's newly minted starting quarterback has won over his coaches. And in doing so, he won the Buffs starting gig. Now, it's time to win some games.
Following a scrimmage Saturday, Webb offered a pretty standard summation: "Overall, I thought it went really well. There were some positives and some negatives I have to work on. But I think that's the case with every player. We moved the ball well. We didn't hit as many big plays as we have in practice. But I think that comes with the defense not wanting to get beat deep. We moved the ball very efficiently. That's what we're going to have to do to win."
From here on out, chemistry will be key. The Buffs have had all of three weeks to get to know their new quarterback. After working pretty much exclusively with Connor Wood in spring ball, a young receiving corps will have to adjust to what Webb, a Kansas transfer, brings to the position. Though Webb said his teammates have had his back since he arrived on campus and that he hasn't needed to rally people to his cause.
Since arriving at Colorado, Webb has buried himself in the playbook. But there is going to be more to his transition that simply learning the Xs and Os. Webb has been a spread quarterback his entire career and has worked exclusively from the shotgun. Now, as a quarterback in the West Coast offense, he's working under center for the first time.
"It's a lot different, honestly," said Webb. "Some things transfer over, protections or route schemes. But being under center is totally new to me. I've never done that before.
"But I really like it. This West Coast offense is fun to be a part of. It gives quarterbacks a lot of options and responsibilities. But with that, you can protect yourself. You can make things right. As a quarterback, you really want it to be in your hands."
And much of Colorado's success will depend on Webb getting up to speed quickly. While the Buffs showed some spark at the end of last season -- winning two of their final three, including a gutty 17-14 victory at Utah -- Webb himself is riding a 10-game losing streak. After Kansas opened the 2011 season with a pair of wins, the Jayhawks dropped their final 10. Last season Webb threw for 1,884 yards, completing 63.7 percent of his throws with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
But it's a clean slate for Webb and a fresh start for the Buffs. That was made clear when he was named the starter after such a short amount of time.
"I wasn't shocked," he said. "I've been playing well all camp. The first couple of days I had to get my feet underneath me and then it was going really well. I'd been really consistent. Maybe the timing was a surprise. I thought they'd wait until after (the scrimmage) to narrow it down. But they felt like it was the right time."
Yet the Buffaloes have plenty of holes to fill, particularly on offense. The Buffs ranked last in the conference in scoring in 2011 -- 19.8 points per game -- and they need to replace their quarterback and leading rusher, as well as injured receiver Paul Richardson.
With so many questions, it seemed like a good time to check in with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Let's talk quarterbacks first. Without anyone else around to compete with, tell me what you saw with Connor Wood during spring practices.
Eric Bieniemy: The thing I saw with Connor was, early on, he would make mistakes and that would really faze him. But he did a great job of correcting his mistakes. That's something you always want to see -- can a player, regardless of position, be coachable and clean up their deal. I thought that was a very good positive.
What do you know at this point about Kansas transfer Jordan Webb?
Bieniemy: The only thing I really know is he started 19 games. So he has some playing experience and ability and that he has shown improvement on a big stage. One thing we do know: He can throw it around the park and he is very athletic. Now, obviously, we want to see what he can do in training camp. Now he's going to compete against Connor, he's going to compete against Nick [Hirschman]. The beauty and excitement I always look forward to is competition breeds success. I'm looking for one of those three guys to step up and assert himself.
Seems like it's completely wide open at quarterback. How long do you want to wait before you make a decision?
Bieniemy: There really is no timetable. Obviously, everybody would like us to say, 'Such-and-such is our starting quarterback' today. But that's just not the case. We want to make sure we give Nick Hirschman a fair opportunity to show what he can do. Before he got injured last year, he was coming on pretty strong. He could be the future of this university here. We want to make sure we are providing all of our guys an ample opportunity to compete and show what they can do. When the time is right, we'll make that decision.
