Pac-12: NFL

Mailbag: Lyerla and Spartan concerns

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
6:50
PM ET
Happy Friday. This is the mailbag. We have some really, really good games tomorrow, eh? Follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Tim from Atlanta writes: There's been a lot of talk comparing MSU to Stanford from a "scheme" standpoint, but very little about whether the personnel is comparable. Stanford gave Oregon fits due to their NFL-caliber O-lines and TE who could block & catch -- does MSU really have the same talent on the O-line to control the LOS in the same fashion? is it possible the similarities between MSU.

Ted Miller: Comparing the Stanford offense from 2013 and the Michigan State offense from 2014 isn't terribly useful, though both are mostly run-first, pro-style schemes. And Stanford got little production from its tight ends in 2013.

From a Week 2 perspective, Michigan State's probably got a good-but-not-great offensive line, though a verdict on that won't be delivered until season's end. It's replacing three starters from last season's good-but-not-great unit, though center Jack Allen and tackle Jack Conklin are All-Conference type players. Phil Steele ranked the Spartans' line No. 9 in the Big Ten. So, the preseason ratings for the offensive line are not Stanford-esque.

Here's what you need to watch: Third down. Stanford owned third down on both sides of the ball in its 26-20 win last season. It was 14 of 21 on third down -- the Ducks were seemingly helpless vs. the Cardinal's power runs -- while the Ducks were a measly 3 of 10.

Though turnovers -- the Ducks lost that battle 2-0 against Stanford -- is often the first number to look at in big games, the Spartans' ability to maintain drives and minimize the Ducks' ability to make their up-tempo attack drain the Spartans' defense on what should be a hot afternoon is probably where this game turns.




Seth from Los Angeles writes: what do you guys thin[k] about this article about Colt Lyerla.... Ducks in NCAA trouble?

Ted Miller: Lyerla has managed to make himself look even worse while intending to tell his side of the story. And that is the real sad fact for Lyerla. He still doesn't get it. As for the potential NCAA trouble you allude to, that's from this graph:
Their enthusiasm dampened when an unofficial adviser weighed in. Lyerla declines publicly to identify the man, a powerful University of Oregon booster known to the family. The adviser made the benefits of that decision clear. If Lyerla went to Oregon, "I was promised a house, a car, all these things."

Oregon has said that it will investigate Lyerla's allegations. We have no idea if that is true or not -- Lyerla's track record with reliability is pretty terrible -- and the important part is Lyerla admits he never got any of those things. That appears to be one of the reasons he's angry at Oregon. As in: "I was promised impermissible benefits but I was lied to!"




All Hype? from Oakland writes: I know only time will tell...but Hundley's decision to return to school may hurt him financially, a' la Matt Barkley and have him slip in the draft considerably. Ironically, SC/Barkley also had high expectations and was a Heisman candidate. A bigger concern, may be whether Hundley can remain healthy throughout the season, especially if the O-line & receiving corp doesn't improve! Hundley wishes he had a couple of Cal's receivers. Time will also tell if Virginia's D was actually good or if UCLA's offense was really that bad. This should Not have been close considering Virginia went 2-10, 0-8 (conf.) last year.

Ted Miller: That is certainly a potential storyline, and the performance by Brett Hundley and his offensive line at Virginia did nothing to invalidate it.

Anytime a potential high NFL draft pick opts to return for another season, he takes a chance. Sometimes a player's numbers slip because he presses or his supporting cast is weaker or he is thinking too much about NFL scouts. Sometimes more film ends up hurting if the improvement from year-to-year is nominal. Other times he helps his cause.

But Hundley is a better prospect than Barkley just based on his arm and athletic ability, which are both superior to Barkley's.




Tyler from Portland writes: Ted picked Michigan St. Chantel picked Michigan St. Keven Picked Oregon. So basically Kevin is the only bright one. But it seems that God himself has picked Oregon as well. How so? Weather! For in East Lansing Michigan they have had a very mild cool summer. In Portland, where I am, it is only 68 degrees right now at 2:30 p.m. The normal average for this time of year for Portland-Eugene is around 73 degrees of a daily high. However, come Friday and Saturday, in Eugene they are predicting a high of 97 (according to Weather Underground). That is VERY hot for us Oregonians, but blistering hot for Michigan people. I predict MSU players will be melted by halftime! Look for many MSU cramps- just saying :)

Ted Miller: A really hot day would pretty much be a push in terms of what the players are accustomed to. Here is the Eugene, Ore., weather averages, and here they are for East Lansing.

