Pac-12: Norm Chow

Whittingham's six-coordinator itch

December, 20, 2013
You can't say Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is afraid of change. You can't say he's not desperately trying to fix his ailing offense. And you can't say that the unexpected hiring of former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen on Friday to run the Utes offense in 2014 isn't a bold move with a potentially substantial payoff.

Christensen has a great reputation for offensive innovation -- just review what he did at Missouri in 2007 with QB Chase Daniel.

Still, it is fair to wonder if a revolving door at offensive coordinator is a good thing for the Utes' short-term prospects, particularly with growing pressure on Whittingham to reverse a two-year bowl-less slide.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsKyle Whittingham has had a revolving door at offensive coordinator.
Revolving door? Christensen is Utah’s sixth offensive coordinator in… six years:

• Andy Ludwig -- 2009
• Aaron Roderick and Dave Schramm -- 2010
• Norm Chow -- 2011
• Brian Johnson -- 2012
• Dennis Erickson (Johnson remained co-coordinator in name only) -- 2013
• And now Christensen -- 2014

Here's an interesting dynamic: At least as of now, Roderick, Johnson and Erickson will remain on staff, working under Christensen. Erickson will coach running backs, Johnson quarterbacks. There was a void on the offensive staff because tight ends coach Jay Hill was hired as Weber State's head coach. Christensen will coach tight ends. Roderick was receivers coach and passing game coordinator last year. The release from Utah on Christensen's hiring doesn't note any change to his status.

The Pac-12 blog's oft-stated position on why the Utes offense has struggled the past few years, other than a higher quality of opposing defenses in the Pac-12 compared to the Mountain Weast, was the lack of continuity at quarterback. Unless Christensen has a cure for what ails the health of the promising Travis Wilson, that will be the overriding issue in 2014.

Whittingham also probably will need to smooth over some roughed-up egos.

It would seem this move is a surprise to Erickson, who refused to comment to the Salt Lake Tribune, per Twitter, but had said he wanted to return as coordinator. The feeling when Erickson, 66, was hired last winter to play lead with demoted co-coordinator Brian Johnson was he would mentor Johnson, an inexperienced but undeniably promising coach, not to mention a former Utes football great. The seeming ideal scenario there was Erickson retiring after a few years and Johnson regaining his old spot with a new bag of tricks and far more seasoning. That scenario has been clouded by the hiring of Christensen.

It will be interesting to see if this offensive staff doesn't undergo a few more changes before next season.

Christensen was only fired at Wyoming on Dec. 1. He went 27-34 overall in five seasons coaching the Cowboys and 16-23 in the Mountain West. He was Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year in 2011, but he went 9-15 the past two seasons.

Before Wyoming, he served 17 years as an assistant for Gary Pinkel at Toledo (1992-2000) and Missouri (2001-08), and he's a no-huddle, spread specialist, the scheme the Utes have been tinkering with with varied results for several seasons.

"As one of the pioneers of the spread offense, Dave Christensen is an innovative coach and was the architect of one of the top offenses in the country during his time at Missouri,” Whittingham said in a statement from the school. “We feel fortunate he was available and interested in joining our program, and he will be a great fit with our staff. We want an explosive offense and that’s been a trademark of Dave’s throughout his career as an offensive coordinator.”

Whittingham and Christensen worked together at Idaho State in 1989-90. Christensen played offensive line at Washington from 1980-82 before getting his degree in 1985 at Western Washington.

This is a good hire in many ways. Erickson wasn't the long-term answer, and Christensen's availability and willingness to come to Salt Lake probably was too alluring to pass up for Whittingham. Yet six coordinators in six years is pretty extreme turnover. While there are reasonable explanations for each change, it's impossible to not at least raise an eyebrow.

Of course, the way to lower that skeptical eyebrow is the same for Whittingham/Christensen as it is in all things in big-time college football.

Produce results. Win.

Nonconference primer: USC

July, 1, 2013
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.


at Hawaii, Aug. 29
  • Coach: Norm Chow (3-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
  • Offensive headliner: We met the offensive line in the Oregon State nonconference primer. Wide receiver Scott Harding is back after catching 20 balls and a pair of touchdowns last year with a 12.8 yards-per-reception average.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Art Laurel posted 51 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss and four sacks last season while also forcing a fumble.
  • The skinny: This is actually the first time we'll see Hawaii this season, though they make back-to-back appearances against the Pac-12 and will travel to the mainland a week later to face Oregon State. Last year's game was a blowout in LA, with the Trojans winning 49-10. The first play of the game was a 75-yard touchdown from Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee. Many thought it was a harbinger. Many were wrong. Will be interesting to see how Taylor Graham, a QB transfer from Ohio State, factors in.
Boston College, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Steve Addazio, first year
  • 2012 record: 2-10, 1-7 ACC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Chase Rettig returns at quarterback after completing 54.2 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2012.
  • Defensive headliner: One of the coolest names for a linebacker in all of college football -- Steele Divitto -- is back after posting 92 tackles last year while forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering four of them.
  • The skinny: The Eagles return a lot of players -- particularly on defense -- but it was a defense that gave up a lot of yards and never got much pressure -- ranking 120th last year in sacks and tackles for a loss. It's been a couple of down years, but they are only a few seasons removed from being an 11-win team. They should improve on the two wins from last year, but it's still better to get them early in the season.
Utah State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Matt Wells, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 6-0 WAC
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Chuckie Keeton, a first-team all-league performer, returns after completing 67.6 percent of his throws for 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jake Doughty led the team with 109 tackles and also notched 3.5 tackles for a loss and a sack while earning first-team all-league honors.
  • The skinny: Keeton is back, but he also has all five starters on the line protecting him -- a group that helped departed running back Kerwynn Williams rush for 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells was promoted as head coach after Gary Andersen took the Wisconsin job, so continuity is in place. This is a squad that topped Sonny Dykes' Louisiana Tech team and Mike MacIntyre's San Jose State team last year. Their only losses were to BYU and Wisconsin by a combined five points.
at Notre Dame, Oct. 19
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1, Independent
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver T.J. Jones matched the team high last season with 50 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Behind that stout defensive front, linebacker Dan Fox is back after posting 63 tackles last season, including two for a loss.
  • The skinny: So ... last year's game was ugly. The Trojans ended 2012 by losing five of their last six -- including three straight. This one was sandwiched in between losses to UCLA and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and the Irish were able to punch their ticket to the BCS championship game at the Trojans expense. This is the second of three Pac-12/Notre Dame showdowns.
Thoughts: The Trojans are one of the few teams in the league that don't have an FCS team on their nonconference schedule. That being said, Hawaii and Boston College shouldn't be considered much of a threat. Because the Trojans play at Hawaii, they get to add an additional game -- and that's Utah State -- a team that's risen the ranks of the non-BCS hierarchy the last few seasons. How they do under a new coach (even though he was promoted from within) will be interesting to see. The fact that the Trojans will have already played three games prior to their meeting with the Aggies is in USC's favor, especially as Lane Kiffin and Co. continue to break in a new quarterback. Notre Dame is obviously a historical rivalry, and last year the Irish provided a twisty dagger in the vein of shortcomings that was USC in 2012. Retribution should be on USC's mind. Two games are very winnable, one game smells like a trap and the other is a rivalry game. Fans and players should expect nothing less than 4-0, though 3-1 wouldn't be outrageous considering they are playing in South Bend.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Oregon State

