Pac-12: Matt Scott

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To the notes!

Todd Graham's Nephew from Phoenix writes: Ted, In your article about the [Todd]Graham/[Rich] Rodriguez extensions, you stated that Rodriguez had "a lot less talent" than Graham over the past two years. You've stated this before in other articles. I'm curious what you're basing that on.

Ted Miller: Coach Graham's nephew wrote a much longer note with supporting points, but we cut those out due to a severe case of cherry picking.

You could, however, make a case that the talent at Arizona and Arizona State was at least comparable in 2012. Arizona had Matt Scott at quarterback and Taylor Kelly was a complete unknown. Heading into the season, we didn't know that DT Will Sutton was going to become a monster. It's also accurate to view the 2012 Territorial Cup as a huge collapse for Arizona in the fourth quarter -- at home, no less -- and that certainly wasn't a shining moment for Rodriguez and his staff.

Still, the Sun Devils ended up with four All-Pac-12 performers in 2012 compared to three for the Wildcats. Further, what Arizona State had coming back in 2013 was decisively superior to the Wildcats, which is why Kevin and I both picked the Sun Devils to win the Pac-12 South before the season and ranked them third in the preseason power rankings compared to eighth for the Wildcats.

As for more talent this past fall, the Sun Devils finished with -- cough, cough -- 13 first- or second-team All-Pac-12 players. Arizona? One -- RB Ka'Deem Carey.

To me, the biggest difference between the talent Rich Rodriguez inherited compared to Todd Graham was on defense, particularly on the front seven. The unit that played against the Sun Devils in the 2012 Territorial Cup was pretty much a slight blip above FCS-level talent.

As for the recruiting rankings that preceded Graham and Rodriguez, Arizona State ranked ahead of Arizona in 2009, 2010 and 2012 (year of both's hiring), while the vote was split in 2011.

Victor from Eugene, Ore., writes: I was thinking about the Oregon-Stanford rivalry that has emerged in the last few years and one game particularly came to mind, the 2010 edition. It was the fifth game of the season for both teams in early October, and I wonder why the conference does not keep it scheduled like that? It is generally accepted that these teams are top of the conference, and if they keep playing late November games, that can potentially knock out one of these teams from a more prestigious bowl game (or even now a second spot in playoffs). I understand high records going in to the game make it easier to build up for TV, but this is a marquee matchup no matter when (it's) played during the season, so people are going to watch. If anything, they play early and both teams go on to keep winning, so the conference could possibly have two playoff contenders and 13-0 and 11-1. The selection committee could look past one team's loss if against a strong opponent regardless of when played, but I think a loss has less of a decisive impact if it was from an early season game.

Ted Miller: You do know, Victor, that Oregon and Stanford were not always atop the Pac-12, right? Stanford, in fact, had a losing record way, way back in 2008. And there was this team called "USC" that had a pretty good run for a bit.

Scheduling, I am told, is more complicated than you think. Heck, witness the struggle to keep rivalry games set for the final weekend of the season. Schedule rotations, TV as well as each university's own quirks make it challenging to organize the conference slate. Further, showing favoritism for a certain budding rivalry probably wouldn't roll well in 10 other athletic departments.

While I understand -- and often espouse -- the realpolitik of your thinking, I also sort of like having an A-list Pac-12 game with national implications in November. It attracts a lot of eyeballs.

As coaches say, "The games you remember are played in November."

Tom from Portland writes: In your Pac-12 power rankings blog you imply that the return of Cyler Miles is a big boost to UW. Why is that? Keith Price was the starter for the last three years, so what do you see in Miles, who has not been a starter and I don't recall him even playing very much last year?

Ted Miller: Miles saw significant action last year and played well. His competition, sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams, haven't thrown a pass for the Huskies.

Miles came off the bench against UCLA and acquitted himself well, then led the Huskies to a win at Oregon State in his lone career start. In total, he appeared in eight games, completing 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 200 yards on 23 carries. His passer rating would have ranked 61st in the nation.

Further, the scuttlebutt on his playing abilities and upside has been almost entirely positive. Of course, then there's our next question.

Rob from Seattle writes: Ted -- I'm struggling to reconcile Chris Petersen's reputation of integrity with the decision to reinstate Cyler Miles. Granted -- he knows more than me as a fan and has done his own investigation. Here's what I do know: the police report said he and [Damore'ea] Stringfellow were involved in beating up a woman during a Super Bowl celebration. Am I wrong in thinking Petersen should explain this to us, why Miles deserves to be the leader of our football team after being involved in an attack on a defenseless woman?

Ted Miller: First off, I'm not one of those guys who dons shining armor to act like I'm a paragon of virtue as I differentiate between a man and a "defenseless woman." I know plenty of women who can play defense. And offense. I think acting as though women are made out of porcelain does them a disservice.

What I do abhor is someone bullying anyone. I equate that to attacking an innocent, non-aggressive, typically smaller person, be it a man or woman. This case allegedly fell within those criteria. It was both reprehensible and shockingly stupid.

I've commented on this a couple of times, first here and then here, the latter effort describing how I might hypothetically handle punishment if I were Chris Petersen.

As repeatedly noted, I'm a big second-chance guy. Not a big fan of zero-tolerance policies in most cases.

Further, Miles wasn't charged with a crime. Receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, another likely starter, was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault and one count of malicious mischief and he has opted to transfer, which I assume he was encouraged to do.

Petersen's chief task is winning football games. Educating and building the character of young men is part of the job, but it is secondary, despite what some might disingenuously claim. Petersen does, by the way, have a better chance of teaching Miles life lessons with him on the team than off it. I think the idea of "making an example out of someone" mostly works in organizations like the Mafia, where nuanced thinking isn't part of the culture.

But I do agree with something you wrote: "Am I wrong in thinking Petersen should explain this to us why Miles deserves to be the leader of our football team...?"

No, you are not. And this willful silence on the matter is the unfortunate course Washington appears to be taking, at least at present, as neither Petersen nor Miles have talked to reporters since making a brief statement on May 14. The correct course would have been to hold a news conference -- I'd have suggested Friday, May 16 at 4 p.m. -- just after the announcement of Miles' reinstatement.

Over-managing the response to an off-field incident like this is typically a mistake. Over-managing acts as a preservative instead of a neutralizer. It, in fact, makes things seem worse, as if there is something to hide about the process. The lead story for the 2014 Huskies should be the nationally esteemed Petersen beginning his first year at Washington, not what Miles did and how Petersen handled the incident.

Washington's goal should be to have the Miles incident watered down enough over the coming weeks that it is not the lead question for Petersen at Pac-12 media days in July. As it stands now, it will be. And if Petersen is standoffish, he will be peppered with questions, and then words like "bristled" and "evasive" will describe him in subsequent stories.

Just about every off-field incident in college football is a story with chapters -- incident, arrests or not, charges or not, punishment, aftermath and redemption or not. At present, Petersen and Washington are creating a limbo between punishment and aftermath that is unnecessary.

Rajesh K from San Carlos, Calif., writes: I think you should make custom 12-sided dice with each Pac-12 team on it for internal use at ESPN.

