Pac-12: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Happy Friday.

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To the notes.

Dave from Birmingham writes: Not sure I get you. Why would you not want the four best teams to play in a playoff? That's what a playoff is about. I know there's a subjective part to this but that's inevitable. Is everyone that afraid of a consensus favoring the SEC because the SEC is the best conference?

Ted Miller: In a word, yes. And no matter how you frame it, that so-called consensus remains subjective. And I know this from experience.

In 1996, I worked at the Mobile Register and I was arguing with Mike Griffith, who then covered Alabama for the Register and voted in the AP poll. Now, everybody argues with Mike, but I thought he was being particularly obtuse this particular afternoon because he was touting Arizona State. I was blathering that Arizona State would have four losses if it played in the SEC.

Yes, I once was one of them. Why? Because that was the way I was raised. Football in the south, as writer Rick Bragg once ostentatiously pandered, is like a "knife fight in a ditch"! That's a bunch of silliness, but such sentiments nonetheless are inculcated into fans and they seep into the media coverage -- in the Southeast as well as other parts of the country where fetishizing the peculiarity of the South is embraced. So I understand the roots of the "just because" reaction of so many SEC fans. And I experienced its power as a sportswriter.

When I moved out to Seattle to cover Washington, I still had a "just because" feeling about West Coast vs. Southeast football. When Miami came to Husky Stadium in 2000, I thought the Hurricanes would blast the Huskies. Ergo, my initial transformative moment was watching Washington physically manhandle the Hurricanes. Don't be fooled by the final score: The Huskies owned Miami that day.

My point: Regional biases are strong and they cloud thinking, even when they feel rational. That's why there needs to be a safeguard in our new four-team playoff system for some degree of objectivity, which prioritizing conference champions provides.

I know any questions about SEC super-awesomeness make SEC folks angry. I know: Six crystal footballs. No one is doubting the SEC's ability to dominate the BCS system. And I have no doubt that dominance of a subjective system -- a beauty contest, really -- has helped push the SEC closer to something that can be judged as a more objective superiority (read: self-fulfilling prophecy).

But if we're going to have a national college football playoff, we need to create a selection process that doesn't leave open the possibility of a tag always going to a runner from a certain conference, just because.


Edward from Atlanta writes: Do you think USC coach Lane Kiffin and his staff are better at recruiting than Pete Carroll and his staff? I look at the fact that Lane Kiffin is only working with 15 scholarships and he is still bringing in top recruits after everything that has taking placed. Just imagine if he did had all his scholarships he would probably have a top 3 or top 5 recruiting class every year.

Ted Miller: No.

Kiffin and his staff are recruiting very well, but they can't do much better than Pete Carroll and his staff did from 2002-2009. You say top-three to -five each year? Carroll landed the No. 1 class multiple times. Any rare rating outside the top five was deemed an off-year. Carroll's recruiting run rates among the best run a program has produced -- think Bobby Bowden in the glory years at Florida State.

It's also worth noting that Carroll and Kiffin share two ace recruiters: Kiffin and Ed Orgeron.


Jeff from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Who do you think is going to be the starting quarterback for ASU to begin the season?

Ted Miller: That's a tough one. When I watched practice, I thought Mike Bercovici was so much better as a passer that he should be the guy. But then you have to realize that new coach Todd Graham wants to run some spread option, and that requires the quarterback to be a running threat. Bercovici is no running threat, while 6-foot-5, 242-pound Michael Eubank is. And Eubank has potential as a passer, though at present he's raw.

The easy answer is start Bercovici but use some packages with Eubank. But that's sort of a fan answer. Most coaches don't like playing two quarterbacks. They'll tell you if you play two, it means you don't have any. And QBs are not big fans of sharing the job.

I used to be a Bercovici lean, but now I'm leaning toward Eubank. Here's why: This team is much better at running back than at receiver. Even with Bercovici's live arm, this probably is going to be a run-first offense, and it makes things much more difficult for a defense if it must account for the QB as a runner. Eubank can become at least an adequate passer. Bercovici is unlikely to do the same as a runner.


Mark from Garden Grove, Calif., writes: If you could play matchmaker, which Big Ten/Pac-12 schools would you pair for the 2017 season -- and why?

