Pac-12: Karl Dorrell

Stanford, UCLA closing talent gap

February, 7, 2012
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Before handing off the Pac-12 conference championship trophy to either USC or Oregon, Football Outsiders' Brian Fremeau suggests taking a look at Stanford and UCLA first.

Fremeau examined five programs that are closing the talent gap versus the top teams in their conference — and two of the five programs are right here in the Pac-12.

Stanford, fresh off a second-straight BCS bowl game, tops the list.
Fremeau on the Cardinal:

Stanford made the most of the Andrew Luck era, appearing in back-to-back BCS bowl games and winning 31 games over the past three seasons with Luck at the helm. For a program that was at the bottom of the Pac-12 only a short time ago, it has been a dramatic climb. The question is whether that momentum can be sustained going forward.

Head coach David Shaw delivered the best class in recent Stanford history, headlined by a signing day haul of top offensive line recruits that will be expected to anchor the balanced Cardinal offense going forward. Running back Barry Sanders (son of the former NFL superstar) may be an impact player right out of the gate as well.

The hole left behind by Luck will be tough to fill, and a step back in 2012 is to be expected. But the Cardinal have been winning with unheralded classes for the past few years. What may they do with a talent advantage going forward?

Rounding out the list at No. 5 is UCLA. Here's Fremeau's take on the Bruins:
A tumultuous coaching transition usually dooms a recruiting class, but new head coach Jim Mora finished strong and delivered a top-20 group to get the Bruins in position to contend immediately. UCLA has a long way to go to match crosstown rival USC, but the Bruins' overall talent level suggests UCLA can win now against most of the rest of the Pac-12.

The PFEI numbers tell another tale altogether, one that suggests the Bruins need time to patiently improve. UCLA made our list of five biggest recruiting underachievers, but as we mentioned in that article, it starts with keeping losses from getting out of hand. Eliminate the blowout losses first and close the gap over time.

That said, UCLA has more talent accumulated right now according to our weighted recruiting measure than at any point in the Rick Neuheisel or Karl Dorrell eras. UCLA has been recruiting like one of the top programs in the country, so no one should be too surprised if Mora delivers early returns.

What's up with ASU, UCLA searches?

December, 5, 2011
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While the bowl games were big news over the weekend, UCLA and Arizona State continue to look for new head coaches.

Here's some skinny.

At UCLA, ESPN LA's Peter Yoon reported that interim head coach Mike Johnson would like to be considered for the job. Here's his update on other candidates:

UCLA has been turned down by Boise State coach Chris Petersen, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions, and eliminated Houston coach Kevin Sumlin as a candidate after meeting with him on Saturday, according to a source. Al Golden of Miami is considered the next top target, though Golden recently signed a four-year contract extension at Miami.


There's some chatter out there about former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora, Jr. My take: That would be a good hire. While things went badly for Mora in Seattle, let's recall that he was the first choice to replace Tyrone Willingham at Washington. He's a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility that would translate well at UCLA. Recall that the last time a team in LA hired a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility who had folks scratching their heads turned out OK.

Here's Jon Gold's take in the LA Daily News.

Sources have said that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who met with Sumlin in Houston on Saturday, is essentially rebooting the search and at this point, there are no clear-cut favorites. Miami head coach Al Golden, whom Guerrero interviewed for the job during the post-Karl Dorrell vacancy, is among the candidates, along with SMU head coach June Jones. Sources indicated on Saturday that there was minimal interest in former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti.


UCLA has been the sort of job that more than a few folks thought might lure Bellotti back into coaching. But it doesn't seem, at least at this point, that he's high on the Bruins' list.

Meanwhile, at Arizona State, it appears that Sumlin might not be completely out of the picture, but that SMU coach June Jones' name is front-and-center at present. Still, there are plenty of other names in the rumor swirl. Writes Doug Haller:

Arizona State officials on Saturday met with SMU coach June Jones for more than three hours in Texas.

A report surfaced Sunday that ASU was in position to announce Jones' hire shortly after the university learned of its bowl destination. That wasn't true. According to a source, the Jones push slowed Sunday night. That doesn't mean it's over, but it could be an indication that ASU is having second thoughts.

Sources confirmed Sunday that Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora is still in the mix. Baylor coach Art Briles has emerged as a candidate.

I continue to hear ASU likes Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

Also, despite reports that ASU has backed off Sumlin, he still could be in play, especially if Texas A&M goes another direction in its quest to replace fired coach Mike Sherman.


In other words, neither coach search has moved -- at least according to reports -- decisively in one direction.

So stay tuned.

Pac-12 lunch links: Leach is perfect for WSU

December, 1, 2011
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The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.

New Pac-12 coaches

August, 11, 2011
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A quick look at the two new coaches in the Pac-12: Colorado's Jon Embree and Stanford's David Shaw.

Embree and Shaw share some similarities. Both are first-time head coaches. Both played for the program they now coach. Both coached in the NFL. Both say they want to retire in their present job instead of climbing the coaching ladder. And, yes, both are black, the fourth and fifth black head football coaches in conference -- Pac-8 to Pac-10 to Pac-12 -- history.