Ted Miller: We already have one. We roll it twice each day to see: 1. Which Pac-12 team we will be biased for that day; 2. Which Pac-12 team we will be biased against that day.
On Thursday, we looked at the Pac-12 North Division. Today, we turn to the South:


Spring start: March 3
Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  • QB competition: Coach Rich Rodriguez has used first-year starters in his first two seasons at Arizona and will make it three-for-three in 2014. For the most part, things worked with both Matt Scott and more recently B.J. Denker, which should make Wildcats fans optimistic about what should be a wide-open competition.
  • Replacing Carey: As intriguing as the quarterback competition will be, the battle to replace all-time great Ka'Deem Carey at running back could be more important. None of the returning running backs had a carry last year, which led to this comment from Rodriguez: "Now it’s a mystery. That’s going to be one of the positions, like quarterback, that will be kind of open to see if we can get guys to get better."
  • Keep Austin healthy: After tearing his ACL last spring following a breakout season in which he caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, receiver Austin Hill has been given a clean bill of health. Said Rodriguez: "He is still wearing the knee brace but I think it is a little bit more precautionary. He is 100 percent doing everything. He’s even a bit bigger and stronger so he should have a big spring. I know he’s hungry to get out there, too."

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • OL changes: Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, a prototypical guard, could be the Sun Devils' best offensive lineman, which makes things interesting considering both starting guards -- Jamil Douglas and Vi Teofilo -- will be back next year. Douglas, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, has worked at tackle in the past and could shift outside to replace first-team All-Pac-12 left tackle Evan Finkenberg.
  • Getting defensive: Coach Todd Graham's college roommate, Keith Patterson, has arrived as the defensive coordinator, but Graham will remain the play-caller and Chris Ball's title will still read co-defensive coordinator. Got all that? New coaching dynamics get sorted out in the spring, too.
  • Looking for replacements: On defense, ASU needs to replace seven starters, highlighted by DT Will Sutton, LB Carl Bradford and CBs Robert Nelson and Alden Darby. If ASU is to build off its impressive 2013 season, those holes need to be filled quickly. They'll benefit from a schedule that starts with Weber State, New Mexico, Colorado and a bye, but after that the Sun Devils have UCLA, USC and Stanford in a span of four weeks.

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • QB development: Sefo Liufau's development will be interesting if for nothing else than because the jump from Year 1 starter to Year 2 starter is always intriguing with quarterbacks. It's tempting to assume a big statistical jump is coming, but it's not always that simple (see: Hogan, Kevin; Mannion, Sean; Hundley, Brett). Liufau will need to get on the same page with his receivers as they combine to …
  • … Replace Paul Richardson: Look for Nelson Spruce, D.D Goodson and Tyler McCulloch to lead what will be a much more balanced receiving corps following Richardson's early departure for the NFL. Spruce was the Buffs' second-leading receiver last year, but Goodson, going into his second season at receiver, figures to make the biggest jump.
  • Rising expectations: It took MacIntyre three years to turn San Jose State into a winner, but there was a four-win improvement in the second year. He won't match that with the Buffs, but a two-win improvement gets Colorado bowl eligible. Colorado has a chance to match last year's win total (4) in the first five games next year: vs. Colorado State, at Massachusetts, Arizona State, Hawaii, at Cal. In fact, it's probably the internal expectation.

Spring start: April 1
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Manage expectations: The Bruins are in new territory this offseason with expectations through the roof. They'll likely be a preseason top-10 team, which will drum up chatter about a potential national championship run. Likely message from coach Jim Mora: "Tune out the noise."
  • The #Hundley4Heisman campaign: It's a real thing and Mora threw his weight behind it when he tweeted the hashtag on Jan. 26 with a picture of the Heisman Trophy. Get used to reading "Heisman candidate" next to "Brett Hundley" a lot between now and September. At times, it might feel unavoidable.
  • Leading rusher? They're set at quarterback and bring a lot of talent back at both receiver and on the offensive line, but the running back situation isn't as clear. Hundley was the team's leading rusher in 2013, but someone needs to step up to take pressure off him and LB/RB Myles Jack. It's an important spring for both Jordan James and Paul Perkins, who had varying degrees of success last year.

Spring start: March 11
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Under center? Cody Kessler is back, but coach Steve Sarkisian immediately made it known there would be an open competition for the quarterback job. Max Wittek is no longer around, but Kessler should get a serious challenge from redshirt freshman Max Browne. With a new offense to learn, spring will essentially serve as preparation period for the real competition during fall camp.
  • Catch your breath: The most noticeable change in USC during the first game will be how much faster it's playing offensively. Sarkisian installed a high-tempo offense at Washington last year and, pleased with the results, will continue to press the tempo with the Trojans. Goodbye, huddles.
  • Change it up: As is the case when new coaching staffs arrive, there will likely be a higher percentage of position changes than usual and a more fluid depth chart. It's hard to peg exactly where that'll occur with USC, but it'll be worth monitoring throughout the spring.

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Wilson's road back: Travis Wilson is expected to be the Utes' starting quarterback next season, but he'll be limited to non-contact drills during the spring. That's about the best news Wilson could have received following an early November discovery that he had an undiagnosed injury to an intracranial artery -- a condition that threatened his career. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will not join the team until after he graduates in May, but he'll be immediately eligible to play.
  • Revolving OC door: Dave Christensen moves in, Dennis Erickson moves over and Brian Johnson moves out. Kyle Whittingham introduced the Utes' seventh offensive coordinator is seven years in early January. Christensen believes in similar philosophies to what the Utes had under Erickson/Johnson, but the terminology will change and the tempo will increase.
  • Pressure building? Utah was used to winning big before it got to the Pac-12 in 2011. Whittingham lost just 20 games in his six full seasons as the school's head coach while a member of the Mountain West Conference. In the three years since, Utah's dropped 19 and qualified for just one bowl. No one should doubt Whittingham's ability as a coach -- he's a good one -- but the jump in competition has been difficult.

Season review: Arizona

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
We conclude our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Arizona.

Offense: The Wildcats were a little funny this year, offensively. While they excelled at running the football, averaging 264.9 yards per game, the passing attack was last in the conference at 193.5 yards per game. This is a far cry from the Matt Scott-led attack of 2012, which averaged nearly 300 yards per game and produced 30 touchdowns in the air. But, as is always the case, it all comes down to points. And the Wildcats were sixth in the league with an average of 33.5 points per game -- that’s down from last year’s total of 38.2 ppg. As you’d expect, it was the Ka'Deem Carey show. The Doak Walker finalist and Pac-12 offensive player of the year rushed for at least 100 yards in every game he played in and was second nationally with 157.1 yards per game. The reason for the step back was the transition to B.J. Denker at quarterback. He never replicated Scott’s production, but after a rocky start he went seven straight games with a completion percentage of at least 60 percent, including a 17-of-24 performance for 275 yards with two touchdowns in the bowl win over Boston College. He also posted a 90.8 QBR in the win over Oregon. Down a few receivers because of injury and attrition, Nate Phillips stepped up to lead the team with seven touchdown receptions. With Austin Hill expected to return from injury and several key transfers making the jump from the scout team, Arizona’s offense is expected to take a big step forward next season. But in 2013, Carey’s presence alone made the Wildcats formidable. Grade: B-

Defense: A lot of what we’ve based these grades on in this series is improvements from last year to this year. And Arizona’s defense certainly qualifies as having improved. With almost the entire starting 11 back from last year, the Wildcats made huge strides in scoring defense, rush defense and they upped their sacks and tackles for loss per game. In 2012, the Wildcats allowed 35.3 points per game and ranked 102nd nationally. This year they cut that number by 11 points per game to 24.2. You can chalk it up to another year in the 3-3-5 and understanding roles better. Coaching has a lot to do with that, as well. They weren’t a great turnover team, posting a minus-1 turnover ratio. Though they were one of the better teams at recovering fumbles. Jake Fischer was his steady self with 99 stops, and Marquis Flowers posted a team high 11 tackles for a loss. Tra'Mayne Bondurant had an exceptional year in the secondary with a pair of pick sixes. Though they weren’t tops in the league, there was still marked improvement from last year to this year. Grade: B

