Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Andrew from Phoenix writes: Can this post-season please put to bed this obsession with "ranking" conferences? Here we are, a week after the season is ended, and we're debating whether the Pac-12 or SEC is the best conference in college football. For what it's worth they are 1 and 2, yet, the representatives of those conferences went 1-5 in the big games. So, then what is it really worth? The Big XII took an absolute nosedive as a whole, yet TCU had the second best postseason of all teams, and will be ranked in the Top 5 to start the season. Florida St got ragged all season for being in the "weak" ACC, whose #2 and #3 teams put an absolute shellacking on comparable teams from "stronger" conferences. The Big 10 is allegedly "back" after going 5-5 in the bowl season, but they only have 3 teams in the whole conference (Ohio St, Michigan St, and Wisconsin) with a prayer of finishing above 5th in the Pac South. Didn't seem to hurt Ohio St much against Oregon, did it? So, please try to convince me why it matters that Wisconsin beat Auburn, Stanford smoked Maryland, and Clemson crushed Oklahoma.

Ted Miller: To your first question, the answer is no. No, we can not put to bed this "obsession with 'ranking" conferences."

For one, it's necessary in college football, because we have to make subjective distinctions between teams that don't play each other. Whether it's the traditional national polls, the BCS system, or our new College Football Playoff, we have to rank teams, and how the conferences perform is one of the best ways -- the best way? -- we can do that.

Is it an exact science? No. Is it a way of conducting business that is laden with potential for bias and agenda? Absolutely.

Some, by the way, might argue that very subjectivity, an inescapable historical fact of college football, is one of the reasons the sport is so popular with its fans. Without an objective system -- such as large-scale playoffs used in pro sports -- a cherished U.S. institution therefore flourishes in college football: Endless, blathering debate, fueled by paranoia and manufactured offenses and cherry-picked "facts!"

It's a beautiful thing.

Another cherished institution is part of this: Regionalism. Due to the serendipity of a fan's or, often, a media member's birth location, that region becomes the source of all that is good and accomplished, and every other region is inferior, no matter how informed said fan or media member is on said other region. We all know from our present political reality that actually knowing stuff no longer matters and, in fact, can be a burden when debating with a louder and more pithy interlocutor.

But, hey, I'm not a scientist!

So the SEC fan thinks the Pac-12 is soft, and the Pac-12 fan thinks the Big Ten is slow, and the Big Ten fan things the Big 12 is finesse, and the Big 12 fan thinks the ACC is a basketball league, and the ACC fan thinks the SEC is overrated, etc., etc.

It. Will. Never. End.

And for that I am thankful.


Robert from New York writes: I've seen a lot of hype around USC for next season, and I'm not really sold on why. USC had a losing record against the Pac-12 South in 2014, including a blowout loss to UCLA. They're losing key players on both sides of the ball, and have a coach who has never won more than eight regular season games. Are sportswriters getting excited because they want a brand-name school to be elite, or am I missing something?

Ted Miller: Robert, you sound like some of my Pac-12 blogmates, so you are not alone in voicing some skepticism with the Trojans.

My case leads with this: Among its 16 returning position-player starters, USC welcomes back the most experienced, accomplished quarterback in the conference, Cody Kessler, and he will be playing behind an offensive line that will be the best in the Pac-12 (And USC fans should take heart for that 2016 opener against Alabama, because that should be an epic battle at the line of scrimmage between the Trojans and Crimson Tide). That offensive line welcomes back all five starters, led by senior, first-team-All-Pac-12 center Max Tuerk, as well has a good crew of backups.

Sure, there are some big hits, particularly with early departures, such as defensive end Leonard Williams, receiver Nelson Agholor, and runing back Javorius Allen. USC is going to need some young guys to step up. But finding ready-to-play youngsters is rarely a problem for USC, and, oh by the way, Steve Sarkisian is well on his way to signing what could end up a top-five class.

It will also help that Trojans should be well into the 70s in terms of scholarship players next fall. Though they won't get close to the maximum 85 scholarship players permitted by NCAA rules in their first post-sanctions season, they will be far above the 60 or so they played with in 2014. This will be a much deeper team in Sarkisian's second season.

As for doubting Sark, that's not unreasonable. No, he hasn't won a national title or a conference title, or even 10 games in a season. Yes, there were some times during his first season in which the Trojans seemed poorly prepared, poorly motivated, and poorly coached. You, by the way, could also say the same about Oregon. And Ohio State and Alabama, which went 7-6 and lost to UL Monroe in Nick Saban's first year in Tuscaloosa.

But, from today's vantage point, USC looks like the team with the fewest big questions in the Pac-12, though UCLA and Oregon could quickly counter with impressive clarity at quarterback.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Trojans are in the CFP discussion late into the 2015 season.

Does the USC "brand" play a role in that perception? Probably. But brand names have been pretty good bets over the long haul in college football.


Michael from Corvallis, Ore., writes: With Gary Andersen's staff poaching several assistants and recruits from Utah, not to mention two consecutive games going into OT, is there a chance Utah-Oregon State becomes an actual rivalry?

Ted Miller: Maybe, but it won't be because of any ill-will between the coaching staffs. Andersen and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham are extremely close -- both have said that to me within the past calendar year, Whittingham just a few weeks ago.

Whittingham also doesn't begrudge defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake jumping to Oregon State, because he knows it was a wise move professionally in the short and long term, particularly if Sitaki wants to be a head coach, which he does. Sitake needs to spread his wings outside of what had become a comfort zone in Salt Lake.

Further, being in different divisions, the Utes and Beavers will have a two-year hiatus coming up as the schedule rotates in 2017-2018.

Utah's chief rival remains BYU. Hard to believe that will change anytime soon, and it will be good to see the renewal of the Holy War in 2016. The Utes will develop Pac-12 rivalries, particularly in the South Division. But it will take time for ill-will and turf-wars to develop.

But Michael, if Utah/Oregon State is particularly annoying you, have at those dastardly Utes/Beavers (don't want to assume your preference just because you live in Corvallis).


Wayne from Mesa, Ariz., writes: With the 2014-15 Bowl Season all wrapped up, I was wondering what your thoughts were and what feedback you may have heard with regard to the new bowl lineup for the PAC-12. Granted, it was more of a tweak over the previous 4 years, but still featured new venues (Santa Clara and Tempe), new opponents (2 Big Ten teams), a slight change in the pecking order (Sun Bowl moved down, Foster Farms up), and of course, altered timing to allow for the New Year's Six. I attended the Sun Bowl, cheering on the Sun Devils. The local fan turnout and community support for that game in El Paso was very impressive! I am a bit concerned about the on-going PAC-12 fan support and enthusiasm for the Cactus Bowl. One wonders if this looks like just a late season PAC-12 road game. Local Phoenix news featured mostly Oklahoma State stories, and thank goodness the Big 12 team once again brought a big group of fans and much excitement to Tempe.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 bowl lineup is about as good as it can be. Pretty nice mix of games against the ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12. Certainly the Pac-12 bowls have upgraded under commissioner Larry Scott.

I know some grumble about the bowl lineup. They want a matchup with an SEC team or a bowl game in Florida, but the SEC has a great bowl lineup, and Florida doesn't have much interest in bringing a Pac-12 team across the country. It's a choice of the marketplace, not due to managerial incompetence with the Pac-12 or some conspiracy of forces to keep the Pac-12 down.

Of course, if there's a business person on the West Coast who wants to offer up a $5 million per-team payout to lure a top SEC team across the country for a new bowl game against a Pac-12 team, I'm sure the SEC and Pac-12 would listen.

Oregon fan a man of his word, gets an Ohio State tattoo on his thigh

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
7:05
PM ET
They've been best friends since their high school days in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Two 27-year-old buddies who love football -- one an Ohio State fan since idolizing Eddie George as a kid, the other an Oregon fan since embracing the program's fast-paced style as a teenager.

