Pac-12: LaMichael James

Welcome to the Friday mailbag.

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To the notes!

Clarence from Cincinnati writes: Ted, The blog is very well run, but I feel you all are very conservative on your predictions and forecasts. What is a prediction of yours for this upcoming season from left field? For me, I see a 6-0 start for Colorado and a bowl win (I am not a Colorado fan). Also, with the conference being so deep and the possibility of another two-loss conference champ being relatively high, do you see a two-loss Pac-12 champ still making the playoff?

Ted Miller: Gemmell, chilling on vacation in an undisclosed, beachside location, just sent a bite of his fish taco skyward toward the Pacific Ocean after reading that I am "very conservative."

So you want some predictions from out of left field?
  • The SEC won't win the national championship for the second consecutive season.
  • That's because Oregon and Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota will go undefeated. As in 15-0.
  • UCLA will not make the College Football Playoff because of two losses to the Ducks.
  • Either Oregon State or Washington State is going to win nine games this season.
  • Seven Pac-12 teams will finish ranked in the final AP poll.
  • By signing day 2015, the Pac-12 will have two new head coaches.
  • At some point, the Pac-12 blog will be wrong.

I know. That last one is nuts.


Matthew from Tempe, Ariz., writes: I'm a huge ASU fan, and student at ASU. I'm only 19 years old but I attended my first ASU game at two months old and I've witnessed 20 seasons. I read your articles and I love what you have to say, but I'm just curious about your response to Todd Graham's nephew. I think it's an interesting article, but I just wonder if you and other analysts are downplaying what Todd Graham has done. I see here you say he inherited much more talent than Rich Rod, but I don't know if I agree with that. I think he inherited an undersized defense and he built it into what it has become. He took Will Sutton, who was a head case on and off the field, and straightened him out. I remember flashes of Sutton during his freshman year, but he just couldn't figure out his head, and I think Graham deserves credit there. I also think Graham has recruited juco players, size, speed, and defense, where Rich Rod has recruited very few defensive players (according to the ESPN recruiting services). As such a big fan of ASU, U of A hasn't had offensive problems over the past few years, they just don't play defense and to be honest, I was scratching my head when U of A went with Rich Rod because his defense was so pathetic at Michigan. I think both coaches have done a great job at their positions, but I don't understand why ESPN is so anti-Todd Graham and ASU.

Ted Miller: I stand by what I wrote last week. Most objective observers would agree that Todd Graham inherited more talent at Arizona State than Rich Rodriguez inherited at Arizona.

That doesn't take anything away from how well Graham coached his players. In fact, you could make the argument that Graham coached his team better overall, and he deserves a tip of the cap for going 2-0 against Rodriguez. You could even argue that he's recruited better, though two years doesn't define a coach as a recruiter.

That said, if you were scratching your head when Arizona hired Rodriguez, well, I have a hard time believing that. It was a home run hire, period. There were a variety of reasons he didn't do well at Michigan -- a significant portion of those being out of his hands -- but the chief one, at least to me, was his not convincing his West Virginia defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel, to follow him to Ann Arbor.

To support this point, let's consider the Arizona and Arizona State defenses last year. The Wildcats yielded fewer points per game (24.2 vs. 26.6) and yards per play (5.3 vs. 5.5) than the Sun Devils, despite having zero first-team or second-team All-Pac-12 performers on that side of the ball. The Sun Devils had six.

Yes, Arizona State played a much tougher schedule, particularly on the nonconference side of things. But the Wildcats held Oregon to a season-low 16 points.

I agree with this: Both coaches have done a great job (so far). It will be interesting to see how things stack up in the next five years, but both schools should enjoy their growing Pac-12 and national relevance.

Graham probably will never win over all his critics, and that includes fans, media and carping competing coaches. He's a fast-talking guy who's moved around a lot and has a reputation as being hard to work for.

But what I've realized in the past two years is he's one of the most authentic coaches out there. I actually "get along" with some coaches better, but I also know they, on occasion, are working me over. Graham, on the other hand, is always working me over. He's 100 percent consistent.

Graham's garrulousness that sometimes makes him seem like a used-car salesman? That's who he is. It's not an act. He's like that off the record. He's like that with a recruit's family. He's like that when he eats lunch with his assistant coaches. He's never low-key. He's always working, always competing. He is a driven, hungry son of a gun. My impression is he genuinely means what he says -- at least more than most coaches do -- and that includes trying to do things right, on the field and off.

Observing that Graham inherited more talent than Rodriguez isn't a tweak on Graham. It's just an observation that I believe is supported by substantial evidence.


Corey from the Netherlands writes: As a Ducks fan, one of the stories of this year is how Byron Marshall responds to some serious competition from Thomas Tyner. Everyone seems ready to give the job to Tyner based on talent alone, and the situation got me thinking about Alabama in 2009, with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Of course, Ingram held off the more talented Richardson to win the Heisman Trophy that year, albeit with rather mundane numbers for a Heisman winner. I doubt Marshall nor Tyner will end up on anyone's Heisman list (we have a much better candidate!), but I have this feeling that both will be over 1,000 yards on the season, with Marshall in the top 2-3 in the conference, Tyner top 10. What do you think?

Ted Miller: A Ducks fan in the Netherlands. Hmm. I hear Amsterdam is beautiful this time of year.

What do I think? Byron Marshall/Thomas Tyner or Thomas Tyner/Byron Marshall -- it doesn't matter. It's a great luxury for run-first teams to have two capable backs. The competition will make both of them better and more hungry for touches. As long as one or the other doesn't whine about his role, things should be fine.

As for who's 1A and who's 1B, I have no idea. That's a question that will be resolved in preseason practices. If I were guessing, I'd predict that Marshall will trot out with the first-team offense against South Dakota on Aug. 30, but it will be up to him to hold on to his perch as the first option.

The goal should be for the pair to combine for 2,300 to 2,700 yards, not unlike the production of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in 2010 and 2011. It's notable that Barner didn't hit 1,000 yards while playing behind James, so that benchmark isn't terribly important -- overall production is.


Jeff from San Diego writes: Ted... As a Trojan who has attended games since the John McKay era, in the words of the immortal Marv Goux, "UCLA is a boil to be lanced before playing Notre Dame." Beating UCLA is all well and good, but there is NOTHING better than beating Notre Dame -- the GREATEST nonconference rivalry in CFB. The history, the Heismans, the NCs...Yes, beating UCLA is required, but NOTHING compares to Notre Dame for a true Trojan!

