Pac-12: Pat Haden

Week 2 statements can be deceiving

September, 8, 2014
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Each college football season is a whodunit. Or, more accurately, it's a "who-will-do-it." It contains plot twists and turns, false leads and subtle clues about how things will play out. It's basically a 14-chapter potboiler, so if we seemed to have a couple of big reveals in Chapter 2, we should greet them with equanimity. Even skepticism.

No. 3 Oregon made the biggest national statement so far this season with a 46-27 victory against No. 7 Michigan State. The Ducks answered questions about their ability to match up with an elite physical defense and established their legitimacy. That quarterback Marcus Mariota turned in a tour de force for the Ducks further validates the preseason feeling that he was the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Also getting a hole punched in their validation cards were Ducks coach Mark Helfrich and new defensive coordinator Don Pellum.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesWe shouldn't punch Oregon's ticket to the College Football Playoff just yet.
Meanwhile, USC and new coach Steve Sarkisian also answered questions, though the Trojans' 13-10 triumph at Stanford was pretty much a quasi-comic thriller unto itself. For one, there's USC athletic director Pat Haden, who has never previously merited a rating on the wacko scale, apparently deciding there was some wisdom in his engaging the officials for all to see. Yes, a former USC quarterback, Rhodes Scholar and 61-year-old member of the College Football Playoff selection committee apparently didn't think making a spectacle of himself would turn out badly.

As for football, the Trojans won a second consecutive nail-biter over the Cardinal, propelling themselves into the top 10, They won in large part because Stanford couldn't get out of its own way. The Cardinal had nine drives inside the Trojans’ 35-yard line but scored just 10 points, which almost seems mathematically impossible. That red zone ineptitude would be notable for any team, but it's even more stunning when you consider Stanford's well-established reputation for disciplined, bruising, efficient play.

Nonetheless, the victory made the Trojans the second-highest rated team in the Pac-12 in both major polls. Two weeks into the season, one might call them the South Division favorite and most likely team to challenge the Ducks.

But what of USC's friends from Westwood, UCLA, the previous holder of both those designations? The Bruins improved to 2-0, but only after an unimpressive performance in an anxious 42-35 victory against lightly regarded Memphis. They continued a tumble in national estimation, falling from a preseason ranking of No. 7 to No. 12 in the latest AP poll. In Week 1 at Virginia, the Bruins' offense, particularly the line, appeared hapless. In Week 2, the defense took the day off.

UCLA is a cipher. The Bruins look good on paper -- the depth chart suggests no obvious deficiencies -- but have not looked good on turf, at least thus far. They remain unbeaten but are presently the most deserving owner of the dreaded "overrated" label. They could turn out to be the Chapter 1 good guys who end up as heels. Or the opposite. They could be lying in wait, bland and unimpressive, before leaping out of the shadows to make their heroic flourish. Feel free, by the way, to put your own spin on coach Jim Mora's brief postgame interview in which he said he liked his defense "a lot," before frumping off, leaving reporter and audience hanging.

In the preseason, there was some hope that UCLA's game with Texas on Saturday in Cowboys Stadium would be revealing. While expectations weren't terribly high for the Longhorns under first-year coach Charlie Strong, there were reasonable projections this game at least would be a matchup of ranked teams. But Texas is battling growing pains, as well as injuries and suspensions, under Strong. It just got whipped for a second consecutive season by BYU, so the Longhorns look like more of a banana peel than a national stepping-stone for the Bruins.

If UCLA loses, it probably will fall out of the Top 25, going from vogue pick for CFP semifinalist to unranked within three weeks. If it wins, most will shrug and point to the Sept. 25 date at Arizona State, a Thursday night showdown between South Division contenders, as a true measuring stick for whether the Bruins merit our preseason gushing.

This skepticism, however, carries little more authority than everyone's present approbation of Oregon. It's just fickle words, really. Fodder for the daily grind of sports fandom, this week's topic. In December, Oregon's 2-0 might not end up being any more meaningful than UCLA's 2-0. Further, UCLA at 4-0, no matter how it got there, would probably rework its popular descriptive term from "overrated" to "opportunistic."

In other words, our present takes are no more than hunches. These are educated hunches based on tangible evidence, but we all know tangible evidence often has a brief shelf life in college football. Oregon, USC and UCLA have made statements about themselves through Week 2, and it's inevitable that we react to what has been said.

