Pac-12: Mountain West Conference

College football is hard to keep up with in terms of who plays in what conference this year and whether they change affiliation the next. This week, we said goodbye to the Big East and welcomed something called the "American Athletic Conference."

Hmm... AAC? A little distracting, eh?

Pittsburgh and Syracuse now give the ACC 14 teams, just like the SEC. The Big Ten still has 12 teams, but it will have 14 in 2014 when Rutgers (playing in the American Athletic this season) and Maryland (one more go-around in the ACC) join the fray. Oh, and then the "Legends" and "Leaders" Division names give way to the more mundane "East" and "West."

The ACC will add Louisville in 2014 to remain a 14-team league in football (15 for basketball with Notre Dame).

The Big 12 still has 10 teams, so counting is obviously optional in college football, though the Big 12 gets credit for stability, which few saw coming three or so years ago.

There has been plenty of other jumping about, which you can review here.

What does it all mean for the bastion of stability and tradition, the Pac-8, er 10, er 12?

Kevin Gemmell has been providing you guys a "Nonconference Primer" for each Pac-12 team's out of conference schedule, which you can review here. But I wanted to break down which conferences the Pac-12 will see in 2013 and which it won't.

It won't, for example, play a regular-season game against the new American Athletic Conference, which wants to be shortened as "The American," perhaps in tribute to one of my favorite Henry James novels.

Nor will the Pac-12 play any games against the Big 12, which is a drag, or the Mid-American or Sun Belt, which doesn't bother me particularly much.

There are nine games against FCS foes, which feels yucky.

The Pac-12 plays 11 games against the Mountain West Conference. That's the most for any other FBS conference, and in terms of perception, the Pac-12 can't afford to lose more than three of those.

The Pac-12 plays Notre Dame three times, as well as four other Independents.

The most popular FBS conference pairing is with the Big Ten, which is not surprising. The Rose Bowl partners meet five times this fall.

There are two games with the ACC and two with the SEC, though none with the SEC elite.

So that's 12 total games with AQ conference teams and Notre Dame. Those games will provide the most obvious measure of the conference in terms of national perception, though faring poorly versus the Mountain West wouldn't look good, either.

Here's the breakdown.

ACC: Boston College (USC), at Virginia (Oregon)

Big Ten: Wisconsin (Arizona State), at Nebraska (UCLA), Northwestern (California), Ohio State (Cal), at Illinois (Washington)

SEC: Tennessee (Oregon), Auburn (Washington State)

Conference USA: UT San Antonio (Arizona)

FBS Independents: Notre Dame (Arizona State, USC, Stanford), New Mexico State (UCLA), BYU (Utah), Army (Stanford), Idaho (Washington State)

Mountain West: UNLV (Arizona), Colorado State (Colorado), Fresno State (Colorado), Nevada (UCLA), Hawaii (USC, Oregon State), Utah State (Utah, USC), San Diego State (Oregon State), San Jose State (Stanford), Boise State (Washington)

FCS: Northern Arizona (Arizona), Sacramento State (Arizona State), Central Arkansas (Colorado), Weber State (Utah), Portland State (Cal), Nicholls State (Oregon), Eastern Washington (Oregon State), Idaho State (Washington), Southern Utah (Washington State)

Pac-12 announcement: Give Utah a break

October, 14, 2011
While projections that Utah might win the Pac-12 South Division this season -- its first in an AQ conference -- might have been a bit optimistic, this "The Utes don't belong" crap needs to stop.

Please, hush.

The Utes got pounded in their last two games against Washington and Arizona State primarily because: 1. QB Jordan Wynn was lost for the season to a shoulder injury in the first half against the Huskies; 2. The Utes lost the turnover battle in those games by a combined 10-1 count, splitting five in each game.

Just excuses, right? OK, let's have some fun.

Don't want to give the Utes a break, Oregon fans? Fine.

Boy, LSU just physically dominated you Ducks! Turnovers and penalties played no part. Those are just excuses.

Don't want to give the Utes a break, Washington fans? Fine.

Boy, Nebraska really beat you guys silly Huskies! Turnover and penalties played no part, particularly that outstanding punt interference call.

