Pac-12: Mike Johnson
WHO TO WATCH: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince. This is almost certainly Prince's last game running the Bruins' run-first pistol offense. Next year under new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Bruins will be spreading the field and throwing all over the place. Still, considering that interim coach Mike Johnson is more of a pro-style offensive coordinator, it wouldn't be surprising to see fewer QB keepers and more passes. And Prince, a junior, can make a statement to his new coaches about who should be the starting signal-caller in 2012.
WHAT TO WATCH: The mood. Illinois lost its final six games and fired Ron Zook. UCLA lost its final regular-season game to rival USC 50-zip and fired Rick Neuheisel, then subsequently needed a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game after finishing with a losing record. Both teams suspended players after the regular season ended due to academic or behavior issues. With two interim coaches, and two staffs that aren't fully invested in the program going forward, it's likely one or both teams will be sloppy and uninspired. Things could get ugly. The question is whether ugly describes both teams imploding or just one.
WHY TO WATCH: Because it's college football and college football is awesome. Because it's hard not to slow down and rubberneck a traffic accident. Because there will be a quiz on this game on the Pac-12 blog on Tuesday, and the person who gets the most answers right wins $1 zillion. Maybe.
PREDICTION: Illinois 20, UCLA 14: Both teams enter amid down circumstances. Both teams have damaging player suspensions/ineligibility. The difference is that, despite everything, Illinois does something well — play defense — and UCLA does not.
One thing was about the dreary present: Backup quarterback Richard Brehaut has been suspended for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and three Bruins have been ruled academically ineligible.
The other is about a potentially better future: The Bruins acting Tuesday on their "tradition" of "going over the wall" made new coach Jim Mora want to claw his eyes out, just like it did many Bruins fans.
Said Mora: "It's completely unacceptable and it will not be part of the program going forward."
Good. End of "tradition." Mora immediately sends a message that should resonate in a locker room that needs some resonance.
Now on to the bad stuff. Joining Brehaut in time out are, are safety Tony Dye, starting offensive lineman Albert Cid and backup linebacker Isaiah Bowens, who are the academically ineligible for the Dec. 31 bowl game.
Without Brehaut, starter Kevin Price will be backed up by either Nick Crissman or Darius Bell. There is zero chance that talented true freshman Brett Hundley will play after redshirting this season.
“All four of these student-athletes are disappointed that they will miss the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but they all understand that they have let their teammates and the program down and that there are consequences for their actions,” interim coach Mike Johnson said in a statement.
Question: Do you think Johnson, who was only with UCLA during this one miserable season, is eager to get this bowl game over and get on with his life?
Brehaut played in seven games, starting four, and completed 67 of 121 passes for 948 yards and six touchdowns. Dye played in five games, starting all of them during an injury-plagued season, tallying 23 tackles. Cid participated in nine games, starting five of them. Bowens played in 12 games coming off the bench, making nine tackles and recovering two fumbles.
A winning record would make big statement: The Pac-12 is an underdog in six of seven bowl games -- only Oregon is favored over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. That means going 4-3 would require three upsets, and the Ducks are hardly a sure thing. UCLA beating Illinois wouldn't get the Pac-12 much street credit, but the other six would, particularly the two BCS bowl games. The reality is this: When you start to see national writers picking these games, more than a few will project 0-7.
Can Oregon buck its rep, run over the Badgers? You've heard it before. Over and over. Five of Ducks coach Chip Kelly's six losses have come to teams with extra time to prepare: Season-openers against Boise State and LSU, bowl games with Ohio State and Auburn, and Stanford coming off a bye week in 2009. And in each case the Ducks' point total was below average for the season. Know how Kelly and the Ducks can put that to bed? Score 40 and rush for 200-plus yards against Wisconsin in Pasadena on Jan. 2. Even if Wisconsin wins, that would at least stop the talk about extra time "solving" the Oregon offense.
Does Andrew Luck go out big? Stanford quarterback Luck was widely -- and deservedly -- celebrated for his surprising return for his redshirt junior year instead of entering the NFL draft. He put up great numbers. His top-five team went 11-1 and is playing in a second consecutive BCS bowl game. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy race for a second consecutive year. It's hard to rate any of that as disappointing. But Luck faced higher expectations than perhaps any player who returned for his "senior" year has before, even USC's Matt Leinart in 2005. Despite being an underdog to a very good Oklahoma State team, it would seem deflating on the Farm if the Cardinal loses the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 and sends Luck out on a down note.