Ted Miller: OK, I'll bite, basing things on where the college football world is today.
  • Oregon-Ohio State: Urban Meyer vs. Chip Kelly. 'Nuff said.
  • Arizona-Michigan: The Rich Rodriguez Bowl.
  • Stanford-Wisconsin: Two really good schools that play smashmouth football.
  • Oregon State-Michigan State: All that green would have the Beavers feeling like they're play Oregon.
  • USC-Penn State: Two old-school powers whose uniforms are among the most recognizable.
  • Nebraska-Arizona State: Any Sun Devils recall 1996?
  • Northwestern-California: Two elite academic universities.
  • Washington-Iowa: A rematch of the 1982, 1991 Rose Bowls, both won by the Huskies.
  • Colorado-Purdue: Two great mascots. (Colorado would have been a good one for Nebraska, too.)
  • Utah-Illinois: Utes vs. Fighting Illini.
  • Washington State-Minnesota: The Cold Bowl.
  • UCLA-Indiana: Two old-school basketball powers playing football.

Rapsai from Eugene, Ore., writes: Ted, with Oregon's lack of depth at RB, do you see Josh Huff maybe sliding into the backfield to play some RB for the Ducks next season?

Ted Miller: A perfectly reasonable solution if there are injury issues in the backfield.

Does it make me a bad person that I don't think the Ducks are going to hurting at running back? I just think with Chip Kelly's emphasis on speed in recruiting that the Ducks will pretty much have an answer at RB, no matter how many guys get hurt. Recall that Kenjon Barner started out as a defensive back.


John from Los Angeles writes: I guess this falls into my "you know your old when you have a story for everything" file. In reading the post about Jonathan Ogden going into the HOF, I noticed your comment on his massive size. My buddies and I take a football road trip every year. We used to include the Baltimore Ravens in the trip because Will Demps (former Ravens safety) played at the high school where my buddy is the AD and he would get us tickets. Anyway, after a game against the Bengals at Cincinnati we are standing next to the Ravens team bus talking to Demps, Ogden and his people come up next to us - and he literally blocks out the sun!! You truly cannot appreciate how BIG the guy is until you stand right next to him. My buddy is wearing his USC cap (he is a big fan), so to amuse myself I keep whispering "Jack, show Ogden your hat." My friend kept his back to Ogden the entire time.

Ted Miller: I remember covering the 1996 Citrus Bowl between Ohio State and Tennessee -- which was cool because both were ranked No. 4 entering the game -- and walking up to the Ohio State bus. I saw No. 75 horsing around around this itty-bitty guy with a bald head who was No. 27.

The itty bitty guy was 6-foot-3, 240-pound, Heisman Trophy-winning running back Eddie George, and No. 75 was 6-foot-7, 325-pound Orlando Pace, who at that moment was the biggest dude I'd ever seen.

And Ogden -- at 6-foot-9, 345 -- darn near dwarfs Pace.

Only guy who ever impressed me as more spectacularly large was Shaquille O'Neal.


USC survives Minnesota

September, 3, 2011
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USC's offense went flat in the second half, but this time the defense came through -- reversing the script of 2010.

The Trojans were shut out in the second half but held on to defeat Minnesota 19-17 when Torin Harris intercepted a pass near midfield with 53 seconds to play.

Last year, it was the defense that seemed to fold in the fourth quarter.

Still, a two-point victory that includes no second-half points isn't much of a start for Matt Barkley-Lane Kiffin 2.0.

Halftime: USC 19, Minnesota 3

September, 3, 2011
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Other than two-point plays, USC is cruising versus Minnesota. And receiver Robert Woods is soaring.

Woods has caught 11 passes for 115 yards with three touchdowns as the Trojans are dominating the Golden Gophers 19-3 at the break.

While the running game is struggling, quarterback Matt Barkley is 18-of-20 for 163 yards.

The offense did fail on two two-point conversion attempts. When the Trojans converted a successful PAT, it apparently drew cheers from frustrated Trojans fans.

The defense also is playing well, though the Minnesota offense is suspect.

So maybe it's Woods -- instead of Barkley -- who should become a Heisman Trophy candidate?

Pac-12: Did you know?

