Pac-12: Peyton Manning

Instant QB impact at Arizona?

January, 29, 2013
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Arizona's biggest question heading into 2013 is at quarterback. Not only are the Wildcats replacing Matt Scott, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was sixth in the nation with 343.8 yards of total offense per game, but the options on hand this spring are decidedly unproven.

There's 2012 backup B.J. Denker, a JC transfer who was a late addition last summer. And there's Jesse Scroggins, another JC transfer who had academic issues at USC after signing in 2010.

Both have some skills. Neither, however, would be considered a sure-thing, particularly when you consider how valuable Scott was in 2012.

It's possible then that coach Rich Rodriguez might consider a third, youthful option, and it turns out that he's received a commitment from a quarterback that Sports Illustrated believes might have an "instant impact": Anu Solomon.

SI ranks Solomon No. 1 among incoming freshmen QBs in terms of potential "instant impact":
Solomon was a four-year starter at Bishop Gorman. Over that span, the Gaels went 57-3 and won four state championships. Solomon passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions throughout his career, and he participated in nationally televised showcases against high school powerhouses from California, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Maryland. He told Rivals.com analyst Dallas Jackson in October, "The coaches have told me that they want me to come in and compete for the starting job."

Arizona fans are rightfully excited about Solomon, who seems like a nice fit for Rodriguez's spread-option offense.

But the Pac-12 blog would like to insert a "Be Careful What You Wish For." The Wildcats might be better off if Solomon ends up redshirting. At the very least, it would be better for Solomon to see spot action rather than take over the starting job.

Why? Well, the history of true freshman QBs is pretty spotty, other than Jamelle Holieway, who won a national championship as a true freshman at Oklahoma in 1985. And, of course, Holieway's best season was his first for the Sooners.

Few true freshmen QBs start from Day 1, and most are forced into action, rather than winning the job outright. Holieway only stepped in due to an injury to Troy Aikman. Same with Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Georgia's Matt Stafford all became the starters when more senior players faltered.

Chad Henne went 9-2 as a true freshman leading Michigan in 2004, but he was surrounded by a lot of talent. We can all agree Robert Griffin III became a spectacular player, but Baylor went 4-7 with him as a true freshman QB.

The best recent example of a true freshman QB in the Pac-12 is USC's Matt Barkley in 2009. He was the first true freshman to start at QB for a top-five team since Michigan's Rick Leach in 1975. That USC team finished 9-4, losing three of its final four regular season games. The Trojans had lost seven games the preceding six seasons. Barkley threw 14 interceptions and 15 TD passes.

We've seen a number of freshmen QBs play really well of late. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and in the Pac-12 Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley posted outstanding seasons this past fall, with Mariota winning first-team All-Pac-12. And, of course, there's Andrew Luck. He turned out OK.

But they all were redshirt freshmen when they became starters.

It's also notable that a lot of true freshmen QBs, such as Barkley, enroll early and participate in spring practices. That gives them a significant advantage in terms of getting use to the speed and complexity of the college game.

Solomon won't report until fall camp.

Solomon might indeed become a revelation for the Wildcats next fall. He could win the job, play admirably and three years later become an All-American.

But history suggests he won't be immediately ready, and that the best course is patience. It seems like at least a year of seasoning really helps create a tastier quarterback.

Best case-worst case: Stanford

August, 28, 2012
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This is the 10th in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

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

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

You can see previous best case-worst case posts here.

Up next: Stanford

Best case

Stanford gathers in the team hotel on the Friday night before its opener against San Jose State.

"Guys, Sam Schwartzstein has a slide show for you," Shaw says. "I believe you will find it most illuminating."

The lights dim, the Cardinal center picks up a remote control and clicks on an old-style slide projector.

Schwartzstein: [click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Tennessee. Do you see? [Click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts, [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford. [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts. Do you see?

Tee Martin, quarterback, Tennessee? Do you see? Tennessee reborn. Tennessee national champions. Do you see? Josh Nunes, quarterback, Stanford? Do you see? Do you see? We are privy to a great becoming!

Chase Thomas whispers to fellow linebacker Shayne Skov, "I thought you were supposed to be the biggest loon on this team."

Replies Skov, "No way, man. Schwartzy is completely unhinged."

Stanford whips San Jose State and Duke by a combined count of 80-3. Nunes throws three touchdown passes, and Stepfan Taylor rolls up for 305 of the Cardinal's 452 rushing yards.

Up next is No. 1 USC.

Stanford leads 24-20 in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Matt Barkley leads the Trojans to a first-and-goal on the Stanford 9-yard line with 45 seconds left. Barkley connects with Robert Woods at the 1-yard line, but Curtis McNeal is stopped cold on second and third down. The Trojans call their final time out.

Barkley lines up in shotgun. He rolls to his right, looking for Marqise Lee, then pumps at Xavier Grimble. No one is open. He sprints and dives at the flag.

"I don't think he got in!" the announcer says. "Stanford is on the brink of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country, the mighty Trojans of USC."

The play is reviewed. "After further review," the official says. "The runner did cross the goal line. Touchdown."

"What do I think of the call?" Stanford coach David Shaw says after the game. "I think it was the right call. I think Barkley got in. A hardnosed play from him. And even if it was a bad call, we had plenty of chances to win that game. They just came down the field and took it from us. We'll see what we're made of over the next few weeks. If we keep our heads down and keep getting better, we'll get another shot at them."

After a bye, the Cardinal rushes for 275 yards at Washington, winning 33-21. They whip Arizona 51-24 and shut out Notre Dame 33-0. So Stanford, ranked 10th at 5-1, heads to Berkeley for an odd, midseason Big Game.

