Pac-12: Myles Jack

For obvious reasons, expect a lot of Jack & Shaq talk this week. Add the word "attack" and you have a deep well of lyrical/rhyming puns from which to tap.

All wordsmithing aside, it's impossible to ignore the possibilities when UCLA's Myles Jack and Washington's Shaq Thompson, the league's two premier "running-backers," square off this Saturday in Seattle. It's also impossible not to bring up Jack's performance last year against Washington.

A week earlier, he was the toast of college football for his performance against Arizona, where he switched to offense and rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. His encore was a four-touchdown performance against the Huskies in a 41-31 win at the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Harry How/Getty ImagesUCLA's Myles Jack accounted for four touchdowns against Washington last season.
This year, it might be Thompson returning the favor. Playing exclusively at running back last week against Colorado, he rushed 15 times for 174 yards and a touchdown -- giving him a robust 11.6 yards per carry. He also caught two balls for 41 yards.

"I know he misses the defensive side," Washington coach Chris Petersen said during his Monday news conference. "We just need more Shaqs. But he'll play some offense and he'll probably play some defense as well."

Couldn't we all use a few more Shaqs in our lives?

So far, Jack has spent most of the season on the defensive side of the ball, where he's second on the team with 63 tackles, including five for a loss. In his spare time, he's carried 22 times for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

Thompson has notched 54 tackles, two for a loss and a sack. He's also scored four defensive touchdowns – including a pick-six and three scoop-and-scores. Offensively, he's carried 43 times for 356 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think there will be a little competition between us to see who is the best running-backer," Jack told reporters after practice on Monday. "It will be fun. Hopefully I'll get to tackle him and he'll get to tackle me. I think that's good for the game and it will make the game interesting. I just take it as a challenge. I'm not jealous or anything. I think it's cool that he's doing it and he's successful at it."

For Jack, this will be a homecoming having grown up in Bellevue, Washington. He was heavily recruited by the Huskies, and, in fact, it was Thompson who hosted Jack on his visit to Washington. The two have kept in sporadic text contact, but not much during the season.

"He's a phenomenal athlete," Jack said. "Kudos to him. I guess it's just me and him that are doing it right now. He knows how it feels to go back and forth and learn two different playbooks and get twice as many plays and do over 100 snaps. I think it's cool. I guess there are only two of us. I don't know if there are any others in the country, but I guess me and him are making the most noise."

Jack said the UCLA coaching staff has approached him about playing running back full time, but he's shot them down each time, saying "I'm a defensive player at heart."

Still, the remarkable athleticism shown by both players have earned them some fringe Heisman buzz. More so for Jack in the preseason -- when there were wild expectations (all external, mind you) that he might carry 20 times per game while playing 60-plus snaps per game on defense. That buzz has fizzled with his limited work on offense. Thompson has appeared on a smattering of Heisman straw polls throughout the year.

"I don't get a chance to watch everybody around the country, but I do see a lot," said Petersen. "And I haven't seen a better football player out there than [Thompson]. ... I know there are some good ones out there, but what this guy does in terms of special teams and offense and defense and all those things, I haven't seen a better one."

Bold statement. And his guy will have a chance to back it up on Saturday.

No doubt, Shaq & Jack are in an exclusive club.

"We should start our own little group or make shirts," Jack joked. "... We might collaborate on something."
Happy Friday. That goes for you, too, Washington State.

Well, mostly. Hey, next round's on Gemmell? That help? Thought so.

Follow me on Twitter, where I wax and wane between sympathetic, antagonistic and sarcastic.

To the notes!

Devon from Mesa, Arizona, writes: When Todd Graham was hired at ASU, the national media focused only on his nomadic past and the admittedly less-than-ideal way he left Pitt. But since then, he's been nothing but extremely loyal and impressive as the Sun Devils' coach, improving the play on the field, the quality of recruiting, the discipline in the program, and the morale of the fan base. But even after winning the South and the conference coach of the year honors last year, most media picks ASU as no better than fifth in the Pac-12 this season. What more does he need to do to convince the national media to get past the one-year stint at Pitt and to start giving Graham some respect for the outstanding program he's building in Tempe?

Ted Miller: Well, fifth in the Pac-12 is good enough to be 19th in the preseason AP poll and 18th with the coaches, slightly ahead of their 2013 finish, so it's not exactly like the national media is hatin' them some Sun Devils. Further, fifth is only down two spots in the conference from last year, when ASU finished third in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and Oregon.

Why down two spots? Quick: Name four defensive starters. Ah ha! Yes, pretty much completely rebuilding your defense with unknown quantities is something the national media picked up on. It's not personal. It's business. The media goes all Missouri on you: You've got to show us. While Graham has recruited well, he's not in Alabama or Florida State territory, where he gets the benefit of the doubt with his true and redshirt freshmen and JC transfers.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsTodd Graham and Arizona State have some rebuilding to do, but the pollsters have given the Sun Devils some respect.
Speaking of JC transfers, and I don't want to seem thin-skinned here, but the Pac-12 blog received gobs of "your an idiot" [sic] hate mail this offseason from maestros of the message boards fans telling us how stupid we were for not understanding how dominant front-seven stalwarts Dalvon Stuckey and Darrius Caldwell were going to be.

How's that working out? Not to be snide about academic non-qualifiers but we've written over and over again about the love affair folks seem to have with the idea of touted players who have yet to play a game or even practice. Previously we termed it, "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent." Or IDIOT. Yes, we just tittered at our own snarky joke. So sorry for that.