RG3 vs. Nick Holt: Many Washington fans are unhappy with the Huskies defense, and they blame highly paid defensive coordinator Holt. Holt is tight with head coach Steve Sarkisian, who has consistently backed his embattled assistant. Holt could significantly bolster his standing -- and establish some positive momentum for 2012 -- if he and his staff can figure out a way to slow down Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. Of course, Griffin is only the Heisman Trophy winner and this season's most dynamic playmaker.
Do UCLA and Arizona State show up and fight? UCLA and Arizona State are bowl teams with fired coaches, which is a bit odd. The Bruins are playing under interim coach Mike Johnson, who will be out the door after the Dec. 31 game. The Sun Devils are playing under fired coach Dennis Erickson. How much pride and fight does either show? With Erickson on hand, there's a chance his players play hard to send him out on a good note, but Boise State is a tough foe in the Dec. 22 MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. But they might have thought of that during a four-game losing streak to end the season. The Bruins showed some fight in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon, Rick Neuheisel's final game. But how much will they care against Illinois, which also is playing under an interim coach, in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl?
Utah's run defense vs. Georgia Tech's option: Utah ranks seventh in the nation in rushing defense, surrendering just 97 yards per game. Georgia Tech's triple-option ranks No. 3 in the country in run offense, gaining 317 yards per game. Something has to give in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 31. Know how it's better to play Oregon after getting extra time to prepare a defense? Same goes for the Yellow Jackets.
A dish served cold for the Old Blues? California hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1959. It thought it was going in 2004, but something happened. Mack Brown happened. He told people Cal shouldn't go to the Rose Bowl. His team should. That pollsters should promote his team and demote the Bears in order to help the Longhorns. That's not exactly what happened -- just ask Brown and Texas fans -- but that's what Cal fans think happened. The Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, set for Dec. 28, doesn't feature ranked teams. But it does feature a nice grudge, which will make things interesting, at least among fans.
Here's some skinny.
At UCLA, ESPN LA's Peter Yoon reported that interim head coach Mike Johnson would like to be considered for the job. Here's his update on other candidates:
UCLA has been turned down by Boise State coach Chris Petersen, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions, and eliminated Houston coach Kevin Sumlin as a candidate after meeting with him on Saturday, according to a source. Al Golden of Miami is considered the next top target, though Golden recently signed a four-year contract extension at Miami.
There's some chatter out there about former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora, Jr. My take: That would be a good hire. While things went badly for Mora in Seattle, let's recall that he was the first choice to replace Tyrone Willingham at Washington. He's a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility that would translate well at UCLA. Recall that the last time a team in LA hired a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility who had folks scratching their heads turned out OK.
Here's Jon Gold's take in the LA Daily News.
Sources have said that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who met with Sumlin in Houston on Saturday, is essentially rebooting the search and at this point, there are no clear-cut favorites. Miami head coach Al Golden, whom Guerrero interviewed for the job during the post-Karl Dorrell vacancy, is among the candidates, along with SMU head coach June Jones. Sources indicated on Saturday that there was minimal interest in former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti.
UCLA has been the sort of job that more than a few folks thought might lure Bellotti back into coaching. But it doesn't seem, at least at this point, that he's high on the Bruins' list.
Meanwhile, at Arizona State, it appears that Sumlin might not be completely out of the picture, but that SMU coach June Jones' name is front-and-center at present. Still, there are plenty of other names in the rumor swirl. Writes Doug Haller:
Arizona State officials on Saturday met with SMU coach June Jones for more than three hours in Texas.
A report surfaced Sunday that ASU was in position to announce Jones' hire shortly after the university learned of its bowl destination. That wasn't true. According to a source, the Jones push slowed Sunday night. That doesn't mean it's over, but it could be an indication that ASU is having second thoughts.
Sources confirmed Sunday that Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora is still in the mix. Baylor coach Art Briles has emerged as a candidate.
I continue to hear ASU likes Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
Also, despite reports that ASU has backed off Sumlin, he still could be in play, especially if Texas A&M goes another direction in its quest to replace fired coach Mike Sherman.
In other words, neither coach search has moved -- at least according to reports -- decisively in one direction.
So stay tuned.