Yet you are right, and this goes back to third down. The more plays Oregon runs, the better their chances of winning. As good as the Michigan State defense is, it is not used to what Oregon does. If the Ducks extend drives, that will challenge the Spartans' conditioning. No matter how good it is, there would be some effect in the fourth quarter if the Ducks are closing in on 80 plays.
Back in 2007 new Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh seemed pretty foolish when, like a bombastic Don Quixote, he trash-talked USC and coach Pete Carroll. For no particular reason, he volunteered to a reporter that Carroll would soon bolt for the NFL. Then, at Pac-10 media day, a smirk flickered across his face when he archly announced that USC "may be the best team in the history of college football."

When challenged about his motives, he unveiled what became a program catchphrase: "We bow to no one at Stanford" -- pretty much saying he didn't give a rat's tookus if he bothered USC, Carroll or anyone else.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Matt SaylesThings started getting testy between Stanford and USC when Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll were at the helm.
Great fun ensued, of course. That first season, Harbaugh and Stanford shocked USC 24-23 as a 41-point underdog behind a backup QB, ending the Trojans' 35-game home winning streak. Any chance that would be viewed historically as college football's version of Halley's Comet was squelched in 2009 when Stanford drubbed USC 55-21, aggressively running up the score in the fourth quarter, including a gratuitous attempt at a 2-point conversion.

"What's your deal?" an irritated Carroll famously asked a smug Harbaugh during a wonderfully ungenial handshake.

Nonetheless, we had no idea what the actual deal would become between USC and Stanford. Early on, Stanford's success appeared to be a curious and anomalous run, a surprising reversal of fortune that briefly thickened the Pac-10 plot but seemed certain to be only temporary. Carroll and Harbaugh would both bolt to the NFL, where their personal rivalry has remained just as spicy. USC's short-term future was burdened with NCAA sanctions. Stanford's future seemed burdened by, well, being Stanford, the most elite academic institution playing FBS football.

When David Shaw, a polished Stanford graduate, ascended from offensive coordinator to replace Harbaugh, few imagined he'd maintain a top-10 program. There was a suspicion that Harbaugh built what he did because he was crazy enough to make it happen. Shaw was way too normal.

Yet here we are, two days away from a renewal of what has become the Pac-12's most meaningful cross-division rivalry. While Stanford-Oregon mostly has decided the Pac-12 champion the past four years, there's been little drama in their actual games, with only the 2012 contest being an actual nail-biter.

Three of the past four USC-Stanford games have been decided essentially on the game's last play, twice by field goals, once in triple-overtime. Average margin of victory in those four games? Five points. National importance? Stanford may have played Florida State in the BCS National Championship last year if not for being upset 20-17 at USC. In 2012, USC was ranked No. 2 in the nation before Stanford exposed the Trojans 21-14, starting a spiral from which former USC coach Lane Kiffin never recovered. QB Andrew Luck became Andrew Luck during thrilling Stanford wins in 2010 and 2011.

Both teams are star-laden NFL pipelines. Stanford, the two-time defending Pac-12 champ, enters this game ranked 13th, just a little annoyed at how Oregon and UCLA have grabbed the biggest preseason headlines in the conference. USC is 14th, a team with fewer than 60 available scholarship players but as gifted with its starting 22 as just about any team in the nation.

Both crushed overmatched foes last weekend and looked impressive in doing so. The Trojans added a wrinkle for this go-round by switching from their long-standing pro-style scheme to an up-tempo offense under new coach Steve Sarkisian, who notes "up-tempo" isn't a transition from a power to a finesse attack, only a means to create more touches for his talented skill players.

If the football part of football wasn't enough, if we needed to introduce some new drama and personalities at loggerheads to liven things up, it's worth noting that Shaw and Sarkisian engaged in a public war of words after last year's Stanford-Washington game. Sarkisian, then the Huskies' coach, accused Stanford of faking injuries in order to slow down his up-tempo offense, going so far as to specifically point a finger at Cardinal defensive line coach Randy Hart. Shaw wasn't happy with the accusation, and he opened that week's Pac-12 coaches teleconference with a lengthy and strongly worded statement.

"I believe it's unprofessional to call out an assistant coach on another team," Shaw said. "It's unprofessional and it's disrespectful. The only D-line coach that I know of that's ever instructed players to fake injury works at the University of Washington."

That would be controversial coach Tosh Lupoi, now working at Alabama, who was suspended in 2010 while at California for instructing players to fake injuries against Oregon. Sark, however, never backed away from his assertions.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillSteve Sarkisian has his hands full with off-the-field drama at USC, but Saturday's game at Stanford is at the forefront of his worries this week.
While it might be fun if Sarkisian and Shaw continued to eyeball each other's throats, that doesn't seem to be the reality. It appears, rather, that they have agreed to disagree and let the issue die. Though they both admit they haven't revisited the conflict in order to make a formal peace, they also pointed out they've spoken amiably multiple times since then -- a couple of times, in fact, within range of reporters -- and they claim to respect and like each other.

"We had a disagreement in the heat of the moment; both of us have moved on," Sarkisian said.

