Pac-12: Matt Leinart

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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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.

Kiffin's decisions are failing USC

September, 9, 2013
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Lane KiffinRichard Mackson/US PresswireBy maintaining play-calling duties, Lane Kiffin has put himself in the crosshairs.
In the spring of 2003, Pete Carroll decided that Matt Leinart should be named USC's starting quarterback over Matt Cassel. In the spring of 2008, he decided that Mark Sanchez should be named the Trojans' starter over Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp.

While Carroll's dynastic run at USC was notoriously about non-stop competition, he also understood team dynamics. He believed that it was important to name a starting quarterback as soon as possible. When he saw separation, he believed a starter should be "anointed." And, yes, that was the term he used.

"Part of the reason for naming [Sanchez] is to see [leadership] come out," Carroll told me in 2008. "He wasn't able to show it. He hadn't been anointed yet."

That formal anointing allowed the quarterback to gain and then demonstrate confidence. He became the offensive leader.

In the spring of 2011, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator, leaned on this lesson when he opted to name Keith Price his starter over Nick Montana.

In all three cases, a coach made a decision and it turned out to be the right one. That is what good coaches do. They use their wisdom and intuition to make decisions that help their football team reach its potential.

At a place like USC, "reach its potential," means winning and winning big. And that is -- critically -- where USC coach Lane Kiffin, who also coached under Carroll, has fallen short. He has made decisions and they have turned out to be the wrong ones. Those wrong decisions now have him riding an 8-7 record since his team started the 2012 season ranked No. 1.

When judging Kiffin, that is what matters: The concrete decisions he makes and the real-world results of those decisions. It's not about folks who have never talked to him one-on-one judging his personality or character. It's not about the perception that he's smug or hasn't paid his coaching dues. Forget perception and personality. It's about results.

Two games into the 2013 season, after a miserably disappointing 2012 campaign, those results have been terrible, at least in the specific areas that Kiffin oversees: offense and quarterbacks. Though Clay Helton is the titular quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Kiffin's decision -- another bad one -- to retain play-calling duties this fall makes him responsible entirely for the results on offense.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Chris Williams/Icon SMICody Kessler and the USC offense were brought to their knees by Washington State.
Those results? The Trojans' longest pass play this year is 19 yards. They passed for only 54 yards -- 2.6 yards per completion -- in the 10-7 loss Saturday to Washington State, which yielded 263 yards passing per game last year. Auburn, which is using a former defensive back as its quarterback, passed for 99 yards in a win over the Cougars the week before. USC is ranked 112th in the nation in passing offense, despite having the nation's best receiver in Marqise Lee, the extremely talented Nelson Agholor and two future NFL tight ends in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.

Of course, a defense lawyer pleading Kiffin's case could try to change the narrative. He could say USC doesn't have a Leinart, Sanchez or even a Price on its roster. He could say the QB competition was too close to call -- to anoint -- at the end of spring practices. He could say Kiffin should be able to call plays because it's his team, as Carroll called plays on defense and Sarkisian calls his offensive plays. He could say USC is leading with its stout defense. He could say NCAA sanctions are hurting Kiffin's offense.

He could say the season is far from over, and that would be unquestionably true.

The easy and decisive counter to all that is to wheel in a TV and turn on a replay of the loss to Washington State. To use a Kiffin phrase, "It is what it is." And that is horrific. If the prosecutor wanted to pile on, he'd then make it a double-feature with the Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.

Yet, it's also easy to counter each defense argument.

QB talent? Max Wittek was No. 3 and Cody Kessler was No. 29 in the ESPN.com ranking of QB recruits in 2011. True freshman Max Browne was the No. 2 QB in the 2013 class. Young QBs across the country are putting up big numbers, most of whom were lower rated than these guys.

Competition too close to call? There wasn't an observer during spring practices who didn't believe Kessler had outplayed Wittek.

Call his own plays because it's his team? As the head coach, it's his job to judge performance objectively. By any measure, USC's offensive playcaller in 2012 failed at his job. He also certainly failed through two games this season.

Leading with a stout defense? Well, take a look at the scoreboard. That stout defense needed more help if winning remains the goal.

NCAA sanctions? Really? You'd use that argument after losing at home to a team that has averaged 9.8 losses per season over the past five years?

Kiffin's chief problem in 2012 was getting distracted by little things. He seemed consumed with gimmicks and gamesmanship. He hasn't seemed to grasp the fundamental fact of coaching USC: If superior players execute well, they win just about every time.

USC still has superior players. While that advantage might not be as decisive these days when matched with Oregon and Stanford, or even a rising UCLA, it certainly is when standing opposite Washington State.

Kiffin made a pair of decisions entering the 2013 season: 1. He would retain play-calling duties; 2. He would play two quarterbacks. After two games, those decisions are abject failures by even charitable measures.