September, 2, 2011
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Some quick notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • While some have said that LSU losing QB Jordan Jefferson to suspension isn't a huge deal, that's not completely true. For one, there's mobility. Jefferson ran for 32 first downs last season, 14 of which came after he improvised from the original play. LSU will not have this element to its offense against Oregon, as Jarrett Lee’s career-high in rushing is one yard.
  • Lee also has struggled to throw the ball downfield over the past two seasons, completing just 5 of 26 throws of 15+ yards.
  • Oregon ran for only 75 yards in the BCS Championship Game. It was only the second time in the past two seasons the Ducks were held under 100 yards rushing. The other was in the Ducks' season opening loss to Boise State in 2009.
  • Since 2009, Ducks running back LaMichael James has 36 runs of 20-plus yards, tops in the FBS.
  • LSU's defense is talented, but it hasn't been infallible stopping a spread rushing attack. Auburn racked up 440 rushing yards on LSU last year.
  • Oregon led FBS in 2010 with 45 touchdown drives that lasted two minutes or less. The Ducks also led FBS with 23 touchdown drives of three plays or fewer.
  • Oregon scored 27 offensive touchdowns from 25 yards or longer last season, which tied Auburn for the most in the nation. The Ducks scored at least two or more of these touchdowns in nine games last season, also tied for the most in FBS.
  • Washington and Eastern Washington and Washington State and Idaho State are meeting for the first time.
  • USC is 72-27-3 (.721) all-time versus the Big Ten. It has won 11 in a row against the conference and 32 out of 40.
  • 70 players on USC's 112-man roster have never taken a snap for the Trojans.
  • UCLA has won five of six season openers. It's 3-2 all-time against Houston, including last year's 31-13 victory.
  • This is Oregon State and Sacramento State's second meeting. The Beavers won 40-7 in 2003.
  • Stanford is 49-14-1 against San Jose State, including a 42-17 win in 2009.
  • Fresno State leads its series with California 2-0, including a 17-3 victory in 2000.
  • Washington hasn't won a season opener since 2007 -- Jake Locker's debut at Syracuse. Eastern Washington is the defending FCS champion and is preseason No. 1 in FCS.
  • Washington State hasn't been 1-0 since 2005.

USC assistant Mack Garza resigns

September, 1, 2011
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USC secondary coach Willie Mack Garza has resigned, citing personal reasons, the school announced in a statement.

Obviously, the horrible timing -- two days before the season-opener versus Minnesota -- and vagueness here inspires a raised eyebrow and a, "Hmm."

The statement said the personal reasons are "unrelated to USC." That would suggest that this is more a Garza issue than a USC football issue.

Garza, 42, was with head coach Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and followed him to USC in 2010.

Here's the LA Times on the matter. It reports, "Former USC and NFL safety Sammy Knight is a graduate assistant on the staff and could oversee the secondary."

This shouldn't be a significant problem for the Minnesota game -- the game plan likely has been fully installed -- though it could complicate getting marching orders from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to his defensive backs.

It's also probably a good thing that USC has a veteran secondary, with three of four 2010 starters back, including preseason All-American safety T.J. McDonald.

Still, not the best way for a team to start off the season.

Pac-12 links: Thomas ready to lead Ducks

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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You've got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now I think you're going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You're gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it you're gonna do the same for him. That's a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That's football guys, that's all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
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Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Oregon's biggest issue might not be LSU's D-front: In Phil Steele's unit rankings, he rated LSU's D-line 10th in the nation and its LBs 15th. There's no individual player as disruptive as Auburn's Nick Fairley, but LSU's Tigers are better across the entire front-7 than those Tigers. The Ducks could again struggle to run the ball. But the big problem is the LSU secondary, which Steele rates the nation's No. 4 unit. Auburn's secondary was weak all through 2010, and Ducks QB Darron Thomas picked it apart for 363 yards. But even though LSU lost first-round draft pick CB Patrick Peterson, their defensive backfield is deep and talented. Thomas won't find throwing into it as easy in any event, but particularly without his top-two receivers from a year ago.

[+] EnlargeKelly
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIOregon coach Chip Kelly will need to scheme around a tough LSU run defense and an even tougher pass defense.
2. Will UCLA catch a Case of Keenum? UCLA was dominating Houston last year when it knocked QB Case Keenum out of the game in the second quarter, but Keenum remains a guy who is good enough to win a game on his own. Still, the Bruins should be able to win the battle on both lines of scrimmage, and that should make things easier for QBs Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who both will play. Prince will be on the field to start the game. But will he be on the field to finish?

3. A Gray day for the USC defense: USC shouldn't have too many problems with Minnesota, but the biggest question is will the Trojans again show flashes of playing good defense. Golden Gophers QB MarQueis Gray is a bit of a mystery. He's being billed as a dual threat -- the sort who has given USC trouble in the past -- but he seems more like a 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete who can run some option and scramble. His passing is decidedly questionable. The Trojans figure to crowd the line and dare Gray to throw. That means a secondary in man-coverage. Recall that the secondary got beaten a bunch in 2010.

