Pac-12: Penn State Nittany Lions

USC asks for justice from NCAA

September, 26, 2013
USC is making one last run at the NCAA, hoping the organization that crushed it with severe sanctions in June of 2010 will finally aspire toward some degree of belated justice.

But don't hold your breath.

[+] EnlargePat Haden
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesUSC AD Pat Haden is smart to appeal to the NCAA for reductions, but that's doesn't mean it will happen.
Athletic director Pat Haden released a statement Thursday saying he and USC's vice president for compliance Dave Roberts spent the last two days in Indianapolis meeting with NCAA officials, including NCAA President Mark Emmert.

The meeting had been scheduled weeks earlier, so it was purely serendipitous that it coincided with the NCAA's extraordinary decision to reduce previous sanctions against Penn State due to good behavior.

Still, Haden, who's been criticized for not going after the NCAA's poorly reasoned and factually challenged judgment against USC, saw an opportunity and at least wanted to score a public relations point with his frustrated fans.

Noted Haden in the statement, "We felt compelled to discuss USC's sanctions in a new light. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I believe the penalties imposed on our football program in 2010 were unprecedented and inconsistent with NCAA precedent in prior cases."

Haden then said he and Roberts "argued for some consideration regarding the 2010 sanctions during the last year of our penalty."

Meaning Haden is asking the NCAA to restore some scholarships to USC that it can use for the 2014 recruiting class, which has been docked 10 scholarships from a typical class of 25.

Haden concluded, "After candid discussions, the NCAA asked us to provide additional information and indicated it would study our suggestions. Because time is of the essence regarding these issues, we have asked for the NCAA's response as soon as practical."

The problem here is Penn State's situation was a special case, one that allowed the NCAA to both punish and then show newfound mercy outside the bounds of its typical process. Yes, the NCAA made up the rules as it went along with Penn State, which allows plenty flexibility for an organization that prides itself on being just the opposite.

With USC, the NCAA would have to make an unprecedented reversal of long-accepted processes. USC already failed with two appeals. If Emmert were to take executive action, it would be a slap in the face to the members of the Committee on Infractions who handed down the ruling against the Trojans.

That the COI, which was chaired by the late Paul Dee, athletic director at Miami and good buddy with jailed super booster/shyster Nevin Shapiro, from the USC case deserves a slap in the face is probably not relevant, even if it should be.

Still, maybe there is some leeway for justice. If Emmert merely read USC's appeal, it would be impossible for him -- or any other objective reader -- not to recognize the compelling strength of USC's position.

But, again, don't hold your breath.

Linebacker should a strong position in the Pac-12 this fall. You could argue that six or seven guys are or could become All-American candidates.

So how do the units stack up?


Stanford: Three starters back for the Pac-12's best run defense, including All-American candidates Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. Even the competition to replace Chase Thomas between James Vaughters and Blake Lueders is between two A-list veterans. Depth is good, too. Might be the best unit in the country.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Barr is a big reason why the Bruins boast one of the Pac-12 best linebacker corps.
UCLA: Well, start with Anthony Barr on the outside. The general reaction to him at media day, "Dang. He's big. I didn't know he was that big." Then there's the underrated Eric Kendricks inside along with the solid Jordan Zumwalt. There doesn't seem to be much concern about the vacancy at the other OLB, where Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orjioke and, perhaps, incoming freshman Myles Jack are competing.

USC: Inside 'backer Hayes Pullard and Morgan Breslin on the outside make for a good start, as the Trojans transition to a 3-4. Fellow inside linebacker Lamar Dawson had a forgettable 2012 season, but he reacted well to being challenged this spring. Then there's the return of Devon Kennard, who should finally feel comfortable playing the OLB position he was made for.

