Pac-12: Kyle Boller

In this broad earth of ours,
Amid the measureless grossness and the slag,
Enclosed and safe within its central heart,
Nestles the seed perfection.
You may have noticed this story Monday from Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN Stats & Info. It's a nice breakdown of how the 2013 class of quarterbacks across college football might be one of the best ever. Kraemer offers five reasons why:

  1. The best teams of 2012 return their quarterbacks
  2. The best passers are returning
  3. A diverse array of NFL talent
  4. Little QB turnover in SEC
  5. Award winners back on campus

We're going to take this and, point-by-point, give it a Pac-12 rinse.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanOregon QB Marcus Mariota showed that he was more than just a strong runner last season.
The best teams of 2012 (in the Pac-12) return their quarterbacks: Yep. Stanford (12-2), yes. Oregon (12-1), yes. Oregon State (9-4), yes (and yes). UCLA (9-5), yes. Arizona State (8-5), yes. It should come as no surprise that the top six teams in our post-spring power rankings all have their quarterback coming back. In fact, there were only four teams last year that started the same quarterback in every game (Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington) and those are four of our top five teams in the rankings.

Thus, it's not by chance that the five of the bottom six in the power rankings have an ongoing quarterback competition. That's not to say that a school like USC, which has too much talent to be sitting in the bottom half of the rankings, can't quickly make a jump to the top once their quarterback situation is resolved.

And the same goes for No. 6 Oregon State -- which is fortunate to have two capable starters competing. I don't know who first opined that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one. I don't buy it. Ask any coach in the bottom half of the power rankings if they'd prefer zero quarterbacks who have won games or two. I think we all know the answer.

The best passers are returning: Yep. Marcus Mariota led the Pac-12 in efficiency and Taylor Kelly wasn't far behind. Matt Barkley was third, Brett Hundley was fourth and Sean Mannion was fifth. However, it's worth noting that Kevin Hogan's efficiency would have ranked him slightly above Hundley had he appeared in more games in 2012 (the cutoff was appearing in 75 percent of the games, Hogan was at 71). That means five of the top six quarterbacks in efficiency are back.


A diverse array of NFL talent: Yep. Anyone who thinks Mariota is just a running quarterback failed to witness his 32 touchdown passes and league-best 68.5 completion percentage. He will fit nicely into any NFL offense.

Same for Kelly (29 touchdowns, 67.1 completion percentage) and Hundley (29, 66.5). Hogan should be well-versed in the pro-style attack (and NFL scouts love quarterbacks who know the pro-style/West Coast coming out of college) and if Mannion (if he wins the job) bounces back, he's got the prototypical NFL pro-style frame.

And let's not forget Keith Price, who we're expecting to have a nice bounce-back year. He was extremely efficient in 2011 (33, 66.9) so the potential and athleticism is obviously there.

Little QB turnover in the league: Well, the Pac-12 can't make that claim with six starting jobs still in doubt and potentially five schools starting a fresh-faced QB.

Award winners back on campus: Yep. Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year (Mariota). First-team quarterback (Mariota). Kelly, Hogan and Hundley were honorable mention.

While it's true that this might shape up as one of the greatest years in college football history for quarterbacks, it's equally true that the Pac-12 might have its best crop of quarterbacks in league history.

The Pac-12 has sent at least one quarterback to the NFL since 1995 and at least one has gone in the first round in nine of the past 16 drafts. There was 2003 when Carson Palmer (USC) and Kyle Boller (Cal) both went in the first round. 1999 was a strong year with Akili Smith (Oregon) and Cade McNown (UCLA) going in the first round and Brock Huard (Washington) going in the third. Three times the Pac-12 has had four quarterbacks go in the draft (2005, 1991 and 1989).

2004 comes to mind as a pretty darn good collection with Aaron Rodgers (Cal), Matt Leinart (USC), Derek Anderson (Oregon State), Andrew Walter (ASU), Kellen Clemens (Oregon), Trent Edwards (Stanford), Drew Olson (UCLA) and Alex Brink (Washington State).

It's a little too early to start speculating about who is going to go and who is going to stay. But based on what we've seen from this crop in the past nine months, it's possible the 2013 class will be right up there in the conversation as one of the best collection of quarterbacks ever in the league.

Tedford doesn't see de-Kline in Maynard

March, 5, 2012
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Certified workaholic Jeff Tedford actually took last weekend off. He climbed Mt. Diablo with his wife. He got to look around and smell the fresh air. You know: Just breathe.

Heavily, in fact. "She tried to kill me," Tedford quipped.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
AP Photo/George NikitinCal coach Jeff Tedford is confident in returning quarterback Zach Maynard.
It appears that Tedford, however, didn't experience any profound revelations about his quarterback situation atop the mountain. While Bears fans have long been clamoring for the second-coming of Aaron Rodgers -- many teams have, by the way -- it appears they might have to settle for the second-coming of Zach Maynard.