Offered Shaw, "There is no animosity whatsoever."

Still, one suspects there are at least some residual fumes from this squabble, since a few Stanford players also took issue with Sarkisian's accusation.

There is another Shaw on the sidelines of this game, though figuratively: USC CB Josh Shaw, who last week went from heroic to notorious. Coupled with Anthony Brown calling Sarkisian a racist after the running back quit the team -- a charge that has been supported by absolutely no one -- USC was dealing with substantial tumult and unfavorable national headlines last week. It may have been a bit surprising that the Trojans overcame those distractions to efficiently dismantle Fresno State 52-13, setting a Pac-12 record by running 105 plays.

An easy way for Sarkisian to change the narrative around his program and to win over Trojans fans who remain skeptical about his hiring is to beat the Cardinal on Saturday. Winning cures just about everything in college football.

In any event, even without Harbaugh and Carroll sniping at each other, we know the deal between USC and Stanford. It has endured as an annual battle imbued with drama and meaning, with the winner Saturday likely pushing into the top 10 and announcing itself as a Pac-12 and national contender.

And who knows? Maybe the postgame handshake will offer up another memorable exchange.

Pac-12's perfect passing storm

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
10:00
AM ET
Athletes often refuse to play along with media storylines, or they simply are oblivious to them. That's not the case with the Pac-12's stellar 2014 crop of quarterbacks. They get it. They know they are good and you are interested. They are perfectly aware that 10 of them are returning starters, and a handful of them are expected to be early NFL draft picks this spring.

For the most part, they know each other. Many crossed paths in recruiting. Others sought each other out after games. Seven of them bonded at the Manning Passing Academy in Tbibodaux, Louisiana, this summer. There's a reasonable degree of believability when they insist they all like each other.

“It’s kind of a brother deal," said Washington State's Connor Halliday, one of seven Pac-12 quarterbacks who threw at least 20 touchdown passes a year ago. "We’re all representing the conference.”

That collegial connectedness means Halliday is perfectly willing to map out the NFL prospects of the crew, even if he opts to leave himself out -- Oregon State's Sean Mannion, he says, is the most NFL-ready, while Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley have the most upside. That chumminess means -- cover your eyes, USC and UCLA fans -- Hundley and Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler feel free to talk about how cool the other is.

The preseason scuttlebutt is the Pac-12 will follow up perhaps its best season in terms of top-to-bottom quality depth with a 2014 encore that should be even better. There's legitimacy to the belief that the Pac-12 might eclipse the SEC this fall as the nation's best conference, and that seeming apostasy begins behind center, where the SEC doesn't have a bona fide proven passer.

The Pac-12? Five returning QBs passed for more than 3,500 yards in 2013. If you give Kessler 32 more yards and Stanford's Kevin Hogan 370, then you have eight who passed for 3,000. Mariota, Hundley and Mannion are potential first-round NFL draft picks. Hogan is a three-year starter who's started in two Rose Bowls. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, some forget, was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2013 and led his team past Hundley and UCLA in the South Division. Halliday had 34 touchdown passes in 2013, while California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau were true freshman starters. Before he got hurt, Utah's Travis Wilson was good enough to lead an upset of Stanford.

Seems pretty odd to mention the USC quarterback last, but there you have it: Kessler surged late in the season and should thrive under new coach Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo scheme.

The sum is quarterback depth that has everyone gushing, including Pac-12 coaches.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Charles Baus/CSMUSC's Cody Kessler threw for 2,968 yards in 2013, a robust total that only ranked seventh in a stacked league for quarterbacks, the Pac-12.
"Oh, I don't think there is a conference that is even close in terms of the quality of quarterbacks," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.

Said Washington's Chris Petersen, who, like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, doesn't have a returning starter at quarterback: “There’s not a crop like this coming back in the country. It’s scary when you don’t have one of those returning guys. Every week, you’re going to have to face one of them.”

The question bouncing around before the season is whether it's the best quarterback class, well, ever, and not just for the Pac-12. Maybe, maybe not.

The Pac-10 was pretty impressive in 2004: USC's Matt Leinart, California's Aaron Rodgers, Arizona State's Andrew Walter, UCLA's Drew Olson, Oregon's Kellen Clemens, Oregon State's Derek Anderson, Washington State's Alex Brink and Stanford's Trent Edwards. If you wanted, you also could throw in Utah's Alex Smith, though he was still in the Mountain West Conference at the time. A handful of those guys are still in the NFL, with Rodgers in the discussion as the best quarterback in the league.

Outside of the Pac-12, there's the Big 12 in 2008: Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Kansas' Todd Reesing and Kansas State's Josh Freeman.