4. Maynard debut: You look at California's depth chart and you think, "If these guys are any good at QB, they might be pretty tough." That's the pressure on Zach Maynard in his debut against a solid Fresno State team. If Maynard puts up good numbers, the Bears no longer will be so easy to write off in the Pac-12 North.

5. Buffs, hit Moniz: Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz put up huge numbers in 2010: 5,040 yards passing with 39 touchdowns. The Buffs secondary is suspect. Not a great combination. But a good way to protect a suspect secondary is with a good pass rush. While Moniz is a good athlete who can run, the best way for Colorado to end its 18-game road losing streak is to pound on Moniz and not give him time to throw. The good news on that: The Warriors have just three starters back on offense, one of whom is an offensive lineman.

6. The Price of confidence: Washington QB Keith Price makes his debut as Jake Locker's replacement against Eastern Washington, which is hardly a patsy. Sure, the Eagles are an FCS team. But they also are the defending FCS national champions and they are the preseason No. 1 team in FCS football. Warning! Warning! The key thing here is for the Huskies to show up focused and take care of business. For Price, he wants to play within himself, get comfortable and build his confidence because the competition will ramp up quickly.

7. Cougars grinning: Washington State is going to beat Idaho State. Not a big deal. What's a big deal is being 1-0 for the first time since 2005. What is a big deal is a team getting some early momentum, which it hasn't had in in coach Paul Wulff's first three seasons. The Cougs need to go out and pound on Idaho State. They need to walk away feeling good about themselves.

8. Luck and Shaw: Stanford is going to pound San Jose State. But the key thing for Cardinal interests is getting Luck some numbers and then sitting him, and letting Shaw get comfortable with his new job fronting the program.

9. Utah, Arizona State and Oregon State -- just win: The Utes, Sun Devils and Beavers each face weak, FCS foes. Each is going to win. And each faces a far more formidable foe the next week. The key is taking care of business, staying healthy and getting refocused. Starters eating orange slices in the third quarter is good, too.

10. Defense wins championships: OK, so what if LSU's defense thwarts Oregon's offense? The Tigers offense, particularly with Jarrett Lee at QB, is hardly scary. One of the often forgotten elements of the 2010 national title game against Auburn is the Ducks did about as good a job as anyone of slowing down QB Cam Newton. Lee is no Cam Newton. There is no law saying Oregon can't win a game 17-13. The LSU defense might stop the Ducks offense, but what if the Ducks defense is even more in control against perhaps the worst offense they will face all season?

Pac-12 predictions: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | Upset pick

Went 59-21 last year. Neh.

But I'm going to put on my thinking cap this year.

Thursday

Utah 40, Montana State 13: Utes want to take control quickly, let the backups see some action, then focus on the visit to USC on Sept. 10.

Arizona State 44, UC Davis 10: The Sun Devils want to take control quickly, let the backups see some action, then focus on the visit from Missouri on Sept. 9.

Saturday

LSU 24, Oregon 21: Sure, the Tigers took the prize for off-field distractions, losing QB Jordan Jefferson to suspension. But here's the problem: LSU not only eclipses Auburn's front-seven from 2010, it's exponentially better in the secondary, so Ducks QB Darron Thomas won't pass for 363 yards when the running game gets stumped.

USC 38, Minnesota 17: Guess here is Trojans QB Matt Barkley gets off to a good start and the Trojans defense looks much improved.

UCLA 30, Houston 24: No idea how the two quarterbacks are going to work for the Bruins, but they should have enough to win against a tough Houston team.

Oregon State 30, Sacramento State 17: Beavers are banged up but still likely will try to play vanilla schemes, which means this one might be more competitive than Beavers fans would like.

Stanford 48, San Jose State 13: Andrew Luck will put up good numbers, and David Shaw will get off to a good start as the Cardinal coach.

Washington State 45, Idaho State 20: The Cougs will be 1-0 for the first time since 2005.

California 28, Fresno State 24: QB Zach Maynard will be solid in his Cal debut and the defense will keep the Bulldogs in check.

Washington 38, Eastern Washington 21: A winning debut for new Huskies QB Keith Price, but Eagles, the top-ranked FCS team, are no easy out.

Arizona 45, Northern Arizona 20: The Wildcats and QB Nick Foles put up big passing numbers, then rest in the fourth quarter and focus on their visit to Oklahoma State on Sept. 8.

Colorado 38, Hawaii 35: The Buffaloes end an 18-game road losing streak and the Jon Embree Era starts with a solid victory.

Lunch links: Whittingham enjoying himself

August, 31, 2011
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We have the rest of our lives to be mediocre, but we have the opportunity to play like gods for the next half of football.