Ted Miller: Maybe, but I do think context matters.

The present context is UCLA rising as a national power after having beaten the Trojans two years in a row. While USC has also lost two in a row to Notre Dame, the Bruins' recently elevated status in the context of the crosstown rivalry seems more notable, at least from a media perspective.

I'm sure some "true" Trojans value wins over Notre Dame more, though I suspect many of these are of an older generation. I'd also wager that plenty of "true" Trojans would, if forced to make a call, prefer beating UCLA this season compared to Notre Dame.

Another change in context: Sharing the South Division in the Pac-12. While the Notre Dame game is the "GREATEST nonconference rivalry in CFB," losing to UCLA has even more ramifications in a divisional format compared to the old Pac-10 format.


Jim from Goleta, Calif., writes: The term "blue-chip recruit" seems to be thrown around in both football and basketball recruiting and seems to mean a can't-miss guy that everyone is fighting over. Where did this term come from? Is it so ubiquitous that I am the only one who dosn't know where it came from?

Ted Miller: Blue chips, traditionally, are high-value poker chips. That's why the term was then applied to stocks, with a "blue chip stock" being stock in a large and profitable company that was a long-time industry leader.

The terms were almost immediately adopted when recruiting coverage began and gained wide acceptance and use in the 1980s and 1990s, though I couldn't figure out who first used the term "blue chip" to describe a prospect. There was a publication called "Blue Chip" magazine in the 1970s, and you can read about the early days of recruiting coverage here.


Zach from Seattle writes: I love the Pac-12 blog, and have been following it since I was a student at UW. The stories I enjoy most are usually the in-depth ones that cover a single theme with a focus on each school per story (example, the current "Key Stretch" series). However, the depth of the analyses you run usually restrict you to produce one story on each school per day. The blog usually tackles these stories in alphabetical order by school name. For fans of schools starting with a U or a W, that means we usually need to wait for a week or two to hear about a story regarding our school after cycling through the other 10-11 stories in the same vein from other schools. I can't help but feel that as writers, you feel that a story inevitably stales out by the 12th time you write it. My suggestion is that you not reduce the depth/quality of these stories but try to randomize/shuffle/invert the order you report these stories occasionally to let the Utahs, USCs, UCLAs, UWs and WSUs of the conference get some exposure to the fresh news that UA and ASU currently enjoy on a weekly basis. Seems like an easy fix, yes? Keep up the excellent work.

Ted Miller: Now Zach, we've done plenty of features in reverse alphabetical order.

Such as this. And this.

If we did a random shuffle, many fans would go ballistic. And I'd probably lose my place.

I will also say that no feature ever -- EVER -- grows stale for me. We commit to each story with 100 percent of our focus and passion whether that team starts with an A or a Z.

That's the Pac-12 blog guarantee.


Dave from Kabul, AFG writes: "Life is full of great joys...," you wrote, but I feel the need to remind you that one of them is ROFL-ing with glee over the newly posted worst-case scenario for a hated Pac-12 rival. Granted, people may have had trouble grasping the concept of the column, and I can see the trouble balancing the over-the-top fantasy with an actual best/worst case limits prediction. Still, if this column does go softly into that good night, where else shall I find such Hugo Award-caliber flights of fancy regarding these august programs I've come to know and love, respect and despise? A Husky Fever Believer.

Ted Miller: I truly appreciate the notes about the likely end of the Best-case/Worst-case stories.

I just don't think I have it in me this season. These pieces have grown more monstrous every year, and the idea of a reduction in scope or length is as unappealing as trying to top last year's efforts.

It's not just the time commitment, either. I don't want to seem melodramatic or whiny here, but my chief worry over the years when doing these is letting a team down. Basically, I've had one day to come up with something, and I'd be in a panic in the middle of the night when I thought my piece for Team X was crap.

Again, not to be whiny, but I wrote one last year for a middle-of-the-pack team -- 1,600 words -- decided it was stupid and then completely rewrote it, finishing it in the wee hours of the morning. Still didn't like it.

I've got a week off coming up, and I've told myself to look at some options but, as noted, it feels as if the well has run dry.

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
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We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.

Offense

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.

Defense

LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.
Last year’s Stanford-Oregon game didn’t just break the mold of the rivalry’s previous three matchups. It detonated it with an ordnance of smothering defense and glacial tempo.

Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win was a stark contrast to how the previous meetings had played out since 2009 -- the first game that featured both David Shaw and Mark Helfrich on their respective sidelines.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe trend of high-scoring Stanford-Oregon games was halted last season, as Marcus Mariota and the Ducks couldn't get on track.
No. 3 Oregon takes its nation-leading 18-game road winning streak to No. 5 Stanford Thursday night in a true clash of schematic styles. And there are lessons to be learned from some of the recent matchups -- trends and themes that paint a picture of what could transpire Thursday night.

The teams have split their past four meetings, with Stanford winning at home in 2009 and on the road in 2012. Oregon won back-to-back games in 2010 in Eugene, Ore., and 2011 in Palo Alto, Calif.

In the three games prior to last season, the winning team had scored at least 51 points and the loser had scored at least 30. The margin of victory was at least nine points. It was an annual offensive feast worthy of a league known for putting up points.

But last year’s game flipped the script as the offenses took a backseat to trench warfare, making every point a premium.

“Each game is its own entity,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who was offensive coordinator for the previous four matchups. “One big thing is our programs are a lot more similar than they are different from a number of perspectives. Their offense is different from our offense. But we’re similar in the fact of playing with heart -- playing fundamentally sound. We recruit a lot of the same people.

“But at some point it’s going to come down to our best person and their best person in space or in tight.”

Clichés become clichés for a reason. Some coach somewhere once said “big-time players make big-time plays” and everyone thought it was a profound statement at the time. Then more and more coaches started saying it and the meaning dulled. And in the case of Stanford-Oregon, it’s cliché, but true.

The past four meetings have all been defined by outstanding individual performances. Some were statistically sensational: Toby Gerhart’s 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 2009; LaMichael James' 257 yards and three touchdowns a year later; James again in 2011; and Zach Ertz in 2012.

Others were more understated. But regardless of the total points scored, it still comes down to players making plays.

