Pac-12: Keith Price

Mailbag: QB issues, panic & worst cases

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
7:00
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Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. One word: Nirvana. And I'm not talking about the band, though they would sound pretty good just about now.

To the notes!

Grant from Seattle writes: Ted, what are the odds that someone other than Cyler Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year? And who would it be -- Lindquist or Williams? I've heard some really good things about Lindquist.

Ted Miller: The Huskies QB situation will be intriguing to watch this August.

While the overwhelming sentiment is Miles is the most ready to take over for Keith Price, there are no guarantees. You, of course, start with his off-field incident after the Super Bowl. While Miles wasn't charged, there is no question that he didn't conduct himself well. Even if it was all on wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, which I find dubious, Miles' proper response would have been to grab his enraged teammate by his collar and say, "You need to shut up and chill out."

(Funny fact: I have a good buddy who might be reading this who was the captain of my high school football team and did that exact thing to me when I was acting like an imbecile. Perhaps more than once. Gemmell now has that job).

The reason I bring that up is that coach Chris Petersen has made a big deal out of OKGs -- "Our Kind of Guys." When I say big deal, I mean it's actually written in big letters beside his picture on the Huskies official website.

It's fair to ask how quickly Miles might earn OKG status, whether he's the most game-ready guy or not. My feeling with Petersen is he probably isn't going to make things easy for Miles, at least in the early going.

As for a pecking order between Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, I haven't noted an appreciable separation, at least nothing that can't be quickly overcome in fall camp.

So, to answer your question, I'd rate it a 39-percent chance that someone other than Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year.

 




0006shy from Los Angeles writes: hey ted, do you think the lack of conference championship games for the Big 12 and Notre Dame will hurt them when it comes to being selected for the playoff? Generally speaking won't teams that play thirteen games have stronger schedules?

Ted Miller: Yes and no.

A strong 12-game schedule will trump a weak 13-game one. An undefeated Notre Dame or undefeated Big 12 team is a very good bet for the four-team College Football Playoff because they will, more often than not, play a strong schedule.

On the other hand, it could hurt if the selection committee is comparing an array of one-loss teams, including Notre Dame and the Big 12 champion, and the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12's one-loss champs are coming off impressive victories over ranked teams just days before. There is an unavoidable what-have-you-done-for-me-lately psychology there that might be difficult to overlook.

And an "extra" quality game would bolster a team's strength of schedule of metrics.

On the other hand, Notre Dame and the Big 12 also know that a conference title game means said conference's lead team is vulnerable to a season-ruining upset.

In the end, you are hitting on a point -- one of many -- that folks will be paying attention to when the committee starts making tough distinctions.

 




Ed from Placentia, Calif., writes: Why is your non-important article on kendricks on a Trojan website? As a Trojan fan, I don't care what he thinks or does to prepare for this season. Write and publish articles that are important to Trojan fans? Was this an error? I really don't want to read any more bRUIN articles. I paid money to read info regarding USC.

Ted Miller: I've received more of these sorts of notes from USC fans over the past year than any previous season. The meaning is simple. USC fans are officially concerned about UCLA's rise under Jim Mora.

In 2008, this was the sort of note a UCLA fan would write.

One of the unmistakable fan psychoses I've witnessed over the years is RUNT -- Rivalry Ululation from Niggling Team -- the often irrational petulance of fans whose team is struggling while their rival is thriving. (Kevin and I have been talking about this, and Chantel may take over the Pac-12 Blog's Department of Complaints this fall).

Ed, you are a fan of USC, perhaps college football's preeminent program. Act accordingly.

But feel free to worry privately about the Bruins' rise. That is completely rational.

 




Matt from Oakland writes: After losing one of the Robinson twins and Jake Rodriguez recently, should Oregon be concerned at the number of good players transferring away from the program?

Ted Miller: Absolutely. You should panic. That should be your perpetual state.

It sure seems as though a gaggle of Ducks fans love to cuddle with anxiety, obsessively wringing their hands over every single negative blip for the program.

Matt, you and Keith Dennis, who also asked this question, should band together for a trip to consult with the Oracle at Delphi. Only she can provide you the knowledge you seek!

Obviously, we've been here before.

Short answer: No.

Remember all the other sorts of offseason tribulations you've been through during the Ducks greatest run in program history? The departure of a few nonstarters is not something that should ruffle your feathers.

A loss to Michigan State, now that would be time to really panic.

 




Jake from MTL writes: Hey Ted. Whats your prediction for Arizona starting QB?

Ted Miller: Prediction? Paaaaaaaaainnnn.

Sorry, Clubber Lang took over the mailbag for a moment. He said to tell you he "pities the fool who thinks he knows what Rich Rodriguez is thinking."

Before spring practices began, I saw senior Jesse Scroggins as a long shot. Though I'd probably still take the field over him, I'd rate him a slight frontrunner, at least based on spring practices.

 




Tom from Portland writes: Inexperience. Reminds me of a secondary textbook I had in Economics 201: "Lying With Numbers".Having most of your lettermen back can sometimes be a very bad thing if, for example, those same guys went 1-8 in your own conference the year before.

Ted Miller: Yes, if your returning players are uninterested bloated zombies who drank beer and played video games all summer then their experience doesn't matter.

Another thing I've learned through the years -- so much wisdom today! -- is that folks who uproot Benjamin Disraeli's quote, "Lies, damned lies and statistics," often are having an emotional reaction to statistics that don't fall in their favor.

Getting a lot of this from Arizona State fans at present. Their offseason story is to judge it irrelevant that their team lost nine defensive starters and will be relying on a bevy of players on that side of the ball this season who haven't seen a Pac-12 snap.

Leaps of faith are great. Heroic even. But the available evidence suggests reasonable people should be skeptical about the Sun Devils defense this fall. Or any other unit on any other team in which inexperienced or generally unknown players will be taking over starting roles.