That doesn't mean we won't be breaking down a rematch between Arizona State and Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game when the regular season ends.
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STANFORD, Calif. -- It’s not surprising that frustration was the main point of discussion after No. 14 USC beat 13th-ranked Stanford 13-10 in a constipated slog Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium. The surprise, though, was who was standing on the USC sideline voicing that frustration.

Trojans athletic director Pat Haden was summoned to the sideline late in the third quarter, after head coach Steve Sarkisian decided his annoyance with the officiating crew was going to get him kicked out of the game or perhaps render him incapable of coaching his team while expressing the true breadth of his displeasure.

Sarkisian’s solution was to summon Haden to the sideline from his luxury suite -- “mid-hot dog,” Haden joked -- to do the arguing on Sarkisian's behalf. The sight of Haden, a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, stalking the sideline in his gold pants added yet another bizarre episode to the ongoing saga of USC football.

USC had issues with the officiating for much of the game, but Sarkisian’s frustration apparently got the best of him after a delay of game penalty following Andre Heidari’s 25-yard field goal with just under a minute left in the third quarter. The penalty was called because Sarkisian was standing too close to the field when the ball was snapped. Sarkisian was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing that call, and the 15 additional yards moved the kickoff back to the 10-yard line.

At that point, Sarkisian says he feared getting a second unsportsmanlike call, which comes with an ejection, so he asked someone on the sidelines to summon Haden. According to Haden, someone in the USC compliance department texted him from the sideline -- a low-level NCAA infraction -- and informed him of Sarkisian’s wishes.

"Obviously, I had gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty, and I was incorrect," Sarkisian said. "You can’t be in the white at any time, and I was in the white on the field goal. At the time I vehemently disagreed with the call, but by the letter of the law, I was incorrect.

"I didn’t feel like I was in a position to continue to discuss that with the officiating crew. I felt like I was better off having Pat get in between and make sure everybody knew what was going on. I was in a frame of mind, I was in a competitive mode, and I just felt like it was the right thing to do."

Haden stood the rest of the game inside the players’ box on the USC sideline, frequently no more than a few feet from Sarkisian. Despite being photographed and filmed speaking with the officials in an animated fashion, Haden categorically denied he was arguing.

"By the time I got there, it had all been worked out," Haden said. "I was just an innocent bystander. There was a funny flow to the game. Just funny."

Asked if he felt he had overstepped his bounds as AD by arguing with officials from the sideline, Haden said, “I wasn’t arguing with the officials. Officials and athletic directors can disagree, and I’m usually wrong. … I’ve never been asked to go down [to the sideline], so when I was asked, I went down. Whatever penalty was called, they’d hashed it out and Sark said, 'I was wrong.'"

The unsportsmanlike call on Sarkisian was followed in quick order by a helmet-to-helmet late hit called on USC linebacker Hayes Pullard, whose ejection was upheld after review.

On the sideline, Haden told ESPN’s Heather Cox, "I got a text to come down because Sark wanted to talk to me. He felt the call on him was unfair, and the referee explained he had warned him, and that’s why he got the penalty, but it’s been a really frustrating quarter with the penalties, believe me. We got the right answer, we can move on and have a good fourth quarter."

Asked after the game if he was concerned about the appearance created by a member of the selection committee on the field engaging the officials, Haden shook his head and said, "I’m the athletic director of my team as well."
USC athletic director Pat Haden and Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice, both members of the College Football Playoff selection committee, have been recused from voting for their respective schools, the committee announced Thursday.

Seven other members of the 13-member selection committee will be barred from voting or discussing schools they are affiliated with. They will, however, be permitted to answer factual questions relating to their respective schools.

Former Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham was not recused. Willingham recently served as a volunteer assistant coach with the Stanford women's golf team, but has not done so the past two seasons.

When the selection committee was named last year, Stanford coach David Shaw spoke to both Willingham's and Rice's objectivity and character.

"No offense to either one of those, [but] if I was going to pack the jury, I wouldn't pick them because they're going to be unbelievably unbiased," Shaw said. "I would love to have some biased people on there, but those are two people that I don't think you can question their integrity. They're going to do and fight for what they believe is right."

Rice and Willingham aren't the only two with Stanford ties. West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck has a daughter attending Stanford, and his two older children are former Stanford student-athletes and graduates. Luck is permitted to discuss and vote on Stanford, but not West Virginia.

