Pac-12: Rick Neuheisel

Jerry Neuheisel looks like his dad, former UCLA quarterback and coach Rick Neuheisel, but their most notable resemblance is when they speak. The delivery, tone of voice, mannerisms, the tendency to make sport of the moment is so similar it's uncanny.

It's amusing for those who know father and son, and it's amusing for Jerry.

"My mom will call and I can answer the phone and pretend I'm my dad and she will have no idea for the first two minutes," he said. "Then I can't take myself seriously any more and I burst out laughing. I think I spent too much time in the press conference room as a child. Now I can't get rid of it."

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJerry Neuheisel had only two appearances last season, but led the Bruins in a win over Texas.
He's like his dad, now the lead football analyst for the Pac-12 Network, in other ways. When Rick Neuheisel showed up at UCLA, he was a walk-on who became best known for holding for All-American kicker John Lee. He wasn't big or athletic and didn't have a great arm. Little was expected of him. Jerry Neuheisel isn't a walk-on but he hasn't generally been considered a legitimate candidate to start behind center for the Bruins.

Yes, he came off the bench for the injured Brett Hundley to beat Texas last year, but that smacks of an isolated moment. After all, touted recruit Josh Rosen has arrived in time for spring practices, and he looks as if he stepped out of quarterback central casting. The younger Neuheisel doesn't really have a chance, right?

"I would say Neuheisels have a lot of experience being counted out of quarterback competitions," Jerry said. "In any competition, whether there's a favorite or not, it comes down to who's the best player. I know at the end of the day it won't be about who's who but who's the best guy to lead the team. And I wouldn't want it any other way."

Rick Neuheisel, of course, won the starting job for UCLA to start the 1983 season, lost it to Steve Bono after a 0-2-1 start, but replaced the injured Bono to lead the Bruins to a win over USC and a Rose Bowl triumph over then-No. 4 Illinois, with Neuheisel winning game MVP.

So dismissing Jerry might be premature. Sure, he's the underdog, but he showed moxie against Texas in difficult circumstances, completing 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns, including a beautiful 33-yard game-winner on a double move from receiver Jordan Payton. While that's a small bit of serious work with which to evaluate Neuheisel, it resonated with larger meaning to the rising junior quarterback.

"It just showed that I could do it," Neuheisel said. "You dream about that moment. You grow up in a college coach's house and I dreamed about wearing UCLA's colors and being a college quarterback and winning a game like that. I can remember being in my back yard making that throw, only it was usually a Hail Mary and not a pump fake. It was one of those moments when your dream becomes your reality and then you know you can do it."

The game film, which, yes, he's watched a few times wasn't all rainbows and rose petals, though. Neuheisel saw himself going through his progressions too fast. He was too focused on what he could ascertain from his pre-snap reads. A couple of times, he almost tossed interceptions when he made assumptions about coverages that weren't correct.

When Neuheisel talks about the game, he sounds like a coach. He rolls through his analysis, little of it self-congratulatory, ticking off things he learned from the tape and what he most needs to improve. It's no surprise that he wants to follow in his dad's footsteps and coach college football. The nuances of the sport clearly intrigue him.

"I'm sure it gets old for my brothers and my mom, but we sit around every family dinner going over different things that have happened," Neuheisel said of the father-son football banter. "We talk about strategy possibly more than any other father-son could talk about it. We've watched that Texas game at least 15 different times. We have a very special connection around the game of football."

Not surprisingly, he has a theory about the Bruins 2014 season, which started with talk of a dark horse run to the College Football Playoff, but the Bruins ended up losing the South Division title on the last weekend of the season after being upset by Stanford.

"I think last year we let the hype get to us," he said. "It had been a while since UCLA was talked about like that, being in the top-10, being in the national championship hunt. I think we let it get to us a little bit. But I think that will be valuable to us this year. We want to make sure we don't end up one game short of the Pac-12 championship next year."

Neuheisel seems pretty confident he can be a part of that quest in 2015. To him, the equation is pretty straight-forward: Prepare, compete and then see what the coaches decide.

"The quarterback competition will take care of itself," he said.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Without quarterback Brett Hundley, UCLA could not win. It didn't matter that Texas was beaten up and beaten down. It didn't matter that Hundley was just one guy. He was The Guy, the face of the Bruins, the biggest reason some touted them in the preseason as national title contenders. Moreover, to put it gently, the depth chart behind him was unpromising.

Backup Jerry Neuheisel? Son of Rick Neuheisel, the guy who was fired before Jim Mora built the Bruins into contenders? The guy who some suspected got a scholarship only because his dad was the head coach? No way.

So when Hundley was surrounded by trainers after going down with an apparent elbow injury in the first quarter against the Longhorns, you could sense impending doom. You could sense the Bruins, who had struggled to beat Virginia and Memphis with Hundley, joining teams such as Ohio State, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia and Michigan State on the slag heap of exposed contenders.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel got a hero's exit after leading No. 12 UCLA to a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.
Texas thought the same thing.

