Pac-12: Philadelphia Eagles

Things are good for UCLA this summer. For one, in advance of preseason practices, the Bruins can recline by the pool and reflect on having defeated USC in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. That span, by the way, is also the last time preseason expectations were this high.

As in Pac-12 and national championships high.

The reclamation project that Jim Mora has wrought, one that had Texas eyeballing him in the winter before he signed a new contract with UCLA, seems to be gathering momentum rather than peaking.

“It feels great, but at the same time, this is where I believe we are supposed to be," linebacker Eric Kendricks said of the swirling enthusiasm in Westwood. "All the hard work me and my teammates have put in, I feel like we were supposed to end up in this situation.”

Yet the 2013 season, a transformative one for UCLA, wasn't so easy for Kendricks. While the Bruins were asserting themselves, their star middle linebacker struggled through a variety of injuries -- kidney, shoulder, back and ankle. He played through most of them, but the bum ankle forced him to undergo surgery and miss the dominant Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has 332 career tackles, even though he was slowed by injuries in the 2013 season.
Winning eases pain, but it doesn't cure it.

“Last season was probably the hardest season I’ve ever been a part of," Kendricks said of his personal travails. "It was a learning experience for me having to play through pain. It made me mentally tougher. I was playing for my teammates. That was the main reason I was out there trying to fight my butt off.”

Even with the injuries, Kendricks -- who has started 28 games -- didn't have a bad campaign. He still ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game. He again earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Still, when folks thought of a UCLA defense that -- finally? -- was developing some grit, they tended to start with Anthony Barr and true freshman Myles Jack, Kendricks' fellow linebackers, and then perhaps move on to a defensive front speckled with young talent.

Kendricks has been a tackling machine in the past three seasons with 332 career stops -- his 150 tackles in 2012 were the most by a UCLA player since 1978 -- but it's fair to say his junior season didn't play out how he would have scripted it. If his season had followed a logical progression from his sophomore production, he would presently be sharing top billing with Jack as the Bruins' defensive stars and probably would have earned preseason All-American attention.

Yet when asked about the finding himself outside the spotlight, Kendricks gives it a rhetorical shrug.

“I could care less," he said. "As long as I do my job, I think the film and the numbers speak for themselves. As far as attention I get from NFL teams, that will take care of itself. I don’t need any of the spotlight, honestly.”

A healthy Kendricks is an NFL prospect. For one, he's got good bloodlines. His father, Marv, led UCLA in rushing in 1970-71. His older brother Mychal, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 at California, is a budding star for the Philadelphia Eagles. Both brothers are listed at 6-foot, but Eric Kendricks is a leaner version (230 pounds vs. 240).

As to who's faster, Eric said this about a 40-yard race between the two: “He might win one without pads, but I’d win one in pads.”

The brothers talk frequently, and Eric is eager to learn about the NFL game and what it takes to play on Sundays. The general gist he's picked up is that everyone is a spectacular athlete, so it's your focus and preparation that separates you from the competition.

That lesson also applies to the current Bruins as they eyeball big goals. Preseason expectations don't mean squat. They don't block and tackle and make plays. No one is ceding the South Division to the Bruins.

Of course, Kendricks and his teammates know that. That, however, shouldn't stop them from enjoying the burgeoning excitement.

Or expressing to each other on a regular basis what it means to presently own the series with USC.

"Yeah," he said laughing. "That is awesome."

Mailbag: Kelly, Sark and the SEC

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday. This is the Mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It makes trolling SO MUCH EASIER!

To the notes!

(Two exclamation points and we haven't even started! Wait … three!)

Eric from Hollywoodland, Calif., writes: I understand that the Pac-12 won a pretty major NFL draft battle in keeping the marquee QBs (Hundley, Mariota, Mannion and oft unmentioned Kelly), but why is one of the prevailing storylines STILL "SEC SO GOOD. SEC LOSES SO MANY PLAYER EARLY. ONLY SEC CAN RECOVER FROM SUCH LOSS??" Correct me if I'm wrong, but my Pac-12 educated brain tells me that 12 teams losing 25 players (2.083/team) might be even worse than 14 teams losing 28 players (2/team), right?

Ted Miller: Well, the SEC lost 32 players last year and the Pac-12 lost only 10.

And then the NFL draft happened -- 63 SEC draft picks vs. 28 for Pac-12 -- which, by the way, became the grounds for the Pac-12 blog believing the SEC might slide in 2013 while the Pac-12 might rise.

My feeling is the Pac-12 will do well in this year's draft, probably finishing a respectable distance behind the SEC. But it's a pretty clear recent trend that the SEC provides the most talent to the NFL among the major conferences.

However, it's also notable that the Pac-12's 2013 NFL rookie class was pretty darn salty, with former Oregon Ducks LB Kiko Alonso and California WR Keenan Allen being named defensive and offensive Rookies of the Year, and a number of other former conference standouts making a significant mark.




Erik from Portland writes: With [Steve] Sarkisian talking about USC going to an uptempo attack, shouldn't there be concern about whether or not the defense will be able to hold up? Aliotti alternated players constantly to keep them fresh. SC doesn't have the numbers or depth at any position (especially DL and LB) to do that.

Ted Miller: It will be a concern. It's simple math: Uptempo offenses possess the ball for shorter periods of time, which means more plays for your defense. More plays for your defense means more tired players if you aren't regularly shuffling in quality backups. USC doesn't have a lot in the way of quality backups.

One of the more impressive things about USC's defense under Clancy Pendergast this year was it attained some outstanding numbers while pretty much playing only 13 guys regularly.

Will the Trojans be deeper on defense next year? Perhaps, but only slightly so. Bottom line: Because of NCAA scholarship sanctions, USC will have no more than 72 players on scholarship in 2014, which is 13 fewer bodies than other teams are permitted.

But guess what? Sarkisian knows this. And he's a smart guy. I suspect he will pick his moments and not go all-in. I'm fairly certain USC won't be 100 percent no-huddle, uptempo next fall, particularly with a lead. I think his goal will be to control the tempo and find times to get an opposing defense off balance.

Of course, Sarkisian's desire to adopt an uptempo offense at USC is a long-term plan, at least until his philosophy changes considering this was his first year going that way. This is USC's last recruiting class that will be limited. So, starting in 2015, there should be more fresh body reinforcements.




Gee from Seattle writes: Can the SEC or any other conference put three or even four teams in the playoff next year? If so, how did this come about? Shouldn't the system allow for at least three conference champions and perhaps one at large?

Ted Miller: There are no limits on teams per conference in the four-team playoff, nor are there specific requirements for selection. The goal of the selection committee will be to pick the four best teams. Not the most deserving -- the four best.