And, yes, Tedford is aware that fans are skeptical about Maynard and are eager to see true freshman Zach Kline, the nation's No. 2 prep quarterback, who graduated early in order to participate in spring practices.

When asked about what Maynard needs to work on, Tedford instead talked about what he did well over the last third of the season.

"I think he's taken big steps understanding what we're doing on offense and I think through his experience he understands how to manage the game," he said.

And when asked about Kline, Tedford tried to put the brakes on runaway expectations.

"While he's a gifted guy, I think we have to be careful to not put too much pressure on him," he said.

Tedford then invoked a name: Kyle Boller. Some of you might recall the nickname applied to Boller by certain wide-eyed Cal fans when he arrived in 1999: Baby Jesus. Yeah, that indicates high -- impossible? -- expectations. Boller was mostly a babe in the woods until Tedford arrived in 2002 and transformed a less than 50 percent passer with 38 interceptions over his first three years into a first-round NFL draft pick.

So, sure, if Kline is lights-out from the beginning, he might get into the mix, but Maynard and Allan Bridgford -- the top two quarterbacks from 2011 -- will be getting the first snaps when practices start on March 13.

"[It's] not much different than it looked before," Tedford said.

What Tedford sees -- and wants to build on -- is Maynard's final four regular season games. What fans who are skeptical see is Maynard's mid-season lull, punctuated by four interceptions vs. UCLA, and a poor performance in the Holiday Bowl against Texas.

Tedford also answered a question concerning persistent rumors of Maynard having academic eligibility issues: "There's nothing there as of now that would say anything different," he said.

As for Kline, Tedford is clearly aware of how hype works and how it can create all sorts of issues, on the field and in the locker room. He wants to avoid that. If Kline is the second-coming -- of Rodgers -- he needs to make that evident by his consistent play on the practice field. He needs to make everyone realize, from Tedford to his teammates, that he's the best quarterback on the roster right now and gives Cal its best chance to win in 2012.

"He's a very good player. There is no doubt about it," Tedford said. "But he's got to go through the bases. It's a different game at this level. We'll see how it goes but I don't think we need to put undue pressure on him."

Couple of notes:

  • Tedford said these players won't participate in spring practices due to injury: cornerback Marc Anthony, safety Michael Coley, center Dominic Galas, cornerback Stefan McClure, defensive end Brennan Scarlett, full back Eric Stevens and running back Dasarte Yarnway.
  • While Tedford is no fan of spring games, the Bears will have a sort of spring game on April 21. It's uncertain of the format and location. Tedford said that if the Bears are healthy, it will be a full-go scrimmage.

Hope & concern: California

May, 17, 2011
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Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.

Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.

Next up:

California

Biggest reason for hope: The band is back together on the coaching staff.

When California surged out of the Pac-10 cellar and challenged USC for conference supremacy, Jeff Tedford was calling plays, Jim Michalczik was coaching the offensive line and Eric Kiesau oversaw the receivers. In those days, the Bears offense was potently balanced between the run and pass and, most important, it was feared. That hasn't been the case of late, and perhaps part of that drop-off was due to the departures of Kiesau in 2005 and Michalczik in 2008. Well, the reunion tour starts in 2011. Tedford not only will call plays but he will take a strong role with the quarterback coaching, such as attending all meetings. Michalczik is back coaching the line but also is the coordinator, while Kiesau oversees the passing game and running backs coach Ron Gould is the running game coordinator. These guys have worked well together in the past, so it's perfectly reasonable to believe they will do so again.


Biggest reason for concern: Two letters: QB

Of course, even the best coaches can't do much without talent, and it's even more challenging for a team to play at a high level without a talented quarterback. Quarterback has transformed from a Cal position of strength -- Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers, early Nate Longshore -- to a position of inconsistency and even weakness. Tedford cut his quarterback competition down to three guys fairly early in spring practices: Zach Maynard, Brock Mansion and Allen Bridgford and then it became clear that Maynard was ahead because he was seeing the most action with the No. 1 offense. Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo who is also the half-brother of receiver Keenan Allen, is a run-pass threat whose potential has obviously intrigued Tedford, who's typically been more of a QB-in-the-pocket sort of coach. If the Bears get solid play at QB, they will be contenders in the Pac-12 North Division. If they don't, they could finish near the bottom.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Quarterbacks are always a big story. Quarterback competitions are typically bigger stories. But quarterback is an almost singular story this spring at California.

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

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

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

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

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

So far, no quarterback has asserted himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's been a while since Tedford and Cal found the "right" guy to put behind center. The Bears' success in 2011 probably hangs on Tedford rediscovering his inner QB Yoda.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- California coach Jeff Tedford hears the negative chatter but he's trying not to listen. The operative word there being "trying." He understands why some Golden Bears fans are grumbling, but such talk nonetheless frustrates him.