Based on the "Fire Kiffin" chants in the Coliseum as the clock wound down last weekend, more than a few folks are done with charitable measures.
You may have noticed this story Monday from Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN Stats & Info. It's a nice breakdown of how the 2013 class of quarterbacks across college football might be one of the best ever. Kraemer offers five reasons why:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a little too early to start speculating about who is going to go and who is going to stay. But based on what we've seen from this crop in the past nine months, it's possible the 2013 class will be right up there in the conversation as one of the best collection of quarterbacks ever in the league.
Say what you want about the flagging reputations of former USC quarterbacks, but at least they keep things interesting.

One of the big questions for the 2013 NFL draft this week is the fate of Matt Barkley. Will he still get picked in the first round or will his stock continue to tumble?

Barkley seemed to -- finally? -- reveal some frustrations this week in a series of interviews in which he questioned coach Lane Kiffin's play-calling in 2012.

See here. And here.

But he wasn't the only former Trojan making news.

Mark Sanchez spoke up about the New York Jets acquiring Tim Tebow last year, and the media circus that the organization seemed to embrace. That, of course, created a new, if more modulated, media circus.

That wasn't the oddest bit of "news."

Former USC quarterback Mitch Mustain, who backed up Sanchez and Barkley after transferring from Arkansas, is the subject of a new documentary. It's narrated by former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, which adds to a slightly strange texture in itself.

What's it about? Well, it's called "The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain," which strikes me as a bit melodramatic. Mustain, who had an undeniably live arm, had one problem: His ability to select football programs.

When Mustain decided to leave Arkansas, where he was mismatched with head coach Houston Nutt, he could have become the starter for about 100 or so teams. But he chose USC, which simply had better quarterbacks on hand. End of story, at least on the USC end.

The Arkansas stuff, however, is fairly rich.

Meanwhile, Matt Leinart is a free agent, Carson Palmer signed with Arizona -- perhaps to be closer to the Pac-12 blog -- Matt Cassel is with the Minnesota Vikings, Aaron Corp is on the Buffalo Bills roster and John David Booty is out of the league.

Not many schools can list so many NFL QBs, but that operates as a negative when the success rate is so low.

The cumulative affect of all this mediocrity and odd drama -- fair or unfair -- is freight for Barkley.

His draft stock is not just about a disappointing season and over-heated questions about his arm strength, which is certainly NFL-adequate. It's guilt by association: USC QBs and their recent history in the NFL is pretty lousy.

USC's QB past shouldn't mean that much. Barkley should be evaluated, positively or negatively, on what he has done, who he is and his potential. But that dubious lineage will make more than a few NFL GMs skittish.

But all it takes is for Barkley to end up back in the first round. We shall see.

Top performances 2012: Matt Barkley

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
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We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Efficiency expert

Who & against whom: Matt Barkley broke a number of Pac-12 records when USC whipped Colorado 50-6.

The numbers: Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions against the Buffs.

A closer look: While USC and Barkley didn't live up to preseason hype, they did make beautiful music together a number of times. Sure, this performance came against an overmatched Buffaloes defense. But if you watched the game, you know it was simply masterful quarterback play. Barkley's 319.16 pass efficiency rating for the game broke the Pac-12/10/8 record set by UCLA's Drew Olson in 2005. His 95 percent completion percentage broke former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel's conference record for completion percentage in a game with at least 20 passes. Further, he became the all-time Pac-12 leader in TD passes, eclipsing former Trojan Matt Leinart. In fact, Barkley would finish the season with 116 career touchdowns, 17 more than Leinart. Barkley threw four of his TD passes to receiver Robert Woods, covering 39, 29, 17 and 3 yards. The other two went to receiver Marqise Lee for 55 yards and tight end Xavier Grimble for 8. Oh, and Barkley didn't even play in the fourth quarter.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
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What did we learn in Week 8? Read on.

Oregon passes its road "test": Arizona State was supposed to provide Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota a tough road test -- good team, tough venue. Nope. The game was over at halftime, when it was 43-7. The Ducks pulled Mariota and many of their starters in the second half and coasted home, but they made their statement. While some have pulled out the "Arizona State lost to Missouri" card, the Ducks' dominance was notable. They will host to Colorado on Saturday. Then ... drum roll, please ... they'll visit USC.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Kelley L Cox/US PRESSWIREStepfan Taylor rushed for 189 yards on 28 carries as Stanford beat Cal in the 115th Big Game.
Stanford can win on the road: The Cardinal don't have to be great on offense. Sure, a little more efficiency would be nice, but with the way the defense has performed in road games this year, the Cardinal shouldn't have to put up 35 points to win games. Saturday against Cal, they did exactly what they needed to do. They got touchdown passes from Josh Nunes and Kevin Hogan. They got a career-high 189 rushing yards and a touchdown from Stepfan Taylor. All three touchdowns came in the first half and with a 21-3 lead, so they could just grind with the running game and let the defense do what it does best.

Arizona State isn't ready for prime time just yet: Before the Oregon game, some Sun Devils fans were trying to script an epic season. Such thinking surely ended after the Oregon visit. New coach Todd Graham has done a nice job over the first half of the season, recreating the program's culture. But there's a lack of top-to-bottom talent and, most important, depth that the Ducks exposed. Not exposed in the sense that this isn't a bowl team. But exposed in the sense that this team isn't yet ready to compete for BCS bowl games.