So naturally, they watched this year's College Football Playoff semifinals together on New Year's Day -- Harry Ravese rooting on his Buckeyes against Alabama and Anthony DeBellonia cheering for his Ducks against Florida State.

That was a winning day for both -- and also the day a fateful bet was made.

"He mentioned casually that if Oregon wins, he was going to get a championship Ducks tattoo," Ravese recalled to ESPN.com, "and it got me thinking and I gave him this look and he looked back and we were both thinking the same thing."

What they were thinking was that the loser of the Ohio State-Oregon national championship game would have to get a tattoo of the other team's logo.

"Everyone that we know thought we were both crazy for agreeing to it," Ravese said.

But agree to it they did -- an especially daring bet for the tattoo-less Ravese (DeBellonia already had four prior tats).

They couldn't watch the title game together, though. There was just too much at stake. They were too passionate about their respective teams. They "probably would've come to blows," DeBellonia said with a laugh, though sounding half serious.

You know what happened next. The Buckeyes pulled away in the second half and routed the Ducks 42-20 for their sixth consensus national championship in the poll era (since 1936).

So it was time for DeBellonia's fifth tattoo -- this one clearly the most painful. "I felt bad at first," Ravese said, adding that he didn't gloat over the phone in the immediate aftermath of the victory. "But that wore off."

And DeBellonia, a man of his word, delivered on his end of the bet this afternoon.

A photo posted by Debellonia (@debellonia) on


DeBellonia did not echo that sentiment.


When asked by ESPN.com if he had any regrets, DeBellonia responded, "Yeah, the Ducks lost. Wish I hadn't gotten the bad end of the stick, but, hey, a bet is a bet."

But in case you're wondering, the loser of this bet does still plan on getting that Oregon tattoo soon -- and that one will be on his arm, not hidden on his thigh.

"I want people to see that one," DeBellonia said. "No matter what happened today, I'm still a proud Oregon Ducks fan."
The Pac-12's South Division went 15-10 against the North in 2014, the first season since expansion in 2011 that the South bested the North. Of course, Oregon still won the conference crown -- in dominant fashion over Arizona, in fact -- so the South still has never won the Pac-12 title.

Perhaps the dominant Pac-12 theme heading into 2015 will be how that figures to change next December. After going a feckless 9-17 against the North in 2011, the steadily improving South is now clearly the superior division. With five ranked teams at season's end, the South was much deeper than the North in 2014, though Oregon maintained the Ducks/Stanford domination of the conference as a whole for another season.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Harry How/Getty ImagesCody Kessler and USC should be on the rise in 2015, which in turn should help keep the Pac-12 South on the rise.
Yet Stanford slipped in 2014, and it welcomes back just three starters from its dominant defense next fall. Oregon has a nice collection of players returning in 2015 -- it still figures to be the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in the preseason -- but it's also replacing the greatest player in school history in Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

The South's advantage heading into 2015 can be further quantified by who's coming back. For one, the South welcomes back 93 starting position players compared to 76 for the North. That's an average of 15.5 per South team compared to 12.7 for the North.

That difference is most notable on defense. South teams welcome back an average of 7.83 players on defense, while North teams welcome back only 5.17. While Stanford, Oregon and Washington were the top three teams in scoring defense in 2014, the only South team that didn't rank in the top eight was Colorado. Further, UCLA, USC and Utah each welcome back eight starters from defenses that ranked in the top four in yards per play.

On offense, the differences aren't as definitive. The South will welcome back 46 starters compared to 45 for the North, but the South is far more set at quarterback. Four of six South teams have a high degree of certainty at quarterback heading into 2015, while UCLA is the only team with a "Who the heck knows?" QB competition. Though Utah is uncertain between Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, both have starting experience.

In the North, only California and Stanford are certain at QB. Oregon and Oregon State will be holding wide-open competitions beginning this spring, while Washington and Washington State have returning QBs with starting experience -- Cyler Miles and Luke Falk -- who are far from certain to win the job.

Experience on the offensive line is often vital, and the South also has an advantage there with 22 O-line starters returning compared to 21 from the North (and that includes Oregon offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone, who sat out this past season with a knee injury).

What about star power? Five of the six returning first-team All-Pac-12 players hail from the South, while seven of the 11 second-team members are from the South. Heck, all four first- and second-team specialists are from the South as well.

Finally, 2015 will be the first season of Pac-12 play in which USC isn't yoked with any sort of NCAA sanctions. You might recall the Trojans won the South in 2011 and beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium in the regular season but didn't get a rematch in the title game because they were ineligible for the postseason. While USC won't be at a full 85 scholarships next fall, it has the potential to be as deep as it has been since expansion. It's difficult to believe the Trojans at full strength won't be a factor in the South, Pac-12 and nationally going forward.

Of course, the six-team South is arguably deeper than the 10-team conference USC dominated from 2002-2008 under Pete Carroll, with UCLA and coach Jim Mora, in fact, providing plenty of competition just a few miles down the road -- see three consecutive Bruins wins in the rivalry, as well as consecutive 10-win seasons.

When the conference first expanded, the initial impression was the South would be stronger. In fact, before going with a North-South split, there was significant discussion about splitting up rival teams in different divisions. Yet, for three seasons, the North proved its naysayers wrong.

Now the South appears to be cycling up. If the present trend continues through the 2015 season, it's possible we'll be asking a year from now how long that shifting balance of power will last. Or if it won't become a long-term advance.
Considering we pretty much nailed our fearless predictions for 2014, it seems like it's never too early to get bold with projections for 2015.

Here are five bold -- bold I say! -- predictions for the offseason:

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesCal quarterback Jared Goff flew under the radar in 2014 and is primed for a breakout season.
A South team will win the Pac-12 for the first time: Since the Pac-12 split into divisions in 2011, Oregon and Stanford have split four Pac-12 championships, meaning no team from the South Division has won the conference. That will change in 2015, as the South looks like it will be the roughest division in college football, with five teams likely to start off ranked in the preseason, as they finished the 2014 season. Whoever emerges -- either Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC or Utah (yes, we are leaving our options open) -- will have survived a gauntlet that will give it a steel-hones-steel edge in the title game against Oregon.

Oregon will again finish ranked in the top 10: Oregon will romp to the North crown again in 2015, so don't believe the first prediction writes the Ducks out of national relevance. In fact, when the Ducks lose the Pac-12 title game, we still suspect they will be attractive enough to get invited to a major bowl game. The Ducks' case could be helped greatly by the Pac-12 champ earning another berth in the College Football Playoff.

Two true freshmen will start at quarterback: Considering we pretty much know who will start behind center for Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Stanford, USC and Utah (at least it won't be a freshman), we're obviously opining that two of Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State will start a freshman, true or redshirt. Considering the impressive, late-season showing by redshirt freshman Luke Falk for the Cougars, this really comes down to the other four schools. It once was rare for players in their first year of eligibility to sit in the cockpit of an FBS offense, but not any longer. We suspect that will hold true in the Pac-12 in 2015.

California's Goff will be first-team All-Pac-12 QB: While he received little national fanfare while putting up huge passing numbers, Jared Goff was perhaps the conference's most improved player in 2014. He ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in Total QBR, but that also was good enough for 12th in the nation. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, the top two Pac-12 quarterbacks in 2014, are off to the NFL. Enter Goff, who if he sustains his current improvement trajectory should be due for a national breakout in 2015. After throwing 18 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions as a true freshman starter in 2013, Goff threw 35 TD passes vs. seven picks this fall. He has NFL ability and a strong supporting cast coming back, particularly at receiver. While USC's Cody Kessler will top many preseason Heisman Trophy lists, don't be surprised if Goff puts up huge numbers, leads the Bears to a bowl game for the first time since 2011 and nips Kessler for first-team All-Pac-12.