Ultimately, a judgment will be best delivered at season's end, and things rarely go as projected in the preseason. Injuries are, unfortunately, often an issue, and the pecking order could change. Don't be shocked, for example, if the estimations of Hogan, Kessler, Halliday and Goff go way up this fall.

The obvious leader is Mariota, probably the Heisman Trophy co-favorite with Florida State's Jameis Winston, the 2013 winner. While Mariota's return for his redshirt junior season was a bit of a surprise, how he's conducted himself during the preseason is not. He's not going to get in trouble off the field and he's not a look-at-me guy on it.

“He cares more about practice rep 13 in period 12 in 7-on-7 than anyone I’ve ever been around," coach Mark Helfrich said. "That carries over to every single guy in our program.”

But Mariota doesn't top everyone's list. Washington State linebacker Darryl Monroe favors Mannion, who won the Elite 11 Counselor's Challenge this summer after leading the conference with 4,662 yards and 37 TD passes last year.

“He’s a true NFL quarterback," Monroe said. “He has one of the best arms I’ve played against. Or seen in person.”

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP PhotoAside from a Nov. 15 date against Arizona, Washington coach Chris Petersen will likely face a returning starter at quarterback in every one of the Huskies' Pac-12 games.
Monroe, the boisterous contrarian, ranked Kelly No. 2.

“He ran that offense like a point guard," Monroe said.

Obviously, the expectation is that these 10 returning starters will combine talent and experience and put up huge numbers. As important as the position is, however, a good quarterback can't do it alone. He's got to have some places to deliver the ball. The good news for these guys is most have a strong supporting cast. While Mariota and Mannion have questions at receiver, that position is strong and deep throughout the conference.

Nine teams have at least three starting offensive linemen back, and five have four or more. Oregon is the only team without at least one of its top two receivers back. It's also notable that more than a few teams have questions in the secondary.

It could be a year when preseason hype meets big passing numbers. But stats are not what football is all about, either.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to winning games," Kessler said. “I don’t look at the stat box. I look at who won. Most of the time, if you look at who won, I can tell you how the quarterback played.”

That's the truth: Winning is the ultimate measure of a quarterback. More than a few Pac-12 quarterbacks through the years have put up big numbers but haven't led their teams to championships, conference or national. It's likely that the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback this fall, a guy who should be in line for a variety of national awards and All-America honors, will be sitting atop the final standings.

As for the celebration of Pac-12 quarterbacks in 2014, some ambivalence does follow the fawning. While there is a sense of genial community when discussing the depth at the position, most coaches would rather have their guy be talented and experienced and everyone else to be searching for answers behind center.

Said Stanford coach David Shaw, “I can’t wait for some of these guys to get out of our conference, which I thought a couple of them would last year.”

Pac-12 NFL training camp update

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:00
PM ET
Before NFL teams trim their rosters down to 53 players, plus whoever remains on the practice squads, we thought it would be interesting to see how players from Pac-12 schools are dispersed around the league.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsSuper Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, a USC product, is one of 16 Pac-12 players on the Seattle Seahawks roster.
Here's a closer look at the Pac-12 alumni in NFL training camps:

  • There are 338 players from Pac-12 teams in NFL training camps, which represents about 11.6 percent of the players currently on NFL rosters.
  • Of those 338 players, 78 are rookies.
  • Total number of players in NFL training camps, by school: USC 55, Oregon 41, California 37, Stanford 36, Utah 30, Arizona State 28, UCLA 27, Oregon State 22, Arizona 20, Washington 18, Colorado 14, Washington State 10
  • Total number of rookies in NFL training camps, by school: Arizona State 11, Stanford 11, USC 10, Oregon 7, Utah 7, UCLA 7, Oregon State 6, Cal 5, Washington 5, Arizona 4, Washington State 3, Colorado 2
  • Players with three years experience or less: Stanford 26, USC 26, Oregon 24, ASU 22, Cal 20, UCLA 20, Utah 17, Washington 12, Arizona 11, Oregon State 11, Colorado 7, WSU 6
  • Offensive players 175; defensive players 149; specialists (K/P/LS): 14
  • Chip Kelly might be gone, but he has not forgotten his conference roots. The former Oregon coach's roster in Philadelphia includes 21 former Pac-12 players -- easily the most of any NFL team. Of those 21, eight are from Oregon.
  • Former USC coach Pete Carroll has 16 Pac-12 players in camp, but just four are from USC (LB Mike Morgan, LB Malcolm Smith, TE Anthony McCoy, S Dion Bailey). The Super Bowl champions also currently have three Pac-12 rookies (Colorado WR Paul Richardson, Washington WR Kevin Smith, UCLA DL Cassius Marsh).
  • The 49ers, coached by former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, have 12 Pac-12 players, but Harbaugh does not have final say on the team's roster. Among those 12 are former Stanford stars, LB Shayne Skov, LB Chase Thomas and OT Jonathan Martin. In addition to Skov, the 49ers have three other Pac-12 rookies in camp: USC TE Kevin Greene, USC C Marcus Martin and Oregon State OL Michael Philipp
  • Teams with least amount of Pac-12 players: Rams 3, Jets 6, Chiefs 6, Ravens 6, Bills 7, Cowboys 7, Falcons 7, Lions 7
  • Teams with most Pac-12 Pac-12 players: Eagles 21, Chargers 16, Seahawks 16, Dolphins 15, Panthers 14, Raiders 14
  • Three NFL head coaches attended Pac-12 schools: Carolina's Ron Rivera (Cal); San Diego's Mike McCoy (Utah) and St. Louis' Jeff Fisher (USC)

