Pac-12: Oakland Raiders

While quarterback competitions are typically front-and-center during Pac-12 spring practices, there are always other interesting spring storylines.

Here are two.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Harry How/Getty ImagesUSC coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with several new assistants, a new defensive scheme, and uncertainty at quarterback.
Ted Miller: It was a horrible, no-good, rotten, very bad 2012 season for USC coach Lane Kiffin. And the 2012-13 offseason has been no picnic either. Some Trojans fans wanted Kiffin fired. Just about all were frustrated. Justifiably so, by the way.

Lane: Welcome to spring, the season for rebirth! Time to turn the page. Or, perhaps, pick up an entirely new book.

At the very least, the situation at USC is interesting. One of the nation's premier programs is front-and-center for many of the wrong reasons, but there is enough talent on hand for Kiffin to turn things around and shut up his critics.

Interesting plot lines? Kiffin will be breaking in four new assistant coaches, including a pair of new coordinators, his defense will be transitioning from a 4-3 base to a 3-4, and he's looking for a new quarterback for the first time in his tenure.

There's a lot going on. Lots of questions. Lots of doubt, too. Yet negative momentum isn't irreversible.

What if the Trojans have an exceptional spring?

What if Clancy Pendergast shakes things up and, suddenly, the defensive guys are playing hard and fast in a sound scheme they understand? And what if the offense, nonetheless, makes plenty of plays because the quarterbacks are sharp and the line is manning up? What if the fitness level of the Trojans improves? What if offensive tackle Aundrey Walker breaks through, realizing his future NFL contract will be based on performance, not measurables? What if Devon Kennard proves a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as we believe he is? What if guys like Marqise Lee, Hayes Pullard, Silas Redd, Dion Bailey and Kevin Graf step up as leaders? What if receivers George Farmer and Victor Blackwell decide they don't want to be left in the dust behind Lee and Nelson Agholor? What if running back Tre Madden says, "Hey, remember me?"

What if Kiffin simultaneously refocuses and relaxes? What if he uses his capable brain to be smart, not a smart aleck, to be creative, not sneaky? What if he realizes the media is not an enemy, but just a bunch of folks trying to do their job whom he should humor with vague though sometimes amusing answers?

There are a lot of "What ifs?" with USC and Kiffin. It's not difficult, by the way, to talk yourself into believing a bounce-back is entirely possible.

That's what is interesting. Kiffin 2.0 was 2010 and 2011, when he seemed to find his rhythm as a coach after controversial stints with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers. Kiffin 3.0, was 2012, a complete face-plant.

This spring presents us with Kiffin 4.0. It could prove to be the most important transition of his career as a head coach.

And that is interesting.

Kevin Gemmell: Besides quarterback battles -- which I think are always the most exciting position battles there are -- I'm most curious to see how the running back battle is going to play out at Stanford.

When you look at a Stanford squad that is very heavy on upperclassmen -- on both sides of the ball -- you have to wonder if all of the pieces are in place for Stanford to make a legitimate run at the national championship.

I wasn't sure before, but with the addition of Tyler Gaffney to the running back corps, I'm warming up to the idea that the Cardinal could challenge any team in the country for a BCS championship -- if they can get out of their own conference (or division for that matter) -- which anyone will tell you is no easy task.

It's no surprise that Stanford's primary offensive weapon is the quarterback. Not because of what he does with his arm -- but because of what he does when he goes under center -- checking out of bad plays and putting the offense in the best possible play against the defense shown. This allows running backs to flourish. Andrew Luck was phenomenal at it. Kevin Hogan should get better.

So, when Hogan turns to handoff on power right or power left, who is going to be the primary ball carrier? Anthony Wilkerson has shown bursts and outstanding top-end speed. But injuries have slowed him, and playing behind Stepfan Taylor the past few years didn't allow him to really break out following his strong true freshman season. Gaffney is a rock and hard to bring down. He's the kind of guy who could carry the ball 10 times for 4.5 yards a pop.

Barry Sanders is an interesting X-factor. He obviously was a high-profile recruit because of his name -- but beyond that, he's supposedly a pretty darn good back. Maybe he ends up winning the job and can be a 15-carry type of guy.

Then you have Ricky Seale, a shifty runner with great vision who has been trapped at the bottom of the depth chart, but continues to receive praise from David Shaw. Remound Wright and hybrid Kelsey Young are also in the mix.

Whoever is Shaw's go-to back, he'll have the benefit of running behind an outstanding offensive line that is only going to get better with David Yankey -- an All-American and last year's Morris Trophy winner -- moving back to his natural position at guard. And Shaw has said he plans to keep Ryan Hewitt at fullback -- giving the running backs a cadre of blockers that rivals any other in the country.

By season's end, this could be your national championship team. The question is, which back will carry it there?
There are a couple of ways to look at USC coach Lane Kiffin's decision to drop out of the coaches' poll.

First, he's taking his ball and going home in a fit of pique. Second, USA Today's gotcha moment in the name of the "poll's integrity" -- insert canned laughter there -- inspired him to drop one more frustration from his life and focus on his team.

It's probably a little of both.

The bottom line is a negative for Kiffin. There was no reason to fib, to tell reporters he wouldn't vote his team No. 1 when he did. And his explanation afterward that he was speaking about other voters, not himself, when he was saying he wouldn't vote the Trojans No. 1 smacked of a guy with a razor blade and a shaky hand going after a strand of hair.

Kiffin's reputation, terrible after controversial tenures with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers, has experienced a renaissance this past year. And for good reason. He let his coaching and recruiting do most of his talking and the message that started to emerge was he was good at both. Further, those of us who've had a scattering of moments with him when he lets his guard down have experienced a guy who is insightful and pretty darn amusing.

This truly is a tempest in a teapot. While, if you are keeping score at home, this is a blip in the "Rehabilitated Kiffin" narrative. Kiffin haters, as frustrated and neutered a group of gadflies as you could find of late, now can again smear themselves with goat's blood and dance around their bonfires. So enjoy this 23 seconds in the news cycle.

On the other hand, some USC fans are going overboard with their conspiracy theories. Some seem to believe Kiffin was outed just because he's Lane Kiffin. While it is possible that a lesser-known coach's random comments wouldn't have registered, there is a precedent for USA Today's gotcha moment on Kiffin's dissembling. The same thing happened to former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel in 2006. And, yes, Ohio State completed a series of PR backflips to try to take the heat off Tressel.

This moment could have been avoided if Kiffin had just refused to say which team he voted No. 1 because his vote is -- was -- confidential. Or he could have said he voted his team No. 1, which would have been fine because his team very well might be the best in the land.

But since USA Today has gravely reiterated its so-serious task of protecting the coaches' poll integrity, perhaps it should actually take that job seriously by insisting the poll be transparent, with each voter's ballot published every week, as the AP poll does. We are talking about a news organization, not a "Hide Important Information From the Public" organization. The argument that coaches need confidentiality is devoid of merit. You win an argument over that point with a simple, "No, that's wrong. Hush."

Further, it should be more aggressive in policing voters whose ballots fail the integrity test. As the Pac-12 blog once pointed out, for years Howard Schnellenberger's ballot was often clueless and indefensible. Someone should have tracked down Schnellenberger and simply told him to re-vote or be kicked out of the poll.