There will be two coaching changes at the end of the season: If not for Oregon State's Mike Riley making a surprising jump to Nebraska, the Pac-12 would have had no coaching changes after the season. That sort of stability is not typical, and we suspect that there will be changes after the 2015 season, either from coaches bolting on their own or getting pushed out the door. You could see a coach or two get a wandering eye for the NFL or an athletic director might decide to make a change, but we're predicting that only 10 of the 12 2015 head coaches will be the same in 2016.
Happy Friday. Or not, seeing that it's the first Friday of the offseason.

Of course, there is no offseason.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Joe Bruin from Los Angeles writes: Can UCLA's season really be called a huge disappointment? A top 10 finish, 5-2 record vs ranked teams and 7-0 away from home against what was a much tougher schedule than expected seems like a decent season, even if it doesn't match the national title hype we got.

Ted Miller: It can be. People say overheated things all the time. My guess is individuals who would describe UCLA's 2014 season as "huge disappointment" are not saying something they actually believe but are looking for a reaction. And we all know that getting a reaction is the raison d'etre for a lot of folks in the punditry and on social media.

Now I am operating here almost entirely on the adjective "huge." As a person who considered the Bruins a darkhorse national-title contender in the preseason, it's factually accurate to say that the Bruins didn't live up to my -- or many others' -- expectations. In fact, seeing they were ranked No. 7 in the preseason and finished 10th, that sentiment can be quantified.

UCLA's season being considered a disappointment of more than moderate burn rests almost entirely on one game: The shocking 31-10 loss to Stanford on the final weekend of the regular season that cost the Bruins the South Division title. If the Bruins had won that game and won the South, things might have felt different, even if they went on to lose to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

But you can't assess most seasons on one game. It's about the totality of what happened and then placing that into a sober, objective-as-possible perspective of reasonable expectations as well as historical precedent.

Fact: UCLA's No. 10 final ranking is the team's highest since 1998, and that squad lost its final two games. So, yeah, highest final ranking in 16 freaking years is not a "huge disappointment."

Fact: UCLA won 10 games for the ninth time in SCHOOL HISTORY.

Fact: UCLA has now won 10 games in back-to-back seasons for just the third time in school history.

Fact: UCLA went 10-3 against a schedule that featured seven teams that finished the season ranked and saw 10 opponents play in bowl games. Twelve games were against Power 5 conference teams, and the 13th, Memphis, finished 10-3. No team on the Bruins' schedule other than Colorado won fewer than five games, and eight won at least eight games.

Fact: UCLA has won three in a row over USC. To clarify, the Bruins have whipped the Trojans three consecutive years under coach Jim Mora. Let that marinate for a few moments.

Sure, the Bruins often won ugly. The offensive line struggled most of the season. QB Brett Hundley was good but didn't live up to preseason Heisman hype. The talent-laden defense underachieved. Who can forget Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich barking at each other on the sidelines during the Oregon game? And even the bowl win over a good Kansas State team featured a blown lead and some post-game controversy.

It wasn't always a pretty season. But it was a good season -- 16 years! -- that continued to suggest the Bruins are rising under Mora.

But, sure, if someone wants to be hugely disappointed, have at it.

David from Calgary writes: With Mariota off to the draft, UO has to open the chapter on a new QB. While there won't ever be a replacement for the best QB to don the Green & Yellow (And Black, Silver, White, Neon, etc...) who should Helfrich turn to? Should he look for a game manager who can get the ball to the play makers (Freeman, Tyner, Addison, Nelson) or should he try to replicate Mariota as close as possible (Braxton Miller transfer)?

Ted Miller: Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost are going to pick the QB who they think will win the most games. It won't be a "type." It will be the guy who plays the best and best leads the offense.

But I see where you are coming from and I am not trying to patronize the question. It's highly likely whoever wins the job next season will be more of a game manager than Marcus Mariota, but that could also be a function of him being a first-year starter. Mariota was obviously a different QB this season than he was his first season as a starter in 2012.

What is certain is the offense -- assuming everyone gets healthy -- will be loaded. The O-line is better off than many think, and the Ducks are as deep at the skill positions as they have ever been. Lining up with Bralon Addison, Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson and Pharaoh Brown as receiving options will severely stress any defense, particularly when it also has to contend with RBs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner.

As for who will win the job, I have no idea. From what I've gathered among the Ducks, backup Jeff Lockie will get the first snaps of spring practices, but the competition will be wide open.

AKCoug73 from Eagle River, AK writes: And now we know why the Cougs didn't announce the new DC during the holiday season. What's your take on the Grinch? The football Grinch that is...

Ted Miller: Mike Leach announcing on Christmas Day he'd hired Alex Grinch to run his defense was a headline writer's wildest dream.

Word on the street is Grinch has all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile and his brain is full of spiders, but that doesn't matter because he's taking over a defense that could be best described as Stink! Stank Stunk! He also got a glowing recommendation from Cindy Lou Who -- or, as he prefers to be called, "Chip Kelly."

I don't know much about Grinch. At 34, he's young. He was the safeties coach for a good Missouri defense the past three seasons, though the Tigers ranked 39th this season in pass efficiency defense after ranking 43rd the year before. He's also coached at Wyoming and crossed paths with Kelly at New Hampshire.

This from Bud Withers seems to be a pretty good assessment of what Grinch faces:

Grinch has considerable work ahead of him, complicated by the fact three putative starters are no longer on the team. Defensive tackle Xavier Cooper is leaving early for the NFL, linebacker Darryl Monroe is transferring, and cornerback Daquawn Brown was booted from the roster.


This feels like another off-the-radar hire from Leach, just as previous defensive coordinator Mike Breske was. The Cougars have lots of questions heading into 2015, the defense being a chief one. We shall see.

Oregonian in Exile (Belgium) writes: I woke up at 2AM to watch the Ducks take on the Buckeyes, and despite Oregon's loss I'm glad I was able to watch that historical contest. Ohio State was impressive in all aspects -- speed, power, offense, defense, coaching. Lots of respect for that team, with one minor objection. Ohio State is up 15, 1st and goal, less than a minute to play, and no chance of an Oregon comeback. Take a knee, coach.

Ted Miller: I know what you're saying but I don't get too worked up about the Buckeyes running the ball five consecutive times and scoring. If they'd tried to be tricky, that would have been something else.

It's not what I would have done if I were coaching, but Urban Meyer's M.O. is not taking a knee there.

Moreover, I suspect Ohio State, which had been decided underdogs in the two games of the College Football Playoff, probably wanted to make a final, decisive statement. It was up to the Ducks to stop them.

Bryce from San Francisco writes: Ted, objectively I know this game wasn't your fault. You guys do great work at the Pac-12 blog. But please please PLEASE, for the sake of every Oregon fan, never ever predict that Oregon is going to win a big game again. Your jinx is simply too powerful.

Ted Miller: No, it was my fault.

Sorry.

Pac-12 all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
11:00
AM ET
The Pac-12 finished the season with the best bowl record among the Power 5 conferences -- 6-3 -- and generally is regarded as displacing the SEC at the No. 1 conference in 2014, even if Oregon got run over by Ohio State in the national title game.

Here's how things went.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: No. 22 Utah 45, Colorado State 10
Hyundai Sun Bowl: No. 15 Arizona State 36, Duke 31
National University Holiday Bowl: No. 24 USC 45, Nebraska 42
Foster Farms Bowl: Stanford 45, Maryland 21
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: No. 20 Boise State 38, No. 10 Arizona 30
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon 59, No. 3 Florida State 20
Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 14 UCLA 40, No. 11 Kansas State 35
TicketCity Cactus Bowl: Oklahoma State 30, Washington 22
CFP National Championship Game Presented by AT&T: No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Oregon 20

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesOregon's Byron Marshall notched his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season in the Ducks' 42-20 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 12.
So who were the Pac-12 stars of the bowl season? Too many for this list, so apologies in advance for leaving off many of the fine performances.