Special teams: Jake Smith was streaky, converting 12 of 19 field goals, including a long of 53. But he also struggled from the 30-39 range, converting just 2 of 5. From a punt and kick standpoint, the Wildcats didn’t return either for a score. But they didn’t give up any, either. Nor did they have any field goals blocked. They were middle of the road in punting average and middle of the road in kick coverage. Not spectacular, but not bad, either. Grade: C+

Overall: After dropping their second Territorial Cup of the Rich Rodriguez era, they rebounded to knock of a BCS conference team and win their bowl game. They’ve posted back-to-back eight win seasons and scored a signature 42-16 win at home over No. 5 Oregon. If you’re a Wildcat fan, you have to feel pretty good about the direction of the program under Rodriguez. Though being 0-2 against the Todd Graham led Sun Devils stings a bit. New facilities are in place, a solid recruiting class is on the way, and the team received votes in the final AP poll. Quarterback is a question for next year. But given the talent coming in, combined with the talent coming back and coming off of injury/the scout team, it’s not unreasonable for fans to get their hopes up for next season and the possibility of their team contending for a division title. Grade: B
Last Nov. 3, Arizona headed to UCLA riding a hot streak. It had won two in a row, obliterating Washington 52-17 and shocking then-No. 9 USC 39-36. The Wildcats were squarely in the Pac-12 South Division race.

Then Arizona made like a rotten Halloween pumpkin being hurled off the roof of a 50-story building. The Bruins delivered a 66-10 smashing that was pretty much over after the first quarter.

"Why did you have to bring it up?" replied Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez when asked about what went wrong. "About everything did. ... There wasn't a single thing we did well, in any phase. If you want to know what went wrong, it was everything."

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesUCLA coach Jim Mora believes last year's blowout win against Arizona is "irrelevant" to this year's game.
UCLA led 21-0 after the first quarter and 42-3 at halftime. The Bruins outgained the Wildcats 611 yards to 257. Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey would go on to lead the nation in rushing, but he managed just 54 yards on 16 carries against the Bruins. That was a season low, as was his 3.4 yards per carry.

UCLA wasn't 56 points better than the Wildcats, who finished last season 8-5. It was just one of those games. The Bruins played well in all phases and the Wildcats played poorly.

Funny thing about games like that, though. The losing coach tends to volunteer a better memory of it. The winning coach wants his players to erase their recollection and any residual feelings that might influence their perception of how and why things went down as they did.

As Bruins coach Jim Mora effused, "It's pretty irrelevant to us."

Mora's Bruins are headed to Tucson to again face the Wildcats in another key South clash on Saturday night. He doesn't want his players to think this game will be easy just because last year's was. And Rodriguez is hoping his players might compete with a little more edge and focus, knowing they got humiliated last year in by far the team's worst performance in Rodriguez's first season.

"I would hope just from a competitor's standpoint, when you didn't play well against somebody, you'd want to have another chance to show you are a little bit better than what you did," Rodriguez said.

Last year's game also had another notable occurrence: B.J. Denker had to come off the bench for an injured Matt Scott, who suffered a concussion, and Denker would make his first career start the following weekend against Colorado.

While Denker is a much different and better quarterback than he was a year ago, this game more likely turns on Carey looking like a player trying to lead the nation in rushing for a second consecutive season rather than the guy he was in last year's UCLA-Arizona game.

Carey leads the nation with 153.1 yards rushing per game and averages a strong 5.7 yards per carry. While the Bruins' run defense has yielded some yards -- 167.6 per game, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12 -- it limits opposing runners to 3.9 yards per carry, which is tied for fifth in the conference.

Carey was largely irrelevant in last year's game because the Wildcats fell behind by a large margin, forcing them to throw, and throw ineffectively.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsArizona will need a big performance from running back Ka'Deem Carey, who leads the nation in rushing yards per game this season.
Arizona can't afford to let the Bruins get off to another fast start and take Carey -- and the crowd -- out of the game. Mora certainly knows that Carey is where everything starts for the Wildcats offense.

"This guy, I don't think you stop him," Mora said. "He's too good. He's leading the nation in rushing. You just hope to contain him a little bit, not let him break the long ones."

While Mora didn't have many thoughts about last year's game, he did have some ideas about why Carey is again putting up such big numbers.

"He runs hard," Mora said. "He's got great vision. He's good after contact. He's elusive. He's powerful. He's a slasher. He can catch it in the open field. He can break the long one. He can get the tough yards up inside. He's got all the attributes you look for in a great running back."

The good news for the Bruins is they have a strong defensive front seven, a 3-4 scheme anchored by a crew of linebackers who rank among the nation's best.

Yet defense is also where Arizona is most different from 2012. The Wildcats wore down last year on defense in the first year of using Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme. An inexperienced unit that wasn't that talented in the first place was hit hard by injuries. This year, the Wildcats rank among the Pac-12 leaders in most defensive categories. While still not exactly loaded with future NFL talent, particularly on the defensive line, the Wildcats are playing good team defense.

That said, the best offenses on the Wildcats' schedule have yet to be faced, and that starts Saturday with the Bruins and quarterback Brett Hundley.

Both teams are 6-2 overall and 3-2 in conference play, though the Bruins are 19th in the BCS rankings largely due to their first eight games being significantly tougher.

Still, both teams' seasons will be judged by how they handle their final four contests. The winner Saturday, for one, will announce itself as a South Division contender.

"This is at least where you want to be in November, with a chance to play meaningful games with a lot at stake," Rodriguez said. "And here we are with a big one Saturday night."

Arizona QB Denker answers his critics

October, 30, 2013
Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker isn't going pass the sight test. His throws don't sizzle through the air. He's listed at 6-foot-3, 184 pounds, but even those middling measurements for a Pac-12 quarterback are wishful thinking.

Denker is not going to be All-Pac-12. He is not going to have an NFL career.

Denker is as aware of his shortcomings -- and the perception of his shortcomings -- as anyone else. Yes, he's heard the criticism, despite his trying to block it out. And, yes, he admits it sometimes gets to him.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Denker
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsArizona quarterback B.J. Denker had 457 yards of total offense in leading the Wildcats past the Colorado Buffaloes.
"You try to block it out as much as you can but this day and age -- with Twitter and social media -- it's hard," he said. "So yeah, I've heard it since week one. Since the summer. Since the spring. The, 'We can't win with Denker. We need another guy to step in.' After that Washington game, it was tough, coming back to my phone and seeing some of the stuff people were saying to me or about me. It's hard to block it out. You try your best. You try not to look at it, try not to read it. But it's human nature. It's kind of like watching a car accident. You don't want to watch but you can't look away."

But that impending car accident that was Denker has taken a last-second and unforeseen swerve. After he threw two of his three interceptions this season in a dreary loss in a downpour at Washington, and then started slowly the next week at USC, he started doing something few foresaw: He started to not just become an adequate quarterback for the Wildcats, but he transformed into a pretty darn good one.

In his last three games, he's completed 63 percent of his throws with six touchdowns and just one interception. He's also rushed for two touchdowns.