Eastern Washington, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Beau Baldwin (44-19), sixth year
  • 2012 record: 11-3, 7-1 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Vernon Adams was last season's FCS Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American. In a two-quarterback system, he completed 60.4 percent of his throws with 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: An FCS All-American last year, cornerback T.J. Lee posted 90 tackles with 11 pass breakups. He also had 2.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and an interception.
  • The skinny: This is not a team to be taken lightly. It pushed Washington State last season and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, finishing ranked fourth nationally among all FCS schools. Adams is a playmaker and, as a team, the Eagles set a school mark for passing yards in 2012 with 4,469. It's still an FCS school, but the Eagles are certainly an upgrade over Nicholls State.
Hawaii, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Norm Chow (3-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
  • Offensive headliner: The offensive line returns four of five starters from last season -- and we all know continuity on the line is huge -- so Ben Clarke, Dave Lefotu, Mike Milovale and Chauncy Winchester-Makainai get the nod as a single unit.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive back Marrell Jackson was the co-leader in tackles last year with 56, also defending five passes and forcing a pair of fumbles.
  • The skinny: Hawaii has a nice core returning -- quarterback, running back, a couple of wide receivers and four of five offensive linemen. Defensively, half of the line and the entire starting linebacking corps returns. They lose punter Alex Dunnachie, an All-America honorable mention. But if Chow's offense shows improvement from last year -- when it ranked 100th in scoring at 21.2 points per game -- then maybe there will be fewer punts?
at San Diego State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Rocky Long (17-9), third year
  • 2012 record: 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Adam Muema was quietly one of the top rushers in the country last year, going for 1,458 yards with 16 touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jake Fely was second on the team with 90 stops last year and posted a team-high seven sacks with 11.5 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: What Brady Hoke started, Long has continued. The Aztecs set a team rushing record last season, piling up 2,869 yards while grabbing a share of the league title. They lose a pair of talented corners, Josh Wade and Leon McFadden, and tight end Gavin Escobar. But the defensive front seven is nasty, and Muema is the real deal and should continue to flourish as Bob Toledo takes over the offense for the departed Andy Ludwig.
Thoughts: The Beavers aren't without questions heading into 2013. Chief among them is the quarterback spot. But we think we have a pretty good feel for who this team is going to be, regardless of whether Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion gets the nod. So the first two games should be about the starter growing (or re-growing) into his role while continuing to develop a reliable receiver opposite Brandin Cooks. By Week 4 (the Beavers have a league game against Utah before SDSU), most of the questions should be answered. Just in time to face a San Diego State team that has enjoyed some success over the past three years. No team should ever be taken lightly -- and this game in particular could prove challenging. Plus, Qualcomm Stadium was never that kind to Mike Riley. With all that said, the Beavers clearly have the talent to go 3-0 in nonconference play and 4-0 the first month of the season.

Mailbag: Oregon, USC and the NCAA

April, 19, 2013
Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. We can't guarantee it will make you smarter, but it probably will.

To the notes!

Bruce from Los Altos, Calif., writes: Re: Oregon's penalties for NCAA infractions. How do you think these will stack up against the loss of 30 (THIRTY) scholarships which USC lost. Remember, we had exactly ONE player and, at worst, one assistant coach involved. The Oregon situation has more players and the HEAD coach involved in what the NCAA has already called major infractions. Is there any hope that the NCAA will ever reduce the loss of scholarships?

Ted Miller: No. There is no hope the NCAA will ever reduce the loss of scholarships for USC. For one, USC already lost its appeal. Second, the 2014 class will be the final one under NCAA limitations.

Look: Everybody knows USC got screwed by the NCAA. Not just in the "In my opinion, the sanctions for the Reggie Bush case were too severe" way, but in the "The process was corrupt and the judgment unjustifiable" way.

And I don't think anyone in the country has hammered this point home as much as me.

A couple of years ago I was at USC, having a casual conversation with athletic director Pat Haden. Then, for whatever reason, I started to rant about USC's NCAA case. Not because I have any specific affection for USC, nor because I wanted to brownnose Haden, but because it really chafes me how horribly unfair the process was, how faulty the conclusions were, and how devoid of leadership the NCAA was when it refused to take corrective action against this unquestionably failed process.

No, I wasn't standing on a soapbox, but I got pretty wound up, as I am wont to do. You know what Haden said? "Let it go," he told me.

And he was right.

As for comparing the USC and Oregon situations, I have three words: Blueberries and potatoes (you thought I was going to type "Apples and Oranges," but I'm just way too writerly for that!).

I seriously doubt sanctions against Oregon will even approach those against USC. There is a gray area with Oregon, whether you think it passes the stink test or not.

But, well, with the NCAA, you never really know.

Tim from San Diego writes: What is up with Ucla recruiting? They are still recruiting right? After the top ranked class in the Pac this year, why has that momentum translated to more commits? They have 1(?), while the Pac12 blog is providing updates on the other schools recruiting efforts. Please advise.

Ted Miller: Clearly, UCLA is doomed.

I called up Jim Mora and asked about this tragic recruiting situation.

"I was going to recruit some guys," Mora didn't say. "But I first needed to catch up on 'Breaking Bad.' Then I got sleepy. Took a 35-day nap. Then Kevin Gemmell called and we chatted for, like, a week. Just, you know, talking about life and relationships. Noel Mazzone came over and we made a brisket and watched 'The Notebook.' Wait. What was the question?"

Tim, UCLA had just one commitment at this time last year. Didn't get No. 2 until June. Got No. 6 on Sept. 22, same day the Bruins lost to Oregon State in week four.

Seems like everything turned out OK.