Here's a guess that confidentiality has allowed more than a handful of coaches to vote in a way that is obviously self-interested and disingenuous. That is a far more serious issue than Lane Kiffin saying he didn't vote his team No. 1 when he did.

Quick coaching updates

February, 8, 2012
Coaches are in, coaches are out. That's the way things go.

Stanford is the only Pac-12 team still looking for a coordinator. Co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is off to the NFL to run the Oakland Raiders defense. He'll be joined in Oakland by USC receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who did a great job with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee this past season.

USC coach Lane Kiffin needs to replace three assistant coaches: LBs coach Joe Barry was hired by the San Diego Chargers, and Kiffin still hasn't hired a full-time secondary coach since Willie Mack Garza resigned just before the 2011 season began.

Meanwhile, Oregon State may be on the cusp of filling a vacancy in the secondary after Keith Heyward bolted for Washington. The Corvallis Gazette and reported that the deal is nearly done with former Indianapolis Colts assistant coach Rod Perry.

And, of course, there are four new coaching staffs at Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State, while Washington, Utah and California made significant changes.

Colorado and Oregon, in fact, are the only two programs that haven't made any staff changes.

Can Kiffin coach? Maybe the answer is yes

November, 21, 2011
If Lane Kiffin keeps this up, he's in danger of becoming "coach Lane Kiffin," not "Lane @#%$@ Kiffin" or "%&@# Kiffin" or just "@#$%@," for short.

You say "Lane Kiffin" to a college football fan -- a football fan, really -- and you get many reactions. Most of the bad. Dude has some baggage. He's best known for off-field controversies in large part because he's not done much -- good or even bad -- on the field.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesAfter another big road win, it's time to state the obvious -- Lane Kiffin is a very good football coach.
Off the field? Well, take your pick of controversies. Kiffin was involved in a coup at USC that led to legendary offensive coordinator Norm Chow getting pushed aside. Kiffin fell afoul of team owner Al Davis as the Oakland Raiders coach and was fired after 20 games. At Tennessee, he trashed talked most of the league, infuriating commissioner Mike Slive, got in trouble with the NCAA and bolted after just a single season for USC.

This is old news, of course. And Kiffin has mostly behaved and avoided controversy at USC.

But we were left with an important question: Can he coach?

An 8-5 finish in 2010 didn't reveal much. It was adequate but hardly impressive. A 7-3 start was greeted by mostly positive reviews, then he lost consecutive games to Notre Dame and Oregon State.

So that was the question in 2011. Hate Kiffin. Love Kiffin. But, again, can he coach?

The 38-35 win at Oregon on Saturday hinted that, yes, he can. That he might be growing into the job. That he's matured as a leader and motivator. At 9-2 and ranked 10th in the AP Poll as well as the Power Rankings, he's a win over rival UCLA away from what would unquestionably be considered a successful season: a "true" South Division championship, 10 wins, a top-10 ranking, a win over top-five team (Oregon) and wins over rivals Notre Dame and UCLA.

There's always been some substance to the Kiffin dislike, even beyond the off-field issues. For one, more than a few folks saw him as born with a silver coaching spoon in his mouth, a guy had successfully conned his way into big-time jobs before he deserved them or was ready.

When he got hired at USC in 2001, three years after graduating Fresno State, he'd never been a position coach -- anywhere. He got the job because his dad, Monte Kiffin, was Pete Carroll's defensive mentor. Four years after arriving, Chow was pushed aside for him -- just in time for Kiffin to coach the 2005 Trojans, one of the most talented offenses in college football history. After two seasons, at age 31, he was hired by the Raiders.

When that didn't work out he immediately got hired by Tennessee, an SEC power. One year later, he took over USC, among the top-five programs in the nation. All that after going 5-15 (Raiders) and 7-6 (Tennessee).

The point is there wasn't much you could finger to justify why so many seemingly smart people kept hiring Kiffin.

Until Saturday in Eugene, though the performance at Notre Dame in a 31-17 win was pretty darn good, too.

The Trojans had effective plans on both sides of the ball against the Ducks, which got them a 38-14 lead. Sure, Oregon stormed back but Oregon does that. And, sure, if that 37-yard field goal to tie the game on the final play of regulation had been good, most money would have been on the Ducks in overtime.

Details and what might have beens. The W is what matters.

With no hope for a conference or national title or even the postseason, Kiffin has the Trojans playing their best football. They started slowly against a weak schedule but have steadily improved. He's kept the team motivated and focused, even though he's got plenty of underclassmen eyeballing the NFL.

Now, of course, comes the tough part: Losing 30 scholarships over three years will challenge the Trojans as they try to remain competitive at the top of the conference. We'll see how Kiffin and USC weather circumstances that would try Bear Bryant.

Still, Kiffin has started to push back against his critics with evidence of his skill. All the snarking about his past is backgrounded by his present, by what he created last weekend and this season.

But, Lane, make sure you take care of UCLA on Saturday. Don't make me come back next week with a "Never Mind."

Kiffin on Al Davis death

October, 8, 2011
A statement from USC coach Lane Kiffin, who was the Oakland Raiders coach from 2007-08, on the passing of Al Davis.
I was very saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Al Davis. He was an iconic figure in the history of professional football and built a truly legendary franchise with the Raiders. I consider myself fortunate to have known him and to have been a part of that Raiders history. Even though our relationship did not end the way I would have liked, I have nothing but the greatest respect for Mr. Davis and I truly appreciate the opportunity he afforded me and so many young coaches, players and staff. My thoughts go out to his family and to the family and fans of the Raiders past and present.

Best case-worst case: Washington

August, 24, 2011
Seventh in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last season's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Washington

Best case

It wasn't an impressive 2-0 start, but the hope among Huskies fans was that Washington had kept a lot of scheme under wraps during wins over Eastern Washington and Hawaii. Most believe the Huskies will need to open up a bag of tricks to put on a respectable show against a motivated Nebraska team in Lincoln.

"I'm not taking anything away from Washington," Cornhuskers All-American defensive tackle Jared Crick said. "They beat us in the Holiday Bowl. But we weren't there emotionally. That's out fault, though. We'll be 100 percent focused when in Memorial Stadium. We expect to make a statement."

On the Huskies first play of the game, they try a flea flicker. Keith Price just misses the a wide-open Jermaine Kearse, who'd slipped behind the Cornhuskers coverage.

On second down, Chris Polk rushes for four yards. On third down, Polk rushes for six yards. On first down, Polk rushes for six yards. On second down, Polk rushes for six yards. On first down, Polk rushes for eight yards. On second down, he rushes for two yards. On first down, he rushes for one yard. On second down, he rushes for 16 yards. On first down, he rushes for four yards. On second down, he rushes for four yards. On third down, he rushes for four yards.

On first down, Polk rushes ... no, it's play action: 19-yard touchdown strike from Price to true freshman Kasen Williams.

"That was a physically dominant showing that I don't think many saw coming," ESPN GameDay's Chris Fowler says of the Huskies 28-10 victory. "Polk rushing for 194 yards and two touchdowns. Price taking advantage with a couple of touchdown passes. And a bruising defensive showing on the road for a Pac-12 team."

"Did Alameda Ta'amu really eat Taylor Martinez?" Kirk Herbstreit replies. "I know that start out as just a silly rumor, but I'm hearing no one has seen Martinez since that third-quarter sack."

Martinez is later found safe in an airport bathroom in Lincoln.