The biggest drag of spring practices was WR Paul Richardson's knee injury. There have been whispers of a rapid recovery. How is he doing and who steps in for him?
Bieniemy: First of all, yes, it was a tremendous disappointment. But if you saw him and spoke to him, he has the greatest attitude. He's doing everything and anything to make sure he can make it back this season. He's making tremendous strides and growth in his rehab process. As far as a player stepping up, there are some huge shoes to fill. We've got some kids coming back. Nelson Spruce did a hell of a job this spring for us. Tyler McCulloch came on late in the spring. He played a lot of games for us last year. Keenan Canty has stepped up big time. We've also got two young kids coming in, Jeffrey and Gerald Thomas, who we're counting on seeing big things from them. So there are a number of guys that we are counting on. But we want to see the developmental process early in this camp, to see who we can count on.
Heard some nice things about Tony Jones. How do things stack up at RB with the departure of Rodney Stewart?
Bieniemy: You don't ever replace a Rodney. He was a tremendous football player. He did so many things well for us. The thing Tony has done is he has learned a lot playing behind Rodney. The thing I'm excited about is Tony has put on 12 pounds of muscle from last season and he has not lost a step on anything. I'm excited about the mental and physical growth he's made. Behind him, we've got a number of backs. We've got Malcolm Creer, who's coming off a torn ACL. He's done an outstanding job this offseason and he's cleared and good to go. We have D.D. Goodson, he's a kid who moved back to running back after playing a little bit of defensive back for us. And we've got a number of freshmen that we are counting on, Donta Abron, Davien Payne and Terrence Crowder. I don't know who is going to be the guy behind Tony, but I'm excited about the competition that is about to start.
Seems like you guys might be sneaky solid on the offensive line: What's your take there?
Bieniemy: The beauty of our offensive line is every guy in that room has played. That's the good thing. The other good thing is they are the heart and soul of our unit. Those guys work their tails off. They are very smart. They have a high football IQ. I'm looking forward to watching them take their game to another level. We've got some athletic linemen who can do a lot of great things for us. I'm excited to watch these guys play.
What is your biggest concern heading into for fall camp? What tops your to-do list?
Bieniemy: We've got to find a quarterback, that's the No. 1 deal. On top of that, we've got to develop some depth at some key position -- we've got to develop depth at the wide receiver position, we've got to develop depth in the tight end position, we've got to develop depth at the running back position. Those are the things that are at issue. Now, do we feel we have to talent? Yes. We as a coaching staff have to do a great job of teaching and coach these guys and get them ready for day one.
Are we going to see any obvious tweaks to the offense this season, something you can describe in general terms that won't give away team secrets?
Bieniemy: You'll see a number of changes. Obviously, everything starts with the run. We've got to be able to run the ball. I won't go into the plans, but I think everybody will be excited about what we're doing. Our kids have done a great job of buying in.
- A Q&A with AZDesertSwarm's Kyle Kensing about Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats in 2012.
- Another Todd Graham story about rehabiliting his image along with the school's.
- A look at Cal's offensive line recruiting targets. The Cal-Ohio State game will be televised nationally on ABC on Sept. 15.
- Quarterback Jordan Webb, who is still finishing courses at Kansas, is expected to be in Boulder in July.
- Some interesting Oregon defense over-under picks from the Fish Duck gang.
- Kyle DeVan going to take another shot at the NFL, which means he probably won't be a grad assistant at OSU.
- Colts can't wait to finally get Andrew Luck back on June 12.
- The Orlando Sentinel continues their team-by-team breakdown with UCLA.
- Impact of Su'a Cravens' commitment and what it means so far for USC recruiting.
- Utah gamers unite!
- Bob Condotta updates and clarifies the Shaq Thompson scholarship situation.
- The Spokesman-Review is reporting that backup WSU linebacker Ian Knight intends to transfer.