Washington: As previously noted, the Huskies are extremely strong here, though it doesn't seem that many folks realize it. They will. The general feeling among just about everyone is that Shaq Thompson will make a move toward All-American recognition this year, while Travis Feeney and John Timu also are well above average. Rush end Josh Shirley also merits note as a hybrid LB/DE in Justin Wilcox's amorphous scheme.


Oregon State: Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are both back, giving the Beavers speed and experience on the outside. Joel Skotte is expected to win the job at MLB. Depth is a little iffy, but the Beavers run defense was strong in 2012.

Arizona State: Pac-12 blog favorite Brandon Magee is gone, and for that we are terribly sad. Incredibly productive Devil 'backer Carl Bradford is back, as are Steffon Martin and Chris Young, as well as Anthony Jones. Sun Devils struggled a bit against the run last year.

California: The Bears are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which means Chris McCain is now officially a rush end, not an outside linebacker. But this is a better-than-you-think crew, despite the lousy numbers from 2012. Nick Forbes is strong inside, while Jalen Jefferson is back on the strongside. Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt is finally healthy and ready to roll. Depth is a little questionable.

Arizona: Everyone is back, led by Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, and the Pac-12 blog is of the mind the Wildcats are actually OK at linebacker. The issue is the guys in front of them not being very good at gobbling up blockers. Terrible run defense last year, though.

Washington State: We think one of the big surprises this year might be how solid the Cougars are on defense, and linebacker is one of several reasons why. Most of the 2012 two-deep is back, though losing OLB Travis Long is a big hit. Darryl Monroe is the leader inside.


Oregon: It's not just that the Ducks lost three of four starters. It's that they lost OLB Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay inside. Each is on an NFL roster, Jordan being a first-round pick and Alonso going in the second round. No team in the country lost anything approaching that at linebacker. Boseko Lokombo is back on the outside, but injury issues this spring prevented there from being much depth chart clarity.

Utah: While the 2012 run defense was solid, the Utes didn't play well at linebacker last year, though injury issues were the chief concern, preventing any type of week-to-week continuity. Trevor Reilly, who played "stud" 'backer last year, has returned to his more natural end position. A healthy Brian Blechen will take over at "stud" after bouncing back and forth at safety -- he's 230 pounds, too -- and that should help. Big area of fall competition here.

Colorado: Senior Derrick Webb is a strong presence on the weakside, but Jon Major and Doug Rippy are gone. The Buffaloes likely will be young here, see true freshman Addison Gillam topping the post-spring depth chart.

You can see previous previews here:


Running back


Tight end

Offensive line


Ranking the first-year coaches

January, 14, 2013
Here's a guess that everyone will agree that Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Penn State's Bill O'Brien turned in the three best first-year coaching jobs this fall. But how do the other 25 fall, a group that includes four from the Pac-12?

Athlon Sports graded each first year head coach, and the new Pac-12 coaches generally did well.

UCLA's Jim Mora ranked fifth and received an A-. Arizona State's Todd Graham was eighth and received a B+, while Arizona's Rich Rodriguez was just behind at ninth -- darn that Territorial Cup! -- and received a B+ also.

Washington State's Mike Leach lagged behind, ranking 18th, receiving a D. It wasn't a great first year for Leach in Pullman, but the Apple Cup win over Washington provided something positive to build on heading into the offseason.

Here's what was written about each.

Jim Mora, UCLA
What Went Right: Mora wasn’t the first choice for UCLA, but his debut season was very successful. The Bruins improved their win total by three games, claimed another Pac-12 South crown and defeated rival USC 38-28. Overall, not a bad season. UCLA returns most of its core next season, and the Bruins should be the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South for the third consecutive year.