So the reason the Sun Devils slipped in the preseason projections is the defense looks suspect. It's nothing more complicated than that.

Did we learn anything about the Sun Devils -- defense or otherwise -- during their 45-14 stomping of Weber State on Thursday? Nope.

How can Arizona State improve its place in the national pecking order? Beat UCLA at home on Sept. 25, a Thursday night game that should have a significant national audience. A 4-0 start for Graham and the Sun Devils would earn them a top-10 ranking.

Ah, did you notice something about this answer, though? I didn't bring up Pittsburgh and all that muckety-muck. Know why? I've moved on and I think most writers have, too. Graham was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year last year and has shown no interest in moving out of Tempe. I think that narrative has seen its last whimper, at least until he seems to again show a wandering eye


Eric from Vallejo, California, writes: Hi, longtime Ducks fan here. Saw my first game at Autzen in 1970.The two biggest conference games for the Ducks are with UCLA on the road, and Stanford at home. I have noticed that nobody has commented on the fact that the Ducks get two extra days to prepare for UCLA and one extra day to prepare for Stanford. (UCLA's game before meeting the Ducks is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Thursday. Similarly, Stanford's previous game is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Friday.) It could be the difference-maker! The scheduling gods smiled on the Ducks this year. How significant do you think the extra days of rest and prep will be for the Ducks on their two most important conference games?

Ted Miller: Oregon's schedule is undoubtedly favorable. It starts with missing USC and Arizona State, a pair of top-25 teams from the South Division, and it includes having Michigan State, Washington and Stanford all come to Autzen Stadium.

And your point about extra days of preparation is entirely valid. I'm imagining UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone reading this and going, "Well that stinks," then telling Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, and that troika proceeding to trash the coaches' offices, throwing chairs out the window and kicking walls before they throw themselves on their knees and bellow in unison, "Why! WHY?! Oh, why doth thou forsake us, oh great scheduling gods?!"

It might not happen exactly like that, but it would be cool if it did.

There's no question extra preparation time, as well as extra rest/recovery time, is an advantage. While there's no obvious proof of a pro-Ducks scheduling conspiracy, you never know.


Jim from Los Angeles writes: I think Myles Jack is a much better linebacker than running back. I'd rather seem him play defense and only occasionally play offense. How do you think UCLA can best utilize Jack's talents?

Ted Miller: Jim... last name... Mora?

I think that's UCLA's plan, particularly with Jordan James back from injury. Recall that the reason Jack saw action at RB last year was because of injuries in the backfield, most notably to James, who ranked among the national rushing leaders early in the season.

But Jack also might offer a good change of pace to a more physical runner, particularly near the goal line. I expect him to get touches on offense in specific packages but I also don't think anyone has illusions about where his primary position is -- on defense, where he's got an NFL future.


Craig from Independence, Oregon, writes: Do you think Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota will be NFL quarterback(s)? Both seem to have the physical makeup of one, but are they NFL material?

Ted Miller: Yes.

They are different, but they both will be early draft picks -- perhaps both going in the first round this spring -- and I suspect both will have good NFL careers.

Both have NFL arms. Both are tall, which the NFL values. Both are smart enough to learn an NFL playbook. Mariota brings a run/scramble element, while Mannion is a traditional guy who stands tall in the pocket.

I've learned through the years that my skills predicting NFL careers are limited, not unlike NFL GMs. But I'd be surprised if both don't end up as NFL starters.


Fleecemonkey from San Carlos, California, writes: Did no one do any independent source verification before reporting the Josh Shaw story? Is that not the journalistic standard? I ask out of sincere curiosity. No snark intended. When I wrote a piece for the NY Times Sunday Review, I had to provide documentation for every fact. Does sports journalism adhere to different practices?

Ted Miller: While all forms of journalism should adhere to basic 101 standards, these are complicated times for the profession. Things move faster than they once did. As in immediate fast. You get information you believe is from a good source and you tend to go with it ASAP. It used to be you could double- and triple-source and provide depth and perspective on breaking news because your only time constraint was the deadline for the AM edition. Now, for better or worse, there's a battle for Twitter turf.

That's a different bird than what you did for the NY Times Sunday Review, which I'm guessing was a non-deadline feature or long-form story that can be thoroughly fact-checked because there's time to do so.

In this case, team captain Josh Shaw, a senior with a good reputation, told coaches and administrators at USC that he jumped off of a second-story balcony and hurt his ankles because he was trying to save his drowning 7-year-old nephew. There was no reason, at that point, to view Shaw with suspicion, to see him as someone who would manufacture an outrageous lie. He had no history of deceit or questionable conduct within the program, at least as far as we know.

How did USC get fooled? Read this. It does a good job of explaining.

Then USC, using its official website, published a story with quotes from Shaw and coach Steve Sarkisian. That put the seemingly legitimate information out there, and beat writers felt they needed to react for their publications as soon as possible, probably knowing it would be of national interest. At that point, just about everyone was planning a follow-up. That would be the deeper and more detailed -- and more sourced -- picture of an act of heroism and the young man who performed it. .

Things moved pretty quickly thereafter, though not before many of us were captivated -- hook, line and sinker. As it was, the feel-good story became a stinking pile of manure.