Here's a quick look at the new guys.

Jon Embree, Colorado

Replaces? Dan Hawkins, who never posted a winning season in five years in Boulder.

Where was Embree last year? He was the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins.

What's he bring to the table that's different? Embree is a hardnosed old school coach -- Hawkins was decidedly new school -- who is from the area and played for Colorado under the revered Bill McCartney. He's spent 10 of his 18 seasons in coaching at Colorado, working from 1993-2002 as a Buffs assistant under three different head coaches: Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002). He has repeatedly said that Colorado is his dream job, not a stepping stone. His singular focus is restoring a program that was once a national power.

What else? Embree, 45, is the first black head football coach at Colorado and the fourth black head coach in Pac-12 history (Stanford's Dennis Green (1989-91), Stanford's Tyrone Willingham (1995-2001), UCLA's Karl Dorrell (2003-07) and Willingham at Washington (2004-08). Shaw became the fifth in January)... Embree earned a communications degree from Colorado in 1988... He was a member of McCartney's first recruiting class... In 1984, he earned first-team All-Big 8 honors and set school single-season records for receptions (51) and receiving yards (680)... He was a sixth-round selection by the Los Angeles Rams in 1987. He played two seasons with the Rams before suffering a career-ending elbow injury in 1989 while a member of the Seattle Seahawks... His original plan after the NFL was to get into TV news, but he took a job as a volunteer assistant with McCartney and was immediately bitten by the coaching bug... He is married to the former Natalyn Grubb and they have three children, a daughter and two sons. Eldest son Taylor, is a receiver at UCLA, while Connor is a receiver at UNLV.

David Shaw, Stanford

Replaces: Jim Harbaugh, who rebuilt the program into a national power before being hired away by the San Francisco 49ers.

Where was Shaw last year: He was Stanford's offensive coordinator.

What's he bring to the table that's different: Where Harbaugh was boisterous, often eccentric and sometimes prickly, Shaw is mellow, polished and accommodating. That said, he's repeatedly insisted that doesn't mean the competitive fire doesn't burn just as hot. He certainly knows Stanford. His father coached there and he's a 1984 graduate. He returned to Stanford in 2007 when Harbaugh arrived -- they were together at San Diego -- so he's seen the Cardinal renaissance firsthand. And, just like Embree, he says that Stanford is his destination job and that he's not looking to move on or up in the coaching profession.

What else? Shaw is the fifth Stanford alum to become head football coach, joining Charles Fickert (1901), Carl Clemans (1902), Chuck Taylor (1951-57) and Paul Wiggin (1980-83)... He was a member of Stanford's 1991 Aloha Bowl team coached by Dennis Green that finished 8-4. He was also on the Cardinal's 1992 Blockbuster Bowl-winning squad coached by Bill Walsh that went 10-3. He finished his Stanford career with 57 receptions for 664 yards and five touchdowns... He started his coaching career in 1995 at Western Washington. He's also coached for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens... He's coached quarterbacks, receivers and running backs in his career... Shaw's offense ranked ninth in the nation in scoring last fall (40.3 ppg) and it amassed a school-record 6,142 yards, averaging a notably balanced 213.8 on the ground and 258.7 yards through the air... His father, Willie, had two separate coaching stints at Stanford (1974-76; 1989-91) during his 33-year coaching career, which was mostly spent in the NFL... His bachelor's degree from Stanford is in sociology... He was born in San Diego. He and his wife Kori have three children, Keegan, Carter and Gavin.

Yards to Glory: 'Pick-six'

August, 2, 2011
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A football field is 100 yards long, and each yard marker has produced immortal memories in college football.

ESPN.com is looking at some of the most famous touchdowns in college football history for each and every yard marker, and Alterraun Verner's interception return against California in 2007 is the choice at 76 yards.

You can check out video of the player here.

You can check out "Yards to Glory" here.

And here's what I wrote about Verner's interception return versus Cal.

76. Pick-Six

Alterraun Verner seals UCLA win over Cal with interception

Oct. 24, 2007: California, which notably lost to Oregon State a week before and blew its shot to be No. 1, was driving for a comeback win in the final two minutes, but Alterraun Verner intercepted a Nate Longshore pass and sprinted 76 yards to the end zone with 1:33 remaining. Neither team would do much of note for the rest of the season. The Bruins improved to 5-2 but would lose five of their final six games, and coach Karl Dorrell lost his job. Meanwhile, the 10th-ranked Bears became snared in a downward spiral that would see them lose six of their final seven games.

Another staff change at UCLA

March, 21, 2011
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UCLA's tumultuous offseason continues.

After reshuffling his staff -- including replacing both coordinators -- Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel announced another change Monday: special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. has left the staff for personal reasons and he has been replaced by Angus McClure.

McClure was the team's director of on-campus recruiting, though he possesses more than a decade of on-field college coaching experience.

"Frank has done a great job for us during our three years together and I certainly wish him all the best," Neuheisel said in a statement. "He feels that it's in his best interest to make this move and I certainly understand and respect his decision."