So, yes, if a consensus from the committee is that three -- or four! -- of the best teams in the nation come from the SEC or any other conference, they will be selected.

But know that the committee also won't be eager to do that. For one, if you pick, say, three SEC teams, there's the possibility of rematches, which the committee will know fans don't like to see -- see the unpopular LSU-Alabama national title game after the 2011 season.

My guess is we're probably going to see plenty of four-team playoffs with two teams from once conference, most likely the SEC, but three will be highly unlikely.




Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: Ted, was wondering about your final top 25 poll. Aren't you getting away from your stance of "strength of schedule should mean something" by putting Clemson so high and ahead of Stanford? Yes, Clemson won their last game against a good Ohio State team and Stanford lost their last game to a better Michigan State team. When you look at the schedules, though, they are worlds apart. Name another ranked team that Clemson beat. There are 0 such wins. Stanford beat six ranked teams. Clemson got beat by double digits in its two losses. Stanford lost their three games by single scores and two were against ranked teams. Do you really think Clemson would win on a neutral field, and if you were on the playoff committee, would you really slot Clemson ahead of Stanford looking at the seasons of both teams?

Ted Miller: I see your point. I do almost always prioritize quality wins.

The combination of a head-to-head win and strength-of-schedule is why I ranked Stanford ahead of Oregon in my final poll, even though this didn't happen in either the AP or coaches poll. The Cardinal had a lot more quality wins than Oregon, including the best one -- the Ducks themselves.

But you asked about Clemson.

Part of my ranking Clemson sixth is pretty simple: My final position on Clemson is it was an elite team in 2013. It was the same justification I used earlier in the year to rank Oregon No. 2, even though the Ducks didn't post a quality victory until winning at Washington on Oct. 12.

Now, I didn't give Clemson the benefit of the doubt much of the season. I had them ranked 13th heading into the bowl games. I jumped them up because I consider the win over Ohio State impressive.

Clemson lost two games by decisive margins, yes, but they were to Florida State, which won the national title, and South Carolina, which finished ranked fourth. Further, I watched the South Carolina game, and it was a lot closer than the deceiving final score. Clemson seemed like the better team, outgaining the Gamecocks, but it lost the turnover battle 6-0.

6-0! I bet Tigers fans were ripping their eyes out watching that.

Further, Clemson beat Georgia while Georgia was still Georgia -- fifth-ranked and an elite team that hadn't yet suffered epidemic injuries. Georgia beat South Carolina the week after losing to Clemson.

Clemson, by the way, has now beaten two top-10 teams in a row in bowl games: LSU in 2012 and Ohio State this year.

(If I had a quibble with my own ballot, in fact, it would be that I ranked Clemson sixth and Oklahoma seventh. At the time I put the ballot together, I considered Oklahoma's losses worse -- Texas and Baylor -- and the Sooners' best win -- Oklahoma State -- was devalued when the Cowboys lost to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. I could go either way on that, because the Sooners beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was very impressive.)




Kevin from Orange County, Calif., writes: Regarding the Wazzu meltdown in their bowl game, why not mention the Stanford/UCLA game? Around two minutes left in the game, Stanford up 17-10 and inside UCLA 10-yard line and UCLA with no timeouts. ... Instead of going to the knee three straight times and guaranteeing a win, Shaw decides to run and try to score. The only way UCLA has a chance is a Stanford turnover or Stanford scores quickly and gives UCLA enough time to score themselves and get an onside kick (UCLA/Utah situation at the end of game). My point is why is Shaw getting a pass for his stupid play-calling at the end of that game if Wazzu is second-guessed? Only difference seems to be that Stanford won and Wazzu lost.

Ted Miller: You might have guessed this, but the bold and italics for the final sentence were supplied by me.

It is true. When a strategy works, it rarely gets criticized. And when it fails, it does.

Remember Chip Kelly's shocking onside kick early in the second quarter against Stanford in 2010, with the Cardinal leading 21-10? It was a game-changing moment. It was pure genius.

And we would have thought Kelly had lost his mind if Stanford had recovered and then driven for a 28-10 lead. We would have typed, "Just as Oregon seemed to have gained momentum after a terrible start, Kelly tried to get too fancy and he handed the game to Andrew Luck and Stanford. It's clear that Kelly is in over his head as a head coach and is never, ever, ever going to be successful."

Well, the last part was just me pouring it on.

Also, understand that the Pac-12 blog's consternation over the end game wasn't just about clock management. It was about yielding a 22-point lead, playing horrendous fourth-quarter defense and coughing up the ball two times in the final two minutes.

It was a total package of meltdown.




Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Am I a bad person for finding these Chip Kelly quotes hilarious? Do media folk find him condescending, or is there a small amount of joy in getting slammed by a master? I mean, who wouldn't want to get insulted by Don Rickles?

Ted Miller: Some might find him condescending, but my feeling is most reporters enjoyed working with Kelly.

Yes, he could be biting. But typically he was biting when someone asked him either: 1. A stupid question; 2. A question that he didn't want to answer. Asking the latter is often part of the reporter's job, and the truth is a biting answer is more fun than him saying, "No comment."

Further, most of his best quips aren't biting. They're him having fun. News conferences with NFL coaches are typically drab affairs. Any added color is appreciated.

As in, "This team is not going to fall for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick."

Erroneous!

It seemed New Orleans stuck a banana in the Eagles' tailpipe.
Happy Friday.
Knock, knock (Who's there?!)

Mailbag. (Mailbag who?!)

Mailbag your pooh pooh face.

(Knock-knock joke just dictated to me by my 4-year-old).

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Donald from Eugene, Ore., writes: First off, I agree with Andy Staples that Oregon's punishment was appropriate and what USC SHOULD have received. But I was wondering if Chip Kelly had forewarning about the "Show Cause" punishment and knew Oregon would have been forced to fire him if he had stuck around Eugene? So he didn't really escape, as some people suggest, as he wasn't going to coach The Ducks in 2013 anyway. He actually did Oregon a favor by leaving before spring practice.Also, why doesn't the NCAA mandate a standard contract clause for all head coaches making them financially liable for any violations occurring under their watch regardless if they are still at the school or not?

Ted Miller: You know in the movie, "Being John Malkovich," when everyone just starts going "Malkovich!" "Malkovich!" "Malkovich!" That's what it sometimes feels like being a college football writer with Staples around, "I agree with Andy Staples!" "I agree with Andy Staples!"

I mean, really, how hard is to be right all the time when you're bacon's biggest advocate?