Schwartzstein: Please turn to page 100 in your dossier. You see a picture of Henry Kissinger. And you see a picture of Oski. Kissinger. Oski. Oski, Kissinger. Curious that neither is ever seen together, don't you think? And on page 245: Jeff Tedford. And then Nikita Khrushchev. Yes, I know. Very strange. What does it mean? Maybe nothing. But there is an unmistakable whiff of communism. Or maybe it means that if we fail on Saturday against Berkeley, everything we know and love just freaking blows up and nothing is left other than the ashes of humanity's grandest hopes and dreams.

A goal line stand preserves a 20-14 win over the Bears.

Stanford rolls over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State, which means it takes a seven-game winning streak to No. 1 Oregon, which is two weeks removed from an overtime win at USC.

Ted Miller: Stanford doesn't have enough speed to keep up with Oregon. I'm sure of that.

Kevin Gemmell: Weren't you sure that USC would beat Oregon?

Ted Miller: Grrrr. Your round.

Stanford rushes for 245 yards and Nunes throws two touchdown passes in a 30-24 victory.

After a 44-17 win over UCLA, Stanford finishes 11-1 and rises to No. 4 in the BCS standings. Due to its victory over Oregon, it wins the North Division tiebreaker and will visit No. 5 USC for the Pac-12 championship game.

Barkley, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, but Taylor rushes for 230 yards and three scores. Taylor becomes the fourth conference running back to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing and his 28 touchdowns tie former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart for the conference record.

Oh, and his third touchdown comes with 14 seconds left to give Stanford a 31-24 victory.

Oklahoma and LSU, both undefeated, will meet for the national title. Stanford will play undefeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Gemmell: We could have a split national title. No team has two better wins than Stanford, and Michigan whipped Alabama in the season-opener.

Miller: Yep.

In the closest Heisman Trophy vote in history, Taylor nips Barkley for the bronze statue.

In the Rose Bowl, a final Stanford drive is stymied at the Michigan 40-yard line with three seconds left. The Wolverines lead 23-21.

Out walks Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson. He lines up for the 57-yard field goal.

"The goat of last year's Fiesta Bowl," the announcer says. "What must this young man be thinking? Wait ... he appears to be smiling."

Right down the middle with room to spare. Stanford wins 24-23.

The Cardinal finishes ranked second. Largely on the strength of the linemen it signs, Stanford's recruiting class is ranked fifth in the nation.

On the heels of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, presently a Stanford professor, becoming one of the first two female members at August National Golf Club, the storied and exclusive golf club decides that every Stanford graduate should get a membership.

Explains Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National, "Really, it's just based on the fact that if you go to Stanford you're pretty darn awesome."

Worst case

Nunes gets his "welcome to the Pac-12" moment against USC.

While he gets sacked four times and throws two interceptions, he watches as Barkley posts a masterful effort in a 40-17 USC victory.

Washington gangs up against the Stanford running game two weeks later, and Nunes and his still-middling receivers can't take advantage, as the Huskies end a four-game run of futility in the series, 27-24. Shaw announces that Brett Nottingham will start the following weekend.

With Nottingham behind center, the Cardinal bounce back with wins over Arizona and Notre Dame, as the defense steps up its effort and holds the both the Wildcats and Fighting Irish to fewer than 10 points.

Things seem to be righting themselves in advance of the Big Game, an oddly timed midseason affair. But, as players are vigilantly studying their playbooks on team-issued iPads, the screens become pixilated and blurry. Then they dissolve into the Cal logo.

"You've been hacked by Oski!" it scrolls across the screen over a laughing, dancing Oski. "Tell Schwartzstein to never compare Kissinger to anything at Cal ever again!"

Ten minutes later, Stanford's entire playbook is on Wiki Leaks.

The Big Game belongs to California, 28-21, as Zach Maynard throws two touchdown passes and the Bears roll up 210 yards on the ground against a rugged Stanford defense. Nottingham throws two interceptions, and Nunes takes over in the fourth quarter.

Relying on its defense and playing two quarterbacks, Stanford wins its next three over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State. But Oregon ends all intrigue early, with De'Anthony Thomas rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-21 Ducks victory.

Stanford looks deflated in a season-ending 24-17 loss to UCLA. The Cardinal finishes the regular season 7-5.

Boise State whips Stanford 30-21 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Playing in its first Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, Cal beats Michigan 30-28. It's the Golden Bears' first Rose Bowl win since 1938.

The Bears finish ranked sixth.

Lisa Simpson is admitted to rehab. TMZ reports that her life started falling apart when she was forced to attend Stanford.

Luck arrives in Indy smelling like first pick

June, 13, 2012
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I smell like coffee, a fried egg burrito with hot sauce and befuddlement. New Indianapolis Colts savior Andrew Luck smells differently.

Said former USC tackle and new Luck protector, Winston Justice: “He has that aroma of being the first-round pick.”

ESPN.com's AFC South blogger Paul "Special K" Kuharsky was on hand for Luck's first workout -- his arrival had been delayed because of a rule that keeps players away from team work until their college class finishes its semester -- but there were few surprises to report.

Luck looks the part. Check. He throws well. Check. He carries himself well. Check. He's certain to be the best QB of ALL TIME!

Well, we're going to have to wait on that. It might help if Indy bolsters a deeper roster around him.

What was clear is the NFL-Luck won't go about his business much differently than the Stanford-Luck. He will be unassuming, focusing on the task at hand instead of the hullabaloo that surrounds top overall draft pick, one generally viewed as perhaps the most NFL-star-ready rookie QB in a generation.

From Kuharsky:
As the voice in the middle of the offensive huddle, he showed nice command, teammates said.

That’s not as hard as it may sound, Luck countered.