Remember: Recruiting is like most things. It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

James from Salt Lake City writes: I just read an article on why the Utes should abandon the spread offense and switch to a power offense that is able to control the clock and slowly wear down defenses. The article states it would be similar to what Stanford has done and states several players like Karl Williams, Radley, Poole, Murphy, and Scott as well as others as their weapons to do this. I have seen the Utes at practice and thought the article was crap until I finished it. It had several good points and made more sense then what they have accomplished so far this spring. I also think they would have more options and success especially whe utilizing both tight ends. This goes against the trending PAC 12 offenses but may also give the Utes an edge in their conference games. What are your thoughts about the Utes running a power offense and do you think they could be more successful in the PAC 12 with it?

Ted Miller: I have a confession. I do have a preference when it comes to offenses. I tend to favor the one playing for the winning team. So I like Oregon's offense. And Stanford's. Also like Alabama's offense.

I know that's flip and not what you're looking for, but what we're ultimately talking about is not a scheme, but what's going to be effective. If Utah has the right personnel and coaching, it can run an effective spread. If it has the right personnel and coaching, it can run a pro-style or power attack.

But, ultimately, it's about winning the game, whether that's 17-10 or 52-35.

I do think changing coordinators and schemes, as the Utes have done three times since 2010, make establishing an offensive identity difficult. I'm sure coach Kyle Whittingham believes the same. When he hired Dennis Erickson to co-coordinate with Brian Johnson, he specifically cited the lack of an offensive identity.

Part of that struggle has been dumb bad luck: Norm Chow leaves after a season to become Hawaii's head coach; quarterback Jordan Wynn can't stay healthy, etc.

My feeling is Erickson has been brought in to help season Johnson, so a couple years down the road Johnson can take over with his own scheme.

As for power versus spread: The general feeling is spread or pistol offenses help teams with fewer five-star athletes compensate with misdirection. Alabama and USC aren't spread teams, because they get those A-list guys.

The question is can Utah push into the top-third of the Pac-12 as a power team? Can it get the athletes and the linemen to make it work, as Stanford has? And that's on both sides of the ball, by the way, because you've got to consistently stop opponents if you're not going to score 45 every Saturday.

Perhaps, James, the Utes look to you like they would be a better power team in the short term -- as in this fall. But this is ultimately about establishing a brand of football the program can recruit to and win with over the long term.

I don't think lining up in an I-formation with the quarterback under center is a long-term answer for the Utes.

Josh from Lynden, Wash., writes: Did you see the USC spring game? Is it possible that the Trojans are actually better at WR this year? With Lee, Agholor and some combo of Blackwell, Flournoy or Rogers? And in all honesty who do you think should be throwing to them this year?

Ted Miller: Are you asking me if losing Robert Woods is a good thing?


All of those guys, other than freshman Darreus Rogers, were there last year. Heck, George Farmer, now out with a knee injury, also was there, at least when he wasn't hurt. The problem last year with the Trojans' passing game, which was pretty darn potent just based on raw numbers, was not a lack of talent. It was execution and play-calling. The Trojans were too focused on the blinding talents of Marqise Lee, instead of distributing the ball to other playmakers, which would have kept defenses off-balance.

That said: I don't think receiver is a question mark for USC. Just about every team in the country would trade their top-two guys for Lee and Agholor.

As for quarterback: Cody Kessler made more plays this spring and was more consistent than Max Wittek, but Wittek has an arm that will make NFL scouts swoon. Coach Lane Kiffin doesn't seem to be in a hurry to name a starter, so the competition is almost certain to go at least a week or two into fall camp.

And, with a fairly forgiving early schedule, I almost wonder if Kiffin might give both guys a chance when the lights are on.

Jeff from Tucson, Ariz. writes: UA will be a much tougher out than last year. Their defense has now had a year to get used to a new scheme, and returns all starters. The offense, even with a bad injury to Austin Hill, has many weapons including the nations leading rusher, and now comes Davonte Neal a transfer from ND. I am excited and believe the Cats will challenge for the South title.

Ted Miller: Hmm.

First off, Arizona wasn't an easy out last year. It beat Oklahoma State, Washington and USC, and pushed Stanford into overtime.

I hear you on the defense, but I'm not so sure you should write off the loss of Hill so easily. And you guys all know where I stand on losing quarterback Matt Scott.

To me, it all comes down to how much production the Wildcats get at quarterback. The defense will be better. The offensive line should at least be as good. Running back Ka'Deem Carey is an All-American. The receivers, even without Hill, are solid.

But Scott ranked sixth in the nation with 343.8 yards of total offense per game in 2012. That is not easy to replace.

John from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, UK writes: Hey Ted,First off, thanks for the Blog. I read it all the time, but right now I am deployed to Afghanistan, so it is particularly nice to read it and get a piece of home. I especially like the creative ideas you guys come up, like the Buy or Sell piece, with in the off season to keep us fanatics involved. I'm a Washington grad, husly fanatic, so I always have to wait until you go over all of the other schools before we get to the Washington schools. Can't we reverse the order every once in a while? It's not our fault we fall at the end of the alphabet! In fact, you could just leave Oregon out if you wanted to.Thanks again.

Ted Miller: John, first off, thanks for your service. Stay safe.

We can't leave out Oregon, but I will now announce that our "Most Important Game" series is dedicated to John and all of our readers whose teams are discriminated against alphabetically.

And we do try to reverse things every once and a while, so Arizona doesn't always have to go first. Or the Cougs last.

Francis from Federal Way, Wash., writes: I know this isn't about the Pac 12 but a football icon has died today in the Great PNW! I know since you used to live here you've heard about PLU (Pacific Lutheran University) and their football coach Frosty Westering. Well he passed away today and he's one of nine other coaches that have won 300+ college football games. Hoping you can give him a shout out and all great things he accomplished on and off the field. I had a chance to have him come and be a "guest coach" for a day for my old high school football team (Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma...Sefo Luifau Colorado recruit). He was such a motivational, positive guy that brought the best out of anyone. Made the crappiest player on the team feel he was just as important as the best player on the team. Anyways, just thought you'd like to know and as a committed reader of the Pac 12 blog hoping you can do a little write up on him! Keep up the good work and GO COUGS!

Ted Miller: Class act. Great coach. Even better man.

I must admit that I never had the privilege to talk to him or write about him, but I certainly, as a nine-year Seattle resident, was familiar with him and his glowing legacy.

My former Seattle Post-Intelligencer colleague Art Thiel frequently cited him as an example of what a coach should be.

Here's his tribute to the man.
Identity is why Dennis Erickson decided to become Utah's offensive coordinator. He has one and Utah's offense didn't last fall.

Erickson, one of the seminal minds behind the spread passing attack, is a football coach at heart. At 65, he's not ready to go softly into the night after four decades of X's and O's. Or go play golf and fish every day.

Meanwhile, Utah's offense ranked 11th in yards and eighth in scoring in the Pac-12 last year, as the Utes missed the postseason for the first time since 2002.