And, Stanford, Arizona State and USC, I'm sure you guys would be doing great without Andrew Luck, Brock Osweiler and Matt Barkley, and instead were playing backups with zero FBS experience.

Would it help Utah to have played Wyoming and New Mexico to open its conference season, as it might have done in the Mountain West Conference? Sure. Do the top-half Pac-12 teams have better talent depth than Utah? Probably.

"I think we need to get bigger," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's not way off. It's just a little bit off. I think everybody in this conference is a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger than the previous conference we were in."

But Whittingham added, "I think we're matching up pretty good."

Utah went nose-to-nose with USC -- on the road -- and had a chance to force overtime if not for a blocked field goal on the game's final play. The Utes were down three at the half to Washington before Wynn went down. And they were up 14-10 in the third quarter against the Sun Devils before three turnovers on three consecutive possessions transformed the game.

Further, the loss of Wynn is not an analyst-come-lately excuse. It was evident in the preseason that the singularly most important thing for Utah was keeping Wynn healthy. In July, we named Wynn the Utes' "Indispensable Player," writing:

But Wynn's indispensability isn't just about the player himself. It's about the absence of a plan B should he go down. Tyler Shreve figures to be Wynn's understudy this fall, and he has talent. But he's a grayshirt freshman that often looked overwhelmed this past spring. His competition for the backup job was Griff Robles, and Robles' move to linebacker after spring practices pretty much tells you where that ended up. Further, the transfer of 6-foot Jon Hays from Nebraska-Omaha probably won't inspire much confidence. In other words, without Wynn, things would look bleak offensively, at least in terms of a reliable passing game.

Utah has proven itself as a program. Since 2003, it's beaten Alabama, Oregon, Michigan, Texas A&M, California, Oregon State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Arizona, etc.

Is the grind an issue for the Utes? Well, by definition a "grind" implies a longer run. If the Utes manage to win just a couple of Pac-12 games at season's end, then perhaps we can say the grind got to them. At this point, they've only lost to what appear to be three of the top five or six teams in the league. Or, as Whittingham said, "upper-echelon" teams.

This is not the best Utah team of the past eight or so years, and we knew that in the preseason. In fact, there was a strong whiff of rebuilding in Salt Lake, whatever conference the Utes played in, though the Utes' recent success allowed for some to optimistically posit a reloading instead.

Utah is not going to get stuck in the bottom third of the Pac-12 going forward. Trust me on that.

Of course, it does need to get better, which means taking advantage of its new status living among the haves.

Said Whittingham, "We've got to keep recruiting, we've got to keep working, we've got to keep developing the guys we've already got in the program in the weight room."

So, sure, if you want to trash talk Utah, go ahead. That's what we do with each other on the Pac-12 blog.

But just don't take yourself seriously. If you actually think your team has a new conference patsy, the Pac-12 blog is here to tell you that expectations is going to let you down.

Pac-12 still fourth in conference rankings

September, 27, 2011
ESPN Stats & Information still ranks the Pac-12 fourth in its Conference Power Rankings.

The Big 12 remains No. 1 over the SEC, even though LSU eclipsed Oklahoma in the AP poll.

The system used here equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and a compilation of available BCS computer rankings in order to determine which conference is the strongest and weakest from top to bottom.

Last week, the No. 3 Big Ten, Pac-12 and No. 5 ACC were separated by just 2.4 points. This week, the Big Ten increased its margin ahead of the Pac-12 by nearly eight points.

In fact, the Mountain West is gaining on both the Pac-12 and ACC. It's just 0.6 points behind the ACC and 3.6 points behind the Pac-12.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 3

September, 18, 2011
Projecting the bowls based on the third week.

Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Washington vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Utah vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: California vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: no team vs. Big 12

Pac-12 lunch links: South Division is wide open

June, 29, 2011
Can I borrow your underpants for 10 minutes?

Pac-12 adds New Mexico Bowl for 2011

June, 9, 2011
The Pac-12 and New Mexico Bowl are hooking up a year earlier than originally planned.

The conference's No. 7 team will play a Mountain West team on Dec. 17, in the first bowl game of the 2012 season. Kickoff will be at 2 p.m. ET at University Stadium in Albuquerque. The game will be broadcast by ESPN.