Folks, returning starters is simply one way we judge teams in the preseason. It's a straightforward measure of the known. It also takes the not unreasonable position that a freshman will be better as a sophomore and sophomore will advance as a junior, etc. Doesn't always work that way, but it's perfectly logical as a predictive model.

Consider this before/after photo of Washington State safety Deone Bucannon.

He kept getting better as a returning starter, no?

Sure, some teams seem to operate in a realm where returning experience doesn't matter, most notably during dynastic runs when top recruiting rankings are piling on top of each other -- see Alabama at present and USC from 2002 to 2008.

Again, noting returning starters and lettermen isn't the end-all of analysis, but it unquestionably is a useful piece of information.

 




Eric from Somerset, via Boulder writes: Ted, the best-case/worst-case cannot die. Not only are they hilarious, and well written -- even the ones you probably don't like after writing them, but more importantly, What will happen to Jon Embree's daughter's bike? I have a solution. Don't worry that it may mean more work for you. You no doubt have ample free time to fill anyway, writing and rewriting pieces you don't like. Have us -- we humble Pac 12 Blog fans -- submit them. Your time "could" be cut in half, just reviewing, editing and posting, vs. writing, reviewing, editing and posting. It might even end up not sucking. Just an idea. ... Long live the Pac-12 Blog, and hopefully the best-case/worst-case scenarios. Go Buffs.

Andy from Austin, Texas writes: Ted, I have a suggestion to appease folks asking for the best/worst case series to continue, hopefully without adding to your work load too much: Why not ask for fan submissions? As an avid UW fan I would love to spend a few days perfecting a 1000-word piece about my beloved Huskies going 12-1, dropping one on the road to the frequently pesky Arizona, followed by winning the Pac-12 championship game before losing a heartbreaker to FSU in the first round of the playoffs. Similarly, I'd relish the chance to craft a couple submissions about Oregon crashing and burning to 7-6 post-Mariota injury with Phil Knight having a crisis of conscience and deciding to refocus all of his financial resources on tackling child labor laws in southeast Asia, as well as WSU flaming out to 3-9 with Mike Leach jumping ship in favor of using his law background to defend actual Somali pirates in legal proceedings. It might take some time for you and your team to read through a lot of these submissions, but that may be more amenable (and hopefully more entertaining) than to have to actually create all of these yourself. Just a thought. Love the blog.

Brian from Cincinnati writes: Hi Ted, I read your comment about the Best Case/Worst Case piece and have an idea to keep it going. Launch a reader contest and have them submit their takes -- you select and publish the best or most relevant? I'd take a crack at Oregon's if you opened it up to us readers. Thanks for what you do. Keep it going!

Ted Miller: Did you guys get together and talk about this? Lots of notes suggesting this course of action.

First of all, thanks for the kind words. Gratifying to know some folks enjoyed the pieces.

I am intrigued. Let me give this some thought. Maybe I can set up an email box for folks to send in their work/ideas.

Going on vacation next week, so I can let this marinate.
In 2012, Washington's offense averaged 24 points per game, and QB Keith Price had a horribly disappointing season. In 2013, the Huskies averaged 37.9 points per game, and Price redeemed himself.

The Huskies' friends to the east, the Washington State Cougars, averaged 20.4 points in coach Mike Leach's first season, his Air Raid offense pretty much grounded. In 2013, the Cougars averaged 31 points per game. Much better.

Every season, offenses and defenses improve or regress. Oregon and Arizona both scored fewer points in 2013 compared to 2012.

In 2011, UCLA ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring offense with a measly 23.1 points per game. Oregon State was even worse, ranking 11th with just 21.8 ppg. In 2012, both made huge improvements on offense and continued to trend up in 2013.

So who is poised to make a big jump this fall? We're breaking it down by division, starting with the South.

None of these three was truly lousy on offense last year. USC ranked 60th in the nation in scoring; Colorado, 86th. So we're talking about mediocre and worse.

The good news is all three schools welcome back experienced, promising quarterbacks -- we're going to assume Utah's Travis Wilson shortly gets a clean bill of health -- and a solid collection of returning starters, both on the line and the skill positions.

That supports the notion that all three should improve in 2014, particularly with the Pac-12 losing considerable talent on the defensive side of the ball.

So who makes the biggest jump?

We're going with USC under new coach Steve Sarkisian, who was responsible for resurrecting the Huskies' offense in 2013 with a new up-tempo format. We think that offense will be a productive fit for the Trojans.

The key for USC is the offensive line, which lacks depth and might end up starting one or two true freshmen. It must grow up quickly and stay healthy. If it does, QB Cody Kessler should make a significant leap forward -- see how he mostly played over the second half of the season after Lane Kiffin's termination -- and that could push the Trojans scoring into the high 30s.

And, considering USC also should be stout on defense, scoring in the high-30s should put the Trojans squarely in the South Division race.

There were 34 Pac-12 players selected during the NFL draft, but there will be more than twice that many rookies in NFL training camps this summer. Shortly after the draft ended, the dominoes started falling and those who went undrafted started signing free-agent contracts.

The following list of undrafted free agent signings, which was compiled from various announcements and media reports, could change in the coming days:

Arizona
Arizona State
California
Note: K Vincenzo D'Amato will reportedly attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp.

Colorado
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
Notes: S Devon Carrington (Pittsburgh) and LB Jarek Lancaster (Oakland) will attend rookie minicamps.

UCLA
USC
Utah
Notes: DT LT Tuipulotu will attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp and C Vyncent Jones told the Deseret News he will attend minicamps for Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Washington
Note: S Sean Parker will reportedly attend Washington Redskins rookie minicamp.

Washington State
Note: K Andrew Furney will attend Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp.

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 5, 2014
May 5
2:30
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No misery gets sweeter dipped in devil juice.
Pac-12 spring practices end on Saturday with spring games from Oregon and Oregon State, and many conference teams feel like they found answers to some of their nagging questions. But there also are major unresolved issues.