OFFENSE

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards yards with two TDs and rushed for 62 yards and a TD in the Ducks' win against FSU in the Rose Bowl. Passed for 333 yards and two scores in the loss to Ohio State in national title game.

RB Thomas Tyner, Oregon: Rushed for 124 yards on 13 carries (9.5 yards per carry) and scored two TDs in the win against Florida State.

RB Paul Perkins, UCLA: Rushed for 194 yards on 20 carries (9.7 ypc) and scored two TDs in the win against Kansas State.

WR Darren Carrington, Oregon: Caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Florida State.

WR Byron Marshall, Oregon: Caught eight passes for 169 yards with a 70-yard TD in loss to Ohio State.

OL Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah: The Utes rushed for 359 yards and didn't allow a sack against Colorado State.

OL Jake Fisher, Oregon: The Ducks dominated FSU up front, not allowing a sack and rushing for 301 yards.

OL Andrus Peat, Stanford: The Cardinal line led a 206-yard rushing attack in a win against Maryland and yielded just one sack.

OL Jake Brendel, UCLA: The Bruins rushed for 331 yards against Kansas State.

OL Toa Lobendahn, USC: Held All-Big Ten end Randy Gregory to four tackles and no sacks in the Trojans' win over Nebraska.

K Casey Skowron, Arizona: Went 3-for-3 on field goals with a long of 42 and good on all three PATs vs. Boise State.

DEFENSE

DL Nate Orchard, Utah: Sack and forced fumble in win against Colorado State.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsTrojans defensive end Leonard Williams tackles Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abdullah in the National University Holiday Bowl.
DL Leonard Williams, USC: Had nine tackles and a sack in the win against the Cornhuskers.

DL Deon Hollins, UCLA: The outside linebacker -- yes, we are fudging here -- had three sacks in the win against Kansas State.

LB James Vaughters, Stanford: Had five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in win over Maryland.

LB Eric Kendricks, UCLA: Had 10 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss in win over Kansas State.

LB Tony Washington, Oregon: Had four tackles and a sack against Florida State. Also forced a fumble from FSU QB Jameis Winston and returned it 58 yards for a TD.

LB Antonio Longino, Arizona State: Had a game-high 17 tackles in the Sun Devils' win against Duke.

DB Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona: Had 11 tackles -- 10 solo -- with a sack, two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Boise State.

DB Adoree' Jackson, USC: Had seven tackles and a deflection on defense against Nebraska. Also caught three passes with a 71-yard TD and returned a kickoff for a 98-yard TD. Played 103 plays, 78 on defense.

DB Kweishi Brown, Arizona State: Grabbed the game-clinching interception in the Sun Devils' win.

DB Troy Hill, Oregon: Led the Ducks with nine tackles against FSU with a tackle for a loss and two pass breakups.

P Drew Riggleman, Arizona: Averaged 43.1 yards on seven punts, killing three inside the Boise State 20-yard line.
As usual, the Pac-12 experienced some significant star drain from players opting to enter the NFL draft before their eligibility was over -- seven first-team all-conference performers amid the crew of 16 -- and, as usual, USC was hit the hardest.

The Trojans lost four players, including their best receiver (Nelson Agholor), running back (Javorius Allen) and defensive lineman (Leonard Williams). The lone quasi-surprise was receiver George Farmer, who apparently is counting on his raw talent to overcome his notable lack of production and injury-prone nature.

While USC welcomes back quarterback Cody Kessler and a talented crew around him, that's a drain of 3,607 yards and 26 TDs from a team that is expected to be ranked in or near the top 10 to begin the 2015 season.

Overall in the conference, there were few surprise decisions. While Oregon and UCLA lost elite quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley as expected, two A-list running backs opted to return in Utah's Devontae Booker and Arizona State's D.J. Foster, who will switch positions to slot receiver.

Oregon got good news on defense when end DeForest Buckner decided to return, but Ducks fans might note that their marquee nonconference game at Michigan State on Sept. 12 will be against a Spartans team welcoming back quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun.

While USC lost four players to lead the Pac-12, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Washington each lost two, though that counts Huskies cornerback Marcus Peters, who was kicked off the team during the season.

Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State didn't lose any players early to the NFL draft. The Buffaloes were relieved that wide receiver Nelson Spruce decided to stick around, while the Wildcats' group of receivers remains deep after Cayleb Jones decided to return for his redshirt junior season.

Here is the Pac-12's early-entry list:

Arizona State
WR Jaelen Strong

California
WR Chris Harper

Oregon
QB Marcus Mariota
DE Arik Armstead

Stanford
CB Alex Carter
OT Andrus Peat

UCLA
QB Brett Hundley
DT Ellis McCarthy

USC
WR Nelson Agholor
WR George Farmer
RB Javorius Allen
DE Leonard Williams

Utah
OT Jeremiah Poutasi

Washington
LB Shaq Thompson
CB Marcus Peters

Washington State
DT Xavier Cooper
The media narrative was perfectly reasonable before Oregon squared off with Ohio State on Monday. This was Oregon's last chance with Marcus Mariota lining up behind center to win the school's first football national title. The Ducks had the best player in the nation, the best player in school history, one of the best of all-time leading them. They didn't want to waste such an alignment of the planets, such a special -- perhaps unique -- opportunity.

Alas, it wasn't to be. Mariota played fairly well, but the Buckeyes owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that was enough to overcome Mariota. The Buckeyes rolled to a 42-20 victory, and the overwhelming expectation is that Mariota, who has already graduated, is off to the NFL draft this spring.

The thing about media narratives -- reasonable or otherwise -- is they can become a burden when their unhappy potentiality is realized. In this case, there's some recycling of the hackneyed "Oregon can't beat a physical team," but the more reasonable extension of that previously perfectly reasonable media narrative is that the Ducks look like they might fall into a rebuilding mode in 2015 with Mariota gone. He, of course, leaves behind a massive void that far eclipses past transitions behind center, though it is comforting for the Ducks that their rise to the nation's elite over the past six years preceded Mariota by two QBs.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesIf Marcus Mariota leaves for the NFL, he wouldn't be the only big loss the Ducks could feel in 2015.
This is not to say the Ducks will fall off the college football map. Heck, ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach dumped them all the way down to, well, No. 5 in his Way-Too-Early Top 25. But Oregon won't be mentioned as a top national title contender along with the Buckeyes and TCU in the preseason, and some might even become more fascinated with the talent returning in the Pac-12's South Division, most notably for USC and UCLA.

The Ducks are, not surprisingly, yielding nothing. Coach Mark Helfrich said he is "extremely confident" that his program can get back to the national title game again.

"It's really hard, but Oregon is a place that obviously that can happen and has happened," he said in the post-College Football Playoff final news conference. "Everything is in place from a support standpoint and facilities standpoint and infrastructure standpoint, talent; our coaching staff is outstanding and the leadership is outstanding. That's kind of all the ingredients."

If Mariota decides to go pro (he has until Thursday to declare), replacing him will be the Ducks' chief challenge. As ingredients go, that's a pretty choice protein.

Therefore, the quarterback depth chart will become the big story of spring and preseason practices. While Jeff Lockie, who will be a junior in 2015, is the favorite based on seniority and being Mariota's backup for two years, there obviously will be a heated competition. Recall that Mariota came from almost nowhere -- to folks outside the Ducks' closed practices, at least -- to beat out Bryan Bennett, Darron Thomas' backup, before the 2012 season.