Costi from Phoenix writes: While a lot of optimism always inevitably floats around at the beginning of the season (which I love, of course). I want the pessimistic side of your analysis as well. I want to know what team or teams do you think is most likely to underwhelm, fall well short of expectations, or simply just surprise people with how thin or bad they are? I mean, sure, the Bears and Buffs are most likely to be the worst teams at the end of the season, but everyone expects that. Which Pac-12 team projected to contend is most likely to fall well short of expectations?

Ted Miller: After watching Washington State lose Thursday to a Rutgers team that I thought it would roll over, I think all the favorites have plenty of room to self-destruct. Heck, many Pac-12 teams are just a few injuries away from massively reduced capabilities -- see Oregon with QB Marcus Mariota last year.

What could go wrong? How about this.

  • Arizona: What if QB play is poor and the defense gets exposed?
  • Arizona State: What if the rebuilt defense is lousy?
  • California: What if the team starts slowly and quits on Sonny Dykes?
  • Colorado: What if the voids left behind by WR Paul Richardson and DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe prove too much?
  • Oregon: What if the receivers and secondary underwhelm?
  • Oregon State: That O-line is questionable, and Brandin Cooks is in the NFL.
  • Stanford: Losing four starting O-linemen and the biggest producers on defense could actually be a problem.
  • UCLA: Sophomore slumps on both lines, a loss to Texas and a team unprepared for disappointment.
  • USC: New systems and a lack of depth, as well as swirling preseason controversies.
  • Utah: Still not ready for prime time Pac-12 play.
  • Washington: New systems, new QB, new RB and a young secondary.
  • Washington State: No run defense; no running game.

The teams set up for the biggest falls are everyone's favorites: Oregon and UCLA. While I don't see either faltering in a massive way, it wouldn't shock me if one or the other ended up outside the top 10. Because both have such high expectations, that first defeat might include a hangover that causes loss No. 2. Or even No. 3.


Gary from La Grande, Oregon, writes: Ted, you've been catching a lot of heat for ending the best-case/worst-case scenarios. So, I thought you might feel better to know that I couldn't stand 'em.

Ted Miller: Yes, Gary, I now feel great. Thanks.
Myles JackAP Photo/Mark J. Terrill"At first it was flattering," said UCLA dual-threat Myles Jack. "Now it's getting to be a little overbearing."

By the time the 2014 season has come to an end, UCLA's Myles Jack will have tallied 20 sacks and eight interceptions, run for 25 touchdowns, won a Heisman, a national championship, dropped a Grammy-winning album, rescued 17 kittens from trees, cracked Kryptos and will have single-handedly brought balance to the force. The chosen one, he is.

What? Too much? You wouldn't think so the way the national media has bowed at the altar of this dual-threat sophomore.

No doubt about it, America is jacked up for Jack. He's a full-time linebacker, a part-time running back and college football's preseason darling. And the expectations on the second-year player have proliferated without him playing a snap since UCLA's Sun Bowl victory (to be fair, he did have a pick-six in that game).

"It's impossible not to be aware of it," Jack said. "I won't lie. I can try to hide from it all I want. But I know it's there. I'm aware of it for sure. But I can't let that change me. I can't put pressure on myself. Football is a game. That's how I treat it. I don't make it anything more than that. I'm trying to have fun with it all.

"At first it was flattering. Now it's getting to be a little overbearing. I can't wait to get the season underway and get all of the talk out of the way. I'm ready to play. Hopefully it will simmer down. But it probably won't."

In other words, slow your roll.

Jack is on almost every preseason All-America team (including ESPN.com's), even though we haven't seen him play a game without first-round draft pick Anthony Barr, who occupied a lot of attention last year, opposite him. He's been dubbed a Heisman darkhorse and a Heisman favorite, even though it's a quarterback-driven award and he hasn't thrown a single pass in his collegiate career (not yet, anyway, but he's only a sophomore).

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Harry How/Getty ImagesLinebacker Myles Jack rushed for four touchdowns against Washington last season.
"I think he's handled it extremely well," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "He hasn't changed a bit. He's never going to be able to live up to those expectations. It's almost impossible. All we want from Myles is to be the very best Myles Jack he can be every day. If he can do that, that's good enough for me."

Jack is a budding superstar. There's no denying it. And he captured national imaginations last year when he switched to the offensive side of the ball and busted out with a 120-yard rushing performance (including a 66-yard touchdown) in a 31-26 win in Tucson. A week later he washed it down with four rushing touchdowns at home against Washington.

Twitter -- and America -- had no idea what hit them.

"I'm thankful for the appreciation," Jack said. "I appreciate people admiring what you do. I think that's really cool. All the extra stuff and the expectations, I can't really control any of that."

Adding thermite to the discussion is the fact that UCLA is a top-10 team headlined by SI cover boy Brett Hundley. The Bruins are the favorites in the Pac-12 South and a trendy pick to win the conference and possibly a national championship.

But here's a head-scratcher: What if Jack is just a really, really good cover linebacker? He's not asked to do the sorts of things that Barr was. Barr was a bona-fide pass-rusher, a backfield menace. Jack makes his bones at or above the line of scrimmage, not behind it. What if Jack finishes the year with 85 tackles and four or five picks and the occasional rushing touchdown?

"I'm happy with that," Jack said. "That's a solid year for me."

Will the hype machine be happy with that? "Probably not."