The Huskies nip California 24-21 and rise to No. 12 in the rankings. But Price turns in his first poor performance at Utah in a 21-17 defeat, despite 140 yards and a touchdown from Polk. The Huskies bounce back with a home win over Colorado. Up next, a visit to No. 3 Stanford.

"Obviously, Andrew Luck is the leading Heisman Trophy candidate," says Fowler. "But what if Polk puts up a big number in a Huskies victory?"

Polk strikes an early blow, with first-half touchdown runs of seven and 28 yards, and the Huskies lead 14-10 at the break. Luck answers with two touchdowns in the third -- one running and one throwing -- and the score is knotted 24-24 with two minutes left in the game.

On a third-and-five from the Huskies 28, Luck scrambles away from pressure and finds tight end Coby Fleener wide-open in the endzone for a 31-24 lead. The Huskies have 40 seconds and one time out.

On third and 5 from the Washington 40, Price finds Polk on a hot route. Polk breaks a tackle and breaks away, sprinting all the way to the Stanford 17. Price lines up and spikes the ball.

There are eight seconds left. Price evades pressure, then shovels it again to Polk.

"Polk across the 10, to the five, breaks a tackle... dives... tttt... nooo," says Huskies play-by-play man Bob Rondeau. "He's ruled down inside the 1-yard line. Wow. The clock has expired. Unless the officials rule Polk got in, the game is over and Stanford wins."

Play stands.

"Chris Polk is the best player in college football," Luck says.

The Huskies take out their frustrations in a 35-20 win over Arizona, sacking Nick Foles five times. Up next, No. 1 Oregon.

"Yeah, I'm aware Oregon has won seven in a row against us, all by at least 20 points," Polk tells reporters. "I know this because Coach Sark has that factoid typed up and taped in all of our lockers."

Headline in the Eugene Register-Guard: "Will the Ducks overlook the Huskies?"

"We don't overlook anybody," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says. "We play a faceless opponent every week. Every game is a Super Bowl for us. We are not concerned with any outside influences. We have a vision for what this football program is supposed to be about and we prepare against that vision. We compete against that vision every Saturday and that's how we measure ourselves. Win the day."

Coach Steve Sarkisian gathers his team in the locker room. Above, Husky Stadium is throbbing.

"I don't need to tell you guys to play your hardest. I know you're going to do that. I don't need to tell you about this rivalry, or what that team over there has done against the Huskies for the past seven years. Sure you all know that. That's not what this is about. That's not why we're about to shock the nation. This is about us. What I want from you guys is to live in the moment tonight. I want you soak up every bit of joy from every moment of this game tonight. And I want you to take it from them. We have the players. We have the plan. We have prepared perfectly. It's going to be a lot of fun celebrating this victory, but our celebration won't be nearly as fun what will happen between the white lines, as we take this game from them, one play at a time. Go out there and take it, one play at time."

Oregon leads 28-24 with nine minutes left. A Jackson Rice punt rolls out of bounds on the Huskies 1-yard line.

On first down, Polk rushes for three yards. On second down, Polk rushes for eight yards. On first down, Polk rushes for four yards...

"Wow, this is tough to watch," Oregon play-by-play man Jerry Allen says. "16 plays, all Chris Polk runs. He's over 200 yards for the day, and the Huskies have first down on the Ducks 8-yard line with 40 seconds left."

Polk rushes for three yards. Polk rushes for two yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk scores the winning touchdown as time expires.

"Wow, Chris Polk just ripped the hearts out of Oregon fans everywhere!" says Allen.

The Huskies suffer a classic letdown the following weekend at USC, but roll over Oregon State and Washington State to finish the regular season 9-3 and earn a berth in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State.

Polk finishes second to Luck in the Heisman vote, and wins the Doak Walker Award. The Huskies bury the Cowboys 38-20 and earn a final No. 10 ranking, their first top-25 ranking since 2001.

Oregon is blown out in the national title game by Alabama. Kelly bolts for the Oakland Raiders. The Ducks hire Joe Avezzano to replace him.

Polk opts to return for his senior season. Washington signs the nation's No. 5 recruiting class.

"Gee, I really like this team," says Bill Gates. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Maybe," replies athletic director Scott Woodward.

Worst case

And in the rubber match, Nebraska was plenty motivated.

The Cornhuskers humble Washington 41-10, making Price's day a miserable one with five sacks. It doesn't help that Polk's status remains unclear after arthroscopic knee surgery during preseason camp.

"Things aren't going as fast as we would like," coach Steve Sarkisian says. "He could sure help us but we're not going to rush him back."

The Huskies fall at home to California 21-17, again without Polk, and drop to 2-2 on the year. They lose at Utah in overtime but, with Polk back in the lineup, beat Colorado 27-24.

Things get ugly -- again -- at Stanford, which blasts the Huskies 42-17. The Huskies even their record at 4-4 with a win over Arizona. Up next: No. 1 Oregon.

"Did Chip Kelly run up the score?" a reporter asks after the Ducks whip the Huskies 55-14 in Husky Stadium, their eighth victory in a row in the series, each by at least 20 points.

Sarkisian pauses, "Well, it's our job to stop them. And I guess he thought getting LaMichael James rushing for 300 yards would help his Heisman Trophy chances."

With Polk limited to just 10 carries, USC whips Washington 33-20, intercepting Price three times. Polk sits out, and the Huskies bow out at Oregon State, 28-17.

"No, beating Washington State won't make up for a tough season for us," Sarkisian said. "But there's always a lot to play for in rivalry games. And they're trying to get bowl eligible, so we can ruin their season."

With five seconds left, Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel takes on knee on the Huskies 5-yard line instead of added to a 35-24 victory. Huskies fans at CenturyLink Field bombard the Cougars with bottles and sundry trash as they leave the field.

"That's not who we are," Cougars coach Paul Wulff said. "We have classy fans. I guess the Huskies fans were frustrated. But we're excited about the postseason. What bowl is Washington going to? Kidding! I'm kidding."

Oregon wins the national championship. Washington State wins the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Joshua Garnett, Zach Banner, Jeff Lindquist and Cedric Dozier sign with Washington State, giving the Cougars their first top-25 class.

"Gee, I really like the Cougars," says Bill Gates. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Maybe," replies athletic director Bill Moos.

Best case-worst case: California

August, 18, 2011
Third in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: California

Best case

California fans were giddy well before Zach Maynard completed his 24th consecutive pass against Fresno State in Candlestick Park, but just about everyone wearing blue knew whose revered name had just been knocked from atop the school record book during a 38-17 victory.

"That's true," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "But Maynard runs a lot better than Aaron Rodgers did, so I don't want to compare them."

Colorado was eager to take vengeance for an embarrassing 52-7 loss in Berkeley the year before, but it couldn't stop Maynard and his half-brother Keenan Allen, who caught 11 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-19 victory in Boulder.

After beating the Fighting Blue Hose of Presbyterian 103-4 -- third string centers with bad shotgun snaps! -- the Bears head to Seattle to take on Washington, which has won two consecutive games in the series, the first an embarrassing blowout, the second on a last-second TD that handed Cal a losing record for the first time in nine years under Tedford.

Maynard throws three TD passes, Isi Sofele and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson both eclipse 100 yards rushing and the Bears defense sacks Huskies QB Keith Price four times in a 31-13 drubbing.