“It’s always assumed when the quarterback is stepping in the huddle, you’re going to listen, so that part’s easy,” Luck said. “A big part of playing quarterback too is just faking like you know what you’re talking about even if you don’t know it. But I think it is somewhat of a slow process, because he knows what happens when a game starts? I could totally flub it and lose the respect of everybody. You try to build that confidence and trust as practices go on.”

That's vintage Luck, batting away a question that asks him to celebrate himself.

Luck will be on display for the first time during a public afternoon practice Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium. It's hard to imagine he won't look like the guy Indy believes can replace future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning.

Not that Luck sees himself that way.
“I think I have to earn the face of the franchise stuff,” he said. “I try to come in here and learn as much as I can, do my best job so I can help all the guys that are here get back to the playoffs, get back to being a championship team. I don’t know if that will ever sink in. I just try to go about my job and not get too caught up in anything else.”

Yep. Same ole Luck.

By the way, you can see video of him throwing and chatting here.
The Pac-12 is the conference of quarterbacks. The SEC is all about defense.

Oh, and winning national championships.

But as good as the defenses are in the SEC, what role does poor-to-middling offense play in that perception? As in, what would happen if those defenses played against a series of future NFL quarterbacks, as Pac-12 (and Big 12) defenses do?

The question before us is this: How would USC quarterback Matt Barkley do against those rough-tough SEC defenses?

Ted Miller: It’s sort of a chicken and the egg question. Are SEC defenses so good because they rarely play against A-list quarterbacks? Or do Pac-12 quarterbacks pile up eye-popping numbers because they don’t play against SEC defenses?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Harry How/Getty ImagesWould Matt Barkley be as successful if he played against SEC defenses all season?
Is it more notable that four of the top 11 quarterbacks in the nation in terms of passing efficiency in 2011 were from the Pac-12, compared to none in the top 20 from the SEC? Or is it more important that six SEC defenses ranked in the top 17 in pass efficiency defense compared to zero for the Pac-12?

It’s hard to say. It’s likely a person’s home -- Los Angeles or Baton Rouge -- has a large influence on his or her opinion.

Pac-12 fans would be prone to point out: In 2005, LSU ranked No. 3 in the nation in passing efficiency defense. But in the Tigers' trip to Tempe that season, Arizona State’s Sam Keller completed 35 of 56 passes for 461 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 35-31 defeat.

Or this: LSU’s defense did a nice job against Oregon’s offense in the 2011 season opener. Of course, the Ducks scored more points on LSU than ANY OF THE OTHER 13 TEAMS LSU PLAYED.

Apologies for the caps lock. Reckless typing.

While we can all acknowledge the SEC -- at least the elite teams -- play better defense than the rest of the nation, it is also worth noting that when future first-round NFL draft picks played quarterback in the SEC, they put up good numbers, whether we’re talking about the Manning brothers, Matt Stafford or Cam Newton. And I’m sure, one day in the future --perhaps this decade! -- we’ll be able to add a name to that list.

There are some nice quartebacks in the SEC: Tyler Wilson, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray. All three seem like they’d have a good chance of winning the backup job at USC. Maybe.

Chris Low: No way am I going to argue that Barkley wouldn't have success in the SEC.

He's a future pro and probably the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012.

The question is: How much success would he have, and would he hit the proverbial wall going against SEC defenses on a weekly basis?

My feeling is that all quarterbacks hit that wall. Any coach will tell you (ask your buddy Lane Kiffin) that what separates SEC defenses is the speed in the front seven, particularly in the defensive line. There are fast players all over the country in college football, but the SEC has cornered the market on fast, explosive defensive linemen and pass-rushers who also have the size and strength to overpower people.

That's the difference, and that's where Barkley would notice the greatest difference.

It wasn't a banner year for quarterbacks in the SEC last season. And, yes, I realize that's an understatement. But it was a banner year for premier defensive players. That's why the first round of the NFL draft next month is going to look like an SEC who's who. As many as 10 SEC defensive players could go in the first round.

Don't sleep on the SEC's quarterback class this coming season, either. Wilson may be a future first-rounder. Murray has thrown nearly 60 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, and we all saw what McCarron did in the BCS title game against an LSU defense that was outstanding.

Barkley's a big-time talent, no question. But it's a different game when you're trying to throw from your back.

And in this league, ALL QUARTERBACKS (sorry, my caps tend to lock up, too) encounter that problem.

Ted Miller: Truth is, Wilson, Murray and McCarron are good quarterbacks who look like guys with NFL futures. Loved how McCarron handled the pressure of the title game, and Murray has Pac-12-type talent.

[+] EnlargeCrimson Tide defense and Jordan Jefferson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAlabama's defense smothered Jordan Jefferson and the LSU Tigers in the BCS championship game.
We're trash talking here, but if you can't acknowledge what is real, well, then it's just noise.

And the reality of this debate is this: Barkley would be more challenged on a weekly basis by SEC defenses than by Pac-12 defenses -- which I believe are underrated but still a step behind the SEC for the reasons the Inimitable Low mentioned above. If Barkley played at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State or Kentucky, he'd just be the best quarterback in the history of those programs while leading those teams to "historic" seasons. Like a third-place finish in their divisions.

Yet what makes Barkley, Barkley is not just Barkley. It's USC. It's his supporting cast. It's receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who will both have NFL careers. And two tight ends who will also. And a good offensive line, and a 1,000-yard rusher who averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2011 (Curtis McNeal).

By the way, if you wonder where USC's true potential Achilles heel is this year, it's the defensive line. The Trojans have three A-listers -- guys who would be touted in the SEC -- but are thin thereafter. That's a problem for a team that views itself as a national title contender.

That's ultimately the rub here, too. If all goes according to plan, Barkley and USC should be in position to play for the national title. It's hard to imagine that wouldn't be against another SEC team.