Yes, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods are still pretty good: USC's passing attacked, maligned by some -- who, us? -- this week was dominant against Colorado. Sure, it was just Colorado, but quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods clearly brought their A-game on their way to a record-setting night. Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. He needed three to match the Pac-12 career touchdown pass record set by Matt Leinart. He now has 102 for his career. Woods caught eight passes for 132 yards and four touchdowns. He broke Dwayne Jarrett’s school record for catches in a career. Woods now has 220 career receptions.

Cal, Tedford on the brink: At 3-5, Cal needs to go 3-1 over the final third of the season to become bowl-eligible. Those four games include Oregon and a visit to Oregon State. It won't be easy, to say the least. And a losing record could make coach Jeff Tedford's position untenable. The worst thing about being a coach on the hot seat is trying to keep things together in the locker room. At this point, the Bears players need to look in the mirror. Are they willing to dig deep and fight for their coach? Or will they wave a white flag and join the gossiping about potential future scenarios?

Arizona might be better than you think: Arizona whipped Washington 52-17. It has wins over 7-1 Toledo, which just beat nationally ranked Cincinnati, and 4-2 Oklahoma State, and its losses are to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford, which are a combined 18-2. The Wildcats can run and throw, and the defense has, at least, proved opportunistic. USC visits on Saturday, and it shouldn't take this trip lightly. The Territorial Cup in Tucson on Nov. 23 should be fairly interesting, other than the fact that the Wildcats and Arizona State love each other so much. Figures that game will have bowl implications for both.

Beavers just win, baby: Utah, with a struggling offense and a true freshman quarterback, outgained Oregon State 307 yards to 226. But the Beavers won the turnover battle 4-0, and that's why Oregon State improved to 6-0 for the first time since the Renaissance (or something like that). That and their opportunism. The defense stepped up, and the offense produced three short rushing touchdowns from Storm Woods. It wasn't pretty, but 6-0 sure is.

Did you know? Pac-12 week 7

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • California leads its series with Washington State 43-25-5 and has won seven in a row in the series, including a 30-7 win in Berkeley last year.
  • When playing in Pullman, the Cougars hold a 12-7-1 advantage, but the Golden Bears have won the past three meetings in Pullman and seven straight overall.
  • Cougs coach Mike Leach has faced Cal before, posting a 45-31 win over the No. 4 Golden Bears in the 2004 Holiday Bowl.
  • WSU WR Marquess Wilson's 2,947 career receiving yards second highest total in the country among active receivers, only behind Duke’s Conner Vernon at 3,230.
  • Oregon State's series with BYU is tied 5-5, but BYU has won the last two, including 38-28 last year.
  • Oregon State is 4-0 to start a season for the first time since 2002, when the Beavers lost their fifth game at USC and went on to finish 8-5.
  • Oregon State leads FBS in third-down conversion defense, allowing 20.4 percent to be converted into a first down. Aiding the Beavers is that 28 of their opponents’ 49 third-down attempts have come from seven or more yards away.
  • This is the 16th straight year that Stanford and Notre Dame have met. Stanford has won the last three meetings, which is the Cardinal’s longest streak in the series. Two years ago, Stanford won 37-14 in South Bend. That is the Cardinal’s largest win over Notre Dame.
  • Stanford will try to be the first team to beat both USC and Notre Dame in four consecutive seasons.
  • After being one of the most efficient offenses with Andrew Luck under center, Stanford has taken a step back this season. Stanford already has 18 “3 & outs” this season, after leading FBS with 14 last season. The Cardinal have gone “3 & out” at least twice in every game this year, including seven times in their loss at Washington.
  • Since the start of last season, Stanford has targeted its tight ends on 40.6 percent of its pass attempts, the highest percentage in FBS. Stanford led the nation in yards (1,638), touchdowns (25) and red zone touchdowns (17) by tight ends last season. This season, the Cardinal have targeted their tight ends at even higher rate, but have not been as efficient. But QB Josh Nunes may be finding a rhythm with his tight ends after Stanford’s victory over Arizona. In that game, Nunes targeted his tight ends on 61.8 percent of his pass attempts, completing a season-high 11 passes, including nine first downs.
  • Notre Dame has allowed opponents to score on 15.5 percent of their drives this season, the fourth-lowest percentage in FBS. The Irish have been even better when it comes to conceding touchdowns, with just 5.2 percent of opponents’ drives ending in a touchdown, the lowest percentage in FBS.
  • Notre Dame has allowed six or fewer points in each of its past three games. No FBS team has had a four-game streak of doing that since Alabama in 1993.
  • UCLA leads its series with Utah 8-2, but the Utes have won the last two by a combined count of 75-12, including 31-6 in 2011.
  • Last season, the Utes started 0-4 in Pac-12 play before winning their next four conference games, including that win over UCLA.
  • The Utes are the only conference team that averages less than 300 yards per game and they also ranked last in third down conversion percentage (29.7 percent).
  • USC leads the series with Washington 50-28-4, including a 40-17 win last year in LA. But before that game, the Huskies had won two in a row versus the Trojans. The series is 9-9-1 over the last 19 games.
  • USC’s last trip to Washington ended in a 16-13 loss in 2009, when Washington knocked off the No. 3 Trojans. That was Pete Carroll’s final season with the Trojans. USC QB Matt Barkley was a true freshman starter in 2009 but he was hurt and didn't play in that game.
  • Barkley needs four more TD passed to tie the Pac-12 career record of 99 set by fellow USC QB Matt Leinart.
We're saying goodbye to the BCS today, even though the BCS isn't going away until 2014. Oh, well.