I agree with Staples' idea about allowing recruits to take official visits beginning in January of their junior year of high school as a good way to reduce cheating.

And yet I don't agree that Oregon coach Chip Kelly would have been fired after the NCAA ruling, in large part because we don't know what the NCAA would have ruled if Kelly were still the Ducks coach. I do know Oregon would only have done that as an absolute last resort.

For one, Kelly and Oregon have had each other's backs in this from beginning to end, even when Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. I sense zero hard feelings between school and former coach.

If the NCAA had given Kelly a "show cause" as a sitting coach, Oregon would have had the option of firing him or going back in front of the Committee on Infractions to defend Kelly and itself against additional sanctions. The NCAA can't make an institution fire its coach.

Kelly might have been suspended, or the school might have been hit with other penalties. It's difficult to say.

But I think Kelly's 18-month "show cause" was largely symbolic and was given specifically because he was no longer at Oregon. If he were still in Eugene, I don't think that he would have been given that sanction. I think the NCAA would have found an additional way to hit him and the program -- in order to support the NCAA's attempt to hold head coaches more accountable -- but I don't think, based on my reading of the ruling, the NCAA would have wanted to hit Kelly with the worst penalty he could get as a sitting coach.

As for the NCAA mandating contract standards, that won't happen because institutions don't want to surrender their authority on contracts. Further, NCAA efforts to standardize penalties also have run into resistance through the years.

(Read full post)

Oregon Ducks are full speed ahead

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
2:26
PM ET
During his teleconference with reporters Wednesday, NCAA committee on infractions spokesman Greg Sankey was asked whether the NCAA penalties against Oregon were "toothless." Without dispensing his seemingly self-conscious monotone that made the Q-and-A an unenlightening affair, Sankey replied, "I'm not going to go through a dental exam."

Apologies to dentists everywhere, but Sankey and his committee's penalties against Oregon for its use of Willie Lyles' scouting services are about as painful as a dental exam.

A loss of one scholarship from two recruiting classes, including last year's class, and a maximum of 84 total scholarship players -- one below the limit -- through the 2015-16 academic year. Three years of probation ending June 25, 2016. A number of recruiting restrictions, including a ban on subscriptions to recruiting services during the probation period, believed to be a first for NCAA sanctions.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly, who has a five-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, was given an 18-month show cause ruling.
Most notable: No postseason ban for a budding national title contender.

If anything, former coach Chip Kelly, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, was the fall guy for failing to properly monitor his football program, a charge to which he admitted. Except he fell onto a feather bed.

Kelly was given an 18-month show-cause ruling. That means if any college program wants to hire Kelly before Christmas of 2014, "it and the former head coach shall appear before the Committee on Infractions to consider which, if any, of the show-cause procedures of Bylaw 19.5.2.2 (l) should be imposed upon him."

So ... that's pretty meaningless. Kelly could return to college coaching in 2015.

Kelly released a statement, taking the high road:

“Now that the NCAA has concluded their investigation and penalized the University of Oregon and its football program, I want to apologize to the University of Oregon, all of its current and former players and their fans. I accept my share of responsibility for the actions that led to the penalties.

“As I have I stated before, the NCAA investigation and subsequent ruling had no impact on my decision to leave Oregon for Philadelphia. I have also maintained throughout that I had every intention to cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation, which I did."


A few hours after the NCAA provided its ruling, Oregon sent out a gleeful news release: "NCAA FINDINGS CONSISTENT WITH OREGON’S RECOMMENDATIONS."

And there was some understandable gloating from the Ducks' athletic department.

“Throughout this process, there has been speculation and innuendo regarding the nature and severity of potential violations, much of which was unfounded," athletic director Rob Mullens said in the statement. "As stated by the NCAA Enforcement Staff, the violations committed in this case were unintentional. The University of Oregon remains committed to fair play, integrity and the best interests of our student-athletes. We have all learned from this experience and look forward to continuing the progress of broad-based excellence in Oregon athletics.”

What does this mean for Oregon's football program?

It means full speed ahead, which is pretty fast for a program that has a 46-7 record over the past four years and is a likely top-five team in the 2013 preseason polls. The big question for the program? It remains what it was before the ruling and is purely an on-field issue: How well will former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fill Kelly's vacated and very large Nike loafers?

Sure, Helfrich will see his style slightly cramped by some of the recruiting restrictions:

  • A reduction of official paid football visits to from 56 to 37 for the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years.
  • A reduction of permissible football evaluation days from 42 to 36 in the fall of 2013, 2014 and 2015 and permissible football evaluation days from 168 to 144 in the spring of 2014, 2015 and 2016.
  • A ban on the subscription to recruiting services during the probation period.

Those penalties can be overcome by the school continuing to win and continuing to be a "cool" destination for players. But they are not, well, completely toothless.

As for why Oregon seemingly got off easy, there are several reasons.

  • There always was a substantial gray area with NCAA rules relating to the use of recruiting services. While some fans -- and reporters -- were blown away by Oregon's $25,000 payment to Lyles for essentially nothing of value, that transaction didn't rise to the level of buying recruits. Said Sankey, "The committee made its decision based on the information presented to it, not on other speculation and evaluation."
  • A number of other schools had employed Lyles in similar ways to Oregon. That complicated viewing Lyles as purely a representative of Oregon's interests.
  • Oregon was "fully cooperat[ive] throughout the entirety of the investigative stage," according to the NCAA ruling, which noted, "At the investigation's conclusion, the enforcement staff, the institution and the involved parties were in substantial agreement on the facts of the case and on the violations that had occurred."
  • Oregon has not only changed football coaches since the violations occurred, it also has changed athletic directors and school presidents. In other words, those who "failed to monitor" are gone.
  • The NCAA has had a tough few years, you might have heard. It has lost the high ground, which it often didn't deserve in any event. Those inside this investigation on the Oregon end never seemed too worried the football program was going to get hammered.

The fact is the 27-month investigation, in itself, was Oregon's most severe penalty. For one, it was costly. The school paid law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King $208,991.48 to represent its interests, according to The Oregonian, and the overall expenses for the investigation far exceed that.
Of course, the Ducks football team, unhindered by severe, USC-like sanctions, likely will recoup that. And quickly.

While Oregon operated under a dark cloud during the NCAA inquiry, there was much "You're going down!" hyperventilating from the Ducks' rivals, both within the Pac-12 and nationally. No one likes a winner, particularly when the losers believe the winner is cheating. There were high hopes in many places that the Ducks would get hammered.

Didn't happen.

Oregon? The clouds have parted. The NCAA failed to rain on Autzen Stadium.