Right now, much of Jack's hype is based on potential. One UCLA coach recently told the Pac-12 blog that Jack has "done things on a football field I didn't know were possible." But contrast that to the hype of Hundley -- a three-year starter who has been a character guy and led his team to a South Division championship. Hundley has earned his hype. Jack doesn't believe he has.

"Not yet, I don't think so," Jack said. "I've had one season. I feel like I've gotten better. And I had a great first season. But my mindset is that that season is over. If I don't do anything year, no one will care about what I did my first year. I won't even care what I did my freshman year. My goal is to get better and have a better sophomore year."

Mora does his best to shield his players from the outside noise. But he also understands where the Jack craze is coming from.

"Whether he's earned this attention isn't for me to decide," Mora said. "It is what it is. Personally, I think all hype is overblown myself. But he's the first player in conference history -- maybe national history -- to win offensive and defensive freshman of the year. With that comes some hype."

No one is looking to spit on anyone's Cheerios. No one is being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. Jack himself admits a lot of what's been written and said about him -- while a boost to his ego -- is simply overblown.

"I'm not looking for any encores," he said. "I've worked really hard this offseason. Right now, all I can do is go out on the field and show people how hard I've worked. And hopefully we'll win. Because at the end of the day that's the most important thing. My only expectation is to play better than I did last year."

That, seems fair.

Media Days takeaways: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
7:45
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Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 2 of media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

Gemmell: I think it's pretty notable that Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery -- a guy on the Biletnikoff watch list and a guy coach David Shaw called one of the most explosive players in college football -- probably won't play in Week 1. Shaw identified it as an "arm" injury for Montgomery, who didn't participate in spring ball. Shaw said it's likely they will take it slow for fall camp and might keep him out of Week 1. Translation: "We're playing UC Davis and should be fine without him." Because a week later they play USC. And they will need him for that game.

Jennings: There were plenty of good nuggets that came out of Day 2, but I was particularly interested to hear that UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, the reigning Offensive/Defensive Freshman of the Year, put on 15 pounds of muscle during this offseason. That's a lot of weight for a kid who already hit (and ran) pretty darn well. It'll be interesting to see how a bigger and stronger Jack does in Year 2 with Jim Mora and the Bruins.

Bonagura: For a media day, it was actually pretty quiet. The big news was clearly Washington coach Chris Petersen's decision to suspend projected starting quarterback Cyler Miles for the Huskies' opener against Hawaii, but even that will have little impact on the season. No one is expecting that to be much of a game regardless of who's under center for Washington. If anything, the move could end up helping the Huskies from a football standpoint because they'll get much-needed game experience for whoever ends up being the backup and give Miles extra time to digest the new coaching staff's system after missing every practice and meeting during spring ball.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway?

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesHow long does Todd Graham have to stay in Tempe for rumors about a departure to subside?
Gemmell: Todd Graham caught a lot of flak -- I mean A LOT of flak -- when he jumped from Pitt to Arizona State. He had a reputation as a program hopper always looking for the best opportunity. When most jobs became available, Graham was always rumored (usually unsubstantiated) as wanting to move on. Well, he's not, and he addressed that Thursday. Coming into his third year (a longer tenure than five other Pac-12 coaches, mind you) he says he's committed to ASU for the "long haul" and could see himself retiring in Tempe. His house is paid off, he's got pretty good continuity with his staff and he's winning. Sounds like the makings of a long and happy relationship. But if he does leave on his own, is three years fair? Five? Time to let the "Todd Graham is gonna jump ship" storyline go.

Jennings: Cue the campfire and Kumbaya, please. Everyone is becoming bff's.

Not only is this year going to hold one of the deepest crops of quarterbacks in a single conference ever, this could also be one of the closer groups of quarterbacks ever. So many of these guys attended the Manning Passing Academy together -- Sean Mannion and Brett Hundley roomed together at the camp. And through the two media days, there just seemed to be so much bromance. You've got the guys in other conferences who say, "Yeah, he's a good player and I respect him" but it felt like this group genuinely could become fraternity brothers or something. Sure, they're going to take the field and try to destroy each other's teams, but I also feel like -- if given the chance -- most of them would sit down for a dinner together the next day.

Bonagura: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is ready for the spotlight. And maybe he's been ready, but it's going to be brighter this year. This was my first chance seeing Hundley handle a throng of media attention, in person, and he came off like a seasoned pro. Other players were similarly impressive, but with the festivities being held in Southern California, Hundley drew the most attention and it didn't faze him. Forget the fact that he's one of the most exciting players to watch in the country, there are plenty of reasons why he's an easy player to root for.

Best quote of the day?

Gemmell: I asked Colorado defensive end Juda Parker, of the 10 returning quarterbacks which one does he most want to sack. He responded with this gem: "The one I WILL sack is Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He's my classmate and we went to high school together. I'm looking forward to it. I'll probably give him an extra nudge and say, ‘We'll talk about this after the game.'"

Jennings: I was walking by a group of men when one of them announced, "That's why you don't raise raccoons." I should've stopped and completely put myself into the conversation because, let's be serious, this could've been one of the most interesting points of the day. But I was on a mission and decided to find coffee that it was easier to just input my own thoughts as to why they were talking about that. I'd like to imagine it was something like, "We need to achieve world peace and ... that's why you don't raise raccoons."