So which is the most pressing post-spring void?

Start at Arizona. While the Wildcats QB competition is far from resolved -- heck, four guys are still in the hunt -- the general feeling after spring practices ended is that the position is far better off than it was a year ago. Based on the quality of competition, there's not much concern that the next QB won't be at least solid.

SportsNation

Which is the Pac-12's most pressing post-spring void?

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Things now seem more uncertain at running back, where the Wildcats are replacing Ka'Deem Carey. The only returning RB with experience, Jared Baker, was out with an injury. The NCAA waylaid early-enrollee Jonathan Haden, and redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green didn't distinguish themselves. Senior Terris Jones-Grigsby made a few plays, and incoming freshman Nick Wilson arrives in the fall. It's possible Rich Rodriguez will reach into his deep bag of receivers for help at the position.

The Wildcats running game should be productive because that's pretty much a given with a Rich Rodriguez offense. How productive, however, might determine where Arizona ultimately falls in the South Division pecking order.

Then there's Oregon State, which is only replacing the nation's best receiver in 2013, Brandin Cooks, a potential first-round NFL draft pick next week. The Beavers welcome back the experienced Richard Mullaney and the promising Victor Bolden, but asking them to replace Cooks' production and explosiveness seems far-fetched. With a strong-armed, veteran QB in Sean Mannion, the Beavers need to find more weapons in the passing game.

Meanwhile, UCLA exits spring practices with few obvious voids. There's a reason folks are projecting a top-10 preseason ranking. Yet OLB Anthony Barr was special. He's also a potential first-round NFL draft pick, and the Bruins don't have an obvious answer for replacing his 10 sacks. Kenny Orjioke flashed some this spring, and he and Deon Hollins seem to be a serviceable tandem, particularly if end Owamagbe Odighizuwa becomes a QB terror.

Still, Barr not only was everywhere last year, he made everyone around him better.

Often it's not just about physical skill, though Stanford LB Shayne Skov has plenty of that. Skov was more than the Cardinal's leading tackler. He was the locker room's emotional presence, its unquestioned leader. So it's not just that Stanford is replacing his production. It's also the leadership void he leaves behind.

At the end of spring, it was unclear who would take his place, as Blake Martinez, Noor Davis, Joe Hemschoot and Kevin Palma all are still in the mix.

Finally, Washington is replacing RB Bishop Sankey, its unquestioned offensive superstar, but the QB situation, where the efficient Keith Price needs to be replaced, seems more worrisome. The good news is Cyler Miles wasn't charged in an off-field incident that had him suspended all of spring. That would appear to clear the way for him rejoining the team.

Still, he might be in new coach Chris Petersen's doghouse, and he might not find it easy to catch up with Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams in terms of learning the new offense. Further, neither Lindquist nor Williams seemed to make a decisive statement this spring. While the options to replace Sankey at RB -- unlike at Arizona -- have quality game experience, that only can be said for Miles at QB. Until Petersen reveals Miles' standing, this is a major question for the Huskies offseason and fall camp.

Each of these teams has high aspirations for 2014. It's unlikely they will meet those expectations without adequately addressing these voids.

So which is the biggest?

Reviewing the Pac-12 pro days

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
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Washington was the final Pac-12 school to host its pro day Wednesday, essentially putting an end to 40-yard-dash season. Here is a look at some of the conference's top prospects and a few others who helped their cause over the past month.

Arizona (March 6)
Big name: RB Ka'Deem Carey. After getting clocked at 4.70 in the 40 at the combine, Carey's pro day was a bit more intriguing than some of the other big-name players. There was some improvement -- various reports had him in the high 4.6-range -- but it wasn't enough to change the book on him. Still, Carey's production should make up for his perceived shortcomings.
Sleeper: OLB Marquis Flowers. Flowers reportedly ran in the 4.4s and had a good showing in position drills.

Arizona State (March 7)
Big name: DT Will Sutton. The Sun Devils' pro day further cemented what scouts learned at the combine, when he turned in below average numbers. There was slight improvement at the pro day, according to several reports, but nothing to save his falling stock.
Sleeper: RB Marion Grice. Grice was invited to the combine, but didn't participate as he recovers from a broken leg suffered late in the season. He also didn't participate at the pro day, but will hold an individual workout for NFL scouts on April 8.

California (March 19)
Big name: DT Deandre Coleman. Coleman only participated in the bench press at the combine, but fared well in field drills on campus with a reported 40 time in the mid 4.9-range. Coleman is projected by most to be a mid-round selection.
Sleeper: RB Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow was perhaps the player with the most to gain at pro day. The book on him has always been that he's loaded with talent and the physical skills necessary to be an impact player. It didn't happen for the Bears before he decided to leave early for a shot at Sunday football. Despite injuring his hamstring midway through his 40, Bigelow still was reported as running in the high 4.4-range with former Cal running backs Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best looking on.

Colorado (March 12)
Big name: WR Paul Richardson. There were 24 teams on hand, with Richardson the obvious prize of the nine that worked out. He only participated in the vertical jump, short shuttle and three-cone drills.
Sleeper: LS Ryan Iverson. Iverson will not be drafted, but after four years as the Colorado long snapper he has a chance to make some money at the next level. His 27 reps on the bench press were a team high. All the Colorado results can be viewed here.

Oregon (March 13)
Big name: RB De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas' 4.50 40 time at the combine was among the disappointments for the conference and turned a perceived strength into average attribute. After his showing in Eugene -- a 4.34 40 time -- the world is back on its axis. On his combine performance, Thomas told the Ducks' official website: “I ran a 4.5 in ninth grade, so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’. I feel like that made me train harder and I used it as motivation.”
Sleeper: CB Avery Patterson. Patterson was left puzzled by his own performance after putting up just 10 repetitions in the bench press, but the two-year starter remains focused on making the jump to the next level. He's likely the type of player that will have to earn his way on a team via a training camp invitation and possibly a practice squad.