"I am struggling with this," types GooooooooooBEARS -- a longtime anti-Tedford gadfly -- in the comments section of the Pac-12 Blog. "For so long, I have been hating on Tedford. But... well. I just need to be alone for a little bit to get back in touch with myself."

A 15,000-word essay appears on the California Golden Blogs -- complete with 15 different charts and graphs -- that claims to mathematically prove that Maynard is the reincarnation of Samuel Adrian "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh.

"It actually pencils out nicely," says Tsit-Yuen Lam, Berkeley Mathematics Professor of the Graduate School Emeritus. "I still think Tedford should go for it on fourth down more often, but that's a topic for another day."

The Bears go nose-to-nose with No. 1 Oregon before falling 24-20, becoming the first team to hold the Ducks below 50 points.

A 55-yard field goal with four seconds left from Giorgia Tavecchio bests USC, 27-24. After a 30-20 win over Utah, the 6-1 Bears move up to 10th in both major polls.

The Old Blues starting thinking Rose Bowl. But those dreams get torn apart during a mistake-laden upset loss at UCLA. Fans consider a bandwagon jump.

"Hey, gang, I recommend keeping a level head," types GooooooooooBEARS. "We love our team. We love our coach. We must have faith and support them. Unite, Blues! We've only begun to fight!"

The Bears pound Washington State and Oregon State, which sets up the Biggest of Big Games against No. 1 Stanford, which is fresh off a victory over previously-No. 1 Oregon.

Tedford walks into a team meeting on Monday. He wordless flips on cut-ups of the 2010 Big Game, which featured Cal picking a pre-game fight then showing no fight while the Cardinal bludgeoned the Bears 48-14, Stanford's most lopsided win in the rivalry in 80 years. He shows QB Andrew Luck running over safety Sean Cattouse. He shows a post-game interview of then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh: "Our guys really kept their cool and I think that was a big difference today. They kept their poise. I don't like that kind of football where you try and talk and intimidate. ... Just play football. Shut up and play football."

Tedford then turns to his team: "Shut up and play football."

Cal upsets the Cardinal 35-27, with Cattouse sealing the deal with an 87-yard interception return of a Luck pass.

The Bears nip Arizona State to finish the regular season 10-2. They then whip Texas 45-3 in the Alamo Bowl. Cal fans spend most of the game, which was decided by halftime, serenading Longhorns coach Mack Brown, who in 2004 talked his team into the Rose Bowl over a more deserving Cal squad.

Cal earns a final No. 9 ranking.

Wisconsin blows out Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and immediately thereafter offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro as well as linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas opt to join Luck in the NFL draft a year early. Coach David Shaw steps down to pursue a career on Wall Street, and athletic director Bob Bowlsby brings back Walt Harris, "to take care of unfinished business."

Worst case

Zach Maynard was brilliant for three quarters. Then, early in the fourth against Fresno State, he falls awkwardly out of bounds.

Cal wins 28-20, but Maynard suffers what is notoriously called a "high ankle sprain."

Brock Mansion gets the start at Colorado, and the Buffaloes get their revenge for their 2010 beatdown in Berkeley, beating the Bears 24-21.

After pounding Presbyterian, Cal falls 28-20 at Washington.

"I think we'll get Zach back after the bye week at Oregon," says a hopeful Jeff Tedford.

Maynard does return at Autzen Stadium, but he's sacked six times and is noticeably limping in the fourth quarter. He also throws two interceptions.

With Mansion back under center for Cal, USC rolls over the Bears inside half-empty AT&T Park. At 2-4, things start to get tense in Berkeley.

"Is it just me, or are things tense in Berkeley?" a one sentence post on the California Golden Blogs queries.

Tedford opts to start Allan Bridgford against Utah, and Bridgford is solid in a 28-24 victory. He then leads the Bears to a win at UCLA, which evens their record at 4-4, but he gets hurt in the second quarter against Washington State. Maynard comes off the bench but isn't sharp. The Cougars prevail on a late Jeff Tuel TD pass.

The first "Cal needs to fire Tedford" column appears in the San Jose Mercury News. The column says, "Tedford led the Bears back from oblivion, but then he hit a plateau. Instead of rising above that plateau, the program has redirected to another unhappy valley. Credit Tedford for what he accomplished but he must be held accountable for what he hasn't. Not only has he failed to maintain a winning program, he now has led it back to losing."

Tedford refuses to engage the topic, but his players rally around him and beat Oregon State 20-17, kicker Giorgio Tavecchio giving Tedford the game ball after he kicked a late winning field goal.

But that rally doesn't last through the Big Game. David Shaw, coach of unbeaten, top-ranked Stanford, perhaps showing a bit more mercy than his predecessor, yanks his starters early in the fourth quarter of a 38-10 victory.

The Bears, with Maynard at quarterback and still needing just one win to earn bowl eligibility, play with surprising verve at Arizona State. But they fall 24-20

"It's not Coach Tedford's fault," receiver Keenan Allen says after a second-consecutive 5-7 finish. "Players win or lose games. And if we'd had Zach healthy the entire season, we'd have won a lot more games and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

But too many Cal fans have turned against Tedford. Athletic director Sandy Barbour announces that "with great regret" she is terminating him.

Tedford sits out a year before being hired by the Oakland Raiders, whom he leads to a victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Stanford wins the national championship, whipping Alabama 41-10.

"What the heck -- I'm coming back!" announces quarterback Andrew Luck, which inspires every Cardinal to do the same and not leave early for the NFL draft.

Barbour hires Eugene F. Teevens III -- most know him as "Buddy" -- to replace Tedford. "I thought he was so close to doing some good things at Stanford," Barbour explains.

New Pac-12 coaches

August, 11, 2011
A quick look at the two new coaches in the Pac-12: Colorado's Jon Embree and Stanford's David Shaw.

Embree and Shaw share some similarities. Both are first-time head coaches. Both played for the program they now coach. Both coached in the NFL. Both say they want to retire in their present job instead of climbing the coaching ladder. And, yes, both are black, the fourth and fifth black head football coaches in conference -- Pac-8 to Pac-10 to Pac-12 -- history.

Here's a quick look at the new guys.

Jon Embree, Colorado

Replaces? Dan Hawkins, who never posted a winning season in five years in Boulder.

Where was Embree last year? He was the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins.

What's he bring to the table that's different? Embree is a hardnosed old school coach -- Hawkins was decidedly new school -- who is from the area and played for Colorado under the revered Bill McCartney. He's spent 10 of his 18 seasons in coaching at Colorado, working from 1993-2002 as a Buffs assistant under three different head coaches: Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002). He has repeatedly said that Colorado is his dream job, not a stepping stone. His singular focus is restoring a program that was once a national power.

What else? Embree, 45, is the first black head football coach at Colorado and the fourth black head coach in Pac-12 history (Stanford's Dennis Green (1989-91), Stanford's Tyrone Willingham (1995-2001), UCLA's Karl Dorrell (2003-07) and Willingham at Washington (2004-08). Shaw became the fifth in January)... Embree earned a communications degree from Colorado in 1988... He was a member of McCartney's first recruiting class... In 1984, he earned first-team All-Big 8 honors and set school single-season records for receptions (51) and receiving yards (680)... He was a sixth-round selection by the Los Angeles Rams in 1987. He played two seasons with the Rams before suffering a career-ending elbow injury in 1989 while a member of the Seattle Seahawks... His original plan after the NFL was to get into TV news, but he took a job as a volunteer assistant with McCartney and was immediately bitten by the coaching bug... He is married to the former Natalyn Grubb and they have three children, a daughter and two sons. Eldest son Taylor, is a receiver at UCLA, while Connor is a receiver at UNLV.