The Oregon Duck is back, leaning easy and revving up his motorcycle: ludicrous speed ahead.
If the Dictionary of Phrases needs a demonstration of what "cautiously optimistic" sounds like, they might want to chat with Mark Banker about his Oregon State defense.

He makes a good case for optimism. And he's got reasons to be cautious.

It must be first said that Banker probably feels a lot better than he did a year ago when Beavers fans were doubting him, despite a distinguished track record of consistent success, both on the field and in terms of transforming under-the-radar recruits into NFL draft choices.

[+] EnlargeMark Banker
Jesse Beals/ Icon SMIDefensive coordinator Mark Banker is optimistic the Beavers can continue the growth they showed last season, when they ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up 20.6 points per game.
Yet after consecutive losing seasons in Corvallis, Banker and head coach Mike Riley were on the spot. The 2011 Beavers ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, surrendering 30.8 points per game, and they often were pushed around, yielding a conference-worst 196.8 yards rushing per game.

Few units in the Pac-12 improved as much as the Beavers' defense from 2011 to 2012. Last fall, the Beavers ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up just 20.6 points per game, a 10.2-point per game improvement. They also ranked third in run defense, holding foes to 129.5 yards per game in a conference with a lot of good running backs.

The difference? Better players, experience, staying healthy and a rejiggered defensive staff, says Banker.

As to what he sees for 2013, he said, "This group is more than capable."

He likes his defensive ends, Dylan Wynn and All-American candidate Scott Crichton. He's got two speedy, experienced outside linebackers in Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander. Three of four starters are back from a secondary that yielded just 14 touchdown passes last fall.

And yet.

He's replacing his middle linebacker Feti Taumoepeau, as well as do-everything backup Rueben Robinson. All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer is now playing for Chip Kelly in Philly. And he's got 644 pounds missing in the middle of his defensive line with the departure of tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo.

Let's start with the optimism. Banker loves underrated free safety Ryan Murphy.

"He can really play -- he's got the greatest chance of being drafted in a high position," Banker said. "He'll be one of the, if not the best, safety we've ever had here as this thing plays out. I hope I don't jinx him."

Further, he feels like he's got a pretty good competition for replacing Poyer, with experienced senior Sean Martin and talented junior college transfer Steve Nelson in a tight battle for the starting job, with the No. 2 guy likely filling a nickel role.

Banker likes true sophomore Joel Skotte stepping into the middle linebacker spot. While Skotte, who saw significant special teams action last season, isn't yet there physically, he's a smart player, the kind of guy who won't make mental mistakes in the middle of the Beavers' defense.

Further, the position isn't as critical to the Beavers' defense as it was in the past, because eight conference teams run no-huddle spread offenses.

"The basis of what we have to have at that position, [Skotte] has," Banker said. "But at the same time, with so many different spread types of offenses, we're in our sub packages quite a bit."

Which means Doctor, who made great strides in 2012, moves into the middle.

Banker admits some frustration trying to get Alexander in the right place to maximize his athletic potential. There were plenty of feast or famine moments with the speedy rising junior in 2012. Great plays followed by mental errors.

"There were quite a few times last year we'd take him out to let him know, No. 1, it's not acceptable and, No. 2, so we could get him squared away in the mental aspect of the game," Banker said.

Then there are the voids at defensive tackle. You can almost feel Banker rubbing a rabbits foot through the phone line.

"We're not so much uncertain, but we're not satisfied with our defensive tackle play," Banker said.

The Beavers welcome back reserves Mana Rosa and John Braun, but four junior college signees are expected to compete for the starting spots.

Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau both participated in spring practices. Hautau, however, broke his hand and missed most of the action, and Delva has a ways to go.

Kyle Peko, Charlie Tuaau and Lyndon Tulimasealii are scheduled to arrive for fall camp, but Banker sounded a cautionary note about all three being squared away academically.

"All three have significant work that they are doing in the classroom that they need to become eligible," he said.

The hope is that, of the tackles who do make it to camp, at least two will be Pac-12 ready. And maybe one or two others can adequately take up space.

"That's the biggest thing that I'm curious about: Where do they start? Where's the bottom? I hope they don't start down too low," Banker said.

Banker likes what he knows about his defense. And has his fingers crossed hopefully over what he's yet to find out.

Pac-12 as NFL coaching pipeline

June, 4, 2013
6/04/13
11:00
AM ET
ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel looks at which conferences send head coaches to the NFL and makes a conclusion: "The shortest road for any FBS head coach to the NFL is through the Pac-12. In fact, no other conference even comes close."

He points out that Chip Kelly (Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles) was the 15th Pac-12 coach to jump to the NFL since "Tommy Prothro moved crosstown from UCLA in 1971 to coach the Los Angeles Rams."

And during that span the SEC has sent three to the NFL. The Big Ten one.

Figuring out exactly why this is true is more of a challenge, particularly because folks in other regions will get mad hearing the real reason: Brains and sophistication.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoChip Kelly's offensive creativity helped him become the latest Pac-12 head coach to land an NFL head coaching gig.
Hey... take it easy. Just saying. And you Pac-12 folks need to behave.

Just look at the list: Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, John McKay, Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson and Chip Kelly. Those are some of the most innovative minds in football history, particularly offensive football.

Schematically, the Pac-12 -- historically and I think still at present -- is the nation's most sophisticated league. There's just more ... stuff. Playbooks are thicker. That, by the way, includes both sides of the football. The QBs are asked to do more. And that forces defenses to do more, too.

This, by the way, fits in with those who -- wrongly -- view the Pac-12 as a finesse league: A conference that is physically inferior has to use its wits to succeed.

But sophistication is about more than scheme. It's about psychology and managing people. There's more diversity on the West Coast. That complicates the job, so doing it well is meaningful. John McKay probably would have been successful coaching in Tuscaloosa. Not as sure the same could be said of Bear Bryant in Los Angeles.

Part of that is this: There's not as much "Yes, sir," "No, sir" on the West Coast as there is in other regions, particularly the Southeast and Texas, though that as a historical trend is likely narrowing. Going old school on an 18-to-23-year old from L.A. or Seattle probably won't work as well as it would on a kid from small town Alabama. The way a successful Pac-12 coach talks to and motivates his team is, in general, different. And, historically, it's probably closer to the NFL model, where the players are paid professionals and less willing to respond positively to a ranting coach.

Understand, there are plenty of exceptions to that. Frank Kush at Arizona State and Don James at Washington were as old school intimidating to their players as any of their contemporaries.