"[Neuheisel and Hundley] are two different quarterbacks," Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "One guy is up for the Heisman and the other guy is someone we've never heard of."

Yet there was Neuheisel eyeballing Diggs' cornerbacking counterpart, Duke Thomas, in man coverage against receiver Jordan Payton with three minutes left in the game, sensing his moment had arrived.

"As soon as I saw [Thomas'] eyes, I thought, 'Oh, my God, this might just work,'" Neuheisel said.

The Bruins were down four on Texas' 33-yard line and pretty much hadn't allowed Neuhiesel to throw downfield since he came off the bench, but offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone expected man coverage and decided Payton might get free with a double move.

In fact, Thomas appeared to bite on Neuheisel's pump fake, and the ball arrived soft and sweet into Payton's hands. Touchdown. After the defense forced a four-and-done, the Bruins hoisted Neuheisel onto their shoulders. They'd won 20-17 without Hundley to improve to 3-0.

"I felt like it was going to be a little bit of a defining moment for us," UCLA coach Jim Mora said of when Hundley went down.

While it might seem to some like an ugly 3-0 for the nation's No. 12 team, it was a dream come true for Neuheisel. Literally. He told his teammates that at halftime. He grew up dreaming of following in his dad's footsteps as the UCLA quarterback, imagining throwing winning touchdowns in his backyard. The general expectation from fans and media, however, was the redshirt sophomore would remain on the bench behind Hundley, holding for field goals and then backing up whoever won the job next year when Hundley was off to the NFL.

Yet a point of emphasis from Mora and the Bruins after their victory was never doubting Neuheisel.

"We all expected it," Payton said.

Said Mora, "His team fricken' loves him. There was never any doubt."

Well, there was and is some doubt. What's next, for one, is a big issue. Hundley's status is questionable, to say the least. Mora would only say Hundley would be evaluated by UCLA team doctors back in Los Angeles. While beating a struggling Texas team with a backup QB is one thing, the Bruins visit Arizona State on Sept. 25 after a bye week. That's an entirely different deal, a critical South Division showdown. Of course, in an unfortunate twist of fate, both teams could be without their starting quarterbacks, as Taylor Kelly suffered a foot injury against Colorado on Saturday.

Neuheisel, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, could square off with Sun Devils backup Mike Bercovici in a game with major Pac-12, and even national, implications. The Bruins, however, were still operating inside the 24-hour rule Saturday, which means their primary concern is enjoying the present, not refocusing on the next foe.

Neuheisel is his father's son. He looks and sounds like Rick Neuheisel, and he's quick with a quip like his dad. When he walked into the postgame interview room, he noted, "Holders don't get this kind of publicity." After the elder Neuheisel led the Bruins to an upset of Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl, he cracked wise during a postgame interview about the Fighting Illini band blasting music behind him.

"I just talked to my dad," Jerry Neuheisel said. "He said, 'You did it. It's kind of a Neuheisel thing.'"

On a day when UCLA's crosstown rival, USC, wilted at Boston College, the Bruins found a way to dig deep, overcome adversity and win. UCLA might not be a beautiful 3-0, but it is 3-0 and that's what matters.

"They never flinched," Mora said. "They never blinked. That's kind of what we are trying to become. And we're getting closer and closer every day."

Watch: Rick Neuheisel basks in son's win

September, 14, 2014
Sometimes a picture says it all. In this case: The pride of a beaming father.

Rick Neuheisel, fired from UCLA in 2011 after four seasons in charge of the Bruins, nevertheless still has a reason to root for his old school. Rick's son, Jerry, was forced into action at quarterback Saturday night against Texas after an early injury to star Brett Hundley.

Neuheisel, who came in with 11 career passes, finished 23-of-30 with no interceptions, 178 yards and two touchdowns, including the 33-yard game winner with three minutes left in the UCLA's 20-17 victory.

You can imagine the pride felt by his pops, who was glued to the TV in the Pac-12 Network offices in California as his son was lifted up by his teammates in celebration 1,700 miles away in Texas.

UPDATE: And now there's video, courtesy of the Pac-12 Network. Check out Rick as he nervously watches the final minutes:

We'll leave you with this. A father. A son. And about as UCLA as it gets.

Rick Neuheisel, Jerry NeuheiselAP Photo, USA TODAY SportsRick Neuheisel led UCLA to a 1984 Rose Bowl win. His son, Jerry, was carried off the field after leading the Bruins to a win over Texas.

You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders -- The most famous of which is, "never get involved in a land war in Asia" -- but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"

It's that spring break time of year, and college seniors across the country are enjoying a "last hurrah," so to speak. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is no different.

Well, he's actually completely different.

Instead of hitting the beach with some buddies and making like Dionysus, he jetted on March 9 to San Diego to "work on my craft" with QB guru George Whitfield and several other college quarterbacks.

"I felt like it's my last hurrah, in the sense of my football senior year," Kelly said.

Also on hand in San Diego for a week of quarterback two-a-days were Baylor's Bryce Petty, North Carolina's Marquise Williams, Virginia's David Watford and Texas signee Jerrod Heard. Johnny Manziel and Logan Thomas were hanging around getting ready for their pro days and the NFL draft.