"The biggest thing is what was their identity -- what were they trying to do?" Erickson said. "They obviously had some injury issues at quarterback."

It's fairly understandable why the Utes offense sputtered last fall. Even before starting quarterback Jordan Wynn was lost for the season to injury, it was clear his arm strength was no longer there. The job ultimately went to true freshman Travis Wilson, and starting a first-year player at quarterback is rarely ideal. Toss in a struggling offensive line, and that's a recipe for yards and points to be lacking.

[+] EnlargeDennis Erickson
AP Photo/Don RyanFollowing his exit at Arizona State, Dennis Erickson spent a season helping his son coach high school football.
But it's more than that. Utah has had five different offensive coordinators since 2005, Kyle Whittingham's first season as head coach after Urban Meyer bolted for Florida. The Utes have employed a variety of schemes during that span, and Whittingham previously went the elder statesman route with Norm Chow, but that lasted only a year before Chow became head coach at Hawaii.

Whittingham and Erickson didn't know each other well before Whittingham first reached out about five weeks ago. But the idea grew on Erickson, who got an OK from his wife, Marilyn.

Erickson met with the Utes coaches before the hiring became official. While he's listed as "co-coordinator" with Brian Johnson, the coordinator last fall, Whittingham has acknowledged that Erickson has "last say."

Hiring Erickson strongly suggests that Whittingham now believes he promoted Johnson to coordinator too quickly. Johnson had been quarterbacks coach at Utah for only two years and was promoted to coordinator before he turned 25, making him the youngest FBS coordinator in the country. Heck, Johnson had been a Ute QB himself in 2008. He was barely older than many of the Utes players.

"I visited with Brian and I think he's an outstanding coach," Erickson said. "Everything I do is going to go through those guys. We need to sit down and decide what we want to do, decide what we want to hang our hat on."

While this functions as a sort of demotion for Johnson, it could pay off for him long-term. He now can learn from one of the better offensive minds out there, a guy who has seen just about everything you could see on a football field. Further, because Erickson is 65, there's no need to be competitive with him. This might actually push Johnson's career along faster than its already rapid pace. It's certainly something else to note on his résumé.

It's clear that Erickson wants to embrace a mentorship role.

"I hope so," he said. "I hope that's something I can help him do. We're going to talk about everything we do. Five or six years down the road, I think my experience is going to help him in his future. It's hard to be 25 years old and all the sudden you're a coordinator. It's a lot easier said than done."

The same can be said for passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick, who will continue to oversee receivers.

Of course, coordination isn't everything. Erickson will be a genius if he can get his offensive line to play better, particularly at tackle. In their second year of Pac-12 play, it became clear that the Utes lack the top-to-bottom talent and depth to compete in the top-half of the conference.

"Where we need to shore it up is get some speed on both sides of the football," Erickson said, echoing previous comments from Whittingham.

Erickson, who spent the past season helping his son coach high school football in Oregon, said he expected to get back into coaching after he was fired at Arizona State following the 2011 season. For one, he didn't want to go out on that experience.

"Obviously, how that ended, that was not a fun time, not how I wanted to go out on my career," he said. "It was pretty grinding on all of us that year."

Of the Sun Devils' surge this year, he said, "I thought they played extremely well. I was happy to see them have that success."

While there's just a bit of coyness when Erickson is asked if he'd want to run his own program again as a head coach, he seems excited with the idea of getting to be an assistant who obsesses only about schemes and game plans and not all the cumbersome administrative burdens a head coach deals with.

"This is the perfect fit for me right now," he said. "We've got a really good chance to be successful here."

USC ready to start title run

September, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC is back as the Big Show, as a premier football program that features All-Americans, high rankings and national title hopes.

At least, that's been the big talk all summer. Really, it started last December when QB Matt Barkley stood in front of a Christmas Tree inside Heritage Hall and first spoke of "unfinished business."

His returning to a 10-2 team that finished ranked sixth with 18 other starters coming back made the Trojans a vogue favorite to knock the SEC from its perch atop college football.

It also made Barkley the heavy preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. And forced more than a few folks to reconsider some of their previously negative opinions about coach Lane Kiffin.

But now toe-meets-leather, the games begin and USC either takes care of business or flops. Because, as ridiculous as it might sound for a team with just 75 scholarship players, anything less than a Rose Bowl berth would seem like a failure. Heck, some might say it's national title or bust.

It begins this evening against Hawaii, which should be completely overmatched. So success in the opener is defined by a blowout and starters sitting out the fourth quarter.

Of course, new Warriors coach Norm Chow, the former offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, would love to stick it to the Trojans, or at least make life difficult for them. He's not a huge fan of how he was pushed aside at USC, and he's long held a grudge against Kiffin and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who took over for him in 2005.

So what to look for if the scoreboard holds little intrigue?
  • The stat sheet: If Barkley is going to win the Heisman, he'll need numbers. So expect him to attack with receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
  • The RBs: How will Kiffin split time between Curtis McNeal, his returning starter, and Silas Redd, a high-profile transfer from Penn State?
  • The DL: The Trojans' only real question mark -- other than overall depth -- is the defensive line, which was replacing three starters even before Devon Kennard was lost to a pec injury. The Warriors are rebuilding on the offensive line, so the Trojans should win the upfront battle. If they don't, that should inspire some concern.
  • The wounded: USC won't win a national championship if it suffers more than a small handful of injuries. It needs to stay healthy because of the scholarship limitations. And, yes, the D-line is the place it can least afford to lose guys.

While this game won't make much of a big picture statement -- unless the Trojans implode -- it will set the scene for the season. Is USC again the Big Show? Is it ready to party like it's 2002-08 again?

We shall see shortly.

Video: Friday Four Downs

August, 31, 2012

The Friday Four Downs segment looks at four main points of interest for the Pac-12's weekend games.

WeAreSC links: Roundtable

August, 30, 2012
Roundtable Insider: WeAreSC staffers give their opinions on a variety of USC football topics as the Trojans prepare for the season opener Saturday against Hawaii.

Johnny Curren writes: Opponent preview, Hawaii. Insider While some of the focus Saturday will shift to Norm Chow returning against USC as a head coach, Hawaii faces quite the (obvious) test on the field, particularly with an unproven starter at the helm in quarterback Sean Schroeder.

Blair Angulo writes Insider: Five key high school games this weekend that feature USC recruits.