Now, Chris, wouldn't it be fun if it were USC and LSU? Recall that in 2003, LSU won 1/16 of the national title when no one in the entire world thought LSU was better than USC, other than computers obviously loaded with all sorts of viruses.

Or USC-Alabama? Great history, and Saban versus Barkley & Co. would certainly attract plenty of eyeballs.

Chris Low: One of the most compelling things that could happen to college football next season would be for USC and Barkley to take their shot at an SEC defense in the money game.

Then, we could quit debating and let it play out on the field. As much as I knew that Alabama and LSU were the two best teams in the country last season, there was a part of me that wanted to see Oklahoma State against either the Alabama or LSU defense in the BCS title game.

It's the matchup we all want to see: A high-powered offense versus a suffocating defense.

Maybe that's what we'll be treated to this fall.

Of course, I go back to the 2010 national title game, and Oregon had been short-circuiting scoreboards all season long. The Ducks go up against an Auburn defense that had been opportunistic, but wasn't one of the best in the SEC that season statistically. But in that game, Auburn put the clamps on Oregon and won 22-19.

The Tigers won because the Ducks couldn't block Nick Fairley.

And that's what the Trojans would run into if they find themselves up against an SEC team next January in Miami.

It won't come down to Barkley. Sure, he'll make a few plays. He's legit. But what it will come down to is the group of guys blocking for Barkley, and that's where it always gets ugly against SEC defenses.

In the meantime, just make sure the Trojans get there. They've been known to stumble along the way, and what we're left with is a bunch of hollow chatter about what they would have done (or could have done) had they made it to the party.

We'll check the guest list in December and chat again then.

Matt Barkley's plan usually works out

March, 6, 2012
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US PresswireQuarterback Matt Barkley smiles at the end of USC's 50-0 win over UCLA last season.


Other quarterbacks have chosen to stay in school when they stood to be prominent NFL Draft picks, as quarterback Matt Barkley has done at USC.

Let's take a statistical snapshot of recent examples to forego the NFL Draft for one more year in the college ranks.

Peyton Manning, Tennessee
Manning still ended up as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft after returning to Tennessee for his senior season in 1997.

The Vols won the SEC Championship, beating Auburn, 30-29 before losing to Nebraska, 42-17 in the Orange Bowl. They finished No. 7 in the final AP poll.

Matt Leinart, USC

After winning a national title as a junior, Leinart returned for a memorable campaign in 2005, but one that floundered on a couple fronts.

A year after winning the Heisman Trophy, Leinart finished third in the balloting. His Trojans fell short of a second straight undefeated season and national championship, losing to Texas and quarterback Vince Young in a classic game.

Leinart ended up being selected 10th by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2006 NFL Draft and has not yet flourished at the level he did in college.

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

After winning the Heisman Trophy and losing the national championship game to a Tim Tebow-led Florida team, Bradford returned for his junior year at Oklahoma. It did not go as planned.
Bradford suffered a shoulder injury in the Sooners first game of the season, then re-injured his shoulder upon returning to face Texas.

Bradford sat out the remainder of the season, then declared for the NFL Draft. He was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 1 pick, and he has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in two NFL seasons.

Andrew Luck, Stanford
Luck tested his luck by staying in school for his senior season in 2011, and the decision worked out well.

The Cardinal went 11-2 in Luck’s senior season, finishing No. 7 in the national rankings after a 41-38 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Luck is expected to be taken No. 1 in this year’s NFL Draft.

Mailbag: Why is Andrew Luck so hyped?

February, 17, 2012
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Happy Friday.

Anyone miss me? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I appreciate the notes of support in the mailbag. Blog Baby 2 and Blog Mother 1 are doing well. Blog 3-Year-Old and Blog Baby 2 have already engaged in a heated "Pac-12!" versus "SEC!" debate, with one of them punctuating his point with a "Roll Tide!" I blame his Alabama-born mother for that.

But enough about me. What about the mail?

Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter here, where I figure to be far more active next week.

To the notes!

Tyler from Minnesota writes: What elite defenses did Luck ever play against? I'm probably the only non believer when it comes the Luck hype. The % of QB's the NFL misses on is staggering. Why believe the talking heads?

Ted Miller: Luck played against -- and mostly lit up -- nine top-50 defenses over the past two seasons. He's played against many very good defenses and a lots of NFL draft choices -- past, present and future. Further, the reason many of the defenses he's played against don't rate as "elite" with some folks is because those defenses faced a horribly unfair burden.

They played against Luck and other Pac-12 offenses.

Why the hype for Luck? Well, he's got a good arm. He's extremely athletic at 6-foot-4, 237 pounds. He's accurate. He's bright. He's a humble team guy but is also highly competitive. He's a good leader. He's had no off-field issues. And no QB since Peyton Manning has entered the NFL draft with as high a football IQ.

In fact, if you wanted to make a good comparison, I'd call Luck pretty much Peyton Manning, only with much better mobility.

Of course, there are no guarantees with QBs. For one, being the No. 1 overall draft pick typically means you're going to be immediately starting for a terrible team.

But if I were a betting man, I'd set the over-under on his Pro Bowl selections at 10.

Dan from Irvine, Calif., writes: Do you think Rich Rod can actually deliver what has eluded my Wildcats ever since they entered the Pac back in 1978; a Pac-12 championship? Also, will my kitties make it to a bowl game with Mr. Matt Scott at the helm next year? My heart tells me "yes" for both but my head says probably not.

Ted Miller: Rich Rodriguez has been successful everywhere he has coached. He was a dynamic offensive innovator at Glenville State, Tulane and Clemson. He led West Virginia to a 60-26 record in seven years, including a pair of BCS bowls.