The committee will be responsible for ranking 25 teams throughout the season and is ultimately responsible for selecting the four teams to take part in the first College Football Playoff in addition to the six bowl games on New Year's Day. The committee met for three days this week in Colorado Springs, but won't convene again in person until Oct. 27-28. From there, they will meet every Monday and Tuesday for the rest of the year.

The first rankings for the playoff will be revealed Oct. 28 on ESPN.
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Lawyers get busted on plenty. Rightfully so. They often make a living out of complicating the simple. The best lawyers elevate disingenuousness to an art form.

Yet litigation and opportunistic lawyers are forcing the NCAA -- read: college football and men's basketball -- to grow up. In the presently pitched courtroom battle of the disingenuous known as the O'Bannon v. NCAA antitrust class action lawsuit, the NCAA's already tattered credibility is hemorrhaging, and that is good news for young athletes and folks who appreciate gestures aimed at advancing toward equity and fairness in games that have long graduated from amateur to big business.

[+] EnlargePat Haden
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUSC AD Pat Haden says moving to four-year scholarships for football and basketball will help 'refocus on student-athlete welfare.'
Take USC, which on Monday announced that it will now offer "four-year athletic scholarships to all scholarship student-athletes in the revenue sports of football and men's and women's basketball in lieu of the current practice of offering one-year renewable scholarships."

"In taking this action, USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field," athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement.

First of all, we should not get carried away with this decision, which will be effective July 1. While this is unquestionably a positive move and a benefit for revenue sports athletes at USC, it's also mostly about being proactive and getting some good publicity, not institutional sacrifice.

For one, most schools, including USC, haven't been ruthlessly Machiavellian about the one-year deals. If an athlete signs, stays out of trouble and is positive in the locker room, it's rare for a school to cut him or her loose just because he or she falls short of athletic expectations.

Sure, some coaches get creative with practices that amount to cutting players. More than a few of those "injury retirements" are mutual separations between athlete and team that allow said athlete to remain on full scholarship as a student. Sure, a coach is more likely to dismiss a 20-year-old sophomore bench warmer after a citation as a minor in possession of a beer than he is a star who gets hauled off to jail for a more serious offense. And, sure, a new coach sometimes makes a few statement cuts after his first spring practices to send a message about there being a new sheriff in town.

But, really, those one-year scholarships have been typically treated as four-year agreements.

Moreover, a four-year scholarship doesn't exempt an athlete from academic and behavioral standards. Know that star players will continue to be favored with more protection than marginal contributors, whatever the scholarship papers say.

Still, this is a savvy move by Haden and USC. The Trojans' athletic department will get a headline that celebrates it for fighting the good fight, for making the life of a student-athlete at USC just a little bit better, a little more secure. When you cut to the chase, that really has been what all this ominous talk -- in some quarters -- about unionizing and pay-for-play has been about: Giving athletes a better deal.

Haden, a former star QB at USC as well as a Rhodes Scholar who made big bucks in the private sector, has long been an advocate of giving athletes a better deal, though he also is adamant that it can be done without athletes unionizing and receiving salaries. As the Big Five conferences -- Pac-12, SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 -- take irrevocable steps toward more autonomy, expect to see more individual institutions look to set their own rules. These new rules, by the way, will be about finding a competitive edge as much as nobility of purpose.

For example, while USC doesn't recruit many athletes who worry about being cut or the length of their scholarship term, it is one more selling point Steve Sarkisian can bring into an athlete's living room. It's fair to assume that more than a few mommies and daddies will like the idea of a four-year promise over a one-year one.

USC isn't alone. Northwestern administrators quickly responded on Twitter on Monday that the Wildcats have been doing four-year deals since 2012 for all sports. Kudos.

The question now is whether four-year scholarships become a rule or, at least, a popular standard, or if you see a diversity of approaches among institutions in the Big Five conferences.
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USC officially will be done with NCAA sanctions on Tuesday, so the Los Angeles Times published a package this weekend looking back and projecting forward, talking to -- or getting turned down for interviews by -- some of the key players in the most egregious miscarriage of justice in the history of NCAA enforcement.

It's not inaccurate to say the NCAA's indefensible and farcical ruling against USC football is a notable part of the organization's humiliating and entirely justified downward momentum over the past four or so years, both in terms of public perception and in the courtroom, as well as the movement for autonomy among the Big Five conferences.

The NCAA is incapable of fairly and consistently policing its member organizations. That's as good a reason as any to diminish its power.