However, I would also like to imagine that at one point in time Mike Leach attempted to raise a raccoon.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora's not budging from UCLA if he has any say in it.
Bonagura: UCLA coach Jim Mora was asked about his commitment to the school and after a long-winded answer, he finished with: "I'm staying there until they kick me out. That might be tomorrow, who knows. I've been kicked out before. But I'm staying until they kick me out."

Going to go out on a limb and say UCLA is not going to fire Jim Mora tomorrow. So modest, Jim.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I've known Stanford safety Jordan Richards for a while. We've talked a lot and done several videos together over the years. And I'm always impressed with his poise and confidence. I love how much he loves football. A lot of defensive players I talked to over the last couple of days admitted they have a tough road ahead with all of the offensive talent in the league. Richards shrugs it off and says it's the quarterbacks who have to prove themselves worthy of all the praise. I like that.

Jennings: I'm going to give some major props to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan here. One reporter asked Hogan about Mariota and Hogan went on a diatribe about how great of a person and player Mariota is. I'd imagine there are a lot of players out there who get sick of their same-position guys being talked about constantly (and having questions pitched to them about said guys), but Hogan couldn't say enough good things about Mariota. And yes, that says plenty about Mariota, but I think it says even more about the type of person Hogan is.

Bonagura: Relative to the rest of the players who were brought to Hollywood over the past two days, Juda Parker was one of the players I knew the least about. About 30 seconds into a chat with him, it became clear he's headed for big things. Time will tell if that's in professional football -- he's got a chance -- or in something else, but he expressed how important it was to develop skills during his time at Colorado that'll help both on the football field and "in a cubicle." It was obviously more detailed than that, but let's just say he served as an impressive ambassador for Colorado.

Cornhole was one of the activities available for the players and coaches at Pac-12 media days. If you could pick a threesome to play corn hole with, who would you pick and why?

Gemmell: Isn't this one obvious? Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler. Leave the coaches out of it. Stick with the three of the four most accurate quarterbacks in the Pac-12 from last year. Hundley led the conference with a 66.8 completion percentage. Mannion was second with 66.3 and Kessler was fourth at 65.4 (Keith Price was third at 66.2). The name of the game is accuracy. I want the guys who aren't going to miss.

Jennings: I'd pick Hundley as my teammate, because he and Eric Kendricks swept their competition -- 7-0, according to the leaderboard -- and I'm going to assume that the Heisman-contending QB was a big part of that. And for the competition, I'm going to pick Steve Sarkisian and Mark Helfrich -- the two coaches that are likely going to battle Hundley the most for the top spot in the south division and the championship game. Overall, there'd be plenty of real rivalry happening and I love some good trash talk (which I'm hoping there'd be some of). Plus, if we lost, I'd convince Hundley to just walk around throwing footballs at people and saying it was because he's the Campus Enforcer.

Bonagura: For my teammate, I'm choosing Sean Mannion. If his 68 career touchdown passes aren't reason enough, I'm putting a lot of stock in his recent victory in the Air-It-Out Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy. That event showcased his accuracy against several of the nation's best quarterbacks including USC's Cody Kessler and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, both of whom were also in Hollywood this week. As for who we're playing against, I want Mike Leach on my side of the pit (is it a cornhole pit?) purely for entertainment value and Sonny Dykes on the other to provide a reunion for the close friends.
More watch list news with nine Pac-12 players being named to the Butkus Award list. The Butkus is given annually to the top linebacker in college football. (There are also professional and high school level awards.)

The last winner from the conference was USC’s Chris Claiborne in 1998, so it’s been a while.

Here are the Pac-12 players named to the preseason list.
You can see the complete list here.
The watchlist roll out continues this week with the announcement of the Rotary Lombardi preseason list.

Of the 123 players on the list, 15 are from the Pac-12 representing six schools.

Eligibility for the Lombardi Award includes offensive or defensive “down” linemen or linebackers “who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.”

Here are the Pac-12 players.
As much talk as there has been (including here at the Pac-12 blog) about how good the offenses in the conference will be this season, Thursday's release of the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation's best defensive player, and Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best interior lineman, shows the Pac-12 measures up well against other conferences in defensive talent, too.

The Pac-12 led all conferences with 18 players on the Nagurski list, edging out the SEC (16), Big 12 (13), ACC (12) and Big Ten (10). For the Outland Trophy, which includes a mix of defensive and offensive players, the Pac-12 ranked second with 11 players behind the SEC (19).

Stanford's Henry Anderson, USC's Leonard Williams and Washington's Danny Shelton are on both.

Here are the Pac-12 players that were included:

Nagurski (defensive player)
Outland Trophy
Other watch lists
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Linebacker. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The Ducks are in great shape with inside linebackers Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick returning next to outside linebacker Tony Washington. The only departure they’ll have to account for is Boseko Lokombo, and that spot appears destined for Tyson Coleman once he’s completely healthy following a knee injury that sidelined him for the Alamo Bowl. Sophomore Torrodney Prevot is one of several talented young players to keep an eye on when the Ducks empty their bench during blowouts.

Oregon State: The Beavers are deep at linebacker with D.J. Alexander, Jabral Johnson and Michael Doctor projected to start in their 4-3 scheme. Rommel Mageo was a starter down the stretch last season and should see plenty of playing time, as will Caleb Saulo and Darrell Songy.

USC: Only outside linebacker Devon Kennard is gone from a a solid group that should have a rather seamless transition playing in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's 3-4 defense. Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao figure to start inside, with Jabari Ruffin or Quinton Powell playing outside opposite J.R. Tavai.