Garry Paskwietz writes: During Thursday's practice it was made known that junior linebacker Simi Vehikite, who left the team this past spring, has been reinstated.
RodriguezChris Coduto/Icon SMICoaches around the country have implemented parts of Rich Rodriguez's hurry-up spread offense.
Here's an interesting story from Andrea Adelson about "copycat coaches." It's interesting not only because it's a good topic but also, for our purposes, because its central figure is new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, arguably the father of the modern day, run-first spread-option attack.

Andrea sent over the Q&A she did with Rodriguez, which we're going to publish in its entirety. It includes lots of background on Rodriguez and his innovative offense, which has been copied by a lot of folks -- yes, including that guy up in Eugene.

Thanks to Andrea for doing all the legwork and writing a nice story.

When was the first time you had coaches asking for pointers on your offense?

Rich Rodriguez: When we went to Tulane, the second year we had a good year, with Shaun King. Then you had some games on TV, and that was the first time after that season that a lot of coaches started coming and visiting and calling. We beat BYU in a bowl game, and Lavell [Edwards] was the head coach, Norm Chow the offensive coordinator. So after the game, they said, ‘Would you come over and talk some football with us? I’m thinking are you kidding me? This is Norm Chow and Lavell Edwards, the passing gurus. I said I’ll do it on one condition. You have to give me some of your information, too. You have to teach me what you’re doing. Norm and I have been friends since that time. It was a great trip.

What was your connection with Tommy Bowden at Tulane?

RR: At Glenville, I went to the Bowden Passing Academy and I always talked football. Tommy had taken an interest in what we were doing. We never worked together when he called me to be offensive coordinator. It was really flattering. I asked, ‘Will you let me run my offense?’ He said sure. Tommy was the first big name, big coach, who took an interest in what we were doing. When we went to Tulane, there were a few folks. At Clemson, we saw a few more. Then at West Virginia, it wasn’t as good the first year we were there, but after that it took off again. I can remember Urban [Meyer], when he first got the Bowling Green job, we were at a coaches convention hospitality bar. He told me, ‘I’d like to run some of your offense.’ So he sent his whole staff for a week, we traded some ideas and so we always traded ideas. The Oklahoma guys, Bob Stoops and I became friends. They would come to our place or we’d go to Oklahoma and spend the week. After the Sugar Bowl year in the 2005 season, we had a whole bunch more. Some 30 different staffs come in, Penn State, Ohio State some non-traditional non-spread coaching staffs. I said maybe I am being too open, but I thought it was a great opportunity for us to learn, too. To pick their brains.

(Read full post)

Arizona adds Hawaii to future schedule

July, 10, 2012
Arizona announced Tuesday a home-and-home series with Hawaii for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

The teams will play Aug. 31, 2019 in Honolulu and Sept. 5, 2020 in Tucson.

Arizona and Hawaii have met four times with the Wildcats winning each contest, most recently in 1998 when former Wildcat head coach Dick Tomey, who also spent time at the helm of the Warrior program, led 24th-ranked Arizona to a 27-6 victory at Aloha Stadium.

Hawaii hired Norm Chow as its head coach this offseason. Chow, obviously, has plenty of Pac-12 connections.

“We are pleased to announce this series with the University of Hawaii. It will give our fans a great opportunity to follow our football team to Hawaii and it will be another attractive game at Arizona Stadium,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement.
Here are some things you might not know about Utah's top receiver, DeVonte Christopher.

In 2007, he was Nevada's Gatorade Player of the Year. As a quarterback.

In 2008, he briefly lived with Utah's starting quarterback. That QB, guy by the name of Brian Johnson, is now the Utes offensive coordinator.

In 2010 and 2011, he led the Utes in receptions.

[+] EnlargeUtah Utes wide receiver DeVonte Christopher
James Snook-US PRESSWIREUtah wide receiver DeVonte Christopher says the Utes will feature a more "up-tempo" offense this season
And, on Sept. 10, 2011, he was the best receiver on the field in the LA Coliseum.

That last bit of info might be most significant. While some might not know much about Christopher, his catching 11 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in a down-to-the-wire loss at USC is meaningful. On that day, Utah's first Pac-12 conference game, celebrated Trojans receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee combined for 10 receptions for 136 yards and no scores.

Two weeks later, Christopher caught five passes for 125 yards in a bad home loss to Washington, a game that was low-lighted from a Utes perspective by the loss of quarterback Jordan Wynn to a season-ending shoulder injury.

Because of that, the Utes offense, by necessity, changed. Balance gave way to John White right, John White left and John White up the middle. Utah passed for 883 yards in the first four games (221 yards per game) and 1,369 in the final nine (152 yards per game), ranking last in the Pac-12 in passing offense. Christopher's season became a what-might-have-been.

"I definitely look forward to going into the season with Jordan as our starter," Christopher said.

(That said, Christopher is also quick to tip his cap to Jon Hays, a transfer from Nebraska-Omaha, who replaced Wynn and was good enough to go 6-3 as the starter: "One thing I've got to do is give Jon Hays credit. He was thrown into the fire. He only came in during fall camp. I think that guy did a great job for us last year.").

In a conference loaded with outstanding receivers -- it's a decent bet that both 2012 first-team All-Americans will come from the Pac-12 -- Christopher mostly operates under the radar. But the 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior is the leader of a sneaky good Utes crew that only needs someone to consistently deliver the rock.

Utah's defense is going to be good. How good the offense is likely will determine if the Utes improve on last year's 8-5 finish.

How things might look on offense is a bit of a mystery due to an unexpected change at coordinator. Christopher admits that he was surprised that the 25-year-old Johnson was promoted to replace Norm Chow, with coach Kyle Whittingham going from a coaching legend past retirement age to a the nation's youngest coordinator. But once be got past surprise he said he was "ecstatic." He and Johnson go way back.

When Christopher arrived at Utah in 2008, his dorm room wasn't ready. So for a while he lived with Johnson and graduate assistant Robert Conley. While it's easy to wonder if that experience might complicate their present relationship -- from teammates and friends to coach and player -- Christopher said it actually enriches it.

"It's not really that weird because Brian has always had a mentality like a tutor," Christopher said. "The transition to him being a full-time coach wasn't big for me."

As for schematic issues, Christopher thinks Utah fans are going to like some changes Johnson is adopting. While the Utes will continue to run a mostly pro-style offense with a hard-nosed, downhill running game, Johnson is putting his own stamp on things.

"They will see a more up-tempo style," Christopher said. "We're going to definitely going to balance it out more with Jordan back in there. You can expect to see multiple sets with the power running game and play-action passing. A little of the spread, here and there."

Christopher also likes what he's seen out of Wynn so far this spring. He said Wynn is throwing well and, like other observers, he has noted that Wynn has bulked up, now tipping the scales at 207 pounds. Of course, Wynn getting buff might not only be about football.