The Pac-12 was supposed to pick up the New Mexico Bowl in 2012, but the bowl dropped its WAC affiliation, opening the door for an earlier marriage.

In the first four New Mexico Bowls, the Mountain West and WAC squared off, with the MWC winning three of four. In the fifth annual game, the bowl welcomed UTEP, a Conference USA member, which fell to departing MWC-member BYU.

What this means for the Pac-12 is that it's almost certain any team that is at least 6-6 will be able to play in a bowl game (keep in mind that USC isn't eligible for the postseason).

Here's the Pac-12 bowl lineup for 2011-12.

No. 1 : Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 2 (Jan. 1, the bowl's traditional date, falls on a Sunday, when no bowl game will be played this year) OR Allstate BCS National Championship, Jan. 9

No. 2: Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Big 12 No. 3, Dec. 29.

No. 3: Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl vs. Big 12 No. 5, Dec. 28.

No. 4: Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. ACC No. 4, Dec. 31.

No. 5: MAACO Las Vegas vs. Mountain West No. 1, Dec. 22

No. 6: Kraft Fight Hunger vs. Army (if eligible), Dec. 31.

No. 7: New Mexico Bowl vs. Mountain West, Dec. 17

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will ring in 2012

June, 1, 2011
The inaugural Kraft Fighting Hunger Bowl brought up the rear of the 2011 bowl season, but in its second iteration will ring in a New Year.

The bowl formerly know as the Emerald Bowl will be played on Dec. 31 at AT& T Park, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. ET. on ESPN.

The bowl game is contracted to feature the Pac-12's No. 6 team and Army, if it wins six games and becomes bowl eligible. Last season, no Pac-10 team qualified and the game featured Nevada beating Boston College 20-13 on Jan. 9, which made it the final bowl game before the BCS Championship Game.

Here's the Pac-12 bowl lineup for 2011-12 (the conference will add the New Mexico Bowl -- No. 7 selection -- in 2012).

No. 1 : Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 2 (Jan. 1, the bowl's traditional date, falls on a Sunday, when no bowl game will be played this year) OR Allstate BCS National Championship, Jan. 9

No. 2: Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Big 12 No. 3, Dec. 29.

No. 3: Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl vs. Big 12 No. 5, Dec. 28.

No. 4: Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. ACC No. 4, Dec. 31.

No. 5: MAACO Las Vegas vs. Mountain West No. 1, Dec. 22

No. 6: Kraft Fight Hunger vs. Army (if eligible), Dec. 31.

Hope & concern: Utah

May, 20, 2011
Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.

Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.

Next up:


Biggest reason for hope: The program knows how to win.

The biggest preseason story for Utah's first go-round in the Pac-12 won't be about individual players or player groups. It will be about how well the Utes will do in their first experience competing in an AQ conference, where the depth of talent should be superior to the Mountain West. So forget about Utah's overall talent and positions of strength and concern for a moment, though the Utes' 31 NFL draft picks since 2000 speak for themselves. Utah is a well-coached team that has won 33 games over the past three years as well as two BCS bowl games since 2004. How many teams can match that? This is a confident program that won't be awed by Pac-12 membership. And for good reason: The Utes own bowl victories against Georgia Tech, Alabama, California and Pittsburgh in recent years. In the regular season, they've bounced Michigan, Oregon State, UCLA, Louisville, Arizona, Oregon and Texas A&M. My impression of the Utes during a spring visit is they mostly are amused by the notion they'll get humbled in Pac-12 play. They seemed genuinely baffled by the idea. That confidence borne of having done it before matters.

Biggest reason for concern: Is the secondary ready for a steady diet of NFL quarterbacks?