McClure has been a member of the Bruins staff since 2007, when he was the tight ends coach under Karl Dorrell. He has spent the past three years in his recruiting position and has handled recruiting administration and organization; managing all official and unofficial visits; tracking all recruiting paperwork, including transcripts, serving as liaison to college All-Star game representatives; liaison with pro scouts; and other assignments from the head coach.

McClure came to UCLA after serving as the offensive line/run game coordinator on Turner Gill's staff at the University of Buffalo during the 2006 season. He spent the two previous seasons (2004-2005) as an assistant on Bill Callahan's staff at Nebraska. He assisted with the offensive line, coaching the offensive tackles, as well as serving in several special teams roles. From 1997-2003, McClure was the assistant head coach and offensive line coach from 1997-2003 Sacramento State.

"Angus has a lot of experience both in on-field coaching and administration and organization," Neuheisel said. "He has been a valuable member of the staff and I know he was anxious to return to coaching. This will be a smooth transition and I expect our special teams to flourish under his guidance."

Fired at UCLA, Howard hired by Cougars

February, 10, 2011
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In the world of "official" announcements, Todd Howard was fired and hired by two separate Pac-12 programs in one day.

After UCLA made his termination as defensive line coach official Thursday -- Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel told him to start looking for another job in December -- Washington State swept in to announce that Howard had been hired to man the same post in Pullman. He replaces Malik Roberson, whose contract was not renewed for the 2011 season.

Cougars coach Paul Wulff also announced that Chris Ball has been promoted to assistant head coach and will be the lone defensive coordinator in 2011. Former co-coordinator Jody Sears will remain as cornerbacks coach.

“Todd brings a great deal of experience to our program,” Wulff said in a statement. “He has coached at the highest levels of collegiate football while also serving on two different coaching staffs in the NFL. He has a lot of experience recruiting the Los Angeles area which was a priority for us and he has also coached All-Americans and numerous All-Conference players.”

Howard had been at UCLA for five years, as Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel inherited him from former coach Karl Dorrell's staff.

Change is probably good for the Washington State defense, which ranked 118th in the nation in total defense and 110th in scoring defense in 2010.

Washington State visits UCLA on Oct. 8, by the way.

Pac-10 did you know? Week 14

December, 3, 2010
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Some quick notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • Warning, Oregon! Warning, Oregon! A team ranked in the BCS top two has lost its final game of the regular season 13 times in the previous 12 years. The last time neither of the top two teams lost on the first weekend of December was 2005.
  • That said: Oregon State definitely doesn’t have history on its side in the Civil War. In the history of the AP poll, AP's No. 1 is 95-3-1 when playing a game in November or December against a team which entered the game with a losing record. The last time the AP No. 1 failed to win a game in November or December against a team with a losing record was Nov. 8, 1980, when 7-0 Notre Dame went to 1-7 Georgia Tech and tied the Yellow Jackets 3-3. Since that tie, AP No. 1 is 36-0 in this situation with only five games decided by a TD or less. The average score in those games: 44.3 to 9.9.
  • Oregon was the first top-ranked team in the BCS standings to drop in the final four weeks of the season without losing.
  • Oregon leads the nation with 50.5 points per game. The Ducks have scored a school-record 555 points and are on pace to score 656 points this season in 13 games, including their bowl game. The record for most points scored by a team in a 13-game season is 652 (2005 Texas Longhorns). The Horns averaged 50.2 PPG that season. In order to break that record, Oregon would need to score 98 points the rest of the way (49.0 PPG).
  • Oregon’s 42 touchdown drives in under two minutes is more than 74 FBS teams have in total offensive touchdowns. The Ducks have 11 more drives that lasted less than two minutes than Oklahoma State, which ranks second in the nation.
  • The Ducks also have 23 TD "drives" that took three or fewer plays. Auburn is No. 2 in that category at 19.
  • Oregon also leads the nation with 30 TDs of 20-plus yards. Auburn in second with 26.
  • Oregon State QB Ryan Katz's downfield passing might be a key to the Beavers' success. In their five wins, Katz has completed 48.7 percent of his passes of 15-plus yards with four TDs and no interceptions. In the Beavers' six losses, he completed 34 percent of his downfield throws with five TDs and five INTs.
  • Oregon actually has a better winning percentage against the Beavers in Corvallis (.573) than at home (.519).
  • Oregon is trying to beat Oregon State for the third straight time. No team has won more than two straight in this series since Oregon won four in a row from 1994-97.
  • Oregon State has won five of the last six Civil Wars in Corvallis.
  • Beavers junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers has 3,793 career rushing yards. If he rushes for 129 yards against the Ducks, he will move past Arizona's Trung Canidate and former Beaver Yvenson Bernard into sixth place on the Pac-10's all-time list.
  • If the Ducks beat the Beavers, they will become the first Pac-10 team to go undefeated in a nine-game conference schedule.
  • Oregon State, which is trying to avoid its first losing season since going 5-6 in 2005, will be wearing Nike Pro Combat Uniforms. It will be a tribute to the Beavers “Giant Killers” team of 1967 that beat top-ranked USC, second-ranked Purdue and tied second-ranked UCLA. That team went 7-2-1 and finished seventh in the AP poll.
  • This is the 103rd edition of the Apple Cup. Washington leads the rivalry 65-31-6, including a 33-15 record since the Apple Cup trophy began being awarded in 1962. The series dates back to 1900.
  • Washington becomes bowl eligible with a win. The Huskies haven’t been to a bowl game since the ’02 Sun Bowl.
  • Washington State ranks 117th in rushing offense (89.3 YPG), 109th in scoring offense (18.8 PPG), 115th in both rushing (211.6 YPG) and total defense (457.6 YPG) and 111th in scoring defense (35.9 PPG).
  • The Cougars won their last game, three weeks ago against Oregon State and have not won two straight since the 2007 season (vs. San Diego State and Idaho). The Cougars have not won consecutive Pac-10 games since 2006 (vs Oregon and UCLA).
  • A win would be the Cougars' third this season. Over the 2008-09 seasons, Washington State went 3-22.
  • This is the 80th meeting between USC and UCLA, but the first since 2000 that neither is ranked for the game. USC has won 10 of the last 11 games (although they vacated the 2004 and 2005 wins). The Trojans’ only “on-field” loss came in 2006, when they entered the game as No. 2 in the AP poll and were upset 13-9 by unranked UCLA.
  • Both teams will wear their home jerseys. These teams play for the Victory Bell and the winning school paints the bell with their school colors. The bell is painted cardinal red right now thanks to USC’s 28-7 win last year.
  • Lane Kiffin is looking to win his eighth game in his first year as USC head coach. The last coach to win more in his first year with USC was John Robinson, who went 11-1 in 1976. Pete Carroll won six games his first year.
  • USC would be bowl-eligible this season were it not for the NCAA sanctions that prevent it from going to a bowl, so the Trojans will miss out on a bowl this season for the first time since 2000. That was the last year with Paul Hackett as head coach and the year before Pete Carroll arrived.
  • UCLA will miss out on a bowl for the second time in three years under Rick Neuheisel. UCLA went to a bowl every year in Karl Dorrell’s five seasons.