"He's from San Diego, so it might have been for the beach-- I'm not too sure," Christopher said.

Utah is buffing up as a team as it gets ready for a second go-around in the Pac-12. Christopher said it was fun playing in bigger stadiums and in front of more fans last year. He also said the biggest difference in the conference compared to the Mountain West was depth.

"In the Mountain West, the starters are good but they have depth issues," he said. "In the Pac-12, the next guy is just as capable as the starter. That's the one thing I thought was the biggest difference."

Christopher is well-aware that just about everyone already has handed the South Division to USC. The general belief nationally is the Trojans are about national titles in 2012, with conference division titles being only a preliminary base to touch.

But Christopher and his teammates know how close they were last year at USC. They are yielding nothing. And, by the way, Christopher, while rejecting an opportunity to celebrate himself, yields nothing on where he stands among Pac-12 receivers.

Said Christopher, "Man, I just tell people to turn on the TV when we play. I try my best to let my play do the talking."

Jim Mora, UCLA get rolling

April, 4, 2012
Not unlike his pop -- "Playoffs? Playoffs?!" -- Jim Mora can be kind of a grump. Not in a "I hate the world" sort of way. More in a football coach-y way.

Which is why I got a kick out of Jon Gold's description of Mora from spring practice No. 1 for UCLA -- Mora's first practice since his ugly departure from the Seattle Seahawks.
The huge smile on Jim Mora's face after the first practice of UCLA's spring football campaign really told the whole story. Perhaps no one was more excited to be back out on the field than he was.

It's been more than two years since he's been on the practice field -- two years, three months, as Mora pointed out, and yes, it appears he's been counting -- and he took out all his frustration on his throat. He was more hoarse than an auctioneer by the time he addressed the media, after spending 2+ hours sprinting everywhere on the field.
[+] EnlargeJim Mora
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceOne of Jim Mora's first challenges will be sorting out the Bruins' situation at quarterback.
Every coach is motivated to win. For one, it's the only way to avoid getting fired. But the very circumstances surrounding Mora's hiring -- his being a lifelong NFL coach who's been out of the game for an extended period of time -- could actually become a positive here. For one, he's hungry to re-enter a competitive environment. Instead of feeling entitled, he's grateful for an opportunity. He's eager to teach, which is more a part of the college game than in the NFL. And, though he likely would never use the term, he also wants to take control of his coaching legacy. Yes, Mora is well aware that some doubt him.

Of course, we typed just about the exact same thing when Rick Neuheisel returned to his alma mater to redeem himself in 2008. At the time, I must confess I -- wrongly -- felt a high degree of certainty he would succeed. (Though, as I've told Neuheisel, I was skeptical about the initial mix of coaching personalities around him, notably the so-called dream team of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker.)

It seems like we've been talking about a "culture change" with UCLA football since the declining years of the Bob Toledo administration, which ended nearly a decade ago. But that's Mora's chief task. It's the Point A even before Mora and the Bruins can turn their attention to that school across town, whose (again) rising fortunes don't make anything easier in Westwood.

Gold provides a nice preview of specific -- and less philosophical -- issues the Bruins face this spring. More than a few fans would say the chief task is developing competency at quarterback, which is the primary challenge for new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Mazzone is best known for transforming Arizona State's Brock Osweiler from a basketball player who dabbled at quarterback into a potential first-day NFL draft pick this spring.

Gold's take on the quarterback competition is interesting. While many Bruins fans -- and not a few reporters -- are eager for the newness of touted redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to overtake the more experienced but inconsistent Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, Gold sees Prince and Brehaut as the front-runners.
Brett Hundley and T.J. Millweard will vie for the position in spring ball as well, but it will likely come down to the two seniors, Prince and Brehaut. Prince gets the first snaps, but Brehaut should follow close behind. If one of them shows tremendous consistency with the short pass and develops a good rhythm early, it will go a long way in the coaches' eyes. They're certainly going to be looking out for it.

A single practice, particularly one not in full pads, doesn't reveal much. But here are three positives culled from reports from those on hand: 1. A demanding practice tempo -- a recurring theme among just about every observer -- should make it hard for the malaise of past years to endure; 2. Left offensive tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, fresh off an LDS mission, looked fit and motivated. That could be transformative for the O-line; 3. Mazzone wants to spread the field. He needs guys to catch the ball. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria are fully capable of helping him do that. Now he only needs four more guys.

Utah starts spring with new offense

March, 20, 2012
Utah begins spring practices Tuesday, and most of the focus will be on the offense, with new 25-year-old coordinator Brian Johnson installing his scheme and quarterback Jordan Wynn returning from injury.

Some are theorizing Johnson will bring back many spread elements after a year with Norm Chow's pro-style scheme, so it will be a bit of a challenge for the media to figure out specific and identifiable tweaks that represent Johnson's renovation.

Don't expect anything radical, particularly with Wynn being asked to run the football.

Here are the big issues to be addressed before the spring game on April 21.
  • Who replaces Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen at the offensive tackle spots? Bergstrom was first-team All-Pac-12, and Cullen was second-team. Further, Wynn and his shoulders need to be protected, so this is a top priority. The pre-spring depth chart has Percy Taumoelau No. 1 at left tackle and Daniel Nielson at right tackle, but an influx of four JC transfers this fall could lead to some shuffling on the offensive line, even with three interior starters returning.
  • The defense should be potent, but it has some key guys to replace: End Derrick Shelby, cornerback Conroy Black, and linebackers Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez need to be replaced. Shelby led the team in tackles for a loss, and tied for the lead in sacks. Black led the Utes in interceptions, and Walker and Martinez were the top two tacklers in 2011, so these are significant holes. The pre-spring depth chart has Joe Kruger moving from right end to Shelby's left end spot, with Nate Fakahafua stepping in on the right side. Dave Fagergren and Victor Spikes are competing for Martinez' rover linebacker spot, while V.J. Fehoko steps in at Walker's spot at middle linebacker.
  • Who will back up Wynn? Wynn, if healthy, is the Utes' best option at quarterback, but health has been his main issue, and that makes the backup job even more important. Based on the spring depth chart, which doesn't list Jon Hays, who started nine games last season after Wynn got hurt, it will fall to one of the two true freshmen on hand this spring: Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen.

A couple links: Four keys for Utah this spring. And here's a look at the offense.
On Oct. 1, Utah went into the halftime locker room trailing Washington 10-7, kicking itself for a pair of red-zone turnovers.

Quarterback Jordan Wynn walked into the locker room with two thoughts. First of all, he felt like he was throwing like his old self for the first time all season with a surgically-repaired right shoulder. Second, there was something wrong with his other, non-throwing shoulder.

