Pac-12: Landry Jones
The series will begin April 4.
Nine of the top quarterbacks in this spring's NFL draft are scheduled to participate:
- Tyler Bray (Tennessee)
- Zac Dysert (Miami, OH)
- Mike Glennon (NC State)
- Landry Jones (Oklahoma)
- EJ Manuel (Florida State)
- Ryan Nassib (Syracuse)
- Geno Smith (West Virginia)
- Tyler Wilson (Arkansas)
Last year, Gruden mentored Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and others, arguably the most successful class of rookie quarterbacks in NFL history.
The series will also include a trio of non-quarterbacks: Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M); South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore; and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
Each prospect will visit Gruden’s office in Tampa, Fla., -- dubbed the Fired Football Coaches Association (FFCA) -- for a film session. Most of the players will also participate in an on-field workout.
Air dates and times for the entire series will be finalized in the coming weeks.
Stanford's Andrew Luck left a year early for the NFL. USC's Matt Barkley returned for his senior season. Baylor's Robert Griffin III bolted. Oklahoma's Landry Jones stayed. Alabama's Trent Richardson moved on. Wisconsin's Montee Ball is still in Madison.
The top six finishers in the Heisman Trophy vote were all underclassmen. The top three left early (Griffin, Luck and Richardson). But the next three came back (Ball, Tyrann Mathieu and Barkley, though Mathieu was given the boot from LSU).
On the defensive side of things, while superstars such as LSU's Morris Claiborne, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox and Alabama's Dont'a Hightower entered the draft early, others, such as LSU's Sam Montgomery, Utah's Star Lotulelei and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, came back.
Bottom line: There's a lot of star power returning to college football in 2012. More, perhaps, than usual. Each player has his own reasons for coming back, though visions of national championships, individual awards and, yes, better NFL draft position certainly danced in their heads.
Read more from Ted Miller by clicking here.
- The Rose Bowl is important to the conference -- including Arizona.
- ASU's Aderious Simmons took an unlikely road to the NFL.
- Make your predictions for how Cal will do in 2012.
- Reflecting on Colorado's first year in the Pac-12 (from a complete athletic department perspective).
- Life after football has been good to Joey Harrington.
- An early preview of the Cal-Oregon State game.
- Looks like Andrew Luck won't be using Jim Irsay's private plane after all.
- UCLA is going to have to trim some scholarships to get down to 85.
- Matt Barkley or Landry Jones in 2013?
- Former Utah receiver Brian Hernandez signs with Washington.
- Steve Sarkisian talks defense when meeting with boosters.
- Washington State picks up another commit for 2013.
Though in alphabetical order, it’s widely assumed that USC quarterback Matt Barkley is the front-runner with all others playing catch-up before the first snap has been taken. Here’s the list.
- Tavon Austin, Sr., AP, West Virginia
- Montee Ball, Sr., RB, Wisconsin
- Matt Barkley, Sr., QB, USC
- Tajh Boyd, Jr., QB, Clemson
- Tyler Bray, Jr., QB, Tennessee
- Knile Davis, Jr., RB, Arkansas
- James Franklin, Jr., QB, Missouri
- Landry Jones, Sr., QB, Oklahoma
- Collin Klein, Sr., QB, Kansas State
- Marcus Lattimore, Jr., RB, South Carolina
- Aaron Murray, Jr., QB, Georgia
- Keith Price, Jr., QB, Washington
- Denard Robinson, Sr., QB, Michigan
- Geno Smith, Sr., QB, West Virginia
- De’Anthony Thomas, So., RB, Oregon
- Sammy Watkins, So, WR, Clemson
- Tyler Wilson, Sr., QB, Arkansas
- Cierre Wood, Sr., RB, Notre Dame
The Pac-12 blog entertained which player from the conference we thought would emerge as the Heisman winner in a Take 2 back in March. Watch lists are always subject to change, and until we actually see some games, it’s only fun speculation at this point.
No question that Barkley is the early leader in the minds of many. Given his statistics last season, the receivers he has around him and the lofty preseason ranking the Trojans are expected to enjoy, he’s looking down on the pack – at least for now.
Thomas is going to have big play after big play this season, which makes him a very strong Heisman candidate. His exploits can be packaged into an explosive highlight reel that is easily digestible for East Coast voters. No one ever gets tired of seeing 85-yard touchdown runs (unless you're safeties chasing Thomas).