What Went Wrong: The Bruins closed with three consecutive losses, including a disappointing 49-26 loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. Mora’s strong suit is defense, but UCLA finished eighth in the Pac-12 in total and scoring defense. The Bruins are on the right track, but Mora and his staff still have plenty of work to do.
Todd Graham, Arizona State
What Went Right: The Sun Devils were on the doorstep of playing for the Pac-12 Championship. A 45-43 loss to UCLA in late October was the tiebreaker for the South Division title, but Arizona State still finished with eight wins and a huge victory over rival Arizona. The Sun Devils also crushed Navy 62-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. One of Graham’s biggest accomplishments was bringing discipline to the roster, as Arizona State finished 10th nationally in fewest penalties per game – a big improvement after ranking last in college football in 2011.

What Went Wrong: Just like many of the coaches in the top 10 of this ranking, it’s hard to criticize Graham for anything at Arizona State in 2012. Statistically, the Sun Devils have room to improve against the run and need to cut down on the sacks allowed next year. Barring any unexpected injuries, Graham has Arizona State positioned to start in the top 25 next season.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
What Went Right: Rodriguez was one of the best hires of last offseason and didn’t disappoint in his first year in Tucson. After winning four games in 2011, the Wildcats rebounded to post eight victories, including a New Mexico Bowl win over Nevada. Arizona nearly knocked off Stanford, defeated USC and beat Oklahoma State for a solid non-conference win in Week 2.

What Went Wrong: With the Wildcats having to adjust to Rodriguez’s scheme on offense and the personnel issues on defense, an 8-5 record was Arizona’s best-case scenario. Failing to score in a loss to Oregon was a disappointment, but the only real negative mark this year was a defeat to rival Arizona State.
Mike Leach, Washington State
What Went Right: The season got off to a rough start for Washington State, but it rebounded to win its next two games to start 2-1 before Pac-12 play. The Cougars recorded only one victory within the conference, defeating rival Washington 31-28 in overtime.

What Went Wrong: There’s no doubt Leach was the biggest disappointment of college football’s new coaches for 2012. Washington State was predicted by some to reach a bowl game, and Leach’s high-powered offense never really got on track. The Cougars also had a horrible loss to Colorado and suffered blowout defeats to Arizona State, Utah, Oregon and BYU.

Generally fair assessments. None of the four posted a season without hiccups, but Mora, Graham and Rodriguez produced higher win totals than just about anyone projected. Each program probably feels plenty of optimism for the future, which is the best thing a new coach can produce.

As for Leach, he, more than the others, was burdened with high expectations. Of the four, he was the only one who was expected to produce more wins with his new team than it got in 2012. That didn't happen. The Cougars play took a step backwards this season, one that included plenty of controversies.

While the enthusiasm for Leach is more muted -- realistic? -- now among Cougs, the odds remain strong he'll get things turned around. His track record speaks for itself.

And it's important to remember a good -- or bad -- first year only means so much. Or a second, for that matter.

Recall that Larry Coker nearly won consecutive national titles his first two years at Miami in 2001 and 2002. He was fired after going 7-6 in 2006. Pete Carroll went 6-6 his first year at USC and lost to Utah in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl. Things went on an uptick after that.

Ohio State: What might have been?

December, 31, 2012
Ohio State posted one of the great "What might have been?" seasons in the history of college football this year.

Just imagine what might have happened had the unbeaten Buckeyes, say, anticipated oncoming NCAA sanctions and self-imposed a bowl ban last year, so they would have finished 6-6 instead of 6-7, thereby matching the most losses in school history.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaUrban Meyer remembers clearly and fondly a win at Northwestern while at Bowling Green
That might have completely transformed the 2012-13 postseason. It certainly would have made for a much better Rose Bowl, however things played out.