Michigan? Well, if you read the book, "Three and Out," by John Bacon -- and I'd recommend it -- you learn that Rodriguez was pretty much doomed from the start. He was left with a lousy team, a dysfunctional athletic department and a bitter former coach in Lloyd Carr, who was anything but supportive of Rodriguez, despite playing a key role in his getting the job instead of LSU's Les Miles. Further, Bacon's book does a convincing job of deconstructing Rodriguez's treatment by the Detroit media and mostly discredits the news story that provoked the NCAA investigation into practice time rules violations.

And Rodriguez's players looked pretty good this past season, going 11-2 and winning the Sugar Bowl.

So, yes, based on his pedigree, I think Rodriguez can deliver a first Rose Bowl to Arizona.

As for this year, the pieces seem to be in place for a fairly strong turnaround, though one of Rodriguez's refrains in "Three and Out" is how it takes a few years of teaching and recruiting for his systems to take hold. If Scott gets hurt, the Wildcats complete void behind him at QB will be a huge issue, so that fact likely will limit how much Scott will be asked to run the football in Rodriguez's spread-option.

So, sticking with a theme of over-under, I'd rate Arizona's at six wins in 2012.

Greg from Philo, Calif., writes: Lane Kiffin's picks for db, lb and wr coaches were totally out of the box. Genius or incompetence?

Ted Miller: I don't call coaches geniuses. Beethoven was a genius. Einstein was a genius. Louis C.K. is a genius. But I like these hires.

Marvin Sanders, who will coach the secondary, has a strong reputation, though his sudden departure from Nebraska a year ago was a bit strange -- the official explanation was "for personal and family reasons."

By the way, this came in the mailbag from Pete from Omaha:
As a Nebraska fan, USC fans should be absolutely thrilled about the Marvin Sanders hire. He coached arguably the best secondary in the nation two years in a row in 2009 and 2010 and in that time frame produced four NFL draft picks, including first rounder Prince Amukamara. Not to mention, he is also the guy who brought Alfonso Dennard to Nebraska and coached him up, another future first or second rounder. His secondaries embarrassed QB's like Colt McCoy, Jake Locker, and Blaine Gabbert (ALL were NFL starters this year). Gice credit to Bo and Carl for those defenses too, but Marvin is arguably the best secondary coach in college football. USC fans should be ecstatic. Nobody will be able to throw on USC once Marvin gets it going.

The one you might consider "outside the box" is Scottie Hazelton, who was hired a LBs coach after building a defensive power at North Dakota State, which won the FCS national championship this year. To that I say: "Chip Kelly." And then there should be silence (Kelly was New Hampshire's offensive coordinator before taking over the Oregon offense in 2007). This, in fact, feels like an inspired hire by Kiffin, one in which he clearly did a bit of homework.

Consider this from the FCS title game story on the Bison whipping top-seeded Sam Houston, 17-6:
Sam Houston (14-1) had its lowest-scoring game of the season, 33 points below its FCS-best average, and was denied an undefeated season and its first Football Championship Subdivision title. The Bearkats had only 210 total yards.

That should raise your eyebrows.

As for Martin, he talked to Kelly about a job at Oregon in 2009. Kelly and I actually chatted about Martin because I used to cover him back when he was the quarterback of Williamson High School in Mobile, Ala. He led Tennessee to the 1998 national championship the year after Peyton Manning left for the NFL. My sense is he's an up-and-coming coach with good recruiting skills, one who knows that coaching or playing under the warm and salubrious glow of the Pac-12 blog is a feeling like no other.

Dan from San Francisco writes: I'll risk a [Willie] Lyles question given that it's a downtime in the football calendar. In my understanding, the Lyles scandal has the potential to hurt Oregon the most in recruiting, both in terms of lost scholarships and in scaring players away. But given that USC has managed to do great in recruiting and on the field despite looming and already in effect sanctions, to what extent can Oregon coaches use USC as a blueprint to follow and as an example to show recruits should Oregon be hit by sanctions? In other words, to what extent could Chip Kelly tell recruits that sanctions aren't such a big deal, because "look at USC, they got hit and they're doing fine"? I realize that USC has much more going for it in recruiting than Oregon does, but I'm guessing that might be offset somewhat by more lenient sanctions for Oregon.

Ted Miller: I continue to believe that Oregon won't face severe sanctions for Le Affair de Willie Lyles. Oregon ranked 18th in the nation in recruiting this year, so it doesn't seem like recruits are terribly worried, either.

It's never good to lose scholarships as it reduces a program's margin for error in recruiting. Based on simple math, it's easier to be good with 85 scholarship players than with 75 scholarship players. But the Ducks aren't likely to lose 30 scholarships -- 10 out of three recruiting classes -- like USC.

Whatever the endgame is with Oregon and the NCAA on this, I don't anticipate the Ducks getting smacked in a way that substantially hurts their standing in the Pac-12 pecking order.

But the USC comparison doesn't work here for me. For one, this was USC's first of three recruiting classes under scholarship limitations, so the impact of those won't really hit until a year or two from now. We don't know how the Trojans will weather the restrictions, even if it does seem that Lane Kiffin has a vision of how to do it with minimal damage.

Further, as you note Dan, Oregon doesn't work from the same recruiting point A, both in terms of geography and tradition. So if Oregon did get hit hard -- even if it were just half as hard as what USC is presently dealing with -- the damage likely would be worse. A star player in recruiting-rich Southern California might go to USC just so his parents can see him play, and that would outweigh, say, a bowl ban. There are very few A-list recruits around Eugene, and said star from Southern California is less likely to head North to Oregon -- the rain! the chill! -- if the Ducks have NCAA issues.

Even though he'd still experience the warm and salubrious glow of the Pac-12 blog.

Pac-12 lunch links: Kelly to the NFL?

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
2:30
PM ET
You know I used to wait two days to call anybody, but now it's like everyone in town waits two days. So I think three days is kind of money. What do you think?