From the Times:
As many of you know, I've ranted and raved about the USC case numerous times through the years -- such as this and this and this. While some have implied that the source of my strong feelings on the matter emerges from some sort of USC/Pac-12 bias, that's simply inaccurate. It's always been about facts and fairness. Truth is, it's been a pretty easy argument to win -- over and over again.

That said: This feels like a great week for the Pac-12 blog. I am weary of the whole mess. Too often it disturbed my typical Zen-like equilibrium.

USC has spent the last four years getting justifiably mad. The Trojans best course going forward is to get even.
One of the major items of interest coming out of this week's Pac-12 meetings in Phoenix was the possibility of moving the Pac-12 championship game to a neutral site -- specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

A neutral site would take the pressure off the host institution to prepare for a major event in just six days. It would provide a showcase game in a major population area in a shiny new venue. It would have the potential to become a major event.

That said, it also could feature a lot of empty seats, as the Pac-12 is spread out more than, say, the SEC or Big 12, which use a neutral sites for their championship games. Empty seats do not look good on television.

SportsNation

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It also would go against the original justification for the home-host model: It provided an advantage to the team that had the best regular season in the conference. That not only seemed reasonable, and by extension, it also provided protection for the conference's No. 1 seed as it jockeyed for postseason position. That might be even more important with the advent of the College Football Playoff this fall.

Jon Wilner provides some cogent analysis here.

Pac-12 coaches and athletic directors seemed intrigued but also skeptical about moving the game to a neutral site, particularly for teams that had short-term visions of hosting the game.

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Still, a packed house at sparkling new Levi's Stadium on Dec. 5 would be a pretty compelling image to showcase the nation.

So what do you think?

Do you favor the home-host model or moving the Pac-12 title game to a neutral site?

Video: USC AD Pat Haden

May, 8, 2014
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USC athletic director Pat Haden talks about Pac-12 meetings and the College Football Playoff.

PHOENIX -- The overriding message coming out of Pac-12 meetings is that major changes in college football governance are now inevitable, even if the details and long-term consequences of those changes remain unclear.

The Big Five conferences will meet in August and almost certainly obtain a new autonomy level within the NCAA structure. At that point, major rules changes, including those that significantly bolster the support and benefits provided to athletes, will start to be formulated. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott intimated that things could move fairly quickly thereafter, so his message to conference coaches and athletic directors was basically to buckle up.

"Quickly is a relative concept, but deadlines are good," Scott said. "I think if we get the autonomy that we've asked for, the commissioners will be setting out a very aggressive timetable to put proposals out ... I expect we'll have a very intensive process over the next four months -- September through December -- where practitioners from our campuses are working on different agendas, including those with a deadline of January, specific proposals that can be voted upon by the 65 schools [in the Big Five]."

So "quickly" might mean?

"The goal is to implement whatever changes we're going to implement for the 2015-16 year," Scott said.

Chief among those would be cost of attendance scholarships, which could vary significantly by team and conference. Scott, however, noted that doesn't create a massive change of direction and complication because the pure value of tuition scholarships also vary by team and conference.

What does need to be implemented to prevent any fudging is a clear formula that all 65 schools apply to calculate the new value of their cost of attendance scholarships.

"I don't think it will that big of a deal, but there will be issues to work through in terms of a common method of determining the full cost," Scott said.

There is a significant degree of consensus within the Big Five conferences for adopting the cost of attendance scholarships, and it appears there is unanimity within the Pac-12.

"These are a lot of things that are going to be costly for us but I think are necessary and in line with what I believe we should be doing for our student-athletes," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, echoing other conference ADs.

While Scott was unwilling to admit that the Northwestern football union challenge and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA were driving the oncoming changes, he did concede the legal challenges to the NCAA governance structure and the publicity surrounding them weren't too far from administrators' minds.

"Is it some of these external challenges driving it? I would say no. There's been a recognition for some time [about these issues]," Scott said. "But I'd say external pressures bring a helpful focus and helpful push to get these things done."

[+] EnlargeLevi's Stadium
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLevi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, could be the new home of the Pac-12 championship game as well.
As for the other major item on the Pac-12 agenda, it was more based on the West Coast: The location of the 2014 Pac-12 championship game. There were earnest discussions over the two days about changing it from a game hosted by the conference's top team to a neutral site, specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

While the potential move was an intriguing idea, it also isn't a done deal.