USC needs defense to improve

August, 31, 2011
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In 2008, USC produced one of the all-time great college defenses. It took just two years for the unit to become mediocre-to-bad.

Last fall, the Trojans surrendered 44 plays of 20 or more yards, which ranked 102nd in the nation. By comparison, the 2008 unit yielded just 14, the lowest total over the past three years by six.

So what happened?

[+] EnlargeMonte Kiffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Trojans hope the second year in Monte Kiffin's defense yields better results.
Well, for one, Pete Carroll, who'd built one of the nation's premier defensive powers, bolted for the Seattle Seahawks. Next: The talent he left behind for new coach Lane Kiffin wasn't nearly as good as it had been from 2002-2008. Then Kiffin, worried about injuries, significantly limited tackling during preseason camp. Finally, it seemed that the Trojans never fully figured out new coordinator Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme, which had been so successful in the NFL.

The result? A unit that surrendered a Pac-10-high 30 TD passes (five more than ninth-place Washington State) and wasn't much better against the run, ranking sixth in the conference (140.5).

But if you're wondering why many still rate the Trojans as the favorites in the Pac-12 South Division and believe they will improve upon their 8-5 finish of a year ago, the defense is a good place to start.

"I feel like we know what we're doing a little bit better as far as it being the second year in the system," Lane Kiffin said. "And in scrimmage formats, we're tackling better."

That will be put to its first test Saturday when Minnesota comes calling to the Coliseum.

The Trojans welcome back seven starters from last year's unit. They look strong at end with Nick Perry, Devon Kennard and Wes Horton. And few teams boast a better safety-cornerback combination than All-American T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. But there are questions at linebacker, where they will be young around injury-prone Chris Galippo.

The Golden Gophers shouldn't provide too difficult a test. Coming off a 3-9 season in which Tim Brewster got fired and was replaced by Jerry Kill, who rebuilt Northern Illinois, they are replacing three starters on their offensive line and they don't look like a team that will be throwing the ball well. They are, however, intriguing at quarterback. That's where MarQueis Gray steps in. He's a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior who has been primarily a receiver, though he got behind center in "Wildcat" formations. Passing the ball over the past two years, he's just 8-of-23 for 86 yards with a TD and an interception.

Of course, Kiffin went the "oh, no" route and compared him to former Texas quarterback Vince Young.

"It's very scary for us," he said. "We've got our hands full. This is a big-time challenge for our defense."

USC won at Minnesota 32-21 last year, a victory that was part of a 4-0 start. But the Trojans proved inconsistent on both sides of the ball once conference play began, inspiring some questions of motivation because NCAA sanctions made them ineligible for the postseason. That's an issue again this fall, though it's probably not one in the season-opener, when everyone is fired up to play.

"I don't think the motivation shows up as much early in the year," Kiffin said. "It becomes more of an issue towards the end of the year or if you hit one or two losses in a row there."

Still, with Matt Barkley at quarterback and a strong crew of receivers, the Trojans should at least be a factor in determining other team's postseasons. As for the South Division, that probably hangs on how much the Trojans' defense reverts back to its old ways. Preseason optimism about knowing the scheme better and improved tackling only goes so far.

Said Kiffin: "That all sounds good but it won't mean anything if come Saturday we don't do it when it really counts."

Quick look at first week's games

August, 29, 2011
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Each Pac-12 plays this week, though for some just barely -- plenty of FCS foes.

The slate is, obviously, led by Oregon-LSU. Next week, things ramp up considerably.

Here's a quick look (all times ET).

Thursday, Sept. 1

Montana State at Utah, 8 p.m. (KJZZ): Utah should record a blowout in its first game as Pac-12 team. Will be interesting to see how well quarterback Jordan Wynn throws after shoulder surgery, but here's a guess he doesn't play four quarters. Up next: USC.

UC Davis at Arizona State, 10 p.m. (FS Arizona): The Sun Devils get a warmup before a marquee nonconference foe comes to town. Up next: Missouri (Friday).

Saturday

Minnesota at USC, 3:30 p.m. (ABC): Minnesota arrives with new coach Jerry Kill. Trojans should do exactly that against perennially rebuilding Big Ten foe. Up next: Utah.

UCLA at Houston, 3:30 p.m. (FSN): Bruins figure to get a full dose of Cougars quarterback Case Keenum, who had a season-ending knee injury in last season's game at the Rose Bowl. Bruins need to get out of gate fast. Up next: San Jose State.