  • It's possible 12-0 Ohio State would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, instead of once-beaten Alabama. That would have ended the SEC's national title streak at six.
  • If the Buckeyes were headed to South Florida, the Rose Bowl would have had first pick among the remaining BCS bowl eligible teams. That probably would have given us a scintillating Florida-Stanford, SEC-Pac-12 matchup -- No. 3 vs. No. 6 -- instead of the Cardinal vs. five-loss, unranked Wisconsin.
  • Or, if the BCS standings still had Alabama ahead of Ohio State, which would have been highly controversial, Ohio State-Stanford would have been a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between elite, highly rated teams.
Of course, this speculation includes the assumption that the NCAA would have been satisfied with the Buckeyes just sitting out the 2011 postseason. It rarely pays to assume what the NCAA will do. Based on wanting to make an example out of Ohio State for a scandal that included extra benefits violations involving memorabilia, tattoos and cash, as well as a cover-up by former coach Jim Tressel, the NCAA quite possibly still could have banned the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.

But you never know.

That is the excruciating discussion Ohio State fans have had among themselves all season as the wins piled up in coach Urban Meyer's first campaign. Many have dumped the blame on athletic director Gene Smith, who was admittedly -- and curiously -- surprised when the NCAA opted to ban the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.

It's apparently a sore subject around Columbus. Ohio State declined an interview request for this story, with spokesman Jerry Emig saying "A would of, should of, could of, wouldn't read well."

It probably would have read better than the Badgers' record, which features more losses than five other Big Ten teams.

Of course, the Rose Bowl and its participants are trying to grin through the curious circumstances that created a less-than-thrilling matchup. As could be expected, Stanford folks are going out of their way to not slight Wisconsin. The Cardinal, said coach David Shaw, won't take the Badgers lightly.

"We're not built like that," he said. "Our guys aren't built like that. We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play. How we play never changes. We're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, we're going to play our style of football, and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. Never, ever anyway. We're going to respect these guys. These guys have earned our respect. Watch the film, look at the scoreboard, and watch the film, and these guys will get your respect."

There is good news here, for Ohio State, for the Rose Bowl and for the Pac-12.

While the Big Ten has been on an extended swoon in terms of national perception, and one of its top teams, Penn State, has been wiped off the map by NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is clearly rising under Meyer. The Buckeyes will be national title contenders next fall. Or, failing that, they could become a worthy Rose Bowl foe.

As college football moves forward in 2014 with a four-team playoff, the Pac-12 needs the Big Ten to produce elite teams -- and vice versa -- or the continuing and evolving Rose Bowl partnership will suffer.

This "What Might Have Been Season" for Ohio State, which has broadly affected teams coast-to-coast, is almost certainly an anomaly.

That might not salve the immediate pain for the Buckeyes, or help make this year's Rose Bowl any better, but a hopeful glance toward the horizon is all we have for you.

Mailbag: Ragings & Rose Bowl scenarios

October, 26, 2012
Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter by clicking here... no... here.

To the notes!

Steve from Eugene writes: So Ohio State can't go to a bowl game. Penn State can't go to a bowl game. Is it possible that the Rose Bowl will be stuck with the 3rd place team from the Big 10?

Ted Miller: Maybe. The Rose Bowl picture is decidedly strange.

Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions, but because they are both in the Big Ten Leaders Division, at least one would be canceled out of the picture in any event. It's too bad about Ohio State, because the unbeaten, ninth-ranked Buckeyes and new coach Urban Meyer would be a nice team and story for the Rose Bowl to put opposite a Pac-12 foe.

Because of Ohio State and Penn State are unavailable, you can pencil in Wisconsin for the Big Ten title game, which means the Badgers are in line for a third consecutive Rose Bowl berth, despite their slow start.

The Legends Division is pretty wide open. The Michigan-Nebraska game on Saturday could provide some clarity, but the top teams -- Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern -- have mostly not played each other. Things could get nutty.

Let's just say it now: The Rose Bowl wants Michigan, presently ranked 22nd in the BCS standings, to run the table. If the Wolverines do so, they will rise in the rankings to a respectable level. Further, they are a classic team with an exciting star in QB Denard Robinson, and they haven't played in the Rose Bowl since 2007.

Nebraska might be a nice second choice. Cornhuskers fans travel well, and there would be some newness there, seeing the Cornhuskers' two Rose Bowl berths were in 1941 and the BCS title game against Miami after the 2001 season.