Price lacks the national brand at this point, but that could all change in Week 2 in Baton Rouge. A strong showing against LSU is certain to boost his exposure and could catapult him from dark horse contender to major candidate. And then he's got Stanford, Oregon and USC all in the first six games. He could be the leader at the turn ... or slip out of the running all together.
Odds maker Danny Sheridan -- as originally reported with Alabama flavor by Izzy Gould of al.com -- released his 2012 Heisman odds Tuesday and his list includes three Pac-12 candidates in total and one obvious front-runner.
- USC quarterback Matt Barkley tops the list at 5-1 odds.
- Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas checks in at 25-1 odds.
- Washington quarterback Keith Price is the darkhorse at 40-1.
At first glance, Barkley is the obvious choice. He has a very good offensive line protecting him -- including the nation's top center in Khaled Holmes (just once, I'd love to see a center get Heisman love). The running game will come together, but until it does, you might see Barkley pass a little more. And why not? With his receivers he should put up crazy good numbers. A little surprised not to see Robert Woods on this list.
Thomas is going to do what Thomas does -- run really, really fast and score a lot of touchdowns. His chances might be hampered a bit by splitting carries with Kenjon Barner (by the way, shouldn't he be on this list also?). But with the amount of plays Oregon runs per game, that shouldn't be too much of a concern. Because Thomas is a speed guy, he's also going to have to get over the national stigma that he can't run between tackles. LaMichael James had the same label, but was quite good this past season at going up the middle.
Price is the wild card of this bunch. Last year, he spent the season with a lot of nagging injuries that forced him to be a better pocket passer. But when healthy -- as we saw in the Alamo Bowl with his three rushing touchdowns -- he can be just as explosive with his legs. Next season he should be a true dual threat and a player that should warrant serious consideration.
Other players picked by Sheridan include:
- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball: 6-1
- Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones: 7-1
- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson: 7-1
- West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith: 10-1
- Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: 12-1
- Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson: 15-1
- Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist: 25-1
- Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead: 25-1
- Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins: 25-1
- Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron: 30-1
But as we've seen in recent years, there is always an out-of-nowhere candidate that was off the radar. Just looking at this awfully impressive lineup, however, it seems like it's going to be tough for an unknown to wiggle his way in.
We wrote last night it was a "terrible," decision, and based on things at present, it would be difficult to argue that it was a good decision.
Bottom line: All it takes is for one general manager to fall in love with him. Perhaps there are coaches out there who want to run more shotgun, spread-option elements.
Further, we don't know Thomas' situation. There could be personal reasons he's taking this seemingly premature leap of faith in himself, though he didn't provide any such insights to ESPN's Joe Schad during a phone conversation Saturday night. He already has his degree, so that certainly satisfies one potential tweak from observers.
A couple of you reasonably commented in the mailbag that Thomas probably wouldn't solve his issues -- mechanical or otherwise -- during his senior year if he hadn't already, therefore his stock likely won't get much higher.
I'd add that the recent decisions of USC QB Matt Barkley and Oklahoma QB Landry Jones to return for their senior seasons makes this QB draft class fairly thin after Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III. This likely was also noted by Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, who surprised some with his decision to leave early.
You tick off the top 10 QBs and things start to get thin pretty early. Considering 12 QBs were drafted last spring, Thomas certainly has a solid shot to be a late-round pick.
But Thomas would have benefited from coming back, and I strongly feel he would have improved his draft status.
For one, yes, he could improve his accuracy and mechanics. While some insist you can't improve accuracy after a certain point, keep in mind accuracy is a two-way street. Do you think Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden's 72 percent completion percentage would have been any lower if he didn't have wide receiver Justin Blackmon? Yes, you do. The Ducks should be better and deeper at receiver next season -- assuming the talented redshirt freshmen come through -- and that might have helped Thomas boost his 62 percent completion percentage.
Further, completing a body of work matters. If the Ducks won another BCS bowl next January, and Thomas improved to, say, 36-4 as a starter -- and maybe completed 66 percent of his passes in 2012 -- the evidence on the "winner" side counterbalancing the "he's a spread-option guy with questionable mechanics" would have been much heavier. Three years of success playing quarterback in the Pac-12 would have been far more impressive than two years.
Schad reported that Thomas signed with agent Drew Rosenhaus, which means the deal is done. There won't be any backtracking.