Sacramento State at Oregon state, 4 p.m. (OSUBeavers.com): Oregon State gets a warmup game before a big nonconference trip. Needs to get healthy. Up next: at Wisconsin.

San Jose State at Stanford, 5 p.m. (CSNBA): The debut of new coach David Shaw. And the first date of Sir Andrew Luck's royal tour. Up next: at Duke.

Idaho State at Washington State, 5 p.m.: Cougars will be 1-0 for first time since 2005. Up next: UNLV.

E. Washington at Washington, 7 p.m. (Root NW): Huskies might want to take the defending FCS champs -- and preseason FCS No. 1 team -- seriously. Up next: Hawaii.

Fresno State versus California, (CSNCA): Cal and new quarterback Zach Maynard tries to get off to a fast start at Candlestick Park. Up next: at Colorado.

Oregon versus LSU, 8 p.m. (ABC): Winner might rise to No. 1. Which team overcomes offseason distractions and starts season with huge bang? Up next: Nevada.

Northern Arizona at Arizona, 10 p.m. (FS Arizona): Wildcats get warmup before big nonconference test, which is a good thing with five new starters on the offensive line. Up next: at Oklahoma State (Thursday)

Colorado at Hawaii, 10:15 p.m. (ESPN2): Buffaloes try to end 17-game road losing streak in new coach Jon Embree's debut. Up next: California.

Best case-worst case: USC

August, 26, 2011
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Ninth 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 season'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: USC

Best case

In the bowels of the Coliseum, USC gathers before taking the field against Minnesota.

"I want to read you something," coach Lane Kiffin says, flicking open a one-page letter

"President Nikias. I appreciate your grace last week when announcing that USC would not pursue any further redress against the NCAA. What I find unconscionable is where this leaves the NCAA. I have personally reviewed the facts of USC's case before the Committee on Infractions, and I can tell you that I am not the only one inside these walls who has long been troubled by the Committee's findings and the resulting severe sanctions against your football program. USC was wronged well before news broke of the massive scandal at Miami under former athletic director Paul Dee, who was not fit to sit judgment of USC as the Committee chair. The combination of a poorly reasoned and unjust ruling and Dee's hypocrisy simply cannot stand. That is why I am taking the unprecedented action of ruling sanctions against USC null-and-void. Sincerely, NCAA president Mark Emmert."

That was not good news for the Golden Gophers, who go down 52-3.

"I'll tell you what it means," says linebacker Chris Galippo. "It means that the rest of college football hears one thing echoing in its collective head right now, 'They're baaaaaaack!'"

A rumor starts to float that SEC commissioner Mike Slive was found locked in his office closet, repeatedly murmuring, "But I don't want USC to be eligible. It's not fair!"

Poll voters immediately promote USC to No. 10 in the polls.

The Trojans batter Utah in the first Pac-12 game, 41-17.

"I know it's the new Pac-12," says ESPN's Chris Fowler. "But it seems a lot like the old Pac-10, circa 2002-2008."

The Trojans bludgeon Syracuse, 60-6 and rise to No. 5.

"Arizona State is going to test USC," says ESPN's Kirk Herstreit. "The Sun Devils have already manhandled a two good teams in Missouri and Illinois."

USC rolls the Sun Devils 38-10, with quarterback Matt Barkley throwing his ninth and 10th TD passes on the year. He throws 11, 12 and 13 in a 41-17 victory over Arizona and two more in a 44-7 win at California and a 33-17 win over Notre Dame.

"Barkley has 17 touchdown passes in seven games; Stanford's Andrew Luck has 16," says Fowler. "Fair to say the winner Saturday becomes the Heisman Trophy frontrunner?'

Stanford nips the Trojans 30-27, with Luck scrambling for 20 yards on third and 8 to set up the game-winning field goal.

The Trojans bounce back with blowout wins over Colorado and Washington, setting up a showdown with top-ranked Oregon, which is coming off a 33-30 overtime win over Stanford.

LaMichael James rushes for 154 yards and two scores in a 33-24 Ducks victory.

The Trojans batter UCLA, 45-20, beating the Bruins for the 12th time in 13 years.

The No. 8 Trojans face the top-ranked Ducks (again!) for the inaugural Pac-12 crown.