A look back at 2007 recruiting

July, 21, 2010
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The 2007 recruiting class members are either seniors or redshirt juniors this fall, so they should be the backbones of most Pac-10 team's starting lineups.

Therefore, it seems like a reasonable moment to look back and review some recruiting hits and misses. (And, yes, we did this last summer with the 2006 class, which you can review here -- Ducks fans should get a kick out of it).

As for the 2007 rankings, USC ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. Oregon, at No. 23, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25.

Scout.com ranked USC No. 2 in the nation, Oregon ninth, and California 12th. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Washington (29th in nation), UCLA (36th), Arizona State (38), Oregon State (40), Stanford (43), Arizona (49) and Washington State (54).

Here's an overview.

Arizona

Class: 17

ESPNU top 150 players: 2 (DE Apaiata Tuihalamaka, TE Rob Gronkowski)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Four (RB Nic Grigsby, CB Trevin Wade, WR William Wright, K Alex Zendejas)

Misses: Tuihalamaka, QB Bryson Beirne,

Verdict: Obviously, the biggest catch of this class, Gronkowski, is gone. Otherwise, a lot of these guys qualify for the "where are they now?" file.

Arizona State

Class: 24

ESPNU top 150 players: 0.

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (C Garth Gerhart, WR Kerry Taylor, CB Omar Bolden, DE James Brooks, OG Matt Hustad)

Misses: OL Po'u Palelei, LB Oliver Aaron

Verdict: This is a decent class, particularly when you factor in the contribution of the since-departed JC signees, such as LB Morris Wooten and DE Luis Vasquez. And there are several non-starters who will contribute this year.

California

Class: 27

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: 10 (OT Matt Summers-Gavin, P Bryan Anger, LB D.J. Holt, WR Alex Lagemann, OT Mitchell Schwartz, S Sean Cattouse, S Chris Conte, OG Justin Cheadle, DE Cameron Jordan, RB Shane Vereen).

Misses: QB Brock Mansion, CB D.J. Campbell

Verdict: Obviously, ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., missed with its evaluation of this solid recruiting class, particularly when you consider RB Jahvid Best, WR Nyan Boateng and LB Devin Bishop were significant contributors before their tenures were done. Jordan and Vereen obviously were well underrated. And there were 21 running backs better than Best?

Oregon

Class: 29

ESPNU top 150 players: 1 (DE Kenny Rowe)

How many are expected to start in 2010: 10 (Rowe, WR D.J. Davis, LB Casey Matthews, CB Talmadge Jackson, OG Carson York, TE David Paulson, OG Mark Asper, WR Jeff Maehl, S Eddie Pleasant, DE Terrell Turner).

Misses: DT Myles Wade, S Malachi Lewis

Verdict: When you toss in DE Will Tukuafu, WR Aaron Pflugrad (a starter who transferred to Arizona State) and WR Terence Scott, this is a good, if not great, class. Three or four of these guys should be All-Conference players.