Utah faced some good quarterbacks last season: TCU's Andy Dalton, San Diego State's Ryan Lindley and Boise State's Kellen Moore. But that troika doesn't match the overall talent and sophistication the Utes will face in 2011, even though their schedule includes misses of Stanford and quarterback Andrew Luck and Oregon and quarterback Darron Thomas (at least, until a potential date in the Pac-12 title game). Toss in receivers such as Arizona's Juron Criner, USC's Robert Woods, Washington State's Marquess Wilson, Washington's Jermaine Kearse, California's Keenan Allen and Oregon State's James Rodgers (cross your fingers, Beavers fans), and the Utes' pass defense will be stressed this fall far beyond what it faced in 2010. Further, Utah is replacing all four starters from a secondary that ranked 88th in the nation in pass efficiency defense -- or ninth in the Pac-10. (Lindley completed 36 of 54 passes for a career-high 528 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-34 defeat to the Utes; Dalton completed 21 of 26 for 355 yards and three TDs in a 47-7 win; Moore was 28 of 38 for 339 yards and two TDs in a 26-3 win). The preliminary returns on the secondary from spring practices were hopeful: There's nice young talent across the board. But if you're looking for an area where the Utes will most feel an uptick in competition in the Pac-12, it's defending sophisticated passing games led by future NFL quarterbacks on a week-to-week basis.

The Sporting News shows Pac-12 love

April, 27, 2011
The Sporting News just released its post-spring top-25, and it includes five Pac-12 teams.

Somebody might be getting more West Coast subscribers!

TSN, which has never been afraid of being contrarian, ranks Stanford No. 4 and Oregon No. 5 and includes this observation: "Welcome to the world of the SEC, and the Big 12 prior to this season: More times than not, two teams in the same division will be the two best teams in your conference."

So that's a projection of the Cardinal and Andrew Luck besting the Ducks in the first year of the Pac-12 North.

By the way, Oregon's opening day opponent, LSU, is No. 1.

TSU ranks Utah No. 21, but notes, "Wait and see how quickly Utah realizes there are no UNLVs in the Pac-12. The weekly battle will wear down a team that could’ve been another unbeaten non-BCS team this season had it stayed in the MWC."

Arizona State is 23rd: "Sun Devils were a handful of plays last season from winning nine games. Quarterback Brock Osweiler got hot late last season, and played well this spring. The defense will be stout; the offense is the key to a much higher ranking."

And USC 25th: "Maybe the most intriguing team in the top 25. Trojans have enough talent to win 10 or 11 games, but this team is a few injuries from playing freshmen at critical positions. There are just not enough experienced bodies on the two-deep depth chart."

My take: I'm curious how pollsters -- AP and Coaches -- will react to both Utah and USC.

As for the Utes, if they were still in the Mountain West Conference, my guess is they'd be a sure preseason top-25 team. Why? Just because, based on their non-AQ track record.

But rankings are a curious thing. Some pollsters project a record, then make their rankings. Utah at 9-3 or 10-2 in the MWC is top-25. But what about going 8-4 or 7-5 in the Pac-12? Some will factor in a few more losses for the Utes based on their playing in the Pac-12 and won't give them a preseason top-25 nod. They'll want to wait and see how they do when the conference schedule starts.

As for USC, I'd rank the Trojans in the top 25 if they get their bowl eligibility back from the NCAA Appeals Committee, which one day may actually rule on the seemingly endless USC case. Despite protestations to the contrary, the absence of post-season possibilities -- or playing in the first Pac-12 title game -- can't help but damage the Trojans day-to-day, Saturday-to-Saturday, focus.

Learning to hate in the Pac-12

April, 1, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY -- Ohio State-Michigan? Whatever. Auburn-Alabama? That's a quaint bit of hate. Oregon-Washington? The ranting and raving from the rain-soaked adherents in green and purple fleece just doesn't compare.

To what, you ask? Well, the hottest rivalry in college football, of course.

Utah-Colorado! (Cue "Psycho" shower scene music).

Doesn't do it for ya does it?

Think about your college football conference. Every game matters, but some matter just a bit more. Those are your rivals. You don't like them; they don't like you. It's a beautiful thing.

Now consider Utah and Colorado fans. The Utes, who are leaving the Mountain West for the Pac-12, are still under contract with arch-rival BYU for the next two seasons, but there are no guarantees that game will continue to be played annually (though the good money says it will). The Buffaloes, who are leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-12, no longer will play arch-rival Nebraska, which is skipping off to the Big Ten.

Their new schedules include nine conference games with teams that, well, they just don't have any strong feelings about.

"I'm sure we can conjure up some kind of hate for [Colorado]," Utah's colorful offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom said. "Tell us they're Communists or something."

Tony, they are Communists.