So what are the Pac-12/10's best and worst BCS moments?

Best

The Pac-12 has won one BCS national title (though just about everyone believes USC to be the "true" 2003 national champion). So that has to be conference's best BCS moment: USC's undisputed 2004 championship.

The 2004 Trojans were dominant with quarterback Matt Leinart; running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White; receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett; and a defense led by defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson and linebacker Lofa Tatupu. They outscored foes 496 to 169.

In the BCS national title game in Miami, they stomped Oklahoma 55-19 and made USC a repeat national champ under Pete Carroll.

Honorable mentions
  • In 2000, Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and Oregon State whipped Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Pac-12 has produced two BCS bowl teams four times, but this is the only year it won both games.
  • While Utah was not a member of the Pac-12 in 2004 and 2008, it's worth noting the Utes capped undefeated seasons both years with wins in the Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh and the Sugar Bowl over Alabama.


Worst

Not to make this all about USC, but the worst BCS moment was USC's exclusion in 2003, despite being ranked No. 1 in both major polls.

Those who had eyes knew that the Trojans were the nation's best team. But the computer chips liked LSU and Oklahoma better, even though the Sooners were fresh off a 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.

The AP poll would go on to crown USC the national champion, as did the Football Writers Association of America, after it whipped Michigan in the Rose Bowl. As for the coaches poll, it was contractually obligated to vote LSU No. 1 after its ugly win over Oklahoma. Three coaches, nonetheless, showed courage, rebelled and voted USC No. 1.

Honorable mentions
  • In 2001, Nebraska was picked over Oregon to play Miami for the national title, even though the Cornhuskers were stomped 62-36 by Colorado in their final regular-season game. The Ducks went on to whip Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, while Nebraska got bludgeoned by the Hurricanes 37-14.
  • In 2004, Texas coach Mack Brown lobbied hard for his Longhorns to eclipse California in the national polls. It worked, as the 10-1 Longhorns climbed past the 10-1 Bears and quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the standings for no justifiable reason and thereby finagled their way into the Rose Bowl, where Cal hadn't been since 1959.

David Sills, 16, is growing up quickly

May, 29, 2012
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Pedro Moura/ESPNLA.com16-year-old quarterback David Sills committed to USC in February 2010 and plans on honoring that commitment when he gets to college in the fall of 2015. He's finishing his freshman year of high school.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — David Sills turns 16 today. He acts a lot older.

Sills is the prep quarterback who verbally committed to USC as a 13-year-old in February 2010, making news headlines nationwide as the youngest athlete to ever accept a college scholarship offer. Back then, he was known to college football fans as the baby-faced seventh-grade prodigy with floppy blonde hair and a puka shell necklace.

Now, the Delaware native is finishing up the ninth grade at Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md. In person, he hardly resembles the kid he was pictured as not too long ago. Sills is tall – nearing 6-4 already – and remarkably filled out in his upper body. He’s well-spoken and very measured in tone.

Sills was in Santa Barbara over Memorial Day Weekend for a massive football camp put on by his private coach, famed QB guru Steve Clarkson. The camp and corresponding all-star games are held at the city college’s smallish football stadium, which looks out over the Pacific Ocean.

Both Clarkson and Sills admit that the pupil doesn’t need to be here – he’s the most hyped of any of the participants, by far -- but he’s gotten so used to coming to Clarkson’s camps over the last six years that his attendance wasn’t even a question. His parents and siblings drop him off at the field in the morning each day and then go shopping on State Street until the afternoon.

Southern California is a second home to Sills by now. He’s been to L.A. and its surrounding areas too many times to count since he started working with Clarkson in the summer of 2006. He acts like a native.

“He will do well in Los Angeles, let’s put it that way,” says Clarkson. “He’ll have no problem getting along there.

“His personality lends itself to it.”

Sills has a little Hollywood in him. To call him the football version of pop star Justin Bieber wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

“I really don’t feel like I’m that different,” Sills said. “I’m the same kid. I do the same things. I get treated the same way.

“There’s nothing different, besides the publicity and stuff.”

(Read full post)

Brett Perrotta and the folks at ESPN Stats & Info put together a really interesting comparison of USC's explosive 2005 team to the ordinance potential of the 2012 squad.