Some of you have wondered about a possible Wisconsin-Oregon State rematch, if Oregon earned a berth in the national title game. Or whether the Rose Bowl might spurn the 11-1 Beavers for USC, even if the Trojans have three losses.

That's a tough one because the Rose Bowl would have no head-to-head game forcing its hand. USC is a big show that drives TV ratings, and it would be QB Matt Barkley's final college game.

But my guess is that if Oregon State were 11-1, losing only to Oregon, it would be the pick. The Beavers would still be ranked in the top 10, and USC would need a lot of things to swing its way for it to be ranked in the top 14 of the BCS standings, a prerequisite to be selected for a BCS bowl game.

And even if USC, at 10-3, was, say, 13th, I think the Pac-12 would push the Rose Bowl to go with an Oregon State team that was, say, seventh.

Matt from Eugene, Ore., writes: The pac-12 Championship game is scheduled for November 30th at 5pm, and Oregon St is scheduled to play Nicholls St on December 1st at 11:30am. What happens if Oregon St wins out and finds themselves in the championship game? Do they play 2 days in a row? can one of the games be rescheduled to compensate? Maybe the biggest question, did Oregon St not believe they had a chance to be in the championship game when they knowingly rescheduled the Nicholls St game for the day after the championship game?

Ted Miller: If Oregon State wins the North Division it will play for the Pac-12 championship on Nov. 30 and there will be no game with Nicholls State, an FCS team.

The Nicholls State blogger then will write about how Oregon State chickened out of its contracted game.

Derek from Manhattan, Kan., writes: Sorry Ted,Your argument still sucks. You're trying to paint K-State into a gutless corner by suggesting that because Oregon cancelled the game with K-State to instead play LSU, K-State is at fault for not rescheduling?Well, I don't know if you've checked KSU's non-conference schedule from the past and into the future but K-State only plays three non-conference games a year. I know, just like Oregon. But in the past two seasons the Wildcats have played Miami, and coming up in 2014, Auburn will come to Manhattan. I can hear your counter-arguments already. But my main point is this. Calling another program and a coach with the record of Snyder cowardly is tactless and unprofessional. Don't you have better things to do with your time than nitpick about the scheduling habits of other teams? What does this achieve? What is your end game?Kansas State is a quality school and a quality program built from ashes without the deep pockets of someone like Phil Knight. Bill Snyder has his methods and trains his players to not only be winners on the football field, but winners in life.For you to spend your time questioning him shows a lack of respect and character that is unprecedented even by ESPN's standards.Please know I wouldn't normally do this but I just don't understand your point. Please enlighten me.

Scott from Manhattan, Kan., writes: The issue with your article is not necessarily your stance on the situation (even though it was reached through a biased interpretation of facts) but instead with the method in which you relay the information. I understand that Oregon is upset with Kansas State for cancelling the game, but the circumstances are understandable and no one could have predicted this situation two years ago. I don't believe that you will actually read and respond to my email, but I at the very least hope you are open minded enough to listen to the other side of the story before you make up your mind.

Ted Miller: Scott sent me a six-part email that probably took a lot of time to write but it is too long to print entirely here. He didn't convince me on many counterpoints with this whole Oregon-State-Kansas State scheduling tempest in a teapot, but he did convince me he was highly intelligent, certainly a brighter bulb that your humble Pac-12 blogger.

Derek also raises an issue that I want to clarify: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.

Bill Snyder is one of the greatest college football coaches of all time. He's certainly among the top five in the business today. What he built in the college football nether region of Manhattan, Kan., and then -- perhaps just as impressive -- rebuilt is amazing. I remember talking to former Wildcats defensive coordinator Phil Bennett about him before the 1999 Holiday Bowl, and he lavished praise on Snyder, not just as a coach obsessed with details but as a person who genuinely cared about his staff and players.