We'll revamp this post once NFL rosters are set in early September.

By the Numbers

Arizona
Total: 20
Offensive players: 9
Defensive players: 10
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 4 -- RB Ka'Deem Carey (Bears); LB Marquis Flowers (Bengals); TE Terrence Miller (Patriots); DB Shaquille Richardson (Steelers)

Arizona State
Total: 28
Offensive players: 16
Defensive players: 12
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 11 -- DL Will Sutton (Bears); DB Robert Nelson (Browns); WR Kevin Ozier (Cardinals); RB Marion Grice (Chargers); DB Alden Darby (Chargers); DL Gannon Conway (Colts); DL Davon Coleman (Cowboys); OL Evan Finkenberg (Dolphins); LB Carl Bradford (Packers); WR Rashad Ross (Redskins); LB Chris Young (Texans)

Cal
Total: 37
Offensive players: 18
Defensive players: 15
K/P/LS: 4
Rookies: 5 -- DB Kameron Jackson (Colts); LB Chris McCain (Dolphins); DL Deandre Coleman (Jaguars); TE Richard Rodgers (Packers); LB Khairi Fortt (Saints)

Colorado
Total: 14
Offensive players: 7
Defensive players: 5
K/P/LS: 2
Rookies: 2 -- Chidera Uzo-Diribe (Saints); WR Paul Richardson (Seahawks)

Oregon
Total: 41
Offensive players: 24
Defensive players: 17
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 7 -- RB De'Anthony Thomas (Chiefs); DB Terrance Mitchell (Cowboys); DL Taylor Hart (Eagles); DL Wade Keliikipi (Eagles); WR Josh Huff (Eagles); DL Ricky Havili-Heimuli (Jaguars); TE Colt Lyerla (Packers)

Oregon State
Total: 22
Offensive players: 11
Defensive players: 10
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 6 -- WR Brandin Cooks (Saints); WR Micah Hatfield (Chargers); DL Scott Crichton (Vikings); OL Michael Philipp (49ers); OL Josh Andrews (Eagles); DB Rashaad Reynolds (Jaguars);

Stanford
Total: 36
Offensive players: 23
Defensive players: 13
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 11 -- LB Shayne Skov (49ers); FB Ryan Hewitt (Bengals); OL Khalil Wilkes (Chargers); DL Ben Gardner (Cowboys); DB Ed Reynolds (Eagles); OL Cameron Fleming (Patriots); RB Tyler Gaffney (Patriots); LB Trent Murphy (Redskins); DL Josh Mauro (Steelers); OL Kevin Danser (Titans); OL David Yankey (Vikings)

UCLA
Total: 27
Offensive players: 13
Defensive players: 10
K/P/LS: 4
Rookies: 7 -- DB Brandon Sermons (Cardinals); RB Damien Thigpen (Cardinals); WR Shaq Evans (Jets); DL Cassius Marsh (Seahawks); LB Jordan Zumwalt (Steelers); Xavier Su'a-Filo (Texans); LB Anthony Barr (Vikings)

USC
Total: 55
Offensive players: 27
Defensive players: 28
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 10 -- OL Marcus Martin (49ers); TE Kevin Greene (49ers); DB Demetrius Wright (Dolphins); OL Kevin Graf (Eagles); LB Devon Kennard (Giants); TE Xavier Grimble (Giants); WR Marqise Lee (Jaguars); RB Silas Redd (Redskins); DL George Uko (Saints); DB Dion Bailey (Seahawks)

Utah
Total: 30
Offensive players: 13
Defensive players: 17
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 7 -- DL Tenny Palepoi (Chargers); LB Trevor Reilly (Jets); L.T. Tuipulotu (Patriots); DB Keith McGill (Raiders); FB Karl Williams (Raiders); TE Jake Murphy (Raiders); TE Anthony Denham (Texans)

Washington
Total: 18
Offensive players: 9
Defensive players: 8
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 5 -- TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Buccaneers); DB Greg Ducre (Chargers); WR Kevin Smith (Seahawks); K Travis Coons (Titans); RB Bishop Sankey (Titans)

Washington State
Total: 10
Offensive players: 5
Defensive players: 4
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 3 -- DB Deone Bucannon (Cardinals); K Andrew Furney (Jets); OL John Fullington (Packers)

*Roster information taken from each NFL team's official online roster on Aug. 12. This includes those suspended, on injured-reserve and the PUP/NFI lists. Does not include players who retired during training camp or have been waived.