Oregon State (March 14)
Big name: WR Brandin Cooks. The Biletnikoff Award winner could have showed up to the Beavers' pro day as a spectator and it likely wouldn't have mattered. His showing at the combine was enough to solidify his stock as a first-round pick. Cooks didn't take part in field drills, but did run routes.
Sleeper: WR Micah Hatfield. Yes, a receiver with 20 career catches helped his cause. One scout told the Oregonian he had Hatfield at 4.33 in the 40 -- the same times Cooks clocked when he was the fastest receiver at the combine.

Stanford (March 20)
Big name: OL David Yankey. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and St. Louis were the only no-shows at Stanford. If the mock drafts are to be trusted, Yankey figures to be the first Stanford player of the board. He improved slightly on the bench press (22 to 25) and clocked the same 40 time (5.48) from the combine.
Sleeper: DE Ben Gardner. Is it fair to call Gardner a sleeper after earning some form of all-Pac-12 recognition the past three years? Probably not, but after not being invited to the NFL combine we'll go ahead and list him here anyways. Gardner benefitted most from the day, quantifying his explosiveness and athleticism with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.

UCLA (March 11)
Big name: OLB Anthony Barr. After running a 4.66 40 at the combine, Barr was clocked at 4.45 to ease any lingering doubt about his straight-line speed. Barr helped his case to become a top-10 pick and will likely be the first player from the Pac-12 selected.
Sleeper: RB Malcolm Jones. The Gatorade national high school player of the year never developed into the player UCLA fans were hoping for, but he's still hanging on to hopes of an NFL career. He was credited with a 4.57 40 at the Bruins' pro day.

USC (March 12)
Big name: WR Marqise Lee. Lee went Jerry Seinfeld and chose not to run, letting his combine performance serve as the final measurement of his ability. After not lifting in Indianapolis, Lee finished with 11 reps in the bench. He's tagged for the first round.
Sleeper: DE Morgan Breslin. Like Gardner, who he has been working out with in San Ramon, Calif., Breslin was a combine snub. He ran a 4.75 40, put up 26 reps on the bench and registered a 35.5-inch vertical jump. Here are the complete results for the 18 players who took part.

Utah (March 19)
Big name: CB Keith McGill. One of the fastest risers since the season has ended, McGill decided to participate in every drill despite a good showing at the combine. His 40 time (4.52) was a hundredth of second slower than what he did at combine, and his vertical leap (35.5) was about four inches less.
Sleeper: FB Karl Williams. The 240-pound former walk-on clocked a 4.5, which will could give him a shot to get in a training camp.

Washington (April 2)
Big name: RB Bishop Sankey. Content with his good showing in Indy, Sankey elected to just run the 60-yard shuttle and catch passes. Most mock drafts have Sankey, who left with a year of eligibility remaining, as the No. 2 running back.
Sleeper: QB Keith Price. There were 19 quarterbacks at the combine, but Price was not one of them, marking the first time since at least 1999 that the conference didn't send a quarterback -- and it could be longer -- we could only find combine rosters dating back that far. Price got good reviews for his performance Wednesday, but it would still be surprising if he gets drafted.

Washington State (March 13)
Big name: S Deone Bucannon. WSU's remote location and limited number of pro prospects resulted in less than a dozen scouts on hand, but those that were there got to see one of the conference's most intriguing prospects. Bucannon just participated in position drills after performing well across the board in Indianapolis.
Sleeper: K Andrew Furney. Furney showed a leg capable of hitting from beyond 60 yards and further established himself as a potential candidate for training camp invitations.

Biggest shoes to fill: Washington

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Monday, we look at Washington.

Biggest shoes: QB Keith Price

While some might believe it will be more difficult to replace stellar running back Bishop Sankey, the Huskies boast three experienced and capable backs who combined to rush for 815 yards and 10 TDs last season. When you toss in a strong, veteran offensive line, it seems a good bet that among Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier the Huskies will produce a 1,000-yard rusher again. Yet, we still might have gone with Sankey if not for QB Cyler Miles getting into off-field trouble that presently has him not participating in spring practices and his longterm status in limbo (he has yet to be charged). While not a sure thing, Miles had shown enough under stress in games -- not just throwaway time -- to suggest he could be a more-than-capable Pac-12 QB. Recall that a year ago, some thought he might unseat Price, who struggled in 2012. But this isn't just about uncertainty with Price's departure, it's also a tip of the cap to Price, who is on the short list of best Huskies QBs. He completed 66 percent of his passes last fall for 2,966 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 20th in the nation in passing efficiency. He also rushed for five touchdowns. And he became the school's all-time leader in touchdown passes with 75, completion percentage (64 percent) and passing efficiency. He played through injuries throughout his career and showed mental toughness with his bounce-back in 2013. Moreover, if you polled the 2013 Huskies on who the best-liked guy on the team was, I'd wager it would be Price, whose nickname, "Teeth," was based on his bright and constant smile.

Stepping in: TBA
If Miles can settle his legal problems, which also involve top receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, then he still seems like the frontrunner, even if he's suspended for a game or two or three. But maybe not. We don't know much of new coach Chris Petersen's thinking on this one. Miles might find himself irrevocably entrenched in Petersen's doghouse. Or he might just get booted from the team entirely. There is another option: Sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams simply plays great and outright wins the job. The problem with that is neither has thrown a pass in college. Miles beat Lindquist out for the backup job last season, but there's a new coaching staff and offensive system, so the slate is mostly clean along those lines. Neither Lindquist nor Williams has produced any obvious separation during the first portion of spring practices, which resume on Tuesday. Finally, uncertainty at QB is not a good thing in the Pac-12 in 2014, with 10 conference teams owning a fair degree of certainty at the game's most important position this spring. Only Arizona and the Huskies are looking for new starters.