"We are going into the game believing there is hope," he said. "No one across the country will think there was only one team."
Yes, it should be a butt-kicking.
How the emotions play out, however, will be interesting. Not for Oregon, of course. Coach Chip Kelly isn't much for the emotional angles reporters are always pestering him about.
Does Kelly have any concern about the Bruins coming in fired up about trying to win one for Neuheisel the week he was fired from his self-described "dream job"?
"I don't know what another team's mindset is," Kelly said. "We worry about what we can control."
Well, what about the stakes? The Rose Bowl is on the line.
"It's not about the prize at the end," Kelly said. "It's about the game."
Ah, but for Neuheisel, it seems to be about much more.
Think about his situation. He was controversially fired at Washington in 2002, and when he won a lawsuit against the school and the bumbling NCAA, many thought he would get blackballed from coaching. He went to the NFL -- landing with the Baltimore Ravens -- but fought hard behind the scenes for years to get his name back in circulation for college head-coaching jobs. Then, by a seeming stroke of magic, he got hired in 2008 at the place where he had always wanted to be.
He rose from the ashes. He got his shot. And this week he was fired. He shook hands with his dream, and his dream rejected him.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't successful enough," he said.
That's the cold, hard fact he carries into his last game. Just a day before, however, his players carried him off the practice field, perhaps trying to show Neuheisel that there isn't just one way to be successful.
Say what you want about Neuheisel -- and the people who know him the least always have strong opinions -- but the guy cares about his players and really -- really -- wanted to win at UCLA. There were many things that went wrong during his tenure in Westwood. There were plenty of things that were Neuheisel's fault. Others were the fault of UCLA administrators. And there was plenty of bad luck -- two quarterbacks going down with season-ending knee injuries in one spring practice? Really?
But when your players carry you off the field, that's meaningful.
"That was something I will have forever," he said.
For Oregon, it's all business. The Ducks are trying to earn a third consecutive conference title and BCS bowl berth. They see UCLA as their nameless, faceless opponent in a 13th Super Bowl this season.
For Neuheisel, it's the end. Even if his team finds, to use his term, "lightning in a bottle" and upsets the Ducks, offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will take over for Neuheisel for the Rose Bowl, according to the plan laid out by athletic director Dan Guerrero.
Neuheisel lived -- and died -- by his insistence on "relentless optimism" at UCLA. Even in present circumstances he described as a "bitter pill," he's still hoping like a surgeon's knife.
"We're a game away from playing in the Rose Bowl," he said, "which is the amazing thing about this."
Athletic director Dan Guerrero, a few hours after firing coach Rick Neuheisel, said the Bruins have applied for a waiver to play in a bowl game should they fall to 6-7 with a loss at Oregon on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game. The Bruins are 31-point underdogs against the Ducks, and Mike Johnson would take over for Neuheisel as interim coach in the event of the bowl waiver being granted.
"It would be great opportunity to have one last crack at a win," Guerrero said.
Here's the logic behind applying for the waiver, which might not be granted: The only reason UCLA is considered the South Division champion is because USC -- the true South champ -- is ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. If the Trojans were eligible, the Bruins would have finished 6-6 and, ergo, been bowl eligible.
So the Bruins are going to claim their losing record isn't really their fault.
If, of course, they lose to Oregon. If they beat the Ducks, well, then it's on to the Rose Bowl.
Yes, this is a bit odd.
The second front here is the Pac-12 is contracted to eight bowls and likely won't fill two spots -- Kraft Fight Hunger and New Mexico -- if both Oregon and Stanford end up in BCS bowl games. And the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl wants UCLA because it's scrambling for teams.
With one weekend remaining, there are 71 bowl-eligible teams for 70 spots in 35 games. So, yes, there are enough teams for the bowl season. And, yes, if UCLA gets a spot, a team with at least a .500 record will miss out.
The Kraft Bowl is on Dec. 31 and its payout is $925,000. If the Bruins are thrifty, they might be able to break even on the trip. Perhaps they can take buses to the game instead of flying?
Most coaches will tell you the benefit of a bowl game is extra practices. The bowl game actually serves as a springboard for the next season. But the Bruins would be practicing with a lame-duck staff. That means schemes will be different next fall, as will the evaluation of talent.
The question then is this: What's the value of UCLA playing a bowl game?