Oregon State

Class: 35

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Eight (HB Joe Halahuni, S Cameron Collins, WR Darrell Catchings, CB Brandon Hardin, FB Will Darkins, DE Taylor Henry, LB Keith Pankey, WR James Rodgers)

Misses: CB David Ross, RB Reggie Dunn

Verdict: We don't have the time to go back and retrace the maneuvers that are part of managing a 35-man recruiting class (each class can only include a maximum of 25 members, but there are lots of ways to fudge numbers). Obviously, there are the Beavers typical crew of so-called diamonds in the rough -- hello, James Rodgers -- but here's a guess that coach Mike Riley winces over some of these names. Certainly not a lot of production from the six JC guys.

Stanford

Class: 19

ESPNU top 150 players: 0.

How many are expected to start in 2010: Six (P David Green, CB Corey Gatewood, LB/FB Owen Marecic, TE Coby Fleenor, DE Thomas Keiser, DE Matt Masifilo)

Misses: QB L. D. Crow, S Sean Wiser

Verdict: An interesting class considering that six of the eight lowest rated players are on the Cardinal's preseason two-deep depth chart, including three starters. In terms of skill positions -- see the two QBs -- this class doesn't measure up.

UCLA

Class: 11

ESPNU top 150 players: 2 (QB Chris Forcier, RB Raymond Carter)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (LB Akeem Ayers, LB Glenn Love, LB Steve Sloan, DT Nate Chandler, OT Mike Harris)

Misses: Forcier, Carter

Verdict: This is a very small but highly productive class collected by former coach Karl Dorrell -- note that it includes DT Brian Price, who bolted early for the NFL. The only busts were the two highest rated players, Forcier and Carter, and JC LB Mike Schmitt. The other eight members are either on the two-deep or, in Price's case, already in the NFL.

USC

Class: 20

ESPNU top 150 players: 10 (RB Joe McKnight, LB Chris Galippo, RB Marc Tyler, S Marshall Jones, DE Everson Griffen, QB Aaron Corp, WR Ronald Johnson, OT Martin Coleman, DT DaJohn Harris, C Kris O'Dowd)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Four (LB Chris Galippo, WR Ronald Johnson, C Kristofer O'Dowd, LB Malcolm Smith)

Misses: S Marshall Jones, OT Martin Coleman

Verdict: Obviously, this class, ranked No. 1 in the nation, was overrated, even when you factor in that McKnight, Griffen and Damian Williams already are in the NFL, and NT Christian Tupou would be a second-year starter if he didn't blow out his knee this spring. Lots of guys who never contributed or left the program.

Washington

Class: 27

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Eight (WR Devin Aguilar, LB Alvin Logan, LB Cort Dennison, SS Nate Williams, LB Mason Foster, CB Quinton Richardson, DE Kalani Aldrich, K Erik Folk)

Misses: DE Emeka Iweka, DT Nick Wood

Verdict: You read the names of the seven highest-rated players in this class and you have one reaction: Terrible. But then you see six defensive starters among the lower rated guys. Still, the Huskies defense is a huge question mark. How it performs this year will tell you how this class should be rated.

Washington State

Class: 26

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (CB Aire Justin, WR Daniel Blackledge, C Andrew Roxas, OG B.J. Guerra, SS Chima Nwachukwu)

Misses: WR Deon Ford

Verdict: Not much should be expected from Bill Doba's final recruiting class, and this one doesn't deliver much sizzle. A couple of solid hits, though, including a couple of departed JC transfers.

UCLA's offense picks up a 'pistol'

April, 21, 2010
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LOS ANGELES -- Most programs have images. Not so long ago, a mention of UCLA to college football fans inspired images of high-flying offenses with quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman or Cade McNown, offensive linemen such as Jonathan Ogden and skill players like J.J. Stokes and DeShaun Foster.

These days? Not so much. UCLA hasn't had a potent offense since 2005.

Most coaches have images. Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow built their careers on offensive prowess, particularly with developing quarterbacks.


Mark Goldman/Icon SMIUCLA coach Rick Neuheisel expects to be in the top half of the Pac-10 next season.
When Neuheisel and Chow arrived in Westwood two years ago after Karl Dorrell was fired, their charge was not only to recharge a stagnant program that had yielded Southern California to USC but also to reignite the offensive fireworks.

Bruins fans notoriously love offense. Former coach Bob Toledo once remarked that winning with flashy offense was nearly as important as winning period among the Bruins faithful.

The going, suffice it to say, has been slow. The Bruins have ranked no better than eighth in rushing, scoring or total offense over the past two seasons.

So, are the Bruins poised for a breakthrough in 2010, Year Three of Neuheisel-Chow?

"I have no idea, but we have to be better or you'll be talking to somebody else next year," Chow quipped.