Opening the mailbag: Doubts about Luck?

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
8:12
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Sorry I'm late. Stuff happens.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes.

Tracy from Memphis writes: On your answer to Burke from Boise on the chat, don't be so dogmatic on this Andrew Luck thing. Sometimes the best pro prospect isn't the best college player. A great example of that was about 15 years ago when Peyton Manning was at Tennessee and Tommie Frazier was at Nebraska. Making the case that Manning was a better college player than Frazier when he wasn't even the best QB in the SEC East (Danny Wuerffel was) is ridiculous. So, it isn't just stats with Clemson's Tajh Boyd (who by the way was run off from Tennessee by LANE KIFFIN). Clemson is 8-0 (when they were 6-7 last year), Boyd is playing through a bad hip with underclassmen at WR, TE and RB and is carrying a sieve of a defense. Ditto Robert Griffin III, who has an incredible 205.7 passer rating (22 TDs, 2 INTs, 78% completions) without anywhere near the talent around him that Andrew Luck has. Luck is pretty mobile, but no way he has 2250 total yards and 24 TDs behind Baylor's offensive line. And not having to play TCU, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas like RGIII does really helps Luck's cause too. Yes, Luck will be drafted much higher than Boyd, Griffin, Kellen Moore etc. but Tommie Frazier wasn't drafted at all. This is COLLEGE so it helps to have a more open mind.

Paul from Eugene, Ore., writes: Ted, the Heisman is not supposed to be "for the best player in college football" as you said in your chat today. It is the equivalent of the MVP award in any pro sport. Being the best player means nothing if you don't put up great numbers. You can go to the Heisman trophy official website if you still don't understand. Are you really going to tell me that people thought Troy Smith was the best player in college football? By your logic people should vote for the Heisman winner based on who they think will be drafted highest.

Ted Miller: Here's the exchange in question:

Burke (Boise): if "Luck plays for a team that runs more than it throws," how is he the Heisman front-runner?! He will be a great pro, he's a great college player, but in terms of THIS season (disregarding last season as you must do) Moore, Boyd, RG3 and Wilson are having as good or better seasons. That doesn't even take into account Richardson. Oh, and Stanford has played NO ONE.

Ted Miller (3:35 PM): The Heisman Trophy is supposed to be for the best player in college football. If you held a COLLEGE FOOTBALL draft, every coach in the nation would pick Luck first. For me, the fact that Luck calls running plays at the LOS instead of passing plays because he sees things like a coach instead of a player who wants fancy stats is another reason to give him the Heisman. The award shouldn't just be about numbers. Though I personally like your boy Kellen Moore because I think he deserves a "career achievement" honor.


First, Tracy, you've thrown a lot of stuff at the wall, some of which sticks and some doesn't. And, Paul, yes, lots of folks, including me, voted for Troy Smith for Heisman because we thought he was the best player in college football. (I gave up my vote after joining ESPN.com).

Again what I typed in the chat: "If you held a COLLEGE FOOTBALL draft, every coach in the nation would pick Luck first." I even did ALL CAPS to emphasize I wasn't talking about his NFL prospects.

The Heisman Trophy vote is different things to different people. For one, it's for all practical purposes an Offensive Player of the Year Award. If it wasn't, Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh would have won in 2009.

It also often becomes a "Best Player on the Best Team Award." The thing that makes Peyton Manning a bad comparison is his "Florida problem." A huge chink in a Heisman candidate's armor is losing important games.

And so it is with Luck. I don't think Luck wins the Heisman Trophy if the Cardinal doesn't at least win the Pac-12. And I think he's a certainty if the Cardinal finishes 13-0.

There are a lot of Heisman voters and a lot of different ideas about criteria. Statistics? Absolutely. Winning? Crucial. How "good" a guy REALLY is? Can't ignore it. Intangibles/character? For me, that's a part of it, but others feel differently.

If I were debating someone who finds Luck's passing numbers -- outstanding, efficient but not spectacular -- lacking compared to someone else, I'd merely point out that Stanford has won 15 games in a row, the last 10 by 25 or more points, which hasn't happened in the modern era of college football. Luck is supported by one of the nation's best defenses, so he's not desperate to pile up points and passing yards. Further, he calls his own plays at the line of scrimmage, more often than not checking down to a running play that gains 10 yards instead of a passing play against two deep safeties who are quaking in their boots.

I love Tajh Boyd and Robert Griffin and Trent Richardson, and I was a major part of the "character rebellion" that inspired the FWAA to selected Kellen Moore as the first-team All-American QB in 2010 over other candidates with troubling off-field questions.

But, folks, Luck is special in so many ways -- numbers, talent, character, brains, humility, a righteous off-season beard -- that if Stanford wins out there should be exactly zero question who gets the stiff-arm trophy in December.

Justin from Portland, Ore., writes: Thanks Ted! You picked OSU to lose, again, which means we'll win. No Jordan Wynn = a LONG day for Utah, especially with OSU's D coming on. (Sean) Mannion will probably have some mistakes in this game against a good D, but not enough to cost the game as Utah struggles to do anything on O. Payback for the game we gave away to Utah in 2008. Utah isn't going to rally... They are a complete dumpster fire at QB without Jordan Wynn. I totally respect Utah's program (unlike the national media) and what they've done over the past years. Just glad its this team and not the 2008 team that's opening up their first year in the Pac-12, because that 08 team would have made some noise.

Ted Miller: Justin gets respect because he tells me I'm wrong BEFORE the game is played.

Lots of notes gloat about my wrongness after the game, which is sort of silly.

Justin, you have full trash-talking rights if the Beavers win, which they always do when I don't pick them.

Cats from New York writes: What is the likelihood Arizona hires Chris Petersen and or another big-time coach like Gus Malzahn - someone that can get rid of the spread and run a pro-style game?