Ultimately, it should come down to the players, not administration or bowl executives. If the players want to continue to practice and extend their season until Dec. 31, then perhaps there's enough justification for seeking the waiver.
Just so everyone on the Bruins' end knows that every time they are mentioned during the bowl season they will be tagged as the only bowl team with a losing record and a fired head coach.
Kevin Prince is UCLA's starting quarterback, but Richard Brehaut will play in the opener at Houston on Saturday, which means things are still mostly unresolved at the position at which the Bruins' season might hang.
Of course, if Prince (or Brehaut) is lights-out, we'll have a resolution. At least in the short term.
Prince, a two-year starter, missed spring practices with a knee injury, yet was widely considered the front-runner entering preseason camp. But Brehaut, who started seven games after Prince got hurt last fall, consistently outplayed Prince during the early going, though Prince seemed to shake off rust and play better as camp closed.
"After analyzing and looking at all the different strengths and weaknesses of the two youngsters, I just believe both deserve to play," Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel told reporters Tuesday night. "I've told both of them that I don't know exactly when or how or why or any of that stuff because when you make promises of that sort you end up setting yourself up for disappointment because no one can ever predict the ebb and flow of a game."
Peter Yoon sums up the concerns at the position nicely: "Last season, UCLA finished 116th out of 120 BCS teams in passing offense and Bruins quarterbacks have had more interceptions than touchdowns every year since 2007."
Further complicating the picture, true freshman Brett Hundley also could see action, though he missed much of camp after a knee scope.
Playing two quarterbacks is a tricky thing. It could frustrate one -- or both -- and lead to dissension in the locker room, with factions of players taking sides. It could make it difficult to create an offensive rhythm. And they could become distracted by the situation, looking to the sideline after each incompletion worried about a potential hook coming from a frowning Neuheisel.
It also could cause tension with the coaches, who are working together for the first time.
Neuheisel took over QB coaching duties this spring after he dispatched Norm Chow. Mike Johnson, however, is the play-calling offensive coordinator who also coaches receivers, while Jim Mastro oversees the running game.
That's lots of cooks in the kitchen debating over the main course.
We shall see. A lot is riding on this for Neuheisel.
The LA Times on the QB decision here.
The Orange County Register here.
And the LA Daily News here.
- An early camp standout for Arizona gets hurt. Breaking down Arizona's schedule. A Germanic influence on the Wildcats O-line.
- Arizona State's Jamal Miles doesn't get the credit he deserves. Sun Devils on the skills you need to play.
- A knee injury ends the season for California's starting fullback. A foot race between two Bears is put on hold.
- Old man Hawkins looks to contribute for Colorado. Quarterback Tyler Hansen has been sharp thus far.
- A former Oregon quarterbacl is focused on his new job. A practice report.
- Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis begins his battle with Parkinson’s Disease. A practice update. Things are not settled at running back.
- Stanford is deep at running back. No offensive line in the nation has a better tandem than these two beasts, one of whom is a classics major (well, "Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris, Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit" to you, Jonathan Martin).
- UCLA has talent but needs consistency at receiver, and the lack thereof bothers coordinator Mike Johnson.
- Suddenly the backup quarteback job at USC is up for grabs. Lots of talk about the Trojans young receivers, but what about the old ones?
- Quarterback Jordan Wynn and the Utah offense looked pretty good in a scrimmage. More here.
- Washington is replacing two linebackers. A practice report.
- Washington State gets after it in a scrimmage. From Iraq to Pullman, this lineman's see a lot.
UCLA in a sentence
- Coach Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat after a second 4-8 season in three years and a 8-19 mark in conference play, but while expectations are low among the pundits, there is enough talent on this team to reach a bowl game and even contend in the Pac-12 South Division if quarterback play is at least adequate.
- With intriguing talent on defense and talent and depth at running back, it all comes down to the passing game. If the Bruins can effectively throw the football -- and protect their quarterback -- the program will take a major step forward.
- Neuheisel cleaned house on his coaching staff, dispatching both coordinators -- Norm Chow on offense and Chuck Bullough on defense -- as well as defensive line coach Todd Howard, receivers coach Reggie Moore and special teams coach Frank Gansz. He hired Mike Johnson to run the offense (and coach receivers) and Joe Tresey to coach the defense. Neuheisel will oversee the quarterbacks. Inoke Breckterfield takes over the defensive line, while Jim Mastro -- hired away from Nevada for his knowledge of the pistol offense -- will coach tight ends/F-backs. Angus McClure takes over special teams.