Washington: The Huskies weren’t fully stocked during the spring, but figure to have one of the best groups in the conference with John Timu playing between Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney. Cory Littleton can be listed at defensive end or outside linebacker -- UW calls him a rush end -- and is coming off a productive sophomore season.

GOOD SHAPE

Colorado: Addison Gillam led the Pac-12 in tackles per game last year (8.9) and will likely start between sophomore Kenneth Olugbode and senior Woodson Greer. The Buffaloes have depth, too, with Brady Daigh, a reliable backup for Gillam, and outside linebacker Deaysean Rippy, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh. Rippy was listed as an alternative starter to Greer on Colorado’s post spring depth chart.

Stanford: There might not be a more difficult task in the conference than replacing outside linebacker Trent Murphy and inside linebacker Shayne Skov, both of whom drew All-American accolades in multiple season. Inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, already a three-year starter, is one of the conference’s unheralded players and outside linebacker James Vaughters is poised for a breakout senior season. Kevin Andersen has seen a lot of playing time over the past two years at outside linebacker, but the other inside spot needs to be ironed out.

UCLA: Like Stanford, the Bruins have a tough task in replacing Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, but have two talented returners in Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. UCLA could very well end up one of the best groups in the conference pending the development of Kenny Orjioke, Deon Hollins, Isaako Savaiinaea and Zach Whitley.

Utah: Junior Jason Whittingham is a potential first-team all-conference type player and the Utes are high on Jared Norris, who started seven games last year. The group looked even better when Miami-transfer Gionni Paul was projected to contribute, but the start to his season is expected to be delayed by a broken bone in his foot. Uaea Masina, after contributing on special teams last year, will likely see a lot of playing time.

Washington State: Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen return as starters and Tana Pritchard, who saw his role grow as the season went along, will be leaned on heavily. The final spot up for grabs is the ‘buck,’ which looks like it will come down to Kache Palacio, a slight favorite who started at the end of the season, and Ivan McLennan. Chester Su'a could also make some noise after missing last season with an injury.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats need to replace three-year starter Marquis Flowers and two-year starter Jake Fischer. Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman last season and gives the Wildcats a good piece to start with, but we’ll take a wait-and-see approach once the other pieces are in place. The good news is that Arizona has recruited well at linebacker.

Arizona State: Salamo Fiso returns, but having to replace three of the four starters from a year ago leaves more questions than answers. Early-enrollee D.J. Calhoun drew rave reviews during spring practice, but will have to beat out redshirt junior Antonio Longino for a starting job. Eriquel Florence (devil), and Laiu Moeakiola/Marcus Washington (spur) were also listed as starters at the end of spring practice.

Cal: Jalen Jefferson, Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson are all back, but after last season’s defensive woes it’s hard to go in with much optimism. The situation at linebacker is clearly better than it was last year, but that’s not inspiring enough not to erase speculation.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS:
Your early-week inundation with watch lists continues with the Paul Hornung Award.

A year ago, UCLA linebacker-turned-running-back Myles Jack was a finalist for the award, which is given to who the Louisville Sports Commission views as the most versatile athlete in college football. Jack was beaten out by LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Here is the Pac-12 representation:

As a returning finalist, it'd be easy to call Jack a favorite to win the award, but it remains to be seen if circumstances will allow him to be a serious contender. In a perfect world at UCLA, the Bruins wouldn't need him to carry the ball like they did late last season. And if Jack not being a factor for this award is the by-product of that, count on absolutely no one caring.

Thompson might end up being the player to watch here considering he could be to Washington this fall what Jack was for the Bruins a year ago.

With its seven players on the list, the Pac-12 ranked behind the Big Ten and ACC (both had 10) for third among conferences. It was followed by the Big 12 (5), SEC (4), Mountain West (3), AAC (3), Conference USA (2), Sun Belt (2) and MAC (1).

Stanford's Owen Marecic, who played fullback and linebacker, won the inaugural award in 2010.

The complete list of 47 players can be viewed here.
There’s nothing like a good ol’ award watch list to generate some college football discussion during the height of summer, and the good folks at the College Football Performance Awards are the latest to publish theirs.

Eight Pac-12 schools are represented (sorry ASU, Cal, Colorado and Utah) on the three defensive lists, highlighted by USC’s Leonard Williams, UCLA’s Myles Jack and Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Here is the full list of Pac-12 representation.

Defensive linemen
Tony Washington, Oregon
Leonard Williams, USC
Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
Xavier Cooper, Washington State

Linebackers
A.J. Tarpley, Stanford
Myles Jack, UCLA
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Hayes Pullard, USC
Shaq Thompson, Washington

Defensive backs
Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
Steven Nelson, Oregon State
Jordan Richards, Stanford
Su'a Cravens, USC
Josh Shaw, USC

Lunch links: Cravens rising

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday!
It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

We continue the series with running backs.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should be as dangerous as ever. De'Anthony Thomas never really grew into the role as an every-down back, but Marshall carried 168 times for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyner slowly picked up more carries and finished with 115 for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Folks are also excited to see what incoming freshman Royce Freeman brings to the table. This is a scary corps, even before you realize that Marcus Mariota also carried 96 times for 715 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

USC: The emergence of Buck Allen was a pleasant surprise after he spent much time in Lane Kiffin purgatory. He boasted 5.8 yards per carry to go with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll be pushed by Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan, who is back after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury. This is a group that could do damage in Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo offense. Think about what Bishop Sankey did last year.