David Shaw, Stanford

Replaces: Jim Harbaugh, who rebuilt the program into a national power before being hired away by the San Francisco 49ers.

Where was Shaw last year: He was Stanford's offensive coordinator.

What's he bring to the table that's different: Where Harbaugh was boisterous, often eccentric and sometimes prickly, Shaw is mellow, polished and accommodating. That said, he's repeatedly insisted that doesn't mean the competitive fire doesn't burn just as hot. He certainly knows Stanford. His father coached there and he's a 1984 graduate. He returned to Stanford in 2007 when Harbaugh arrived -- they were together at San Diego -- so he's seen the Cardinal renaissance firsthand. And, just like Embree, he says that Stanford is his destination job and that he's not looking to move on or up in the coaching profession.

What else? Shaw is the fifth Stanford alum to become head football coach, joining Charles Fickert (1901), Carl Clemans (1902), Chuck Taylor (1951-57) and Paul Wiggin (1980-83)... He was a member of Stanford's 1991 Aloha Bowl team coached by Dennis Green that finished 8-4. He was also on the Cardinal's 1992 Blockbuster Bowl-winning squad coached by Bill Walsh that went 10-3. He finished his Stanford career with 57 receptions for 664 yards and five touchdowns... He started his coaching career in 1995 at Western Washington. He's also coached for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens... He's coached quarterbacks, receivers and running backs in his career... Shaw's offense ranked ninth in the nation in scoring last fall (40.3 ppg) and it amassed a school-record 6,142 yards, averaging a notably balanced 213.8 on the ground and 258.7 yards through the air... His father, Willie, had two separate coaching stints at Stanford (1974-76; 1989-91) during his 33-year coaching career, which was mostly spent in the NFL... His bachelor's degree from Stanford is in sociology... He was born in San Diego. He and his wife Kori have three children, Keegan, Carter and Gavin.
There are two types of "new" coaches. First, there are new-new coaches, those who are entering their first season with no track record at their present destination, which allows fans to invest in them their wildest hopes and dreams.

Then their are second-year coaches, who have a single season under their belts, a small and typically unrevealing sample size that allows everyone to make premature judgments about said coach's ultimate prospects.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Andy KingAs a head coach Lane Kiffin has gone 5-15 with the Oakland Raiders, 7-6 with the University of Tennessee and 8-5 at USC last fall.
Not many coaches go to a Rose Bowl their first year as head coach, as Oregon's Chip Kelly did. And sometimes fast starts are deceiving about what's ahead, see Arizona State going 10-3 in Dennis Erickson's first season. And did many folks think Iowa's Kirk Ferentz would be around for 13 seasons after he went 1-10 in 1999?

So we have the only second-year coach in the Pac-12: USC's Lane Kiffin.

While Kiffin's name might inspire more than a few folks to immediately spit, particularly those in a certain part of the country where spitting is less frowned upon, that's more about his abrupt departure from Tennessee and his sometimes cocky statements and behavior while he was there -- a side of himself, by the way, he hasn't shown much of of inside Heritage Hall.

As a coach, we only know he went 5-15 with the Oakland Raiders, 7-6 in one season at Tennessee and 8-5 at USC last fall.

What did we learn about Kiffin last season? Well, he's clearly a good recruiter, see another touted class that should help the Trojans better weather harsh NCAA sanctions.

Also, at 4-0 and then 7-3, it seemed as though he'd done a good job of keeping his team focused, even though it didn't have the postseason as a possible reward.

Then the Trojans got blistered at Oregon State and lost at home to a middling Notre Dame team. Sure, quarterback Matt Barkley got hurt in Corvallis, and even then the Trojans would have beaten the Irish if Ronald Johnson hadn't dropped a sure touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Still, "scoreboard," you know?

A loss to UCLA to end the season would have cast a dark shadow over Kiffin's first season, but the Trojans prevailed and then they rolled in recruiting. The momentum at present seems relatively positive.

So what can we say about Kiffin after a year?

It appears he's matured since his brief, bombastic tenure in Knoxville. It seemed like he did a good job working with Barkley, helping him mature as a QB, though the true test of the relationships will be this season, likely Barkley's last before heading to the NFL.

In fact, you could say that his dad, legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, should be more on the hot seat in 2011. The Trojans defense let leads slip away in the fourth quarter and gave up way too many big plays in 2010.

Further complicating an evaluation of Kiffin are the NCAA sanctions, particularly 30-scholarship reduction over the next three years that could be crippling, even for a program of USC's stature.

It would be fair to say that USC, which has the talent to win nine or 10 games this season, needs to live up to reasonable expectations this fall before the real pain sets in for Kiffin to place himself in good standing with athletic director Pat Haden and the Trojans fan base.

If he wins 10 games and the first South Division title, it would be enough of a vindication of his coaching ability that he could survive an inevitable step back over the next three to five years.

But if the Trojans take another step toward mediocrity, it's likely that the honeymoon would abruptly end and he'd find his coaching stool fairly toasty heading into 2012. has been doing a series on great college players who didn't pan out in the NFL -- "Simply Saturday," -- which has featured a number of Pac-10 players, including Washington's Steve Emtman and USC's Matt Leinart.

Interesting stuff.

But's Bruce Feldman, who is always working the angles, decided to take a look at NFL stars with so-so college careers, and his list also includes some Pac-12 guys: USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Oregon State wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and California cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

He ranks Matthews No. 2. Notes Feldman:
No NFL player has better bloodlines than Matthews, but when he was coming up as a recruit he was a wiry, undersized, off-the-radar prospect who reportedly only weighed 166 pounds as a backup LB-TE for Agoura (Calif.) High. Matthews stared to sprout in his senior year, yet still only had one scholarship offer -- from former USC assistant Nick Holt at Idaho.

Sure, Matthews blossomed as a junior and senior. But he never really was seen as the brightest star in the constellation that was the Trojans' 2008 defense.
Still, Oregon's Nick Reed and Oregon State's Victor Butler were the first-team All-Pac-10 defensive ends. Matthews proceeded to wow scouts with his explosiveness and determination. Green Bay drafted the one-time walk-on 26th overall, and he has rewarded them with two spectacular seasons, going to back-to-back Pro Bowls and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while helping lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory.

Ochocinco rates No. 4.
The Miami native didn't spend much time in the Pac-10 -- just one season at Oregon State. The receiver, then known as Chad Johnson, did flash some big-play potential during his time in Corvallis, catching 33 passes for 713 yards. He also flashed a lot of personality on his way to the draft, as you can tell if you read this old Q&A he did with Mel Kiper Jr., who at one point asks: "When all is said and done, how do you want people to remember Chad Johnson?"

Johnson's response: "As a very humble, nice person who had no off-the-field problems."

I'm not sure how many will recall the Cincinnati Bengals star as "humble," but he certainly has produced, notching seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and going to six Pro Bowls. In truth, he'd be even higher on this list, but at 33, he has dipped some in the last three years.