Expansion isn't a regular thing. Oh, the Southwest Conference got picked apart in 1996, and the ACC raided the Big East in 2004-05, but when teams jump from conference to conference -- particularly when automatic qualifying conferences are involved -- it sends strange ripples across sport's space-time continuum. The Buffaloes and Utes in the Pac-12 is a new thing in a sport that leans hard on its history to fuel the emotions of obsessive fandom.

You can't force the Utes and Buffaloes to hate each other. That's not how it's done. Confessed Utah linebacker Brian Blechen, "I don't have anything against Colorado."

So what must be done? Obviously, some Pac-12 team must commit a grave offense against Utah or Colorado. This, of course, will be mostly imagined, thereby making it easier to attribute it mythic status over the coming years.

"Invariably, something is going to happen in those games, and School X is going to be the school that you point to," Colorado coach Jon Embree said.

Embree also has been selling to his players that they are a part of program history because they, in fact, are making program history.

"Coach Embree said in the locker room that we get to start new traditions, we get to start new rivalries," Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "That's something to look forward to. Ten years from now, if the Colorado-Utah game is a big rivalry, we can say, 'Hey, we were the first game. We started that rivalry.' That could be something special."

There are potential angles for Utah-Colorado hate. Nebraska was all about red. Colorado fans therefore are not big fans of red. Utah is all about red, too. And everyone knows that Utah fans are jealous of the vastly superior skiing in Colorado. Or is it vice versa?

On perhaps a more substantive level, Colorado is entering the Pac-12 as an equal member -- in 2012, per the original agreement -- while Utah will get no payout from the conference in 2011 (other than an equal share of revenue from the Pac-12 championship game), and partial shares for the two years after that (50 percent in 2012 and 75 percent in 2013). There is some "all are equal but some are more equal than others" at play here.

While the Buffaloes have been a mediocre team of late in the Big 12, and the Utes are a national power coming out of the MWC, there's still a bias that favors the AQ team. When Utah -- or TCU or Boise State, for that matter -- was making one of its undefeated runs over the past few seasons, some dismissed it with a, "They wouldn't be able to do that in the SEC/Pac-10/Big Ten/Big 12."

"Coming from the Mountain West, I think a lot of people are going to be look at how we transition into that," Blechen said. "Kind of like a statement on whether we can hang or not in the Pac-12. I think we'll be ready."

Of course, Utah's most recent game with a Pac-12 team was a win over California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl. Colorado visited California last fall. That trip went badly.

"A lot of bad," Hansen said with a pained look. "I'm looking forward to playing those guys. That's a big game for me personally because I didn't play well last year."

So there you have it: Colorado has a history with a Pac-12 foe.

Of course, not everyone fuels up on emotion.

"I've been playing different teams my whole life," Colorado running back Rodney Stewart said. "I don't care who I'm playing against. I just try to do my job. It's just football."

It is just football, but that's the good news for we lovers of rivalries. Football is too emotional and physical of a game for teams that regularly play to remain neutral about each other.

No hate between Utah and Colorado and other Pac-12 teams? Just give it time.
On Friday, we looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver troikas -- so it also makes sense to also look at their defensive counterparts, the best threesomes from each of the three levels of defense: defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

Here's the tally from last season, if you are interested.

1. Arizona State

DE Junior Onyeali, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Omar Bolden

The Skinny: No question on No. 1 here. Onyeali was the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Burfict is the nation's best inside linebacker. Bolden was unanimous first-team All-Pac-10.

2. Stanford

DE Matt Masifilo, LB Shayne Skov, SS Delano Howell

The Skinny: Masifilo, the lone returning starter on the Cardinal defensive line, was honorable mention All-Pac-10, as was Skov, who was playing as well as any linebacker in the conference over the final third of the season. Howell was second-team All-Pac-10.

3. California

DE Trevor Guyton, LB Mychal Kendricks, S Sean Cattouse

The Skinny: Guyton had 8.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks despite being a part-time starter. Kendricks was second-team All-Pac-10. Cattouse earned honorable mention.

4. Oregon

DE Terrell Turner, LB Josh Kaddu, CB Cliff Harris

The Skinny: Two solid returning starters and a second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback who figures to be a preseason All-American after earning second-team honors from the Associated Press and Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2010.