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AP Photo/Rick BowmerTaylor Kelly is staying busy, getting ready for his senior season as Arizona State quarterback.
But wait ... there's more. Kelly drove back to Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday only to fly back to California at 7 a.m. Sunday to film a segment with Rick Neuheisel and the Pac-12 Network. He returned to ASU that evening at 6 p.m. so he could make an 8 p.m. team meeting in advance of spring practices, which begin Tuesday. He had a 5:45 a.m. workout on Monday morning, by the way.

Busy, yes. But worth it, Kelly said.

"I learned a lot," he said.

Two springs ago -- and 57 touchdowns and 6,705 passing yards ago -- it would have been difficult to imagine Kelly being in such demand. He was the consensus pick to finish third behind Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank in the Sun Devils QB competition to replace Brock Osweiler. Instead, he's a budding three-year starter, with Bercovici his big-armed backup. Eubank transferred to Samford after the 2013 season.

Kelly has played himself onto NFL radars and could improve his standing with a strong senior season. While few saw that coming in the spring of 2012, Kelly said his self-belief never wavered.

"With my competitive nature, I've always thought I could [play in the NFL]," he said. "I wanted to be that great quarterback, to lead a team to championships. That's who I've been my whole life. I never had any doubts in myself or my ability to be the starting quarterback three years ago."

Kelly is just the second Sun Devils quarterback to have thrown for more than 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons in school history. He set a school record for completion percentage (67.1 percent) and moved into the top five in seven school-record lists, including passing yards, passing yards per game, completions, attempts, total offense, yards per game and points responsible for.

Of course, if he wants to be remembered in Tempe like Jake Plummer, he's got to get the Sun Devils back to the Rose Bowl. Or the College Football Playoff.

Kelly said he's focused this spring on improving his efficiency and reducing interceptions and sacks. While he's put up big numbers as a dual threat, he also only ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency last year. He's thrown 21 interceptions in the past two years, including 12 in 2013. He's been sacked 79 times (ouch!). One of the surprising Pac-12 stats from 2013: The Sun Devils yielded a conference-worst 41 sacks (2.93 per game) -- five more than anyone else, though that was in 14 games -- despite having a mobile QB in Kelly and a good offensive line.

"Sometimes when I'd feel pressure, I'd release the pocket, and that's really hard on our offensive line," Kelly said.

Proving he can make plays under duress will answer a lot of NFL questions. It also would boost the Sun Devils' chances to repeat as South Division champions.

Another spring question for Arizona State is who Kelly will target. Receiver Jaelen Strong is back and likely will become an All-American candidate, but the next leading returning wideout is sophomore Cameron Smith, who caught just eight passes in 2013.

Kelly doesn't seem too worried, however. He named De'Marieya Nelson -- tight end Chris Coyle's 2013 backup -- touted juco transfer Eric Lauderdale, 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson and walk-on Fred Gammage as players who should step up this spring.

What is clear is that Kelly is the undisputed leader of the Sun Devils, a role that he's set to embrace despite a laid-back nature.

"I'm just going to be myself," he said. "If I need to speak up and say something, I feel a lot of the guys respect me enough that they are going to listen to what I say."

Arizona State is almost certain to fall behind UCLA in the Pac-12 South pecking order among preseason publications. Further, Kelly, not unlike Oregon State's Sean Mannion, falls in behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley in terms of Pac-12 and national quarterback Q-rating.

That doesn't figure to worry Kelly. He's been counted out before. It's pretty clear that he's not going to be outworked as he prepares for his last hurrah.

Actually, Peter, I wanted to tell you, I was listening to Sarah's iPod the other day, and amidst the interminable dross that's on that thing, I found one track that I quite liked. So I checked what it was, and it was actually one of yours, and it kind of reminded me of a dark, gothic Neil Diamond. It's great.

James' death darkens UW's bad weekend

October, 21, 2013

There was no sign in the first quarter at Arizona State that Washington football was about to experience one of its worst weekends of all time.

The Huskies ended Arizona State's first possession -- a three-and-out -- with a sack. They then drove 60 yards for a touchdown. On that drive, quarterback Keith Price was 4 of 7 for 46 yards, and running back Bishop Sankey rushed for nine yards and a TD.

The Sun Devils drove for a first-and-goal at the Washington 7-yard line but had to settle for a field goal as the Huskies defense tightened. Cornerback Marcus Peters grabbed an interception of Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly. When the bell rung for the second quarter, the Huskies had momentum and a 7-3 lead.

So there was no flat start, no obvious hangover from consecutive defeats to Stanford and Oregon, losses that had done little damage to the 20th-ranked Huskies' national credibility.

What happened over the next three quarters, however, was a disaster. The Huskies were outscored 50-17, and that even doesn't seem to impart how horrid they looked against a hungry Arizona State team.

Said Sankey afterward, “We got out-competed."

That's about the worst thing that can happen to a football team. That's about caring and grit and fight and shared purpose and everything that speaks to the character of a football team above and beyond talent and scheme.