But it also means that one of the top agents in the NFL believes in Thomas. So maybe what will end up being "terrible" about this decision will be our initial reaction?
Then there is this from the Arizona Republic: "Sources indicate that Osweiler is indeed leaning toward that direction, but as of Thursday night, Osweiler's father, John, said in a text message that his son is 'going over some last-minute details' and that the family hopes to announce a decision Friday."
There has been no announcement yet of a news conference.
If true, this would be a bit of a surprise. The 6-foot-8 Osweiler has started 15 games and was the first Sun Devils quarterback to eclipse 4,000 yards passing, but it seems like a long shot for him to get selected before the third round. Another year of seasoning could have made him a first-day or even first round pick.
Who would have thought that USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones would all return for their senior seasons while Osweiler wouldn't?
And, if true, it would be a big blow for new coach Todd Graham, who would have failed a major recruiting job: Making his starting quarterback and top locker room leader want to stay.
If Osweiler bolts, the frontrunner to win the job would be sophomore Mike Bercovici, who has a big arm but little experience. He was 2-of-3 for 15 yards in 2011.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is No. 1 and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson is No. 2.
McCrystal has only missed predicting the Heisman Trophy once since he started his system, so what we can guess is that Robinson shortly will tumble on this list.
Iron-clad guarantee: Robinson won't win the Heisman Trophy unless his passing numbers improved dramatically.
Robinson is the nation's 39th-rated passer. He's completed just 53 percent of his passes and thrown six interceptions with just eight touchdowns against a schedule that's featured no ranked teams.
Robinson is fourth in the nation in rushing with 139 yards per game -- he's as exciting a player as there is out there -- but he's still a quarterback, and if his passing numbers are mediocre, he won't win the Heisman. Not this year, with Luck, Wilson, Boise State's Kellen Moore and Baylor's Robert Griffin putting up eye-popping stats.
Oregon fans are probably going: What about LaMichael James?
James leads the nation in: 1. Rushing (153.3 yards per game); 2. All-Purpose yards (226.8); 3. Punt returns (22.8 yards per return).
Yes, no one has noticed.
But they will if he keeps rolling. For one, James will be on ESPN on Thursday night against California. If he puts up big numbers against a quality defense, he'll make a statement.
Then he needs to continue piling up numbers -- and the Ducks piling up wins -- in advance of the red-letter date with Stanford on Nov. 12. If he puts on a big show against the Cardinal -- as he did last year -- and upstages Luck, he'll be well on his way to getting an invitation to New York again.
Oregon fans also want to root for this: Boise State to stumble, LSU to beat Alabama (and stuff running back Trent Richardson) and for Baylor to start losing. This weekend it would help James if Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones plays poorly in a loss to Texas.
In other words, we've got lots of football ahead for Heisman candidates to rise and fall.
Oregon at Stanford is the game of the year, and it will have national title implications: Stanford's visit to Oregon in 2010 turned out to be the Pac-10 (national?) game of the year. The winner played for the national title, the loser settled for another BCS bowl. Both finished ranked in the top four. It could be more of the same on Nov. 12 when the Ducks head to Palo Alto, particularly if Oregon is able to slip LSU in the opener, which likely would elevate it to No. 1.
The Pac-12 is going to win the Heisman Trophy: While it's not hard to make arguments for Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Alabama's Trent Richardson or Boise State's Kellen Moore, here's a guess that the winner of the aforementioned Oregon-Stanford game will feature the Heisman Trophy winner, either Andrew Luck or LaMichael James.
A Pac-12 coach is going to get fired: Last year, the Pac-10 blog correctly predicted no coach would get fired. It won't do the same in the first year of the Pac-12. UCLA's Rick Neuheisel and Washington State's Paul Wulff are on the hottest seats, but things aren't exactly chill for Arizona State's Dennis Erickson or even California's Jeff Tedford. Someone will go down.
Watch out for UCLA, California or Washington: One of these three teams is going to win nine games and exceed preseason expectations. The common denominator among the three? Questions at quarterback. At least one of the three is going to get a pleasant answer at the position. Many are picking the Huskies as the most likely dark horse, but don't sleep on the Bruins. When the pressure is on, Neuheisel seems to come through.