Here's Feldman's list:
- Notre Dame
- Oregon State
- Ole Miss
- Iowa State
- South Carolina
Feldman on Washington: The Huskies start with San Diego State (which has won 17 games the past two seasons), then venture off to Baton Rouge to face a loaded LSU squad. After the encounter with the Tigers, they get FCS Portland State before the Huskies get into the teeth of their schedule: a three-game stretch against Stanford, the most physical team in the Pac-12, at Oregon and then home against USC to wrap things up against the league's three most talented teams.
On Oregon State: In the second half of the season, when coach Mike Riley very likely will be battling to keep his job, his team has to deal with Utah, Washington, ASU, Stanford, Cal and Oregon, which translates to probably five of the six best teams in the league.
On Cal: The Bears get seven home games, which is nice but they also have back-to-back road trips to Ohio State and USC in the opening month of the season. There is also a four-game stretch of Stanford, at Utah, Washington and Oregon and that comes right after a trip to Wazzu, which is going to be a handful for teams to prepare for this fall.
And just to throw a fourth team into the mix, I think you can easily make an argument for USC to be on this list as well. The four-game swing at Stanford, home to Cal, at Utah and at Washington is sure to take its toll -- considering those are three of the top defensive fronts in the conference. Then there is the much-anticipated showdown with Oregon at home on Nov. 3 before closing out the year at home against Notre Dame.
Here are seven we expect to make a mark in 2012 (feel free to comment on how you can't believe we left out so-and-so).
LB Brian Wagner, Arizona: Wagner was prolific tackler at Akron, collecting at least 100 stops in three years as a starter and earning All-MAC honors in two out of his three seasons with the Zips. He might not have top-flight Pac-12 speed, but the Wildcats are fairly desperate at linebacker.
QB Connor Wood, Colorado: Wood, a Texas transfer, was expected to win the job even before Nick Hirschman re-injured his foot. But with Hirschman out, it's Wood's offense -- at least for the spring. In the fall, Jordan Webb, a two-year starter at Kansas with two years of eligibility remaining, is expected to join the fray.
DE Arik Armstead, Oregon: The true freshman arrives in Eugene this spring after one of the more closely watched recruiting sagas on the West Coast. While more than a few folks believe the 6-foot-8, 280 pounder is a prototypical left OFFENSIVE tackle, he's going to at least start off on defense at Oregon. He's athletic enough to play end, and could immediately be in the picture to replace the departed Terrell Turner.
TE Caleb Smith, Oregon State: The Beavers use both a tight end and an H-back, and Smith, a touted recruit from Kentridge High School in Renton, Wash., looks like a good candidate to replace departed -- and productive -- H-back Joe Halahuni. He could challenge sophomore Connor Hamlett, the backup tight end in 2011, for the starting job.
DE Brandon Willis, UCLA: Willis' wanderlust has been almost comical -- he's transferred between UCLA and North Carolina twice -- but he was once a touted recruit and could compete for immediate playing time on an experienced but underachieving Bruins D-line.
RB Kelvin York, Utah: York, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound transfer out of Fullerton College, picked the Utes over a host of suitors. At the very least will be Robin to John White's Batman. It's also possible they could be 1A and 1B, almost splitting carries equally.
RB/WR Antavius Sims, Washington: Sims is a JC transfer who signed with the Huskies in 2011 but didn't qualify academically. He was expected to play cornerback, but has been shifted to offense so he can use his speed both as a runner and receiver.
Odds maker Danny Sheridan -- as originally reported with Alabama flavor by Izzy Gould of al.com -- released his 2012 Heisman odds Tuesday and his list includes three Pac-12 candidates in total and one obvious front-runner.
- USC quarterback Matt Barkley tops the list at 5-1 odds.
- Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas checks in at 25-1 odds.
- Washington quarterback Keith Price is the darkhorse at 40-1.