Tedford rebuilt a lousy program and created a high standard to which Cal fans happily became accustomed. Yet over the past few seasons, he has not consistently met that high standard.

"All of a sudden, you have an eight-win season and it's not good enough," Tedford said. "Then, all of the sudden, you have a [losing season] and it's, 'Wow, what happened here?'"

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAn imposing front seven on defense should help coach Jeff Tedford and Cal be competitive against elite teams in 2012.
Things turned sour in Berkeley in 2010; a 5-7 finish that was Tedford's first losing season (fewer than seven wins) in nine years leading the program. Meanwhile, on the south side of the Bay Area equation, archrival Stanford won a BCS bowl game and appears poised to start 2011 ranked in the top 10. That juxtaposition doesn't sit well with the Old Blues.

It no longer matters where Tedford started, taking over a 1-10 program in 2002 that had won seven or more games just four times in the 24 previous seasons. Forget that from 1978 to 2001 Cal won three or fewer games nine times. Sure, back then a couple of seven-win seasons -- heck, even 5-7 -- would have seemed pretty nice.

No longer.

But it's more than that, Tedford's critics will tell you.

What happened to Tedford, the quarterback guru? Tedford transformed Kyle Boller from a five-star recruiting bust into a first-round NFL draft pick. He then discovered Aaron Rodgers out of nowhere and made him into a first-round pick. Nate Longshore appeared poised to join them after he led the Bears to a 5-0 start and No. 2 national ranking in 2007. But really, since Longshore sprained his ankle during a marquee win at Oregon on Sept. 29, 2007 -- Cal fans just fainted recalling the memory of what happened next -- the Bears haven't benefited from consistent play at quarterback.

It's not just losing, either. It's the nature of the defeats. In Tedford's first seven seasons, the Bears suffered only two defeats by more than two touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, they've lost eight games by 17 or more points and six by 27 or more.

Further, the staff turnover, particularly at offensive coordinator, has been notable. Not including himself, Tedford has gone through four offensive coordinators before arriving at his present, complicated configuration, with offensive line coach Jim Michalczik returning as coordinator, running backs coach Ron Gould set as running game coordinator, receivers coach Eric Kiesau set as passing game coordinator and Tedford (again) helping with the quarterbacks and (again) calling plays.

A couple of years ago, Tedford listened to the nattering nabobs of negativism and he wanted to smack them. Now, he's trying to be philosophical about criticism. Trying.

"I have it back in focus now, not to worry about the external things," he said. "That one year [2009] we went [8-5] and it felt like we went [5-8], it felt like people were real irritable about that. I was irritable, too. About their reaction to [8-5]. Now, I'm just back to focusing on what it takes to get us back on the upward trend again."

If you're the sort who prefers optimism, there's grounds for that, too. For one, Michalczik and Kiesau were with Tedford during the "glory years." There's history and comfort there. And Michalczik is widely considered an elite line coach, perhaps the best in the Pac-12. The play of the Bears' O-line wasn't as good the past two seasons while Michalczik was with the Oakland Raiders.

Further, Tedford is reengaging on the offensive side, and not only by calling plays, as he did during his early years at Cal. He's also working extensively with the quarterbacks, even to the point of sitting in on all QB meetings.

"Consistency at quarterback has been something that has hurt us at times," Tedford said.

Another big-picture item for Cal fans to be upbeat about: An uptick in recruiting that, perhaps not coincidentally, began when stadium and facilities renovation projects began in earnest after protesters -- old school Berkeley! -- were forced out of the trees. The Bears are nomads this spring, traveling from site to site in search of good grass to practice on, and they will play "home" games in AT&T Park this year. But when Memorial Stadium reopens in 2012, the structure will match the grandeur of its Strawberry Canyon home.

As for hot-seat talk (it's probably more accurate to call Tedford's chair lukewarm) the players are aware of said chatter. They don't live in a protective bubble. And they are aware that pointed observations about the blowout defeats also fall on them, whether those embarrassments were about poor preparation, a lack of mental toughness in the face of adversity or (gulp) a propensity to quit when an opponent asserts itself.

"We all love Coach," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "His past record of success, that's why we are all here. There's no grumbling [in the locker room]. We're more disappointed in ourselves. We feel like we let the coaching staff down."

And of late, Cal fans feel let down. When the Bears were controversially blocked from playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1959 by Texas and the BCS computers following the 2004 season -- Cal fans just fainted for a second time while reading this story -- the consolation was a confident belief that it was just a matter of time before a Tedford squad ended that lengthy, painful Rose-less run.

The clock is still ticking -- 52 years and counting -- on that one, though.

Opening the mailbag: Tedford's hotseat?

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

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Ted Miller: No. Sorry. I am hyping.

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

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

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

Again, sorry for the hype.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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