Arizona State: Marion Grice was a touchdown machine. But D.J. Foster is no slouch after rushing for 501 yards and catching 63 passes for 653 yards in a dual-threat role. The local product is explosive and has big-play speed. Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, back from injury, provide depth since Mike Norvell won't want to pass up the opportunity to use Foster in the slot at times. The depth has ASU teetering on the Great Shape/Good Shape fence, but Foster's experience and explosiveness give ASU a perfect replacement for Grice. So we're confident saying ASU is in great shape with him at the helm.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: No, we're not going to list Myles Jack as a running back. Get over it. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told the Pac-12 blog he's been looking for Jordon James to make strides as a "one-cut" runner. He believes he has. And Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro will press for carries with the intriguing Craig Lee waiting in the wings. Keep in mind it was quarterback Brett Hundley who led the Bruins in carries (160), yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Maybe ... just maybe ... we'll see Jack also pick up a few carries. The Bruins are dedicated to the run (only Oregon has more carries over the last three seasons) and they have the depth to deliver.

Stanford: No Tyler Gaffney. Four of five starters on the line are gone. Surely this is the year Stanford's running game takes a step backward, right? Probably not. The line will feature five members of the heralded 2012 recruiting class and a committee approach with Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young seems likely. Only Oregon and UCLA have attempted more rushes over the last three seasons, so the Cardinal are going to continue to be dedicated to the ground game. There is a lot of untapped potential with this group and they have a coach who loves to run the football. There are a lot of unknowns, but Stanford's recent history of success running the football warrants the benefit of the doubt to put them in the "Good Shape" column.

Utah: For now, it looks like Bubba Poole will be the primary back. But Kyle Whittingham and Co. are excited about the emergence of JC transfer Davontae Booker and the complementary role Troy McCormick might play. They aren't married to the idea of a single back. In fact, Whittingham told the Pac-12 blog he'd like to have situational flexibility. This trio provides that at Utah for the first time in a while. Spreading things out is a priority for new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. But don't be surprised to see a balanced attack if these three see success.

Colorado: The Buffs are surprisingly deep in the running backs department, with seasoned players like Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II, Tony Jones and Donta Abron returning. Powell (562 yards, three touchdowns) provided the power while Adkins emerged as a fine complement with 5.2 yards per carry (103 carries, 535 yards and six touchdowns). Look for the coaching staff to keep using those two in unison as a thunder-and-lightning tandem.

Oregon State: The running game, or lack thereof, has been a sore spot for Mike Riley the last couple of seasons. However, with last year's combination of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks the personnel dictated 603 passing attempts. With Cooks gone, the staff will look to Terron Ward and Storm Woods (who combined for 240 carries, 998 yards and 11 touchdowns) to build off of last year's showing of 94.4 yards per game -- which was 11th in the conference. This tandem has the potential to be very good. It just has to go out and show it.

Washington State: That the Cougars return their top two rushers from last season, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, bodes well -- even in an offense in which the running back serves more to keep the opposition in check than to run the football. However, it might be Theron West and redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow who get the majority of the carries. The coaching staff was high on Morrow in the spring and if the Cougs can do just enough to keep the safeties guessing, it might open things up more for the Air Raid's primary objective.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats have to replace Ka'Deem Carey. No easy task. And it was made worse by the recent news that Pierre Cormier's won't be returning. That leaves carries to be divided among Nick Wilson, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby. Jonathan Haden is still waiting to get cleared and Jared Baker missed the spring with an injury from last year's ASU game. Look for special packages with DaVonte' Neal as well. The Wildcats are silly with wide receivers, which could help open things up in the running game.

California: The Bears averaged just 122.2 rushing yards per game last year -- ninth in the league. Despite the reputation for being a pass-happy team, the coaches would actually prefer more balance, so they'll need better production out of oft-injured Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad. The departed Brendan Bigelow had the most carries (105) last year, but Muhammad and Lasco combined for 141 totes for 762 yards and six touchdowns. Muhammad is the burner at 175 pounds while Lasco has the bigger frame at 200 and change. Incoming freshman Tre Watson is also an intriguing prospect.

Washington: Like Arizona, the Huskies must replace a phenomenal back in Sankey. But there are options. Dwayne Washington was the No. 2 behind Sankey last year, rushing for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries. Behind him are Jesse Callier, who was the original starter in 2012 before his injury gave rise to Sankey, and Deontae Cooper. Both have a history of knee injuries. Jomon Dotson and Lavon Coleman could see time. We'll see isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means, we'll see.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback
Things are good for UCLA this summer. For one, in advance of preseason practices, the Bruins can recline by the pool and reflect on having defeated USC in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. That span, by the way, is also the last time preseason expectations were this high.

As in Pac-12 and national championships high.

The reclamation project that Jim Mora has wrought, one that had Texas eyeballing him in the winter before he signed a new contract with UCLA, seems to be gathering momentum rather than peaking.

“It feels great, but at the same time, this is where I believe we are supposed to be," linebacker Eric Kendricks said of the swirling enthusiasm in Westwood. "All the hard work me and my teammates have put in, I feel like we were supposed to end up in this situation.”