At first glance, Barkley is the obvious choice. He has a very good offensive line protecting him -- including the nation's top center in Khaled Holmes (just once, I'd love to see a center get Heisman love). The running game will come together, but until it does, you might see Barkley pass a little more. And why not? With his receivers he should put up crazy good numbers. A little surprised not to see Robert Woods on this list.
Thomas is going to do what Thomas does -- run really, really fast and score a lot of touchdowns. His chances might be hampered a bit by splitting carries with Kenjon Barner (by the way, shouldn't he be on this list also?). But with the amount of plays Oregon runs per game, that shouldn't be too much of a concern. Because Thomas is a speed guy, he's also going to have to get over the national stigma that he can't run between tackles. LaMichael James had the same label, but was quite good this past season at going up the middle.
Price is the wild card of this bunch. Last year, he spent the season with a lot of nagging injuries that forced him to be a better pocket passer. But when healthy -- as we saw in the Alamo Bowl with his three rushing touchdowns -- he can be just as explosive with his legs. Next season he should be a true dual threat and a player that should warrant serious consideration.
Other players picked by Sheridan include:
- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball: 6-1
- Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones: 7-1
- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson: 7-1
- West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith: 10-1
- Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: 12-1
- Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson: 15-1
- Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist: 25-1
- Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead: 25-1
- Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins: 25-1
- Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron: 30-1
But as we've seen in recent years, there is always an out-of-nowhere candidate that was off the radar. Just looking at this awfully impressive lineup, however, it seems like it's going to be tough for an unknown to wiggle his way in.
No, not quarterbacks. They're great. The best in the nation. No, not running backs. They're great, too. Or tight ends or receivers or NFL-quality offensive linemen. The Pac-12 is fine on offense.
Yes, defense. Let's take a look at the numbers. Yeesh.
Hey, did you say something about quarterbacks?
Defense, the part of football they say wins championships, has been mostly lousy in the Pac-12 as we close in on the midseason mark.
No team ranks among the top-25 in total defense (Stanford is No. 26 and California is No. 27). Eight rank 50th or worse.
Well, scoring is really what defense is about, right? Right. And nine conference teams rank from No. 55 to No. 112 in scoring defense. Nine teams give up between 24.3 and 37.6 points per game. (Stanford is No. 6 in scoring defense, while Utah is 25th and Arizona State is 32nd).
And we can't entirely excuse these numbers by pointing to the super-awesomeness of Pac-12 offenses. We're only two or three games into the conference slate.
Arizona might own the second-worst defense among AQ conferences (Kansas is almost comically bad). The Wildcats' numbers are so bad writers spent much of the weekend finding fun ways to illustrated their badness -- here and here.
USC ranks 67th in total defense and 68th in scoring defense, terrible numbers for a unit with tons of talent that is coached by Monte Kiffin, a certifiable coaching legend. Things are worse across town, where UCLA ranks 105th in scoring and 98th in total defense. Who was stupid enough to write about UCLA's defense being "sneaky good" anyway? Never listen to that guy again.
So what gives? Does the conference just not care about defense?
Injuries are a legitimate excuse. The Wildcats have been missing three starters and a key reserve the entire season, and defensive tacle Justin Washington is now hurt. Arizona State is missing four top players. In fact, there are lots of big names out, including Washington defensive end Hau'oli Jamora, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov and USC defensive tackle Armond Armstead, to name a few.
Still, every team has injuries.
Some guys who looked like budding stars have been disappointing so far: Washington, Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris and UCLA defensive end Datone Jones come to mind.
But, really, it comes down to this: No Pac-12 team has scary talent on all three levels. I'm not talking about LSU in 2011 scary or USC under Pete Carroll scary or Washington in 1991 scary. I'm talking Stanford in 2010, UCLA in 2006, Washington State in 2003, California in 2004 or Oregon State in 2000 scary.