Send any corrections to Kyle.Bonagura@ESPN.com (it's a lot of data to sift through)
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.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.

Most important player: Oregon

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
9:00
AM ET
All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC's Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeRajion Neal
Steve Conner/Icon SMISenior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the unquestioned star of the Oregon defense.
Oregon: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

2013 production: 84 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 3 interceptions, forced fumble

Why Ekpre-Olomu is so important: Marcus Mariota is the unquestioned star of the Ducks offense. Ekpre-Olomu is the same for the Ducks defense.

The almost certain preseason All-American -- he received second- and third-team nods last season -- and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer might be the best cornerback in the nation. Mel Kiper Jr. thinks so.

But it's not just that Ekpre-Olomu is good. And it's not just that, much like Mariota, he shocked many by opting to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft.

It's that the Ducks secondary, typically a strength, is rebuilding. Ekpre-Olomu is the only returning starter because his fellow standout corner, Terrance Mitchell, made a poor decision to enter the NFL draft a year early. Mitchell wasn't drafted until the seventh round.

While the Ducks traditionally play a lot of folks on defense, and the projected starters in 2014 are fairly game-tested, there's no question that Ekpre-Olomu is the veteran bell cow and leader. He needs to lead not only by example but also lead by making sure everybody is lining up correctly and handling the adversity that inevitably hits a defensive back.

Finally, with 10 starting QBs back in the Pac-12 and a bevy of A-list receivers inhabiting more than a few teams, an A-list, lockdown corner is about as important a player any conference team could have. Ekpre-Olomu's return means Oregon has the best one.

Other Most Important Players:
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."
Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else.

Pac-12 lunch links

May, 27, 2014
May 27
2:30
PM ET
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders -- The most famous of which is, "never get involved in a land war in Asia" -- but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 5, 2014
May 5
2:30
PM ET
No misery gets sweeter dipped in devil juice.
Pac-12 spring practices end on Saturday with spring games from Oregon and Oregon State, and many conference teams feel like they found answers to some of their nagging questions. But there also are major unresolved issues.

So which is the most pressing post-spring void?

Start at Arizona. While the Wildcats QB competition is far from resolved -- heck, four guys are still in the hunt -- the general feeling after spring practices ended is that the position is far better off than it was a year ago. Based on the quality of competition, there's not much concern that the next QB won't be at least solid.

SportsNation

Which is the Pac-12's most pressing post-spring void?

  •  
    32%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    9%
  •  
    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,762)

Things now seem more uncertain at running back, where the Wildcats are replacing Ka'Deem Carey. The only returning RB with experience, Jared Baker, was out with an injury. The NCAA waylaid early-enrollee Jonathan Haden, and redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green didn't distinguish themselves. Senior Terris Jones-Grigsby made a few plays, and incoming freshman Nick Wilson arrives in the fall. It's possible Rich Rodriguez will reach into his deep bag of receivers for help at the position.

The Wildcats running game should be productive because that's pretty much a given with a Rich Rodriguez offense. How productive, however, might determine where Arizona ultimately falls in the South Division pecking order.

Then there's Oregon State, which is only replacing the nation's best receiver in 2013, Brandin Cooks, a potential first-round NFL draft pick next week. The Beavers welcome back the experienced Richard Mullaney and the promising Victor Bolden, but asking them to replace Cooks' production and explosiveness seems far-fetched. With a strong-armed, veteran QB in Sean Mannion, the Beavers need to find more weapons in the passing game.

Meanwhile, UCLA exits spring practices with few obvious voids. There's a reason folks are projecting a top-10 preseason ranking. Yet OLB Anthony Barr was special. He's also a potential first-round NFL draft pick, and the Bruins don't have an obvious answer for replacing his 10 sacks. Kenny Orjioke flashed some this spring, and he and Deon Hollins seem to be a serviceable tandem, particularly if end Owamagbe Odighizuwa becomes a QB terror.

Still, Barr not only was everywhere last year, he made everyone around him better.

Often it's not just about physical skill, though Stanford LB Shayne Skov has plenty of that. Skov was more than the Cardinal's leading tackler. He was the locker room's emotional presence, its unquestioned leader. So it's not just that Stanford is replacing his production. It's also the leadership void he leaves behind.

At the end of spring, it was unclear who would take his place, as Blake Martinez, Noor Davis, Joe Hemschoot and Kevin Palma all are still in the mix.