Last weekend at Colorado, he had 457 yards of total offense in Arizona's 44-20 win, the sixth best total offense total in team history. He rushed for 192 yards on 15 carries -- the best rushing total by a QB in team history -- averaging 12.8 yards per tote. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 265 yards with a 44-yard touchdown. He accounted for eight plays that gained 20 or more yards, including six pass completions and two rushes.

And he was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. So, what the heck happened after the Washington game?

"Since then, I've been calming down, not getting nervous before games," he said. "I'm 100-percent confident now in myself and my teammates. We're running the system."

Arizona had two big preseason questions: 1. The defense; 2. Replacing Matt Scott at quarterback. The Wildcats defense might be the most improved unit in the Pac-12, as it ranks among the Pac-12 and national leaders in several categories, including scoring (19.9 points per game).

Denker, who prevailed in a QB competition in which his challengers never put up much of a fight, remained a lingering question well into the season, particularly after the Washington game.

Denker's numbers in that game were horrible -- 14-of-35 for 119 yards, a measly 3.4 yards per completion -- with two picks. But, in his defense, the game was played in practically a monsoon. Huskies QB Keith Price, a three-year starter who's used to playing in rain, only completed 14 of 25 passes for 165 yards with two TDs and an interception. Still, the judgment from the peanut gallery afterwards was that coach Rich Rodriguez should bench Denker.

"That was my first big road test," Denker said. "I had some nerves coming into that stadium and that team. They were highly ranked and I think I made the game bigger than it actually was. That was the first thing. Mentally, I was a little nervous. The butterflies were there. And I just didn't execute. I didn't trust the system. I didn't trust my eyes. I was making the wrong reads."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/John MillerPerhaps Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has found a reliable No. 1 quarterback in B.J. Denker.
The good news is Denker had Rodriguez to help him see the error of his ways. Rodriguez has ridden Denker hard, and the Washington game featured several moments when TV cameras caught him giving his QB an earful. Those were not atypical interactions.

"That's what you sign up when you play for coach Rodriguez," Denker said. "He's a fiery guy. He's competitive. That's why he does it. He wants to win and he wants to make you the best player you can be. That's what you've got to realize and take in when he's yelling at you. It's not because he doesn't like you as a human being or as a player. It's because he's disappointed in the decision you made because he knows you can make a better decision. You can't let it break you down. You've got to say, 'Yes, sir. No sir.' And make sure it doesn't happen again, so he's not yelling at you again."

Said Rodriguez, "[Denker is] tough mentally and he's also very competitive. I think his competitiveness has allowed him to get better every week."

So given credit to Denker not breaking. Give him credit for getting better. The 5-2 Wildcats can become bowl-eligible with a win on Saturday at California.

"He's really improved," Cal coach Sonny Dyke said. "He's probably improved as much as anybody in the league. I think he's playing with a lot of confidence. That's probably the biggest difference. His decision-making is faster. He's getting the ball out more quickly on screens and run-pass concepts."

In the preseason, the Wildcats looked like a bowl team, largely based on a forgiving schedule, even with Denker piddling along and deferring to All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey. But with Denker now ranked 25th in the nation and fifth in the Pac-12 -- and gaining! -- in's Total Quarterback Rating, the potential season endgames are more diverse. In fact, there's still reasonable hope that the Wildcats can eclipse UCLA and Arizona State in the South Division race (Arizona also needs USC to lose another conference game).

The real tests, of course, are ahead. UCLA comes to Tucson on Nov. 9, and Oregon visits on Nov. 23. The season finale at Arizona State figures to be meaningful to both teams, even beyond the fact that the programs -- and coaches -- can't stand each other.

Denker was once a question, even part of the problem for Arizona. Now he might just end up being a more than adequate answer.

Who's the best QB... really?

August, 27, 2013
ESPN Stats & Information's new Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) will be worth following this season. It's probably the best statistical measure of a quarterback's effectiveness out there.

As previously noted, the Manning Award used the 2012 QBR to put together its preseason watch list, which includes four Pac-12 quarterbacks: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who was just named the Beavers starter on Monday.

Total QBR measures a quarterback’s contributions to scoring on each play (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, and penalties) accounting for game context (down, distance, yard line, time remaining, and score) and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale where 50 is average.

“Total QBR uses all of a quarterback’s plays and accounts for the context of the game and quality of the defenses faced,” ESPN Stats & Information Sr. Director Jeff Bennett said in a statement with the Manning Award news release. “We are excited to bring a more complete rating system to the fans to allow for fairer comparisons of quarterbacks who play in different types of systems and face various levels of competition."

The Pac-12 blog talked to Bennett and some Stats & Info folks during a recent trip to Bristol, and they explained some of the nuances of the QBR. For example, say a team faces third-and-6 and the QB completes a 5-yard pass. By most efficiency measures, a 5-yard completion would be a positive. But not for QBR, which takes into account down and distance.

As for the 2012 numbers, six Pac-12 QBs ranked among the top 50 in QBR, including four who return this fall. Those six are (with their national ranking):
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon 87.8
11. Matt Scott, Arizona 79.1
23. Matt Barkley, USC 73.6
33. Brett Hundley, UCLA 68.3
37. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State 67.0
40. Sean Mannion, Oregon State 63.1

For the sake of comparison, here's how things with the NCAA's standard pass efficiency rating (Number is national ranking):
7. Marcus Mariota
9. Taylor Kelly
12. Matt Barkley
26. Brett Hundley
48. Sean Mannion
59. Matt Scott

So there was some difference.

Pac-12 preseason power rankings

August, 26, 2013
And so it begins.

Welcome to game week. These are the preseason power rankings. You can see our post-spring power rankings here. They are different.

1. Stanford: Both Kevin and Ted went against the popular grain -- as in the Pac-12 media poll -- and picked Stanford to win the Pac-12. The biggest reason for that, other than the Cardinal winning in Eugene in 2012 and welcoming back a strong crew of starters, is the continuity in the head coaching office.

2. Oregon: The Ducks are again a preseason top-five team and national title contender, with their North Division rivalry with Stanford becoming one of college football's must-see games. There are plenty of reasons to believe that new coach Mark Helfrich, stepping up from offensive coordinator, will maintain the juggernaut Chip Kelly built, including having just about all of Kelly's assistant coaches coming back. But there is certainty only in seeing it happen on the field. The Ducks do have an advantage in terms of schedule, with Stanford playing USC, UCLA and Arizona State, and Oregon missing the Trojans and Sun Devils. And Stanford doesn't play Colorado, either.

3. Arizona State: The South Division seems to be a three-team toss-up. When Kevin and I tossed our coin, it came up with the Sun Devils. Taylor Kelly leads the offense and Will Sutton leads the defense. Pretty good start. Of course, the early schedule will reveal a lot.

4. UCLA: The Bruins have the toughest conference schedule among South Division teams, mostly because they play Oregon. ASU and USC do not. There are some questions, but QB Brett Hundley and OLB Anthony Barr are a pair of future NFL first-round picks.

5. USC: The Trojans were seventh in the spring, in large part because of residual fumes from a horribly disappointing 2012 campaign. Also, coach Lane Kiffin sits on the hottest seat in the conference. But if you look at the Trojans on paper, well, it's not too difficult to imagine this team getting on a roll, one that could lead it back into the nation's top 10.

6. Washington: The Huskies not only have 20 starters back, they also are getting back several former starters who were injured last season, most notably DE Hau'oli Kikaha -- who changed his last name from Jamora -- and OG Colin Tanigawa. Both topped the depth chart released this weekend. This team, after three consecutive seven-win seasons, sets up for a return to national relevance. The opener in newly remodeled Husky Stadium against Boise State is, well, huge.