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Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian is looking for answers after an "embarrassing" performance in a 53-24 loss to Arizona State.
And then, on Sunday, it was announced that Washington coaching icon Don James had lost his fight with pancreatic cancer.

A football defeat pales next to the loss of a great coach and a great man, but the juxtaposition of the events is notable.

James was "The Dawgfather," the man who built a football dynasty in the Northwest. Nick Saban's much-celebrated "process" -- that's Don James, whom Saban has repeatedly cited as his biggest influence.

How great was James at his peak? Sports Illustrated once made a list of the three best coaches in college football. Don James was No. 1. And No. 2. And No. 3.

I second what Bob Condotta wrote here: I never covered the Huskies under James, but I had several chats and interviews with him. He couldn't have been more accommodating. I always got a kick from telling former players how avuncular James seemed now because they'd inevitably relate stories about his stern, evaluative stare and his intimidating presence above practices standing on his coaching tower. Those stories also brought deja vu as a former sportswriter in Alabama because that was exactly how Bear Bryant's former players recalled him.

Both groups always concluded by calling James/Bryant "a great man." Not a great coach. A great man.

Of course, James cast a huge shadow over the program after his abrupt departure before the 1993 season, a move of protest against the Washington administration's reaction to onerous conference and NCAA sanctions. The program has never escaped his shadow of sustained excellence through five coaches.

Yet just three weeks ago, this version of the Huskies felt like the most "James-ian" collection yet. Sure, there were too many penalties. But the 4-0 start was typified by physicality, efficiency, running the ball and playing tough defense. That was Don James football. The Huskies didn't look like a top-10 team, but they looked like a top-25 team cut in a Jamesian mold that longtime Huskies fans could embrace.

"That," they would say. "Is how we want Washington football to look."

So how did it look over the final three quarters in Tempe?

Said coach Steve Sarkisian, “That was embarrassing." He, in fact, said it twice in case anyone missed it.

The 212 yards of lackluster offense falls on Sarkisian. The 585 yards and 53 points the previously stout defense yielded falls on coordinator Justin Wilcox.

The stunningly uninspired performance falls on everyone.

"I know we appeared a little tired tonight," Sarkisian said. "We didn’t appear as fast; we didn’t appear as physical. We appeared as a team who got a little bit lethargic. Maybe we’re a little emotionally drained, but I don’t know. That’s an excuse and there are none. We don’t have time for excuses. We have to fix it.”

The red-letter issue for Sarkisian is the solution to long-standing problems, which started almost immediately after James departed, seems to be eluding him, just as it did the four coaches who preceded him. The Huskies have posted impressive wins, even impressive seasons -- see a 2000 Rose Bowl team under Rick Neuheisel -- but there's been no Jamesian consistency.

Jamesian consistency isn't just about winning season-to-season or game-to-game. It's a moment-by-moment attention to detail, and that includes the Xs and Os, recruiting the right players and the totality of the emotional and mental focus of the locker room.

Jamesian consistency -- apologies to Huskies fans for again pointing this out -- looks a lot like what Oregon has captured with its "win the day" culture.

Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer noted that Washington has had at least a three-game losing streak in every season since 2004. He then added that the blowout loss at Arizona State had an unfortunately familiar feeling -- another uninspired performance on the road:

It felt like last season’s 52-17 loss at Arizona. It felt like the 38-21 loss at Oregon State in 2011. It felt like the 44-14 loss at Arizona in 2010, or the 48-21 loss at Oregon State in 2009.

Every year, there is one of these. It’s a trend, not an anomaly. And until the Huskies stop losing their minds like this, they won’t return to prominence.

Speculating on an elusive "return to prominence," of course, makes every Husky fan nostalgic for Don James.

[+] EnlargeDon James
Bernstein Associates/Getty ImagesWashington is still trying to replicate the consistent success it had under Don James.
There is no one trying harder to solve this than Sarkisian, who has always embraced James, both as a person and as a symbol for the program's aspirations. Sarkisian was a stand-up guy after the abysmal performance in Tempe.

"I have to do a better job as a coach of keeping our guys motivated and positive and energetic, because when you’re in our conference, every week it’s a new challenge," he said. "We had a couple tough losses the last two weeks, and we just didn’t bring the same energy, physicality, and ultimately execution this week that we had the previous two weeks, which gave us a chance in those games. That points right to me. I have to do a better job.”

It's good that Sarkisian is taking the blame. He also knows a pat on the back for being a stand-up guy lasts just a few seconds before the high-pressure reality of a zero-sum, results-oriented business resumes. He's a big boy making a lot of money, and that money is for wins, not words.

The Washington program -- the college football nation, really -- saluted the passing of a legend on Sunday.

It's up to Sarkisian, his coaches and players to not allow the high hopes for the 2013 season to pass based on what happened Saturday.
"College Football Live" and its Summer Tour stops in Oregon today. Sam Ponder and Brock Huard will check in on Mark Helfrich, Marcus Mariota & Co. Catch them throughout the day on "SportsCenter" and on "College Football Live" at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

And, as always, happy Friday.
UCLA receiver Shaquelle Evans and a couple of teammates enjoyed watching his fellow Bruins win the NCAA baseball national title over Mississippi State this week.