If Arizona State had cornerback Omar Bolden, defensive back James Brooks, linebacker Brandon Magee and defensive back Junior Onyeali, it probably would be a top-25 defense. Stanford is good but took a step back when its leader and best player, LB Shayne Skov, was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Who has a pair of lockdown corners who are able to press at the line of scrimmage and handle man-to-man coverage? Who can consistently get pressure with a four-man rush? Who can stonewall an opposing running game and force a team to throw to win? Who can beat you without using risky stunts every other play?
In the early going, it appears Stanford has the conference's best defense. Oregon's defense is probably better than its early numbers suggest (its yards per play -- 4.84 -- is better than Kansas State, which ranks 16th in total defense and is a top-30 number). California has young talent on all three levels. Washington has shown improvement he past two weeks. Utah is well-coached and solid across the board. USC can't possibly be this mediocre. Arizona State has been above average, despite the injuries.
Defense might not win championships in the Pac-12, but here's a bet that the two teams playing for the Pac-12 title on Dec. 2 will rank in the top-third of the conference and top-50 in the nation in most major defensive statistical categories.
And when the smoke clears on the 2011 season, conference teams might need to figure out a way to kick up the defensive recruiting a notch or two.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh are bolting the Big East for the ACC. It's a done deal, unlike the just-about-done deal for Texas A&M to the SEC, which is only being held up by Texas folks who hate free markets and love frivolous lawsuits when their self-interests are involved.
So, at this moment, the ACC is at 14 and the SEC is just about 13. That means the days of 12 are numbered, not unlike the precarious existence of the Big 12 and Big East.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has repeated the same series of phrases -- politely and with an admirable energy that almost makes his message seem fresh -- over and over. He likes the Pac-12. He's perfectly happy staying at 12. Heck, the Pac-12 is the world's richest college sports conference! But the conference won't be left behind. If others start the superconference trend, the Pac-12 will then play its strong hand and add teams.
And so we have Texas' and Oklahoma's boards of regents meeting Monday. Here's a guess that the subject of expansion is going to come up, though the regents won't specifically vote to jump conferences or not, but only to tell their president to do what he thinks is best for the institution.
First, no one knows the endgame. Did you read anything about imminent moves to the ACC from Syracuse and Pittsburgh before this weekend?
But the general feeling is Oklahoma is tired of Big 12 instability and wants to join the Pac-12 and that Oklahoma State would follow. So that's 14, which for a variety of reasons isn't a good number for a conference (which is why we should assume the ACC and SEC aren't done).
What about Texas? The smart move for Texas, as it was when it was first approached by Scott during the previous round of expansion madness, is to join the Pac-Whatever.
I do not know how the parties compromise on the Longhorn Network. I only know smart people know how to reach compromises in business deals that enrich themselves.
And if Texas wants to go its own way, then Scott will look elsewhere, perhaps Kansas and Kansas State.
Or is the ACC about to pull the big whammy and get Texas and Kansas, too (and allow Texas to keep the LHN)?
Or does the Big 12 stage a miraculous 11th-hour rally and save itself?
As Scott told me at the USC-Utah game, no one knows the endgame, even him. There's too much "need-to-know-basis" information out there, with insiders owning disparate bits and pieces they can't put together any better than reporters, as well as plenty of misinformation and gamesmanship.
But it feels like each week the plot thickens. Which typically means in a thriller that we're getting closer to a dramatic climax.
Or an unsatisfying one.
Schroeder notes that some call Glazier “the Cleaner,” so this decision by Oregon "signaled that this NCAA inquiry is a very significant matter," and "Oregon is taking this thing very, very seriously -- and has been from the start." Glazier has, in fact, been working for the Ducks since March.
Again, there is some distance here, during a preliminary investigation by the NCAA, between the present undefined situation, a formal letter inquiry and then a potential fight in front of the infractions committee. Months. And it may not even happen. But its clear the Ducks are covering their proverbial bases.
The party line remains that the Ducks operated within the rules. The confident chatter is that the Ducks have nothing to worry about.
The reality is when you retain the law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King, you’re plenty concerned.