Yet the 2013 season, a transformative one for UCLA, wasn't so easy for Kendricks. While the Bruins were asserting themselves, their star middle linebacker struggled through a variety of injuries -- kidney, shoulder, back and ankle. He played through most of them, but the bum ankle forced him to undergo surgery and miss the dominant Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has 332 career tackles, even though he was slowed by injuries in the 2013 season.
Winning eases pain, but it doesn't cure it.

“Last season was probably the hardest season I’ve ever been a part of," Kendricks said of his personal travails. "It was a learning experience for me having to play through pain. It made me mentally tougher. I was playing for my teammates. That was the main reason I was out there trying to fight my butt off.”

Even with the injuries, Kendricks -- who has started 28 games -- didn't have a bad campaign. He still ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game. He again earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Still, when folks thought of a UCLA defense that -- finally? -- was developing some grit, they tended to start with Anthony Barr and true freshman Myles Jack, Kendricks' fellow linebackers, and then perhaps move on to a defensive front speckled with young talent.

Kendricks has been a tackling machine in the past three seasons with 332 career stops -- his 150 tackles in 2012 were the most by a UCLA player since 1978 -- but it's fair to say his junior season didn't play out how he would have scripted it. If his season had followed a logical progression from his sophomore production, he would presently be sharing top billing with Jack as the Bruins' defensive stars and probably would have earned preseason All-American attention.

Yet when asked about the finding himself outside the spotlight, Kendricks gives it a rhetorical shrug.

“I could care less," he said. "As long as I do my job, I think the film and the numbers speak for themselves. As far as attention I get from NFL teams, that will take care of itself. I don’t need any of the spotlight, honestly.”

A healthy Kendricks is an NFL prospect. For one, he's got good bloodlines. His father, Marv, led UCLA in rushing in 1970-71. His older brother Mychal, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 at California, is a budding star for the Philadelphia Eagles. Both brothers are listed at 6-foot, but Eric Kendricks is a leaner version (230 pounds vs. 240).

As to who's faster, Eric said this about a 40-yard race between the two: “He might win one without pads, but I’d win one in pads.”

The brothers talk frequently, and Eric is eager to learn about the NFL game and what it takes to play on Sundays. The general gist he's picked up is that everyone is a spectacular athlete, so it's your focus and preparation that separates you from the competition.

That lesson also applies to the current Bruins as they eyeball big goals. Preseason expectations don't mean squat. They don't block and tackle and make plays. No one is ceding the South Division to the Bruins.

Of course, Kendricks and his teammates know that. That, however, shouldn't stop them from enjoying the burgeoning excitement.

Or expressing to each other on a regular basis what it means to presently own the series with USC.

"Yeah," he said laughing. "That is awesome."
It’s time to start thinking about preseason watch lists. And the first one out is the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest “impact” on his team -- impact being an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

The award is in its 11th year.

Of the 42 players on this year’s watch list, 11 come from the Pac-12:
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the 2013 winner. Cal’s Dante Hughes was the league’s only other winner, in 2006.

Other previous winners include Manti Te’o (Notre Dame, 2012), Luke Kuechly (Boston College, 2011), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin, 2010), Jerry Hughes (TCU, 2009), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State, 2008), Glenn Dorsey (LSU, 2007), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama, 2005) and David Pollack (Georgia, 2004).

You can click here for the complete watch list.

UCLA spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
May 2
7:30
AM ET
Three things we learned this spring
  1. Raising the (next) Barr: All indications are that Kenny Orjioke probably has the inside track at outside linebacker to replace the departed Anthony Barr. Aaron Wallace (dealing with grade issues) and Deon Hollins are still very much in the mix. Several members of the staff said they were pleased with what they saw from Orjioke -- though it’s worth noting he didn’t play in the spring game for reasons not revealed.
  2. Welcome back, Owa: After missing last season with a hip injury, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (aka the scourge of spellcheck), returned with a very strong spring session that included a pair of sacks in the spring game. His return bolsters a pass rush that has to replace Barr and Cassius Marsh.
  3. Back depth: The staff has been very pleased with the progress of running back Jordon James. But they feel equally solid about Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and redshirt freshman Craig Lee. Combined with the scrambling ability of quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins should build upon last year’s average of 196.6 yards per game.
Three questions for the fall
  1. Line-up: While the coaching staff feels pretty good about its offensive line, finding the right replacement for Xavier Su'a-Filo is still paramount. They think they might have it in graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche from Miami. But a couple of starting spots should still be up for grabs when the Bruins return for fall camp.
  2. Backup plan: A lot rests on the legs and arm of Hundley – a Heisman trophy candidate and presumptive top 10 pick in 2015. Whether it’s Jerry Neuheisel or Asiantii Woulard backing him up remains to be seen. Neither were particularly sharp in the spring game, with Neuheisel throwing two interceptions and Woulard completing just 4 of 13 passes.
  3. More D-to-O coming? We know about Myles Jack and the impact he made on offense for the Bruins last season. He didn’t get any carries in the spring, though Jim Mora said they’ll likely have some packages for him. Will we see others? Eddie Vanderdoes? Ishmael Adams? Not that they’ll give it away in the spring, but it will be fun to watch this fall to see how many defensive players see offensive time.
Way-too-early prediction: The Bruins will win the Pac-12 South for the third time in four years. With Hundley at the helm and an experienced defense, the Bruins not only have the fewest question marks among their Southern brethren, but they have plenty of talent to match on both sides of the ball. Staying healthy will be key, as will gaining some early momentum with critical conference games against ASU, Utah and Oregon in the first half of the season.

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