There's another level to that sophistication: Big cities. The NFL is a big-city league. So is the Pac-12. Maisel thinks this matters:
It could be that universities that share a market with NFL teams lose more coaches to the league. A school such as Boston College, clamoring for attention in a crowded market, might be more liable to hire a prominent NFL assistant coach such as Tom Coughlin, who left the Eagles for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1994. That best explains why, even without counting Johnson or Erickson, the 22-year-old Big East has lost five head coaches to the NFL.

But there are other potential reasons:

  • Out of the box hires create fast-rising stars: Kelly, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll each arrived in the Pac-12 in creative ways. Mike Bellotti made the inspired decision to hire Kelly away from New Hampshire. Harbaugh mostly generated head scratches when Stanford hired him away from San Diego. And Carroll was USC's 174th choice after a bumbling search. Heck, even Bill Walsh was a frustrated NFL assistant when he arrived at Stanford.
  • Previous NFL experience: Carroll had previous NFL coaching experience. So did Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh and Dennis Erickson. Harbaugh was a longtime NFL QB. Several other guys on the list at least had a cup of coffee as an NFL assistant before taking over a Pac-8/10/12 team. You could conjecture that many of them viewed returning to the NFL as their ultimate ambition, unlike a college coaching lifer.
  • Recruiting rules in SEC: The most important skill for a head coach in the SEC is without question: Recruiting. The competition for recruits nationwide is brutal, but it's a blood sport in the Southeast. And that is not really a skill that translates in the NFL.
  • Money: Some conferences' pay scales are competitive with the NFL. The Pac-12's is not.
People who confuse brains and luck can get in a whole lot of trouble. Seeing through the game is not the same as winning the game.
When something seemingly loud happens, we can't help but stare. The momentum of attention, which of course can be monetized by the media, creates a hungry void that is filled with endless analysis. The end-result is a suffusion of broad statements of "This proves this!"

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Eagles drafted USC QB Matt Barkley with the 98th pick in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
So we have USC quarterback Matt Barkley. It seems now we all should have seen Barkley's precipitous slide in the NFL draft coming. He would have been a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft, not the 98th overall selection he ended up being on Saturday, if he'd only been smart enough not to return to USC for his senior season.

I get it. Hindsight rocks. We'd all be rich, infinitely happy people if we could do a rewind and relive the past, knowing what we know after going through it once before.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's fair to say now that Barkley made a huge mistake. How huge? This is from Sports Illustrated's Peter King:
P.S.: Wondering what that extra year of school cost Barkley? He went 98th overall. Let's say he'd have been the eighth pick a year ago -- that's where Ryan Tannehill went. It's all speculation, of course. But the consensus was he'd have been a top 10 pick. Tannehill's deal: four years, $12.7 million. The 98th pick last year, Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, signed for four years and $2.58 million. Turns out it was a $10.1 million year of school for Matt Barkley.

Ouch.

You business school guys can pencil that out for us over a lifetime. Forget Barkley's second contract. You can't make up a $10.1 million hit.

So, yeah, bad call. Barkley undoubtedly will become a cautionary tale for future players who are debating whether to stay in school or enter the draft early. More than a few folks will insist that if there's a consensus first-round grade for a third-year player, returning merely to make a run at being the first overall pick or a top-10 pick is not a good idea.

Support for that notion comes from the evaluative distance between the end of the regular season and the actual draft. So much happens between December and April that a player, particularly one with great athletic measurables, can dramatically influence the affections of NFL scouts and GMs.

Still, let's look at the Barkley who stood in front of a Christmas tree in December 2011 and smoothly announced his return to USC.

  • There was seemingly no question at that point he would be, at best, the third QB chosen behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Further, you'd think that some of his supposed red flags -- arm strength and foot quickness -- would have revealed themselves at the NFL combine and during workouts, so it's even questionable that he would have won out over Tannehill.
  • Go back to your December 2011 self. Who was the best college QB in the nation? There was Barkley and then a whole bunch of "Who?" and "Neh." Phil Steele's ranking of QBs after Barkley in advance of the season: 2.Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; 3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma; 4. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; 5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee.
  • Ergo, his rating as the top overall QB entering 2012, based on three years as a starter, seemed absolutely secure.
  • Then there were the Trojans around him: 18 starters back from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. That included four starters on the offensive line to protect him and the best tandem of college receivers in recent memory: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

There were only two potential red flags at the time: 1. Injury; 2. The unknown. Both ended up contributing to Barkley's slip.

"The unknown" includes that old scouting adage that a guy can have "too much film." If a guy duplicates his great play from a previous season, scouts will wonder why he didn't dramatically improve. And woe unto him whose numbers drop.

But the now-marginalized reasons for Barkley's return also were sound:

  • Win the Heisman Trophy.
  • Win the national title.
  • Enjoy another year of college as USC's QB, which is a nice thing to carry around the idyllic campus, before taking on real world stresses of playing a game for a living.
  • Become the first QB taken in the 2013 draft, which is typically in the higher reaches of the top-10.

At the time Barkley made his decision to stick around, there were few naysayers about his and his team's prospects. That everything went so completely rear-end-over-tea-kettle still boggles the mind if you aren't one of those people who pretends you saw it all coming a year ago.


All this said, with a few exceptions, my long-held belief on this is a player should enter the draft as soon as possible. "Stay in school!" sounds nice, but a guy can always go back to school.

That position, however, is not all about merely jumping into the draft when your stock is seemingly high. It's also about age. It's better to start earning a (substantial) paycheck at, say, 21 than 22, if it is available to you. The career clock doesn't tick very long in the NFL, and an extra couple of million can help later in life.

Consider two Pac-12 players who had less fanfare this draft cycle but are probably nearly as disappointed as Barkley: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner and Stanford OLB Chase Thomas.

Both opted to return for their senior seasons in order to improve their NFL draft prospects. It appears neither did, with Barner going in the sixth round and Thomas going undrafted. My hunch is they would have done better last spring.

Both now have an additional year of wear-and-tear on the bodies without getting paid, which is particularly an issue for Barner because running backs see their productivity drop substantially at 30. Barner just turned 24.

Ultimately, a disappointing draft doesn't make or break an NFL career. Ask Tom Brady. I think just about every conversation I had with former Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck circled back to his annoyance at being picked in the sixth round, watching QBs he felt were inferior to him get picked before him.

Barkley, who has seemingly led a charmed life at quarterback, might get a boost from having a chip on his shoulder (a Chip Kelly one, at that). Maybe "Angry Matt" will turn out better than "Breezy Matt."

The NFL draft is often confounding. It is laden with risk and reward on both sides of the process. Barkley took on a defensible risk and things didn't go as he hoped. That's notable, but it's also an annual occurrence.