Other possibilities are redshirt freshman Morgan Mahalak, Georgia Tech transfer Ty Griffin and incoming freshman Travis Waller. Ducks coach Mark Helfrich also might take the call if one of Ohio State's three QBs wants to transfer to Eugene -- hint, hint, Braxton Miller!

Whoever wins the job will have a pretty darn good supporting cast on offense, particularly at the skill positions, where just about everyone comes back, including standout injured players such as wide receiver Bralon Addison and tight end Pharaoh Brown. The Ducks will be deep and experienced at receiver, running back and tight end with All-Pac-12-type players. The offensive line, despite losing three starters, still will welcome back three "starters," including tackle Tyler Johnstone, who missed the season with a knee injury, as well as four other players with starting experience.

While the Oregon quarterback is rarely viewed as a game manager, he'll certainly be in a comfortable spot to distribute the ball to playmakers and stay out of the way, if necessary.

The defense is perhaps a bigger question, particularly after junior end Arik Armstead opted to enter the draft, and fellow end DeForest Buckner's decision is still pending. Gone for sure are All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, outside linebacker Tony Washington, safety Erick Dargan and corner Troy Hill. They are all established players who have been productive for multiple years.

Further, the schedule upgrades next fall. The Ducks will visit Michigan State and they add USC and Arizona State to the conference slate. Though the Ducks have seven home games, conference road games include trips to Washington, Arizona State and Stanford.

Oregon still looks like the preseason pick in the North Division, but that's in large part due to the North flagging as the South rises. Stanford, Washington and Washington State have plenty of questions, and Oregon State will be breaking in a new coach. California appears to be on the cusp of moving up, but the only other North team that has a chance to join the five from the South in the preseason national rankings is Stanford.

While Helfrich stepped fully out of Chip Kelly's shadow by leading the Ducks to the Pac-12 title, beating Florida State in the Rose Bowl and earning a berth in the national title game, what happens next season -- post-Mariota -- figures to commence his long-term measure. Security is a rare thing for college coaches, and the margin for error at Oregon is small with demanding Ducks fans. Helfrich was questioned after an 11-2 finish in 2013, his first season after being promoted from offensive coordinator. Failing to win the conference in 2015 likely would reignite the grumbling skeptics.

As of this week, Oregon football (probably) has moved into A.M. time -- After Mariota -- and more than a few media folks will linger like vultures next fall, hoping to pounce on a narrative of program decline. It's up to the Ducks to disappoint them.
Oregon fans watching the MegaCast of the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on ESPN3/WatchESPN.com have the option of the Oregon radio call presentation, with Jerry Allen, analyst Mike Jorgensen, reporter Joey McMurray and host Chase Morgan. The on-screen presentation will provide fans with the game feed plus isolated cameras on Ducks coach Mark Helfrich and Oregon players.

Click here to watch the Oregon feed.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter.

Oregon fans... is it time to pull out the ole Billy Baroo? As Judge Smails said, "Wooooo.... Billy, Billy, Billy... This is a biggie!"

To the notes!

Dan from Los Angeles writes: What are your thoughts on the Jim Mora handshake after the game? I thought it was tacky and lacked class.

Ted Miller: I thought Mora had every right to be angry with how Kansas State conducted itself while UCLA was in victory formation at the end of the Alamo Bowl. Hurdling the pile and leading with the helmet in that situation, as a K-State player unquestionably did, is not only dangerous it's -- oh, by the way -- illegal.

It's also bush league, false tough-guy football. My hope is Wildcats coach Bill Snyder in some way punished Dante Barnett after the game. It's also too bad Snyder hasn't stepped up and explained that Mora had a right to be angry and that his player was unquestionably in the wrong.

Because there is no question -- despite all the faux, 100 percent agenda-driven defenses speciously spouting "playing hard until the clock strikes zero" -- of Barnett's actions being wrong. You do not do what he did. Period. Hush.

That said, Mora -- and he has acknowledged this -- didn't handle the handshake as well as he could or should have. Further, this was Bill Snyder on the receiving hand of a rude dismissal, so Mora was pretty doomed from a purely reactive social media standpoint to get buried on Twitter. Snyder is not only a Hall of Fame coach -- one of the greatest of all time, in fact -- he also is a classy, ethical leader of young men.

That, too, is without question.

I know those who see the world through "My Team Wrong or Right" glasses, or those who simply hate Mora/UCLA on reflex -- thinking of a wide-eyed segment of USC fans here -- are going to counter with a bunch of nonsense and call me biased. Might be more accurate to say I'm biased toward K-State, where I enjoyed one of my favorite college football weekends of all-time last year, but I simply call them like I see them. And, making this easy, is the situation being an objective, black-white, right-wrong call.

Mora is a very emotional guy. I like that about him. I've irritated him several times and received his notorious grumpy treatment. Doesn't bother me in the least. Part of my job. He also is thoughtful and cares about his players.

That -- the emotions and caring about his players -- got the best of him in this instance.


Angelo from Ripon, Calif., writes: With the combined loses of week 14 and the bowl season in the SEC, is it safe to say that we won't have to weather another year of SEC hype and inflated preseason rankings?

Ted Miller: Nope. Most will view the SEC's decline this season as temporary -- even a blip -- and not without justification.

No question the Pac-12 and Big Ten are the winners this bowl season, that is almost as much about an SEC slide as their own success. The Pac-12, as well-argued here by Barry Tramel of the The Oklahoman, distinguished itself as the No. 1 conference, and the Big Ten is the biggest gainer in terms of improving its previously waning image.

Yet if you asked most folks -- as in those who aspire toward covering college football as objective observers -- the SEC will still be the No. 1 conference over the long haul. As in: If you had to bet $1 on which conference will win the most College Football Playoff national titles over the next 10 years, most would pick the SEC. That is based on a combination of money, fan passion and geography that is favorable to recruiting.

The general hope, again among those who aspire to objectivity, is that we are now entering a cycle with more apparent parity, in which the other Power 5 conferences at least seem to be on more equal footing. It's not good for the game for one conference to win seven consecutive national titles, as the SEC did.

For example, if the SEC wins three or four of the next 10 national titles and the other four conferences split up the other six or seven, that would be a much better trend.

More than a few of us saw this coming, in large part because of the SEC's recent NFL attrition.

All this said, I still fully support your joyous trolling of SEC folks, who have dished it out with zeal for, oh, the past decade.


Mush Huskies from Portland writes: 8-6. A few plays against Stanford and a different "chart" against Arizona, and the Huskies are sitting at 10-4. But that didn't happen, so we're still 8-6. A new coach, lots of transfers, blah blah blah... there's still a lot of supposed talent on this team -- just look at the recruiting classes -- not great, but respectable. But I repeat: 8-6. Can someone please explain how the Huskies have been "rebuilding" since Owen 12 in 2008?

Ted Miller: In 2000, Washington won the Rose Bowl and finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3. Since then, it has yielded the Northwest to Oregon and been mostly irrelevant nationally.

Why? Poor management at the administrative level, poor coaching decisions, getting eclipsed in the facilities arms race, middling recruiting, and the rise of other Pac-10/12 teams -- such as those pesky Ducks.

Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the team into respectability, but he only got the Huskies to nine wins and a final top-25 ranking in his final season before bolting to USC. Chris Petersen inherited a good if flawed team, one that probably underachieved this season. It was not the debut Huskies fans had hoped for, but it's justifiable to excuse much of what went wrong to an adjustment period between team and coaching staff.

The Huskies now might have the best stadium in the Pac-12, so facilities are no longer an issue, and savvy administrator Scott Woodward is about as football-friendly an AD as there is. Petersen's reputation suggests he will build a power in Seattle. Yet what Washington has coming back in 2015 doesn't look like a top-25 team, or one that can win the North.