“The biggest one is, and I hate to put it on one side of the ball because it is a complete game, but when we make the open-field tackles and don’t miss them, we have a chance,” Shaw said. “And then the two wins, the common denominator is making big plays. Toby Gerhart ripping off some big runs. Chris Owusu had a huge touchdown pass. Ryan Whalen had a huge catch to get us in the end zone. Zach Ertz last year was huge. Then Kevin Hogan's mobility. He ran for a touchdown and could escape and slide and find Zach off schedule. Defensively, we have to make those open-field tackles and line up and not be out of position.”

Thursday’s showdown is a true struggle of strength versus strength when you consider the following:

  • Oregon hasn’t scored fewer than 35 points in its past 10 games -- the last time coming in the 17-14 loss to Stanford last season.
  • Stanford hasn’t allowed more than 30 points in its past 17 games, the nation’s second-longest active streak.
  • The Ducks have won 18 straight on the road -- their last loss coming to Stanford in 2009.
  • Stanford has won 13 straight at home, its last loss in Palo Alto coming to Oregon in 2011.

There are dozens of notable sidebars to this matchup. Obviously, Stanford’s defense versus Oregon’s offense is the storyline that garners the most attention. But this is also a Heisman showcase game for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, just as it was for Andrew Luck in the 2011 loss to the Ducks. There are the recent struggles of Stanford’s offense and the inconsistencies of Hogan, who made his first career road start last year at Autzen and was lauded as one of the game’s heroes for his poise on the grand stage. There is Oregon’s defense -- so smothering and so in the shadow of the offense.

Stanford’s top priority is and always will be to stop the run. But the Ducks have also developed a dangerous downfield passing attack that wasn’t as developed last season. No Oregon wide receiver had more than 500 receiving yards last season. This season Josh Huff (703) and Bralon Addison (609) give the Ducks' offense an added dimension that Stanford will have to account for. And then there is the always-accurate Mariota, who hasn’t thrown an interception since the first half of last season's Stanford game.

Defensively, the Cardinal are very good at getting to the quarterback without having to send extra blitzers. No team in the country has more sacks over the past two years when sending four or fewer rushers at the quarterback.

“They have some guys up front that really try to control the line of scrimmage,” Mariota said. “They have done an awesome job all year of being physical. But I think our offensive line is up to the challenge. They are going to go out and play their best and we’ll do our best at executing.”

The recent past between these teams might not be entirely prologue. But history tells us that big-time players will make big-time plays -- if you'll pardon the cliché.

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

July, 10, 2013
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2013. Here are six players with something to prove from the Pac-12 North. This is last year's Proving Grounds post. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the South.

Khairi Fortt, OLB, California: He's yet to play a down for the Bears since transferring from Penn State -- a move that had less to do with the NCAA sanctions facing the Nittany Lions and more to do with his desire for a larger role in the defense. He appeared in every game for Penn State his sophomore year and is well-versed in the 4-3 -- the new base defensive alignment for the Bears this year under Andy Buh. New head coach Sonny Dykes called Fortt a potentially impactful player who needs to be more consistent. The Bears have some defensive stability with guys like Nick Forbes and Deandre Coleman. If Fortt can elevate his play and prove to be an upper-level linebacker, the Bears could have a sneaky-good defense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR/PR/AP, Oregon: When it comes to delivering "SportsCenter" highlights, Thomas has nothing to prove. No question, he's one of the most explosive players in the country and certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But his burden of proof comes from a different place. During his tenure in Eugene, the Ducks relied on LaMichael James in 2011 and Kenjon Barner in 2012 to carry the bulk of the running game, with Thomas providing a change-of-OMG-did-you-see-that? But with two of the most prolific runners in school history departed, it's finally Thomas' turn to shoulder more of the workload. True, Byron Marshall will get his carries, and we're all excited to see what Thomas Tyner brings to the table. But Thomas was the workhorse this spring, and if Marshall and Tyner are slow to develop, the burden of carrying the running game falls on Thomas' frame. Like many, I'm eager to see what he does while consistently getting 15-plus carries per game. He's only had five double-digit-carry games in his career and three 100-yard rushing games -- two of which came on a combined nine carries (Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season and Fresno State in 2012).

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJunior linebacker James Vaughters gets his chance to live up to the recruiting hype at Stanford.
Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney, WRs, Oregon State: Someone at Oregon State earlier in the week told me this: One of these guys has to step up for the Beavers' offense to function properly. So, by definition, if one of them doesn't step up, the offense will function improperly. Not what you want when you have a quarterback competition going on. At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Gwacham has tantalizing measurables. But he's had also had a case of the dropsies. Mullaney has the hands, but not the same speed as the last guy to occupy this position, Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks was the benefactor of Wheaton's success last year. And while a case can be made that it's Cooks who has something to prove -- to show he can be a legitimate No. 1 without Wheaton -- there is only so much he can do on his own. He needs someone else to step up opposite him. Kevin Cummings will continue to work in the slot and underneath, but the Beavers must have a second outside threat if Cooks is going to improve upon his already-impressive numbers from last season.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford: Vaughters was used judiciously in his freshman year in 2011. Even when Shayne Skov went down for the season -- and many thought it would be Vaughter's chance to step up -- he was still used on a limited basis while Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley filled that void. Last year Vaughters moved to the inside, but Tarpley proved to be more productive alongside Skov. With Chase Thomas gone, Vaughters figures to be the primary guy filling that spot. Outside is a more natural position for him, and with Trent Murphy on the other side, it should provide Vaughters plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. He has all the tools to be an elite player and was considered the jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He's in a position to excel. And if he can, he makes one of the nation's best defenses that much better.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: Obvious? Yeah. But so much of Washington's success rides on the play of its once-budding slinger. If you read the intro, Price certainly qualifies as a guy with something to prove. His 2011 season was spectacular. In a year when Andrew Luck shined and Matt Barkley appeared to be a sure-fire first-round pick, Price looked like he was on pace to have that sort of collegiate career. But he regressed in 2012. It wasn't all his fault. There were injuries across the offensive line that certainly were major contributing factors. But at the same time, Price is the quarterback, and part of his job is taking the praise and the heat. As a result, he forced way too many plays and didn't trust the offense. He needs to rely more on his playmakers instead of "trying to play hero." His words, not mine. The pieces appear to be in place for him to succeed in 2013. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher, an elite tight end, good receivers and a healthy line. Time to step up and put the seven-win jokes to bed.