As for Barkley, you'd think that at some point in his life he will encounter a greater adversity than being picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti knows transition. He's coached at Oregon in five different decades and under four head coaches. He's seen tough times and BCS bowl games. So Chip Kelly's departure to the Philadelphia Eagles isn't going shake the earth beneath his feet.

Kelly's exit and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich's ascension to head coach? Just part of the business, which for him is business as usual running the Duck defense.

"At this point in the game, it's been a very smooth, easy transition, to the point I don't feel or see any difference," Aliotti said. "I guess until we start playing games and things start happening that are meaningful I might have a better answer. But my gut feeling tells me that there will be very little difference in the way Chip did things and the way Mark will do things."

Which bodes well for the program, because Aliotti, 58, isn't going to change either.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti brings back much of his defense but also has some major holes at linebacker.
Oregon's defense, as has been typical during its national rise, was again outstanding in 2012. Some folks still don't understand how the Ducks' ludicrous-speed offense skews certain numbers, which enables a scattering of lunkheads to perceive mediocrity.

Such as this: Oregon ranked sixth in the conference and 44th in the nation in total defense (374.2 yards per game).

Solid, but not above a chortle from our SEC friends.

Ah, but Oregon ranked No. 1 in the nation in turnovers forced -- 40, two more than anyone else -- 15th in in pass efficiency defense, 14th in third down efficiency, 10th in redzone efficiency and 26th in yards per play. Oh, and 25th in the nation in scoring (21.62 points per game).

So, yeah, the Ducks had one of the nation's 15-to-20 best defenses in 2012. Looking ahead, eight starters are back from that unit in 2013, and that doesn't include talented and experienced depth, particularly on the line and in the secondary.

Said Aliotti, "Eight of 11 spots should be as good or better. Three we have to shore up."

Shoring up is right. Those three losses are huge in terms of talent, production and leadership. They are concentrated at linebacker in the Ducks' hybrid 3-4: outside linebacker Dion Jordan and inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

Clay and Jordan were the Ducks most vocal leaders in 2012. Jordan is going to be a top-10 NFL draft pick, and Alonso figures to get selected around the third round. Clay, despite lacking ideal size, has a good chance to get drafted.

"They're irreplaceable initially," Aliotti siad. "Whoever steps in there obviously is not going to be that caliber when they first step in there. Those guys meant so much to us."

Tony Washington, who has plenty of experience, will step in for Jordan. Aliotti also said Boseko Lokombo, a returning starter at the opposite outside linebacker spot, Tyson Coleman and Christian French will help fill Jordan's void. All four have seen plenty of action.

"None of them are Dion but those four will man that position," Aliotti said.

As for replacing Clay and Alonso, Aliotti is less sanguine.

"I don't feel as comfortable in there as I do at the outside position to be honest with you," he said.

Part of that is injuries. Top candidates Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have been hurt this spring. That's brought Coleman inside -- he played well backing up Lokombo last year -- along with Rahim Cassell. Aliotti also mentioned Joe Walker.

When the discussion turns to the defensive line and secondary, Aliotti brightens considerably.

The D-line is big, athletic and, due to injury issues last fall, experienced. Expect senior end Taylor Hart to transition from underrated to properly appreciated. Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli provide 300-pound bodies inside, while DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci figure to improve dramatically after seeing significant action as true freshmen.

The secondary is potentially the best in the Pac-12 in both talent and depth. Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are the conference's best cornerback tandem. They both could end up first-team All-Pac-12, as Ekpre-Olomu did in 2012 after hauling in four interceptions and forcing six fumbles.

"I think they're pretty equal. I like them both the same," Aliotti said when asked which corner was better.

And backups Troy Hill and Dior Mathis likely would start for many conference teams, as would backup safeties Reggie Daniels and Erick Dargan.

The Ducks have three big voids, no doubt. But there's a lot coming back. Including Aliotti, who will be coaching his 22nd season in Eugene after he turned down an overture from Lane Kiffin to talk about USC's defensive coordinator vacancy.

A new, offensive minded head coach? No worries. Aliotti's seen it before and things have worked out just fine.

"It's been the same as before, so it's kind of cool," he said.

Bad news, good news for Oregon

April, 16, 2013
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Oregon and the NCAA agree: The football program committed major violations in connection to the Willie Lyles case, The Oregonian and Portland, Ore., television station KATU reported Monday.

The disagreement, however, that prevented Oregon and the NCAA from reaching a summary judgment is this, from The Oregonian:
Oregon and the NCAA, however, reached an impasse late in 2012 while attempting to agree on the severity of one violation concerning the Ducks' $25,000 payment to Texas-based talent scout Willie Lyles. The Ducks believe the impermissible "oral reports" delivered from Lyles constitute a secondary violation; NCAA enforcement officials believe them to be another "major violation."

It makes sense that's at issue, although the Pac-12 blog is of the mind that this impasse was more about the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI), which demanded a hearing, than the NCAA's enforcement staff, which seemed to be in accord with Oregon.

The strength of Oregon's position is the way the NCAA reacted to other recent cases, as well as the gray area with NCAA rules on recruiting services.

The strength of the NCAA's position is that it can do what it wants, then justify it after the fact, such as when former Miami athletic director Paul Dee said about USC's Reggie Bush, "High-profile athletes require high-profile compliance," which he just spun together for reporters because it doesn't exist in the NCAA rulebook.

Still, there is good news for Oregon from these reports, and it might be more important than what led the story:
However, the documents also state NCAA enforcement staff said they had "no finding of lack of institutional control and no finding of unethical conduct," key points when it comes time for punishment to be considered, KATU reported. Oregon is expected to appear before the NCAA's committee on infractions sometime this year.

"Lack of institutional control" and "unethical conduct" are the killers when it comes to penalties. Those quash postseasons and handfuls of scholarships. Of course, these documents are dated, so it's possible, if unlikely, the COI could up the ante.

Further, Oregon's case is probably helped by the program's big news this year: The departure of coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Violations connected to Lyles came on Kelly's watch. He's gone. That should soften the eventual blow to some extent.

To show you the university's thinking, it "proposed to self-impose a two-year probation for the football program and a reduction of one scholarship for each of the next three seasons."

It wanted to be whipped by a wet noodle three times.

Yet even if you doubled that -- four years of probation and two scholarships for each of the next three seasons -- you're not talking about a major hit to the program. Signing just 23 and maxing out at 83 scholarships for the next three years won't knock the Ducks out of the nation's top 10.

Pac-12 in NFL draft: Defense rules!