Previous big shoes
This week the Pac-12 blog had an opportunity to chat with new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and new Washington coach Chris Petersen, the man who replaced Sark in Seattle.

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Which new head coach has the most pressure heading into the 2014 season?

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Both schools present a different set of challenges and varying degrees of pressure and expectation. But which coach has the most pressure on him? Sarkisian’s and Petersen’s coaching careers from here on out will be closely intertwined, especially because Petersen was considered a candidate for the vacant USC job before withdrawing his name.

This has all the makings of a great Take 2. And maybe your Pac-12 reporters will tackle that one sooner rather than later. But for now, we thought we’d put it to a vote. Which head coach, Petersen or Sarkisian, has more pressure heading into the 2014 season?

Petersen: He comes to Seattle with a gleaming résumé. The name value alone means folks are expecting Petersen to do great things almost immediately. Whenever a big-time coaching job opened up, Petersen’s name was at the top of the list. But he chose Seattle because he felt the timing and the situation were right. But for all of the hype and expectation surrounding his hire, the simple fact remains that he has to replace quarterback Keith Price, who was the smiling backbone of the program; a Doak Walker finalist running back in Bishop Sankey; and the 2013 John Mackey Award winner in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. There is some good talent at Washington, but that trio isn’t easily replaced. Sark did a good job pulling the program from the cellar, but many are expecting Petersen to get this team into the 10-win neighborhood.

Sarkisian: It’s USC -- one of the most desirable coaching jobs in the country. And with that comes nearly unparalleled scrutiny. Sarkisian took an important first step toward winning some credibility when he locked down an A-list recruiting class. But there are still those concerned that Sark isn’t the home-run hire befitting a season-long coaching search. Winning would change that, but a slow start would only amplify it. Not only does he have to prove he’s the right guy for the job, but he has to win back a fan base that’s grown weary of losing to Notre Dame and UCLA in consecutive seasons. The Trojans will soon be off sanctions, which should help in recruiting. However, if he doesn’t win right away, you have to question whether he'll be given enough time to fully implement his vision.

There are those who subscribe to the theory that a coach making the leap from a mid-major conference to one of the big five will need some time to adjust.

Then again, few coaches have the résumé that Chris Petersen brings from Boise State to Washington. Among his accolades: 92 wins, a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories and five conference titles. Oh yeah, he’s also the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award.

So if Petersen is fending off any challenges by way of transition, he isn’t letting on.

“The job is exactly the same,” Petersen said. “There hasn’t been one thing that has surprised me. It’s exactly the same. Our recruiting process is the same. When we were recruiting at Boise, we were recruiting against the Pac-12. We were in the same footprint. It was the same battles. All of that is the same. Everybody is regulated by the NCAA on how much time you can lift weights, so it really comes down to implementing your systems and your schemes.”

No question, Petersen has the coaching chops. And Huskies fans are universally proclaiming that they got the better end of the deal when Steve Sarkisian left Washington for USC after five seasons and a 34-29 record.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen's first spring at Washington involves finding replacements for three of the most important players from the Huskies offense.
“It’s a case of be careful what you wish for,” he said. “But nothing has surprised us. We knew for the most part what we’re getting into.”

So the biggest challenge facing the new Washington skipper isn’t transition, but replacing departed personnel. When Sarkisian left, he didn’t exactly leave a barren cupboard. But a talented trio will be noticeably absent in 2014: three-year starting quarterback Keith Price, 2013 Mackey Award-winning tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Doak Walker-finalist running back Bishop Sankey. All are expected to either be drafted or land on an NFL roster.

“That makes things really tough,” Petersen said. “When you lose a quarterback who has been a three-year starter and was as productive as Keith was, that’s hard. Everything on offense, no matter what style you run, is run through that guy. If he’s successful, your team is going to be successful.

“Bishop Sankey was tremendous. You put that tape on and study him, it’s like, ‘wow.’ He has tremendous vision. We played against him twice and we thought the world of him.”

Petersen has already had to deal with a little adversity when one of the quarterbacks vying to replace Price was suspended indefinitely. Cyler Miles, along with wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, remain suspended after allegedly assaulting a Seahawks fan after the Super Bowl last month. Obviously, Petersen doesn’t ever want to have to deal with discipline issues. On the flip side, he has an opportunity early in his tenure to establish himself as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, which he’s done.

Now it’s a matter of filling holes -- knowing full well that most of them probably won’t be filled during the spring session.

“Aside from getting your systems in place, so much of it comes down to how much talent you have,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. So much of this is just recruiting and how much talent you have.”

That and an awareness that he isn’t going to have any easy weeks in the Pac-12. For a while, the Mountain West was considered the strongest of the non-AQ conferences. But even in its heyday, there were always weak sisters. That's not the case in the Pac-12 -- especially in the top-heavy North Division.

“I’ve known about the Pac-12 forever,” Petersen said. “I think it’s extremely competitive conference. The parity from top to bottom is as good as it’s ever been. The coaches are fabulous. It’s as good as any in the country. I thought that before I got here, and now it’s confirmed.”

Expectations are high for Petersen and his staff. While Sarkisian did a fine job turning an 0-12 program into a consistent winner with four straight bowl appearances, the Huskies never ascended to the upper echelon of the league in his tenure.

Petersen brings a big name and track record of success matched by few. Now he has to get the Huskies to buy into what he’s selling.

“The culture is changing. And how quickly those guys buy in is the bottom line,” Petersen said. “It can be tough for the older guys who have been here for four or five years and are used to doing things a different way. We have to get everyone moving and believing in what we do as quickly as possible."

Spring position breakdown: QBs

February, 24, 2014
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Spring has sprung in the Pac-12, with Stanford starting spring practices this week and several schools following suit next week.