When I write that Kansas State "chickened out" of a game with Oregon, I am being intentionally provocative on a single issue. I'm not passing judgment on an institution, coach or football program. Yes, I am willfully stirring things up, though I would hasten to add nothing I wrote qualifies as factually inaccurate (Calling me an idiot over and over again doesn't magically make me wrong. Sorry about that).

Stirring things up is one of the things we do in the business of covering sports. The Pac-12 blog allows me to wear many hats. Some days I'm a straight reporter. Some days a columnist. Some days I write features on players. And some days I'm a provocateur, which I enjoy (Ducks-Huskies, discuss!)

I think this Oregon-Kansas State scheduling thing will prove ultimately meaningless. Odds are one or the other -- or both -- will lose and thereby probably eliminate itself from the national title hunt. And if Oregon and Kansas State win out, I think the Ducks will remain ahead of the Wildcats in the human polls and it will be up to the computers to either reverse their order or not. The computers don't read the Pac-12 blog, though I think we all can agree they would have loved the Madonna and Anderson Silva references.

I do not think pollsters will downgrade Kansas State because of this scheduling issue. Further, if you Kansas State fans want to talk pollsters, you may want to consider my voting patterns for your team.

The genesis of my bit of puffery was this: A Ducks-say/Wildcats-say controversy is timely and I had this itty bitty hunch that taking a side might generate a reaction, particularly if I decided to be obnoxious. I was right about that. I also thought my tone on an issue that falls a wee bit below on the seriousness meter of something like, say, national security would at least amuse a few Kansas State fan. I was -- mostly -- wrong about that.

Further, if you've read the Pac-12 blog often, you know that one of my obsessions is nonconference scheduling. For one, great inter-conference matchups between A-list programs are about the best thing going on college football, other than rivalry games. They certainly reward fans with quality games to watch live or on TV. Second, it gives us a good measuring stick for teams and conferences.

I think teams that go coward with their scheduling need to be needled. Relentlessly. If I do have a problem with Snyder, it's his unabashed dislike of challenging nonconference games, though his attitude about them seems to have changed a little bit since the snafu in 1998.

Further, trash talking this deal with Kansas State forced folks to understand why Oregon's 2012 nonconference schedule is so horrid. The Ducks have a long and impressive history of strong scheduling, and it was unfair they were being maligned on the matter.

Anyway, just wanted you Kansas State fans to know that I read all your mail and hope that one day maybe we can be friends again.

Russell from Topeka, Kan., writes: After reading several of your articles, all I can say to you sir is you are a Moron. You will probably vote for Obama based off of his wonderful track record with the economy and how he has done so much for the U.S.Sir I have served 3 deployments as a combat medic, and I can tell you are a liberal moron who judges people off of intent and not result or even actual actions. Thank you for reminding me why I am ashamed to be an american and for being one of the talking heads that is killing the purity of sport. The only problem with the BCS is media keeps interfering in it.May you have a wonderful weekend full of everything you deserve.

Ted Miller: So, just to be clear.... not a fan, eh?

Name Withheld from an Undisclosed Location: Let me start by saying that I'm not worried at all my name is attached to this email. Let me explain: I just read your K-state fan mail piece. I was at first angered--obviously as a HUGE Duck fan--and then a sense of calm, companied by a gigantic smile enveloped me like a warm blanket. Picture the Grinch. See, more then ten years ago, while I was stationed at Ft. Riley, I went on a mid night mission with two of my buddies from Basic who were from Nebraska. Back then I was down for whatever. Can you guess what we did? Yes, I was one of the three young men that painted that gigantic, white, K S Cornhusker Red When Nebraska came to town. Hell Yeah baby! I hadn't thought about that in years. How often do you get to feel awesome about something twice?

Ted Miller: I'm hoping, with this note, to refocus the ire of Kansas State fans.

Instant analysis: USC 24, Washington 14

October, 13, 2012

Here's our quick reaction to USC's 24-14 win over Washington.