Neither Colorado nor Utah is going to flop in Year 1: The two new members are an interesting contrast. Colorado is a down program moving into the Pac-12 from another AQ conference, while Utah is an up power moving into the Pac-12 from a non-AQ conference. Neither will be an easy mark. Expect both to be highly competitive this season, with Utah a legitimate threat to win the South Division. Sure, Colorado got humiliated last season at California. But the Buffs welcome back 18 starters from a team that beat Georgia and Kansas State and won two of its final three games. While some wonder if the Utes will be able to handle the grind of the Pac-12 slate, they physically match up well in the conference in a key area: line play on both sides of the ball.
You can see his four All-American teams here.
Steele's list includes 17 Pac-12 players, which ranks third behind the SEC (26) and ACC (18).
Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon each have three first-team selections, while Alabama had more players total (7) than any other school, followed by Florida St (6) and Stanford (5). Oklahoma, South Carolina, Miami, Georgia, and Notre Dame each have four players.
You might notice that Stanford's Andrew Luck is the second-team quarterback. You might have the same reaction to that as I did.
Kellye and Kevin Jones of Artesia, N.M, would pick Luck ahead of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones for their team, and they're Jones' parents.
Jones did put up some eye-popping numbers last season -- and his team is a national title contender in 2011 -- but he was far less efficient than Luck.
Here are the Pac-12 players on the team.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
OG Ryan Miller, Colorado
LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
CB Cliff Harris, Oregon
PR Cliff Harris, Oregon
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
WR Juron Criner, Arizona
OG David DeCastro, Stanford
OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford
S Delano Howell, Stanford
WR Robert Woods, USC
T.J. McDonald, USC
P Bryan Anger, California
RB Chris Polk, Washington
WR Jermaine Kearse, Washington
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
P Jeff Locke, UCLA
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To the notes.
Kevin from Vancouver, Wash., writes: I am still confused about USC's recruiting class.. they have 9 early enrollees which leaves 15 spots.. yet they have 26 commits and are looking to get more. What is the deal here?.. Are they not going with the 15 limit while in the appeal process?
Ted Miller: You're confused about USC's recruiting class? Join the crowd. You should be confused because it's confusing.
USC beat writer Michael Lev told me Thursday that the situation was "murky." I thought that was good term for it. Lev does a good job of explaining that murk here under the heading "Scholarship Situation."
First, when you see that USC has 26 commitments, that's a bit misleading. Nine players already have signed, are in enrolled in school and will count toward the 2010 class. So USC has 17 commitments.
But aren't the Trojans only supposed to have 15 spots, per NCAA sanctions (a typical 25-man class reduced by 10 over each of the next three years for a total reduction of 30 scholarships)?
Yes. But USC's appeal of NCAA sanctions will be heard Saturday and a final decision is certain to be rendered only after national signing day on Feb. 2. This is the source of the murk.
As Lev points out, USC could go ahead and sign a full class of 25, which would give it a full roster of 85 scholarship players, which certainly makes the program healthier in the short term (it was well below that number this year). But that would merely delay scholarship reductions a year -- whatever they end up being -- so the 2012, 2013 and 2014 classes would be hit.
But USC also could be shooting for 20 signees, which is the number it hopes to end up getting from the NCAA after its appeal (a reduction of 15 total scholarships over three years). If the NCAA plays ball, that means the Trojans would end up with a very strong class and would be one third of the way through their scholarship punishment.
But if the Trojans sign 20 and end up still having to give up 30 scholarships over the next three years? Again the murk. Bryan Fischer provides this scenario:
If USC wins the appeal, they would play in a bowl game after the 2011 season and be able to sign 20 recruits to letters of intent as part of the 2012 class. If they lose? Although details are sketchy, a source close to the situation but unable to speak publicly about the matter, said that the scholarships USC uses above the original limit of 15 will be taken away in the class of 2014. If they go over by five for the class of 2011 for example, they’ll have five less scholarships in 2014.
So USC would still have to give those scholarships back. Probably.
In other words, it's unlikely we'll have clarity after signing day when the Trojans sign however-many guys they sign. We'll have to wait until the Appeals Committee provides its final ruling in four to six weeks, and even then there might be a few issues to flesh out between USC and the NCAA.