Ergo, we break down where teams stand with each position group, starting with quarterbacks.

Arizona: The Wildcats probably have the most wide-open QB competition, with four guys having a legitimate chance to replace the departed B.J. Denker. Three are transfers from big-time programs: senior Jesse Scroggins (USC), sophomore Connor Brewer (Texas) and junior Jerrard Randall (LSU). The fourth, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, was one of the biggest stars in the 2013 recruiting class. Don't expect much to be settled by the end of spring, though coach Rich Rodriguez might at least allude to some sort of pecking order. Or a top three.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are strong at QB with senior Taylor Kelly, a third-year starter who has put up big numbers the past two seasons, and junior Mike Bercovici, a big-armed backup -- perhaps, in fact, the best backup in the Pac-12. That's why Michael Eubank opted to transfer to Samford in Birmingham, Ala. It will be interesting to see which of the youngsters on the roster emerge as a No.3, a guy who might challenge Bercovici in 2015.

California: It seems unlikely that sophomore Jared Goff will be unseated, particularly after Zach Kline opted to transfer. Goff was uneven last season -- his entire team was -- but flashed plenty of potential. He and a talented crew of receivers should get better this spring. The big question might be whether anyone challenges senior Austin Hinder for the backup job.

Colorado: Sophomore Sefo Liufau is solid as the returning starter. He took some lumps last season but also flashed plenty of promise -- as both a player and leader. After him, there's junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, a redshirt sophomore, the likely backup. Depth is a problem, at least this spring. As the Boulder Daily Camera noted, "Five quarterbacks have left the CU program either to transfer to other schools or give up the sport entirely since the start of spring football last year. A sixth completed his eligibility last season." That's why the Buffs added walk-on Trent Sessions to the roster. He worked with the equipment staff last year.

Oregon: The Ducks probably feel pretty good about their third-year starter, junior Marcus Mariota, a leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate who would have been a first-round pick if he'd entered the 2014 NFL draft. The competition for the backup spot, however, will be interesting because Mariota is almost certain to enter the NFL draft after the season. Sophomores Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues are 2A and 2B, with Lockie first off the bench as the backup in 2013, but Rodrigues the more physically talented player as a runner and passer.

Oregon State: Like their friends to the south, Oregon State is fortunate its 2013 starter, Sean Mannion, decided to return instead of entering the NFL draft. Mannion's chief focus will be finding some receivers to replace the production of the departed Brandin Cooks. The battle for the backup job also will be interesting between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt. Of course, their battle might not resolve things much for 2015, with incoming Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio joining the fray after sitting out a season.

Stanford: It seems unlikely that two-year starter Kevin Hogan will be challenged for the starting job this spring, even though he had some ups and downs in 2013, but there is no lack of talent battling for the backup job. Junior Evan Crower was the backup in 2013, but redshirt freshman Ryan Burns is a big-time talent. As is incoming freshman Keller Chryst, who officially will arrive in the fall but, as a Palo Alto resident, figures to hang around spring practices.

UCLA: Heading into his third season running the offense, Brett Hundley gives the Bruins one of the best starting quarterbacks in the nation. He's a proven dual threat and leader who will be refining his game this spring and building chemistry with his receivers. After him, however, things are a bit iffy, in large part because of the 2013 preseason transfer of T.J. Millweard to Kansas. The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Of course, there is another QB out there some UCLA fans might be thinking about.

USC: The returning starter facing the most formidable challenge to his starting job this spring is probably Cody Kessler, even though Kessler played well in the second half of the 2013 season. With the transfer of Max Wittek, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, at the very least, sets up to be a high-quality backup next season. But plenty of folks think Browne has a legitimate shot to unseat Kessler, particularly with new coach Steve Sarkisian taking over.

Utah: There's still no final word on the long-term health issue that might end QB Travis Wilson's career, and anything decisive might not come for weeks. If Wilson gets cleared, the good bet is on him returning to the starting job. If not, a spring competition will begin between Adam Schulz, who stepped in when Wilson went down, and redshirt freshmen Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. In the fall, dual-threat QB Donovan Isom arrives.

Washington: Keith Price, a three-year starter, is gone, but the Huskies seemed fairly set at QB with sophomore backup Cyler Miles appearing plenty capable of stepping into the cockpit this spring. In limited action last season, Miles completed 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four TDs and two picks, and he also showed good mobility, rushing for 200 yards. The pecking order at least seemed set, that is, until Miles got into some off-field trouble that threatens his status for spring practice and perhaps beyond. If Miles is still suspended, that means opportunity comes knocking for sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams to make an impression.

Washington State: Connor Halliday will be a senior, three-year starter and the Cougars' top leader in the third season running Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense. He figures to put up huge numbers this fall with a strong crew of receivers. His 2013 backup, sophomore Austin Apodaca, opted to transfer, perhaps believing that redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman had the inside track to the starting job in 2015. Depth is a bit of a question, with the No. 3 this fall likely being true freshman Peyton Bender.

Misbehavior ends Petersen's honeymoon

February, 7, 2014
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There are many things that can derail a college football team. Poor to middling talent. Poor to middling coaching. Complacency. Inexperience. A lack of focus. Poor conditioning. A couple of bad apples in the locker room.

And knuckleheaded behavior.

[+] EnlargeCyler Miles, Bishop Sankey
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsLeadership would be needed from Cyler Miles (10) next season, but that is now in question.
That, of course, comes in many varieties, but a couple of Washington players allegedly have tried to win the "College Football Knuckleheads of the Year Award" before we're much more than a month into 2014.

According to police reports, two Huskies -- likely 2014 starters, in fact -- apparently were unhappy the Denver Broncos went rear end over tea-kettle in the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. So they, allegedly, beat up a Seattle Seahawks fan.

Yes, players from Seattle's major college football team allegedly beat up someone because he was a fan of Seattle's NFL team.