Logan Mayes, LB, Washington State: Maybe it's too much to ask of Mayes ... to step in and fill the void of the departed Travis Long, who was quietly one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players the past couple of seasons. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayes is good enough to be the team's premier defensive player in the "buck" linebacker spot. To be fair, it probably won't be all Mayes. Expect a healthy rotation of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio as well. But no doubt, that position is of great importance to what coordinator Mike Breske wants to do on defense -- and filling the hole vacated by Long is a top priority. Mayes played pretty well in the Apple Cup in Long's absence, posting five tackles and a pair of hits on the aforementioned Price. People forget that Washington State was one of the best teams in the nation last season at generating sacks and tackles for loss (11th nationally in sacks, seventh in TFLs), so maintaining that high level will be a priority.
And on the 27th month, the NCAA shall speak on Oregon, Chip Kelly and L'Affaire de Willie Lyles.

And those pronouncement will produce... what?

Will the sanctions prove harsher than expected, thereby poleaxing the Ducks off their newfound perch among the nation's elite? Or will the sanctions prove manageable, perhaps causing discomfort but not ending the Ducks' quasi-dynastic run in the Pac-12?

We shall see. Folks in Eugene have been consistently optimistic, and it would rate a surprise if Oregon is hammered. Still, you never know with the NCAA.

The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) will announce its findings in a teleconference with reporters at 11 a.m. ET. The man who shall describe the Ducks' sanction fate will be Gregory Sankey, associate commissioner of the SEC.

SEC? Uh oh. (Of course, we kid!)

The committee's full report will be released to the media 30 minutes before the teleconference.

Oregon's troubles began in March 2011 when ESPN.com and Yahoo! reported the Ducks made payments to dubious Texas-based scouting service operator Willie Lyles, who had close ties to several Ducks recruits, most notably running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk. Things got murkier when it was discovered that Oregon apparently received very little of value for its $25,000.

Yet the NCAA rules on the use of scouting services at the time were vague enough that Oregon could claim it was operating in a gray area. This became one of the complicating elements as the school attempted to negotiate a summary judgment with the NCAA. That and the fact Lyles had significant relationships with several other schools, schools that had not been hit hard by NCAA sanctions.

Oregon agreed to seven major rules violations, and in October offered to self-impose several penalties, including the loss of three scholarships over three years, recruiting limitations and two years of probation.

The COI, however, rejected the attempt to reach a summary judgment, which forced Oregon officials, including former coach Chip Kelly, to appear before the committee in late April in Dallas.

"We have been informed by the NCAA that the Committee on Infractions report on the University of Oregon will be released tomorrow," the Oregon athletic department wrote in a statement. "Until we have received and reviewed the report we will not comment."

Oregon will have 15 days in which to file an appeal if it is unhappy with the ruling.

As for the severity of the penalties, it's difficult to guess, but Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard makes a good point here:
In a statement that accompanied the October 2012 summary disposition proposal, the Ducks acknowledged that “errors were made and that we will improve” but also that “our coaches did nothing to intentionally gain unfair advantages.”

The NCAA’s enforcement staff -- essentially the prosecutor, while the Committee on Infractions was judge and jury -- agreed during the summary disposition attempt that “the violations were not intentional in nature.” But it also argued that the Ducks nevertheless had “an obligation to ensure that the activities being engaged in comply with NCAA legislation.”

"Intention" matters, and finding a lack thereof is good for Oregon.

It's also notable that the NCAA enforcement staff didn't yoke Oregon with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" charge, instead going with the less worrisome "failure to monitor."

On the other hand, Oregon may fall under repeat violator status due to a 2004 case that was ruled a major violation after assistant coach Gary Campbell, who is still on staff, had improper conduct in the recruitment of running back J.J. Arrington.

Oregon folks would contend the NCAA taking more than two years to resolve this matter is a penalty in itself, with the glacial pace of an investigation allowing a dark cloud of the unknown to shadow the school for an extended period of time.

That dark cloud of the unknown, however, will be removed Wednesday. Whether it gives way to a tornado of sanctions or sunny skies -- or something in between -- remains to be seen.
The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison they never even become aware that they are oppressed.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 6

February, 19, 2013
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Our countdown of the top 25 players in the 2012 season continues.

You can see the preseason top 25 here.

No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon

2012 numbers: Rushed for 1,767 yards on 278 carries (6.1 average), 135.9 yards per game and 21 touchdowns. He also caught 20 balls for 256 yards and two touchdowns.

Preseason ranking: No. 13

Making the case for Barner: Barner, a consensus All-American, and his predecessor and best buddy, LaMichael James, are peas in a pod. Or, if you don't like that cliché, just know they sit beside each other in the Oregon record book. Barner's 21 rushing touchdowns tie him with James for most in a single season for a Ducks back. Barner also is the school's second leading rusher behind James with 3,623 yards. His 5,869 career all-purpose yards are 21 yards shy of James' school record. He got the jump on James when he rushed for a school-record 321 yards on a career-high 38 attempts and tied for a career-high with five touchdowns in a victory at USC. While Barner operated mostly in James' shadow for three years, he entered the season as the Ducks' featured back and exceeded already high expectations, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors, which was darn near as impressive as his All-America honors, considering Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin also were named All-Americans. And, like James, Barner, rated the No. 5 available running back in the draft by Mel Kiper, is expected to have an NFL career. Most important, of course, Barner, understated but always insightful, is a member of the Pac-12 blog's All-Interview team. He will be missed by reporters as well as Ducks fans.

No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17
: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah
Toby Gerhart preceded him at Stanford. Then came Oregon's LaMichael James, casting a big shadow for two seasons. While 2012 seemed like it set up well for Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to finally see his name on the college football marquee, he's nonetheless looking up at Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in the pecking order of Pac-12 running backs.

Taylor has practically become famous, in fact, for being overlooked and underrated. It's a perception that is frequently noted just before a coach or player praises Taylor for his all-around skills as well as his character.

"For some reason, I don't know why, I think he is extremely underrated," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose Ducks play host to Taylor and Stanford on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireStepfan Taylor needs just 203 more yards to become Stanford's all-time leading rusher.
Said Stanford coach David Shaw, "He epitomizes what we are all about."

Taylor, a Doak Walker Award semifinalist, is hardly anonymous. You don't become the first player in Stanford history to record back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and be known only as What's His Name.

He is 169 rushing yards from reaching 4,000 in his career and 203 yards from breaking the school's career rushing record held by Darrin Nelson. Taylor’s 36 career rushing touchdowns are third all-time on The Farm. He needs one more to tie "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell for second.