Though Washington fans probably don't want to hear it, it doesn't appear likely that Petersen will deliver a quick fix. So, after 14 years of waiting, Huskies fans might just have to wait a little longer.


JT from Boston writes: Dealing in hypotheticals -- if Oregon blows out Ohio State, what is the reservation with putting Oregon up there as one of the all time great teams in College Football? Don't get me wrong, I (as a Duck fan) have my reservations -- but to blow out teams consistently is impressive (and unprecedented in recent years on such a consistent basis). Is it due to Oregon not being a traditional power house? Or that they don't have a roster filled with first day draft picks? Or has the general public (the Press included) just come to expect that when the Ducks win, they win big? To consistently perform and win by double digits, seems worthy of being put into the category of one of the all time great teams

Ted Miller: All-time great teams, for one, go unbeaten. That's pretty much the criterion for teams like 2001 Miami, 1972, USC and 1995 Nebraska, which make up my personal top three (I don't even look at teams that weren't fully integrated, as, for example, 1972 USC would have brutalized, say, 1961 Alabama).

But this Ducks team can distinguish itself as the first team to win the CFP, which would mean winning consecutive games against top-four teams. It certainly could view itself as the "truest" national champion in recent memory.


Torsten from Orlando writes: Alright. I think I speak for a lot of Duck fans when I say that I'm tired of pundits (save Fowler and Herbstreit who actually watched the Rose Bowl and have seen other Oregon games in the past few years) from ESPN and other sports outlets saying that Oregon's victory over FSU was a fluke. That FSU is still the better team. That the only reason FSU lost was because they quit. That it wasn't the Oregon defense that stopped FSU but that it was FSU itself. Apparently FSU's lack of defense on every single Oregon possession (save for the very first one) is something to just ignore. Honestly from certain news articles, potentially biased due to them coming from Central Florida, I feel like Oregon fans should be apologizing for the win. All I'm hearing myself is commentators buying into Winston's press conference and his eternal stubbornness about what really happened on New Years Day. Oregon played their hearts out that day, they are going to play their hearts out on the 12th either way that game goes, and its time people started taking notice. Why aren't these same statements being said about an Ohio State team starting a 3rd string QB who beat Bama? A great win for that team but Cardale Jones apparently won the Heisman based on how that game has been viewed. I'm afraid that even if Oregon does get its desired result Monday, the nation will consider that a fluke as well. So what gives?

Ted Miller: Fluke?

A 39-point domination a fluke? Who wrote or said that? I've not heard a single person even hint at that. Can you produce a link? Are you just projecting from FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's universally panned remarks after the game, that were wildly rated as pure doofus on the doofus meter?

Torsten, I suspect that you tend to view your obsessive Ducks fandom through a lens of grievance.

Dude, just enjoy the moment. Your team, which in 1983 played in a game notoriously dubbed "The Toilet Bowl," is playing for the national title for the second time in five years. If someone wishes to call Oregon a fluke, it will do more discredit to the speaker/writer than to the Ducks.


Derrick from Omaha writes: I am a long time fanatic Oregon fan, but always waiting to be disappointed! For the last nine weeks I have waited for the Ducks to "choke" (although with all of the injuries to great players it really would not be choking per se.). For nine weeks I have not only been wrong, but Oregon has demolished teams and covered the spread!! Please, PLEASE! Can I be wrong one more time?? Or should I get set for disappointment?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

You see? That's the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It's not my fault you wouldn't play catch with your father.

You Ducks fans are seeing a whole team of psychiatrists, aren't you?

Sorry. Just thought I'd pull out a couple of "Terence Mann" quotes from "Field of Dreams" to entertain myself.

I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I picked Florida State to win the Rose Bowl. I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I've picked Oregon to beat Ohio State on Monday, because I've convinced them -- along with Cal fans -- of my magical "reverse karma" picking ability. I've got Oregon fans who think I'm a Washington fan because I worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. I've got Oregon fans whose fandom seems to be entirely based on being oppositional to a long list of perceived enemies, me included. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the national media calling them a fluke. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the Ducks choking.

I know Oregon has arrived because its fans are no less crazy than those of Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State.

So congrats on that. And enjoy your national championship as something to celebrate, not something to throw in everyone else's face.

Championship Game Media Day Wrap

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
4:05
PM ET
Ohio State and Oregon met the press Saturday morning, and the ESPN.com team was out in full force to cover it all.


Matt Dyste laughs at what it was like in 1992, when he began his job overseeing the University of Oregon's licensing program.

"I would tell people in the business that I was from the University of Oregon and retailers would look at you strange and say, 'Why would we want Oregon product?' " Dyste recalled. "Today, everyone wants to talk about what we're selling."

The rise of Oregon as a national power, not coincidentally, has fueled the growth of the Ducks' brand. Once a sleepy West Coast outpost, Oregon now is known for its innovative marketing and appeal to a younger audience.

In the past two years, Oregon has jumped into the top 10 most popular college teams by licensing royalties. Last year, the program brought in $4.8 million in royalties -- four times what it brought in only five years before. Today, nearly 400 licensees make Oregon gear, and the competition outside of the state to make green and yellow merchandise is at unprecedented levels.

"We're fast becoming people's second-favorite team," said Arlyn Schaufler, the general manager of The Duck Store, the university-owned, not-for-profit bookstore that has seven retail shops and is the largest retailer of the school's gear. Schaufler notes that after Oregon, California and Washington, the next two most popular states for sales are Texas and New York. Data from Fanatics, the largest online-only sports retailer in the country, shows that this will be the fifth straight year that the Ducks have been among the top-five best-selling college football teams on its site.

[+] EnlargeOregon uniform
NikeOregon's cutting-edge uniform combos, along with its on-field success, have made the Ducks one of the most popular brands of college merchandise.
Making Oregon cool didn't happen organically. In 1996, one year after Oregon played in its first Rose Bowl in 37 years, Nike co-founder and former Oregon runner Phil Knight gathered his top executives to talk about how they could make Oregon more top-of-mind -- especially in the eyes of recruits. In the meeting was Nike's top designer, Tinker Hatfield, who also was on the track and field team during his days at Oregon.

Hatfield's team dreamed up more futuristic jerseys -- a range of combinations that no other program had ever flaunted -- and redesigned the logo. Gone was was "U" from the "UO" mark, leaving just the "O." The letter was redesigned with the inside rim in the shape of the old track at Hayward Field, the University of Oregon's legendary venue. The outside rim was the shape of what Autzen Stadium looked like as you flew over it.

Nike's cooperation with Oregon didn't come without strings attached. The world's largest shoe and apparel company would get exclusive rights to use the "O" on apparel and hats, and more recently the same exclusive rights to the phrase "Win The Day," for which Oregon holds a federal trademark.

The impact wasn't immediate. Oregon was still very much seen as a regional brand in 2001 when Joey Harrington's image was plastered on a billboard in Times Square to promote his Heisman campaign. That's not the case today, where hat stores in New York City frequently have Oregon products for sale alongside usual suspects such as Michigan and Alabama.

Part of it was the Nike push -- some of it backed by Knight's own money -- but the other was simply winning. In the past five years, Oregon is in its second national championship game with a remarkable 60-7 record over that span.

What's amazing about Oregon's rise is the tremendous upside that is ahead. Last season, Oregon's royalties bested that of national champion Florida State by more than $200,000.

Nike products make up the largest share of royalties to the university (about 33 percent), but with the tremendous demand, local retailers have been chipping in more.