"It's always good seeing your school do something great," he said. "We watched them dominate. They basically made Mississippi State submit. That's how we teach football -- to make our opponents submit."

The Pac-12 blog will submit that life is pretty darn good these days in sunny Westwood. Not only did the school win its 109th national title -- first in baseball -- it also is cuddling up every night with the Victory Bell after beating arch-rival USC 38-28 last fall, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.

[+] EnlargeShaquelle Evans and Josh Evans
Richard Mackson/US PresswireAfter running past USC last season, Shaq Evans and the Bruins are looking to maintain their momentum.
The Bruins, who went on to win the Pac-12's South Division, are again relevant in football. Toss in a pair of strong recruiting classes under second-year coach Jim Mora, not to mention an epically disappointing season across town at Heritage Hall, and it's not difficult to see why there's plenty of optimism around the program.

That starts with the win over USC, particularly when you consider where the programs stood at the end of 2011. USC beat the Bruins 50-0 and finished 10-2. Just about everyone projected the Trojans as 2012 national title contenders. Meanwhile, the Bruins were mocked for playing in a bowl game with a losing record and a fired coach. The hiring of Mora was not immediately embraced by a skeptical fan base who were dreaming of Kevin Sumlin.

Beating the Trojans -- the telling image being linebacker Anthony Barr's monstrous fourth-quarter sack of Matt Barkley -- transformed an enduring dynamic, with the Trojans strutting and the Bruins simmering with jealousy.

"It means the world," Evans said. "After 50-0, man, I didn't know if I wanted to be here any more. But after beating them, it was a great feeling. We knew if we beat them, the floodgates open for this program. You could tell with recruiting, people leaving them to come to us. It changes our program around. And it's going to keep going forward."

Still, the Bruins have flashed potential before, only to stumble back into an inconsistent pattern.

Former coach Rick Neuheisel notched a 27-24 upset over Tennessee in 2008, his first game as the Bruins coach. They lost their next game 59-zip at BYU. A 3-0 start in 2009 yielded to a five-game losing streak. The Bruins posted a physically dominant blowout win at Texas in 2010 but lost two weeks later 35-7 to a California team that would finish 5-7, the first of three consecutive losses.

Up and down. Up and down. Which always ends up, at season's end, feeling mostly down because it invites, "What could have been?" navel gazing.

Evans, a fifth-year senior, is well-aware of this. Even last year, there were some bafflingly disappointing performances -- a 43-17 loss at Cal and the faceplant against Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

"The buzz around campus is good but we are not satisfied with what we did last year," he said. "9-5 is obviously an upgrade from 6-8, but we felt like we should have gone 12-2. This year, we're trying to go 14-0."

Evans will be a key piece if the Bruins are going to approach such high aspirations. He quietly posted a strong season last year, catching 60 passes for 877 yards with a stout 14.6 yards per catch. But in a conference laden with so much talent at receiver, that only ranked 11th (62.6 yards per game).

Further, Evans knows exactly where he fell short statistically, "Touchdowns!" he said before the question was finished.

Evans caught just three, in large part because tight end Joseph Fauria was the go-to guy in the red zone.

"I understood last year that if you've got a guy who is 6-foot-8 and you're in the red zone, he's going to be your primary target," Evans said.

Evans knows this is the year -- his final year before the NFL draft -- in which he needs to show his stuff. And with the departure of Fauria and running back Johnathan Franklin, as well as the expected maturation of quarterback Brett Hundley, Evans should be in position to become a 1,000-yard receiver.

And that likely would include more opportunities to peacock in the end zone (within the parameters of NCAA no-fun rules, of course).

For both Hundley and Evans, that's about refining their respective games. Evans mentions blocking and route running for himself, and accuracy, decision-making and command of the offense for Hundley.

After all, it's an obsessive focus and daily attention to details that will prevent the program from being inconsistent.

"I really believe we are past that," Evans said.

The test of that will be who ends up atop the South Division at season's end. And who owns the Victory Bell.

Pac-12 offenses set to rebound?

June, 10, 2013
In 2011, UCLA ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring offense with a measly 23.1 points per game. Oregon State was even worse, ranking 11th with just 21.8 ppg.

Bad offenses!

Both finished with losing records. The Bruins fired coach Rick Neuheisel. Oregon State fans were grumbling about coach Mike Riley.

Yet in 2012 both made huge improvement on offense.

Under coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Bruins ended up ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 34.4 points per game, a dramatic 11.3 points improvement.

Oregon State, despite being undecided at quarterback much of the season, ended up fifth with 32.5 points per game, a 10.7-point improvement.

Our, er, point? Units can make major improvements from one year to the next.

So who is poised to make a big jump this fall?

Well, the first question is can we glean anything from UCLA and Oregon State?