- The Bruins picked up a couple of transfers who could help immediately. Junior college transfer offensive lineman Albert Cid could work his way into a starting role, while cornerback Jamie Graham, a former starter at Vanderbilt, should bolster the secondary.
- The biggest competition of preseason camp is at quarterback, where incumbent starter Kevin Prince is battling Richard Brehaut. Prince is the leader to start, but after sitting out spring practices due to a knee injury, he'll have to win over Johnson and Neuheisel again. True freshman Brett Hundley was in the mix until he tore his meniscus, which will sideline him for the opening weeks of preseason camp.
- OG Stanley Hasiak left the program after being ruled academically ineligible.
- Jeff Baca, who could play either guard or tackle, is out until late September with a broken foot. Cornerback cornerback Anthony Jefferson is going to be out at least six weeks after back surgery.
- Tight end Morrell Presley, cornerback Courtney Viney and defensive end Derrick Bryant each decided to transfer. Presley and Viney are experienced players who were expected to contribute this fall.
That was the buyout Chow collected from the Bruins when coach Rick Neuheisel dumped him as offensive coordinator. Chow immediately bolted for Utah, where he will coach against UCLA on Nov. 12.
The Times obtained the buyout amount with a Freedom of Information request.
Why did Chow get such a fat buyout? From the Times:
Chow and UCLA officials had agreed on a two-year, $1.1-million contract extension, the offshoot of USC’s interest in Chow after the 2009 season. After more than a month of negotiations, UCLA and Chow agreed on a buyout.
So USC had a hand in this. Sure there will be a few grins over that at Heritage Hall today.
While Chow was reported by some as part of the package when Lane Kiffin was hired, that marriage was never going to happen. As a member of Pete Carroll's staff at USC, Kiffin was part of a coup d'état with now Washington coach Steve Sarkisian that wrested away control of the Trojans' offense from Chow in 2005. And, yes, there were hard feelings.
Further, Kiffin said immediately after he was hired he was going to call offensive plays. Chow wasn't going to go back to USC without being given control of the offense, and Kiffin's assertion immediately made the move a nonstarter. And I've got a $1 bill that says Kiffin knew that when he said it.
From a UCLA perspective, this is mostly old news. Everyone knew Neuheisel and Chow had soured on each other. There were signs of that even before Neuheisel pushed Chow to adopt a pistol offense, of which he had no familiarity.
The hefty buyout number does clearly demonstrate two things, though: 1. Neuheisel really, really wanted Chow to go; 2. Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero really, really wants Neuheisel to succeed.
UCLA is hardly awash in cash, so dishing out $500,000 isn't just a flesh wound, though it's worth noting that there's substantial savings on the back end, seeing that Chow's replacement, Mike Johnson, has a $250,000 base salary, according to the Times.
Still, the removal of Chow -- one of the college game's most celebrated offensive coordinators -- from the equation was a bold move for Neuheisel. The publicity, as rumor turned to reality, certainly didn't favor Neuheisel. As we've written before, Neuheisel is on the hot seat. He needs to win. And he's decided to face that urgency on his own terms by hiring the coaches he wants as well as taking over quarterback coaching duties himself. If Neuheisel is going to fail in Westwood, he's going to go down swinging. Or, just maybe, he's taken a most difficult step toward success.
Both Chow and Neuheisel have told their versions of their parting -- on and off the record -- to reporters. It's fair to say that they didn't work well together, but the divorce, considering how it went down, wasn't terribly bitter.
That said, know that Chow would love to hang 40 on the Bruins in November, and Neuheisel will be buying new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey dinner if Chow and the Utes get stymied.
Oh, you should follow me on Twitter. Not going to say why. But you should. It's important.
To the notes:
Micah from Northfield, Minn., writes: Why did Cal drop from 8 to 10 in your Post-spring rankings? I am curious as to what has happened that they've actually gotten worse. Cal and UCLA have switched places since January. Why? Both have equally troubling QB issues and both seem to have good defenses (my personal bias gives the edge to Cal). Neuheisel has yet to prove he can win consistently while Tedford seems so be sliding backwards, but at least has a good track record. I'd like to hear more of your logic on switching these two teams.