"I think there was a lot of positive feeling about it," Scott said. "Some objected. There are some pros and cons."

Said Moos: "Personally, I think [Levi's Stadium] is the way to go."

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Shrugged Washington's Scott Woodward: "I'm ambivalent. I trust the league and what they want to do. I have no problem one way or the other."

If the title game is going to be played in the new 49ers stadium on Dec. 5, a decision almost certainly would be announced in June, when the Pac-12 presidents meet.

"If we are going to make the move, it wouldn't be later than that," Scott said.

So it appears that the summer, once a quiet time for college football news, will be anything but that this year.

Pac-12 lunch links

April, 24, 2014
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7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.
Happy Friday.
 

Season wrap: USC

January, 15, 2014
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The big news for USC's 2013 campaign wasn't the season itself but the firing of coach Lane Kiffin. That, however, also was the transformative moment of the season, as the Trojans bounced back from a dispiriting 3-2 start to finish 10-4 and rank 19th, rallying under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

The Trojans went 6-2 under Orgeron, but his hopes for earning the full-time job were likely dashed by two losses to Notre Dame and UCLA, USC's two chief rivals.

The second big news for the Trojans was the hiring of Steve Sarkisian away from Washington, which received a mixed reaction. But that points toward the future. Our concern is the 2013 season.

You can read our graded review of USC here.

Offensive MVP: The Trojans' offense struggled much of the season, ranking ninth in the conference with 29.7 points per game, but its most consistent weapon was receiver Nelson Agholor. With Marqise Lee in and out of the lineup with injuries, it was Agholor, a sophomore, who led the Trojans with 918 yards receiving and six touchdowns. His 16.4 yards per reception also was tops among the team's receivers. Further, he led the conference and ranked second in the nation with a 19.1-yard average on punt returns, which included two returns for touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Leonard Williams became one of the nation's best defensive linemen as a true sophomore. He ranked second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles and was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com and third-team by the Associated Press. He is almost certain to be a 2014 preseason All-American.

Best moment: No. 4 Stanford had rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the score at 17-17, and it had the ball with more than three minutes remaining on its 40-yard line. There was plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal, but Stanford QB Kevin Hogan threw his second fourth-quarter interception to Su'a Cravens at the USC 44. The Trojans then got a 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari, who had struggled for much of 2013, with just 19 seconds left to notch the upset, and recorded the fourth and best win of what would become a five-game winning streak under Orgeron.

Worst moment: While the 10-7 loss at home to Washington State was horrible -- the Trojans had just 193 total yards -- and was the beginning of the end for Kiffin, the 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the defeat that ended his tenure. Athletic director Pat Haden was so dismayed with the white-flag performance -- the Trojans gave up 612 yards -- that he fired Kiffin at LAX in the early morning hours of the next day. Of course, that low moment seems to spur the season's transformation so some may see Kiffin's firing as a good thing.

Mailbag: More Sankey-Carey kerfuffle

December, 17, 2013
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Postseason awards and All-America teams are a hot, and always controversial, topic this week.

Chris in Lake Stevens, Wash. writes: (Ka'Deem) Carey over (Bishop) Sankey? Are you an idiot or an Arizona grad? Sankey had more yards, more TDs and a better YPC. You've lost all credibility as far as I'm concerned.

Kevin Gemmell: Really? All credibility? Idiot? For picking a first-team All-American, a Doak Walker finalist, a guy who finished ahead of Sankey in the Heisman voting and the offensive player of the year as selected by the coaches?

Guess the coaches are idiots as well.

I’m happy to re-open the debate (and I will below). But your note smacks of uneducated fanaticism.

Chris L in Memphis writes: In making his case on East Coast bias, Ted wrote this: "Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is the nation's best running back." Please make the case as to how Carey is even the best back in his conference.

Kevin Gemmell: I’d be happy to, Chris. And thanks for your letter. I know this particular Chris to be an extremely educated Washington fan -- the kind that makes Washington fans look good.

First off, as I stated in last week’s mailbag, I thought Ted’s East Coast bias column was one of the strongest pieces I’ve ever read from him.

Obviously, the Sankey vs. Carey debate will rage for years. And it should. It’s fun to debate the merits, of which there are many, of two fantastic players. Washington fans will always back Sankey -- which is right. And Arizona fans will always back Carey -- which is also right. There's just a right way and a wrong way to do it (cough, cough, Chris in Lake Stevens). Because both are outstanding running backs with the physical build and skill sets to be successful running backs at the next level.