Jeff from Eugene writes: One of the biggest reasons, if not THE biggest reason, for the Ducks making it to the BCS title game was the play of Darron Thomas. I've always been a big believer that a first year quarterback has little to no chance of leading his team to an undefeated season, despite less talented QB's (Matt Flynn cough) proving otherwise. How impressed are you that a first year starter (albeit one who's been in the system a couple years) was able to lead his team to the championship game, and what kind of message does that send to future Oregon quarterbacks Bryan Bennett and Jerrard Randall about playing time and possibly not being able to start until your junior or senior season?
Ted Miller: The basic message is that Chip Kelly and his coaching staff can get a guy with talent ready to play. And that Thomas was mentally tough enough to handle a big stage that kept getting bigger and bigger. Did anyone expect Thomas to rank 17th in the nation in passing efficiency as a first-year sophomore starter with 30 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions.
No. Not even Kelly and his coaching staff.
But young quarterbacks seem to be playing better than ever these days. If you look here, you'll see that four sophomores and two freshman ranked among the top-25 in passing efficiency this year, though some like Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oklahoma's Landry Jones had extensive starting experience.
As for Bennett and Randall: Are you asking if they should be concerned that Thomas is only a junior and therefore could make them sit for two more seasons? Well, that's just the reality of college football. Nothing you can do about that. If those guys want to be Oregon quarterback, they'll wait. If immediate playing time is the only priority, they might leave.
But my guess is sticking around might yield more rewards.
Jacob from Prescott, Ariz., writes: I was curious as to who you thought would be the best candidate to start for ASU this coming year?
Ted Miller: Based on how things finished up last year, you'd think Brock Osweiler has a slight lead over Steven Threet heading into the offseason. While their efficiency numbers were almost identical, Threet threw too many interceptions -- 16 in 11 games. And Osweiler beat Arizona, which gets a quarterback lots of mileage in Tempe.
Still, you'd expect there to be a legitimate, hotly contested competition (again) this spring. Considering the Sun Devils are the Pac-12 South favorites and likely top-25 team, you'd expect it to be one of the redletter position battles in the conference.
Ty from Seattle writes: With the news that Texas Tech is dropping TCU from there schedule next year (wussies) do you see any chance of a Pac-12 (still getting used to 12!) team adding the frogs to their resume? I see Cal and Oregon still have openings on 9/17... thoughts?
Ted Miller: Oregon already has LSU and Nevada. To me, that says the Ducks need a patsy, not TCU.
The Cal possibility is intriguing. It seems like a good time to play TCU -- the roster takes a bunch of hits after consecutive elite seasons -- but the Horned Frogs would bring credibility to the Bears' nonconference schedule, which already includes always worrisome Fresno State.
My guess is Cal will fill one of its schedule voids with a solid opponent, and TCU would fit the bill. The third spot should go to a directional or FCS school.
Eric from New York writes: How would you rate John Embree's newly finalized coaching staff at Colorado? It's just been reported that the final piece, Rip Scherer (QB Coach for the Carolina Panthers) has come on board.Full Staff: OC - Eric Bienemy DC - Greg Brown OL - Steve Marshall QB - Rip Scherer WR - Bobby Kennedy TE/ST - JD BrookhartI LB - Brian Cabral DT - Mike Tuiasosopo OLB/DE - Kanavis McGhee S&C - Malcolm Blacken (Washington Redskins).
Ted Miller: On paper, it looks like a good staff. Lots of Pac-10 and NFL experience. Plenty of proven guys.
I've always thought that one of the first questions athletic directors interviewing coaching candidates should ask is: "Tell me about your coaching staff." My guess is one of Embree's selling points was his ability to put together this staff.
Now lets see how they work together with the talent they've inherited. And how they recruit.
Justin from Butte, Mont., writes: it's fairly obvious that you caught the CU-Cal game last year. It was an ugly game that started really bad and only got worse. Keep in mind that Colorado outperformed UCLA and Washington State (a team that's given credit for being on the rise) in a year where the head coach was fired mid-season. They were one game away from being bowl eligible in the very same season. There were definitely bad games, but CU also beat Georgia and Kansas State. You can think poorly of them now and focus squarely on the Cal game, but I think you'll be surprised this coming season. The new coaching staff can only improve what the team was under Hawkins. Throw in the small class of recruits with the vast majority of the team coming back and CU is going to be a contender.
Ted Miller: Loving the Colorado questions. Welcome!
Yes, that 52-7 loss at California damaged my perception of Colorado, perhaps more than it should have. And you make a good point about the rest of the Buffaloes season. They finished 5-7 with two losses by less than a TD, as well as that epic meltdown against Kansas.