Ted Miller: First off, just a wee bit of this is the notion that the rankings shouldn't stay static -- for entertainment purposes. Otherwise, I wouldn't get notes from worried or angry fans. And that would make me cry.
Why did the Bears go down? Well, for one, a team that has closed practices sometimes falls for a simple reason: It doesn't get as much of a chance to impress me-- live or through the reporting of others (of course, that could work the other way, too).
While I watched UCLA practice, I thought this: These guys have plenty of players, particularly on defense. I also have a feeling that the quarterback situation will work itself out, particularly if Kevin Prince is healthy and stays that way. The Bruins have two experienced QBs in Prince and Richard Brehaut and true freshman Brett Hundley has plenty of talent. The biggest question is the offensive line, which should be fine if health issues are resolved.
When I left Westwood, my opinion of the Bruins went up (I also think the new coordinators, Mike Johnson and Joe Tresey, are going to do well).
Why did Cal move down? Well, I didn't read anything this spring that convinced me the Bears were going to solve their QB issues. Transfer Zach Maynard appears to have a clear lead heading into the offseason, but it seems that's mostly because he's mobile. Further, the questions at running back and on the O-line are noteworthy issues. As for the defense, we hear about young talent, but the Bears also lost three NFL draft choices: defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Mike Mohamed and safety Chris Conte. When I went position-by-position with coordinator Clancy Pendergast, he kept noting incoming freshmen. And injuries.
When I left Berkeley, my opinion of the Bears didn't exactly crater. I just felt like the team was in a worrisome gray area.
Of course, we've still got the offseason and fall camp to shake things up (no need for an actual game to be played!). An injury here or there, or a player seeming to step up, that could again send a team -- or teams -- up or down in the power rankings. For example, reliable word that Maynard is slinging the rock like a champ could bolster the Bears standing.
It's also important to remember this: I could be wrong. Really. No, seriously. I kid you not.
Eric from Mountain View, Calif., writes: Can you explain to me what the TV schedule that was released means. Are there more games that can be picked up by ABC/ESPN? Did Fox have first choice on any games? Will Fox be releasing their schedule soon? Mostly confused how ABC wouldn't snatch up the Stanford/Oregon game right away, so assuming it's either because Fox got first pick of it, or ABC will pick it up later on.
Ted Miller: First, keep in mind this is all old TV contract stuff. The Pac-12's new blockbuster deal doesn't begin until 2012, when ABC/ESPN and Fox -- big show, network Fox -- will adopt equitable draft system for picking games.
As for the games that were announced Tuesday, those were only the priority picks by ABC/ESPN. Lots and lots of other games are going to be picked up later and televised. From the Pac-12 website:
Some of the games to be televised are selected prior to the season, others will be selected as the season progresses with picks made either six or 12 days prior to the games. Additional telecast selections by Fox Sports Net/Versus/FX will be announced in early June, 2011.
Many games that don't seem terribly important now will become so as the season progresses. The conference's TV partner leave themselves some room to pick up such games later in the season.
Tyler from Corvallis writes: Not one Beaver game slated for the ESPN/ABC schedule? Are they waiting for the underdogs to rise up or are we just that bad of a market for them? Doesn't look like the Pac-12 media deal is working out in our favor much.
Ted Miller: Not yet. But guess what? If you win and get ranked, the TV networks will come running to pick up your games.
The problem is going 5-7 in 2010 and not generating much preseason buzz, particularly compared to last year.
Further, here's the great news about the new TV contract, as opposed to the current one in place this season: It's equal revenue sharing, no matter how many times you're on TV. Oregon State gets the same as USC -- $21 million, plus or minus -- no matter how many times one or the other is on TV.
Pretty cool, huh?
Lawrence from Salt Lake City writes: Just noticed that you said the USC-Arizona State was the Pac-12 opener for both teams in your most recent video. However, Utah plays at USC the 2nd week of the season.
Ted Miller: You -- and many others -- are correct. No edit function on videos. Just the hazards of adding details while speaking without double-checking.
Chris from Phoenix writes: Is California playing Colorado as a non-conference game?
Ted Miller: Yes, California's visit to Colorado on Sept. 10, the second game of a home-and-home series, won't count in the conference standings.