Say this for the veteran coaches: The old dogs are willing to try new tricks. UCLA is using a variation of Nevada's "pistol" offense -- Neuheisel called it "the revolver" because "it's going to be more loaded," he joked -- during spring practices. That means lining up in an abbreviated shotgun formation with a single running back and using some spread-option elements.

The idea is that forcing a defense to respect -- and assign responsibility for -- a potential running quarterback means an offense operates 11-on-11 vs. a defense rather than 10-on-11, as is the case in a pro-style offense when the quarterback only hands off or passes from the pocket.

Understand: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince doesn't have to transform into Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli (insert snarky quip here) or Washington's Jake Locker this spring. The very fact that Prince will run the ball a handful of times a game means a defense must account for him on every play, which means Prince can operate as a pseudo-blocker even without the ball -- and without taking on a 240-pound linebacker.

By the way, Prince is hardly an unathletic clod being asked to run the option. For one, he ran a similar offense in high school. And he weighs 230 pounds and runs a 4.53 40-yard dash.

"It's opening up the passing game a lot and it's really fun to run. I'm liking it so far. It's an efficient way to do things," Prince said. "I might not have to run that much, but the mere fact that they have to have a guy assigned to me, to respect me as a running threat, I think will open up our offense a lot more."

That said, results have been mixed. After the Bruins second scrimmage, Neuheisel wondered out loud how patient he and Chow could be while Prince and company learned a new scheme: ""There's a lot of moving parts in this stuff. If we're going to be in this stuff and we're going to say that this is who we are and try to get to that point, we've got to be a heck of a lot better at it than this. If we can't get that done in 15 practices, then we have to ask ourselves if it's prudent to stay in it and that's where we are.''

But, whatever the scheme, Neuheisel, Chow and Prince each touched on the most sound reason to believe UCLA's offense will be better this fall: experience.

Start with Prince, who flashed potential as a redshirt freshman during an injury-plagued 2009 season. The hope is he takes the next step and becomes more consistent.

"Kevin has everything you look for," Neuheisel said. "He still needs to grasp how defenses play so he can take advantage. He's running our offense, but he's not ahead enough yet to know exactly where they are vulnerable so we can take less protection time and get the ball to that spot."

Prince should have plenty of help. Receivers Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree have played well this spring -- said Neuheisel, "I think they are ready to burst onto the scene" -- and there are intriguing youngsters behind them. The pecking order at running back remains unsettled, but there's talent and the incoming recruiting class includes three backs ranked in the ESPNU 150.

But, really, all things hinge on the offensive line, which would have welcomed back all five starters if true freshman left tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo hadn't opted to go on a two-year LDS mission.

The Bruins troubles the past two season can be traced in large part to an inability to consistently run the football, a problem rooted in poor line play.

"I love Karl Dorrell and I've known him a long time but when we got here there were no offensive linemen," Chow said.

Neuheisel has landed three consecutive strong recruiting classes, but he also bemoans the recent lack of elite offensive linemen on the West Coast. Still, he expects the line to improve in 2010. He ticks off nine names he thinks can get it done up front.

"We'll be closer to a good looking group," he said.

The offense probably needs to take a major step forward for another reason: The Bruins lost six starters, including three All-Pac-10 first-teamers, from their defense.

Neuheisel is always optimistic. His mantra in 2008 was "relentless optimism." But his enthusiasm at present suggest he expects the Bruins, one of only two Pac-10 teams that won bowl games in 2009, to push into the top-half of the conference this fall.

"We are within a blink of an eye of being really good," he said. "We're not far from being a hell of a program again."

UCLA's Norm Chow talks offense

June, 25, 2009
6/25/09
11:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

If you just want to cut to the chase, he's the best offensive coordinator in the history of college football.

In 33 seasons at the collegiate level, Norm Chow has been part of three national championships, guided three Heisman Trophy winners, coached eight of the NCAA's top 30 in career passing efficiency and produced six first-round NFL draft picks at quarterback.

But UCLA's offense stunk last year.

 
  AP Photo/Ric Francis
  UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow is hoping to see improvement in his offense in 2009.

It ranked 116th in the nation in rushing, 111th in total offense, 109th in scoring, 109th in passing efficiency and 110th in sacks allowed.

Bad. Very bad.

The good news for Bruins fans, however, is that it seems almost impossible to imagine things not getting better. A lot better, in fact.

It's hard to bet against Chow, 63. His head coach, Rick Neuheisel, also owns a highly respected offensive mind -- though it often appeared that mind was about to explode as TV cameras zeroed in on his reactions to the offensive foibles last fall.

The question is: What are realistic expectations in 2009?

Improving from bad to merely below average might get the Bruins enough juice to win six games, particularly with a defense that should be very good.

But going from bad to average might boost UCLA back into the top half of the Pac-10.

So we thought nothing of calling Chow during his annual Hawaiian get-away to see what he's thinking this off-season.

Taking a quick look backwards: Is there anything you'd change about how you guys ran the offense last year?

Norm Chow: No. I think we were obviously all disappointed. I'm not so sure there was much else we could have done as far as personnel went. We were down to our third quarterback. We started 10 different combinations on the offensive line. Obviously, we were disappointed we didn't do better with just what we were doing. I don't think we could have made dramatic changes. That wasn't our style. We just didn't play well enough and coach well enough.