UCLA welcomed back seven starters but was looking for a quarterback. Of course, everyone knew that QB would be Brett Hundley, a touted recruit who had hinted at his big-time potential. There were also three offensive linemen coming back, but only one would be a starter in 2012 -- Jeff Baca.

There was a certifiable star returning on offense in RB Johnathan Franklin, and none of the departed players were All-Conference guys.

Oregon State welcomed back eight starters, including QB Sean Mannion. It would get a little messy with him and Cody Vaz. There also were three starting offensive linemen coming back.

There was a certifiable star returning in WR Markus Wheaton, and none of the departed players were All-Conference guys, though James Rodgers was a strong team leader.

And so we have the bottom five offenses from 2012:

If we were a betting blog -- titter -- we'd tap the Huskies. It's not just that Price seems poised to reverse course after a disappointing 2012 season, it's that he's got 10 returning starters around him, including such stars as Seferian Jenkins, RB Bishop Sankey and receiver Kasen Williams. Not to mention the injury issues of 2012 have created eight linemen with starting experience heading into 2013.

Second would be Washington State, mostly because of coach Mike Leach's track record. It's difficult to imagine the Cougs not scoring at least in the mid-to-high 20s. And they'll probably cross the 30 threshold.

In fact, I'd expect all five of those offenses to post better numbers in 2013.

Utah expects to be much better on the offensive line, and Wilson should do well as a second-year starter working with new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. Further, the receivers along with Murphy are solid.

Colorado can't be any worse, really. New coach Mike MacIntyre created an explosive offense at San Jose State. And the return of Paul Richardson -- he missed 2012 with a knee injury -- gives the Buffs a A-list playmaker.

Cal might be the most questionable one, but new coach Sonny Dykes has produced good offenses at both Arizona and Louisiana Tech. The Bears have plenty of questions, but there's also some intriguing talent, including QB Zach Kline, receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper.

Football monopoly in L.A. over?

February, 6, 2013
UCLA already beat USC on the field this past season. What if the Bruins follow that up by beating the Trojans on national signing day?

Will that mean the, ahem, football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over?

Or maybe we should go this way?

Sorry to bring up that bit of crass and ill-fated marketing -- and certainly not Rick Neuheisel's idea -- but things are clearly trending in different ways for the archrivals.

The latest uptick for UCLA and blow for USC was the switcheroo by defensive end Kylie Fitts (Redlands, Calif./Redlands East Valley), who was once slated to be an early enrollee at USC before the rug was pulled out from under him at the eleventh hour when Trojans coaches told him there wasn't enough space. He announced Tuesday he's now going to enroll early at UCLA, where he will participate in spring practices.

Will that be the first big win for UCLA as we head into national signing day? And it, by the way, wasn't the only big loss for USC.

The Bruins could also land ESPN 150 prospects Eddie Vanderdoes, Isaac Savaiinaea and Asiantii Woulard on Wednesday. That likely would give them a top-five class nationally, one that would top the Pac-12.

And, most notably, eclipse the Trojans.

UCLA fans are loving coach Jim Mora. USC fans are not happy with Lane Kiffin. USC was the 2012 preseason No. 1. UCLA ended up No. 1 in the South Division, beating the Trojans 38-28 in the process of taking home the victory bell.

USC is going to sign a good class. With NCAA scholarship limits, the Trojans are working with 10 fewer scholarships. One could argue they should have a worse class than UCLA.

Not sure if that argument would rate as much consolation among USC fans.

The big name to watch is Vanderdoes, who could spurn the Pac-12 entirely and sign with Alabama. He will make his decision at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT.

It could be an interesting day in the City of Angles.

Er, Angels.

Top performances 2012: Matt Barkley

February, 5, 2013
We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Efficiency expert

Who & against whom: Matt Barkley broke a number of Pac-12 records when USC whipped Colorado 50-6.

The numbers: Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions against the Buffs.

A closer look: While USC and Barkley didn't live up to preseason hype, they did make beautiful music together a number of times. Sure, this performance came against an overmatched Buffaloes defense. But if you watched the game, you know it was simply masterful quarterback play. Barkley's 319.16 pass efficiency rating for the game broke the Pac-12/10/8 record set by UCLA's Drew Olson in 2005. His 95 percent completion percentage broke former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel's conference record for completion percentage in a game with at least 20 passes. Further, he became the all-time Pac-12 leader in TD passes, eclipsing former Trojan Matt Leinart. In fact, Barkley would finish the season with 116 career touchdowns, 17 more than Leinart. Barkley threw four of his TD passes to receiver Robert Woods, covering 39, 29, 17 and 3 yards. The other two went to receiver Marqise Lee for 55 yards and tight end Xavier Grimble for 8. Oh, and Barkley didn't even play in the fourth quarter.

Pac-12 chat wrap

October, 5, 2012
If you missed my chat on Thursday, you can read the transcript here.

Here are some highlights.

David Smith (University of Washington (Seattle)) Are the huskies overrated? Do they really belong in the top 25 or is this just a one week stay like the other times in the past 4 years?