Further, the two players being investigated in connection to the incident are Washington quarterback Cyler Miles and wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow. We know this because both have been suspended indefinitely by new coach Chris Petersen. Neither player has been arrested or charged, at this point.

Let us first welcome Petersen back from his UW honeymoon, which ended upon his getting the phone call about this one.

Now before we delve too deeply into the meaning here, both for the team and in the bigger, societal picture, it's important to acknowledge that the story is incomplete. We have not heard Miles' and Stringfellow's side of things. Every time we engage the early reports of an incident such as this it's imperative we use two words to give us pause: Duke lacrosse.

That said, there's only one way this becomes a substantial issue for the Huskies in 2014: If Miles and Stringfellow are kicked off the team.

Washington is going to start the 2014 season 4-0 -- see the schedule here -- whether these two play or not. The only potential early pratfall is a visit from Illinois, a team the Huskies beat by 10 on the road last year and that finished 1-7 in Big Ten play.

So Petersen could suspend both for a third of the season, look tough on discipline, and then get his guys back in time for the rugged Pac-12 slate. He also could suspend them for three games and then play them against Georgia State, a glorified FCS team, in order to help them shake the rust off. Or, perhaps, Jeff Lindquist plays so well that Miles doesn't get his job back.

In any event, Husky fans probably don't need to panic yet about the prospects for 2014, though it now becomes more critical for talented receiver Kasen Williams to hasten a healthy return from a major leg injury.

Beyond practical matters, however, this story also combines two awful things, which makes it particularly notable: 1. Athletes behaving badly; 2. Fans behaving badly.

We start with the sense of entitlement many college athletes have -- "I can do whatever I want because I'm a star football player" -- and then move on to the irrationality of the most buffoonish fans -- "Those who root against my team should be punched in the face."

Sportswriters know all about this. We cover the entitled athletes and are constantly excoriated by the buffoonish fans, who will fill our inboxes with profane and garbled tirades because we didn't pick their team to win. Don't feel sorry for us, though. Without either, it would be more difficult to pay our bills.

From the Seattle Times:
According to a police report, a man told police he was assaulted around 8:30 p.m. Sunday on the 2300 block of NE 55th Street after the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos. The man said two suspects jumped out of a car and asked the man if he was a Seahawks fan. According to the police report, the man said “something like yeah of course, are you Broncos fans?”

The suspects then “came at” the man and “started punching (him) in the face,” according to the report. The man and a friend identified the two suspects by looking at the UW football roster online.

Again, if true, this is worse for Miles, who, yes, hails from just outside of Denver. He's supposed to take the keys to the offense and be a leader, replacing Keith Price as the Huskies quarterback. Price was rock-solid as a person and leader, just like the guy before him (Jake Locker) and the guy before him (Isaiah Stanback).

Miles would have a ways to go before anyone refers to him as "rock solid." He's got talent and has already hinted that he can be an A-list quarterback with limited play stepping in for an injured Price. But how many good quarterbacks have this sort of thing on their resume?

This figures to be the first test of Petersen as a disciplinarian. It will be interesting to see how he handles it.

As for this fall, it's way premature to start downgrading Washington's stock, which potentially was headed for a preseason ranking. But it's fair to say it won't regain a "buy" rating until this incident is resolved.

Season wrap: Washington

January, 15, 2014
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Washington's goal when the season began was to do better than 7-6, its final record the previous three seasons. So, with a final mark of 9-4, that primary mission was accomplished.

Of course, that improvement being registered, the surprising end game of the Huskies' season was winning the Fight Hunger Bowl in dominant fashion under interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo, a Huskies legend who later joined former coach Steve Sarkisian at USC.

While Sarkisian's departure was a stunning conclusion to the season, it seemed most Huskies fans were pretty happy with their new head coach, Chris Petersen, who built Boise State into a national power.

You can read our graded review of Washington here.

Offensive MVP: While the return to form of quarterback Keith Price was critical to the Huskies' success, running back Bishop Sankey was simply one of the nation's best offensive players. He rushed for 1,869 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and scored 20 touchdowns. His 143.8 yards per game ranked fourth in the nation. He also caught 28 passes for 304 yards. He was named second-team All-America by both the Associated Press and the Walter Camp Football Foundation and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha made an inspired return from two knee surgeries by leading the Huskies and ranking third in the nation with 13 sacks. He also had 70 total tackles, three forced fumbles and three pass breakups. The junior earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and will enter the 2014 season as an All-American candidate.

Best moment: It's rare to call a season-opener a season's best moment, but the Huskies' 38-6 win over No. 19 Boise State was one of the highest moments for the program in years. That's because it was the first game played in remodeled Husky Stadium, a venue that is now worthy of its scenic location. The Huskies, under considerable pressure to win, turned in a dominant performance on both sides of the ball. The victory was the first win in a 4-0 start that surged Washington into the national polls.

Worst moment: When Arizona State whipped Washington 53-24 on Oct. 19, we didn't realize that the Sun Devils were in the midst of a run that would carry them to the Pac-12 title game. But that doesn't excuse perhaps the most shocking beatdown delivered in a conference game this year, one that gave Washington a three-game losing streak and had fans starting to again grumble about Sarkisian. The Sun Devils outgained the Huskies 585 yards to 212. ASU outrushed Washington 314 to minus-5 yards. Sankey rushed for 22 yards on 13 carries (1.7 yards per rush). For whatever reason, Washington didn't look ready to play, and the finger was pointed at Sarkisian. The Huskies went on to win five of their next six games to salvage the season.

Season review: Washington

January, 6, 2014
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Our season reviews are moving in reverse alphabetical order.