Sankey had more total yards and more touchdowns. Carey had more yards per game and 10 fewer zero or negative rushing plays (Sankey had 45, Carey 35). We won’t get into the debate of playing time because I know Sankey sat the second half of some games and Carey missed a game, etc. etc. Carey had more carries because his team didn’t have the passing attack that Washington did. The Huskies averaged 271.3 yards through the air per game with 24 touchdowns. Arizona had just 186.8 passing yards per game with 14 touchdowns. Washington leaned heavily on Sankey, but I think we can all agree that Arizona leaned more heavily on Carey.

The little separation that exists in my mind is because of Carey’s consistency. I broke this down in a column earlier this month and essentially Carey did his best work -- more than 20 yards above his average -- against the top competition.

Sankey and Carey had six games this year that involved common opponents: Oregon, ASU, California, Colorado, UCLA and Washington State. In those games Sankey averaged 144 yards with eight total touchdowns. Against the same competition, Carey rushed for 152.5 yards with 11 touchdowns.

Sankey was outstanding. But his overall season takes a hit from the ASU game (13 carries, 22 yards) and, yes, the fact that Carey’s team beat Oregon and he was a huge reason why has to weigh in.

Again, this is a Fujis vs. Honey Crisp discussion. But when you look at overall consistency -- essentially zero bad statistical games for Carey -- the fact that he did better against head-to-head competition and that he was at his best against tougher defenses, I think that justifies making a case for him as the best back in the league.

Weston in Costa Mesa, Calif. writes: Hello Kevin, I was curious to know what your view is on the state of USC football going into the next few seasons. Where does the program go if Sark doesn’t work out and is he in the hot seat right away if he doesn’t deliver in the first year (by deliver I mean anything less than an 8 win season).ThanksWestonps. I’m a Stanford fan living in a USC ruled area and everybody is talking about this.

Kevin Gemmell: This is sort of a two-parter. The first part, the state of USC football over the next few seasons, is essentially asking what do I think Steve Sarkisian can do for the program. The second part is if he doesn’t succeed, how quick will he get the hook.

I can’t imagine that if he only wins seven games in his first year that Pat Haden would put him on the hot seat. Haden showed an amazing amount of patience with Lane Kiffin and gave him the opportunity to right the ship in 2013. When it was clear the ship wasn’t being righted, he made his move.

This was a high-profile hire for USC and for Haden. A lot of eyes will be on this decision for the next few years. And my best bet is that Haden is going to do everything possible to convince people he got his guy.

As for how they’ll do? Well, there are some really, really talented players on both sides of the ball. And it was pretty clear that the Trojans underachieved with Kiffin as their head coach because they clearly had the talent to rip off five in a row and beat the No. 4 team in the country in Stanford.

We’ve said this before … USC is a brand. It is always going to attract high-profile recruits simply because it’s USC. You combine that with a bulldog of a recruiter in Sarkisian and you have to expect the Trojans will be just fine.

The question is what happens once he does get those elite athletes into the program. How does he develop the talent? How does he handle the X’s and O’s? He did an amazing job of bringing Washington back to respectability. But he never got them into the elite class. Perhaps with a few more years in Seattle he would have? We’ll never know. But that certainly plants a lingering question about what he can do at USC.

I think given the way the South sets up for the next few years, USC could certainly win it. Or ASU could repeat. Or UCLA could win its third division in four years. Or Arizona could make a run when their potential All-Universe scout team starts playing in games.

The South is so wide open right now that there really isn’t one clear-cut team that is a favorite. And I think USC has to be considered in that mix. The Trojans could win the South next year. Or they could finish fourth in the division.

I’m willing to give Sark and Haden the benefit of the doubt that they can get USC moving in the right direction. Sark might not be the biggest name nationally, but he has the pedigree that fits very well with the culture in Southern California.

Peter in Washington writes: Did you intentionally leave off the second common opponent between BYU and UW? Both teams played FCS Idaho State year as well as Boise State.

Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer would have been yes, it was intentional, because Idaho State is an FCS team and it wasn’t worth mentioning. But truth be told, I just missed it. So thanks for keeping me honest. And in the interest of getting all of the information out there, Washington beat Idaho State 56-0 on Sept. 21. BYU beat the Bengals 59-13 on Nov. 16.