And the conclusion is the Trojans -- particularly quarterback Matt Barkley and his receiving duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- could well surpass the statistical success of Matt Leinart and the weapons he had at his disposal.

Writes Perrotta:
Barkley's numbers from 2011 were better across the board than Matt Leinart's were when he won the Heisman Trophy in 2004. Barkley threw for more yards and touchdowns while completing a higher percentage of his passes in 2011 than Leinart did in 2004.

What's particularly scary for Pac-12 defenses is that Barkley has improved from year to year. His touchdowns have gone up and interceptions have dropped every year at USC, while Leinart's numbers were relatively unchanged during his three seasons leading the Trojans.

It makes for a fun comparison. And often when you are comparing teams or players, there are generational issues to consider. Johnny Unitas vs. Joe Montana; the '85 Chicago Bears defense vs. the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense etc. But these two teams are so close together that a fairly accurate comparison can be made. The game hasn't changed that dramatically in the last seven years.

This is obviously just a projection and there is no real basis for comparison until the 2012 season is at an end. But when you look at the side-by-sides and project what could happen in the coming season, it makes for an interesting debate.

Matt Barkley's plan usually works out

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
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US PresswireQuarterback Matt Barkley smiles at the end of USC's 50-0 win over UCLA last season.


Other quarterbacks have chosen to stay in school when they stood to be prominent NFL Draft picks, as quarterback Matt Barkley has done at USC.

Let's take a statistical snapshot of recent examples to forego the NFL Draft for one more year in the college ranks.

Peyton Manning, Tennessee
Manning still ended up as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft after returning to Tennessee for his senior season in 1997.

The Vols won the SEC Championship, beating Auburn, 30-29 before losing to Nebraska, 42-17 in the Orange Bowl. They finished No. 7 in the final AP poll.

Matt Leinart, USC

After winning a national title as a junior, Leinart returned for a memorable campaign in 2005, but one that floundered on a couple fronts.

A year after winning the Heisman Trophy, Leinart finished third in the balloting. His Trojans fell short of a second straight undefeated season and national championship, losing to Texas and quarterback Vince Young in a classic game.

Leinart ended up being selected 10th by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2006 NFL Draft and has not yet flourished at the level he did in college.

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

After winning the Heisman Trophy and losing the national championship game to a Tim Tebow-led Florida team, Bradford returned for his junior year at Oklahoma. It did not go as planned.
Bradford suffered a shoulder injury in the Sooners first game of the season, then re-injured his shoulder upon returning to face Texas.

Bradford sat out the remainder of the season, then declared for the NFL Draft. He was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 1 pick, and he has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in two NFL seasons.

Andrew Luck, Stanford
Luck tested his luck by staying in school for his senior season in 2011, and the decision worked out well.

The Cardinal went 11-2 in Luck’s senior season, finishing No. 7 in the national rankings after a 41-38 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Luck is expected to be taken No. 1 in this year’s NFL Draft.

Pac-12 Top 25 for 2011: No. 12

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players continues.

You can see Ted Miller's preseason top 25 here.

No. 12 (tie). Darron Thomas, QB & De'Anthony Thomas, WR-RB, Oregon

2011 numbers: Darron Thomas completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,761 yards with 33 TDs and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 206 yards and three scores. De'Anthony Thomas rushed for 595 yards and seven TDs, averaging 10.8 yards per carry. He caught 46 passes for 605 yards and nine TDs. He averaged 27.3 yards per kick return with two TDs.

Preseason ranking: Darron Thomas was No. 3. De'Anthony Thomas was unranked.

Making the case for the Thomases: No doubting these Thomases! (Yes, this was a screw-up. Yes, one of these guys was inadvertently -- stupidly -- left off of the master top-25 list when the countdown began. So this is the best way to make sure they both get included. The good news is this is about where both would rank). Darron Thomas had a good season but fell a bit in our overall estimation -- he threw and ran for fewer yards than in 2010 -- while De'Anthony Thomas will be the highest rated true freshman. Darron Thomas, despite surprising many with his decision to enter the NFL draft a year early, ranks first in career touchdown passes (66) for Oregon, seventh in passing yards (5,910) and sixth in total offense (6,633). He is the third player in Pac-12 history (USC’s Matt Leinart 2003-04, Stanford’s Andrew Luck 2010-11) with consecutive seasons with 30 or more touchdown passes. And he was outstanding in the Rose Bowl, completing 17 of 23 for 268 yards with three touchdown’s and one interception in the win over Wisconsin.

De'Anthony Thomas was even more outstanding in the Rose Bowl, with a team-high 314 all-purpose yards, carrying the ball twice for 155 yards and two TDs, including a stunningly explosive 91 yard bolt. He also caught four passes for 34 yards. De'Anthony Thomas was the Pac-12 co-offensive freshman of the year and earned first team All-Conference honors as a kick returner. He was the only player in the nation with at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning. He ranked 11th nationally in all-purpose yards with 147.8 ypg. He earned numerous freshman All-American honors and is already being mentioned as a leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate.

13. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State

14. David DeCastro, OL, Stanford

15. Keenan Allen, WR, California

16. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

17. Nick Perry, DE, USC

18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona

19. T.J. McDonald, S, USC

20. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

21. John White IV, RB, Utah

22. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

23. Nickell Robey, CB, USC

24. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

25. David Paulson, TE, Oregon

Top performances 2011: Matt Barkley

February, 8, 2012
2/08/12
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We're looking at the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2011.

Up next: Barkley rings UCLA's bell in Trojans victory.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesMatt Barkley's decision to return and lead the band one more season solidifies him as a Trojans legend.
Who & against whom? Matt Barkley turned in perhaps the best performance by a quarterback in 2011 while leading USC to a 50-0 victory over rival UCLA.

The numbers: Barkley completed 35 of 42 passes -- 83.3 percent -- for 423 yards and six touchdowns and no interceptions.

A closer look: Barkley led the charge in the battle for the Victory Bell, providing the largest margin of victory in the series since the Trojans won 52-0 in 1930. Trojans fans chanted "One more year!" at Barkley throughout his epic performance, and you can see why no one thought Barkley would return for his senior season -- even coach Lane Kiffin. "Unless he wants to do it, just to be a special Trojan, he ain't coming back," Kiffin said after the game. "He's every bit ready to go to the NFL. It's just going to be a decision, does he want to do something really unique? He might be the guy to do that." With those six touchdown passes, Barkley eclipsed former USC quarterback Matt Leinart's single-season conference record for touchdown passes, finishing 2011 with 39. Just imagine if he could have played in a bowl game?

Mailbag: Ohio State fan holiday wishes

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
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Other than USC fans celebrating the return of Matt Barkley, there was a lot of sourness in the pre-Christmas mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Mark Twinbridges, Mont., writes: Have you read the full NCAA report on the two schools [USC and Ohio State]? I cannot believe you would write such an inane piece if you had read the reports. Comparing the OSU situation to the USC violations is like comparing a dog to a rabid wolf. USC used impermissible benefits to recruit, that strikes at the very heart of NCAA rules. Then the university hindered the investigation at every turn.

Ted Miller: Yes, I have read both reports.

You wrote: "USC used impermissible benefits to recruit." Wrong.

You wrote: "Then the university hindered the investigation at every turn." Wrong.

You made two points. Both were wrong. And if you had read the USC report, or really any news stories about USC's NCAA violations, you would know that.

But I am sorry that you found my story "inane."

Interlude... (insert sigh).

Yes, the mailbag was inundated with angry rants from Ohio State fans this week. It was frustrating. Not because I was repeatedly called names. I've grown to enjoy that part of this job for some perhaps masochistic reason. No, it was because the amount of factually incorrect assertions was mind-numbing. Sure, a lot of it was Buckeyes fans who are of the "my school, wrong or right, I don't care about the truth, I just attack, attack, attack anyone who doesn't subscribe to my worldview" sort of fans. Every team has those, and they are part of the wonderful tapestry of college football.

But what bothered me was the number of seemingly intelligent folks who just don't know what they are talking about. Many of you may recall that some weeks ago, I wrote I was done dealing with the amount of ignorance surrounding USC's case with the NCAA. It was time to move on. I am so sick of writing about USC's NCAA case. I really, really wanted to move on. But, alas, I can not.


Jay from San Diego writes: At first I thought your article was meant in a joking manner. Then I realized you were actually being serious. I'm sure some of the people who follow you will eat your "piece" up but it appears blatantly misinformed & devoid of intelligence. The above link regards your article.

Ted Miller: First off, I like Eleven Warriors. Probably one of the best fan blogs out there. I even appreciate a mostly gentle touch while they ripped apart my article.

But here's the problem: The very first line of critique is factually incorrect. "A player getting over $X00,000 in impermissible benefits." No USC player got that. Reggie Bush's parents lived for free in a fancypants house in San Diego provided by would-be agents, but it's a matter of record that extra benefits provided to Bush didn't approach $100,000. A minor distinction? Well, the distinction between player and parent certainly worked out for Auburn and Cam Newton in 2010.

It is correct that I often used "patronizing closed door language." That is because the door is closed. When I wrote "everybody in college sports knows" USC was treated unfairly, it was an overstatement to make a clear point that just about everybody knows this. I've talked to many, many people who have a professional awareness of USC's case. I've talked to people who sat in the room with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions hearing with USC. Everybody thinks USC got screwed, not just USC folks. And, when I've talked to folks who might say differently, I've always been able to easily win the ensuing argument by stating the facts.

I don't intend that to sound arrogant. It's not brilliant rhetorical ability. It's the facts. Let me show you an example of facts.

Eleven Warriors includes this link, which is a comparison done by another Ohio State fan site of Ohio State's case with USC's and others before the NCAA.

Eleven Warriors writes this: "And 'impossible not to conclude Ohio State case was far more severe.'? USC's took four years to complete, largely in part because USC stifled the investigation. Ohio State's was done in under a year."