Finally, Washington is replacing RB Bishop Sankey, its unquestioned offensive superstar, but the QB situation, where the efficient Keith Price needs to be replaced, seems more worrisome. The good news is Cyler Miles wasn't charged in an off-field incident that had him suspended all of spring. That would appear to clear the way for him rejoining the team.

Still, he might be in new coach Chris Petersen's doghouse, and he might not find it easy to catch up with Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams in terms of learning the new offense. Further, neither Lindquist nor Williams seemed to make a decisive statement this spring. While the options to replace Sankey at RB -- unlike at Arizona -- have quality game experience, that only can be said for Miles at QB. Until Petersen reveals Miles' standing, this is a major question for the Huskies offseason and fall camp.

Each of these teams has high aspirations for 2014. It's unlikely they will meet those expectations without adequately addressing these voids.

So which is the biggest?

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
2:30
PM ET
Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature's laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.
 

Lunch links: Remembering Tillman

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:30
PM ET
There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out ... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Mailbag: College football unions?

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
6:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag. We're grilling up some steaks and the bar is open.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Please.

To the notes!

Sam from Portland writes: Ted, what's your view on the unionization of the Northwestern football team? Personally, I think the whole issue is junk. As a Pac-12 university graduate, I get insulted every time I hear college athletes say they're slaves and that they don't get anything. I had to pay $24,000 per year for what they get for free: a degree and the attendant costs. Not only that, they get admiration and to do what they love while getting this stuff for free. These athletes point to their hours. Well, I was in the marching band and spent 30 hours a week on that as well as focusing on REAL college courses with real coursework. I didn't get a scholarship. I didn't get the massive admiration. I didn't get the shot at making the NFL. There's no Internet blog with 2.5 authors dedicated to the hard work I put in to my performances. Let's face it: Even at the small schools, the scholarship athletes get a TON more than regular students, and they get it for free. I'm not going to be dense here. I understand that the NCAA is making serious money off the hard work of the athletes, and there is a good argument that they deserve some direct monetary compensation, but the need for a union? Why should these athletes be coddled when the rest of the students pay millions (together, not apiece) just for the chance at getting a small portion of what these athletes get for free?

[+] EnlargeKain Colter, Tim Waters, Leo Gerard
AP Photo/Paul BeatyKain Colter's attempt to unionize the Northwestern football team could be a significant development in how colleges treat scholarship athletes.
Brandon from Seal Beach, Calif., writes: I appreciate the concern and well-being of college athletes, but when did this entitlement idea come into play that they deserve additional compensation? Sure, the NCAA and universities make boat-loads of money off of the athletes posing to be students, but demanding additional compensation is akin to me calling up my CEO and demanding he split the company profits with me. If they don't want to risk injury, don't feel like the scholarship, minimal stipend, and various perks being a Div. I scholar athlete bring about, there is absolutely nothing stopping them from pursuing other avenues. I don't know -- maybe I'm in the minority, but I think this is a slippery slope we're traversing.

Ted Miller: We live in interesting college football times.

The biggest takeaway for me from the Northwestern union and Ed O'Bannon vs. NCAA cases is that college football is going to continue to change in many ways over the next decade. Just as conference realignment and the advent of the College Football Playoff dominated the discussion the past few years, the debate on how we should properly compensate and support college athletes will consume us in the years ahead.

What we have is an asset -- big-time college football -- that is very popular and therefore very valuable. That value, however, has been monetized over the past quarter-century in a way that disproportionately benefits management -- coaches, athletic administrators and the NCAA -- and external businesses -- television, merchandisers, athletic apparel companies, etc. The athletes -- labor! -- have not seen their benefits and compensation increase.

Ergo, we have an argument that is typical across many commercial enterprises in this country. When many folks say they love free markets, what they mean is they love a market that they control, one in which they make the rules, which -- surprise, surprise -- makes it easier for them to make money. When folks say that market forces allow FBS head coaches make $5 million a year, why don't they also nod when market forces motivate a would-be agent to give Reggie Bush's family a house rent-free?

Of course, it's against the rules, rules that -- coincidentally -- were made by and/or benefit the folks who are getting rich off college sports.

Now, I'm not an extremist on this by any means. One of my pet peeves is when fans, athletes or sports writers discount the value of a college scholarship. If you are presently paying for a child to go to college, you know full well that athletes already are well-compensated.

But this does touch on a long-debated solution that I expect to happen in the next couple of years: Athletic scholarships covering the full cost of attendance. While that expense will further separate the haves and the have-nots in college sports, that seems to be an inexorable trend in any event. The programs banking big bucks in the power conferences need to find a way to share their wealth.

A complication? We don't know what this might mean for non-revenue sports. Title IX prevents programs from giving more money to male athletes in revenue sports compared to female athletes. If the cost of scholarships increase across the board, you will see a lot of programs cutting sports, most likely men's non-revenue sports.