Mike in Boston writes: I thought I'd give you a heads up that you came in fifth in the Cardboard's (an independently run Stanford fan community) "Predict the Score" game for predicting Stanford's game outcomes. We entered the predicted scores from your weekly post on Pac-12 games. Note, Miller sits all the way down at No. 15.

Kevin Gemmell: Awesome! Had no idea you guys were doing that. Since I finished 10 spots ahead of Ted, I think it’s fair that the next 10 rounds of non-alcoholic eggnog are on him.

Sun Devil Ric in San Diego writes: I thought I understood the politics of trophies and All-American teams, but I guess I'm still clueless. Why did ASJ win the Mackey award, but isn't named on a single All-American team yet?

Kevin Gemmell: You understand them? Really? Please share. Because I've been at this a long time and I still don't know.

Tight end was a deep position this year. And ASJ did get named third-team AA in the AP All-American team. Like every single postseason award, there is a level of subjectivity that is tough to comprehend because it's different for everyone. I wish I could climb into the minds of the voters and give you a clear-cut explanation for why things are the way they are when it comes to postseason awards. But I can't.

All I can say is I think the Mackey folks got it right.

Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Great work by you and your partner Miller on the ESPN.com AA team. I think the Pac was well represented, and that's testimony to you and Ted spreading the good word and fighting the good fight. Well done. Happy HolidaysRC

Kevin Gemmell: Back atcha Ryan. There will never be a perfect postseason list. And I would have liked to see Anthony Barr on our list also. But the fact that Barr appears on others, as does Trent Murphy, shows just how deep and talented the Pac-12 was this season.

Looking forward to another year of why UCLA is overrated mailbag drops from you. But for now, enjoy the bowl season and the holiday season.

That goes for the rest of you, too. (Yes, Chris in Lake Stevens, even you).

Mailbag: Did USC or Washington win?

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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Welcome to the mailbag, Pac-12 championship and coaching carousel edition.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?

Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?

The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.

Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.

Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.

As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.

Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.

Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.

So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.

Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.


Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?

Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.

A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.

Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.

The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.

But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.

In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.

Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.

But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.


Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?

Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.

That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.

Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.

And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.


Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.

Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.

The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.

Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.

The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.


Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?

Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.

Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.

I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.

Orgeron makes Haden's search complicated

November, 18, 2013
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We could try to quantify how much better USC is under Ed Orgeron the past six games compared to Lane Kiffin during the season's first five, but that really is pretty easy. We don't need numbers. We need only three words:

Everything is better.

USC is less sloppy. It's more disciplined. It's protecting the football. USC is playing better offense. It's even playing better defense, if you consider the schedule. It's better on special teams.

[+] EnlargeOrgeron
AP Photo/Don RyanUnder interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Trojans are 5-1. USC faces Colorado on Saturday.
The epidemic injuries that were once an excuse for poor play are now further grounds to give credit to Orgeron and his staff for finding a way to get it done under adverse circumstances.

Obviously, USC is playing with far more passion. And you can't undersell this: Its players are having way more fun.

"We absolutely love him," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said after the 20-17 win over Stanford. "We'd run through a brick wall for him. He has that look in his eye that you can tell that when he talks to you he really does care. I gave him a hug after the game, and I don't know if he'd want me saying this, but I saw his eyes water up. It's awesome when you play with someone who has that same passion."

How can you dispute or diminish that? You can't.

But the question then becomes: Is that enough to hire him to be the next USC head coach? That is, reportedly, the $6 million question.

When you look at how USC is playing and the Trojans' 5-1 record since Orgeron took over, it's impossible to not give his candidacy legitimacy. Further, that already strong résumé will become measurably stronger if the Trojans win out, which would include a victory over highly ranked rival UCLA, and they would thereby finish the regular season with a 10-3 record and a high national ranking.

At that point, Orgeron would own the locker room and probably have significant momentum with the Trojans' fan base. That would make it difficult for athletic director Pat Haden not to hire him.

The expectation when Orgeron took over for Kiffin after a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the Trojans would play better because the season-long hot-seat talk surrounding Kiffin would be over, thereby allowing players to breathe easier and play looser. That improved play, however, wasn't expected to include a 5-1 record and a win over Stanford, ending a four-game losing streak in the series.

In fact, the Pac-12 blog's expectation was the "Hire Coach O!" talk would end with losses to Stanford and UCLA. The Pac-12 blog was wrong, at least so far. Further, when the Pac-12 blog conceived of writing this column about USC's improvement under Orgeron, it expected to, after giving Coach O a tip of the cap, recommend against hiring him, no matter how the now seemingly charmed season ended.