7. Oregon State: The Beavers still haven't named a starting quarterback -- the Pac-12 blog is of the mind we'll likely see both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz in at least the first two games. The big question, however, remains: How will things work out at defensive tackle? If that question is answered, it could be a big year in Corvallis.

8. Arizona: The Wildcats are operating under the radar because of two questions: 1) QB play; 2) defense. They are replacing the highly productive Matt Scott, and even though a lot of folks are back on defense, that unit got run over in 2012. The defense is going to be better. How much is a fair question. And how much can the guy behind center do his best Scott imitation?

9. Utah: The transition to the Pac-12 probably hasn't been as easy as most Utah folks -- coaches, players and fans -- expected. Still, if QB Travis Wilson takes a step forward under new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson and the Utes fill some holes on defense, this team could move up at least to the middle of the conference. Needs to stay healthy, though.

10. California: When you look at the Bears' depth chart, this seems low, even with a true freshman, Jared Goff, taking over behind center with a brutal early schedule. Still, there might be some growing pains under new coach Sonny Dykes, as his schemes on both sides of the ball are very different compared with what the Bears did under Jeff Tedford.

11. Washington State: The Cougars welcome back 17 starters, and they seem certain to be improved in the second season under coach Mike Leach. The defense has sneaky-good talent, and the deep crew of receivers seems perfect for Leach's "Air Raid" scheme. Of course, dramatic improvement might mean only five victories against a rugged schedule, including the opener at Auburn.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes should be better this season under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre, but that likely won't be enough for them to move up in this conference.
Kevin Hogan AP Photo/Jeff ChiuKevin Hogan transformed Stanford's 2012 season when he took over for the last five games.

Howdy. Next week, we'll have games. That is a good thing.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. That way no one will look at you when the term "benighted souls" is used in your presence.

To the notes.

Stanford CardinalAndrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: In general, I think you guys do an awesome job with the player rankings before and after each season. It's one of the most entertaining pieces you do every year. So far, the only glaring issue I have with the list is ranking Kevin Hogan at No. 17. It very specifically states that the rankings are a reflection of where a player starts the season, not where you think they are going to be ranked by the end of the season. And I simply think you are giving Hogan too much credit for his brief amount of playing time. He would have been a better choice at No. 25, or simply someone who merited strong consideration but didn't make the cut. Do you really think he's better than Ben Gardner (or Henry Anderson) or any of the other guys ranked after him? In short, I think you broke your own rules. But otherwise, love the work you guys do.

Ted Miller: Now this is how you write a note of complaint or disagreement.

Most notably, Andrew doesn't use the dimwit phrase "lose all credibility!" to make his point. He disagrees with something. He states his case.

That said, Kevin and I had a very specific discussion about Kevin Hogan and whether his fairly high ranking would appear to be a projection. It is not.

Now, obviously, Hogan's ranking isn't based on his pedestrian 2012 stats. At least, not the ones you most frequently see. Hogan's case, first of all, is based on how he transformed Stanford's season, from mostly treading water to Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion.

And we can quantify this because ESPN Stats & Information has quantified it, in fact, seeking out the Pac-12 blog to point out its findings.

Under the heading, "How much better was Stanford after QB change?" our sabermetric friends provided three bullet points.

  • Josh Nunes started Stanford's first eight games. His opponent adjusted quarterback rating was 56.4. His completion percentage on third down was 46 percent. He had nine turnovers.
  • Hogan started the final five games. His opponent adjusted QBR was 77.8. He completed 65 percent of his passes on third down. He had three turnovers.
  • The Cardinals' offensive efficiency rating with Nunes was +3. With Hogan, it was +25.

Now I hear your counter: We are comparing Hogan to Nunes. What about other Pac-12 quarterbacks?

Hogan's QBR of 77.8 would have ranked third in the Pac-12, behind only Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona's Matt Scott and ahead of USC's Matt Barkley, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly.

And, of course, he compiled that QBR against four ranked teams and Wisconsin.

Jeff from Paulina, Ore., writes: Your ranking of De'Anthony Thomas at number 14 in the Pac-12 preseason player rankings is absolutely absurd. I would like to use more adjectives to describe it including a few vulgar ones but I think you get the message. Not only does that ranking call into the question your being qualified to be the Pac-12 blog writer, it harms the national credibility of one a one of the most dynamic and realistic Heisman contenders the conference has had in a long time. Typical east coast college football fan: "De'Anthony Thomas for Heisman? There are like 10 players in his conference better than him (or 13 as you say). Look, the ESPN Pac-12 writer even has him at 14th." Sorry to be so harsh Ted. I know you don't like that De'Anthony doesn't fit into the traditional single position role, but unless you think he will have less touches because of that (Helfrich says he wants to get DAT more touches this year including around 20 carries a game), I don't understand how that matters.

Ted Miller: Sigh.

Kevin had a go at this same question last week.

Again, Jeff is not looking at what De'Anthony actually did last year, he's thinking of a the idea of DAT and projecting forward. This list doesn't project forward.

Let me quantify this a little more. Consider this previously published chart.

Thomas and Arizona State's Grice are basically a push, though Thomas also returned a punt and kickoff -- in the Fiesta Bowl, no less -- for TDs. Grice ranked 24th on our list, Thomas 14th. And, by the way, Grice obviously had to share the ball with D.J. Foster, just as Thomas shared touches with Kenjon Barner.

Let me take this outrage on in a general way, for we have as many angry notes about ranking Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins too low at No. 13.

The common denominator for just about all the "you lose all credibility!" notes is fan bias for players from their team. So Seferian-Jenkins, for Washington fans, is a only a "Finalist for the Mackey Award you idiot!" and not the No. 8 receiver in the Pac-12, a tight end who was not an elite blocker in 2012.

Thomas is one of the nation's most dynamic players. Seferian-Jenkins is a future first-round NFL draft pick. But we are evaluating what they actually did last year, not imagining them as fully realized football players.

As for Thomas' Heisman Trophy hopes, he will lose exactly zero votes because the Pac-12 blog ranked him 14th in the conference in the preseason, but thank you for imbuing us with so much power.

Evan from Novato, Calif., writes: Got a toughie for you. What game are you least looking forward to this season??!! And Why?

Ted Miller: From a preseason perspective, I'm most looking forward to Oregon's visit to Stanford on Nov. 7 for what might be the biggest Thursday night ESPN game in the history of Thursday night ESPN games.

Of course, we thought USC-Oregon was going to be epic last year, and things didn't exactly work out.

Arizona State has a fantastic four-game run against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame that could announce the Sun Devils as a budding national power -- or crush all optimism in Todd Graham's second year.

I'm wondering if Oregon's visit to renovated Husky Stadium on Oct. 12 might get heated. And I love the idea of USC-UCLA again being nationally relevant.

The list is long.

Oh... wait. You said "least" looking forward to.

I am least looking forward to Oregon-Nicholls State.