After that unpleasant call from the NCAA, an athletic director hangs up the phone and immediately punches in Glazier’s number. Some probably have him on speed-dial. All of them know what he does, which is not so much defending against NCAA charges as responding to them.
Schroeder points out that by going this route, Oregon will be penalized for the football program's relationship with Lyles. How so? Billable hours. This is a "prudent" decision -- to use athletic director Rob Mullens' term -- but it's also an expensive one.
Even if Oregon gets off scot-free, that $25,000 payment to Lyles is going to wind up costing much more. In recent years Kansas and Ohio State paid around $500,000 to Bond, Schoeneck & King.
But Oregon's got money. What it wants to preserve and protect is a highly functioning football program unburdened by NCAA sanctions.
Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.
Biggest reason for hope: Plenty of guys back from a team that just missed bowl eligibility.
Why exactly are so many folks so sure that the Buffaloes are going to get pushed around in the Pac-12 next year? Sure, they got pummelled at California, 52-7, but use schizophrenic California as a measuring stick at your own risk. Colorado also beat some good teams -- Hawaii, Georgia and Kansas State -- and finished one win short of bowl eligibility. Two losses were by a total of nine points, and, of course, there was that epic collapse against Kansas. So things could have been different in 2010, a season that cost Dan Hawkins his job. The Buffaloes have 14 starters back in 2011, including a veteran QB (Tyler Hansen) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Rodney Stewart). They also have an impressive young receiver (Paul Richardson), an NFL prospect on an experienced offensive line (guard Ryan Miller) and a key starter returning from injury (linebacker Jon Major). Further, they figure to be highly motivated for three reasons: 1. They will seethe over a lack of respect; 2. They will be energized by new coach Jon Embree; 3. They will be fired up for playing in the new Pac-12.
Biggest reason for concern: The secondary looks shaky.
Colorado started two cornerbacks last fall, Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, who were NFL draft picks, yet they somehow were terrible against the pass. They ranked 112th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense, with opponents throwing 27 TD passes, which would have ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in 2010. Even more stunning: Opponents completed 68 percent of their passes against Colorado. That would have ranked last in the conference. Injuries were an issue, but that doesn't obscure the fact that Smith and Brown are now gone and it's unclear who will replace them. Two players listed No. 1 on the post-spring depth chart, cornerback Parker Orms -- a safety last year before blowing out his knee -- and strong safety Anthony Perkins, missed spring with knee injuries. Toss in the quality of quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and questions in the secondary are grounds for concern.
He replaces John Morton, who was hired away by the San Francisco 49ers.
Gilmore, 43, who was also the Cornhuskers recruiting coordinator, has been at Nebraska six years. In 2008, he was given the title of assistant head coach for offense.
“I’m thrilled to welcome Ted Gilmore to the Trojan football family,” coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement. “For years, he has been regarded as an outstanding recruiter and wide receivers coach. He comes to us highly recommended by a number of very prominent coaches. I’m excited for him to start working with our talented group of receivers.”
Gilmore arrived at Nebraska after spending the 2003 and 2004 seasons at Colorado. Before that, he spent two years at Purdue, one at Houston, one at Kansas and four at his alma mater Wyoming -- the first two as a GA -- where he played receiver from 1988-89.
While we only wish you happiness on Valentines Day, here are six top heartbreaks from the Pac-12.
5.Thomas spurns USC for Oregon: DeAnthony Thomas, widely considered one of the most dynamic athletes in the 2011 recruiting class, was a long-time USC commitment. He was expected to be one of the jewels of the Trojans' top-five class. But he took a late visit to Oregon just before signing day, when he broke USC hearts by signing with the Ducks.
4. Trojans get kicked: USC lost consecutive games the first two weekends of October -- 32-31 to Washington and 37-35 to Stanford -- on last-second field goals. And there was much gnashing of teeth.