There are plenty of other things the NCAA and college athletic departments can do, from lifetime disability coverage for injuries to figuring out creative ways to allow athletes to pocket some of the revenue they are playing a major role in creating. I think Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples does a nice job here of laying things out with the Northwestern-union case and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA.

Now I don't want to ignore the points of Sam and Brandon from above.

Unions? That could get complicated. But, first of all, I'm skeptical that we'll get to a point anytime soon in which college athletes unionize. The cumulative effect here, to me, is going to be forcing the NCAA and the major conferences to institute reforms to placate revenue-producing athletes so they don't continue to pursue legal action.

Sam, the reason college athletes get coddled is they have a highly valuable skill. You mention you were in the band. If you, say, happened to cut two gold records while you were in high school, I'd bet you would have gotten a scholarship to your Pac-12 school. Colleges love really talented folks. Not that you aren't talented. You, after all, read the Pac-12 Blog.

Brandon goes with the "there is absolutely nothing stopping them from pursuing other avenues" argument if they don't like the current system. Actually, when it comes to football, there really isn't another route to the professional ranks. What percentage of NFL players didn't play college football?

Brandon also notes that "demanding additional compensation is akin to me calling up my CEO and demanding he split the company profits with me." Well, if you have leverage and high value, go to your CEO and ask for a raise. That's the free market.

What these college football players are doing at Northwestern is quintessentially American. They are exercising leverage in our social and commercial systems.

I'm proud of them.


Keith from Teutopolis, Ill., writes: Pro days. What's the big deal? I'm confused by all the fawning over Johnny Football's pro day and by the criticisms of Teddy Bridgewater's. Scouts have dozens of hours of real game action to look at. How or why does a QB's draft stock skyrocket or plunge based on an hour of throwing a football in a controlled environment?

Ted Miller: Keith, I wouldn't get bogged down in the gushing.

Most of what you hear from NFL folks this time of year is misdirection. If an NFL scout with a top-10 pick really wants to draft Johnny Manziel, he's probably whispering to a reporter off the record that Manziel has a hitch in his throwing motion that means he'll average 25 interceptions a year before running off to Tahiti with a flamenco dancer.

I was at the Senior Bowl one time listening to a scout gush about a player I had covered who I didn't think much of. When he finished, I went, "Really?"

He took a sip of his beer, grinned and slurred, "Maybe."


Sonoran Coug from the Desert writes: Ted, I want to let you in on some information. Washington State is going to win the Pac-12 North. How? WSU is poised to put up big numbers in 2014; the Pac-12 North lays down nicely for an awakening WSU program. The no 'natty' Diva Squad plays in Pullman this year, Stanford's roster resembles their fan base, and there is a quarterback-less Washington. And while we are on the subject of Washington, ARE YOU KIDDING!! New quarterback, new running back, new offensive and defensive coaching staff. My mouth is watering for apples as I write this. Or are you and Kevin going to fall for the new coach trick again, so shiny, so new? We here in Coug Nation don't dwell on the past. P12 North results 2014: 1. WSU; 2. OSU; 3. Oregon; 4. Stanford; 5. Washington; 6. California.

Ted Miller: The "No 'Natty Diva Squad" is going to be the name of Kevin and my new band. (We're sort of a Men Without Hats/Iron Butterfly fusion with a hip-hop component).

As for the Cougs… well, maybe. Stranger things have happened.

Who saw the Cougars coming in 1997?

I was at the 2000 Apple Cup -- brrr -- when the Washington brutalized Washington State 51-3. The Huskies went on to win the Rose Bowl and the Cougars finished 4-7.

The next year, the Cougs began a run of three consecutive 10-win seasons.

As for next year, the passing game should be strong with senior QB Connor Halliday and a deep crew of receivers. The 2014 schedule also is favorable with just five road games, no UCLA and Oregon, and USC and Washington both coming to Pullman.

But what holds back my Coug optimism is the O-line and secondary. Need to see how that all fits together.

Finally, you well know that we won't fall for the "shiny new coach trick" any more than we would fall for the banana in the tailpipe.

Ohhh… but Chris Petersen is so… shiny!


Blake from Mesa, Ariz., writes: I don't know how you guys can continue to post poll questions. You must know that no matter the topic, the winner is going to be Oregon. As an Oregon fan myself, I find this comical but also annoying. Maybe for the next poll you can state in your post that the winner is Oregon and that the poll is to see who the fans think is No. 2.

Ted Miller: Oregon fans do mobilize for their team, and they do seem to vote for the Ducks whether they actually believe they merit the vote or not.

Yet the Pac-12 blog will continue to maintain its absolute neutrality and allow market forces to prevail without instituting arbitrary regulations.

SPONSORED HEADLINES