Taylor presently ranks 22nd in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 with 106.1 yards per game. He's also the Cardinal's second leading receiver with 28 catches for 184 yards and two scores. Last week in the win over Oregon State, Taylor fumbled for the first time in nearly a calendar year, snapping a streak of 261 consecutive rushes without a fumble dating back to Nov. 26, 2011.

Oh, and he can block, too.

"He's the best pass-blocking running back in our conference, and it's not even close," Shaw said.

You put this all together, and the most popular conclusion is that Taylor's payoff will be in the NFL, where his toughness, ability to run between the tackles and diversity of skills will be more fully appreciated.

"Oh, gosh, I think he's a really, really good player. I really like him," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think he's an NFL back. He's powerful, he's quick, he's smart, he's durable. He just keeps pounding at you. Of course, that's kind of Stanford's mentality, and he fits into it really well."

Riley knows firsthand. The Beavers own one of the nation's toughest run defenses, but Taylor gashed it for 114 yards on 19 carries in a 27-23 victory last weekend. However, it was a screen pass at the end of the third quarter that earned Taylor the most kudos. He took the short dump pass 40 yards for a critical touchdown that started the Stanford comeback, and just about every Oregon State defender had a shot at him but couldn't get Taylor down, most notably safety Anthony Watkins, whom Taylor dispatched with a brutal stiff-arm at the 12-yard line.

As for Taylor being underrated and underappreciated, the person who seems to care least about that is Taylor.

"I don't really think about that," he said. "I feel like people who watch football recognize what I do. I just go out there and play my game, control what I can control. That's the main thing. And try to get the win. That's my main focus."

Said Shaw, "He's the last person who wants to talk about himself."

Taylor might have to talk about himself if the Cardinal upset the No. 2 Ducks. By just about every estimation, Taylor will have to come up big for Stanford to have a chance. Stanford must run well and possess the football against a beaten-up Oregon defense, thereby keeping the Ducks' explosive offense on the sidelines.

Oregon pounded the Cardinal the previous two years, both times handing Stanford its only regular-season loss. While Taylor said, "It's the next game on our schedule; it just happens to be Oregon," he also admitted veteran Stanford players might have something of a "chip on our shoulder" when it comes to the Ducks.

And Taylor might be ready for his national close-up.

If he were to put up big numbers in a win over Oregon on Saturday, here's a guess that he'd become suddenly popular among fans of many college football teams, including Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 5, 2012
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Taking stock of Week 10 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: In August, Oregon was supposed to be the supporting actor in the red-letter showdown with USC in the Coliseum. Instead, it's the Ducks who have emerged as the national title contender, and that was made clear by their thunderous offensive showing in a 62-51 victory. The 730 total yards and points were the most ever compiled against a Trojans defense.

Best game: It was a weekend of blowouts, so there wasn't much in terms of nail-biters. But the offensive firepower in the USC-Oregon game -- 1,345 yards of combined offense -- was highly entertaining, unless you are a purveyor of fine defense. Of course, both defenses had proved themselves as at least solid in the previous eight games, so the offensive explosion seemed to be more about outstanding execution than breakdowns.

[+] EnlargeBarner
Kirby Lee/US PresswireUSC had no answers for Oregon and Kenjon Barner, who rushed for 321 yards and five TDs.
Biggest play: Arizona State had just gone up 19-10 at Oregon State early in the second quarter. The Beavers' new starting QB, Cody Vaz, wasn't clicking. The Beavers looked to be in trouble at home. Then running back Terron Ward, filling in for an injured Storm Woods, went 53 yards for a touchdown. It was the first strike in a run of 26 consecutive points for the Beavers, who overcame a number of key injuries to keep trucking in the Pac-12 pecking order.

Offensive standout: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner quite simply posted one of the all-time great performances by a running back in Pac-12/10/8 history when he rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns against the Trojans. It shattered LaMichael James' school record (288 yards) and is the fourth-best total in conference history. That he did it on the road in such a big game is what makes it truly special. And it likely firmed up his status as a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

Defensive standout: UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks is the best defensive player you might not have heard of. In the Bruins' 66-10 bludgeoning of Arizona, he piled up 11 tackles -- nine solo -- with two sacks. He leads the Pac-12 and ranks 25th in the nation with 9.67 tackles per game.

Special-teams standout: Are you kidding me? Reggie freaking Dunn... what have you been eating? Dunn returned a third -- THIRD! -- kickoff in the past two games 100 yards for a touchdown in Utah's blowout win over Washington State. Three 100-yard kickoff returns in a season is an NCAA record, as is his four in his career.

Smiley face: Stanford QB Kevin Hogan was given an opportunity and took advantage. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns and led the Cardinal with 48 yards rushing in a blowout win over Colorado. Sure, it was Colorado, but Hogan has stepped up his play while Josh Nunes has been unable to tame his inconsistency. If he takes over as the Cardinal's starting QB, as expected, it will be because he earned it with his play.

Frowny face: The state of Arizona didn't distinguish itself on the road this past weekend. Arizona, coming off an impressive win over USC, got pummeled by UCLA 66-10. Arizona State jumped to an early lead at Oregon State but was overwhelmed in the second half. The Sun Devils have lost three in a row since a 5-1 start that had fans crowing. The Wildcats were thinking South Division crown after consecutive impressive wins over Washington and USC. Now both have fallen in the South pecking order. These teams' fans, who get along just grandly, have been going back and forth this season about which team is better, often forcing the poor ol', innocent Pac-12 blog into the middle of their squabble. What's become clear is the final verdict will only be delivered on Nov. 23 when they meet in the Territorial Cup.

Thought of the week: We will learn a lot about USC's resilience and Lane Kiffin's coaching in the next month. The Trojans have suffered through a supremely disappointing season, but there is still a lot to play for. They still could end up in the Rose Bowl. All they need to do is win out. At the very least, they could win the South Division. But is that enough to motivate the Trojans to continue to work hard to get better? Will these guys stick together under Kiffin and continue to fight? This team could collapse and end the season with five consecutive defeats. Just imagine: USC at 6-6. In the preseason, the Trojans looked like a potentially dominant national title contender. Now they are in danger of falling out of the national polls ... and on their face. But, hey, this is football. If you can't make the scoreboard smile at you, it's your own fault.