Kentucky WildcatsBert from Miles City, Mont., writes: Just saw your column about 6 worst FBS jobs and I have to write you to correct some fairly lazy research on your part. You mention Kentucky's poor attendance last year as one of your arguments for the job being bad, the problem is that last year's attendance was not the norm for Kentucky. Last years attendance was about a fanbase fed up with a terrible head coach, and an AD that basically told the fanbase to "make his day" when it came to a coaching change. So the fanbase made his day, and stayed away in droves to FORCE a coaching change the AD did not want to make. You see if you had done any research than to look up just last year's attendance, like simply put ncaa college football attendance into google, you would have seen official NCAA attendance stats that showed Kentucky to have a damn good football fanbase. Here is where UK ranks 2011 - 2005 in attendance: 2011-27th in nation-60,007; 2010-25th-66,070; 2009-22nd-69,594; 2008-23rd-69, 434; 2007-23rd-68,824; 2006-31st-57,330; 2005-27th-62,450. So I am not going to argue if UK is one of the 6 worst jobs, that is to subjective. You say we are, I would argue that opinion, but I will not allow lazy arguments to go unchallenged. UK for a football school of little success has a great fanbase, that shows up in droves when the coaching staff gives it a reason. One thing I think is that when you do this column again, and again put UK in your 6 worst fbs jobs you will not be able to use attendance as a reason as we will once again have top 30 or better attendance in 2013.

Ted Miller: Point taken. Kentucky fans, in the past, showed up to watch their team play.

But my research wasn't lazy. In fact, I originally was going to note your very point in the article, including, of course, that the downturn took place over the past two seasons. I'll explain why I didn't in two paragraphs.

First, the important number is not the attendance figure but percent of capacity (Commonwealth Stadium seats 67,500). As noted about 2012, "the Wildcats played in front of an average of 49,691 fans last year, which was only 73.5 percent of capacity at Commonwealth Stadium, by far the worst percentage in the SEC and seventh worst among FBS teams."

In 2011, that percentage was 88.8, better only that Vanderbilt in the SEC.

But, Bert, know why I didn't belabor that point, taking time to note it was based on fan frustration with coach Joker Phillips? Because it makes the Kentucky job look even worse. I originally was going to point that out but felt like I was being too harsh -- and that the Kentucky blurb would be too long compared to the others.

Let's avoid fairly lazy thinking here: Your counter is that Kentucky fans used to show up to watch the Wildcats until they bailed out on their team because they didn't like the team's third-year coach.

And that makes Kentucky a better job?

Forget all the numbers I used to quantify why Kentucky ranked among the six worst jobs, such as not having a winning record in conference play since 1977. Consider, instead, that Kentucky fans began turning away from the program in a coach's second year, and that they apparently didn't feel a responsibility to support the young men attending their beloved school and wearing their beloved colors.

Again: And that makes Kentucky a better job?

Arizona Wildcats season preview

August, 21, 2013
We conclude our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Arizona Wildcats.


Coach: Rich Rodriguez (83-53, 8-5 at Arizona)

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/John MillerLast season Rich Rodriguez's offense scored 38 points per game, but his defense gave up 35.
2012 record: 8-5 (4-5 Pac-12 South)

Key losses: QB Matt Scott, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, DL Dominique Austin, OL Trace Biskin.

Key returnees: RB Ka'Deem Carey, RB Daniel Jenkins, LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, WR Terrence Miller, OL Fabbians Ebbele, OL Mickey Baucus, OL Chris Putton.

Newcomer to watch: The Wildcats have put an emphasis on building defensive depth, so look for linebacker Scooby Wright to contribute immediately. The all-state performer out of Cardinal Newman (Windsor, Calif.) has impressed so far in camp.

Biggest games in 2013: With UCLA, USC and ASU getting the bulk of the hype in the Pac-12 South, the Wildcats will have to pull off some upsets if they want to be in contention. That makes all three (at USC Oct. 10, vs. UCLA Nov. 9, at ASU Nov. 30) critical. Of course, the ASU game is the biggest of all.

Biggest question mark: Next week is game week, and the Wildcats are still in quarterback limbo. It was thought that B.J. Denker and Jesse Scroggins would be the front-runners, but neither has pulled away and Javelle Allen, Anu Solomon and Nick Isham have all kept pace. They’ve all shared close to equal reps in camp, so at least there is continuity with the receivers seeing all of the QBs (Denker is the only lefty). The fact that the Wildcats have a fairly easy nonconference schedule bodes well. Rodriguez has already said it’s possible he could start three different quarterbacks the first three weeks before Arizona opens league play on the road at Washington on Sept. 28. There are a few more practices coming up before the Wildcats get into “game week” mode, so every rep will count.

Forecast: It hasn’t been the greatest offseason for the Wildcats. The opening of the new facility and a couple of awesome! videos (Part I and Part II) were overshadowed by Carey’s off-field indiscretions, the loss of wide receiver Austin Hill to injury and the departure of receiver Tyler Slavin. Once thought to be their strongest position group, the Wildcats now find themselves struggling with some wide receiver depth.

Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton and Johnny Jackson make up a solid starting three, and David Richards, though hampered by injuries, is a solid 3B. And Jenkins can be a do-it-all guy, but it’s still an area of concern.

Matt Scott was obviously a huge part of the offense. And he and Carey complemented each other nicely. It will be interesting to see if Carey continues his outstanding pace with a new quarterback. The belief is that there will be just as much passing as last season, and given Arizona’s scheme, it’s unlikely Carey will be seeing many eight- and nine-man boxes.

The offensive line should also be solid. Quinn was an underappreciated center and he’ll be missed, but Ebbele, Baucus and Putton (who will be plugged in as needed) make up a strong troika.

Defensively, the question is if this group, which returns virtually every starter from last year, got better. Fischer and Flowers are legit playmakers, and you’d think a second year in the 3-3-5 will help. As explosive as the Wildcats were offensively, the defense gave up more than 35 points a game -- ranking 102nd nationally. Fortunately, the offense averaged better than 38 points per game.

Arizona is an extremely intriguing team. If Rodriguez can make the quarterback spot plug-and-play, and Scott’s production can be mostly replicated, that will take a lot of pressure off Carey, who could be in for another big season. And, if the defense is improved, the offense won’t have to feel like it has to win every game.

But those are two big ifs.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker launched the ball from his end zone, and it took a pretty arc 40 yards downfield and landed softly into the outstretched fingertips of Trevor Ermisch.

It was a nice pass and catch, probably the best moment of the Wildcats' scrimmage on Saturday. It also seemed meaningful.

First, it spoke to the biggest questions about Denker -- his arm strength. No, he can't quick-release rockets like former QB Matt Scott could a year ago. But his arm just might be strong enough.

Second, it was the highlight of the night for the QB who was most efficient during the scrimmage. Denker, who led the No. 1 offense, made plays with his arm and his feet and, most important, he protected the football.

The takeaway for reporters? Denker is closing in on the starting job. Coach Rich Rodriguez, while yielding little, admitted that there had been some "separation" in the competition of late.

However, with all due respect to those esteemed scribes, Denker wasn't too moved by reporters telling him he'd become the frontrunner.

"No offense sir or sirs, but if you write I'm the best quarterback in the state of Arizona, I have to go out and play like it. It doesn't matter what you guys say," he said. "It doesn't matter what you guys think. All that matters is what the head ball coach up there in the office thinks. If he tells me I'm the best quarterback for the team, I'll believe him. Until he says to me, 'You're my guy for game one; you're my guy for game two,' that's all that matters."

[+] EnlargeB.J. Denker
Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY SportsArizona quarterback B.J. Denker showed promise last season when called upon.
Denker's top competition, Jesse Scroggins, a junior college transfer who originally signed with USC, seems like he's still figuring out the offense, and that is holding him back. Some of that's just bad luck with injuries. He missed spring practices after foot surgery and also sat out some of preseason camp after suffering a concussion. He made some nice plays in the scrimmage, in fact showing more running ability than previously thought, but he also threw a goal-line interception.