They gather before running into Autzen Stadium. Kiffin begins: "What a ride. We've seen a lot of stuff together these two years, huh? Stuff that was out of our control. Stuff that didn't let the Trojans be what Trojans truly are: Champions. But we're in control again, aren't we? It's about us again. And we've got a chance tonight to reclaim what has been taken from us. What is ours. Understand: Our victory will be remembered. It will become an important part of Trojans history. No, we're not going to get an opportunity to play for the national title like a lot of 'SC teams, though I'd like our chances in a playoff. But USC fans and former Trojans are going to remember you as the team who took back our championship identity, which was stolen from us. They will say, 'That was the team that reestablished the tradition.' And they will remember your names. The rest of college football is watching tonight, rooting against us, worried about the return of USC. Well, let's go out there and show them that their worries are 100 percent justified."

James is stuffed by Galippo on a fourth-and-goal inside the USC 1-yard line with 45 seconds left. Three Barkley sneaks later, and USC is a 29-23 winner, headed back to the Rose Bowl as Pac-12 champions.

USC stuffs Wisconsin 35-17 in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.

"I'm coming back for my senior year," Barkley announces. "because I want to win a national championship before I leave."

The Trojans signed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

"I'd like to announce a home-and-home series with USC," says a grim-faced Alabama athletic director, Mal Moore.

"Mr. Moore, over here," shouts an uncommonly stylish reporter. "Is this a reaction to the rumored reality series for the Pac-12 network this fall, 'See what SEC athletic directors do when USC calls!'"

"Shutup Miller," a grim-faced Alabama athletic director says.

Worst case

Quarterback Matt Barkley throws three touchdown passes in a 30-23 season-opening win over Minnesota.

"Yeah, I think everyone is curious what Utah will bring to the table," says Barkley. "Our job is to give them a rude welcome."

The game is tied 28-28 late in the fourth quarter. On a third and 3 from its own 15, Utes QB Jordan Wynn finds DeVonte Christopher for an 85-yard, game-winning touchdown after USC cornerback Nickell Robey fell down.

The Trojans bounce back by whipping Syracuse 33-10, but Arizona State sacks Barkley four times in a 24-10 victory. USC improves to 3-2 with a home win over Arizona, but gets drubbed at California 35-20 and gives up a late TD in a 30-24 loss at Notre Dame after another coverage breakdown. Andrew Luck throws three TD passes in a 40-24 Stanford win over the Trojans.

USC shows some fight, winning at Colorado and at home over Washington, but it looks lethargic while taking a 48-20 whipping at Oregon.

"We play a faceless opponent every week," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says when asked if it still feels special to stomp USC, which Oregon has done three years in a row.

"Is it easier selling that to your players now than it was in 2008?" asks an uncommonly stylish reporter.

Kelly smiles, "Shutup, Miller."

"We still have plenty to play for," Kiffin says. "For one, we always want to beat UCLA. That can make a season. Finishing .500 is certainly better than the alternative. And we can stop the Bruins from winning the South Division."

UCLA defensive end Datone Jones sacks Barkley three times as the Bruins roll over the Trojans 33-17.

"Do I feel sorry for USC?" Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel says. "A little."

The Bruins lose to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game but they whip Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl and finished 10-4 and ranked 14th.

UCLA's 31-player class -- six elite prospects are brought in early to count against the 2011 class -- ranks sixth in the nation, two spots behind Notre Dame.

"It was great to cherry-pick Southern California recruiting," says Neuheisel. "So much talent. Glad we had a full allotment of scholarships."

USC's class of 15 ranks eighth in the Pac-12.

"Tough times don't last, tough people do," says Kiffin. "Wait... where did I hear that?"

Murmurs USC athletic director Pat Haden, "Not for long if they go 5-7 as USC's head coach."

Barkley, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Nick Perry, defensive end Devon Kennard and safety T.J. McDonald each announced they are entering the NFL draft.

Ring! Ring!

"Pat, hiya! Mal Moore down here at the University of Alabama," says Mal Moore to Haden. "How you? Good, good. You want to bring your boys down here for a football game? We'd love to see 'ya!"

I think we can all agree that our culture is greatly enriched by folks wandering around with cameras trying to provoke celebrities big and small into doing stupid things and then posting the video on the Internet.

Put down the novel, stop playing with your kids, grab some fast food and start gazing at got-you! videos. It's just awesome. Be all you can be.

Sigh.

And so we have USC running back Marc Tyler, his mouth and a subsequent suspension.

The Trojans' leading rusher from 2010 has been suspended for the Sept. 3 season opener against Minnesota, and he could be out longer as he is awaiting a ruling from the school's disciplinary committee on a pair of alcohol-related incidents from last year.

He earned his suspension after a website posted a video of an apparently intoxicated Tyler making inappropriate comments about Kim Kardashian and joking about being paid to play for the Trojans, something the program is just a bit sensitive about.