Questions for the week: If Oregon goes to the national title game, which Pac-12 team will do enough to play its way into the Rose Bowl, if any? The Rose Bowl wants a Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup, but for the Pac-12 to get a second BCS bowl team -- and an at-large selection to the Rose Bowl in this scenario -- it must push a team into the top 14 of the final BCS standings. It appears we have four candidates, but none is a sure thing by any stretch: Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC. Oregon State will play Stanford this weekend. UCLA will face both Stanford and USC this month, and already has lost to Oregon State. USC, which already has lost to Stanford, and Oregon State only would meet in the Pac-12 title game. It will be interesting to see whether a team makes a charge and rises in the standings, or whether this becomes a muddle and no one qualifies.


LOS ANGELES -- Oregon turned in a singular, historic offensive performance against USC in the Ducks' 62-51 victory on Saturday in front of 93,607 fans in the Coliseum. No team has ever gained 730 yards or scored 62 points on the Trojans.

That's in 120 years of football. Heck, it's 107 yards more than Notre Dame piled up in 1946 in setting the mark that lasted 66 years.

The man at the center of this Ducks feeding frenzy is an unassuming guy who just earned his emphatic "hello world" moment: Running back Kenjon Barner. And by "hello world," we mean, "Here's your ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony."

Said one observer, "I think that he's the best player -- that's singular, not plural. I think he deserves the Heisman. He should be right up there with everyone else. He's been doing it day in and day out. If they weren't beating people so bad, he'd probably have 2,000 yards right now. He's great."

That observer would be LaMichael James, a former Ducks running back and Heisman finalist himself, and he was reacting to Barner shattering James' team single-game rushing record of 288 yards, set last year against Arizona. Shattering? Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns against a Trojans' run defense that entered the game ranked 29th in the country, giving up 123 yards per game. That defense gave up just six rushing touchdowns in its previous eight games.

Barner and James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, just happen to be best buddies who talk frequently.

"I'm happy that he broke that record," James said. "Anytime your best friend can break your record, it means more. It's like, 'Man, my record got broken. But Kenjon broke it, so it's OK.'"

Barner entered the game ranked 10th in the nation in rushing. He now has 1,295 yards on the ground, and his 143.88 yards per game would have ranked second last week. He now averages 7.23 yards per carry and has scored 19 touchdowns, numbers that will rank among the very best in the nation this week.

With a potential injury to Collin Klein, Kansas State's multi-talented field general, it's possible Barner could even become a threat for the Heisman front-runner position.

Barner, who also caught two passes for 26 yards, including a 12-yard reception that converted a key third down in the fourth quarter, would hardly rate as euphoric after the game. He didn't seem too surprised with the way his and the Ducks offense's evening went.

"I've said it before and I'll keep saying it. People doubt, I don't," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. I know what this team is capable of."

Barner had 169 yards at halftime and 250 yards entering the fourth quarter. Of his 38 carries, he lost yardage on only one.

And, yes, he'd like to get Heisman consideration.

"It would absolutely be meaningful," he said. "Who doesn't want to get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?"

Barner's touchdown runs covered 27, 5, 9, 5 and 22 yards. He sliced the Trojans from the outside and diced them inside. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior simply couldn't be stopped.

"He's a warrior -- he's had an unbelievable impact on our team," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's the one leader of [the offense] and he's really embraced that role and our guys follow him. Not only does he talk about it, but he lives it. It's the same way in practice.'

And Barner is a true believer in the Tao of Chip Kelly. Ask him about big-picture questions, the kind of query that Kelly knocks away with a smirk, and he doesn't even sniff the bait.

Such as: Did he and the Ducks make a statement by running all over the Trojans?

"There is no statement to be made," he said. "We just come out and play football. If you come out playing with a mindset of your having to make a statement, you're not focused on the task at hand."

At 9-0, and on the cusp of moving up in the BCS standings, Oregon again looks like a national title contender. While Barner won't look past the next weekend, or attempt to sell his team to national pollsters and pundits, he will make clear what he thinks of the 2012 Ducks.

Said Barner, "I feel like we're the best team in the country on any night."

Maybe. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Ducks might be -- again -- the best offensive team in the country. And that Barner may be the best offensive player.

Oregon poised to remove USC as top power

October, 29, 2012
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Getty ImagesA win this weekend for Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota over USC and QB Matt Barkley could represent a power shift in the Pac-12.

Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?

The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.

USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.

But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.

Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.

Au contraire.

Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.

USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.

Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.

And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.

So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?

USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.

Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."

While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.

But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.

So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.

Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.

Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.

It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.

Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.

And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.

Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"
It's Oregon's bye week. What else are we going to talk about? Which Ducks back has the better shot at winning the Heisman?

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas is averaging 9.2 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch.
Ted Miller: With De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner, it's pick your poison. Both are players who tax a defense. But the Heisman Trophy has always been about more than being good and posting good numbers. Barner very well could win the Pac-12 rushing title, but that's sort of what Oregon running backs do. The Ducks have been the best rushing team in the conference since Chip Kelly first showed up in 2007.

What Thomas has is pizzazz. When he gets the ball, everyone holds their breath. It's the Reggie Bush effect. At any moment, not only could Thomas go yard, he could go yard in a way that makes folks go, "Are you kidding me? I've got to see that again!"

Truth is, Thomas has been fairly quiet of late. He has solid numbers as a receiver, runner and return man, but they certainly aren't going to wow you. His numbers must get better for him to be considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.

I believe they will. And I believe they will when he posts spectacular, Are-You-Kidding-Me? plays in big games, such as he did in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. I believe the Black Mamba is about to provide a series of deadly strikes as the Pac-12 race heats up. He's going to get Arizona State. Then he's going to get Colorado. Then, with the entire nation watching, he's going to -- snap! -- get USC.

Those plays will pile up on "SportsCenter." Those plays will form a portfolio of spectacularness. Those plays will offset a lot of other guys’ fancy-pants numbers.

Thomas will get himself invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony not because of numbers. He will get there due to his highlight reel.

Kevin Gemmell: When we decided on this topic, the first thing that popped into my head was that it smacked of an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch -- the old Bob Swerski’s Superfans. In one sketch, a question was posed: “Da’ Bears versus Da’ Bulls?” And the answer was this (imagine the Chicago Southside accent): “The senseless waste of pitting these two mighty forces of nature against each other, like matter versus anti-matter, will be a tragedy, not only for the teams involved, but for our planet. All nations must band together, to ensure that such a conflagration never takes place.”

Obviously when you are comparing Thomas and Barner, you are comparing two phenomenal football players.