Considering how successful you've been running offenses, how tough was it for you watching your players struggle to get much of anything going?

NC: It was hard. But it's not about me. It's about our players and their willingness to work, which they did. They played as hard as they could and they did everything we asked them to do. It just didn't work out. It's not their fault. We as coaches have to take the major part of the blame because we didn't get it done. The guys are working hard now and we're looking forward to everything. We've been together for a year now. Prior to us getting there, the quarterbacks told me that we were their fourth different offensive style of ball in four years. What we called 12, [former coach] Karl Dorrell called 92. You go through that four times and it's hard on young guys. Perhaps we should have gone a little slower. We just didn't do what we should have done.

Obviously Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback, is an offensive guy. And he's a hands-on head coach. Did you guys ever butt heads during the season?

NC: Not at all. We have respect for each other. We're both trying to get the same things done. We have very similar ideas about offense. No, it was a joy. This past year, of all the years I've ever coached, was the first time I worked with an offensive coach, an offensive-minded head coach. I've always worked with defensive-minded head coaches, both in college and the NFL. They kind of have a tendency to leave you alone. But Rick was very good about suggestions and thoughts. All you're trying to do is get better. We got along very well. In fact, it was fun. He was a joy to work with. He's a nice guy. He's a fun guy. He's an intense guy. He's perfect for the head coaching position at UCLA.

(Read full post)

Pac-10 lunch links: Auburn vs. Washington for Leach?

December, 4, 2008
12/04/08
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Two sources confirmed to the Pac-10 blog that these are links. 

  • It appears that Fresno State coach Pat Hill is out of the running for the Washington job. So does this mean Texas Tech's Mike Leach is the frontrunner?
  • Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama doesn't want to go 0-4 vs. ASU. Some boosters have coach Mike Stoops' back.
  • Checking in with Arizona State legend Frank Kush.
  • California's defense will be plenty motivated about facing Washington because the Huskies ran over them last year.
  • A columnist blames UCLA's present sorry state on former coach Karl Dorrell and the man who hired him, current athletic director Dan Guerrero.
  • The main intrigue with USC-UCLA isn't the game, it's the soap opera between the coaching staffs. Size matters on the USC line, but not like you might think.

What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 6

October, 3, 2008
10/03/08
8:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. We should know fairly quickly if USC solved its run defense problems: What stood out more than anything in the Trojans loss to Oregon State was their poor run defense, with true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers rushing for 186 yards and USC's defensive linemen and linebackers struggling to get off blocks. Oregon is the nation's No. 4 rushing team and its passing game is still trying to find its rhythm with juco-transfer quarterback Jeremiah Masoli running the show. Ergo: The Ducks will immediately challenge the Trojans up front.

2. Who will start at quarterback for California and what will it mean?: Coming off a 42-7 victory in which your quarterback doesn't throw an interception is a curious time to renew a quarterback competition, but that's just what Bears coach Jeff Tedford did. And based on news reports this week, both sophomore starter Kevin Riley and senior challenger Nate Longshore -- who started 26 games before losing out to Riley -- practiced well, with neither surging ahead or falling behind. So Tedford said he'd wait until pregame warmups to announce who will start against Arizona State. How much of this is gamesmanship, and how much of an advantage does this garner Cal, if any? Here's a guess that the tag goes to the incumbent, and Riley remains the starter, with Longshore seeing spot action, which was the plan entering the season.

3. As usual, Rudy, not the run game, will be the key for Arizona State: Dennis Erickson said the Sun Devils need to run the ball more, period. The return of running back Keegan Herring from a nagging hamstring injury should help the Sun Devils sagging (110th in the nation) ground attack. But that won't change the basic fact that quarterback Rudy Carpenter is Arizona State's centerpiece, its singular star who will determine this team's fate almost every week. The speedy Herring might break a run or two for a big gain, but the Sun Devils will live or die by the pass in this game and the rest of the season.

4. Washington's new quarterback Ronnie Fouch won't wilt at Arizona: Don't be shocked if the Huskies offense puts up some points against the Wildcats with Fouch, a redshirt freshman, making his first start on the road after Jake Locker was lost to a broken thumb. Fouch has looked solid in limited action and seems confident in his abilities. More than a few folks have noted that he's already a more accurate passer than Locker. He might inject energy into a sagging team that may, in fact, be grateful to be away from its unhappy home fans.

5. Notre Dame will attack Stanford's secondary: Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is rapidly improving and is developing timing with his young, talented receiving corps. Stanford's secondary is mediocre at best -- it allows opponents to complete 65 percent of their passes -- so the Cardinal will rely on pressure to keep Clausen in check. Stanford is second in the Pac-10 with three sacks a game, and the Fighting Irish offensive line is still figuring things out. But if Clausen gets time on his home field, he'll pick the Cardinal apart.