Asomugha is No. 5.
Oakland certainly didn't whiff on this pick. Asomugha has emerged as a true shutdown corner, earning trips to the past three Pro Bowls. He's also as good as they come off the field, winning NFL Man of the Year honors, too.

He had a good but not great career for the Bears, getting chosen as an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick as a senior. Some great individual workouts took a guy who some touted as a fifth-rounder all the way up into the first round when the Raiders selected him 31st overall.

On a personal note, I covered Asomugha's coming-out game: a 34-27 Cal win at Washington in 2002, which ended a 19-game Huskies winning streak in the series. In that game, Cal matched Asomugha, previously a safety, on All-American receiver Reggie Williams. Asomugha's physical style -- read here to see what Williams thought of it -- threw the Huskies' passing game out of sync.

Bet more than a few Cal fans remember that game fondly.

Opening the mailbag: USC got what it deserved

May, 31, 2011
Vacation created a backlog in the mailbag, so I'm going to hit it twice this week.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes.

Frank from Dallas writes: U$C is the biggest cheating school in college football and everyone knows that besides you. Your article was ignorant. U$C got what it deserved. It knew Bush was getting money. He was driving around in a souped up car. U$C is a repeat violator, which you should know is why they got such hard penalties. This was one of the worst cases in NCAA history. You're an idiot.

Ted Miller: May I whine for a moment? I am weary of this subject. This might be the last time I reply to a note about USC, Reggie Bush and the NCAA.

Part of my exhaustion is this: USC critics who celebrate the NCAA's harsh penalties almost uniformly don't know what they are talking about. They don't know the facts of the case. They don't know what is and isn't relevant to the case. They haven't read the relevant documents.

Let's just take one of Frank's assertions: Bush was driving around in a "souped up car."

Wrong. Bush was driving around in a 1996 Impala. The car didn't get dudded up until after Bush declared that he would enter the 2006 NFL draft a year early. Here's the often, er, mis-remembered photo. Note the date. Of course, you can't blame Frank and others. The NCAA infractions committee struggled to keep its facts straight, too.

Look, I know many of you hate USC. I know there are USC-hating blogs out there that have blistered me over my belief the NCAA treated USC unfairly, even though that is a widely held perception among sports writers who actually know the details of the Bush case. I don't mind getting blistered. Just get the details right.

My position on USC and the Reggie Bush case has not changed and is entirely based on my perception of fairness, not some sort of pro-USC bias: USC deserved significant sanctions for major violations, and those penalties should have fallen under the penalties Alabama received in 2002.

There is no conceivable way -- and I'd be glad debate anyone at the NCAA over the matter -- to insist that the widespread, booster pay-for-play scheme uncovered at Alabama shouldn't be considered a worse case than USC-Bush. Just read the USA Today article on the Alabama case.

This is when someone throws out "repeat violator" as a rationale for USC getting worse sanctions. Er, so was Alabama.

(Alabama fans: I am not picking on you. It's just the most relevant, recent case to compare to USC).

Some have suggested that the NCAA wanted to make an example out of USC by handing out game-changing penalties that might act as a deterrent for others. Sorry, I didn't get the memo on that one. If that is, indeed, the case -- that the NCAA took unprecedented measures against one program without formally announcing a policy change -- well, that my friends would be the definition of unfair.

And, by the way, more than a few schools should be worried if that's the case.

As for USC being a big "cheating" school, well, let's just put it this way: List the major football violations the NCAA's four-year investigation uncovered other than Bush getting extra benefits.

Yes, you hear crickets.

"One of the worst cases in NCAA history"? Well, you compare.

I believe USC was treated unfairly by the NCAA. I have yet to read a reasoned account -- from the media or from the NCAA -- that makes a convincing argument otherwise.

Spencer from San Francisco writes: I'm hearing a lot of concern about Cal's chemistry on the offensive line. Shouldn't the return Jim Michalzckzyckyikxzixkxik ease some of these doubts?

Ted Miller: You, of course, mean Jim Michalczik, who shortened his name when he moved from the old country of Port Angeles, Wash.

Cal's offensive line has been disappointing since Michalczik left for Washington (briefly) and then the Oakland Raiders. The first place to point, logically, would be talent. The second, Michalczik's absence. I've consistently heard from people that he's one of the best offensive line coaches out there.

So, yes, I think it's fair for you to ease some doubts about the Bears O-line due to his return.

Andrew from Seattle writes: With the resignation of Jim Tressel, do you think that Mike Bellotti would consider taking a job at Ohio State? Would they be a good fit?

Ted Miller: Bellotti was a serious candidate for the Ohio State job in 2001, when Tressel was hired. Ohio State certainly could do worse than Bellotti. It could make for an interesting Rose Bowl if the Ducks and Buckeyes met again.

But Bellotti turns 61 in December, and keep in mind this is a pending hire for the 2012 season. Ohio State probably wouldn't want a coach at that age who'd have to learn the Big Ten and Big Ten recruiting on the fly. And I doubt Bellotti would want a job that came with significant NCAA sanctions.

So, no, it doesn't seem like a good fit.

If Bellotti is going to coach again -- he's done an outstanding job as an ESPN color guy since leaving Oregon -- it almost certainly would be at West Coast school. Don't be surprised if his name comes up as some Pac-12 hot seats get hotter during the fall.

Joey from Chicago writes: What does Arizona's depth chart look like on offense and defense with all the injuries? Can you name the starters if the season started today?

Ted Miller: Arizona has lost two starters and two backups to ACL injuries since the end of last season: safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer are the starters, and running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley are the backups.

That's certainly not good, but it doesn't exactly send Arizona into disarray. Hall and Fischer are big losses. Hall is a budding star, and Fischer's loss is worrisome because the Wildcats are thin at linebacker. The depth in the secondary is pretty good: Robert Golden moves from cornerback to safety beside Marquis Flowers, which doesn't hurt badly because Trevin Wade, Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson are three quality corners.

Linebacker is a bit more tricky. Two backups from 2010, R.J. Young and Trevor Erno, quit the team before spring practices. Redshirt freshman Kyle Benson is listed as Fischer's backup on the spring depth chart, while walk-on Bilal Muhammed is listed as the backup at the other two spots. It's almost certain that at least one of the touted incoming freshmen -- Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Dominique Petties -- will be immediately in the mix.

Vince from Scottsdale writes: Ted, You forgot to mention that ASU is @22 in Phil Steele's top 30 rankings..... that scorches the butthole Ted.

Ted Miller: Or, just maybe, when I included the link, Phil Steele had only reached No. 17 on his count-up.

You'll note Steele has Stanford at No. 16.

Cody from Okinawa, Japan writes: Just wanted to point out what some Beaver football players and other athletes are up to. Going to Macedonia to build a house for others.

Ted Miller: Good show. Here's the link to a short video on "Beavers Without Borders."

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.

Here's where the Pac-12 players went:

First round
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore

Second round
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England

Third round
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina

Fourth round
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland

Fifth round
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle

Sixth round
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina

Seventh round
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle

By Pac-12 school:
Arizona (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.

This was the tally through three rounds:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

Kiffin ready to be judged for winning

April, 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES -- The nominee for "Worst Person in the World" from the state of Tennessee has been a bit of a letdown on the West Coast. When he wore bright orange, Lane Kiffin was as loud as the Volunteers' uniforms. He was a controversy not waiting to happen. He called people out. He trashed-talked. He immediately started beeping loudly on the NCAA's radar.