Ted Miller (3:02 PM) Maybe... we still don't really know who Washington is because we don't really know who Stanford is or USC for that matter. The LSU game was really ugly, too. If Washington is within 10 of Oregon on the road, that suggest to me this is a top-25 sort of team.

Robert (Seattle, WA) How much of the Beaver's success is due to the fact that Mike Riley took over the play calling from offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf this season?

Ted Miller (3:06 PM) Hard to estimate because my impression is he and coordinator Danny Langsdorf collaborate plenty... but when things go well, you tend to think that was a dramatic change. I'd suggest a lineup growing up, particularly the O-line, Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks counts for more...

Jesse (The District of Columbia) How much do you think the Huskies' extra two days to prepare for Oregon will factor in the game Saturday night @ 10:30pm EDT on ESPN? (see what I did there?)

Ted Miller (3:09 PM) I think it has to help just based on getting ready for the change of tempo and the misdirection. It's more time for a defense to train its eyes. It also helps because Stanford was a much different team. Further, the extra rest after a physical game helps, as does the time to get over the euphoria.

Noah (hollywood) Hi Ted. How terrible of a decision was it for the ACC to abandon its plans for a 9 game conference schedule next year?

Ted Miller (3:11 PM) Well, probably not terrible for ACC teams... helps them. It also puts further pressure on the Pac-12 to consider going back to 8 games. If the SEC, Big Ten & ACC are playing 8 conference games and the Big 12 and Pac-12 are playing 9, then three conferences have an automatic advantage at the beginning of every season. Just pure math.

Winston Free (Big Apple) UW's offense has not been in sync all season vs. FBS opponents. Was former Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier more valuable than previously thought?

Ted Miller (3:18 PM) Maybe... but Sark calls the plays. What Sark would like to do is to order up a couple more healthy, veteran offensive linemen. The Huskies have struggled up front, and it's difficult to do much of anything on offense when you're not blocking well.

Chris (Eugene) Is it fair to say that Oregon has one of the best if not the best Coaches in the game today?

Ted Miller (3:23 PM) yes.... Saban, Meyer, Kelly..

Jason (Phoenix) If Cal ponies up serious money to dump Tedford, who do you think would be a good fit? Season Professional a la raid another coach Petersen or TCU's Coach, Hired Gun Petrino, or go young up and comer IE Wilcox?

Ted Miller (3:30 PM) I try to be objective in how I cover things, but I've known Tedford for so long, it's extremely difficult for me not to root for him to get things turned around. So I felt a twinge this week when I first thought to myself: I need to consider who might be next. Petrino isn't happening. I don't think Petersen will leave Boise, nor Patterson TCU.... Wilcox, it seems to me, would be on the list. But it's difficult to project forward because you really don't know the money Cal could pay. $2 million is a baseline rate. To get an A-list guy to come to the super-expensive Bay Area, I'd say you'd have to ante up $4 million. And then you have to pay his staff. So I don't expect Cal to be able to go for a big name. And that might not be a bad thing.

Lance Romance (Winnipeg, Canada) If the devils can finish with 9 wins, meaning 2 conference losses, is that enough to get them into the Pac-12 title game?

Ted Miller (3:31 PM) If they beat USC... won't be easy in the Coliseum... they both would have 2 conference losses & the Sun Devils would own the tiebreaker.

John (College Station) Do you think Colorado's victoria solamente versus Wazoo will keep Embree his job for entire season? Would a loss have opened the exit door sooner?

Ted Miller (3:33 PM) I think folks recognize what Embree inherited. It would be a mistake to write him off after just 2 years. So I think he survives this season no matter what. He's a Buff after all, so he deserves a fair shot even more than an outsider would. Got to show respect within the family.

Kyle (Springfield) Do you think it is better to go into a rivalry game with the Chip Kelly every-game-is-the-same attitude, or do you like coaches playing to their players emotions for a rivalry?

Ted Miller (3:39 PM) I don't think they are mutually exclusive. I also think that Chip could humor folks -- fans, media -- on the topic a bit more while maintaining the team culture of "Every game is a super bowl." Overall, I think his approach is more the future. It's sound. But when the Ducks walk onto the field, and the crowd is charged more than it has been -- or probably will be -- this season, then the rivalry emotion will come into play. For a good team with a good culture, you don't need that during the week of preparation.

Herman (Tucson) The Wildcats started off the year looking pretty impressive, but have since lost their last two games. Would you mark that up to scheduling, lack of real ability, a little bit of both, or something else entirely?

Ted Miller (3:46 PM): Oregon is the No. 2 team in the nation, and the Beavers also have quality wins over Wisconsin and UCLA. So, yes, it seems to the Wildcats just lost to two good teams. But the schedule ahead is rugged, too, and the Arizona defense is thin up front. Doesn't help that they are going to face Stanford's tough front-7 without center Kyle Quinn. I think the Territorial Cup could be very interesting.... In the preseason, .500 looked like a good record with the available talent. That still might be the case.