- I've sensed some skepticism as I've toured the Pac-12 about Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler. Well, consider this from Doug Haller's story on the Sun Devils spring game: "Osweiler, who has just two career starts, was brilliant, the best he has been all spring, completing 17 of 22 for 237 yards and five touchdowns without an interception." Notes and stats here.
- Is Zach Maynard making a push to be No. 1 at quarterback coming out of spring practices?
- Oregon State scrimmaged on Friday, and the star was backup quarterback Cody Vaz.
- UCLA heads into the offseason unresolved at quarterback, and offensive coordinator Mike Johnson wasn't terribly pleased overall. And for good reason.
- Things weren't easy for USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who was working with a patchwork lineup. Said Lane Kiffin, "It wasn't a real game." Kiffin is unsure which way the Trojans are pointed.
- Both LA schools finish spring practices with as many questions as answers.
- Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has done little to tip his hand on who might replace Jake Locker at quarterback, but Keith Price might have inched ahead of Nick Montana.
That would be UCLA's true freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, a charismatic, strapping young man who left high school early to compete for the starting job and immediately discovered that many believe that he will lead the football program out of the wilderness of mediocrity into the promised land of Pac-12 championships. And, of course, while on that glorious path, he will plant a footprint on USC's collective forehead.
Hundley admits it's been a bit surreal having folks he doesn't know know who he is, even when it's "volleyball girls" saying "Hey, you're the savior!" He's enjoying taking it all in. But any euphoria over his newfound celebrity has been put in perspective by the realities of the practice field this spring.
"Going from high school to college, it's really a big difference," he said.
Yes, it is. Just ask Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who have struggled as UCLA's starting quarterback in the previous two seasons.
What's clear is the quarterback quandary in Westwood won't be resolved until the fall. Prince, who has flashed ability when healthy (which hasn't been often), is sitting out while still recovering from a knee injury. Brehaut has turned in a solid spring but hasn't yet won over his coaches. Hundley, the best athlete of the three, is still trying to digest the playbook and get a feel for the speed of the game.
"It's to be continued," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "I don't think anyone has clearly put themselves in position to say they are going to be the starter."
UCLA has a strong history at the position: Bob Waterfield, Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban, Tom Ramsey, Troy Aikman and Cade McNown come to mind. But the position has been pretty lousy since Drew Olson left in 2005.
More than a few observers believe Prince will be the starter if he is 100 percent in fall camp. But that's a big if. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Prince threw the ball fairly well at times. And he did a solid job with the options portion of the pistol last year, particularly in the upset win over Texas. Of course, that's also when he also first hurt his knee.
"He's a proven player ... not a proven consistent player," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "The question for him is whether he can stay healthy."
Brehaut replaced Prince but struggled. In seven starts, his efficiency rating ranked 96th in the country and ninth in the Pac-10. Brehaut said he's focused on his footwork this spring, while Neuheisel wants Brehaut to become more proficient checking down to his second and third options.
"I think Richard has played well," Neuheisel said. "I still thing there is a lot more improvement to be had, whether it's by him or someone else, before we're going to be playing the position as well as it needs to be played. He still has too much predetermination in him. That's got to get weaned out."
That leaves the savior.
"He's taking strides, but a lot has been thrown at him that he's never done before," Johnson said. "So there are times he is a deer in headlights."
And when those headlights are on him, Hundley typically chooses to run. That's not the right thing to do based on the play call, but Hundley can make the wrong thing seem right when he busts a big gain with his feet, and that's not lost on his coaches.
"He's going to be a guy who is wrong sometimes," Johnson said. "But we encourage him that if he is going to be wrong, do it fast, do it hard. Because he has the athletic ability to overcome some of those mistakes."
Prince and Brehaut are aware that fans are clamoring for Hundley.
"Of course, everyone roots for that incoming guy who no one has seen yet," Brehaut said. "That's something Kevin and I, as veteran guys, can't worry about. There's nothing we can do that's going to affect Brett. It's all about making sure we know what we are doing and are executing like we know how. As long as we're doing that, we're doing our part."
While Hundley admits to struggling this spring, he still has his eyes affixed to the prize: the starting job. He left high school early because he had a clear goal to get on the field as soon as possible.
That savior stuff? It's amusing for now. But the business ahead is serious and far more taxing.
"It's pretty funny. When I first got here, that's how some people knew me," Hundley said. "Everyone jokes around about it. But I make sure everyone knows I'm only one person. You can't really save a team. And that's not really what I'm here for."