Rodriguez is in no hurry to announce a pecking order, though it figures that will happen naturally during the final week of preseason camp before the opener against Northern Arizona. One of his catchphrases is wanting his players to be "comfortable being uncomfortable." That includes plenty of yelling and trying to make his QBs stressed and insecure. Denker termed this, "trying to break me."

"He likes to yell," Denker said. "He'll get right in my ear, right in my face and tell me what I did wrong."

The idea is to build mental toughness, to make game-day pressure seem like a relief after the pressure of practice.

Denker, a 6-foot-3, 173-pound senior, is the only QB on the roster with game experience in Rodriguez's system. He started for Scott against Colorado last year and finished the season with solid numbers: 25 of 37 passes for 259 yards with three TDs and one interception and 74 yards rushing with one score.

Still, the Wildcats' schedule gives them what amounts to a preseason. Their first three opponents look like easy outs -- Northern Arizona then at UNLV in Week 2 and UT San Antonio in Week 3. That means Rodriguez could play more than one guy and see who answers the bell when plays are for real.

"We might not decide until the season," he said.

Of course, Denker is trying to win the job outright and end all doubt so he doesn't have to share anything.

"As a competitor, as a quarterback, the reason is I play this position is because there's only one guy on the field," he said. "Obviously, if I had my way I'd love to play all four quarters and be the guy. But if that's what he feels like is best for the team, then I have to respect his decision. He's a lot smarter than I am."

Rodriguez has a strong history with quarterbacks. He's coached all-conference players at the position during each of his coaching stops. While Denker might be hard-pressed to win All-Pac-12 honors in a conference deep with experienced quarterbacks, the real question is whether he can be efficient enough to make the Wildcats a factor in the South Division.

Best case-worst case: Arizona

August, 7, 2013
This is the fifth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Arizona

Best case

The Man in Maroon fled across the desert and Rich Rodriguez followed.
Old Man No. 1: That one there. He's a-got him a Hard Edge.

Old Man No. 2: Yessum. And some of thems around him got a Hard Edge II.

Old Man No. 1: Yep. But that ole gunslinger Matt Scott is gone. And that defense? It played like a bunch of saddle tramps and sapheads last year.

Old Man No. 2: Yessum. And that there Graham, the one in Maroon up north. He's-um got the Territorial Cup.
B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins and Anu Solomon walk into Rodriguez's office.

"Gentlemen, we have to make a decision at quarterback," Rodriguez says. "You've made it extremely difficult. In fact, we are divided on what we want to do."
Denker: I've got experience.

Scroggins: And I've got the best arm.

Solomon: What if... we split the position among us?

Headline from the next day's Arizona Daily Star: "Wisdom of Solomon: Wildcats will split up QB job three ways."

Arizona pounds Northern Arizona, UNLV and UT San Antonio. Scroggins starts all three games, with Denker coming off the bench in the second quarter and Solomon used in specific packages. They combine for 10 TD passes and three scoring runs.

"We'll find out who we are the next few weeks -- road games at Washington and USC," Rodriguez says. "It's a heck of a thing, winning on the road. Takes away all that home team's got and all he's ever gonna have."

The Wildcats lose both games. The Huskies slip Arizona in overtime on a disputed TD call after a QB sneak from Keith Price, while the Trojans take revenge for a loss in Tucson the year before, 28-24.

Rodriguez storms into the locker room at the Coliseum. He throws a trash can across the room. He dumps the Gatorade table. Then he regroups.

“We should have won -- we should be 5-0," he says. "But that no longer matters. What matters is right now and every moment henceforth."

He then adds, "Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

(Read full post)

The Manning Award is going all sabermetric, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information's new Total Quarterback Rating (QBR).

The award announced its 30-man watch list on Thursday, basing the list on the top 30 returning quarterbacks according to the QBR.

The list includes four Pac-12 quarterbacks: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion

The winner will still be selected by a voting panel, which includes national media and each of the Mannings, after the bowls.

Total QBR measures a quarterback’s contributions to scoring on each play (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, and penalties) accounting for game context (down, distance, yard line, time remaining, and score) and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale where 50 is average.

“Total QBR uses all of a quarterback’s plays and accounts for the context of the game and quality of the defenses faced,” ESPN Stats & Information Sr. Director Jeff Bennett said in a statement. “We are excited to bring a more complete rating system to the fans to allow for fairer comparisons of quarterbacks who play in different types of systems and face various levels of competition. We’re pleased that a national award like the Manning Award has seen the value of our new Total QBR for college.”

The Pac-12 blog chatted with Bennett last week, and he had some numbers that would interest Pac-12 fans.

First, Mariota ranked second in the nation in QBR behind only Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner.

Second, recall the controversy over the Pac-12 blog ranking former Arizona quarterback Matt Scott No. 4 in our postseason top-25 players list?

Consider it no longer a controversy. Consider the Pac-12 blog correct and the Scott critics incorrect.

Scott ranked second in the Pac-12 and ninth in the nation in QBR. Case closed.


The same could be said over the controversy over Matt Barkley at No. 14, though perhaps not as strongly. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the nation in QBR.

So you can now retract all those bad things you said about the Pac-12 blog. And it was Kevin's fault we didn't include Desmond Trufant.

Oh, and here's the Manning Watch List.

Ted spent much of the last two weeks looking at individuals from the league who are coming back. But what about from a team standpoint? As is always the case, we have to say goodbye to some folks who have graduated, departed early, transferred or simply chose to follow another path in life. What's left in the pantry?

Today we're going to take a look at what each team has coming back in terms of yards, attempts and touchdowns in the run game. We'll start with the Pac-12 South. "Team" carries are not taken into account looking ahead to 2013, but negative yards in 2012 are. Remember also that sacks are (for some redonkulous reason) counted as a rushing attempts.

Here's a reminder of how the teams ranked in the league in rushing offense last year:
  1. Oregon
  2. Arizona
  3. Arizona State
  4. UCLA
  5. California
  6. Stanford
  7. USC
  8. Washington
  9. Utah
  10. Oregon State
  11. Colorado
  12. Washington State

Here's what the teams in the Pac-12 South have coming back.

  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,961
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 544
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 33
  • Rushing yards returning: 2,427
  • Rushing attempts returning: 419
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 27
  • Percentage of yards returning: 81 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 77 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 81 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Ka'Deem Carey, 1,929 yards, 303 attempts, 23 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Matt Scott, 506 yards, 113 attempts, six touchdowns
Arizona State
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,670
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 598
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 27
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,998
  • Rushing attempts returning: 421
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 18
  • Percentage of yards returning: 74 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 70 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 66 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Marion Grice, 679 yards, 103 attempts, 11 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Cameron Marshall, 583 yards, 135 attempts, nine touchdowns
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,323
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 425
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 16
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,320
  • Rushing attempts returning: 396
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 15
  • Percentage of yards returning: 98 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 93 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 93 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Christian Powell, 691 yards, 158 attempts, seven touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Nick Hirschman, zero rushing yards, 25 attempts, one touchdown

*Note: Colorado is interesting because Hirshman is the only player who carried last year who is off the roster, and he evened out with 60 rushing yards and 60 yards lost. Jordan Webb, Connor Wood and John Schrock accounted for minus-152 yards. The 20-yard differential is in minus-20 "team" yards, which aren't taken into account as returning yards.