Ted Miller: That seems like two pretty extreme examples on the "big-name" list.

Petersen is an absolute home run. Huge long shot. But his consistent success, which has included a substantial upgrade in the talent at Boise State, to me makes him a much different candidate than Dan Hawkins was back in the day. I think Petersen is just one of those coaches, to quote Bum Phillips, "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n."

Gus Malzahn? Not the same thing. You might want to study the post-Cam Newton Auburn numbers here. If you're going to go the coordinator route, I'm on record as a big fan of Wisconsin's Paul Chryst.

But the likelihood of a big name coming to Tucson is directly related to the likelihood that Arizona will pay someone more than $2 million a year, as well as promise at least that much to pay a nine-man staff.

David from Sacramento writes: There's no question that CAL hasn't been the same since the 2007 Oregon St. Kevin Riley scramble. Anywho, This is the way i look at cal. They haven't gone to the Rose Bowl since the 50's and obviously haven't been much of a factor in the conference in the last 50 years. Are they cursed like the Red Sox were? I mean, was Kevin Rileys scramble in 2007 the Bill Buckner of 1986 ????? And is watching SC win titles and Rose Bowls like watching the Yankees as a Red Sox fan? What is it? "The Curse of the great Pappy Waldorf" or how bout "The curse of the great Nate Longshore getting hurt so Kevin Riley scrambled" or maybe "The curse of the Great Mack Brown" Please come up with something witty to describe this torture of being California Golden Bear supporter.

Jerris from Queens, NY, writes: The Bears should roll over UCLA, which is awful on defense? After reading that as an Old Blue, I completely expect Cal to be shut out by a shockingly adept and inspired UCLA defense. That's just how it works.

Ted Miller: I have no biases among Pac-12 teams. But I do love Cal fans.

They send me notes like these. Per capita, they send the fewest, "You're a &%$ idiot" notes and the most 2,000-word essays. I love the earnestness. And humor. If the ultimate Cal fan were played in a movie, Adam Goldberg would get the part: Smart, hopeful, neurotic but in the end mostly centered. (And before Cal fans take offense he dated Christina Ricci. 'Nuff said, eh?).

David, give me some time to think about it. Cal fans deserve the effort.

Jack from Washington, D.C., writes: Why all the love for Woods in the PAC-12 Superlative tracker and Heisman watch and no mention of Allen. Woods is a top-shelf talent, no doubt, but Allen has equal yardage and ypg on fewer receptions and doesn't have the benefit of Barkley throwing to him. His one-handed grab last week alone should get him at least an honorable mention.

Ted Miller: Keenan Allen is a great player. He and (Robert) Woods look like the first-team All-Pac-12 receivers.

But! Woods team is 6-1 and Allen's is 4-3. And Woods has eight touchdowns to five for Allen.

Let the season play out. If Allen leads the conference in receiving yards, and the Bears win seven or eight games, he'll get plenty of notice.

Peter from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Please make my birthday wish come true and answer this question: Looking at ASU's remaining schedule, it looks like they'll win out (at least on paper). Who do you think poses the biggest threat to a 10-2 regular season record? I'm going to defer to the rivalry aspect and pick UofA but I'm curious as to your thoughts. Thanks!

Ted Miller: The obvious answer is either Arizona or California, which look like the two toughest games.

But good teams often blow it on the road against teams they overlook (see USC through the years). That's why you should fret road games at UCLA and Washington State the first two weekends of November. Those strike me as worrisome.

And happy birthday.

Don Hallstrom from Denver writes: I wanted to see if you could give me some information about Cal Football recruiting? I recently saw a listing of top 50 projected classes and Cal wasn't even in the list. How is their recruiting going?Do you think the new facilities will ultimately help with the recruiting?

Ted Miller: Here's Cal's list of eight commitments, which looks fairly solid to me.

It's too early to panic about a recruiting class. From what I can tell -- recruiting is not really my bailiwick -- the Bears are in on a number of top players. Coach Jeff Tedford has signed consecutive strong classes, so there's no reason to expect a decline for the 2012 class, particularly with USC only allowed to sign 15 players, per NCAA sanctions.

And, yes, I think shiny new facilities will further boost the Bears' efforts.

Jay from Encinitas, Calif., writes: You may want to check again about the all-time record between UCLA and Cal. The Bruins lead the series 49-31-1, including winning 18 straight during the 70's and 80's. The Bruins are 10-4 versus Cal at the Rose Bowl, winning 4 of the last 5 games played there.

Ted Miller: Correct. Got a lot of notes on this, including a number from some potty mouths.

I could whine that the info was wrong on the OFFICIAL PAC-12 RELEASE, but if I had paused and thought, "Hmm, does Cal REALLY lead its series with UCLA 50-29-1?" I would have then double-checked.

So my bad.

Lobbestael gets Manning notice

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
4:14
PM ET
Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael's charmed senior season continues. He has been selected as the Manning Award Player of the Week based on his performance at Colorado last Saturday.

Lobbestael earned the honor over seven other Manning Award Stars of the Week in the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Facebook contest.

From the press release:

Lobbestael, a native of Oak Harbor, Wash., completed 32-of-49 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cougars to a 31-27 victory Colorado. Two of the three touchdowns occurred in the final three minutes, including a 63-yard game-winning connection. As a senior, Lobbestael had learned to accept his role as the backup quarterback on the team, starting only a handful of games throughout his career. However, he has truly stepped up to the occasion since Jeff Tuel suffered a broken collarbone in the season opener – this is the second time that Lobbestael has been recognized as a Manning Award Star of the Week and his first Manning Award Player of the Week honor.