Yet, after further review, there is not enough evidence to overturn the ruling in the stands and the locker room, at least if USC wins out and wins its bowl game.

The only advice the Pac-12 blog has for Haden, though, is this: Don't allow the emotions of the moment to overrule your long-term vision for this coaching hire. A serious evaluation of Orgeron should begin now, if it hasn't already, and there are myriad considerations besides his popularity among the players.

One doesn't have to look far for examples of internal promotions producing great results: Chris Petersen taking over for Dan Hawkins at Boise State, Chip Kelly taking over for Mike Bellotti at Oregon and David Shaw taking over for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Although those three programs were already successful, you could make the case that USC's circumstances are similar because, well, it's USC.

The next USC coach isn't rebuilding a program. His job is to maximize the potential of a college football superpower, one that no longer will be yoked with NCAA sanctions after the 2014 recruiting class. Orgeron just might be able to do that.

Of course, we also have precedents that suggest that promoting from within or hiring an interim coach because of his initial success and support of the locker room doesn't always yield long-term success.

Larry Coker took over in Miami after Butch Davis bolted and won a national title in his first season. He went 35-3 his first three seasons, in fact, losing the national title game in Year 2 and winning the Orange Bowl in Year 3. But then things went south and, after a 7-6 season in 2006, he was fired. Coker was a strong short-term answer but not one for the long term.

As interim coach after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan, Bill Stewart led West Virginia to a stunning upset of No. 3 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. But after three consecutive 9-4 seasons and an off-the-field controversy, he was pushed aside in favor of his head-coach-in-waiting, Dana Holgorsen.

We know what great college head coaches look like: Urban Meyer and Nick Saban top the list. I'd throw in Bill Snyder at Kansas State. But after them, there are no sure things. Petersen is not a sure thing because he has never been a head coach in an automatic-qualifying conference. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has an impressive recent track record, but that track record in an AQ conference is only two years and includes one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football history.

The NFL guys such as Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio? Not sure things by a long shot.

So the risk of hiring Orgeron isn't that much greater. Sure, he went a dismal 10-25 at Ole Miss, but his thus-far-successful audition running the USC program provides a strong counter to that. He's not only learned from his mistakes; he's also coaching in an environment he knows how to navigate. It's also noteworthy that he's clearly motivated his assistant coaches to care about and focus on their present jobs instead of giving USC 60 percent while the other 40 percent pining about their future employment.

The apparent formula for an Orgeron administration would go like this: He plays the CEO and lets his coaches coach, which means Clay Helton runs the offense, Clancy Pendergast runs the defense and John Baxter runs the special teams. Orgeron leans on his strengths: motivation, chemistry, emotions and recruiting.

The big question would then be whether Orgeron can be consistently and obsessively detail-oriented as all good head coaches are. Can he maintain discipline and run a tight ship? Will he lead a recruiting effort based on insightful evaluation rather than star rating? Can he skillfully handle all the off-the-field responsibilities that head coaches deal with?

My guess is that Haden immediately realized after the Stanford game -- and not before -- that Orgeron deserved at least a raised eyebrow. Haden will be practically forced to make a more thorough evaluation of Orgeron if the Trojans beat UCLA.

"When you have a father figure like Coach O treating us all like sons and putting us under his arm, we want to run through a brick wall for him," linebacker Hayes Pullard said. "One team, one heartbeat, we wanted to carry that over. We wanted to show him that we are with him no matter what."

That's inspiring and meaningful. But there's more to being a head coach than getting your players to run through brick walls.

At this point, however, Orgeron is not only getting his guys to run through those brick walls, he's also getting them to hit the wall in the correct place and use good technique while doing so.

Broncos' Del Rio interviewed for USC coach

November, 17, 2013
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DENVER -- The Broncos confirmed Sunday that interim coach Jack Del Rio interviewed for the head coaching job at Southern California during Denver's bye week.

Fox Sports first reported Del Rio's interview with his alma mater.

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden reached out to Broncos executive vice president John Elway for permission to speak with Denver's defensive coordinator at a time that was convenient for the Broncos.

The Broncos were impressed by Haden's approach because college administrators are under no obligation to seek permission from NFL teams before reaching out to their coaches.

Del Rio interviewed for the Trojans' job Nov. 1.

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