April, 11, 2013
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ESPN draft guru Todd McShay has published his NFL mock draft 5.0, which includes analysis of several scenarios for each team Insider, and he projects four Pac-12 players being selected in the first round.

But that's not what's interesting.

What's interesting is all four are defensive players. The 14-team, defensive-minded SEC has six defensive players in McShay's projection.

While I'm too lazy to go through every previous NFL draft to find out if that has happened before, my guess is it hasn't.

McShay has it going like this:
Of course, there are several Pac-12 offensive players who could break up this foursome: Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, California receiver Keenan Allen and USC quarterback Matt Barkley all remain potential first-round picks.

Further, when you consider that the Pac-12 welcomes back two certain preseason All-Americans in Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, as well as several other All-American candidates -- Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy, and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- it would seem the conference is on the defensive uptick.

Chip Kelly isn't terribly big. He's not notably loud, either. Nor is he typically expansive. Who he is, however, is -- was! -- the presence most often cited as transforming Oregon's football program from good to great. So his absence from the Ducks' first spring practice Tuesday was impossible to ignore.

Yet it's a tribute to the culture Kelly sought to create that it appears his players did a pretty darn good job of doing just that. Mostly.

"At first, a lot of the guys were talking about it," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's a little different. But by the end of practice, it was good. Kind of the same. Once we got rolling, it was the same old game of football."

New coach Mark Helfrich, who was promoted from offensive coordinator, admitted to reporters that his first practice sans Kelly was "weird, at points." But Oregon moves too fast to stop for navel-gazing. It's "next man in" when a player or coach leaves or goes down, and so it will be for the beginning of the Helfrich era.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAs a redshirt freshman, Marcus Mariota quarterbacked high-flying Oregon to a No. 2 final ranking.
Without a doubt, the transition from Kelly to Helfrich is the point A of the Ducks' 2013 story. There's no question about point B, either: Mariota.

Somewhat lost in the regional shuffle of the Kelly-to-the-NFL talk and the national hullabaloo over Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel's brilliant Heisman Trophy season was Mariota's extraordinary performance as the Ducks' redshirt freshman starter.

Mariota was in the cockpit for a team that finished ranked No. 2 in the nation after whipping Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. He piloted an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.5 points per game) and was fifth in total offense (537.4 yards per game).

Individually, he ranked first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. In the Conference of Quarterbacks, he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after completing 68.5 percent of his throws for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He also got better as the year went along, despite the competition being decidedly tougher. As Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard pointed out, "[Mariota] had 11 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 152.74 rating in the first month of the season, and 21 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 171.10 rating after that."

That efficiency number would have ranked third in the nation. Further, keep in mind that Oregon's tendency to stomp opponents into submission by halftime meant Mariota was either on the bench or handing off during most fourth quarters.

While Mariota isn't the only reason many see the Ducks as national title contenders again in 2013, despite Kelly's departure, he is the biggest. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Honolulu native is a seemingly unflappable player who combines A-list speed with notable passing accuracy.

There is little Mariota didn't do well in 2012, so the idea of him improving can foster many pleasant thoughts among Ducks fans. And there are areas in which he can improve. Mariota said his offseason focus has been footwork. New offensive coordinator Scott Frost, promoted from receivers coach, believes Mariota's established strengths can become even stronger.

"I think we can clean some things up and be even more efficient," Frost said. "There are some things we want to tweak to help him have more of an opportunity to impact the game. We wouldn't trade him for anybody. We think he can do some amazing things and win a lot of games. We're going to feature him as much as we can."

With the Ducks welcoming back their entire cast of receivers and being questionable at running back, it's almost certain Mariota will throw more next season. That will mean more opportunities for him to put up big numbers. If he hangs up impressive stats while the Ducks continue to roll up wins, Mariota will gain the esteem of Heisman Trophy voters.

Mariota, the Fiesta Bowl MVP, isn't a guy who seeks out the spotlight, but he also doesn't seem to be afraid of it.

"My parents raised me to handle whatever comes at you," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Then he added, "I'm really looking forward to spring practices."

That sounds very Chip Kelly. Or maybe we now should say that it sounds very Oregon.
On Jan. 4, Oregon, fresh off its second consecutive BCS bowl victory, was at an all-time high. Then, while riding that wave of emotion, it watched Chip Kelly transformed into Hamlet -- "To go or not to go, that is the question..."

Kelly was certain to leave for the NFL before he wasn't. And then -- poof -- he was gone, off to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. Hey, a guy can change his mind.

If Kelly had stayed, the big spring and fall question for the Ducks was what do they need to do to make the proverbial next step. Seeing that they had finished ranked No. 2 in 2012 and played for a national title in 2010, the singular step that needed to be taken was winning a national championship.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanEven with Chip Kelly's departure, the Oregon Ducks are still in pretty good shape with talented starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Kelly knew this and thought about it a lot, though that's not the sort of thing he'd admit. While Kelly always preached laser-like focus on the task at hand, let's just say that he didn't turn away from a TV set when Alabama was playing. He knew the team -- and the conference -- that needed to be overcome.

Now, with Kelly cracking wise at reporters on the East Coast, the question becomes slightly less ambitious and more general for the Ducks, who open spring practices on April 2: Can new coach Mark Helfrich & Co. sustain what Kelly built?

Of course, anybody who has paid more than passing attention to the Ducks of recent vintages knows exactly the three-word phrase that will meet all such inquiries: Next man in.

The program is -- wisely, most believe -- following a formula that has worked before. Rich Brooks begat Mike Bellotti, who begat Kelly, who begat Helfrich. That pattern would seem to position well new offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who was elevated from receivers coach. Bellotti, Kelly and Helfrich each was the Ducks' offensive coordinator when he was promoted to the corner office.

Still Frost, who knew how things would fall if Kelly bolted, felt an ambivalence during Kelly's NFL flirtation and eventual elopement.

"It was just an interesting ride," Frost said. "I think all of us were a little bit torn on the whole thing. We've had such a great amount of success here that part of us didn't want to see anything change. We wanted to keep it status quo and see how long we could do this thing. Everybody loved Chip and how the program was running. But at the same time, change is inevitable, and it's given me and some other guys more opportunity and responsibility."

The hand Helfrich and Frost inherited is pretty darn strong. The Ducks have 16 starters returning from a 12-1 team, including eight from an offense that ranked second in the nation -- first among AQ conference teams -- with 49.5 points per game. Topping that list of returning starters is quarterback Marcus Mariota, a short-list Heisman Trophy candidate.

Still, it's not unreasonable to think some players might be shaken at Kelly's departure. After all, he had a pretty big personality.