The Washington State fans came on strong as Lobbestael led for most of the week. Coming in right behind Lobbestael were Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, finishing second and third, respectively. Scheelhasse threw for a career-high 391 yards as he led the Illini to a thrilling comeback from a 28-10 deficit, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds to go in a 38-35 victory. Wilson broke a school record with 509 yards as he led an amazing comeback for the Razorbacks, erasing a 35-17 deficit with a huge second half in 42-38 win over Texas A&M.

Huard tackles the Manning-Luck debate

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
8:00
PM ET
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- If anyone can offer an educated insight into Andrew Luck and how he compares to NFL great Peyton Manning, it's ESPN Insider Brock Huard, a former teammate of Manning's and now an ESPN college football analyst who has called some Stanford games the past couple of years.

Huard tackles why Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is similar -- and in some cases, better -- than Manning was during his formative college years.

Writes Huard:
In the 14 years since Peyton Manning made his mark in Knoxville for the Tennessee Volunteers, I have not seen a college quarterback measure up to Peyton's standards and skill set -- until now. Stanford Cardinal QB Andrew Luck has the same prototypical size, the same durable build and the same refined, over-the-top delivery that equal Peyton's as a draft-day prospect.

We've heard lots of people say that Luck is the best quarterback prospect since Manning. But Huard does a good job backing up that statement.

Luck and the No. 6 Cardinal (3-0, 0-0) are coming off a bye week and host UCLA on Saturday. Through the first three games this season, Luck has completed 57-of-85 passes for 786 yards and eight touchdowns. Depending on which poll you believe, he's also Heisman frontrunner.

Unitas Award releases 25-man watch list

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
11:03
AM ET
Here's a consolation prize for Oregon State QB Ryan Katz, who recently lost his starting job: He nonetheless made the first cut on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award's new 25-player watch list.

Stanford's Andrew Luck and Arizona's Nick Foles are also on the list. It's curious that Oregon's Darron Thomas, second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010, isn't.

Candidates must be completing their college eligibility or be a fourth-year junior, on schedule to graduate with their class. Previous winners include Colt McCoy, Matt Ryan, Brady Quinn, and both Peyton and Eli Manning.

The 2011 winner will be presented with his award Dec. 9 in Baltimore, Md.

The list of this year’s top 25 candidates includes:

Pac-12 Heisman Trophy candidates

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
9:00
AM ET
No conference starts out the 2011 season as well-positioned to produce a Heisman Trophy finalist as the Pac-12, considering the conference produced two in 2010.

Here's a look at the candidates, from front-runners to dark horses.

The front-runners

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireStanford's Andrew Luck passed for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: The 2010 runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton -- Wow, talk about a contrast in character studies -- Luck is the decided front-runner heading into the season. He ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency last fall, passing for 3,338 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 70.7 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 453 yards and three scores. Stanford finished with a 12-1 record and a dominant Orange Bowl win against Virginia Tech, in which Luck threw four touchdown passes and earned MVP honors. He would have been the No. 1 overall NFL draft choice in the spring. He will be the No. 1 overall NFL draft choice next spring. The biggest cautionary tale to his Heisman campaign: Peyton Manning.

LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: James, a Heisman finalist last season, led the nation with 1,731 yards rushing-- 144.25 yards per game -- and ranked second with 21 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. He was Oregon’s first unanimous All-American and he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back. He's set Ducks freshman and sophomore records for rushing.

Not to get caught up in that "college" part of college football or anything but James was first-team All-Pac-10 and Luck was second-team -- All-Academic.

The contenders

Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk ranked second in the Pac-10 with 1,415 yards rushing -- his 108.9 yards per game ranked 13th in the nation -- and he scored nine touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 180 yards. He also closed the season strong during the Huskies' four-game winning streak to end the season, rushing for 138 yards against UCLA, 86 yards at California -- including the winning fourth-and-1 plunge on the game's final play -- and 284 yards at Washington State, the second-best rushing total in school history. Then, in the Holiday Bowl against a good Nebraska defense, he rushed for 177 yards on a career-high 34 carries and was named the offensive MVP. The rising junior's second-consecutive 1,000-yard season pushed him to No. 6 on the Huskies all-time rushing list with 2,561 yards. And with quarterback Jake Locker gone, Polk won't have to share the spotlight.

Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon: What if Oregon, with a rebuilt offensive line, ends up passing more in 2011? Thomas, a sophomore, first-year starter, completed 61.5 percent of his throws for 2,881 yards with 30 touchdowns. He also rushed for 486 yards and five scores. He ranked second in the Pac-10 and 17th in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns in the national championship game.

Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Barkley is a big-time talent playing on a high-profile team that has done well in the past when it comes to the Heisman. He ranked 31st in the nation and third in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency in 2010. He completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He's got an outstanding crew of young receivers who might help him put up big numbers.

The dark horses

Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Foles led the Pac-10 with 290 yards passing per game. He ranked fourth in passing efficiency -- 34th in the nation -- completing 67 percent of his passes with with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With one of the best crews of receivers in the nation, he figures to be throwing a lot in 2011. If the Wildcats win early -- see a rugged early schedule against ranked teams -- he could start to generate some buzz.

Robert Woods, WR, USC: Heisman winners often come from surprising places. But not too surprising. As a true freshman, Woods caught a team-high 65 passes for 792 yards with six touchdowns. He also averaged 25.6 yards on 38 kick returns, with a 97-yard touchdown. What if he -- instead of Barkley -- becomes the captivating star of a resurgent USC team?

Pac-12 lunch links: Foles hangs with the Mannings

July, 28, 2011
7/28/11
2:30
PM ET
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Pac-12 lunch links: Bolden unlikely to play

July, 22, 2011
7/22/11
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Pac-12 lunch links: Buffs already game planning

July, 18, 2011
7/18/11
2:30
PM ET
I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.

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