5. Washington:

DT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Cort Dennison, FS Nate Fellner

The Skinny: Ta'amu earned honorable mention All-Conference honors and seemed to find himself over the latter half of the season. Dennison had 93 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Fellner tied for second in the conference with five interceptions.

6. Arizona

DT Justin Washington, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade

The Skinny: Washington's numbers fell off when he got banged up, but he still had 11.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks as a redshirt freshman. Vassallo was honorable mention All-Conference. Wade had an off year last fall, but was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2009.

7. USC

DE Armond Armstead, LB Chris Galippo, FS T.J. McDonald

The Skinny: This actually could be one of the best threesomes in the conference, but Armstead and Galippo have injury issues and only put up middling numbers last fall. McDonald was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010.

8. Washington State

DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, SS Deone Bucannon

The Skinny: Long was honorable mention All-Conference, Bucannon, who started as a true freshman, and Hoffman-Ellis were the Cougars' top two tackles in 2010.


DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, SS Tony Dye

The Skinny: A solid threesome that is down here more because it gets an "incomplete." Jones missed all of last season with a foot injury, but, if healthy, he's an All-Conference sort. Larimore was solid in seven games before suffering a shoulder injury. Dye led the Bruins in tackles and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10.

10. Colorado

NG Will Pericak, LB Jon Major, FS Ray Polk

The Skinny: Pericak earned honorable mention All-Big 12. Major was the Buffaloes leading tackler before he blew out his knee in Game 7 (a knee injury also killed the junior's true freshman season). Polk was the second-leading tackler.

11. Utah

DE Derrick Shelby, LB Chaz Walker, CB Conroy Black

The Skinny: Honestly don't know how to rank the Utes here. Shelby and Walker are returning starters -- Walker earned second-team All-Mountain West honors. Black was the top backup cornerback last season. But Star Lotulelei might be the Utes' best defensive lineman, and Brian Blechen has moved from strong safety, where he was very good, to linebacker. How highly do the Utes think of him? They list him as an All-American candidate.

12. Oregon State

DE Dominic Glover, LB Rueben Robinson, S Lance Mitchell

The Skinny: Three returning starters, but none of them even earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Mitchell was the Beavers' third-leading tackler, Glover had 2.5 sacks, and Robinson split time with Tony Wilson.

Who's back from the top 25?

March, 22, 2011
This will be my final post on our 2010 top 25 players rankings. It's also a line between looking back at the Pac-10 and looking forward to the Pac-12.

This post projects ahead: These players are the leading candidates for a preseason top 25.

First, here's who's back in 2011 -- 11 players -- from our top-25.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
4. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
13. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington

And here's who's back -- nine players -- from our "left-out list."

Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California
John Boyett, FS, Oregon
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Delano Howell, SS, Stanford

So that's 20 front-runners for the next list we'll put together this summer. Also, don't forget that competition will be more intense with the inclusion of Utah and Colorado for the next list.

Or will the Utes and/or Buffaloes get shutout? Neither welcomes back a first-team all-conference player from the Mountain West or Big 12, respectively (Colorado doesn't have a second-team player coming back, either).

Should be pretty interesting.
One thing we're learning about Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott: When he says he's going to do something, he does.

Scott talked about expansion and he did it. And he talked about improving football officiating, and it appears he's well on his way to doing that.

Mike Pereira, the Pac-12's interim coordinator of football officiating, has dismissed 11 officials who worked games last year and will hire 16 new officials heading into the 2011 season, according to the Seattle Times. Those new officials will be lured away from the Big 12, Mountain West and WAC, per the report.

Pereira doesn't mince words with his evaluation of the conference's officiating.
"I certainly did not think that for a geographic area like the West Coast that can draw from a lot of officials, I certainly didn't think it was at the level that it could be," he told the Times. "I'm not saying it was horrible, but it was not at the level that it deserved to be and that this conference deserves to have."

My guess is some of you might agree.