"During our time here, we've lost players people didn't think we could replace and our message has always been it's the next man up. Do the job," Frost said. "It would have been hypocritical of us not to treat [Kelly leaving] the same way. We're approaching it the same way we ask the players to approach it when we lose a key piece. Step up, do your job and go forward 100 miles an hour."

Along that very line, Helfrich and Frost well know that one of their chief tasks is sustaining the culture around the program. While the coaches need to be themselves and not try to ape Kelly, it does help that Kelly took only one full-time assistant with him to Philly -- D-line coach Jerry Azzinaro. There's plenty of continuity, both in terms of scheme and the day-to-day operation, procedures and philosophies of the program.

"The culture is already built," Frost said. "It isn't like we have to start from the bottom. We're excited about that. We'd be fools to try to change much at all because of the success we've had."

The same goes for Frost now coaching quarterbacks. It's long been a position of strength for the Ducks, and Mariota might be the most talented player the Ducks have ever had at the position, at least since Joey Harrington, circa Y2K. There was little Mariota didn't do well in 2012, when he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a redshirt freshman, ranking seventh in the nation in passing efficiency.

"I think we can clean some things up and be even more efficient," Frost said. "There are some things we want to tweak to help him have more of an opportunity to impact the game. We wouldn't trade him for anybody. We think he can do some amazing things and win a lot of games. We're going to feature him as much as we can."

The Ducks' offense under Frost won't change, but it will evolve. For one, there's good reason to believe Oregon will throw more in 2013, with Mariota and his entire cast of receivers back.

And, as good as the offense was last fall, it did have a bad game -- a 17-14 home loss to Stanford.

"I give Stanford credit," Frost said. "That game kept us out of the national championship game. There's always room to fix things and get better."

Oregon's improvement on defense -- a combination of scheme and talent -- has bolstered it as a national contender. The question that looms among Oregon skeptics is whether the Ducks' offense can roll up big numbers against a big, fast and well-prepared defense. Like Stanford. Like Alabama.

To find out, the Ducks first need to solve Stanford, a team they'd taken to the cleaners the previous two years.

The word in Eugene, post-Kelly, Spring I? Change is good. Of course, there are plenty of things many are going to miss with Kelly no longer around.

Offered Frost: "I could make some sarcastic remarks to you if you want me to."

Oregon revisiting 'no visit' policy?

February, 13, 2013
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Interesting recruiting story here from ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman on schools that have a "no visit" policy for committed players, a group that included Oregon under Chip Kelly.

The idea is that once a player commits, he's committed. If he wants to look around, he's not really committed, therefore the school feels justified in yanking his scholarship.

The Pac-12 blog commented on the frustrations for fans and teams. But this is different. This is teams trying to gain leverage.

Writes Sherman:
The policy seems to make sense on the surface. After all, college programs need to guard against the recruit who simply wants to reserve his spot in case nothing better develops. And the school's pledge to the committed prospect, in theory, provides insurance. If the recruit gets hurt, the coaches say they'll honor his scholarship.

Under closer inspection, the whole thing reeks of a certain hypocrisy and arrogance -- and, in the case of Texas, perhaps a hint of desperation.

Sherman notes the policy only works when your school is rated among the elite as a destination school. Oregon is that. Or perhaps was that with Chip Kelly at the helm. When Kelly bolted to the Philadelphia Eagles, the program the athletes had committed to became a different entity. So new coach Mark Helfrich wisely decided to be flexible with some of his top recruits.

Notes Sherman:
Dontre Wilson of DeSoto (Texas) High School, who was among Oregon's top pledges, took visits to Texas and Ohio State and signed with the Buckeyes. Twins Tyree and Tyrell Robinson of San Diego Lincoln visited USC and Washington while still committed to Oregon. Fellow pledge Darren Carrington of San Diego Heritage visited Arizona.

So much for the no-visit policy.

While the Robinsons and Carrington eventually landed in Helfrich's class, which slipped to No. 26 after the loss of Wilson, Kelly's policy meant little to anyone after he bolted. The Ducks' leverage disappeared. It can happen anywhere.

Those close to the Oregon program expect Helfrich to take a softer stance than Kelly in this area.

Here's how this works.

If you are a super-elite recruit, you can do what you want, though there are some coaches -- Kelly was one; Nick Saban is another -- who are secure enough that they sometimes will cast aside a player just to make a point. See how Kelly forced his top recruit, running back Thomas Tyner to decommit when Tyner wanted to visit UCLA. The visit never happened and Tyner recommitted and signed.

The policy certainly makes things easier for teams. They know where they stand with a player. You'd also hope the commitment goes both ways, with the school feeling an obligation to fulfill the scholarship offer, even if a more glittering prospect shows up.

It's important to note, however, a decommitment doesn't always hinge on a visit. A player could visit Alabama, USC, Indiana and Oregon in October, commit to Oregon in November, but then, upon getting a December offer from longtime favorite Indiana, dump the Ducks and commit to the Hoosiers.

A "no visit" policy intends to make the recruiting process less complex. But, as with most things, there are unintended consequences that tend to muck up efforts to make things simple.

Stanford vs. Alabama for national title?

February, 11, 2013
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ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach foresees the Stanford Cardinal as the top team standing in the way of an Alabama three-peat in 2013.

At least, that's how he stacks things up in the second iteration of his Way-Too-Early preseason top-25.

Stanford replaces former No. 2 Oregon, which falls to No. 5. Why? Well, the departure of Chip Kelly has to register as a question.

Writes Schlabach:
The day Oregon football fans feared for so long finally came on Jan. 16, when Kelly left the Ducks to become head coach of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Oregon promoted offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who will continue to direct the Ducks' high-powered attack. With as many as eight starters on offense and seven on defense returning from a team that finished 12-1 in 2012, there shouldn't be much of a decline without Kelly on the sideline. But there always seems to be at least a little bit of a transition with a coaching change. The Ducks can only hope it's as smooth as when former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh handed over his program to Shaw.

It's a valid concern, even if most Ducks fans seem pretty hopeful that Helfrich will keep things trucking along.

As for the rest of the top-25, Schlabach ranks Oregon State 18th -- down from 15th -- and UCLA 21st.

USC fell out of the rankings. The Trojans were 25th in the first version in January, but Schlabach says in the video that comes with the rankings that offseason issues and coaching changes are questions for Lane Kiffin's team.

My preseason top-25 is likely to include Arizona State and Washington as well as the four Pac-12 teams Schlabach presently ranks. I'm holding judgment on the Trojans until the staff is filled out and we have a better idea of who's playing quarterback. And who's calling plays.

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