Wynn couldn't play in the second half, and the Utes got rolled 31-14 in front of a stunned crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Wynn's season was done and he would again undergo shoulder surgery.

[+] EnlargeWynn
Kirby Lee/US PresswireShould quarterback Jordan Wynn stay healthy for all of the 2012 season, the Utes could be a force to reckon with in the Pac-12.
"I think I was pretty close [to 100 percent], but looking back on it, with the injury I had and surgery I had, it takes time," Wynn said. "I was just starting to feel like I was getting back to my old ways, especially the first half of the Washington game. That might have been one of the better halves of my career."

And when Wynn went down, many saw the Utes' season as doomed. Instead, with Nebraska-Omaha transfer Jon Hays managing a run-first offense that leaned heavily on a tough defense, the Utes nearly stole the South Division crown in their first year of Pac-12 play.

It's fair to ask what might have happened if Wynn had stayed healthy and continued to recover his form from late 2009 and most of 2010. Note that from Oct. 31, 2009 to Oct. 30, 2010, Wynn was 12-2 as a starter, including a dynamic performance in a 2009 Poinsettia Bowl win against California as a true freshman.

Many expect USC to run away with the Pac-12 South Division. Heck, many see the Trojans playing for the 2012 national title.

But what about Utah? Recall that the Utes, in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, lined up for a 41-yard field goal to tie the Trojans in the Coliseum last September (it was blocked and returned for a TD). Sure, USC hadn't really found the mojo at that point that would propel it into the top-five by season's end, but neither had Wynn or the Utes.

If you want to know a game that could have huge Pac-12 and national title implications in 2012 that not many folks are talking about, look no further than USC's visit to Salt Lake City on Oct. 4 — a Thursday night matchup on ESPN.

"It will definitely be interesting," Wynn said. "It was a tough game last year. We came one or two plays short of stealing that thing away."

Of course, there's a lot to do between now and then. The prime objective for Wynn: Stay healthy. And No. 2 is to find a comfort level with his fourth offensive coordinator (Dave Schramm, Aaron Roderick, Norm Chow and now Brian Johnson). Johnson, who just turned 25, is the youngest coordinator in FBS football.

"It's definitely a different dynamic from him to coach Chow [who will turn 66 in May]," Wynn said. "He understands first hand what it's like to be a 21- or 22-year-old in college, and kind of what goes on. It's good for off-the-field stuff. He's easy to relate to."

There's been plenty of speculation about what the switch from Chow to Johnson will mean. Johnson ran a spread-option when he was the Utes QB from 2005-2008, which Chow changed to a pro-style attack during his one-year tenure before becoming Hawaii's coach. While Wynn expects some tweaks — here's a guess that Johnson got the job partly because his suggestions of tweaks intrigued head coach Kyle Whittingham — he doesn't expect dramatic changes.

Read: Him running an option.

"I don't think it's going to be too much different," Wynn said. "He's tweaking stuff here and there, but we're going to keep somewhat of a pro-style system. ... I'm not really known as a runner. To this point, there really aren't any designed runs for me in the offense. I would imagine there probably won't be. But we'll see."

Wynn said both shoulders "feel great." He said he's been working out since December and throwing at 100 percent since January. He also said the frustrations of the past two years have helped him grow.

And, yeah, he's looked around. He sees the pieces coming back on both sides of the ball. This is a talented team with plenty of experience. The idea that his health is the critical cornerstone is not something he embraces or says himself, but he's aware that more than a few folks already are putting it atop their analysis of the Utes in 2012.

"If people want to say it lies on me, that's fine, he said. "If you look at any great college team, they usually have great quarterback play."

It's fair to say that speculating on potential endgames in 2012 for the Utes gets far more optimistic if Wynn starts all 12 games.

Opening the mailbag: Sark's hotseat?

February, 3, 2012
Happy Friday. Welcome to the post-signing day mailbag.

I arranged these questions in front of me like hats, then picked them.

If you wish to follow me on Twitter, which you most certainly should, then go here and follow the directions.

To the notes.

Pheezie from Nor Cal writes: Reflecting on the moves and news of the last few weeks in the conference, [Washington coach Steve Sarkisian] program raids now seem to smack loudly of desperation. While you could view them as savvy, it seems to put the impetus on winning, like now. I don't think you can count on raiding other schools' top recruiters every single year and hoping they flip enough guys -- especially at the prices they're paying. At what point does Udub admin sour on Sark's antics? I know a lot depends on wins, but, is Sark on the #1 P12 hot seat heading into the 2012 season? And what is his magic win number to beat the heat?

Ted Miller: Sarkisian is not only not on the Pac-12's hottest seat, his seat isn't even warm.

It's fair to say, however, that Sarkisian made a mistake when he hired Nick Holt, his good friend and former colleague at USC, as his defensive coordinator. At the time, Sarkisian sold it as a home run hire, which was justification for the Holt's exorbitant $650,000 salary.

It wasn't. So that is on Sark.

But there is nothing desperate about hiring Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau away from California, or Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon away from Tennessee, or Keith Heyward away from Oregon State. I call that savvy without reservation. Those are good coaches and good recruiters. Further, beyond the respect all those guys command, Sarkisian immediately generated some positive momentum for his program after a lackluster finish to the season.

As for winning "like now," well, welcome to the world of big-time college coaching. Every AQ program needs to win "like now." You mention a hot seat. Sarkisian isn't on one, but if the Huskies post a losing season in 2012, his seat would certainly warm up in 2013. That's the nature of the business. But I don't think that's going to happen. I see a program with a clear upward trajectory.

Wilcox is one of the bright young coordinators in the country, a guy who is headed for an A-list head coaching job, perhaps within the next five years. Lupoi is widely regarded as one of the nation's best recruiters. Those hires are about right now but they are more about rebuilding Washington into an elite, top-25 program.

Wilcox should yield immediate help on defense. I'd be shocked if the Huskies give up 33.3 points and 426.3 yards per game next fall. And while Lupoi perked up recruiting this go-around -- hello Shaq Thompson! -- he should be an even greater asset in 2012.

But, of course, my typing it doesn't make it so. Sarkisian, just like any other coach, needs to produce. What I am merely saying is the Pac-12 blog is still putting a "buy rating" on the Huskies.

Will from Norfolk, Va., writes: What do you think about Rich Rodriguez's unimpressive recruiting class for Arizona? Do you think it'll get better next year?

Ted Miller: I think: 1. It's probably better than it's being rated; 2. Absolutely, things will get better. And, by the way, if Arizona inks Davonte Neal that one signature would make Rodriguez's first class a success. He's a guy who could provide immediate help on either side of the ball.