But since he arrived in Los Angeles, ascending to what he called his "dream job" at USC, he's been mostly an all-business, old school, grumpy football coach.

"You been bored?" Kiffin quipped. "You were all excited when I got hired here."

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Andy King"If you are worried about what people are writing about you, win games," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Yes and no. Things have been pretty hectic around USC for the past year or so. While reporters often enjoy a little drama, there are limits. Typing fingers do cramp up, after all. The Reggie Bush mess. Pete Carroll leaving. Kiffin getting hired and the ensuing hullabaloo in Knoxville. NCAA sanctions. The comings and goings of scores of players. The comings and goings of athletic directors and school presidents. A five-loss season for a program that had grown accustomed to the number five representing a disappointing final AP ranking. Highly rated recruiting classes, despite sanctions. Tennessee shipping its NCAA problems to Kiffin's new address. A seemingly endless wait for the NCAA to rule on USC's appeal of sanctions.

A notable void, however, has been controversy arising because of Kiffin's conduct at USC. Oh, he took a shot at rival UCLA after signing his 2010 recruiting class, but that was more a tempest in a thimble than a teapot. He sometimes provides assessments of players' shortcomings that can seem too honest. But really, the only big story this spring at USC is injuries. That means there are plenty of stifled yawns by observers at practices. Who saw that coming?

"Sometimes I get people here that actually want to see that brash side," Kiffin said.

Just not many over 21 years old.

On the one hand, that is a good thing. It's possible Kiffin shortly will be judged on substance, on whether he can coach, on whether he can lead the Trojans back to the top of the Pac-12. His oft-noted limited résumé -- a 5-15 record coaching the Oakland Raiders and a 15-11 mark in two college seasons -- reveals little.

What is revealing are five losses a year after the Trojans, in their final season under Carroll, were unceremoniously smacked out of the conference's top spot by Oregon. What is revealing is watching practice and wondering, "Where did all the NFL-looking dudes go?" Just three years ago, USC looked better getting off the bus than any team in the country. No longer. Now they look like just about everyone else.

Part of that is injuries. Twelve members of the two-deep depth chart have practiced little or not at all this spring. The Trojans numbers were already down, which convinced Kiffin to sign a handful of early enrollees, who weren't up to previous standards, just to get more available warm bodies.

Still, there are plenty of old school USC guys, starting with quarterback Matt Barkley and his top target, Robert Woods. They are a potentially dynamic pass-catch combination. Left tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Nick Perry, safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey are going to be playing on Sundays. D-tackle George Uko has been impressive this spring. But there are obvious holes -- for one, the offensive line is perilously thin and unproven -- and the backups don't look like the next generation.

"We got guys running with our twos that weren't even going to play football, but we found them in science class after a tryout," Kiffin said.

A touted recruiting class of 23 arrives in the fall, and many of those freshmen are going to immediately be in the mix for playing time. Toss in the expected return of the injured players, and the reinforcements will total 35.

But will they win? It may be nice that the hyperventilating from critics is trending down, but the bottom line is there is a bottom line, of which Kiffin is well aware: winning.

Kiffin said he feels more comfortable this spring, and it's clear his players share that sentiment. Understand, the transition to Kiffin was challenging for many. Carroll had become an icon at USC. All those five-star players he signed did so in large part to join Carroll's "win forever" cult of personality. Carroll was all about bottomless enthusiasm and optimism. Kiffin is a different bird. For some veteran players, his approach, which often included unvarnished criticism, was tough to take.

"First spring, it was rough with getting guys to buy-in and accept that we didn't have Coach Carroll -- the 'there's a new coach, just deal with it,'" Barkley said. "Some guys were holding back and didn't like the way things were going."

Barkley said Kiffin has loosened up a bit. "Even this year, Coach Kiffin has given in a little bit, making it more fun for us, that competition style we were kind of used to before," Barkley said.

The person at USC who knows Kiffin best waves away the criticism that has dogged him. "It's basically one state," said USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane's pop.

"I know him. I've known him for 35 years. I feel I've got a pretty good feel for him. If I thought he was a smart aleck or wasn't a good head coach, first I wouldn't have gone to Tennessee or I would have taken opportunities to go back to the NFL [instead of going to USC]. They don't know him."

That's fair. An ill-fated tenure working under Al Davis and a single year at an SEC school shouldn't define Lane Kiffin as a coach. And, ultimately, it won't. Kiffin knows what will, though.

"If you are worried about what people are writing about you, win games," he said.

Or else those negative assessments will begin to develop a foundation built on incontrovertible fact.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- California coach Jeff Tedford hears the negative chatter but he's trying not to listen. The operative word there being "trying." He understands why some Golden Bears fans are grumbling, but such talk nonetheless frustrates him.

Tedford rebuilt a lousy program and created a high standard to which Cal fans happily became accustomed. Yet over the past few seasons, he has not consistently met that high standard.

"All of a sudden, you have an eight-win season and it's not good enough," Tedford said. "Then, all of the sudden, you have a [losing season] and it's, 'Wow, what happened here?'"

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAn imposing front seven on defense should help coach Jeff Tedford and Cal be competitive against elite teams in 2012.
Things turned sour in Berkeley in 2010; a 5-7 finish that was Tedford's first losing season (fewer than seven wins) in nine years leading the program. Meanwhile, on the south side of the Bay Area equation, archrival Stanford won a BCS bowl game and appears poised to start 2011 ranked in the top 10. That juxtaposition doesn't sit well with the Old Blues.

It no longer matters where Tedford started, taking over a 1-10 program in 2002 that had won seven or more games just four times in the 24 previous seasons. Forget that from 1978 to 2001 Cal won three or fewer games nine times. Sure, back then a couple of seven-win seasons -- heck, even 5-7 -- would have seemed pretty nice.

No longer.

But it's more than that, Tedford's critics will tell you.

What happened to Tedford, the quarterback guru? Tedford transformed Kyle Boller from a five-star recruiting bust into a first-round NFL draft pick. He then discovered Aaron Rodgers out of nowhere and made him into a first-round pick. Nate Longshore appeared poised to join them after he led the Bears to a 5-0 start and No. 2 national ranking in 2007. But really, since Longshore sprained his ankle during a marquee win at Oregon on Sept. 29, 2007 -- Cal fans just fainted recalling the memory of what happened next -- the Bears haven't benefited from consistent play at quarterback.

It's not just losing, either. It's the nature of the defeats. In Tedford's first seven seasons, the Bears suffered only two defeats by more than two touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, they've lost eight games by 17 or more points and six by 27 or more.

Further, the staff turnover, particularly at offensive coordinator, has been notable. Not including himself, Tedford has gone through four offensive coordinators before arriving at his present, complicated configuration, with offensive line coach Jim Michalczik returning as coordinator, running backs coach Ron Gould set as running game coordinator, receivers coach Eric Kiesau set as passing game coordinator and Tedford (again) helping with the quarterbacks and (again) calling plays.

A couple of years ago, Tedford listened to the nattering nabobs of negativism and he wanted to smack them. Now, he's trying to be philosophical about criticism. Trying.

"I have it back in focus now, not to worry about the external things," he said. "That one year [2009] we went [8-5] and it felt like we went [5-8], it felt like people were real irritable about that. I was irritable, too. About their reaction to [8-5]. Now, I'm just back to focusing on what it takes to get us back on the upward trend again."