3. Buffalo slaughter: Colorado led Kansas 45-17 with 14:52 left. Stick a fork in this one, right? Hey, maybe there was some life in Dan Hawkins' Colorado team. And Kansas, after all, was a bad team in turmoil under first-year coach Turner Gill, having lost 11 consecutive conference games. But no. Kansas scored the final 35 points in the fourth quarter and won 52-45. Epic collapse or epic comeback? Either way, it was stunning.
2. James Brooks swats Alex Zendejas twice: A blocked extra-point attempt is rare. Two in one game -- by the same guy -- is even more rare. And two PATs blocked by the same guy in game-deciding situations in a rivalry game? Well, that's great theater. But the thrill for Arizona State's James Brooks -- the mad swatter -- was pure agony for Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas. Brooks rejected Zendejas' PAT late in the fourth quarter, which forced overtime. He then turned away a Zendejas PAT in the second overtime, giving the Sun Devils an improbable upset win, 30-29.
1. Dyer circumstances: Auburn's freshman running back Michael Dyer looked down, tackled by Oregon rover Eddie Pleasant. If you watch the replay, you can interpret it any way you want, as many have. But the bottom line is Dyer's apparent short run late in the national title game turned into a controversial 37-yard scamper, which set up the Tigers' winning field goal as the clock expired in a 22-19 victory. One word: Ouch.
But let's face it: Planets often align in strange ways in the college football universe. Just in the past few years we've seen FCS teams win at powers such as Michigan and Virginia Tech. We saw Stanford, as a 41-point underdog, win at USC with its backup quarterback. We saw Alabama get physically manhandled by Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
So freaky, unpredictable stuff happens all the time.
But nothing about the Cougars win feels "freaky." And this victory -- their first on the road since 2007 -- is about more than a long-awaited payoff for the Cougars. They have repeatedly played well into the second half and even the fourth quarter this season.
To me, the most significant reference point that highlights their improvement is the 42-0 loss at Arizona State on Oct. 30. That's the point in which many, including me, thought the Cougars were waving the white flag over coach Paul Wulff's tenure.
That game seemed to indicate exhaustion and malaise had set in. It seemed to say that Wulff's players had lost their faith and, subsequently, their will. On the Tuesday Pac-10 coaches conference call after that dreadful performance, Wulff said a number of things that could have been used to make a case against him.
Said Wulff, "It felt like we played with a tank that was empty with emotion."
Said Wulff, "We just didn't get a response."
Said Wulff, "That ultimately comes back on me. I've got to get us ready emotionally."
Said Wulff, "I try not to gauge the state of the program on one game."
Said Wulff, "I'm not really worried about retaining for next year. We're in year three of a major rebuilding project. I don't know if I'd state it we have to win these games. Were playing in a lot of ways to our potential and what we are capable of doing. We're close."
All of that could could easily fall into a column about why Wulff shouldn't be back in Year 4. Wulff was being himself -- an honest, stand-up guy -- but it wasn't hard to construe "ultimate defeat" from his words.
But, instead, this is a column about why the only sensible decision is to retain Wulff.
In a nutshell, he got the feckless team that lost 42-zip at Arizona State to become the team that won at Oregon State 31-14 two weeks later. One word: leadership. Wulff got his players, who had fought hard all year -- until the Arizona State game -- to reinvest after they'd hit an emotional nadir. If you've ever been in charge of a group of people, you know how hard that is. Wulff could offer them little incentive; a bowl game wasn't a possibility. His players probably were aware his job status was shaky, so if they quit on him, they'd get a fresh start in 2011 with a new coach.
According to the Sagarin Ratings, Washington State has played the second-toughest schedule in the nation, one that has included No. 1 Oregon, No. 6 Stanford, No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 20 USC (AP) and No. 22 Arizona. Moreover, they've played 11 consecutive weeks without a bye.