[+] EnlargeKenjon Barner
Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesKenjon Barner has 127 touches on offense and 10 TDs to De'Anthony Thomas' 61 and 9.
First off, there is nothing fancy-pants about the way Barner does his work. He grinds when he has to, but he also has the big-play potential. For the record, Thomas’ longest rushing play this year is a 59-yard touchdown. Barner’s is an 80-yard touchdown. You don’t go 80 yards without a little pizzazz of your own.

I love a good DAT highlight as much as the next guy. And I still have him in the top five on my ESPN.com Heisman ballot. But I have Barner higher, for the simple reason that I think, right now, Barner is the more valuable player for the Ducks and therefore a better Heisman candidate.

And as he continues to get about three carries for every one that Thomas gets, he’s only going to distance himself. I’m totally on board with the idea that every time Thomas touches the ball, your heart skips a beat. But the longer he goes without those jaw-droppers -- and the more Barner keeps piling up 100-yard games -- the tougher it’s going to be for Thomas to close the gap.

Anyone concerned that Barner couldn’t fill the deep crevasse left by LaMichael James (by the way, that never should have been a concern) should rest easy knowing that in six games, Barner has 727 yards, is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and has nine rushing touchdowns. Some Thomas highlights might end up on "SportsCenter," but it’s a good bet that they will be preceded by two Barner touchdowns as part of a 150-yard performance.

The Heisman isn’t all about numbers. But that’s a huge part of it. And the fact that Barner has them and Thomas doesn’t simply can’t be ignored.

Retooled Ducks still have big-play potential

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
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Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesDe’Anthony Thomas will try to help fill the void left by LaMichael James in the Oregon backfield.
Oregon is seeking to become the first team since the 1966-69 USC Trojans to win the Pac-12 football title outright in four consecutive seasons.

LaMichael James
James
But they’ll have to do it without LaMichael James.

In Chip Kelly’s three seasons as Oregon’s head coach, he’s done nothing but win three Pac-12 titles. In those three seasons, he has had dynamic playmakers that excelled in his spread option system.

Those playmakers have had a knack for breaking long runs, rushing for 20 or more yards once every 15.9 attempts, best in the nation among FBS teams with at least 10 games against AP Top 25 opponents since the start of 2009.

In the last two seasons, the Ducks’ high-octane offense ranked first in both touchdown drives of three plays or fewer (39) and touchdown drives in less than two minutes (90).

The main catalyst for Oregon’s offense has been James, the Pac-12’s second all-time leading rusher with 5,082 rushing yards in his three seasons. He has 34 rushes of at least 30 yards since the start of 2009, ranking first in FBS during that span.

For any program, it would be nearly impossible to replace a playmaker like James. However, the Ducks have two capable backs to effectively replace James’ production in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas.

James, Barner and Thomas all ranked in the top four of the Pac-12 in yards per rush last season (minimum 50 rushes). As a team, the Ducks had the highest yards per rush average in FBS (6.7 yards per rush).

Oregon was even more successful running the ball on first downs last year. James led the way with 122 carries for 968 yards (7.9 yards per rush). It wasn’t all James however, as Barner and Thomas combined for 94 carries for 702 yards (7.5 yards per rush).

When James dislocated his elbow last year, Oregon did not lose a step. In the two games without him, Barner and Thomas carried the ball 49 times for 352 yards (7.2 yards per rush).

The speed of Oregon’s rushing attack has been illustrated by its success rushing outside of the tackles. Last season, James averaged 9.5 yards per rush outside the tackles while the two returnees went for 8.7 yards per rush.

Barner and Thomas’ versatility allowed them to line up at different positions and contribute in the passing game, combining for 63 receptions for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns. James had 17 receptions for 210 yards and one touchdown last season.

James thrived under Kelly’s system. However, statistics show Barner and Thomas can continue the recent trend of a potent Ducks rushing attack.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 13

August, 15, 2012
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

13. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon

2011 numbers: Rushed for 939 yards and 11 TDs. Also caught 17 passes for 184 yards and three TDs.

2011 postseason ranking: unranked

Making the case for Barner: Barner makes the biggest leap in the top 25 for an unranked player from 2011, in large part because the Pac-12's best backup running backs now becomes one of its best running backs. Perhaps the best. Barner's 78.2 yards rushing per game ranked eighth in the conference in 2011, which is pretty impressive for a backup. He also averaged a stout 6.2 yards per carry, which ranked third in the conference. That average shouldn't be surprising because Barner has averaged more than 6 yards per carry the past three seasons while backing up LaMichael James. He enters his senior season with 1,856 career rushing yards and 27 total TDs. Further, when James was hurt, Barner always proved a more than adequate replacement. He rushed for 171 yards on 31 carries against Arizona State, the first of three consecutive games over 100 yards rushing when James was banged up. His fourth 100-yard rushing game last year came against USC, when he went for 123 yards on 15 carries with two scores. And don't forget Barner's ability as a receiver. He caught two passes for 52 yards and a TD against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and it may be unwise to view De'Anthony Thomas as the only Duck who can strike from multiple positions on the field. Not many returning backups get named to watch lists for the Maxwell Award (college player of the year), the Doak Walker Award (running back) and the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player). Finally, Barner, who is best buds with James, is a humble, team-first guy who also can be insightful when talking about the Ducks, as you can see in this video. That doesn't count in these rankings, but it seems like it's worth noting.

No 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Mailbag: USC in the polls and Oregon QBs

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
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Happy Friday.

Here's where you go to answer this important question: "If I follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter, how will the gods reward me with riches and glory?"

And, no, I don't think the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, will transfer to any Pac-12 school.

To the notes!

Smudge from Irvine, Calif., writes: How important are the preseason rankings for USC's national title hopes (and which preseason rankings really matter)? Will there be further preseason rankings released before the season starts? If so, I suspect USC could leapfrog LSU now that the Honey Badger is gone.

Ted Miller: The coaches poll, as much as it pains me to type this, is the only preseason poll that "matters." It and the Harris Interactive College Football Poll make up two thirds of the BCS formula -- the six computer polls make up the other third. The Harris Poll doesn't have a preseason poll and first gets published the second week of October. The idea there is that it allowed pollsters to see teams play before they rank them, an idea that more than a few folks have hailed through the years. But the Harris Poll has mostly resembled the AP and Coaches poll since it started.

Preseason rankings are important because they provide an immediate stagger among teams. If you start off No. 1 and win all your games, you are fairly certain to remain there, even if the teams that started 8th and 14th also are undefeated. And, if you start off No. 1 and lose, you likely won't fall as far as a team ranked 14th that loses. That means you can climb back into the picture more easily.