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, after a second 4-8 finish in three years atop his alma mater, will be high on many of those hot seat lists heading into the 2011 campaign. Although deciding what would define a successful season that would cool his toasty stool is a purely speculative task -- a bowl game? eight wins? beating USC? -- it's not unfair to declare that the program needs an uptick. And Neuheisel knows this.
But the hot seat is a bit like "Fight Club." You don't talk about it. Not much, anyway. What good would it do?
"I don't feel it. I'm sure it's there," Neuheisel said. "I don't go up there and sit in [the athletic director's] office and ask every day, but I don't feel it."
What Neuheisel did feel this offseason was a need for change. So he dramatically reshaped his staff: five new coaches, including two new coordinators. He also gave himself the toughest job: quarterbacks coach. The success of the 2011 season may hinge on how consistent and productive the Bruins quarterback is, and considering the Bruins haven't been consistent or productive at the position since Drew Olson graduated in 2005, well, that's even more pressure.
"I'm putting it on me," Neuheisel said. "And I don't want it on anybody else's shoulders. It's been hard for me to watch that position coached by somebody else, and that's no knock on [former offensive coordinator Norm Chow]. Norm's got three Heisman Trophy quarterbacks. But it's what I do. It's what I enjoy doing. I'm excited about the challenge."
The celebrated arrangement, however, proved a failure. Walker bolted after one year to become head coach at New Mexico State, which is like saying he ran off to Hades to relieve Sisyphus. Chow and Neuheisel divorced this offseason.
"It was a different way of putting a staff together than I'd done at either Washington or Colorado -- this was the first time I ever worked with people that I didn't know," Neuheisel said of the ill-fated troika. "No bad guys. Just philosophy. You can sit in one room and agree that we are all together, but when you splinter off, are you really?"
Enter Mike Johnson to run the Bruins' offense and Joe Tresey to run the defense. Johnson and Neuheisel go way back. They met when Johnson was a backup quarterback at Arizona State in the mid-1980s and Neuheisel was playing in the USFL. They also coached together with the Baltimore Ravens. Tresey and Neuheisel are new to each other, but at least he was Neuheisel's hire.
"I feel much better about the chemistry we have now, having put it together the way I used to put it together," Neuheisel said.
The big story last year was the Bruins' adopting the pistol offense, which was developed at Nevada. The idea was to bolster the sagging running game. Even then, many wondered if Chow would buy in after running a West Coast, pro-style offense his entire career. The pistol helped the running game, but the passing game swirled into the toilet.
If you are looking for potential issues now -- even with the new arrangement -- it could be the "too many cooks in the kitchen" theory.
Johnson is the coordinator and receivers coach and a longtime NFL assistant with no pistol, spread-option background. Neuheisel is coaching the quarterbacks. And Jim Mastro, hired away from Nevada, is the running game coordinator. How will they all mesh into their defined tasks on Saturdays, particularly when the screws tighten in critical conference games?
"It's defined," Johnson said. "My job as offensive coordinator is not to come up with all the ideas. It's to be the leader of the group."
The first order of business is finding a leader on the field at quarterback, but that remains unresolved this spring. Kevin Prince, the injury-prone starter for much of the past two seasons, hasn't been available thanks to a knee injury. Richard Brehaut would start if the Bruins were playing a real game and not their spring game on Saturday. Touted true freshman Brett Hundley has flashed potential at times but is still getting used to the speed of the college game.
The second issue is the offensive line, which has suffered injury woes this spring.
"We got to get lucky there," Neuheisel said.
As a program, the Bruins haven't experienced much luck since going 10-2 in 2005. While rival USC surged, there was only inconsistency and instability in Westwood. When Neuheisel was hired and USC fell afoul of the NCAA shortly thereafter, it seemed as though the Bruins' moment had arrived. Yet, so far, that hasn't proven the case, and a poor 2011 recruiting class while the Trojans ended up ranked in the top five didn't help the hot seat perception.
As Neuheisel said, he's putting it on himself to push the program forward. And if it doesn't work out?
"If it were to happen, that they were to replace me, I'm confident I would find another job," he said. "It wouldn't be the end of the world. I don't think my kids would starve. But I'm adamantly wanting to be here because this is my school and I believe we're closing in on where we want to go."