If you're the sort who prefers optimism, there's grounds for that, too. For one, Michalczik and Kiesau were with Tedford during the "glory years." There's history and comfort there. And Michalczik is widely considered an elite line coach, perhaps the best in the Pac-12. The play of the Bears' O-line wasn't as good the past two seasons while Michalczik was with the Oakland Raiders.

Further, Tedford is reengaging on the offensive side, and not only by calling plays, as he did during his early years at Cal. He's also working extensively with the quarterbacks, even to the point of sitting in on all QB meetings.

"Consistency at quarterback has been something that has hurt us at times," Tedford said.

Another big-picture item for Cal fans to be upbeat about: An uptick in recruiting that, perhaps not coincidentally, began when stadium and facilities renovation projects began in earnest after protesters -- old school Berkeley! -- were forced out of the trees. The Bears are nomads this spring, traveling from site to site in search of good grass to practice on, and they will play "home" games in AT&T Park this year. But when Memorial Stadium reopens in 2012, the structure will match the grandeur of its Strawberry Canyon home.

As for hot-seat talk (it's probably more accurate to call Tedford's chair lukewarm) the players are aware of said chatter. They don't live in a protective bubble. And they are aware that pointed observations about the blowout defeats also fall on them, whether those embarrassments were about poor preparation, a lack of mental toughness in the face of adversity or (gulp) a propensity to quit when an opponent asserts itself.

"We all love Coach," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "His past record of success, that's why we are all here. There's no grumbling [in the locker room]. We're more disappointed in ourselves. We feel like we let the coaching staff down."

And of late, Cal fans feel let down. When the Bears were controversially blocked from playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1959 by Texas and the BCS computers following the 2004 season -- Cal fans just fainted for a second time while reading this story -- the consolation was a confident belief that it was just a matter of time before a Tedford squad ended that lengthy, painful Rose-less run.

The clock is still ticking -- 52 years and counting -- on that one, though.

California spring notes

April, 11, 2011
BERKELEY, Calif. -- California has something sort of old and something sort of new this spring on both sides of the ball.

On defense, Clancy Pendergast is back for his second season coordinating the Bears defense. On offense, Jim Michalczik is back in town after spending a couple of years with the Oakland Raiders. Pendergast turned in a successful first campaign, with his more aggressive version of a 3-4 scheme ending up ranked third in the Pac-10 in scoring and first in total defense. And from 2002-2008, Michalczik might have been the best offensive line coach in the conference.

Here are some notes from chats with both coordinators as well as head coach Jeff Tedford.

  • Other than a blowout loss to Stanford, the Bears defense turned in its best work in November, most notably holding Oregon to just one offensive touchdown in a 15-13 Ducks win. Pendergast didn't think that was a coincidence: "I think our guys trusted the system, trusted each other. Had better eyes. All those things." As for year two, the longtime NFL coach, probably has a better grasp on some of the quirky offenses he'll face in the conference. "Anytime you go into a second year, you're going to be more comfortable," he said.
  • Pendergast on former defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is expected to be a first-round NFL draft pick on April 28: "He'll be solid, consistent player at next level who can do a lot of different things."
  • [+] EnlargeCal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast
    Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRECal's Clancy Pendergast expects to be more comfortable coaching against Pac-12 offenses in his second season.

  • Pendergast is clearly high on the incoming freshmen. He repeatedly mentions them -- first and last names -- when talking about his potential depth chart. When asked if he expects a handful to play, he said, "No question." Names he -- and later Tedford -- mention: defensive tackle Todd Barr, defensive tackle Viliami Moala, defensive end Brennan Scarlett, and cornerbacks Stefan McClure, Joel Willis and Kameron Jackson.
  • The top three defensive ends are Trevor Guyton, Deandre Coleman and Ernest Owusu. At nose tackle, both Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne are out with shoulder injuries. Guyton has had a good spring, while Tedford said, Coleman "should be much better this year."
  • The inside 'backers are Mychal Kendricks, who put up huge numbers last fall playing outside, and D.J. Holt, also a returning starter. As for Kendricks move inside, Pendergast said, "He's probably a better fit as a stack inside linebacker than an outside linebacker."
  • There will be two new starters at outside linebacker. At present, Ryan Davis and David Wilkerson (strongside) are with the ones, with Chris McCain, Cecil Whiteside and Lucas King providing depth.
  • In the secondary, Marc Anthony and Steve Williams are the corners. The depth appears unsettled -- see Pendergast and Tedford both listing three freshmen who are not on campus yet as being in the mix. Pendergast seemed most pleased with Anthony, whom he said was playing physically and with a lot of confidence. At safety, there's Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell, with Adrian Lee, C.J. Moncrease, Alex Logan and Michael Coley earning note. It's hard to say if true freshman Avery Walls, who's participating in spring practices, will get into the mix.
  • On offense, Michalczik is mostly focused on the offensive line. Tedford will call plays this fall and is working with the quarterbacks as well, while receivers coach Eric Kiesau is the passing game coordinator and running backs coach Ron Gould is the running game coordinator. So there will be plenty of input on offense.
  • Michalczik wouldn't commit too much on the offensive line: "We've got some young guys and we've got some time," he said. Left tackle Mitchell Schwartz and center Dominic Galas are likely starters, but both are sitting out with injuries. Matt Summers-Gavin has bounced from guard to right tackle. Brian Schwenke and Justin Cheadle are the No. 1 guards at present. Youngsters to watch include Chris Adcock and Mark Brazinski at center, as well as Alejandro Crosthwaite, Bill Tyndall and Tyler Rigsbee.
  • Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen are set at receiver, but the No. 3, 4 and 5 options are not. Michael Calvin -- yes, him again -- Coleman Edmond and Kaelin Clay earned note from Tedford, who said of Clay, "He's been very good, very fast, brings big-play potential."
  • Tedford isn't very happy at running back behind Isi Sofele. His highest praise goes to walk-on Mike Manuel, who was impressive in the scrimmage Saturday. Injuries are a big issue at the position, but it seems as though Tedford isn't happy with the group, which includes a number of touted recruits. "As of right now, it looks like to me we are going to have to rely on younger guys who are coming in," he said.
  • Quarterbacks? It's still wide open, but it shows how serious Zach Maynard's candidacy is that Tedford said he doesn't expect to announce a starter until well into fall camp, specifically because he wants to give Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo last year, as much time as possible to digest the offense. Said Tedford, "He does have some athleticism. He can make plays with his legs. He throws the ball accurately. He can throw all the balls on the field. He's a lefty. He can throw the deep ball. He's got zip on the ball. His main thing is just going to be the mental part of understanding our offense and understanding what we're looking for."
  • As for Brock Mansion, who started the final four games after Kevin Riley went down, Tedford said, "You can tell that Brock is better because of the experience he had last year. He's more comfortable. And he's even learned some things physically. You can see the maturity there a little bit. Still not where we need to be."
  • As for Allan Bridgford, the question might be athleticism. Said Tedford, "Smart guy. Can throw the ball. He can throw all the balls on the field. Escape dimension? Haven't seen that yet. That's a concern, but he's not a led-foot by any means."
  • One problem for the Bears this spring is injuries. There are a lot of them, which makes it more difficult to give the QBs full-tilt, looks. "That's a challenge, to get QB's enought reps without beating up the whole team," Tedford said.