USC's preseason ranking of No. 3 is a pretty solid position, starting with the fact that No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama play each other.

LSU is a worse team without Mathieu. He's a game-changer. Just ask Oregon. But LSU is loaded on defense and in the secondary. The drop-off won't be catastrophic. In fact, I suspect USC losing DE Devon Kennard to injury might prove to be a bigger hit because the Trojans are thin on the D-line and LSU is not in the secondary.

For example, the Trojans defense probably would find it easier to adjust to the loss of T.J. McDonald, perhaps the best safety in the nation, because they are deep at the position, rather than Kennard. I think LSU would have suffered much worse losing, say, QB Zach Mettenberger, who's never thrown a pass for the Tigers, than Mathieu because the void behind Mettenberger is pretty vast.

Chip Kelly from Hot Tub, My office writes: Ted, Who should be Oregon's starting QB?

Ted Miller: OK. You guys win. You wore me down. I will tell you -- and you Hot Tub Chillin' Chip -- who Oregon's 2012 QB should and will be.

Bryan Mariota.

You see how I did that? I used Bryan Bennett's first name and Marcus Mariota's last name and zaniness ensued. That's why I'm the No. 1 ranked blogger inside this Starbucks right now. (Unless Debra the Knitting Blogger comes back for another Frappuccino. Girl can turn a righteous phrase about stitching).

The honest answer -- and, yes, it pains me to type this -- is I have no idea. No one outside of the closed walls of the football program does, and I tend to believe the battle truly is ongoing for both Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. I've seen no more of either than you have. I saw Bennett play well when he replaced Darron Thomas last year against Arizona State and then started at Colorado. I also saw Mariota dramatically outplay Bennett in the spring game. That, our sabermetric-savvy friends would tell you, is too small a sample size to form any conclusions.

My impression, more so than with any other QB competition in the conference, is both are ready to go, ready to play well from the start. Before spring practices, I favored Bennett by a significant margin based on what I'd seen from -- and heard about -- him. After spring practices, I've tended to favor Mariota by a slight margin, based almost entirely on how he rose to the occasion and Bennett seemed to take a step back. That said, I think it's been underrepresented just how much better Mariota's supporting cast was in the spring game.

But, again, these are just superficial impressions. As I've noted before, I thought Nate Costa was going to beat out Darron Thomas before the 2010 season. So if I made a prediction, Chip would read it and do the opposite, just to make sure the Pac-12 blog was forced to again wallow in wrongness.

Gekko Mojo from Memphis writes: Nothing from you on Deontae Cooper's tragic third ACL tear? Really? You cover the medical retirement of a walk-on receiver at Oregon, but not this? Odd.

Ted Miller: I feel terrible about Cooper. Young man can't catch a break.

We had a news story here. We linked local reports here. And Mason Kelly wrote about it here.

It would have been difficult to write much about Cooper from our remove. The sophomore has never played a down for the Huskies and I've never spoken to him.

As for Oregon receiver Justin Hoffman, he was a senior who started six games last year. Here's the short post we did on him.

Further, timing also matters in these matters. Hoffman's retirement was announced on July 20. You could fairly call that a slow news time in college football. Cooper re-injured his knee at the beginning of preseason camp, when there's a lot going on.

Thomas from Charlottesville, Va., writes: Regarding Colorado and Utah, everyone keeps saying they now have a year in the league, so things will be easier for them. But in truth, aren't both teams going to be traveling to venues they have not played in before for every road game? In other words, how much do you think it impacts CU and Utah to still be the new guys since they are going to be in new stadiums for every road game in conference play this season?

Ted Miller: That's a fair point. For a second year, Colorado and Utah's conference road venues will be unfamiliar. That could register more as a negative than as a positive.

That said, I suspect a road game is a road game to most college players. Think of it like this: Most college players are around only four or five years. And most only see action for two or so years, plus or minus. With rotating home-and-home schedules, not to mention three conference misses, the most a vast majority of college player will experience playing in a conference road venue is two times.

For example, Oregon safety John Boyett will be a four-year starter this year. And when the Ducks go to the Coliseum on Nov. 3, it will be only his second time playing there.

There could be something said for support staff, those who organize trips, being unfamiliar with new hotels and new road venues. Or coaches not being familiar with stadiums or visiting locker rooms. But I don't think it's a major issue.

Matthew from Corvegas, Ore., writes: Ted,Am I the ONLY one that realizes the Ducks are not a top 5 (or 10, even) team? I mean, they don't have a QB or a RB. Barner won't be healthy the whole season, that DaT likes to fumble.

Ted Miller: Yep. You are the only one.

Chris from Penticton, British Columbia: I had the pleasure of getting to know the late Bud Riley as he lived his last years in our beautiful area.A fanatical Utah fan, I found a friend in a man who revered the game of college football as much as I did.His story, from a kid in Alabama to high school football coach in the small mining town of Wallace, Idaho....on to University of Idaho, Oregon State and the CFL...was wonderful to listen to. Through my connection to Bud, Mike got me tickets to a 2008 game in Corvallis where #1 USC came to town....one of my most memorable NCAA experiences. Sitting in the section were numerous Oregon State alumni players who asked me to be sure to give their good wishes to Bud when I got home. Rest in peace, Coach. Ted, I am sure you would have loved this guy...with his deep southern accent and matter-of-factness, Coach Riley was a gem. I will truly miss him.

Ted Miller: A nice tribute. I hope Mike has a moment during preseason preparations to check out your kind words.

JP from Salt Lake City writes: Just bought and will read Delillo's Underworld on your recommendation. Would you consider posting your top ten must read books?

Ted Miller: Congrats. Be forewarned: It's a dense, at times difficult book. Here's a really interesting, sports-centric Q&A with DeLillo about "Underworld," particularly the first part, which is a scintillating account of Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World.

It's darn near impossible for me to make a top-10 list. I think it would change daily. And I actually answered a question like this a year ago. Here's what I wrote:
If I were making a reading list, here's a start: White Noise, by Don DeLillo, Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, Light in August, by William Faulkner, The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, The Bushwhacked Piano, by Thomas McGuane, The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John le Carre, A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley, Still Life With Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

See... I included DeLillo's "White Noise," which is far more accessible than "Underworld." I'd also now sub Franzen's "Freedom" for "The Corrections."

That's a lot more than 10, but you guys know I tend to be long-winded.

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