It was over when: USC defensive back Josh Shaw grabbed a tipped interception near midfield from Huskies QB Keith Price on fourth-and-8 with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter and the Trojans up 10. The Huskies dominated the second half, but their first-half deficit was just too much.

Gameball goes to: The USC defense. The Trojans were supposed to be all about the offense -- QB Matt Barkley and his scintillating corps of receivers. That hasn't proven true, but the defense has been better than expected. It forced four Washington turnovers, and that proved the difference in the game. It held the Huskies to 299 yards.

Stat of the game: Barkley was 10-of-20 for 167 yards with a touchdown. If you had told me during the preseason that would be his stat line for any game, I would have laughed at the delusion.

Unsung hero of the game: While the Trojans passing game was struggling, Penn State transfer Silas Redd rushed for 155 yards on 26 carries. Of course, much of that came on a 57-yard run on USC's first possession, which only led to a field goal.

What USC learned: It learned that the Trojans' passing game is oddly mediocre and it doesn't seem to be getting better. I have no idea why it's not better.

What Washington learned: It learned that it weathered a brutal first-half schedule with a 3-3 mark. That's not too bad, as it went 1-3 in games in which it was a significant underdog. Bowl hopes are firmly alive.

What it means: It means USC inches forward. It won't move up much in the national rankings with this performance, but it won't move down. With dates against Oregon and Notre Dame ahead, the Trojans still have a chance to get into the national title picture if it becomes a beauty contest with one-loss teams.

USC ready to start title run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall see shortly.
Happy Friday.

Cal takes some hits to its defense

August, 8, 2012
The worst part of preseason practices is watching injuries pile up.

California's defense has taken a couple of hits, though not to projected starters.

Talented sophomore cornerback Stefan McClure, who suffered a major knee injury on Nov. 25 against Arizona State, may redshirt because his knee is still far from 100 percent. According to the Contra Costa Times, "McClure had his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments surgically repaired and also underwent microfracture surgery to repair his meniscus."

McClure, who saw extensive action in 2011 before getting hurt, including starting two games, was listed No. 2 behind Marc Anthony at one corner on the post-spring depth chart.

Further, LB Khairi Fortt, a transfer from Penn State, is at least a couple of weeks away from practicing because he's still recovering from knee surgery. Also at linebacker, redshirt freshman Jason Gibson, who was in the mix to see action, though he wasn't on the post-spring depth chart, broke his right foot Monday and will be out for about three months, according to the Times.

Links: Riley coy about Beavers' play calling

August, 6, 2012
The freshman coach wanted to know what was up. I told him I knew all the plays; there was no reason to practice them over and over; the endless repetition might be spiritually disastrous; we were becoming a nation devoted to human xerography.

Pac-12 lunch links: More incoming players!

August, 1, 2012
Armansky's star researcher was a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her arm and another around her left ankle. On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, Armansky also saw that she had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade.
USC's offense was good at just about everything last year. Just about. But not everything.

One thing USC wasn't good at? Red zone offense.

In 2011, it ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in red zone offense. Its eight red zone rushing TDs were the fewest in the Pac-12 and ranked 114th in the nation. Its five fumbles were the most in the conference. It's 2.9 yards per rush inside the 20-yard line ranked ninth in the conference. It's red zone touchdown percentage -- 13.3 percent -- ranked 115th in the nation.

Ergo: Not good.

Trojans RB Curtis McNeal is a good running back. But he wasn't a good running back in the red zone.

Enter Penn State transfer Silas Redd, a tough-running 209-pound junior. Or should we say "Silas Redd Zone."

Redd, as noted by ESPN Stats & Information, scored seven red zone TDs in 2011, compared to two for McNeal. He averaged 3.8 yards per rush, compared to 2.9 yards per rush for McNeal. He rushed for 148 yards in the red zone compared to 79 for McNeal.