Washington is next.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsKeith Price and Bishop Sankey were key components in Washington's improved, potent offense.
Offense: The Huskies would be among a small handful of candidates as Pac-12's most improved offense, because they were dramatically better in 2013 compared to last fall. They scored nearly two touchdowns more per game (37.9 ppg vs. 24.0), gained 144 more yards per game (499.3 ypg vs. 355.2), rushed for 101 more yards per game (243.0 ypg vs. 142.4), were far more efficient passing the ball (150.3 vs. 121.7) and had 12 fewer turnovers. The biggest reason for the improvement, of course, was the return to form of quarterback Keith Price after a down 2012 season, as well as greatly improved play on the offensive line, which yielded eight fewer sacks (30 vs. 38) this season. Running back Bishop Sankey earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, Austin Seferian-Jenkins won the John Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end and a young, flashy crew of receivers helped make the Huskies offense one of the most potent in the conference. Further, in the Huskies four losses, the offense averaged a solid 26.8 points per game. Grade: A-

Defense: Justin Wilcox's unit also improved from 2012, though not as dramatically. The defense again ranked fourth in scoring in the conference, though with 22.8 points per game vs. 24.2 in 2012. While the total defense numbers went up, the yards per play -- a much better measure -- decreased from 5.4 in 2012 to 5.0 this season. Same goes for the run defense (4.1 yards per rush vs. 4.4 last year). The Huskies also moved up from No. 5 to No. 2 in pass efficiency defense. Defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha made a strong return from multiple knee injuries, and linebacker Shaq Thompson, cornerback Marcus Peters, safety Sean Parker and defensive tackle Danny Shelton had standout seasons. If there was a down note, it was the defense yielding 42.5 points per game in the Huskies' four losses. Grade: B-

Special teams: The Huskies also were significantly better on special teams, though they were slightly worse on punt returns. They were No. 1 in the conference in field goal percentage, as Travis Coons made 15 of 16 this season, and they also moved up from 12th to fifth in the conference in punting. Grade: A-

Overall: A 9-4 record in Steve Sarkisian's final season at Montlake is a clear advancement after three consecutive 7-6 seasons. If you wanted to look at the negative side, however, you could note the Huskies were only 5-4 in Pac-12 play, same as the last three seasons. It is fair to say that while the Huskies moved forward overall, they didn't make a significant move in the Pac-12 pecking order, though that is pretty difficult when Oregon and Stanford continue their run as top-5/top-10 teams. Still, the Huskies moved past Oregon State and beat state rival Washington State after getting embarrassed in the 2012 Apple Cup. Chris Petersen inherits a program that appears to be trending upward. Grade: B

Fight Hunger Bowl preview

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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Washington (8-4) and BYU (8-4) square off Friday night in the Fight Hunger Bowl at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: For Washington, it starts with running back Bishop Sankey, a Doak Walker finalist and one of the most consistent and powerful backs in the country. He ranks second in the country in rushing yards (1,775), fourth in rushing touchdowns (18) and averages 147.8 yards on the ground per game. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is the first player in school history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. His completion percentage isn't great -- just 54.1 percent, and he has thrown 13 interceptions to go with 19 touchdowns. But what he lacks in accuracy, he makes up for in scary athleticism.

What to watch: Both teams run an up-tempo style of offense that will put a lot of strain on the opposing team's defense. Well-known nationally is hybrid defensive end/OLB Kyle Van Noy, who pretty much single-handedly won the Poinsettia Bowl last year for the Cougars. Washington's offensive line has been steady and consistent, but keeping Van Noy out of the backfield poses as big a challenge as any pass rusher the Huskies have seen this season. How the Huskies protect quarterback Keith Price and open up holes for Sankey will be the matchup to watch.

Why to watch: Much like USC and Boise State, who already have played their bowl games, Washington is a team going through a coaching transition. That always adds intrigue and drama to the postseason, because motivation comes into question. But with Chris Petersen's hire at Washington, the Huskies don't seem to be as unstable as Boise State was in its loss to Oregon State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. BYU has a knack for playing well in the postseason, winning six of its past seven bowl games and four in a row. Their stability provides a stark contrast to the in-transition Huskies, making for some interesting sidebar discussions in this one.

Predictions: Kevin Gemmell picked Washington to win, 38-27. Ted Miller picked BYU to win, 30-24.

Fight Hunger Bowl predictions

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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Kevin improved to 2-1 in the bowl season by picking Oregon State over Boise State, while Ted falls to 0-3 in the postseason. Kevin leads Ted by three games with six to play. His season record is 77-18. Ted sits at 74-21.

Fight Hunger Bowl: BYU vs. Washington

Kevin Gemmell: I’ve got a pretty decent record picking against BYU. I picked Utah correctly last year and this year I had picked the Cody Vaz-led Beavers to win in Provo in 2012. Picking Washington State in the season opener last year still haunts me. BYU has a knack for winning in the postseason. They are very good at embracing the us-vs.-the-world mentality. They have playmakers who, when not checked, can be dangerous. So a disciplined, schematically-sound performance from Washington will be needed. Taysom Hill will get his yards. The question is how many will be 5-yard runs vs. 25-yard runs. Washington is the better team on paper. If the Huskies can put all of the external distractions aside -- and the fact that they quickly hired an A-list coach helps -- they should win this game. All eyes will naturally be on Keith Price and Bishop Sankey. But I see a big game from Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Washington 38, BYU 27.

Ted Miller: All things being equal, Washington should win this game. It has a good enough run defense to slow down the Cougars, and Price, Sankey and company should be able to move the ball against a middling BYU defense. But all things are not equal. The Cougars have coaching stability, not to mention a coach in Bronco Mendenhall who is 6-2 in bowl games. The Huskies have Marques Tuiasosopo serving as interim coach, with new coach Chris Petersen waiting in the wings to take over for Steve Sarkisian. They also have questions about where their coaches will be next year, most notably Tuiasosopo and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. And there's that whole Tosh Lupoi controversy going on. BYU 30, Washington 24.

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