6. Rick Neuheisel's UCLA honeymoon will end if the Bruins lose: Neuheisel talked about noticeable improvement in the Bruins loss to Fresno State, but moral victories don't inspire a fanbase. And losing at home to the Cougars, a bad team even before it became a M.A.S.H unit, could cause some early grumbling in our win-now-or-else culture. UCLA should win going away. They should run right at the Cougars sagging defense and pressure redshirt freshman quarterback Marshall Lobbestael into making mistakes as he makes his first start on the road. Most of the schedule will be an uphill slog for the Bruins, so they shouldn't treat a rare weekend as a favorite as a time to relax.

7. Arizona should score 50: Arizona had a bye week to prepare for Jake Locker, and now they don't even have to deal with the annoyance of a running quarterback who can play keep-away from the Wildcats potent offense. And that offense will be rested and reloaded as it faces one of the nation's worst defenses. Tight end Rob Gronkowski figures to be completely back to form after missing the first three games with mono. Also, receiver Terrell Reese returns from a suspension, giving quarterback Willie Tuitama another option in the Wildcats potent spread attack.

8. Who will lead USC's tailback-by-committee this week?: Joe McKnight had emerged as first among equals in USC's crowded running back depth chart, but then he fumbled and was mostly ineffective in the loss to Oregon State. This past week, Allen Bradford, who had fallen off the radar, expressed frustration to coach Pete Carroll about his lack of carries. More than a few observers piped in that Stafon Johnson is being underused. And C.J. Gable remains the most complete back the Trojans have. The chatter won't matter if USC runs for 200-plus yards and rolls to victory -- success has always been Pete Carroll's justification for trying to distribute the ball among so many talented backs without establishing a consistent pecking order. But another meandering performance by the offense, particularly the rushing attack, might force a philosophy change.

9. Cal's offense won't be worse without Best: Well, of course, there will be some dropoff without the playmaking of speedy Jahvid Best, who's expected to return from a dislocated elbow on Oct. 18 at Arizona. But Shane Vereen is pretty fancy, too. Sure, Best has two 80-yard touchdown runs, but Vereen has an 81-yarder to his credit and he went 39 yards for another score for good measure. Vereen is averaging 69.8 yards rushing per game and a stout eight yards per carry. He also has 10 catches for 44 yards, so, like Best, he's also a good receiver. If Arizona State's defense exhales
because it doesn't see Best in the backfield, that could be a critical mistake.

10. This is Washington State's best chance for a Pac-10 win, at least until the Apple Cup: UCLA should beat the Cougars. The Bruins also should have beaten the Cougars last year, but Washington State won 27-7, a game that became a significant nail in then-Bruins coach Karl Dorrell's coffin. UCLA is prone to distraction. It may look at the schedule and yawn. Moreover, the Rose Bowl is hardly a hostile environment these days, so redshirt freshman quarterback Marshall Lobbestael might not be overwhelmed in his first road start. The Cougars may, in fact, benefit from being on the road, considering they lost by an average of 56 points in their first two conference home games. This might not qualify as an upset alert, but it won't be written very often this season that Washington State actually has a shot to win.

Pac-10 Morning: Olson third conference QB to go down

August, 10, 2008
8/10/08
11:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

If you are a Pac-10 QB, please, don't get out of bed today. Just read these links.

  • Bad things happen in threes? The top story today is UCLA QB Ben Olson living up to the"oft-injured" that oft appears before his name. Olson was carted off the field yesterday, joining USC Mark Sanchez and Washington's Jake Locker among the Pac-10 QB M.A.S.H. unit -- though it appears that Sanchez and Locker might not be as bad off as first expected. If Olson is out, then the JC transfer Kevin Craft is the leader to step in, with redshirt freshman Chris Forcier and freshman Kevin Prince also possibilities, as is Osaar Rasshan, the only other QB on the roster who's thrown a pass in a Bruins game uniform.
  • The Arizona offense looked good during a Saturday scrimmage, but a fight marred the fun.
  • It's not easy being the backup QB at Arizona State. Danny Sullivan has watched Rudy Carpenter start 31 consecutive games. And, if we mention Sun Devils QBs, you just know we can't avoid saying something about the questionable offensive line. Of course, if the line comes through, there are plenty of guys to throw to, including Kerry Taylor.
  • Don't write off California's Nate Longshore just yet. With Cal's new 3-4 defense there are, obviously, only three DL spots. So guys have to work to get into the rotation. A true freshman appears headed for the rotation at WR. An old guy, too. This comes from the California football office, but it's interesting: Cal needs to rebuild its receiving corps, and the standout thus far is a bit of a surprise, senior Sean Young:

The prettiest play of the day may have been sophomore Kevin Riley
delivering a perfect 33-yard pass to senior Sean Young in the end zone.
Young also made an impressive leaping grab of a pass to continue his
excellent camp.

"Sean Young's having a great camp," Tedford said. "Right now he's
definitely in the rotation. He's probably had the most consistent, best
camp of any of our receivers. It's great to see because he's been here a
long time and he's finally staying healthy, knock on wood. He's always
shown flashes; he's doing a great job and catching a lot of balls."

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