Now USC was pretty good passing the ball in the red zone. It had 23 red zone TD passes, which was third most in the Pac-12 behind Washington and Stanford. That boosted its red zone TD percentage to 60.8 percent, which ranked 59th in FBS.

Keep in mind that USC QB Matt Barkley is outstanding in play action, completing over 75 percent of his passes when using a play-action fake, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt with 13 TDs and just one interception. Adding another talented back will only continue to open up the passing game for Barkley.

Further, the notable downside to Redd -- after posting huge numbers in October, he fell off dramatically in November after getting banged up -- shouldn't be an issue for him if he's sharing the ball and not counted on to carry the offense, as he was at Penn State. He won't be asked to carry the ball 22 times per game as he was in the first nine games of 2011.

So the Redd transfer feels like a win-win for Redd and USC.

Cal picks up Penn State LB Khairi Fortt

August, 1, 2012
California's defense, already perceived as among the Pac-12's best, just got better, courtesy of Penn State.

Khairi Fortt has announced he's transferring to Cal, where he will be immediately eligible and could be in the mix at inside linebacker in the Bears' 3-4 scheme.

Fortt, a junior from Stamford, Conn., once an ESPN 150 recruit and a U.S. Army All-America selection out of high school, posted 33 tackles, six for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. He was listed as a co-starter on the post-spring depth chart. He has two years of eligibility remaining.

Fortt is the second player to use the "free agency" given to Penn State players by the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal to go West. On Tuesday, running back Silas Redd announced he was transferring to USC. That means Fortt and Redd likely will bump heads as adversaries on Sept. 22 when Cal visits the Trojans.

Fortt, who played in a 4-3 scheme at Penn State, won't just waltz into a starting job. Though the Bears lost both starting inside LBs from 2011, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks, the position is hardly devoid of talent, with Nick Forbes and Robert Mullins topping the post-spring depth chart. That said, Fortt is almost certain to see significant playing time even if he fails to win a starting job.
USC coach Lane Kiffin said depth at running back was his team's biggest concern at Pac-12 media day. That concern was addressed Tuesday with the confirmation that Penn State's Silas Redd will transfer west.

Redd, second-team All-Big Ten in 2011, rushed for 1,241 yards and seven TDs as a sophomore for the Nittany Lions. The explosive 209 pounder should pair nicely with Curtis McNeal, who rushed for 1,005 yards in 12 games and averaged a stout 6.9 yards per carry.

In fact, just like that, the Trojans transformed a questionable position into arguably the nation's best backfield tandem. The running backs should pair nicely with the nation's best wide receiver tandem (Robert Woods & Marqise Lee) and best QB (Matt Barkley).

A statement from USC athletic director Pat Haden:
"We welcome Silas Redd to the Trojan Family. He is an outstanding student and athlete. When the NCAA presented the option to transfer, Silas and his family put a lot of thought and research into making this decision.

"At USC, we've seen both sides of this issue, having lost a number of players to transfer due to our NCAA sanctions in 2010. But Lane Kiffin and his coaches would not be doing their job if they did not try to improve our team every single day. There is a specific need here for a player like Silas Redd, so Lane and our coaches recruited him within the guidelines set up in this instance by the NCAA."

Now... about that defensive line depth.

Redd, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, has been allowed to leave Penn State without penalty -- he normally wouldn't be immediately eligible -- due to NCAA sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Earlier this summer, he was named to the Walter Camp and Doak Walker awards watch lists.

USC will have to clear a scholarship spot for Redd -- it's not allowed to exceed 75 scholarship players, 10 fewer than the FBS limit, due to NCAA sanctions -- but it obviously will do what it takes to put Redd on the roster, even if that means yanking a scholarship. The most likely scenario is an existing player or incoming freshman not qualifying academically.

Pac-12 lunch links: No Big Game bonfire

July, 30, 2012
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.