The link provided by Eleven Warriors, however, includes this: "While the mainstream media has been trying hard to push the 'USC fought the NCAA' meme, it's absolutely not true. USC’s former student athletes, and the agents and representatives therein, may not have worked with the NCAA, but the University absolutely did. That is even expressed (apparently) in the Notice of Allegations, where the NCAA thanked USC for their help and support. In fact, pages 56 and 57 of the NCAA Public Infractions Report."

So ... facts, you know?

How did the "USC didn't cooperate" storyline begin? Well, it likely emerged from a perception of USC's self-defense. USC administrators found it difficult to stomach the idea that they were supposed to know what was going on in San Diego with a player's parents and men who were: 1) unaffiliated with the school; 2) not even actual agents who might be known in the industry.

Yes, USC was not obsequious. Yes, USC, in fact, aggressively defended itself. Yes, USC, in fact, probably hurt it self by actually WINNING THE ARGUMENT.

From the link and written by an Ohio State fan: "For the most part, USC makes a fantastic case regarding the issues that it denied wrong doing..." and, "It is easy to believe that USC got hammered beyond what they deserved."

I'm not going to spend 1,500 words debating the particulars of the Ohio State case. After coach Jim Tressel was sacked, it seemed the sanctions the Buckeyes received were not unreasonable. My point was merely they made the ruling against USC even more unreasonable. And, yes, I think the Ohio State case was worse than USC's, and if you cleared a room of Buckeyes and Trojans fans and asked folks to make a ruling, I suspect they'd agree.

Let me share a story that will annoy USC fans but many will find interesting. During a flight delay last year, I was cornered at an airport by an administrator from a major program outside the Pac-12. He made fun of me as a "USC fanboy" because of my rants against the NCAA ruling against the Trojans. But we started talking. Turned out he agreed with just about all my points. (He just didn't like USC.)

He told me, after some small talk and off-the-record, that "everybody" thought USC got screwed. He said that he thought the NCAA was trying to scare everyone with the ruling, but subsequent major violations cases put it in a pickle.

Then he told me that USC was punished for its "USC-ness," that while many teams had closed down access -- to media, to fans, etc. -- USC under Pete Carroll was completely open, and that was widely resented. There was a widespread belief the national media fawned on USC because of this. Further, more than a few schools thought that the presence of big-time celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell, at practices and at games constituted an unfair recruiting advantage for the Trojans.

It wasn't against the rules, but everyone hated it. This, as he assessed his own smell test, was a subtext of the so-called atmosphere of noncompliance that the NCAA referred to -- an atmosphere that oddly yielded very few instances of noncompliance around the football program even after a four-year NCAA investigation.

But you'll note that Snoop and Will are no longer hanging around USC, which now has strict access guidelines.

Another point people keeping making to me: USC's case involved three sports and involved a lack of institutional control. That is not an invalid point, but this is the Pac-12 football blog. It doesn't cover basketball or tennis. And the violations connected to the basketball recruitment of O.J. Mayo shouldn't have, say, cost USC an extra 15 football scholarships. That's not how the process works, based on NCAA policy.

Anyway. The pointlessness of debating moot points was supposed to be the gist of my original column. What's done is done; all this is academic. Some Ohio State fans will read this and go, "Oh, interesting." But many others will simply go, "Idiot." And that's fine.

But, Buckeyes fans, would it help if I just wished you a Merry Christmas?


Josh from Fairbury, Neb., writes: Hey Ted, big news for USC with Matt Barkley returning for his senior season. It's a little early, but how do you see the Heisman award situation panning out next year in the Pac-12? I've personally always considered Barkley to as good (if not better) than Andrew Luck. Who else from the Pac-12 conference might be a Heisman hopeful for 2012?

Ted Miller: Barkley is No. 1. If I were to crown a No. 2, it would be Oregon's do-everything offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas.

It's entirely possible the player who wins the Trojans-Ducks matchup next fall will be headed to New York as a result.


Brian from Kent, Wash., writes: I am trying to find the Pac-12 record book for all passing stats and seeing how close Matt Barkley is to shattering all of them, can you help me out?

Ted Miller: Barkley set the Pac-12 single-season record for TD passes this year with 39, breaking Matt Leinart's mark of 38 set for USC in 2003.

Barkley has 80 career TD passes. He needs 20 in 2012 to break Leinart's conference record of 99 -- which is 14 more than anyone else before him.

Barkley has 9,054 career passing yards. He needs to throw for 2,765 yards to eclipse Carson Palmer's conference record of 11,818.

In other words, unless Barkley gets hurt, he's going to own just about every major career conference passing record by season's end.


Darryl from Oakland writes: I understand the "rah rah" aspect of the SEC, but in reality, shouldn't the USC Trojans be considered the #1 team in the country in the preseason polls for 2012?

Ted Miller: USC likely will get some No. 1 votes but my guess is LSU will be the preseason No. 1. The Tigers' defense has a chance to be even better in 2012 than this year.