Sew On Mackenzie, a screen printing company in nearby Springfield, Oregon, has seen its Oregon-licensed business nearly triple. The number of its employees has doubled to 50 since 2009. Fifteen years ago, when the company started making Oregon product mostly for the Ducks stores, it seemed far-fetched that the company would one day have a six-figure purchase order ready to go if Oregon won the title. That is indeed the reality.

"Everyone wants to do Oregon product now," said company president Tyler Norman said. "It is pushed us on the creative and marketing side to work harder than ever before."

If there's one limit to what Oregon can do, it's using the classic Donald Duck character through the "O" logo. Oregon received permission to use it in the 1940s thanks to a handshake agreement with Walt Disney himself. A more formalized agreement came decades later, but the school has made it clear that licensees don't have access to the mark because Disney owns it.

On Oct. 18, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of "The Pick," Kenny Wheaton's 97-yard interception return in a victory over Washington which led Oregon to the Rose Bowl -- what many Oregon fans consider the turning point in their program -- the Ducks wore classic jerseys that featured the duck through the O on the sleeves. Though a partnership with Disney, the jerseys hit retail.

"We sold 800 of them in a day and a half," The Duck Store's Schaufler said.

The tremendous success of Ducks gear actually is passed back to the students. In 1917, the University of Oregon sold its bookstore to students and faculty to pay for the team's trip to the Rose Bowl, essentially making it a non-profit where revenue would be pumped back in the form of discounts.

Today, the Duck Store has seven locations and broke a three-day sales record by setting up a pop-up shop in Los Angeles before this year's Rose Bowl.

Oregon has done all its licensing in-house, but last month, the size of the business led the school's athletic department to share its licensing responsibility with Fermata Partners, an agency that counts Kentucky, Miami and Georgia as clients.

Chris Prindiville, who founded the company, previously worked for Nike and graduated from Oregon in 1996. He said that those who buy Oregon gear skew younger, something that's unique to the traditional college business, which favors older alumni.

"Oregon was attractive to us because of the progressive nature of the business," Prindiville said. "It's a brand first and a licensing program second, and that was attractive to us."

Oregon's offense is more than tempo

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
10:00
AM ET

It can be said now after Oregon's 59-20 dismantling of Florida State that there was a high degree of confidence in the Ducks' coaching offices that their offense would wear down the Seminoles in the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual. FSU was only fair-to-middling on defense in any event and was ill-equipped to handle a relentless, precision up-tempo attack from a team that was faster and, yes, more physical.

Further, after watching film, the Ducks' coaches wondered if several of the Seminoles' defenders maybe should have spent more time doing cardio.

Ohio State looks like a different animal, however, in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T. It knows up-tempo schemes because that's an aspect of the Buckeyes' offense. Coach Urban Meyer also is familiar with the Ducks from the inside. He's a good buddy of former coach Chip Kelly. Some might call the football-obsessed, mad-scientist pair potential soul mates. Meyer is one of the few coaches who was allowed inside the Ducks' football facility to study Oregon and philosophize about offense. His offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, is a "disciple" -- Meyer's word -- of Kelly.

As for conditioning, heck, just being around the twisted-tight, uber-intense Meyer is a workout.

"I thought we had a real big advantage with our tempo in the last game [against Florida State]," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "I don't know if we will have quite that advantage against these guys. They see up-tempo all the time, and they look like they are in condition."

Yet the Ducks' offense has evolved post-Kelly. What was once a run-first, spread-option attack is now far more diverse with downfield passing. In fact, in terms of tempo, the Ducks are most aggressive after a downfield passing play, knowing it's more challenging for a defense -- already angry about giving up a big gain -- to regroup 15 to 40 yards downfield rather than after a 5-yard run.

Oregon averages 311 passing yards per game (11th in the nation) and 242 rushing (18th). In 2010, it ran the ball 61.4 percent of the time. This season, it runs the ball 58.8 percent of the time. That latter number also is a bit skewed toward the run because the Ducks faced only four competitive fourth quarters this season and trailed only once -- in their lone loss to Arizona -- entering the final frame.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, for one, doesn't seem too concerned about Meyer's 2011 visit or his inside knowledge of what Oregon tries to do on offense.

"I think we're a lot more different than we are similar, and I think that's personnel driven," Helfrich said about comparing the offenses. "Their strengths are different than our strengths. But there's definitely some similarities to it."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Harry How/Getty ImagesOregon's offense, with Heisman winner Marcus Mariota under center, is the nation's most efficient.
Oregon's obvious strength is at quarterback, where Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota can beat you with his legs but also absolutely crush your spirits with the pass. Mariota has attempted 64 percent of his passes after play-action this season, the highest percentage of any Power 5 player. After a run fake, he has an FBS-high 31 touchdowns and is averaging 11 yards per attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Mariota leads the FBS in yards per attempt (10.1), and on passes of 15 yards or longer, he has more completions (55) and has thrown for more yards than any other Power 5 quarterback, despite having the 11th-most attempts.

Oh, and woe to the defense that yields that initial first down. Mariota's offense led the FBS this season in scoring percentage after a first down is gained, scoring on 66.2 percent of such possessions.

It should be no surprise then that Oregon's offense is the nation's most efficient -- plus-25 points, three more than any other FBS offense this season -- and third-most efficient in the past 10 seasons.

Yet the Buckeyes, who struggled more against the run this season than the pass, have a counter with their pass defense and pass rush. Florida State entered the CFP semifinal with just 17 sacks and barely touched Mariota while recording no sacks. Ohio State has 43 sacks this season, ranking 13th in the nation with 3.0 sacks per game. Moreover, the Buckeyes rank fourth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and are particularly good against downfield attempts. On passes of 15 yards or longer, Ohio State has allowed five touchdowns and has nine interceptions, tied for the second-best differential among Power 5 defenses.

While Frost sort-of/kind-of dismissed tempo as a factor, he might be playing possum, as coaches are wont to do. The Buckeyes, like most teams, have seen up-tempo offenses, in games as well as in practice. But not like Oregon. Oregon averages 21.8 seconds per play, including 19.6 seconds per play in the first half. Ohio State has faced on average 25.3 seconds per play, and only two teams ran at a faster pace than Oregon's season average, which likely would be lower if the Ducks had played more competitive games.

"I think it's pretty obvious our biggest challenge will be their speed and tempo," Ohio State's All-American defensive lineman Joey Bosa said. "We've been doing 16 seconds between plays and have had periods of hurry-ups. We've also been really focusing on our conditioning this week. It's been a tough two days."

Bosa and the Buckeyes also will need to safeguard against Oregon's eruption quarter, which typically happens after the Ducks figure out what a defense is doing and they react to various formations and plays. Nine times this season, the Ducks scored 21 or more points in a quarter, and seven of those were in the second (five times) or third quarters. The Ducks average 7.2 points per game in the first quarter, which ranks 46th in the nation. They average 16.5 points in the second quarter, which ranks first, and 12.2 points per game in the third, which ranks second.

Frost has become a maestro of sequencing plays, provoking defenders into believing they see one thing, which then causes them to anticipate what might happen instead of sticking to their keys. That's a big reason Oregon ranks second in the nation with 101 plays of 20-plus yards -- space created for its playmakers by out-of-position defenders. In fact, despite Mariota completing 69 percent of his throws, he's also missed numerous potential big plays this season to a wide-open receiver, including a couple in the first half against FSU.

Mariota, just like his offense, also gets better as the game goes on. His efficiency rating improves each quarter, eclipsing 207 in the third and peaking with a ludicrous 233.3 in the fourth (six touchdowns, no interceptions, 81 percent completion rate and 12.52 yards per attempt).

The sum total is an Oregon offense that has overcome numerous injuries -- four starters won't play versus Ohio State and four others have missed games this season -- to become one of the most dominant units in recent memory, and that is about more than playing fast.