I think Colorado will be competitive immediately, but I don't know if the Buffaloes will contend in the top-half of the South in 2011. They have a new coach, new staff, a questionable defense and a bit of uncertainty at quarterback.
But the move to the Pac-12 will help the Buffaloes get back into the mix nationally. The bump in Southern California recruiting will be a huge benefit.
Mike from New Orleans writes: You missed one - Jordan Gross of Utah made the pro-bowl, so the Pac-12 has 13 players.
Ted Miller: Correct. And if we go Pac-12, I also left out former Colorado star offensive lineman Andre Gurode. So that's 14.
Scott from Rochester, Minn., writes: Never ceases to amaze me how quickly you sell out the conference you are supposed to cover. Why don't you just go back to AL? You might have said some positive things but as usual you use the first negative to [expletive deleted] on the conference. You know when the discussion about SEC being #1 really ends? When there is a tournament, when in a time warp 03,06,07,08 they play USC for the title. You really are an [expletive deleted], I cant believe they let you write for this blog.
Ted Miller: My job, as you write, is to cover the conference. Not to shill for it.
Credibility is important. I have taken on the "SEC rules" orthodoxy a number of times for one reason: I honestly thought it was legitimate to challenge it; not because I was trying to spin a position in support of the Pac-10 that wasn't valid. I get plenty of SEC folks accusing me of being a Pac-10 homer. The fact that I receive angry missives on a regular basis from both ends is probably a good thing. I'm not pandering to anyone.
After the SEC champ beat the Pac-10 champ for the national championship, and the SEC ended up with six ranked teams versus two for the Pac-10, my perception of the credible position was the SEC ruled 2010.
That's a position held by just about everyone else, by the way, not just SEC adherents.
As for saying "positive things" about the conference, well, Scott, you just didn't read the article.
Of course, it was zero degrees in Rochester, Minn., on Friday. Perhaps your frustration is due to your missing the fair weather of the West Coast?
Let's call this: "The way too early and probably too optimistic Pac-10 bowl projection."
Too optimistic? Well, we've got two conference teams in BCS bowl games AND eight teams earning bowl berths. That's a huge long shot. Not to mention that a potential bowl ban for USC when the NCAA makes its ruling public -- this week, perhaps? -- isn't factored in.
Ah, but what the heck!
See a list of the bowl games here.
Dallas Football Classic
Arizona vs. Iowa State : The Kraft Fight Hunger bowl picks UCLA over Arizona, but Dallas is a decent place to mend hurt feelings.
[Note: This one was changed from Arizona against SMU in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl because that bowl has a tie-in with the Sun Belt Champion. My bad.]
Kraft Fight Hunger
UCLA vs. Nevada: The Bruins go 6-6 against a brutal schedule, with every game decided by a touchdown or less. The big news, however, is the series of round-off back handsprings coach Rick Neuheisel does down winding Lombard Street when linebacker Akeem Ayers, defensive end Datone Jones and safety Rahim Moore each announce they will return for the senior season.
MAACO Las Vegas
Washington vs. TCU: Jake Locker vs. a Gary Patterson defense. Great fun. Interesting twist, however, is how thrilled the Huskies are to be in Vegas, while the Horned Frogs, ranked 10th, are grumpy because they failed to reach grander visions.
Brut Sun Bowl
California vs. Clemson: A nice matchup of two ranked teams as second-team All-Pac-10 quarterback Kevin Riley tries to cap his up-and-down-and-up career with a win.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday
Stanford vs. Missouri: An intriguing matchup of top-20 teams, and a particularly strong matchup of quarterbacks with Stanford's Andrew Luck and the Tigers Blaine Gabbert.
Oregon State vs. Oklahoma: Most see this showdown as David vs. Goliath. Curiously, not the Beavers. Game showcases a pair of talented sophomore quarterbacks in Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Oregon State's Ryan Katz.
Oregon vs. Nebraska: Ducks lose tiebreaker to USC for the Rose Bowl berth but end up earning an at-large selection here against the Cornhuskers. Oregon starting quarterback [inaudible] leads the Pac-10's highest scoring offense against one of the nation's best defenses.
Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi
USC vs. Iowa: Ohio State plays Texas for the national title, but the Rose Bowl still maintains the traditional Pac-10-Big Ten matchup. During bowl preparations, Lane Kiffin shoots down rumors he's headed to the NFL and becomes media darling.