Jim Mora (Westwood) I have the same players pretty much as last year's squad, but everyone around me says things are different. Quantify my success: __% better coaching __% better players (ie Hundley) __% better schemes

Ted Miller (3:49 PM) I think it's too early to make definitive statements. But the Bruins do seem better coached, Hundley is clearly a better QB (thanks to Rick Neuheisel for redshirting him) and the schemes are better because they are working... I think Mora's coordinators are much better, particularly because they are getting to run the schemes of their choosing,... so 20 %, 20 % and 18 %.

Trevor (Hillsboro, OR) Reynolds and Poyer. Wheaton and Cooks. Best CB and WR duos in the league? Coincidence?

Ted Miller (4:01 PM) That is a very strong foursome... you might be able to enter it in the "best in the nation" argument, in fact. But, of course, Mike Riley can't recruit. The game has passed him by... I think a lot of us in the media are enjoying the Beavers resurgence just because of how it silenced the absurd gripes about Riley.
We'll crucify the insincere tonight;
We'll make things right, we'll feel it all tonight.
We'll find a way to offer up the night tonight;
The indescribable moments of your life tonight.

Pac-12 teams left in the lurch

May, 23, 2012
Our theme today, as part of our "Love to hate" week at, is "Left in the lurch." This is about coaches who bailed out on a Pac-12 program at an unexpected or awkward time. We're not including Urban Meyer leaving Utah for Florida or Jim Harbaugh leaving Stanford for the San Francisco 49ers because their departures were not unexpected and came only after unprecedented success.

Of course, these situations vary greatly in terms of circumstances and reaction. There aren't many college football jobs out there considered better than one in the Pac-12, so most of the coaches who bailed out on their programs left for the NFL.

But here is a sampling from the Pac-12. Feel free to provide your own thoughts below.

  • [+] EnlargePete Carroll
    AP Photo/Don RyanPete Carroll stunned USC fans when he left after the 2009 season to coach the Seattle Seahawks.
    California got dogged twice. First, after going 10-2 in 1991, Bruce Snyder bailed on the Golden Bears for Arizona State. It's rare for a coach to jump from one conference program to another, and it certainly hurts more. Then, in 1996, Steve Mariucci lasted just one year in Berkeley before jumping aboard with the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Dennis Erickson twice left Pac-12 teams for sunnier pastures (at least in theory). After two years at Washington State, Erickson bolted for Miami after the 1988 season. Then, after a strong run at Oregon State from 1999-2002, Erickson left Corvallis for the San Francisco 49ers. He has repeatedly said that was the worst move of his career.
  • Dick Vermeil lasted two seasons at UCLA. After going 9-2-1 in 1975 and upsetting No. 1 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, he left for the Philadelphia Eagles.
  • Rick Neuheisel shocked many when he left Colorado for Washington before the 1999 season for a million-dollar contract, which was at the time considered exorbitant. He left behind NCAA sanctions for the Buffaloes and immediately got into trouble with the Huskies. It didn't make folks in Boulder feel any better when the Huskies and Neuheisel swept a home-and-home series over the next two years.

But two departures really stand out.

Don James is on the short list of greatest college football coaches of all time. In 18 seasons at Washington, from 1975 to 1992, he won a national title and four Rose Bowls. He went 153-57-2 (.726) and set a then-record of 98 conference victories. From 1990-92, the Huskies won 22 consecutive games.

He is the Dawgfather.

And that's why many Huskies fans will tell you the lowest moment in program history is when he resigned in protest of NCAA and Pac-12 sanctions on Aug. 22, 1993. (James really, really didn't like Washington president William Gerberding and athletic director Barbara Hedges, either).

His resignation just before the season forced Washington to promote defensive coordinator Jim Lambright, a good man and a good defensive coordinator but not an ideal fit as head coach. Other than a Rose Bowl victory after the 2000 season under Rick Neuheisel, things have never been the same in Husky Stadium. Not yet, at least.

A more recent shocker: Pete Carroll bolting USC after the 2009 season for the Seattle Seahawks.

Carroll's hiring in 2001 was widely panned, but all he did thereafter was build a college football dynasty, winning national championships in 2003 and 2004 and falling just short of a third consecutive title in 2005 in a thrilling loss to Texas. He went 97-19 (.836) in nine seasons (11-2 versus rivals Notre Dame and UCLA), won six BCS bowl games and finished ranked in the AP top-four seven times. He won 34 consecutive games from 2003-05 and coached three Heisman Trophy winners and 25 first-team All-Americans.

So, yeah, he accomplished a lot. And many thought he would coach USC for life, though many others also suspected the lure of the NFL would prove too much.

It was the timing of his sudden, stunning departure that frustrated many Trojans fans. While Carroll has repeatedly denied oncoming NCAA sanctions had anything to do with his decision to leave, that's a hard line to buy. He skipped town after a 9-4 season that featured blowout losses to Stanford and Oregon and left behind a team with a two-year bowl ban and deficit of 30 scholarships over three seasons.

Still, not unlike how James is viewed by Huskies fans, Carroll is mostly spared the wrath of Trojans fans because of what he accomplished.

There's no question, however, that both programs were left in the lurch.