One thing that might have hurt Arizona's short-term recruiting success is Rodriguez hired a staff with very little West Coast recruiting experience (other than retaining respected O-line coach Robert Anae). Don't take that wrong: As you know, the Pac-12 blog has repeatedly said that new coaches need to hire their guys -- guys they know and trust. Rodriguez learned that at Michigan when he couldn't lure defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia, as he did for Arizona.

It's best to view this class as a "getting-to-know-you" effort. Sure, Wildcats fans would have loved if Rodriguez reeled in some big names based on his big name. But his recruiting track record is strong. Just look how successful Michigan was this season with his recruits.

Of course, Wildcats fans also have a right to expect Rodriguez and his staff to land a higher rated class in 2013.

Brent from Salt Lake City writes: A little shocked by the Brian Johnson hire at the U. Can you make me feel better about the prospect of a 25 year old OC?

Ted Miller: Of course, it's a risk. Johnson, who doesn't turn 25 until Feb. 16, has only been a full-time assistant coach -- quarterbacks -- since 2010. When you see a want ad, just about every one requires a certain amount of experience. Why? Because it means you'll know the ins and outs of said job. You'll have already seen -- and overcome -- the myriad challenges a job presents. There is no way around it: Johnson lacks experience. He hasn't seen a lot as a coach. Further, you could argue that Utah hasn't exactly been lights out at quarterback since he took over the position.

Again, a risk.

That said: What successful person doesn't take risks? As they say: High risk, high reward. That's what Johnson represents.

You need reassurance, Brent? Let me introduce you to someone. His name is Kyle Whittingham. He's your highly successful coach. He made a former BYU fullback your defensive coordinator in 2009. What do you think about Kalani Sitake now?

The obvious read on this is Whittingham sees something in Johnson. When he interviewed Johnson about the job, Johnson wowed him. Whittingham's spidey senses started to tingle. My guess is Whittingham is a believer in his instincts. And he went with his instincts.

Understand: This is not a move that would be made by a coach with questionable job security. If the Utes offense falters next fall -- it wasn't exactly the cat's meow in 2011 under the venerable Norm Chow, by the way -- Whittingham won't get fired over it. He can afford to take a big risk and hope for a big reward down the road.

Shane from Fort Lewis, Wash., writes: How is Washington State truly going to do next year? Is Mike Leach the real answer to get us back in the top 10? Last question; when will WSU be back in a RoseBCS bowl game?

Ted Miller: Shane wants answers!

1. Washington State is going to go 7-5 next year; 2. Yes; 3. The Cougars will play in the 2016 Rose Bowl.

I think Leach will produce immediate results. I think the Cougars will be a bowl team in 2012. How much of a "bowl" team depends on the defense stepping up.

As for the Rose Bowl and top-10, that could take some time. And some savvy recruiting. But Washington State has been to two Rose Bowls since 1997, and Leach produced top-10 teams at a Washington State-like program (Texas Tech). It's entirely reasonable to believe the marriage will yield success.

I'm in the process or reading Leach's book, "Swing Your Sword." Here's something of note. Leach, who never played college football and went to law school before he swerved into coaching, had to work his way up through the coaching ranks, starting at the very bottom of the bottom. Here is Leach recalling his time with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan.
In these sorts of situations, it's easy to fixate on how the other team has better resources than you do. But it's more important to concentrate on maximizing your own resources instead of worrying about things you can't control. It's a challenge, obviously, because the stronger and faster the other team is, the better they can minimize damage and the better their chances of popping open a big play. Regardless, you just can't spend a lot of time dwelling on what you don't have. Instead, you think about the areas you need to fortify and find your opponent's weaknesses so you can direct your attack.

Leach's coaching strength is doing more with less, with outsmarting more talented foes. That means Cougars teams with five-win talent, win six or seven games. And Cougars with seven-win talent win nine or 10.

Alex from Las Vegas writes: So USC was limited to 15 signings but only got 12. What happens to the balance? Does USC lose them or do theyet to apply those 3 next year?

Ted Miller: I could answer this, but Michael Lev of the Orange County Register did such a good job today that, well, I'm going to steal from him.

The short answer: Signing 12 works in USC's favor. The Trojans are presently at 77 scholarships, according to Lev, which means two players will need to be shaved in order to be in line with NCAA sanctions, which mandate that USC can't have more than 75 scholarship players over each of the next three seasons. That will be easy to hit with natural attrition.

Further, Lev points this out:
As things stand now, Kiffin and his staff can bring in three midyear enrollees next winter. Add those to the 15 signees allowed next February, and you’ve got a total of 18.

That’s a meaningful number.

According to the’s database, USC signed an average of 18 players from 2007-10, with a high of 19 (2008) and a low of 17 (2010). So this year’s total of 17 and next year’s projected total of 18 are hardly out of the ordinary.

What we're starting to see is that coach Lane Kiffin has a plan to manage the scholarship reductions, and it just might work out. There's no way around being down 10 scholarships each year. It limits options and makes a team more vulnerable to injuries due to depth issues. But if the Trojans stay healthy, and touted recruits pan out, they might just be able to weather the next three years pretty well, despite sanctions.

Mister Kilmister from Front Range, Colo., writes: Ted. You seem like a nice guy. You've done well trying to include CU and Utah into the mix. We're trying out best to fit in with our new conference. We want things to go well. But if you ever call us part of the West Coast again I swear to God I will put a cutout of Ubben's head on a stick and wave it in front of you anytime you set foot in our state. I hope we don't have to go over this again.

Ted Miller: You mean you'll make me younger and better looking?

As new members of the Pac-12, and as a school with a lot of students from California, you guys are a little West Coast-y, aren't you? I'm in landlocked Arizona -- no coast to be seen -- and I'm West Coast-y.

Or do you Utah and Colorado folks insist on being mountain folk even as you settle into the Pac-12?

D from Oakland writes: Got to tell you Ted. I frequent your blog less and less these day. Primarily because the discussion has been overrun by [people D doesn't like in the comments sections]. I know its not your fault and there may be no way to reign in these losers but it makes for a [not fun] lunchtime read. I now go elsewhere for my college football lunchtime fix.

Ted Miller: D, you do realize you can read my wonderful posts -- each and every one, over and over and over -- without reading the comments section? There is no rule that you have to trade barbs in the dark netherworld of the blog comments section.

Jeffrey from Flagstaff, Ariz., writes: For the sake of offseason humor, can you please refer to the upcoming Cal-UW match as the "Raise Bowl."

Ted Miller: "Raise Bowl" is good. We definitely have to figure out a good, snarky name for Washington's visit to California on Nov. 2.


The Welcome Back &%$##@ Bowl!