Couple of other notes of interest from the Times story by Bob Condotta.
  • Pereira said the conference's entire officiating program is being reorganized, starting with the hiring of seven supervisors to oversee each of the seven officiating positions (referee, umpire, linesman, line judge, back judge, field judge, side judge), as well as one for the replay booth.
  • There will be a new "officiating command center" at the conference office in Walnut Creek, Calif., which matches other BCS conferences.
  • Sixteen new officials will give the conference seven seven-man crews, a personnel increase due to the addition of two new teams to the conference.

Spring transforms conference into Pac-12

February, 17, 2011
The Pac-10 doesn't become the Pac-12 officially until July 1, but with the advent of spring practices -- Stanford gets an early jump on Feb. 21 -- the reality sets in: It's going to be different this fall.

It's not just about Utah and Colorado joining the "old" Pac-10, which has been stable since adding Arizona and Arizona State in 1978. It's about a massive transformation.

For one, there will be two divisions: North (California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Washington State) and South (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, USC and Utah). Teams will still play nine conference games, but the round-robin format adopted in 2006 is over. With 12 teams, every team can't play every other on an annual basis, which affects not only rivalries but also recruiting.

Divisions also bring a conference championship game, which will be played at the home stadium of the team with the best conference record on Dec. 3. The winner of that game, even if it's just, say, 8-5, will be crowned Pac-12 champion and go to the Rose Bowl, if it's not selected for the national title game.

Divisions change the dynamic. In Pac-10 play, every game mattered. In Pac-12 play, divisional games matter a little more.

While some Pac-10 coaches, particularly in the Northwest, weren't terribly excited about expansion and North and South divisions -- Oregon State's always-pleasant Mike Riley was on record as being slightly sour on the idea -- there's no turning back. For the lack of a better phrase, it is what it is.

"It's not really a focal point for us as we head into spring practice," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Our focus for us is on us, trying to get better."

Said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, "Whether there are eight teams in the conference or 18 teams in the conference, it has no effect on us ... I don't care how they split the divisions -- I don't get caught up in that. I don't know why anyone would .... They don't ask us our opinion on that. And it's not that I want that. I don't worry about things I don't have control over."

[+] EnlargeJon Embree
AP Photo/Jack DempseyNew Colorado coach Jon Embree believes the Pac-12 is a better conference for Colorado than the Big 12.
For Utah, coming from the Mountain West Conference -- a solid league but a non-automatic qualifying one -- the move was a no-brainer. For Colorado, leaving the Big 12 was a more complicated proposition. But new Buffaloes coach Jon Embree admits he has a West Coast bias.

"When they were forming the Big 12 [in 1994], it looked like we might go to the Pac-10 at the time, and I was really hoping that would happen for the university as opposed to the Big 12 conference," he said. "I always felt like that conference was a better fit for us."

Embree played high school football in Colorado, went to Colorado and coached there for 10 seasons under Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002). He's a Colorado guy. But his parents are from Los Angeles, he was born in L.A., he spent plenty of time in Southern California growing up and he coached at UCLA. He even played for the L.A. Rams for two seasons (1987-88).

He's got plenty of West Coast in him, just as Colorado's and Utah's rosters are already laden with players from California, as well as a smattering from other Pac-10 states. The transition for both probably will be fairly easy.

And, of course, none of this has much to do with spring practices, which for all 12 programs will be business as usual: Filling voids, fostering competition, breaking in new coaches and tweaking schemes.

On the football side of things, Embree is the only new coach who arrived after a termination. His predecessor, Dan Hawkins, never posted a winning season in five years. At Stanford, Jim Harbaugh bolted for the San Francisco 49ers after leading the Cardinal to their best season of the modern era. David Shaw was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Harbaugh.

That's it for coaching transitions, though it's fair to say that a number of coaches enter spring practices facing win-or-else seasons, particularly UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, Washington State's Paul Wulff and Arizona State's Dennis Erickson.

Seven teams enter spring with stability at quarterback, including four with legitimate All-America candidates behind center: Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oregon's Darron Thomas, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles. Conversely, three teams appear to have wide-open competitions at the position: California, UCLA and Washington.

UCLA replaced both coordinators, which notably ended up landing Norm Chow at Utah. California and Arizona also had some significant staff turnover, with Bears coach Jeff Tedford stating he planned to work extensively with his quarterbacks this spring.