That's at tough road, period. But the Cougars have done it playing a bevy of young players. Of the 60 Cougars who played at Oklahoma State in the season-opener, 24 were making their college football debuts. The Cougars have played 10 true freshman this season. Of the 113 players on the Cougar roster, only 17 have been in the program more than three years, or prior to head coach Wulff’s arrival in December of 2007. On defense alone, 14 of the 22 players on the current depth chart are freshmen or sophomores.
Oh, and that defense, which is statistically terrible based on the entire season, held Oregon, Arizona and Stanford below their season averages for both points and yards. It held California to just 20 points. And it completely stuffed Oregon State.
In other words, maybe we should have seen the Corvallis Cougars Crusade coming.
Wulff inherited a disaster -- things were much worse than the average fan realized -- and his first two seasons ended up exactly that way. But the black smoke is clearing, and a program appears to be reemerging.
Every coach in the Pac-10 has remarked that the Cougars are different this year -- faster, more physical and less sloppy. The list of young talent coming back in 2011 is impressive: quarterback Jeff Tuel, wide receiver Marquess Wilson, Safety Deone Bucannon, defensive end Travis Long, defensive tackle Brandon Rankin, linebacker C.J. Mizell, etc.
We're not ready to proclaim a return to the run from 2001-2003 when Washington State finished ranked in the the final top-10 three consecutive seasons. The Cougars in a bowl game in 2011, in fact, probably will be seen as a longshot.
But you saw what just happened, didn't you? We just typed "Cougars" and "bowl game" in the same sentence and you read it without flinching or doubling over in laughter.
Let's take a gander at those box scores!
Go look at this box score from the Colorado-Kansas game. See if you notice anything, er, interesting. I'll wait here.
You might have noticed that the far right side of the box is much different than the left portion.
The Buffaloes, you see, yielded 35 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to lose 52-45 to Kansas, which opened the season with a loss to North Dakota State.
The Buffaloes led 35-10 at halftime. They led 45-17 with 11 minutes left.
And they lost.
The defeat dropped Colorado to 3-6 overall -- and one of their nonconference wins doesn't even count because it was over a patsy called "Georgia" -- and 0-5 in the Big 12.
Hmm. Sort of yucky. In fact, there is now metaphysical certainty that coach Dan Hawkins will never get the privilege of being on the Pac-12 teleconference next year, which is too bad because he surely was eager to field all the profound questions I ask, such as, "Your long-snapping, coach: Thoughts?"
Well, as Humphrey Bogart once memorably said to Ingrid Bergman, "We've always got Utah." What happened with the Utes last weekend?
Er, Utah got schlenackered -- no, that's not a word, but it's what happened -- by TCU, 47-7 at home. The Utes entered the game unbeaten and ranked fifth. They exited the game on a gurney. Considering they lost 55-28 to TCU last year, it's likely they are eager to say goodbye to the Horned Frogs for good.
And, really, Utah, how much are you going to miss a team whose fans all have arthritis?
TCU's 40-point victory was the second-largest margin in a regular season game between two top-5 BCS teams. The Horned Frogs outgained the Utes 558 to 199.
Double-hmm. Sort of yucky.
Of course, old-school Pac-10 teams, you better not laugh. At least, not too hard.
Every Pac-10 team, other than unbeaten Oregon -- duh -- and Oregon State (which was originally left out by me) has lost a game by at least 21 points this year. And not just to Oregon.
Washington State has lost by 49, 34 and 42. Washington has lost to Nebraska by 35 and Stanford by 41. Arizona State got whipped at Cal by 33. Cal got whipped at USC by 34 and at Oregon State by 28. Arizona is fresh off a 25-point loss at Stanford. UCLA went down by 28 at Cal, which sure seems to appear a lot on both sides of lopsided results.
Such as a 52-7 win over Colorado.
USC? I also seem to remember you laying an egg twice last year -- 47-20 at Oregon and 55-21 versus Stanford.
So while there surely were some yuck-yucks at the new Pac-12 pledges, my take is Utah and Colorado are going to fit right in.