  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,671
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 599
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 29
  • Rushing yards returning: 954
  • Rushing attempts returning: 305
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 16
  • Percentage of yards returning: 35 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 50 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 55 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Brett Hundley, 355 yards, 160 attempts, nine touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Johnathan Franklin, 1,734 yards, 282 attempts, 13 touchdowns
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,958
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 392
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 12
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,271
  • Rushing attempts returning: 247
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 10
  • Percentage of yards returning: 64 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returings: 63 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 83 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Silas Redd, 905 yards, 167 attempts, nine touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Curtis McNeal, 701 yards, 116 attempts, two touchdowns
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,605
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 446
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 17
  • Rushing yards returning: 539
  • Rushing attempts returning: 184
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 8
  • Percentage of yards returning: 33 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returnings: 41 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 47 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Kelvin York, 273 yards, 60 attempts, three touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: John White, 1,041 yards, 218 attempts, eight touchdowns

Pac-12 defenses set to rebound?

June, 11, 2013
In 2011, Oregon State ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, surrendering 30.8 points per game. Washington was even worse, ranking 11th while yielding 35.9 points per game

Bad defenses!

Oregon State finished 3-9, the Beavers' worst record since going 3-8 in 1997, coach Mike Riley's first season. The Huskies fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt and paid big bucks to lure Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee.

And in 2012 both made huge improvement on defense.

The Beavers ended up ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up just 20.6 points per game. That's a 10.2-point per game improvement.

Washington ended up fourth in the conference, surrendering a respectable 24.2 points per game, which was 11.2 points better per game.

Our, er, point? Units can make major improvements from one year to the next.

So who is poised to make a big jump this fall?

Well, the first question is can we glean anything from Oregon State and Washington?

Oregon State welcomed back eight starters, and that doesn't include space-eating, 354-pound tackle Castro Masaniai. Moreover, there was plenty of star power at all three levels: DE Scott Crichton, LB D.J. Alexander and CB Jordan Poyer.

The personnel losses didn't leave big questions. In fact, it seemed likely in the preseason that the Beavers' defense would be better, even if there's a minor application of hindsight there.

Washington welcomed back seven starters, but there were plenty of questions, starting with a new base 3-4 scheme. There was some veteran talent, topped by CB Desmond Trufant, and promising young players such as DT Danny Shelton, rush end Josh Shirley and LB Shaq Thompson, but dramatic improvement wasn't a certainty. The personnel losses -- DE Everrette Thompson, DT Alameda Ta’amu , LB Cort Dennison and CB Quinton Richardson -- were multiyear starters.

Yet the Huskies, probably in large part due to much better coaching under Wilcox and his rejiggered staff, were dramatically better.

And so we have the bottom five defenses from 2012:

Wow, Colorado ... 46 points per game. That was worst in the nation by nearly three points. I know Buff fans are tired of hearing this but, well, that can't get any worse.

California is transitioning to a 4-3 after being pretty successful with a 3-4 under Clancy Pendergast. The good news is solid talent at all three levels, though some of that talent has yet to live up to its formally big-time recruiting pedigree.

As we've previously touched on, UCLA needs to get better on defense if it wants to again become a national presence. Barr is a great place to start, seeing that he's on the short list for national defensive player of the year. That said: The entire secondary is being rebuilt.

Washington State is filling the biggest void -- Long was the Cougars' four-year sack leader -- but it has a better-than-you-think crew coming back next fall.

But if you were betting on improvement, the Wildcats might be the best place to start. The grounds for that is pretty straight-forward: Everyone is back, so you'd expect most of those guys to be better this fall, with the added bonus of some youthful reinforcements. Further, coordinator Jeff Casteel knows what he's doing. Year 2 with his 3-3-5 scheme is almost certainly going to be better.

The Wildcats' defense might even get a boost from its offense: With QB Matt Scott gone, the offense might lean more on the running game, topped by Ka'Deem Carey. It also might slow things down just a bit, though Rich Rodriguez isn't likely to huddle up and go pro style.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard receivers

May, 30, 2013
Gabe Marks, Marcus PetersWilliam Mancebo/Getty ImagesIn Mike Leach's offense, WSU's Gabe Marks, left, looks like a good bet to have a 1,000-yard season.
We've looked at the Pac-12's 2,500-yard passers and its 1,000-yard rushers. Now we turn to the third wheel of the skill position tricycle: 1,000-yard receivers.

The conference featured four 1,000-yard receivers last year. One is off to the NFL: Oregon State's Markus Wheaton. One is out for the season -- or at least a significant part of it -- with a knee injury: Arizona's Austin Hill. Two others are back:
That's a good start. Lee was a unanimous All-American and Cooks could push for such recognition this fall.

There's plenty of talent after them. This is hardly a down position in the conference. In fact, several teams feel pretty good about their chances to produce a 1,000-yard pass-catcher.

Arizona: The Wildcats not only lost Hill, they also are replacing quarterback Matt Scott. Moreover, their No. 2 receiver in 2012, Dan Buckner, is gone, and the No. 3 guy was running back Ka'Deem Carey. There's solid experience returning at the position, but no one player looks like the go-to guy. The Wildcats are more likely to have three guys with over 600 yards receiving than to have one with 1,000.

Arizona State: Receiver is the Sun Devils' most questionable position. At this point, the most likely guy to go over 1,000 yards is tight end Chris Coyle. But if you were to imagine who will be the Sun Devils' top wideout in 2013, a good bet is touted juco transfer Jaelen Strong.

California: Keenan Allen is gone, but the Bears have plenty of young talent at receiver, a list topped by Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. With new coach Sonny Dykes' new high-flying spread passing offense, it's difficult to imagine the Bears don't produce a 1,000-yard receiver.

Colorado: The Buffaloes' only legitimate A-list player is receiver Paul Richardson. He'd start for just about any Pac-12 team. And, considering how much new coach Mike MacIntyre likes to throw, Richardson seems likely to hit the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy.

Oregon: The Ducks are expected to throw more this season for a number of reasons -- new coach, questions at running back, etc. -- but the chief reason is because quarterback Marcus Mariota is a highly capable passer. Last year, we saw flashes of what he could do. We'll see plenty more in 2013. With De'Anthony Thomas slated to be primarily a running back, expect Josh Huff to become Mariota's favorite target.

Stanford: Stanford isn't the sort of team that produces a 1,000-yard receiver, and its most likely candidates in recent years were tight ends. But if things fell a certain way, Ty Montgomery might make a run at it.

UCLA: If you were to make a list of most likely new members of the 1,000-yard club in 2013, Bruins wide receiver Shaquelle Evans would be on it. He caught 60 passes for 877 yards last year in quarterback Brett Hundley's first year as a starter. With no Johnathan Franklin at running back, the Bruins should be throwing plenty.

Utah: The Utes should be much better throwing the ball this season. For one, quarterback Travis Wilson can only be more mature after starting as a true freshman. Second, new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson likes to spread defenses out and throw the ball. Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott are a good tandem, and one or the other could make a run at 1,000 yards.

Washington: The Huskies have two legit candidates -- wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But Jenkins is working through a DUI arrest that has him presently suspended. Williams, who caught 77 passes for 878 yards a year ago, is a strong bet to be Keith Price's go-to guy.

Washington State: That list with likely new 1,000-yard receivers? Colorado's Richardson, UCLA's Evans and Washington's Williams would be on it. But atop the list would be Washington State's Gabe Marks. If he stays healthy, he's almost a sure thing, considering how much coach Mike Leach likes to throw the ball.