And, yes, though it's preposterously early to project, an LSU-USC matchup would be great fun on many levels, including the "rivalry" that was based on LSU finishing No. 2 behind USC in 2003.

Ha! I know at least one head just exploded in Baton Rouge. Some might say that was a split national title.


Garen from Los Angeles writes: Dear Mr. Miller, For the last several years I have dealt with very difficult times in both my professional and personal life. Its hard to find the words to describe how much your blog has meant to me during these times, but it has become much more than just news and entertainment. Day after day, year after year, your blog has provided me with a constant source of escape and relief, and I cant begin to thank you enough for that. I look forward to reading your blog on a daily basis. Than you again for the wonderful job that you do. Happy Holidays and Go Bears!

Ted Miller: Thanks, Garen. You made my day.

The mailbag often highlights people who call the Pac-12 blog names, notes that typically are countered with snarky replies.

But with Christmas coming up this weekend, why not have a nice note to wind things up?

Barkley's return means USC is back

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
5:58
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USC, which finished this season 10-2 and ranked No. 5, will have 19 starters returning in 2012 including both specialists and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans welcome back their top rusher, top three receivers, four starting offensive lineman and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireMatt Barkley's decision to return to USC next season makes the Trojans a contender for the national championship.
Also back in 2012: The Trojans' top four tacklers. And five of their top six. And a first-team All-Pac-12 kicker. And a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans looked like a preseason top-10 team a month ago. They looked like the preseason Pac-12 South Division favorites. But when Barkley announced Thursday, "I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player," it sent a shockwave across the college football landscape.

Remember that little girl staring at the TV snow in "Poltergeist"? All together now: "They're baaaaack!"

Barkley makes USC a national title contender. Barkley makes things around Heritage Hall feel like it's 2002-2008 all over again. Barkley means Trojans fans can stop thinking about the injustice it suffered when the NCAA whacked it with severe sanctions and start dreaming of BCS bowls again.

Just FYI: Miami on Jan. 7, 2013. What happened the last time the Trojans played in South Florida with big stakes?

Ah, the Oregon fans have just arrived. To borrow a phrase: Not so fast, my friend.

The Ducks are the three-time defending Pac-12 champions. They've got a whole bunch of key guys coming back in 2012, too. They, too, are a certain top-10 team, perhaps top-five. They will be the overwhelming favorites to win the North Division.

Both have highly favorable schedules. USC's nonconference schedule: Hawaii (with head coach Norm Chow!), at Syracuse and Notre Dame. Oregon's is, well, pitiful: Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.

Oh, then there is this little date for both in LA next year. The Pac-12 schedules aren't official yet, but the conference confirmed to the Pac-12 blog that USC and Oregon will play in the Coliseum next fall. That regular-season game, not hard to project as a matchup of top-five teams, very likely could lead to a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, which could be a gateway to the national title game for the winner.

Ducks and Trojans: Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Meanwhile, Barkley, by passing up a chance to be a top-10 NFL draft pick as Matt Leinart and Andrew Luck did before him, immediately established himself as the leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate. His status as front-runner is only slightly less firm than Luck's was last year when he announced a shocking return.

And that point -- thump -- should provide a speed bump of moderation for our foray into admittedly hysterical hyperbole about Barkley and USC. Just about every time you try to write a college football season's story before it plays out, you end up being wrong.

Preseason predictions can be completely off: Oklahoma was the consensus preseason No. 1 this year. Or they can be slightly off: Luck and the overwhelming Heisman favorite in August. Or they can fall just short in the end: USC as the best team in college football history in 2005.

Or, then again, sometimes they are spot-on: USC in 2004 was preseason No. 1 as well as the postseason national champion.

Still, while grand scenarios are merely reasonably conceived potential endings for something that is a year away and laden with unforeseen variables, there is no downside on this day for USC. In fact, it spiderwebs positives throughout the program, from making the future at QB more secure, to bolstering the present recruiting effort, to getting USC fans excited and reinvested again, ready to fill up the Coliseum next fall.

By the way, USC folks aren't the only ones smiling. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is grinning ear-to-ear. He sees another bright, articulate Heisman Trophy candidate who conducts himself with class acting as the face of the conference, as Luck did this past fall. He sees two big ticket national title contenders in 2012, just as the conference's new TV contract kicks in. He's got broadcast partners -- ESPN and Fox -- as well as a new Pac-12 Network that are going to be thrilled that the conference's ratings-driving bell cow is back under the klieg lights in LA.

Toss in four new, high-profile coaches, and there are plenty of sexy story lines for the Pac-12 in 2012.

The week started with USC fans slapping their foreheads over Ohio State's middling NCAA sanctions for severe infractions. It was a frustrating reminder of the seeming cosmic forces that conspired to end the USC dynasty, including Pete Carroll skipping town back to the NFL.

But the week ends with an early Christmas gift for USC. Matt Barkley telling it, "I am staying because I want to finish what I started."

Yes, college football fans across the country pricked up their ears Thursday and thought, "Drat. I hear those darn "Tribute To Troy" drums again."

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