Up first: Stanford (Which leads things off because it starts spring practice Monday afternoon).
Strong: The passing game.
Why it's a strength: Stanford welcomes back sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, who's apparently good-to-go this spring after finger surgery knocked him out of the Sun Bowl, and his top three receivers: Ryan Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener. Luck led the conference in passing efficiency in 2009 and he'll be the offensive point man with the graduation of running back Toby Gerhart. The speedy Owusu, in particular, could be set for a breakthrough.
Weak: The secondary.
Why it's a weakness: The good news is three of four starters and much of the depth is back in the secondary. The bad news is that secondary surrendered 23 touchdown passes in 2009 -- tied for most in the conference -- and ranked eighth overall in the conference against the pass. Oklahoma's Landry Jones passed for 418 yards and three scores in the Sun Bowl. The Cardinal need to upgrade their athleticism in the back half, which might mean the three returning starters shouldn't feel safe. What might help: Stanford only recorded 21 sacks last year. Expect defensive ends Thomas Keiser, a junior, and sophomore Chase Thomas, who was rushed into service when Erik Lorig got hurt, to take another step forward this spring, which should make life less stressful for the defensive backs.
How the game was won: Oklahoma dominated the second half to overcome a seven-point halftime deficit. While Stanford had almost no passing game with Tavita Pritchard stepping in for the injured Andrew Luck, the Sooners got 418 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Landry Jones.
Turning point: The third quarter. Oklahoma scored two touchdowns in the third to go ahead for good while Stanford managed to gain just 32 total yards.
Stat of the game: Oklahoma owned third down. Stanford was 1 for 12 on third down, while the Sooners were 10 for 20.
What it means: Probably not a whole lot in the big picture for Stanford, which is clearly on the rise under coach Jim Harbaugh. There's also, of course, a ready-made excuse due to the absense of Luck, though Sooners fans probably can talk a bit about injuries to quarterbacks and other stars. As far as the bigger picture for the conference, it hurts the image that another ranked Pac-10 team was decisively controlled in a bowl game -- see a 477 to 262 Oklahoma advantage in total yardage. Stanford's first order of business going forward is improving its defense, which struggled all season.
WHO TO WATCH: It will be a game-time decision on whether Stanford's redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck (broken finger) will be able to play, but the odds are the ball will be in senior backup Tavita Pritchard's hands. Pritchard isn't new to this. He has started 19 games. But in those starts he threw 22 interceptions with just 15 touchdowns. With Pritchard behind center, Oklahoma will dare him to beat them in the downfield passing game. The Sooners will crowd the line of scrimmage and use one of the nation's best run defenses to slow down All-American running back Toby Gerhart. It's Pritchard's job to make them pay for that tactic.
WHAT TO WATCH: Stanford's defense has been mediocre-to-bad this year. The Cardinal have lost three starters due to injury and they lack overall athleticism, particularly in the secondary. Opponents are completing 63 percent of their passes and have thrown for 20 touchdowns. The Sooners are loaded at receiver, will be far healthier on the offensive line after the layoff and have a good running game to keep a defense leaning forward. Although Sooners quarterback Landry Jones hasn't played well away from home this season, the Sun Bowl won't feel like an away game. The Cardinal will need to step up big on defense.
WHY WATCH: This almost certainly will be the last chance to see Gerhart in a Stanford jersey. That's reason enough because the Heisman Trophy runner-up will face a great matchup with a physical Sooners defense that doesn't want to get run over like most of Gerhart's other opponents. Also, there's the mystery of whether Luck might actually pull a Willis Reed and try to play with a surgically repaired index finger he broke in the season finale against Notre Dame.
PREDICTION: The key all year for Stanford has been Luck. Gerhart is a great running back. But he was great last year. With Luck behind center, however, it forced defenses to respect the pass, and he burned teams -- particularly Oregon -- downfield when they tried to gang up on Gerhart. With Luck, Stanford's physical offensive line would be a great matchup with the Oklahoma D-front. But the Sooners will be able to bring an extra defender into the box and outnumber the Cardinal. Can Pritchard make them pay? Guess here is he will a couple of times. But not enough for the Cardinal to outscore the Sooners, who should have their way with the Stanford D. So the call here is Oklahoma 30, Stanford 21.