In a new AT&T commercial, Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker, sitting around watching the new College Football Playoff on ESPN, try to tease Joe Montana about his not winning the bronze statue. Montana seems duly impressed.

"What an accomplishment," he says. Only he raises his hand to his face, and it features four Super Bowl rings and a ring for the 1977 national title he won at Notre Dame.

#winning!

When it comes to team sports, particularly in this country, winning championships trumps eye-popping statistics and individual accomplishments. That's why no one ranks Dan Marino ahead of Montana on lists of all-time great quarterbacks, even though Marino was a better pure passer.

This is an important sports cultural note because we are on the cusp of potentially making a huge distinction. If Oregon beats Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Jan. 12, Marcus Mariota will have a strong case for the greatest quarterback in college football history. He'll have the Heisman, eye-popping numbers over three brilliant seasons and, most important, that championship. It would further boost his case that Oregon's first Heisman winner also led it to its first football national title, the Ducks then being the first first-time national title winner since Florida in 1996.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Jae C. HongMarcus Mariota's passing efficiency numbers are among the best in college football history.
Ah, Florida. It can counter with two legitimate entrants to the discussion of best quarterback in college football history: Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Both put up huge numbers over multiple seasons and won Heismans. And both won national titles.

By those measures, you'd also have to include USC's Matt Leinart in the discussion. He won the 2004 Heisman and finished sixth in 2003 and third in 2005. While his overall numbers aren't as sparkly as Mariota's, Weurffel's or Tebow's, he went 37-2 as a starter and nearly won three consecutive national titles.

If winning is our primary measure, how can QBs like Tommie Frazier and Vince Young be overlooked? Frazier and Young each finished second in Heisman voting, but Frazier won consecutive national titles at Nebraska (1994 and 1995) without losing a game -- that 1995 team ranks among the best in the history of the sport -- while Young resurrected the Longhorns and won the 2005 national title.

Our old-timers are reminding us that college football is more than a few decades old. Any discussion of all-time greats needs to include TCU's Sammy Baugh, who was slinging the ball around well before passing was a significant part of the game, and the Horned Frogs claimed a national title in 1935 with Baugh behind center. The two-time All-American had 39 career TD passes and also ended up an NFL Hall of Famer.

So what is Mariota's case should he prevail against the Buckeyes? The CFP, in itself, would be a good Point A: His winning a national title will rate a bigger accomplishment than those of his predecessors because he will have to win consecutive games against highly ranked, top-four foes in order to earn that final No. 1 ranking. Those who won BCS or pre-BCS titles didn't have the added rigor of the CFP.

As for numbers, both this season and career, Mariota's case is strong. He leads the nation in Total QBR, ESPN.com's advanced metric for measuring a QB's efficiency and overall effectiveness, by a wide margin, and his 91.7 rating is third best since 2004. He finished ranked second in QBR the previous two seasons to Heisman winners Jameis Winston of Florida State and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Those QBR numbers rank 10th and 17th of all time, making him the only QB since 2004 to have three seasons ranked in the top 20.

The same lofty measures hold true with standard QB efficiency ratings. Mariota is No. 1 this season after ranking seventh in 2013 and 2012. Those ratings rank 6th, 55th and 97th all-time (since 1956). His career efficiency rating ranks second all-time behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.

Mariota has been responsible for more touchdowns (134) and racked up more yards of total offense (12,661) than any other player in Pac-12 history. He has thrown a touchdown pass in all 40 career starts, the second-longest streak in FBS history. He is on pace to set the FBS record for career interception percentage, as only 13 of his 1,130 career attempts have been picked off (1.15 percent).

With any subjective measure, as this undoubtedly is, you can highlight or downplay aspects to suit an argument. Leinart and Frazier led dynastic runs of sustained excellence but were hardly one-star constellations for college football superpowers. Young completed an outstanding 2005 season -- second to Reggie Bush in Heisman voting -- with a tour de force performance in a thrilling victory over Leinart, Bush and USC in the national title game. Tebow finished first, third and fifth in Heisman voting, was a significant part of a second national title team, had 145 career TDs and put up strong efficiency numbers.

A further complication in this debate is blocking out how these quarterbacks were evaluated by the NFL and then produced as professionals. The only aforementioned QB who succeeded in the NFL was Baugh. Wuerffel and Tebow were widely doubted by NFL scouts in advance of the draft. Injuries ended Frazier's career before he could play on Sundays. Leinart and Young were top-10 picks in 2006, but they both flopped in the NFL.

Mariota is expected to be a top-10 pick this spring and could go No. 1 overall. In terms of NFL prospects, he's decisively better than Wuerffel and Tebow, and it's already clear he has a superior arm compared to Leinart and is far more advanced mechanically than Young. In terms of pure QB ability and talent as it would translate to the NFL, Mariota is the best prospect of the bunch, even before you factor in his ability as a runner.

Of course, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer can do his old QB Tebow a favor in this debate. If the Buckeyes triumph over the Ducks, Mariota won't get to flash a championship ring, a prerequisite for inclusion in our "best ever" conversation.
With a 6-2 record and Oregon set to play in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T, it has been quite the bowl season for the Pac-12.

SportsNation

What has been the best play of bowl season in the Pac-12?

  •  
    16%
  •  
    9%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    62%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,654)

So, as we prepare for the Ducks' meeting with Ohio State, here's a look back at some of the top plays we've seen over the past few weeks.

1. Sometimes two quarterbacks are better than one

The bar was set high when Utah -- the first Pac-12 team to play -- dipped into its bag of tricks on its first offensive snap of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes ran a reverse to backup quarterback Jason Thompson, who tossed it back to quarterback Travis Wilson, who hit Kaelin Clay downfield for a 36-yard gain. Two plays later, Wilson ran in an 8-yard touchdown and Utah was on its way to a a 45-10 win against Colorado State. It seems even more important with Brent Musburger on the call.

video 2. Adoree' Jackson channels Reggie Bush

USC's three-way true freshman, Adoree' Jackson, "says adios" to Nebraska on a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown early in the first quarter to set the tone for what turned out to be a wild National University Holiday Bowl. The return was an impressive display of speed in the open field, but his front flip in the end zone -- the Bush comparison is necessary -- to punctuate the play might have been the better indicator of the type of athlete Jackson is. “It was reminiscent of another guy I’ve seen wearing our uniform before,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said after the game, a reference to Bush. Jackson also caught a 71-yard touchdown from Cody Kessler as USC won 45-42.

video 3. Boise State also pays homage to the past with Statue of Liberty

This one went against Arizona, but Boise State's touchdown via the Statue of Liberty play in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl is too good to leave out. Running back Jay Ajayi, who will enter the NFL draft early, made it 21-0 in the first quarter on a 16-yard touchdown nearly eight years after Ian Johnson's memorable two-point conversion against Oklahoma on the opposite corner of the field. Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford was teammates with Johnson for one season at Boise State.

video 4. Perkins seals it for UCLA

After it led 31-6 at halftime of the Valero Alamo Bowl, UCLA seemingly did everything it could to let Kansas State back into it. However, Paul Perkins put things out of reach when he went 67 yards untouched to make it 40-28 with 2:20 left. Perkins finished with 194 yards on 20 carries.

video 5. Tony Washington takes Jameis Winston's fumble to the house

If there's a play that sums up Oregon's 59-20 thrashing of Florida State it's this one. The Ducks were already up 39-20 late in the third quarter when Winston ran around in circles, slipped and lost the ball, which conveniently bounced right into the arms of Oregon's Tony Washington, who returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. Please pay attention to the slipping ref, which adds a great deal to the overall entertainment value.

video

Two all-time great vines came in the wake of the play, as well.

First, Lance Stephenson gets credit for the sack and fumble.



Then, RKO OUT OF NOWHERE.

SPONSORED HEADLINES