So, our question for you: Should there be a Constitutional amendment that allows citizens to tar and feather a person who films them in public places without their permission?

No, that's not the question.

The question is whether you believe Tyler's suspension was fair. Or did he deserve an even harsher reaction?
USC running back Marc Tyler hasn't been acting like a senior leader for the Trojans of late, and now he's earned a suspension from coach Lane Kiffin for the season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3.

At least.

Speaking to TMZ, Tyler -- who led the Trojans with 913 yards rushing last year -- appeared intoxicated when he made inappropriate comments about Kim Kardashian and joked about being paid to play for the Trojans, who you might recall are still in the midst of serving NCAA sanctions.

Moreover, Tyler is awaiting a ruling from the school's disciplinary committee on a pair of alcohol-related incidents from last year, which could make his penalty even more severe. Kiffin added that Tyler is also suspended from all team activities.

“Although Marc may find this punishment severe, it is imperative we continue to have a high standard for player behavior," Kiffin said in a statement. "Marc needs to work hard to show us that he can meet the standards of being a USC football player.”

Athletic director Pat Haden said Tyler "stepped way out of line."

"Marc has a lot to do to prove he belongs on our team," Haden said. "We hope Marc learns from this and comes back a changed and better person.”

The school also released a statement from Tyler:
“I want to apologize for embarrassing USC, my teammates and coaches. I am disappointed that I let down all the people who have supported me as I have been working through some personal issues. After meeting today with Mr. Haden and Coach Kiffin, I realize how my behavior and my statements, even though I was joking, can reflect poorly on so many people. As a veteran player, I should know that my job is to be an example for the younger guys. I accept my punishment and I regret that I will miss the opening game of my senior year. I am committed to doing everything the right way so that I can be reinstated to the team.”


What this means for USC is the backfield suddenly becomes very inexperienced, though the injury-prone Tyler was far from a certainty to top the rotation at the position. Without Tyler, the mercurial Dillon Baxter is the only returning running back who recorded a carry last year, and he had just 59 totes. Further, Baxter was listed behind junior Curtis McNeal and redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan on the post-spring depth chart.

Read more here.

Schedule analysis: USC

June, 15, 2011
6/15/11
9:00
AM ET
We're reviewing each Pac-12 team's schedule, now focusing on the South Division.

Up next: USC

Breakdown: seven home (five conference games), five road (four conference games)

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3 Minnesota (3-9)
Sept. 17 Syracuse (8-5)
Oct. 22 at Notre Dame (8-5)

South Division games

Sept. 10 Utah
Sept. 24 at Arizona State
Oct. 1 Arizona
Nov. 4 at Colorado
Nov. 26 UCLA

Crossover games

Oct. 13 at California
Oct. 29 Stanford
Nov. 12 Washington
Nov. 19 at Oregon

Conference misses

Oregon State
Washington State

Key stretch: It's difficult to rate a "key stretch" for a team that is ineligible for the postseason, but if you look at last season you see the Trojans faltered late, losing two of their final three games. A strong finish in 2011 would send USC into the offseason on a high note, with the postseason back in play in 2012. After playing at California on Thursday, Oct. 13, the Trojans have extra time to prepare for a visit to Notre Dame, which is the first of six consecutive weeks of games, a run that include a pair of likely high ranked foes -- Stanford and Oregon -- as well as a grudge match with Washington (the Huskies have won two in a row versus the Trojans) and rival UCLA. Those games will be the measuring stick of the 2011 season.

Trap game: In the midst of that "key stretch," is a Friday night game at Colorado. What happened a year ago at night in Corvallis?

Sure thing: As usual, USC doesn't play any patsies -- all opponents are AQ programs. But it's a good bet that the home opener versus the Golden Gophers is going to end up in the 'W' column.

Analysis: This is a typically tough USC schedule, though it (again) lacks the marquee nonconference foe of past seasons. Notre Dame is expected to be a top-25 team, so that visit to South Bend won't be easy. The bye on Oct. 8 is followed by a Thursday game, so the break won't be as long as usual. Seven home games is good, particularly spending the first three weeks at home. The crossover schedule is not: Playing Oregon and Stanford; missing Oregon State (Beavers aren't as tough on the Trojans in LA) and Washington State. The home finale against UCLA probably will have significant say in the Bruins bowl prospects as well as coach Rick Neuheisel's future. The Trojans and coach Lane Kiffin can't afford to take a step back after finishing 8-5 in 2010. But are there eight or nine wins on this schedule?

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