At Oregon, the Ducks begin earnest preparations to defend their consecutive conference titles needing to rebuild their offensive line and defensive front seven. Arizona, California, Stanford and USC also have questions on their offensive lines, while Oregon State must address the early departure of running back Jacquizz Rodgers and issues on its defensive line. Arizona State, with a conference-high 19 starters back, needs to square things away at quarterback and prepare for being the favorite in the Pac-12 South. Newbies Colorado and Utah have vacancies in the secondary, which should be worrisome in a conference of quarterbacks.

So it's really about football this spring, not transformation. Because you know what every coach will tell you when asked for his thoughts on heading into the first year of Pac-12 play?

"It's just line 'em up and tell me who to play," Embree said.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is a details guy. Most football coaches are. But some details are new and take some getting used to.

"There are a lot of good football teams in the Pac-10," he said before catching himself. "I guess we'll call it the Pac-12 now."

Yep. Welcome.

Whittingham -- wisely, if you think about how redundant the questions would have been -- didn't talk about his Utes move into the Pac-12 this past season. But he admits it was impossible to completely block out. He called it "human nature" that he, perhaps, paid just a bit more attention to Pac-10 highlights, or checked out Pac-10 box scores with more than a casual interest.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Jim UrquhartUtah coach Kyle Whittingham is looking forward to the challenges of playing in the Pac-12.
Further, it was an issue in recruiting. When he reached out to a prospect, he could promise more than he could in the past, starting with an affiliation with an automatic-qualifying conference. That's the bright lights, big city of college football. "Son," Whittingham can now ask a young, West Coast hot shot, "would you like to one day play in the Rose Bowl?"

A recruit in Southern California who thinks Salt Lake City is somewhere near Narnia? No problem: "Son, Utah is in the Pac-12 South Division with USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. You'll get plenty of sunshine during the season and you'll come home for a game every year and get to see your mommy."

You cannot underestimate what a game-changer that can be in recruiting. Said Whittingham, "Without a doubt we were able to get in on several players that we would have had no chance of getting in on without the affiliation with the Pac-12."

Exhibit No. 1: Receiver Quinton Pedroza, the Utes' top-rated signee. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Chino, Calif., switched his allegiance from Arizona State on signing day.

Of course, competing for better players in recruiting also means a higher level of competition. Utah lost a pair of committed players to other Pac-12 schools: quarterback Derrick Brown to Washington and cornerback Ryan Henderson to USC.

As Whittingham said, "Now that you're in on them, you're in on them with several other high-profile schools and the competition is just as intense."

Speaking of competition, the nine-game Pac-12 schedule figures to present an uptick in degree of difficulty for the Utes, even though the Mountain West Conference has fared well when matched with the Pac-10 in recent years. Whittingham is 4-3 against Pac-10 teams since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2005, beating California, Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona.

"The week-in and week-out level of competition is ratcheted up," Whittingham said. "There are some excellent football teams in the Mountain West Conference. ... Not to downplay or disrespect anything that's going on in the Mountain West, but we're convinced the weekly challenges will be much more difficult than they have been in years' past for us."

There is also an atypical challenge for both Utah and Colorado (and Nebraska as it heads into the Big Ten): Little to no "local knowledge."

Just about every FBS team will be familiar with the vast majority of its schedule next year. It will have first-hand knowledge about personnel, schemes, tendencies, etc., of most of its opponents because it plays a regular conference schedule annually. Utah and Colorado will not. The Utes didn't play a Pac-10 team last year, and Colorado only got blasted at California. Essentially, they will play a slate of what feels like 12 nonconference foes. So they are playing catch-up with scouting and preparation compared to the rest of the reconfigured conference.

"That does present a challenge having very little knowledge about the vast majority of the teams in the conference you're moving into," Whittingham said.

But Whittingham pointed to the hiring of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and offensive line coach Tim Davis as providing a helpful crutch. Chow, you may have heard, was UCLA's coordinator the previous three seasons, while Davis coached at USC from 2002-2004.

So Whittingham will have some help looking forward. As for looking back at the Mountain West, that's really not Whittingham's thing.

"I'm not a sentimental guy, so there's really no emotional ties or anything of that nature," he said. "I can say the Mountain West was very good for us. It was a good run."

And now it's all about the Pac-10. Er, Pac-12.



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